The inimitable Leland Roling has been swamped with work obligations at his day job, so bear with me as I do my first event preview post in some time. WEC 50 will air live on the Versus network at 9pm EDT tonight.
First up, the WEC bantamweight title fight:
Dominic Cruz vs Joseph Benavidez
This bout pits Cruz, the champ and the #1 ranked bantamweight in the world per the USAT/SB Nation Consensus MMA Rankings against the #3 bantamweight Benavidez. It's a rematch of their WEC 42 bout just one year ago. Cruz dominated range in that fight and coasted to a unanimous decision win.
Benavidez proved unable to get anything going on the feet in the first fight. That's nothing to be ashamed of because Cruz has shown he's got Judo Chop worthy striking that makes excellent use of counters and combinations to punish an opponent who tries to bang with less than perfect foot work.
Cruz not only has a substantial striking advantage, he also has the wrestling defense to utterly stymie Benavidez' aggressive take down game. If Benavidez is able to change that equation and put Cruz on his back, this will be an entirely different fight than the first bout. Cruz' guard is largely untested and Benavidez has a vicious and effective top control game.
But I won't be holding my breath for that to happen. Cruz should cruise to another decision win. This will likely set up a title challenge from Benavidez' teammate Urijah Faber who has just moved down to the 135lb class. Expect that fight to headline WEC's second pay per view.
This lightweight tilt has taken on new importance with the surprising drawn outcome of Jamie Varner vs Kamal Shalorus at WEC 49. With Varner seemingly out of the running for the next shot at Benson Henderson's WEC 155lb belt, Roller and Pettis have to be thinking title shot going into tonight.
Unfortunately for Pettis, a dangerous striker with considerable submission skill off his back, Shane Roller is stylistic kryptonite. Roller comes from Team Take Down where he trains with fellow Oklahoma State wrestling alums Johny Hendricks and Jake Rosholt. More importantly, Roller has been training Cobra Kai Jiu Jitsu with Marc Laimon and has taken to it like a duck to water.
Pettis has more than a puncher's chance on the feet, but unless his take down defense has dramatically improved since his December loss to Bart Palaszewski it's hard to see him staying on the feet for long against the very capable Roller.
It's a classic stylistic match-up -- Muay Thai/BJJ vs wrestling -- that we've seen many many times in MMA history -- going all the way back to Macaco vs Pele in Brazil -- but the recent bouts of this type have been going to the wrestlers. Roller should prove more than capable of imitating King Mo vs Gegard Mousasi and rolling to a decision.
I'll break down the rest of the main card in the full entry.
The tire marks that Jose Aldo left on Cub Swanson when he ran him over en route to the WEC featherweight title should be fully healed by now. But that doesn't mean Swanson has fully regained contender status.
Tonight is Swanson's chance to play gatekeeper against Urijah Faber's Team Alpha Male undefeated prospect Chad Mendes. Anyone familiar with Faber will recognize Mendes' wrestling-based style immediately.
Look for Mendes to capitalize on Swanson's less than stellar take down defense to impose his will during tonight's tilt. Swanson is tough and dangerous and he'll have his chances to create scrambles and capitalize on the chaos against the younger man tonight.
But it's just hard to envision a way that Swanson takes this. Unless Mendes just chokes under the pressure, he should have answers for every question that Swanson poses in the cage.
Scott Jorgensen vs. Brad Pickett
There are those who believe that Jorgensen got unfairly passed over for a shot at Dominic Cruz' belt in favor of Joseph Benavidez. You could put me in that camp.
Scott brings a four fight win streak into this bout and more importantly, he's been showing some crisp striking to compliment his already fearsome wrestling game.
Pickett, on the other hand, is someone who had to surprise the pundits just to get this far. Few expected him to beat Demetrious Johnson at WEC 48. Tonight we'll get to see if he can extend his WEC record to 3-0.
But unlike Johnson, Jorgensen is no unproven prospect. He's the real deal, a very legitimate contender for the bantamweight title. He's ranked #5 in the world in the USAT/SB Nation Consensus MMA Rankings, contrasted to Pickett's #15.
Pickett is a formidable wrestler himself, but against Jorgensen he'll be the second-best wrestler in the cage. When you factor in Scott's considerable striking advantages, it looks to be a long night for Pickett fans.
Bart Palaszewski vs. Zack Micklewright
This is where old school fans get to enjoy seeing "Bartimus" play the gatekeeper role that suits him so well. Palazewski is the epitome of the grizzled veteran and as such is the perfect test for the fast-rising prospect Zack Micklewright.
Micklewright figures to have the striking skills to punish Bartimus at range, but his wrestling skills are a question mark. Fortunately Palaszewski is no double leg dynamo himself.
Expect to see Zack Micklewright introduce himself to hardcore MMA fans in a big way at the expense of Palaszewski's face.