After a bevy of drab performances this past weekend at UFC 119, many fans have dubbed the event as one of the most disappointing in recent memory. While we are normally spoiled with Zuffa providing us with a distraction to bury any of our memories of bad performances, most fans won't receive instant relief. From the larger casual fanbase perspective, UFC 119 will sit in many fans' memories for a long time.
Luckily for those of us who can call ourselves intermediate to hardcore fans, WEC 51 should provide the perfect distraction. Non-stop action, explosive striking, and an accelerated pace are phrases we could use to describe what the WEC provides within the framework of their three lighter weight divisions. When the UFC fails, the WEC usually succeeds in bringing the entrenched fans back from the brink of boredom.
In the main event of the evening, current WEC featherweight champion Jose Aldo (17-1, 7-0 WEC) will battle former UFC lightweight Manny Gamburyan (11-4, 3-0 WEC) in his second defense of the belt since defeating Mike Brown at WEC 44. Aldo successfully defended his title for the first time on the WEC's first pay-per-view event back in April against Urijah Faber. While Faber was considered Aldo's greatest threat on paper, Aldo dispatched of the former WEC featherweight champion handily with a steady diet of brutal leg kicks that rendered Faber helpless.
Gamburyan's road to the title began at WEC 41 in an unanimous decision victory over John Franchi. Five months later, he grinded out fan favorite Leonard Garcia in similar fashion, but surprised many by knocking out former WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown in two minutes and twenty-two seconds at WEC 48. The victory over Brown vaulted Gamburyan into the title picture, but the consensus opinion is that Aldo will humble him Thursday night.
I tend to agree with that opinion as Gamburyan's style hasn't quite crossed into the realm of diverse. While he does have the power to knock out opponents, Aldo's quickness and excellent stand-up defense should keep him safe on the feet. Gamburyan's gameplan will more than likely involve takedowns and grinding top control, and Aldo has shown phenomenal takedown defense in past performances. Obviously, that doesn't bode well for Gamburyan, but Gamburyan has the potential to, at the very least, challenge the champion on the ground in an attrition war if he can get there.
As we've seen in the new era of mixed martial arts, the old cliché that speed kills reigns true. Fighters like Anderson Silva and B.J. Penn have maintained their standing atop their respective divisions for a very long time because of their quickness, and Penn's successor, Frankie Edgar, also fits into the category. Jose Aldo is in that discussion as well, and he may be the quickest in the sport as he sits atop a division that is known for producing blazing fast action from the top of the division to the bottom.
That quickness will be Aldo's greatest asset once again, and Gamburyan's only answer will be to press the clinch and work for takedowns. Unfortunately, I think this may be a repeat of the Faber bout in that Aldo will defend and throw bruising kicks to Gamburyan's legs that will neutralize him. After a few rounds, look for Aldo to finish on the feet.
Lightweight: Jamie Varner (16-3-1-2, 4-1-1 WEC) vs. Donald Cerrone (15-3-0-1, 4-3-0-1 WEC): As Jonathan Snowden outlined in his post on Wednesday, the hatred between Varner and Cerrone has been highly public in the lead-up to this fight, and most fans probably recall the antagonizing comments from both fighters following their bout at WEC 38. Don't expect this fight to be filled with disciplined fighting. Both men want to send a message.
Interestingly enough, this match-up could be a make-or-break fight for Donald Cerrone. After losing to Benson Henderson twice and dropping the split decision to Varner back at WEC 38, there is some opinion that Cerrone's weaknesses out weigh his strengths. With the influx of talent and potential for some of those fighters surpassing Cerrone on the ladder, Cerrone needs an impressive performance against an adversary that once bested him to stay in the picture at the top of the division. Unfortunately, two losses to the current champion put him between a rock and a hard place in terms of gaining a title shot... unless Henderson loses.
But before that talk can begin, Cerrone will need to prove that his takedown defense actually exists and that he can withstand Varner's attacks on the feet. While Cerrone is known for his Muay Thai striking and lengthy frame, he was still peppered with blows from Varner in their first encounter. The fight, overall, is a tough call, but I think a healthy Varner takes this one, as he did the first time.
-- photos via wec.tv
Bantamweight: Miguel Torres (37-3, 5-2 WEC) vs. Charlie Valencia (12-5, 5-3 WEC): Torres' perception as being an unstoppable force at the apex of the division quickly folded following his loss to Brian Bowles at WEC 42. Many fans chalked it up to the punching power of Bowles and Torres' risky gameplan, but Joseph Benavidez proved that Torres could be defeated in other areas.
Valencia will provide a well-rounded skill-set for Torres to work against, and while he's not a top notch wrestler like Benavidez or a powerful knockout threat like Bowles -- he's above average in both areas. Valencia won't be pulling off any German suplexes in this bout, but a cocky Torres won't have an easy time here. Despite my problem with Torres invading my Twitter timeline with arrogant comments about how he's the center of the universe, he should win here, but I'll give Valencia staying power and pick Torres via decision.
Featherweight: Chan Sung Jung (10-2, 0-1 WEC) vs. George Roop (10-6-1, 0-1-1 WEC): Jung's first professional bout on U.S. soil was one of the biggest in his career, and possibly one of the best of 2010. Very few fighters have had that type of exposure, especially Asian-born fighters entering the United States, but Jung delivered an exciting performance with a solid opponent in Leonard Garcia.
His second appearance in the WEC may run parallel with his first, or at least that's what the WEC is hoping. George Roop provided a Fight of the Night performance, interestingly enough, against Jung's first opponent Leonard Garcia. The WEC hopes to strike gold once again, but the matchmaking here hints that they want to keep Jung in the mix.
