One of the biggest UFC events of the year is finally upon us. After a huge month of mixed martial arts action in June, a breather is in order, but not without a grand finale. UFC 116 will take place on Saturday, July 3rd from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, and it will feature a main event heavyweight title showdown between current UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and current UFC interim heavyweight champion Shane Carwin in a clash for the ages and possibly for the moniker of being the world's greatest heavyweight. The main card also has a load of great match-ups, but before we delve deep into those battles this week -- we'll focus on Spike TV's free preliminary broadcast along with the UFC 116 undercard.
Heavyweight: Brendan Schaub (5-1, 1-1 UFC) vs. Chris Tuchscherer (18-2-0-1, 1-1 UFC): In the headlining match-up on Spike TV's live feed of the UFC 116 preliminary bouts, The Ultimate Fighter season ten runner-up and former NFL football player Brendan Schaub will battle two-time NCAA Division II All-American wrestler Chris Tuchscherer in heavyweight action. Schaub defeated Chase Gormley via TKO in only 0:47 seconds back in March at UFC on Versus I, but he was dropped by a massive Roy Nelson overhand in the first round of The Ultimate Fighter season ten final in his promotion debut. Tuchscherer grinded out a majority decision over Tim Hague at UFC 109 while losing via TKO at UFC 102 in a bout riddled with controversy against Gabriel Gonzaga.
Interestingly enough, Schaub is a huge favorite by bookmakers, and why wouldn't he be? He has an advantage in height, good size for a heavyweight, and proven power in his hands along with very underrated grappling abilities. The only problem with that assessment is that Tuchscherer could potentially dwarf Schaub in weight, and Tuchscherer's grind style of fighting plays perfectly into having the weight advantage.
Tuchscherer also has a plethora of experience over the course of his six-year mixed martial arts career whereas Schaub has only been in the sport for roughly two years. The only detractor to the line of thinking is that Tuchscherer has remained one-dimensional in his style, and Schaub has shown flashes of diversity in his game during his bouts on The Ultimate Fighter and in recent fights in the UFC. That diversity should be his key to victory, and Tuchscherer's smother tactics should give Schaub the jump on what to expect.
But I wouldn't go too far in believing the edge there is significant. After all, Tuchscherer will be expecting Schaub's boxing to be his main offensive weapon in this fight, and Schaub will want to maintain range, use quick footwork, and stay on the outside to avoid Tuchscherer's rushes for the clinch. Size could be an issue for Schaub, but the opposite is also true in that size could help Schaub avoid Tuchscherer for long periods of time.
I think the odds-makers may have this one right. Schaub's speed and footwork that came with his Golden Glove-level boxing credentials should be the key here. While Tuchscherer has the potential to take down Schaub and smother him to a decision win, Schaub is way too quick and diverse to allow that to happen. I think he holds a big advantage on the feet, and I think that's where Schaub wins this match-up.
Light Heavyweight: Ricardo Romero (10-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Seth Petruzelli (12-4, 0-2 UFC): The opening battle on the UFC 116 live preliminary broadcast on Spike TV will feature a light heavyweight contest between Seth "The Kimbo Killer" Petruzelli and Ring of Combat veteran Ricardo Romero. Petruzelli is mostly known for replacing Ken Shamrock at the last second at EliteXC: Heat back in October of 2008 after Shamrock cut himself sparring behind the scenes before the fight. Petruzelli seized the opportunity by knocking out Kimbo Slice in only 0:14 seconds, and some would say that the entire situation sunk EliteXC forever. Since the win, Petruzelli has went 2-0 with a solid victory over Chris Baten and a submission over UK fighter Ryan White. You've also probably seen him as part of teammate Tom Lawlor's entrances and weigh-in antics at various UFC events.
Romero has remained relatively unknown in the Atlantic City-based Ring of Combat series, amassing a 10-1 record with the promotion. He holds notable wins over James McSweeney, Karen Grigoryan, and Costantinos Phillippou. He wrestled until he graduated with a Philosophy degree from Rutgers University, and his Puerto Rican heritage has brought in the sweet science of boxing into his arsenal along with many other skills that have made him quite the well-rounded athlete.
Most fans would probably believe Romero is going to run over Petruzelli after Seth's semi-finals loss to Brad Imes on The Ultimate Fighter season two and his later losses to Matt Hamill and Wilson Gouveia, but in retrospect -- Hamill has become a solid mid-echelon fighter and Gouveia was actually pretty effective early in his UFC career before falling off the wagon in his fitness. He hasn't fought the strongest competition since his UFC departure, but he has managed to find a home for his fists and proven that he has a knack for knockouts.
Romero's offensive weapons create the perfect combination to make a successful assault against Petruzelli. Wrestling ability and a solid submission game seem to be a crutch for Petruzelli, and Romero has a combination of both to lean on that crutch and break it.
Petruzelli has the mysterious propensity to punch opponents out, but I think the smart pick here is Romero. His wrestling will be formidable, and his submission game from the top will give Petruzelli some problems. He'll need to look out for Seth's diverse attacks on the feet however, as he loves to throw in very unorthodox strikes such as the spinning back fist and spinning kicks. In the end, I've never been one to shy away from a challenge in my own thinking. While I think Romero has the skill-set to grind out Petruzelli, I'll go with Seth finding a way to pop Romero's chin on his way to a stoppage.
