That was quick, wasn't it? After only a few days following Sunday night's UFC on Versus II, we're back in the saddle once again in preparation for another great UFC event. UFC 117 will take place on Saturday, August 7th from the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, and it will feature a main event middleweight title showdown between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen. Before we delve deep into the individual battles taking place on the UFC 117 main card, let's take a look at some of the action you may or may not see during the broadcast that will take place on the UFC 117 preliminary card.
Welterweight: Dustin Hazelett (12-5, 5-3 UFC) vs. Rick Story (10-3, 3-1 UFC): Dustin Hazelett won't need to worry about battling a heavy-handed power puncher in this match-up as he faces Washington-born wrestler Rick Story in this welterweight showdown. Hazelett will be looking to get back on track following his devastating knockout loss to Paul Daley at UFC 108 and a little over one year layoff following his victory over Tamdan McCrory due to injury and the withdrawal of Karo Parisyan from their scheduled UFC 106 showdown. Story has the opportunity to string together four straight wins in the UFC, almost assuredly raising his stock enough to get him some mid-level battles against more well-known opponents.
Hazelett is more than likely the favorite in this fight as he has quick transitioning Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques that can catch opponents off guard and put his name at the top of the list for Submission of the Night honors. While he does possess the grappling acumen to be a threat, Story's gameplan normally revolves around sheer toughness, pace, and a constant thrashing of his opponent, the exact style that has produced solid performances for his teammate, Mike Pierce. A mix of wrestling, boxing, and explosiveness in the takedown department along with constant pressure should keep Hazelett jockeying for position.
Very interesting match-up here, and Hazelett's success relies heavily on two question marks. Has he improved his striking enough to compete with Story on the feet? Can Hazelett take down a very tough wrestler in Rick Story? If the answer is "No" to both of these questions, Story is going to batter Hazelett on the feet and stuff him for three rounds, eeking out a decision. And to be perfectly honest, that's a very real possibility in this match-up.
Hazelett doesn't have a lot of experience against wrestlers either. Koscheck kept his feet and bombed Hazelett with punches, and Burkman is probably a B or C-level wrestler at best. Story, on the other hand, is a solid B-level wrestler, potentially A-level when we think about how he's used it within the context of MMA. Great pace, powerful throws, and good control along the cage to set up his hands.
With all of that said, this is somewhat of a toss-up for me. Hazelett's wizardry on the ground is a huge x-factor, and he can probably pull off a win pretty quickly even if he's lost the first two frames. In the end, I'm going with the upset. Rick Story is as tough as nails, and I'm banking on that toughness to battle through submission attempts and squeak out a decision win on Saturday night.
Light Heavyweight: Phil Davis (6-0, 2-0 UFC) vs. Rodney Wallace (9-2, 0-2 UFC): Wallace was scheduled to face Stanislav Nedkov, but now he's the unfortunate recipient of a change in opposition as he'll battle 2008 NCAA wrestling champion Phil Davis. The only fortunate thing Wallace can take away from the change is that his opponent's style isn't any different, only much, much better.
While I think Wallace's power is a threat in this fight, his technical abilities on the feet will probably be more of a means to an end than an advantage. Wallace can throw wicked power, but flailing, wild overhands will likely get him taken down quickly. From there, it should be Davis' fight to win, either by decision or a submission from his improving grappling prowess. I'll go with a submission.
Welterweight: Johny Hendricks (8-0, 3-0 UFC) vs. Charlie Brenneman (11-1, 1-0 UFC): A battle of great wrestlers could turn into some brutal pugilism in this match-up as NCAA champion Johny Hendricks takes on Pennsylvania-born wrestler Charlie Brenneman. Brenneman upset Jason High in his debut via an unanimous decision while Hendricks has continued his unbeaten streak with victories over Amir Sadollah, Ricardo Funch, and T.J. Grant.
Tough fight to call, but as I mentioned in the lead-in -- this could turn into a nice slugfest. With that said, I think Hendricks has the advantage in that type of battle, especially in the clinch. Brenneman's wrestling is a problem, but on paper -- Hendricks should also have the advantage in that area as well. Barring a conditioning problem or a deficiency in his wrestling, Hendricks wins via decision.
