After several cosmetic makeovers, the UFC 137: Penn vs. Diaz show goes live this Saturday night from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Four match ups punctuate the customary preliminary card stream on the UFC's Facebook page: Brandon Vera vs. Eliot Marshall, Danny Downes vs. Ramsey Nijem, Francis Carmont vs. Chris Camozzi Dustin Jacoby vs. Clifford Starks.
Once hailed as "the next big thing", Brandon Vera gets a do-over now that his third consecutive loss was changed to a No Contest after Thiago Silva tested hot for banned substances.
With only two pro fights under his belt, Vera signed up for the 2005 WEC heavyweight tournament and blasted through Andre Mussi and Mike Whitehead by TKO in the same night to catch the UFC's attention. There, the confident young Thai fighter continued to litter the production room floor with highlight reel stoppages.
Fusing crisp kickboxing with the brown belt BJJ skills he'd accrued under Master Lloyd Irvin, Vera notched knockouts over Fabiano Scherner and the late Justin Eilers, snatched a crafty guillotine on veteran Ausserio Silva, then ran over a still-debilitated Frank Mir to vault into title contention.
Undefeated after stampeding all eight adversaries and standing as arguably the most salivating prospect in MMA, Vera's career trajectory would take an ominous turn. His lanky and under-sized frame would come into play against former champion Tim Sylvia, to whom he gave up a half-foot in height, and Fabricio Werdum, who carved through his guard to elicit a stoppage via strikes from the mount.
His subsequent drop in weight and seven-fight clip resulted in three mid-tier wins, all of which were overshadowed by a competitive split decision loss to Keith Jardine and a triple-fight slide that was much more respectable than Vera gets credit for. Many felt he deserved the nod against legend Randy Couture and "shame" is the last thing that losing to Jon Jones should be associated with. His most disappointing performance by far was the way Silva handled him but, then again, Silva was a clear cut top-tenner at the time.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Eliot Marshall deserves a similar disclaimer. This is a guy with two telling split decisions -- one a win over Jason Brilz, the other a loss to the formidable Vladimir Matyushenko -- and a commanding victory over submission ace Vinny Magalhaes that testify to his abilities.
Along with "The Janitor" his only other career flaws are TKO losses to nasty striker Luiz Cane and former UFC heavyweight Rob MacDonald.
Quite frankly, I think he's an under-rated talent who has the grappling acumen (BJJ black belt), ever-improving stand up, size, strength and team (Grudge Training Center in Colorado) to present Vera with some serious match up problems.
Vera's shining attribute has always been his Muay Thai arsenal, quickness and length.
With Marshall being a large 205-pounder with comparable or superior ground skills, Vera will have to rely on implementing his striking game with a renewed fervor.
He seemed plagued with hesitation or struggling without his usual speed advantage against the upper-echelon light heavies he faced.
While I don't expect Marshall to run him over on the ground or in the clinch, Vera's voracity will be easier to nullify in those phases of combat.
Marshall can probably compete with Vera standing but is not likely to succeed in a straight shootout.
Most of the high-powered strikes that Vera's unleashed have come with his kicks or knees; techniques he's shied away from while opting to use his hands more instead.
Though kicks can be risky against an aspiring takedown artist, Marshall will want to close the distance and enforce his stature at intimate range rather than staying anchored on the fringe of striking range, so quick and carefully unleashed kicks could be applied as a distance weapon for Vera.
His body kicks, as shown versus Couture to the right, have the snap and velocity to punish an opponent looking to drop levels.
Vera has also employed a nice stomp kick to the lead knee to ward off incoming fighters. The technique allows him to release a long, straight strike while maintaining his balance while not necessarily leaving him exposed for takedowns.
Take a look at the force this kick lands with on Jardine. Vera executes the kick perfectly and it's the type of weapon that drastically saps your opponent's mobility and offers low risk with the potential for high reward.
Vera's footwork and ring generalship will also be tested.
Marshall, though a not a standout wrestler, excels in setting up his takedown attempts or entering the clinch with attention-grabbing combinations.
I'm guessing Marshall will stay composed while picking the ideal place and time to rush Vera without forcing the issue.
Having him wrapped up will muffle his fiery offense, and Marshall can execute this by bullying him against the fence with dirty boxing from the collar-tie position or grounding the fight to impose his will on the mat.
I think Brandon Vera just needs to bring back a heaping dose of the old Brandon Vera, such as the sequence to the right versus Silva.
Not only is his technique on point, but check out how he shuffles to the left and bobs his head in a downward arc to protect his chin while loosening his low kicks. I also like how he changes back and forth from traditional to southpaw while piecing together a diverse bag of tricks.
