After quite a long layoff from any major events in the last couple of weeks, we're going to head back into full swing as the UFC begins August with a free televised card on Versus. UFC on Versus II will take place on Sunday, August 1st from the San Diego Sports Arena in San Diego, California, and it will feature a main event light heavyweight showdown between Jon Jones and Vladimir Matyushenko. Mark Munoz vs. Yushin Okami, John Howard vs. Jake Ellenberger, and Tyson Griffin vs. Takanori Gomi will round out a supporting cast of excellent action
As always, the UFC has put together a solid roster of fighters to battle it out on the preliminary card. Some fights are definitely more meaningful than others, but overall -- it isn't a bad mix of prospects and veterans for a free card.
Lightweight: Paul Kelly (10-2, 4-2 UFC) vs. Jacob Volkmann (10-2, 1-2 UFC): Similar records with similar styles in this lightweight clash as both Paul Kelly and Jacob Volkmann aim to start a winning streak with a victory on Sunday night. Kelly is coming off a win over Matt Veach at UFC 112 while Volkmann barely edged out prospect Ronnys Torres at UFN 21. Volkmann has definitely had the tougher schedule in the UFC as he lost to highly-ranked welterweights Martin Kampmann and Paulo Thiago in his first two appearances. He dropped down to 155 following the defeats. Kelly made the same transition as well, although he did fight to a better record of 2-1 at welterweight before dropping to lightweight.
The major difference, however, is their strength of schedules, and it's even arguable that Volkmann's debut at lightweight was tougher than all three opponents that Kelly has faced. There is also some question as to whether Kelly's wrestling can hold up to the American wrestling style that Volkmann possesses, and I'd wager that Volkmann is the better wrestler between the two on paper.
Anything can happen obviously, but I think Volkmann's introduction to tough competition has prepared him thoroughly for what he can expect at the top of the division. I think he's probably in the process of trying to achieve that level of skill, and it should show in this match-up against a lesser opponent than the bigger welterweights he battled in the past. Volkmann isn't a half bad puncher either, but he does have some bad form at times that could put him into trouble. But I'm banking on a takedown and control game here to a win.
Welterweight: DaMarques Johnson (11-7, 2-1 UFC) vs. Matt Riddle (4-1, 4-1 UFC): Matt Riddle has had an interesting couple of months in the lead-up to this fight. He's become a new father of twin girls, and he had a scare in potentially having some major weight issues if he had not checked his weight sooner during his camp. Registering in the 205 to 210 pound range, Riddle stated in comments to MMAJunkie.com that it enabled him to get ahead of his surprising weight gain in order to get back to a range that was more comfortable for the cut.
He stated in the same comments that he is also looking to win a bonus on Sunday night along with notching another win and improving to 5-1. The money will go toward a vacation to his parents' house in Pennsylvania to show off his newborns. Right now, it's only a plan, and DaMarques Johnson likely has his own ideas of spoiling the happy ending for Riddle.
Riddle may be a bit more motivated for this fight, but Johnson should prove to be a tough test. In his last appearance, Johnson showed great resiliency and perseverance to comeback and defeated Brad Blackburn in the third round, and he also managed to derail a very dangerous Edgar Garcia in his second appearance with the promotion.
Riddle hasn't been a slouch either in the win column, although his strength of competition has been lesser than that of Johnson. Riddle holds wins over Dante Rivera, Steve Bruno, Dan Cramer, and Greg Soto while losing to Nick Osipczak during his five-fight stint. As he's progressed through his career, he's definitely improved in his stand-up along with becoming a solid wrestler.
Johnson isn't anyone to sleep on here, and I actually think he'll pull off the win here. He's shown some toughness in the cage in recent fights, and his striking has improved. He's always a threat on the ground against lesser competition like Riddle. It's a close fight, and probably more of a toss-up than anything. But I'll still bank on Johnson here.
Light Heavyweight: James Irvin (14-6, 4-5 UFC) vs. Igor Pokrajac (21-7, 0-2 UFC): Not much to go over here as Irvin, while as injury prone as NHL hockey prodigy Pavel Bure, has way more going for him than Pokrajac. Pokrajac has surprisingly kept his spot on the UFC roster despite going 0-2 in his current UFC stint, but some would say his record speaks volumes for what he could become. Unfortunately, I'd disagree wholeheartedly with the assessment that "he's only lost to good fighters". The fact of the matter is that he's fought relatively sub-par competition when he's been victorious, and that doesn't bode well for him against Irvin.
Irvin's knockout ability and unpredictability in the stand-up game will be his means to victory here, and I expect Irvin to light up Pokrajac and make a splash on the main card as a knockout of the night finalist. This finish won't be spotlighted with some sort of ridiculous controversy like the Te Huna fight. Irvin should knock him out.
Middleweight: Brian Stann (8-3, 2-2 UFC) vs. Mike Massenzio (11-3, 1-1 UFC): Former WEC light heavyweight champion Brian Stann will aim to start fresh as he drops down to middleweight to battle former IFL fighter and heavily-accomplished high school and college wrestler Mike Massenzio. Stann has gone 2-2 in his UFC career with wins over Steve Cantwell and Rodney Wallace while losing to Krzysztof Soszynski and Phil Davis. Massenzio hasn't fought since UFC 92, and he was forced to withdraw from an appearance at UFN 20 due to injury.
I hold a bit of interest in this fight due to the style match-up along with it being Stann's first cut to 185 pounds, but Massenzio's lengthy layoff could be a major x-factor in this match-up along with the fact that Stann, despite being pounded by Phil Davis, has improved considerably.
Massenzio has the submission skills and wrestling ability to be a major threat, but the outcome of this fight will depend on what kind of speed and quickness Stann gains from cutting. I'd normally side with the fighter who's fought more recently, but I like Massenzio's aggressiveness and ability on the ground. But that won't stop me from placing a bet on Stann here. He is a slight underdog at this point.
Middleweight: Rob Kimmons (22-5, 2-2 UFC) vs. Steve Steinbeiss (4-3, 0-1 UFC): Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rob Kimmons' record would indicate that he's one of the more seasoned fighters in the sport, but that hasn't stopped other fighters from capitalizing on his one-dimensional style of fighting. Defeating both Joe Vedepo and Rob Yundt in quick fashion has kept him out of the basement of the UFC's middleweight division, but Jorge Rivera and Dan Miller have made a climb to the middle of the pack difficult for him. Unfortunately for Kimmons, he's one defeat away from being thrown back down into the basement and potentially out the door.
Arizona Combat Sports' team member Steve Steinbeiss stands in his way, and he's had his own streak of failure in recent performances. He dropped a split decision to former UFC fighter Carmelo Marrero at WEC 36, and Ryan Jensen quickly submitted him at UFN 19 via guillotine choke in the first round. The Jensen fight was shrouded in controversy as Steinbeiss seemed to be giving the thumbs up during the choke, but the referee believed he was tapping and stopped the fight.
While I think Steinbeiss could look much more improved due to his training at ACS, Kimmons is the safe pick here. He's a much more technical grappler, and while I would worry about his propensity to be outclassed on the feet -- Steinbeiss' relative inexperience could haunt him on the ground. I'll take Kimmons via submission.
Lightweight: Darren Elkins (11-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Charles Oliveira (12-0, 0-0 UFC): Part-time fighter, part-time pipefitter Darren Elkins will make his second appearance in the Octagon following a victory over veteran Duane Ludwig at UFC on Versus I back in March after Ludwig freakishly broke his leg only 44 seconds into round one. Elkins amassed a 10-1 record over the last three years with more significant wins over long-time MMA veteran Gideon Ray and current Bellator lightweight standout Pat Curran.
He's been given the task of introducing undefeated Brazilian prospect Charles "do Bronx" Oliveira to the Octagon, a challenge that should prove to be very formidable for the Indiana native. Developed in the typical mix of high-level Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Oliveira offers a dynamic mix of kicks and knees in the stand-up game along with a very well-rounded grappling skill-set. It's been the key to an undefeated streak that includes three separate tournament wins, one of those taking place in his professional debut.
Oliveira is considered to be in the class of the "new breed" of mixed martial artists, fighters who began training at a very young age and have developed rapidly. He began training at age 12, and he's amassed 12 straights wins while still being under the legal drinking age. He's also had success with a dynamic training routine of moving between gyms in Houston, New Jersey, and Brazil to round out his skills.
Look for Oliveira to impress here. Elkins is a wrestler with solid takedowns and good ground and pound on the floor, but Oliveira possesses knockout power along with excellent jiu-jitsu. At such a young age, he has a lot of time to develop into a future champion, and this could be his first step to a long career with the UFC.