Middleweight: Kendall Grove (11-7-0-1, 6-4 UFC) vs. Goran Reljic (8-1, 1-1 UFC): Kendall Grove's roller coaster continues as his suspect chin was exposed once again at UFC 112. NCAA wrestler Mark Munoz was able to blast Grove with punches from the top after Grove was able to put Munoz in precarious positions throughout the fight. The bout earned both men "Fight of the Night" honors, but it certainly didn't sit well with Grove in terms of what he hoped to accomplish.
Grove's opponent, Goran Reljic, didn't have a welcoming return to the Octagon in his last fight either. Dropping down to middleweight after nearly a two-year layoff from competition due to a back injury, Reljic dropped an unanimous decision to C.B. Dolloway.
With any Grove fight, his chin will more than likely be the focus of Reljic's offense, and Grove will probably want to use his huge frame and jiu-jitsu chops to bring Reljic into his world on the floor. While Reljic does have a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, I'm going to believe Grove is a far more competent grappler on the floor. His frame obviously helps him immensely in scrambles on the mat, and he nearly caught Munoz multiple times in submissions.
I'm picking Grove, but in reality -- Reljic stands a good chance of downing the giant middleweight with his power. I think Grove can probably neutralize Reljic and bring him into his submission game on the ground, but a betting man would probably go with Reljic here. I'll go against the grain.
Middleweight: Gerald Harris (15-2, 2-0 UFC) vs. Dave Branch (6-0, 0-0 UFC): The combination of power wrestling and heavy hands will be on display once again as Harris makes his third appearance in the Octagon following victories over Mario Miranda and John Salter. His opponent will be undefeated Renzo Gracie Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Dave Branch. In his six-fight career, he's never gone to decision, finishing all opponents inside two rounds.
It's obvious that the UFC is trying to set-up Harris at a potential run toward the top. In his last fight, he faced a very dangerous BJJ black belt and accomplished wrestler in Mario Miranda, and this fight is a step down from that level of competition on paper. Branch's strength of record isn't great, and Harris has a huge experience edge along with never being submitted in his seventeen-fight career.
I'm expecting Harris to continue his success in the UFC with a TKO stoppage in this fight. Branch won't be able to handle his powerful hands, and I can't imagine Harris being caught by Branch in anything in the scramble. Both guys have proven power, but Harris' experience is just too overwhelming for me to believe an upset will happen here. I also think Miranda is a better overall fighter than Branch on any given day, so I'll go with Gerald Harris via TKO.
Welterweight: Daniel Roberts (10-1, 0-1 UFC) vs. Forrest Petz (18-7, 2-3 UFC): Interesting undercard affair involving a rising up-and-comer battling the established former UFC veteran. We see these match-ups quite often, and I'm going to venture a guess that the journeymen are on the short end of the stick most of the time. Petz comes in riding a four-fight win streak which includes a victory over Chad Reiner in one of the ugliest slugfests not inside a bar that I've ever seen. Roberts went on a 10-0 run before being crushed by John Howard at UFC on Versus I via a flying punch over Roberts' guard. One of the best knockouts of the year so far that I'm sure Roberts wants to forget.
I actually like Roberts in this match-up. He's been training out in California with the Cesar Gracie team, so his jiu-jitsu continues to improve with the help of Jake Shields and the rest of the team. He has a NCAA All-American wrestling credentials, and he's amassed years of experience in boxing, karate, and judo. It's quite a lot of diversity, and I think that really makes him dangerous against an opponent who doesn't really possess much depth at all in his skill-set.
Petz.. what can I say? The guy has power in his hands, and he could land a solid shot to Roberts' chin that sends him to the canvas and ends this fight quickly. Unfortunately, Petz also happens to be rather susceptible to the submission, an area in which Roberts should excel in this fight, and his conditioning has become a question in past fights. As long as Roberts maintains some range, he should be able to pepper Petz with blows without straying into his power. I think Roberts eventually stuns him and looks for the submission.
Heavyweight: Jon Madsen (5-0, 2-0 UFC) vs. Karlos Vemola (7-0, 0-0 UFC): Opening up the evening of action will be a heavyweight tilt featuring The Ultimate Figher season ten contestant and NCAA wrestling champion Jon Madsen in a showdown with the somewhat hyped Czech Republic-born Karlos "The Terminator" Vemola. Madsen has defeated Justin Wren and Mostapha Al-Turk in his two appearances, both by decision. Vemola's most notable win was a first round submission victory over prospect Stav Economou back in July of last year.
This should be a rather interesting fight that has a lot of potential to make the broadcast at some point. Madsen's wrestling is the most obvious advantage in this fight, and he may be the slightly heavier fighter in this match-up as well. That should allow him to control Vemola in the clinch and bring him down to the ground where he can positionally dominate from top control.
Unfortunately, it isn't that easy, and there is a reason why Vemola is known as "The Terminator". He's very aggressive in his approach, and he'll more than likely come out like he's been shot out of a cannon. He has proven knockout power, and good enough wrestling to be a submission threat on the ground. Madsen isn't exactly your prototypical track star in the cage, and that lack of speed will be a problem when Vemola comes forward quickly.
In reality, Madsen should take this contest. Vemola's horrible strength of record makes him look great to the casual fans who watch this enormous Czech crush novices on Youtube, but that isn't going to fly against amateur wrestling champions. Vemola does, however, have more power than Madsen, and that's where this fight becomes highly unpredictable. Ahh... what the hell -- I'll go with Karlos Vemola. I'm all for mysterious Czech wrecking balls.