Stipe Miocic, the fifth-place nominee on the BloodyElbow Heavyweight Scouting Report, makes his UFC debut against the hard-nosed Joey Beltran in the feature bout on the Facebook undercard. Darren Elkins, who defeated the wily Michihiro Omigawa in his first featherweight foray, draws the once-defeated Tiequan Zhang.
Two former UFC light-heavyweights will seek a new beginning in the middleweight division: submission specialist Eric Schafer squares off with Aaron Simpson and Steve Cantwell meets Team Bombsquad's Mike Massenzio.
Stipe Miocic (6-0) vs. Joey Beltran (13-5)
Croatian Stipe Miocic caught the eye of MLB scouts at Cleveland State University; an impressive accomplishment considering he was concurrently a nationally ranked 197-pound wrestler on the same D1 squad as MMA standout Muhammed Lawal.
Thus far Miocic has used his wrestling foundation to stay afoot, drawing from his secondary background as a Golden Gloves champion to notch violent knockouts in his first five pro fights (three in the first round). He became the NAAFS (North American Allied Fight Series) heavyweight champion in his last outing, forcing his opponent to submit due to a debilitating onslaught of leg kicks.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry
The sturdy sprawl-and-brawl strategy that Miocic has crafted shouldn't be necessary against Beltran, who will gladly oblige the Croatian standing.
"The Mexicutioner" stole the spotlight by throttling Rolles Gracie with a second round TKO at UFC 109.
Cementing his voracity with a decision over Canadian Tim Hague in his second go-around, Beltran dropped two in a row to Matt Mitrione and Pat Barry, proving his rugged toughness despite the disappointing losses.
Beltran's penchant for brawls makes him a nice litmus test for Miocic.
He did hit one takedown apiece on Mitrione and Rosa, but generally Beltran prefers to stalk, tuck his chin and swarm with a hail of leather.
I can't even count how many punches he throws in the flurry to the left, but it's a hell of a lot (technical term). Even if Beltran's style is a bit primitive and predictable, you can't deny that his hands are quick, his punches are straight and he's only been finished once in his five losses.
While his previous competition has been less than stellar and there's no telling how he'll react when skyrocketed to the elite level, Miocic trains at Ohio's Strong Style Fight Team with two other exceptional athletes and massive punchers in Bellator's Brian Rogers and Chris Lozano.
His striking technique appears to be significantly cleaner and more diverse than Beltran's and he can always revert back to his wrestling foundation as an alternative. Though it's not his strength and he's only a BJJ blue belt, Beltran is a capable wrestler himself with decent scrambling abilities. His unflinching fortitude and gameness are his best attributes and he's a formidable opponent for any heavyweight.
My guess is that Miocic's agility and footwork will be the difference standing and the availability to spring for quick double legs will be enough to carry him to a close and hard-earned decision.
My Prediction: Stipe Miocic by decision
Tiequan Zhang (15-1) vs. Darren Elkins (12-2)
"The Mongolian Wolf" arrived stateside being trumpeted as China's finest offering and didn't disappoint with a first round guillotine choke on Pablo Garza (right).
In retrospect, this win is even more impressive now that Garza has unveiled shocking potential in his two subsequent performances: a flying triangle on Yves Jabouin and a flying knee knockout of Fredson Paixao.
Standing as the only man to defeat Garza signifies immense talent, but Zhang's surprising decision loss to Daniel Downes at WEC 53 really killed his momentum.
Since working under the tutelage of Ruy Menezes, Zhang's BJJ acumen has vaulted from blue to brown belt level. He also has a background in Sanda, also known as Sanshou, which is the striking and takedown oriented martial art (with no mat grappling) that Cung Le excelled in.
Darren Elkins was a four-time freestyle and two-time Greco Roman champion in high school wrestling.
Elkins arrived in the UFC as a lightweight where his first two fights lasted a total of a minute and a half.
He defeated Duane Ludwig (who wrenched his ankle horribly on an Elkins takedown and couldn't continue) and succumbed to a Charles Oliveira armbar, resulting in his decision to drop down to featherweight.
We finally got the chance to soak in some of Elkin's skills in his controversial decision over Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 131.
Upholding the same takedown prowess he exhibited as a lightweight, Elkins also showed a solid boxing game against the seasoned Omigawa.
He rattled off a clean series of combinations with decent form and power. When Omigawa started to mount a comeback late in the fight, Elkins hit a few double leg takedowns to regain control.
