The main card of Saturday's UFC 139: Henderson vs. Rua show is complimented by a duo of preliminary bouts on Spike TV. Ryan Bader vs. Jason Brilz and Michael McDonald vs. Alex Soto will be featured on Spike's live broadcast, which kicks off at 8 p.m. ET after the Facebook stream.
After knocking out Vinny Magalhaes at the TUF 8 Finale, Ryan Bader was one of the select few reality show winners to dive in against upper-tier opposition and maintain momentum. First surpassing two game submissionists in Carmelo Marrero and Eric Schafer, "Darth" Bader then clobbered savvy veteran Keith Jardine with a third-round knockout.
Even though I agreed that the judges "worship a lot the takedown" and outlined how Nog might have deserved the decision, Bader's adherence to a wise strategy and his clean boxing against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was what really convinced me of his talent and potential. At the time, he was still undefeated after twelve fights but this was a huge win that proved he was much more than a one-dimensional wrestler.
The hype-train veered off course just as I hopped on board. Bader became one of the many victims that Jon Jones would annihilate during his ascension to the MMA constellations. Bader would find himself in the unfamiliar position of tapping out from his back in his last two fights: the first after Jones rifled for a takedown, the second while recovering from the unexpected right hand that Tito Ortiz drilled him with. Losing to Jon Jones in any capacity is completely understandable. The Ortiz defeat was a big surprise, now upping the pressure to perform well and avoid three consecutive losses.
Jason Brilz first emerged at UFC 96 boasting sixteen wins with only one loss and one draw. He notched a strike-stoppage over Brad Morris and then his stock shot up after defeating the quarrelsome Tim Boetsch by decision. His ensuing split-decision loss to Eliot Marshall was really a minor setback, as it could have gone either way and was not a poor showing.
Back on track after out-wrestling Eric Schafer, Brilz turned heads in another contentious split-decision loss to Nogueira. Suddenly, the nine submissions on his record made sense and his crafty half-guard and grappling savvy was thoroughly impressive. Unfortunately, the quick knockout Vladimir Matyushenko delivered in his follow up fight was the only time Brilz had been convincingly finished in the UFC. Now, like Bader, Brilz is burdened with the ominous potential of suffering three losses in a row, i.e. the kiss of death for a UFC career.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
His wrestling credentials don't quite stack up to Bader's, but Jason Brilz has a solid list of attributes across the board.
While not as much of a power-puncher as Bader, Brilz has functional boxing and has demonstrated an excellent grasp of positioning, sweeps and scrambles on the mat.
After imposing his wrestling, he's fully inclined to pass and advance position in order to maximize his ground-and-pound (right), where Bader is more content to stay in guard and play off the bottom-fighter's activity. Brilz's guard is pretty slick and might be his saving grace against Bader.
It seems likely that Bader will be on top in most grappling engagements, eliciting the devious transitioning and scrambling of Brilz as crucial aspects.
The animation to the left shows some of Brilz's striking success against Nog standing. Knowing Nog wasn't much of a takedown threat, he was able to plant his feet and bomb away fearlessly in the pocket.
That variable will not be present here, as either fighter will have to remain vigilant with takedown defense while throwing their hands. In that facet, Bader definitely seems to have the better balance and footwork.
If he can get there, Brilz loves to ride in the half-guard.
This Couture-esque perch gives him a good base and angle to maintain control and shower down strikes. He keeps strong control of the head and threatens with the crucifix position to counter sweeps from deep-half and can also attack with submissions like arm-triangles in between spurts of punches.
His style is fairly similar to Bader's, except he might have more technical grappling, but he'll also be facing a physical disadvantage in size and agility.
For a fairly inexperienced wrestler, adding some basic boxing fundamentals and a huge right hand can work wonders.
By strengthening these two skills and blending them together, the wrestling allows them to control where the fight takes place and choose between top-control and submission avoidance or a stand up battle.
Having these options is exactly what has propelled Bader to every one of his UFC wins. Magalhaes (left), Marrero, Schafer and Nogueira were unable to work their BJJ and Jardine was just steam-rolled.
It was clear that Bader's striking prowess was more than just a smokescreen to set up his wrestling after the Jardine and Nog fights.
Those opponents are legit veterans who've traded with some of light-heavyweight's most fearsome strikers and the way Bader unhinged them in the stand up department completely changed my opinion of him.
At the time, Jardine was his first monumental leap in competition and Bader was ballsy enough to unload a flying knee to set up the finish. