After a solid weekend of regional action, it's time to sink back into the comforts of top notch mixed martial arts action as Zuffa begins a busy mid-to-end of September run of events starting off with UFC Fight Night 22 on Wednesday, September 15th. The event will take place at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, and it will feature a main event middleweight showdown between Brazilian jiu-jitsu leg breaker Rousimar Palhares and former UFC Middleweight title contender Nate Marquardt. Efrain Escudero, Charles Oliveira, Jim Miller, Gleison Tibau, Ross Pearson, and Cole Miller will also be featured on the main card, but before we delve deep into those match-ups -- here's a look at the six-fight preliminary card that will feature the return of Yves Edwards to the UFC.
Lightweight: Yves Edwards (38-16-1, 6-4 UFC) vs. John Gunderson (23-7, 1-1 UFC): Making his way back into the UFC after a little over four years outside of the organization, Yves Edwards will once again step into the Octagon as he's set to battle IFL veteran John Gunderson in the top bout on the UFC Fight Night 22 preliminary card. Edwards has spent the last few years in the ranks of promotions such as EliteXC, MFC, Shine Fights, and Strikeforce, but losses to KJ Noons, Duane Ludwig, Jorge Masvidal, and his most recent to Mike Campbell at Moosin in May have kept him from progressing to the top of the 155 pound weight class. After a lot of shuffling due to injuries on this card, Edwards was given the opportunity despite his limited success.
Edwards isn't gaining an easy task as he'll battle a motivated wrestler in John Gunderson. Gunderson is coming off a decision victory over Mark Holst at The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale back in June, but he dropped a decision to Rafaello "Tractor" Oliveira in his debut with the promotion at UFC 108 in January. Gunderson's ability to avoid the big shots and bring opponents into his world on the ground has proven to be a key to his success, and it could be that very formula that stifles Edwards on Wednesday night.
Edwards' dynamic stand-up game will serve as his primary means to ending Gunderson's night in spectacular fashion, and while his ground game is able enough to stop submission artists from working him over -- he isn't exactly threatening off his back. His diversity in his strikes should be tough for Gunderson to avoid, but with wild, aggressive striking comes openings for Gunderson to gain takedowns. Look for Gunderson to avoid the knockout blow and slam Edwards to the floor. From there, Gunderson will control the fight and wear out Edwards over three rounds on his way to a decision victory.
Light Heavyweight: Jared Hamman (11-2, 1-1 UFC) vs. Kyle Kingsbury (8-2-0-1, 1-1 UFC): In the lone light heavyweight battle on the card, The Ultimate Fighter season eight contestant Kyle Kingsbury makes his return to the Octagon after an eleven month layoff as he battles former collegiate football player Jared Hamman. Kingsbury's last appearance was a successful one as he edged out Razak Al-Hassan via split decision at UFC 104. Since that time, Hamman was signed by the UFC and appeared in two separate bouts with mixed results. He was knocked out by Alexander Gustafsson in his debut at UFC 105 in only 0:41 seconds, but won a crazy, back-and-forth slugfest against Rodney Wallace at UFC 111 via unanimous decision.
Both Hamman and Kingsbury bring similar styles to this match-up as both will likely look to gain an advantage on the feet. Hamman has a history of proven knockout power while Kingsbury hasn't been able to successfully finish an opponent in roughly three years. That fact could spell disaster for Kingsbury in this fight.
Hamman isn't without a flaw in his game either as his conditioning is a weakness that was nearly exploited by Rodney Wallace. Fortunately for him, Wallace was equally deficient in that department, and he was able to edge him out over the course of three rounds. Kingsbury won't be so easily pressed, and it could be a means for Kingsbury to win here.
I'll take Hamman here, but this is somewhat of a toss-up in my mind. Ring rust will certainly be an issue, but I think Kingsbury is going to come into this battle a bit more improved. How much... we don't know. Hamman's power is something to think about, and while Kingsbury will be a bit taller than him -- Hamman's reach is rather long. I think he can keep him a bit at bay and catch him at some point in this fight, but don't be surprised if Kingsbury pulls off the upset.