In addition to the Oliveira submission, the other defeat on Elkins' record is a TKO at the hands of Ted Worthington, who boasts a rare 31-32 fight career.
Zhang has emerged as the slight favorite on the betting lines. His striking is not unlike that of Elkins: not bad, but not necessarily great with sound technique and power, especially in his straight right. Zhang's wrestling is solid as well though I don't think he'll be effective against Elkins.
Omigawa is skilled in submission -- though not in the traditional BJJ sense like Zhang -- and had no luck underneath the top game of Elkins save for a few escapes. This one could go either way but I'm leaning towards Elkins for his superior control, submission defense and being just a little tighter on the feet.
My Prediction: Darren Elkins by decision
Aaron Simpson (10-2) vs. Eric Schafer (12-5-2)
His signature wrestling and its stifling control propelled him to decision victories over Mario Miranda and Brad Tavares, though the latter was heavy on fence-clinching and light on effective offense and didn't sit well with fans.
Excluding extremely brief exchanges of exciting strikes by both competitors, the sequence to the right accounts for the vast majority of all three rounds.
Despite being way too few and far between, the free movement striking Simpson did show looked good. Most of his offense was delivered in the form of short punches and knees interspersed with takedown attempts while entangled with Tavares in the clinch.
To analyze his losses: he blatantly gassed out in the second round against Leben and was simply faced with a better wrestler in Munoz, though Simpson was very competitive and the fight was close.
Simpson's record is particularly devoid of elaborate submission fighters, but that's about to change.
Eric Schafer is a BJJ black belt -- with eight of his twelve wins coming via submission -- making his second return to the UFC, this time as a middleweight.
Securing two quick finishes outside the Octagon, he reappeared with an arm-triangle on Houston Alexander (right) and a first round TKO of Antonio Mendes (below) in 2008-2009.
It's hard not to draw the same conclusion against a similarly equipped takedown artist in Aaron Simpson.
The advantages Schafer could enjoy from the significant twenty-pound plummet deserve mention, though I'm not convinced it will be enough to match Simpson's tenacious takedowns and control.
I expect Simpson to respect Schafer's dangerous guard and carefully alternate between pressuring with heavy leg kicks and right hands in the stand up to imposing his tenacious takedowns and clinch game. As long as he doesn't settle in to a grappling match and expose himself to Schafer's cerebral library of sweeps and submissions, Simpson should be able to cruise to a decision if not finish with strikes.
My Prediction: Aaron Simpson by TKO
Steve Cantwell (7-4) vs. Mike Massenzio (12-5)
Steve Cantwell holds the now prestigious honor of being the only fighter to finish Brian Stann with strikes; a feat that earned him the WEC light-heavyweight belt at WEC 35.
In a rousing trilogy, the pair finished one another with strikes in the WEC and fought to a decision in the rubber match at Ultimate Fight Night 19 that went Stann's way. The timing was unfortunate, as Stann slamming the door shut on their series came directly in between Cantwell's other two career losses to Luiz Cane and Cyrille Diabate.
Cantwell's record might not be pretty but there is absolutely no shame in any of those losses. "The Robot" has exceptional kickboxing. His hands are mean and he unfurls tight and hard combinations both upstairs and down, fluidly complementing his punches with graceful high kicks that flow effortlessly. Cleaving elbows at short range and the Brazilian kick from outside are two of the many ancillary weapons in Cantwell's arsenal.
While his stand up has impressed me the most, he also holds a black belt in BJJ under Sergio Penha that has helped him accrue four submission wins. Overall, Cantwell is a thoroughly diverse and aggressive fighter that I feel is a bit under-appreciated.
Mike Massenzio is the middleweight who stepped in against light-heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski on short notice at UFC 131, showing a big heart and sturdy chin by surviving to a one-sided decision. Stann also accounts for one of Massenzio's losses (triangle choke), along with C.B. Dollaway (TKO) and a pre-UFC kneebar to Danillo Villefort in the IFC.
Like Cantwell, Massenzio is a BJJ black belt, but also the N.A.G.A. World Champion in 2006 in the expert division, a national wrestling champion in high school and a Ju-Co national champion. Half of his twelve wins are by submission along with two by TKO.
I would not be surprised to see Massenzio grind out a decision from the top, yet I feel Cantwell's footwork and wicked kickboxing coupled with his avid BJJ game tilt the odds in his favor.
My Prediction: Steve Cantwell by decision
Eric Schafer gifs via MMA-Core.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com