Vera should keep Marshall at bay with an array of kicks, threaten with takedowns (even if he doesn't get them) to thwart his pressure, circle out into open space and flaunt his kickboxing swagger. The clinch is a danger zone but one he can still attack in as long as he doesn't sacrifice position.
Marshall has made strides with his boxing game but doesn't have the power to hurt Vera too badly in striking exchanges, as his career finishing ratio reflects (1 TKO, 5 subs, 4 decisions). What Marshall does have is the toolbox to replicate every one of Vera's losses, most of which were delivered by bigger, stronger fighters who wore him down with paralyzing control (Sylvia, Couture, Werdum, Silva).
Even though both fighters are thoroughly well rounded, I think the meat and potatoes of this bout boils down to a striker vs. grappler environment. It will be Vera's agility and superior striking against Marshall's size and top-notch BJJ.
I'm leaning toward Vera here, but only slightly, and the pressure he must be feeling in his UFC return pretty much evens things out. I'm going to give the nod to Vera by a small margin, guessing he can unload with full power on the feet and hold his own elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised by any means to see Marshall take a decision.
My Prediction: Brandon Vera by decision
Roufusport lightweight Danny Downes meets wrestler Ramsey Nijem in the latter's first showing since falling to Tony Ferguson at the TUF 13 Finale.
Honestly, I don't have a good bead on Downes. My current assessment is that his brain and his heart are exceedingly strong and he shows a respectable level of diverse technique with admirable composure for a younger fighter.
His first exposure came in taking a WEC fight with Chris Horodecki on extremely late notice, so it's hard to knock him for that third-round submission loss, which was the first defeat of his career. I gave him high marks for decisioning Chinese prospect Tiequan Zhang but have to admit that the feat has lost some luster in retrospect. Having five strike stoppages to his credit, he picked up his first submission win outside the UFC before a commendable but convincing decision loss to Jeremy Stephens last time out.
Nijem, who trains with Court McGee as well as under John Hackleman at The Pit, will compete as a lightweight after fighting at 170 on the reality show. Bypassing an amateur career, the former D1 wrestler (Utah Valley University) won four of his five professional bouts before TUF with two subs and one TKO and decision apiece.
I've been fairly impressed with Nijem thus far and also hold Tony Ferguson in high regard, so I imagine his solid grasp of striking fundamentals, stellar wrestling and explosive style will be a hefty challenge for Downes. Ramsey seems likely to walk him back against the cage and veil his takedown attempts in a storm of straight punches.
What I like about Downes is that he already excels with the things you can't teach. His fighting intelligence and spirit are apparent. While his striking fundamentals are legit, I think he has some strides to make with using his height and reach more effectively and adding some muscle to his frame. I don't believe, at this stage, that he has the physicality or punching power to keep Nijem from replicating what Stephens accomplished.
My Prediction: Ramsey Nijem by decision
Carmont is a Canadian product in the Tristar Gym family alongside Georges St. Pierre with eight subs and six TKOs. He's debuting as a middleweight after spending the bulk of his career at 205.
Camozzi was the fighter forced to take an early exit off the TUF 11 show. Even though he won, his opponent in the qualifier fight-- Victor O'Donnell, who recently made an appearance in Bellator's middleweight tourney -- left him with a broken jaw.
He returned to defeat James Hammortree at the finale, then edged the hard-nosed Dongi Yang by split decision before Kyle Noke submitted him in the first. Camozzi fought Joey Villasenor at Shark Fights 15 and had the good fortune of a score card mishap that initially divulged a draw, but was later corrected as a split vote in his favor.
I'm going to put the onus on Carmont here, who has much to prove: his record is a little spotty, there are a million lurking perils (and potential advantages) in making a virgin run at a twenty-pound cut; Camozzi might never be a contender, but he's a reliable gamer who should be able to scratch and claw his way to a win.
My Prediction:by decision
Two undefeated newcomers make their UFC debuts in the middleweight division. Originally aligned with Brad Tavares, Dustin Jacoby switches gears against late replacement Clifford Starks of the Arizona Combat Sports team. A D1 wrestler at ASU, Starks has finished half of his eight fights (3 TKOs, 1 sub), most of which took place in Rage in the Cage; the latest a Shark Fights 20 win over Artenas Young.
Jacoby is a towering 185-pounder -- clocking in as the tallest on the UFC's middleweight roster at 6'4" -- who hails from the H.I.T. Squad in Granite City, IL. He's destroyed all but one of his six foes in the first round with a flattering five TKOs and one submission.
It's hard not to go with an undefeated fighter who wrestled at a high level in college but, based on the small amount I've seen of and heard about Jacoby, I think he can pick up the win.
My Prediction: Dustin Jacoby by TKO
Vera vs. Silva gif via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
All others via MMA-Core.com