Middleweight: Tomasz Drwal (17-3, 3-2 UFC) vs. Dave Branch (6-1, 0-1 UFC): An interesting middleweight showdown here as the brawling stand-up game of Poland's Tomasz Drwal meets the Brazilian jiu-jitsu prowess of Renzo Gracie black belt Dave Branch. Branch, as you probably watched in all its glory, was slammed into the top ten plays of the day on ESPN by Gerald Harris at UFC 116. Drwal was also involved in a significant loss as he was submitted by Rousimar Palhares at UFC 111 via a brutal heel hook that looked to injure Drwal's knee. Palhares was subsequently suspended for holding the submission too long, and luckily -- Drwal escaped without ligament tears or a fracture.
Both fighters will hope to return with a better showing, and the style match-up here should be intriguing for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Drwal hasn't faced a high-level grappler like Branch in a very long time. Lucio Linhares may have fit that role back in 2005, and Drwal knocked him out in a little over three and a half minutes. Will Branch suffer the same fate?
Branch surprised some fans by how he was able to control Harris when he found himself on his back, and that will likely come in handy against Drwal. Drwal doesn't have the wrestling pedigree that Harris possesses, and he isn't as strong as Harris either. That should, at the very least, give Branch the opportunity to control and create chances at snatching a limb. Drwal's power and aggressiveness, on the other hand, will be tough for Branch to overcome. I'll take Drwal via TKO here, but I think Branch is a live underdog who can control Drwal and win via decision.
Middleweight: Rich Attonito (8-3, 1-0 UFC) vs. Rafael Natal (12-2, 0-0 UFC): Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rafael Natal will make his UFC debut on Wednesday night as he battles The Ultimate Fighter season eleven contestant Rich Attonito. Attonito, as you may recall, was given the task of fighting Jamie Yager at the finale back in June, eventually knocking out Yager in the second round after surviving some scary moments in the first. Natal's biggest win came in his last fight as he knocked out former UFC fighter Travis Lutter inside the first round at Moosin in May.
Attonito is more than likely going to try to stand with Natal in this showdown, but Natal is a legitimate competitor in all areas of this fight. He's a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under the tutelage of Vinicius Magalhaes, and he's proven that he has knockout power on the feet. While he does seem rather hesitant in the stand-up game at times, he has solid kicking ability and uses quick jabs from range to frustrate opponents to no end from a distance.
A ranged gameplan will more than likely be the strategy for Natal, and while Attonito has the power and aggressiveness to catch Natal -- Natal is going to be the more precise puncher. On the floor, Attonito has to know that he'll be in trouble, so the importance of an improved stand-up game is key. We'll find out whether he's improved or not, but I think this match-up is tailor-made for Natal to impress.
Welterweight: Anthony Waldburger (13-5, 0-0 UFC) vs. David Mitchell (11-0, 0-0 UFC): One of the more interesting style match-ups on the UFC Fight Night 22 undercard will feature undefeated newcomer David Mitchell battling the youthful 22-year-old Anthony "TJ" Waldburger in welterweight action. Strategy on the ground will be crucial for both newcomers, and it could produce a rather entertaining technical jiu-jitsu battle on the mat.
Waldburger's youth is certainly an asset against older competition, but experience and knowledge can counter that as we saw when Rory MacDonald battled Carlos Condit. Mitchell has a great jiu-jitsu base, honed with the help of David Terrell, but his striking is rather rudimentary. The same could be said for Waldburger, although his quick transition skills give him the added threat of catching opponents off guard.
Tough fight to call here. Mitchell's strength of record over the last year is probably the best indicator as to how this fight will turn out, and Waldburger is going to have a tough time catching Mitchell on the ground. Waldburger could win via a technical battle on the mat, but I think Mitchell is good enough to reverse those positions and win the chess match. I'll take Mitchell via decision.
Welterweight: Brian Foster (13-5, 1-2 UFC) vs. Forrest Petz (18-8, 2-3 UFC): In what should be considered a "loser leaves town" dark match on the UFC Fight Night 22 undercard, H.I.T. Squad team member Brian Foster will aim to put his quick submission loss to Chris Lytle at UFC 110 behind him as he battles seasoned journeyman Forrest Petz. Petz enters this contest coming off a loss to Daniel Roberts via split decision at UFC 116. He previously strung together four straight wins against regional competition before getting another chance in the UFC.
At a cursory glance, some may believe this is a pretty even match-up. Both fighters are relatively unknown to the masses, so a bit of uncertainty as to what each fighter brings to the table is to be expected. But looking deeply into the history of both fighters and where each is at in their career today, all signs point to Foster having the skills to win this fight rather easily. Solid wrestling, a diverse stand-up game, knockout power, and Petz' propensity to engage in all-out slugfests should give Foster a stoppage win in this opening battle.