Heavyweight: Stefan Struve (19-4, 3-2 UFC) vs. Christian Morecraft (6-0, 0-0 UFC): Struve has had some limited success in the UFC with victories over Denis Stojnic, Chase Gormley, and Paul Buentello, but one weakness is keeping him from breaking into his own as a legitimate heavyweight -- his propensity to be blasted by the heavy hands of his opponents. Roy Nelson and Junior Dos Santos both landed heavy shots that knocked out Struve, and even in victory against Paul Buentello, Struve ate huge blows that nearly ended his night.
He draws another challenge as he battles a giant in comparison to most of the division in Christian Morecraft, a 6'8", 260 pound Goliath in his own right. Struve, sitting at 6'11", will surprisingly have height and reach on Morecraft, but as always -- he'll be at the mercy of the power that Morecraft brings to the table. Three of his wins came by first round knockout, and he's finished all opponents inside the first frame.
Struve's grappling is obviously his best asset, and he presents huge threats to anyone in the division as he's long-limbed and has an active guard. The problem, however, is that Morecraft has probably seen Struve's deficient striking skills on display, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that pressure and power hurts the Dutch-born fighter. An upset could be in play here, but I like Struve's ground game over Morecraft's inexperience against top-flight competition.
Light Heavyweight: Tim Boetsch (11-3, 2-2 UFC) vs. Todd Brown (11-1, 0-0 UFC): Boetsch makes his return to the UFC after a three-fight win streak in regional competition after being cut by the promotion following his loss to Jason Brilz in March. He was originally scheduled to face Thiago Silva, but he'll now face UFC newcomer Todd Brown after Silva was injured during his training camp. Brown has rattled off seven straight wins with his only loss of his career coming against Josh Hendricks, a bout that took place over three years ago. At 38 years of age, it won't be an easy task taking on a younger, more aggressive fighter like Boetsch.
Obviously, Boetsch is the hands down favorite in this fight, but not by a wide margin. He's aggressive, has shown knockout power in the past, and remains quite active throughout his fights. That aggressiveness and unwavering activity has been his downfall in some of his past fights as his conditioning has always been a problem, and Brown seems like the type of opponent that will, at the very least, give Boetsch a run for his money.
I think Boetsch's wrestling should be good enough to topple Brown to the ground if need be, but I imagine we'll see Boetsch try to knock out Brown early and often. Brown has a chance to eek out a win here as Boetsch has mainly been beating up on regional competition as of late, but I think Boetsch takes this one via TKO.
Welterweight: Ben Saunders (8-2-2, 4-2 UFC) vs. Dennis Hallman (41-13-2-1, 1-4 UFC): UFC 117 will begin the night with a classic striker vs. grappler battle as American Top Team's Ben Saunders battles 34-year-old UFC veteran and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Dennis Hallman in welterweight action. Hallman's first fight on his current contract was going rather well as he had won two rounds against John Howard, well on his way to winning a decision victory. Howard had other ideas as he put together a powerful flurry of blows in the final seconds of round three, downing Hallman and miraculously coming back to win. Saunders has been more of a roller coaster than having bad luck. He surprisingly destroyed Marcus Davis at UFC 106, but lost via unanimous decision to Jon Fitch at UFC 111, a fight he took on only 1 or 2 days notice.
Saunders' height and size should be a huge concern for Hallman in this fight, but Hallman's jiu-jitsu prowess on the ground along with Saunders' inability to work from the floor effectively could spell disaster for him in this fight. Hallman's no Jon Fitch in the takedown department, and Saunders has devastating Muay Thai striking abilities that could make Hallman pay in a big way for failed takedown attempts.
I think Saunders has the edge in this fight if he can maintain his feet and press Hallman into the clinch. I do, however, think Hallman should be in consideration for an upset pick here. He has the grappling to control Saunders for three rounds, and that's enough to give him the nod. Unfortunately, I think that one-dimensional gameplan is going to be his downfall as Saunders should be much better on the feet. I'll take Ben Saunders via TKO.