Roop's background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu certainly gives him an edge on the ground, but he will be overmatched in the striking department. Jung's striking game was once a worrisome part of his game, specifically when he was entering the WEC, but it was evident that he had improved since his performances with World Victory Road. His relentless style gained him some notoriety, but his propensity to keep his chin up left a little to be desired. That seemed to have been fixed when he stepped in the cage with Garcia.
Jung should win here on the feet. Solid takedown defense, tough as nails mentality, and enough know-how to avoid the submission game of Roop. If he can maintain a relentless pace to start, Roop should get battered over the course of three rounds.
Featherweight: Leonard Garcia (14-5-1, 5-2-1 WEC) vs. Mark Hominick (18-8, 2-2 WEC): It's tough to buy into the idea that Leonard Garcia will ever be a top flight featherweight fighter, but boy is he exciting to watch. He'll get another chance to impress as he opens the night on the main card against a possible upset special in Mark Hominick. Hominick has quietly put together three straight victories, two of which were in the WEC against Bryan Caraway and Yves Jabouin.
Garcia's gameplan doesn't change much from fight to fight. He'll sprawl, look to counter with wild overhand bombs, and hope to put your lights out quickly. Hominick is a bit more strategic as he has the chops on the feet to be dangerous, but can grapple his way to victory as well. For this fight, I'd be more inclined to believe a striking war will ensue with Garcia edging out Hominick, but this is almost a toss-up. Garcia's wild power and technique-deficient punching are worrisome though, and that leads me to believe Hominick takes home the victory.
Featherweight: Zhang Tie Quan (11-0, 0-0 WEC) vs. Pablo Garza (9-0, 0-0 WEC): Originally, Alex Karalexis was going to battle "The Mongolian Wolf" in Zhang Tie Quan, but he was forced out due to injury. Replacement Jason Reinhardt failed his eye exam, and undefeated prospect Pablo Garza finds his way onto the WEC 51 preliminary card. Quan is the first Chinese fighter to step into a cage under the Zuffa umbrella, the first Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt in China, and one of the first MMA champions in any promotion in his homeland. Karalexis would have provided a stiff introduction to fighting in North America, but The Ultimate Fighter season 12 contestant should provide a challenge nonetheless.
Normally, a short notice fight like this puts the fight in favor of Quan due to the lengthy amount of training time he's had in preparation, and Garza isn't really a different type of fighter than Karalexis in terms of his ground skills. Karalexis was probably a better wrestler, but Quan now has to deal with a 6'1" frame instead of the 5'8" frame of Karalexis. Garza has also been working with Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy, which can only help improve his base skills.
I've seen Quan's fights in China, and to be perfectly honest -- it's tough to see where this guy sits inside the WEC's shark tank. Will his skills translate? Can he stop the overwhelming power of the American wrestler? Nobody knows at this point, hence why I consider this fight a straight-up coin flip. Most will believe Quan takes this, but 6'1" is a tough reach advantage to wade through against a guy who can wrestle. I like Garza in the upset bid, but as aformentioned -- flip a coin.
Featherweight: Mike Brown (23-6, 5-2 WEC) vs. Cole Province (6-1-0-1, 0-1-0-1 WEC): If you recall, Province was busted for steroids, specifically the designer steroid Methasterone, following his victory over Fredson Paixao at WEC 42 in August of 2009. He's back after a regional appearance in June, but he'll wade deep into the featherweight division's pool as he battles former champion Mike Brown.
Brown should be the favorite in this fight, but Province does have a solid background in wrestling that could wreak havoc on Brown's ability to throw leather. The problem, however, is that Brown's strength can neutralize even the best wrestlers in this division. The x-factor is Brown's mental fortitude, and it was hinted that his mental stability could be in question following his loss to Manny Gamburyan at WEC 48. With Brown's recent comments regarding his inability to gain any sponsors due to his demotion to the preliminary card, will Brown be distracted or even more motivated to put on an impressive performance? I'm going with the latter.
Lightweight: Chris Horodecki (15-2, 1-1 WEC) vs. Ed Ratcliff (7-2, 3-2 WEC): During the good days of the IFL's existence in the mixed martial arts scene, Chris Horodecki was the youthful competitor with an unforseen amount of potential. While many fans believed he could be the future of the sport, I sat around waiting for him to show me something more than the same tired one-two combination with the same tired head kick to follow. Unfortunately, Horodecki still hasn't broken out of that mold.
Ratcliff, on the other hand, put on his best Chuck Norris impersonation with a spinning heel kick against Brett Cooper back in December of 2005, and I've tried to keep up with him ever since. That's how you keep fans, Chris!
In any case, I'm taking Ratcliff. Sure, I'd love to see Horodecki... do something else other than telegraphed combinations, but he certainly didn't change that style of fighting against Njokuani, which was only nine months ago.
Featherweight: Tyler Toner (10-1-0-1, 1-0 WEC) vs. Diego Nunes (14-1, 3-1 WEC): While I love Toner's stand-up game and his rise to greatness following his upset victory over former Shootboxing champ Kenichi Ogata in Japan last year, Nunes should come out on top in this fight. Hmmm... let me ponder this again. It could potentially go down as a kickboxing match-up? Yeah, I think I'll take Toner.
Bantamweight: Antonio Banuelos (17-6, 8-5 WEC) vs. Chad George (11-5, 1-1 WEC): Anyone who can stick to his guns and actually compete with Scott Jorgensen right now should be able to drive through Chad George's weak strength of schedule quite easily.
Bantamweight: Demetrious Johnson (6-1, 0-1 WEC) vs. Nick Pace (5-0, 0-0 WEC): Johnson showed a lot of promise in a closely contested battle in his debut against Brad Pickett at WEC 48. Explosive and quick, his wrestling and power should end Pace's night abruptly.