Sandwiched between the Facebook stream and the live pay-per-view, Spike TV will feature two UFC 137: Penn vs. Diaz preliminary fights at 8 p.m. ET.
With pivotal repercussions on the lightweight totem pole, German kickboxing champion Dennis Siver squares off with soaring WEC crossover Donald Cerrone. In his second featherweight foray, the stalwart Tyson Griffin welcomes Bart Palaszewski -- another staple in the WEC -- to the Octagon after a ten-month layoff.
I'll cover the second fight separately to give the marquee bout the detail it deserves.
Both of these offensive minded strikers have rocketed up the contender ladder with a recent resurgence.
After dropping a decision to Ross Pearson at UFC Fight Night 21, Siver pegged four in a row over Spencer Fisher, Andre Winner, then-top-tenner George Sotiropoulos and a contentious decision over Matt Wiman. Since a Ben Henderson guillotine at WEC 48, "Cowboy" responded with five consecutive wins over Jamie Varner and Chris Horodecki in the WEC and Paul Kelly, Vagner Rocha and Charles Oliveira in the Octagon.
For Siver, the renewed vigor was preceded by an introductory four-piece UFC run that resulted in only one victory over Naoyuki Kotani (KO) with losses to Jess Liaudin (armbar), Gray Maynard (decision) and Melvin Guillard (TKO). Along with Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis, Cerrone cemented himself as a top lightweight in the WEC by plowing through everyone but Henderson (who beat him twice) and Jamie Varner, though avenged the latter convincingly in the rematch.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Even though Siver's kickboxing is highly dynamic, it's still the only dimension where he thrives offensively. Most of his secondary skills are support systems for his striking, such as his ornery scrambling and sprawl.
The key to his evolution has been tightening up his stance and sticking to more common strikes while heavily fortifying his takedown defense, forcing opponents to battle with him where he's at his best.
Easing back a little on the spinning kicks and other atypical tactics from his taekwondo background (right), Siver is now relying more on basic, head-breaking boxing combinations delivered deep in the pocket.
In the sequence to the left against Sotiropoulos, the flurries he unravels for both knockdowns are indicative of his quickness and power.
However, the combo in the second knockdown (at 1:08) shows Siver's distinct style of gun-slinging short and twisting hooks at close range.
He keeps his elbows tight to his sides and flashes a mean set of rights and lefts while torquing hard at the waist to generate a lot of power.
Every strike here travels with a subtle arc to it.
With a punching style more akin to Russian or European boxing rather than the Western style, Siver rarely -- if ever -- throws a straight jab or cross.
This, along with the graceful kicks he swings out with no forewarning or set up, gives everything Siver offers on the feet an odd timing that's difficult to defend.
Siver also wears people down with his ever-present ability to finish or ceaselessly frustrate his opponent with sharp, stinging combinations for all fifteen minutes.
In addition to the power he shows against Sotiropoulos and Winner (right), the adjustments he's made are evident here.
By whittling down his stand up arsenal to simpler strikes, Siver can maintain rock-solid balance and keep his hands in a position conducive to shucking off takedowns.
Built like a stocky slab of muscle, Siver has a low center of gravity and a strongly anchored base that makes for some feisty takedown defense, as depicted to the left.
His game plan is pretty obvious and the variables will be how well he addresses Cerrone's quickness, length and grappling advantage.
Cerrone has also evolved recently, and it sure seems that his mental game and maturity are the most noticeable.
He's always had incredible talent, but this sequence to the right versus Chris Horodecki shows some of his careless lapses from the past.
He opens with a telegraphed lead knee while his hands are up in the air (for balance) rather than barricaded around his chin, and Horodecki tags him for it.
Based on the range he's in, his strike selection is a little curious here.
He has the ideal frame and toolbox to be effective from any distance -- from outside (jabs and kicks), in the pocket (punches and elbows) and at "phone booth range" (knees and elbows) -- and Cerrone is now demonstrating an astute grasp of range by applying the proper weaponry.
Contrast the Horodecki gif to the one versus Oliveira to the left: now, the plunging knee is dealt deep in the pocket after he sets up his advance with a long right hand. He wisely retreats when Oliveira tries to stick to him and charge forward for control.
Again to the right, Cerrone dominates the distance game with his intelligent choice of offense.
From outside, he kicks off the attack with a left hook and straight right while closing in.
Then, reacting on the fly to Oliveira's consistent pattern of using the double-forearm block, Cerrone hovers low and left to bore a beautiful body shot to the exposed sternum.
Cerrone is extremely rangy for the weight class; a natural attribute that complements his wicked Thai onslaught perfectly.
My guess is that, in the past, Cerrone made some risky choices with his wild stand up because he could fall back on his strong chin and high level ground game.
For that reason, I gave Vagner Rocha, a demon on the ground, a legit chance.
Cerrone had never before executed a flawless sprawl-and-brawl and fearlessly went to the mat with anyone, which would have been a big mistake with Rocha.
Not only did he follow the perfect strategy, Cerrone showed how leg kicks are great distance weapons.
We often hear that leg kicks are a danger when fending off an aspiring takedown artist, but Cerrone complemented his Thai kicks in the Rocha fight with the perfect timing, technique, and, as emphasized earlier, from the perfect range.
Though not known as a wrestler, Cerrone is still a threat with takedowns on account of his quickness and ability to explode at the right moment.
It's not a textbook example, but even without a ton of movement or much of a set up, Cerrone drops levels at light speed to take Horodecki down to the right.
Amazingly enough, Cerrone's dramatic stoppage of Oliveira was his first and only finish by TKO. This leaves Siver with the clear edge in punching power and propensity for damage in the pocket.
Really, I think Cerrone deserves the nod everywhere else, except maybe with hand speed and clinch defense: overall quickness, agility and movement; chin resilience, height and length, offensive wrestling, grappling, submissions and cardio. He gets my vote for this landslide of advantages.
Of course, Siver excels at nullifying all other aspects of MMA by narrowing the fight down to a jousting match on the feet, where he can hang with just about anybody. In addition to his stout takedown defense, his scrambling chops and ability to stand back up are highly formidable.
No one should rule out a Siver win but, on paper, the analysis easily leans toward Cerrone's diversity and size carrying him to a win. He may very well win by decision in a straight striking match, but I envision him flustering Siver with his newfound control of distance and eventually springing for a takedown and latching a sub in a scramble.
My Prediction: Donald Cerrone by submission
Siver vs. Mohr gif via MMA-Core.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com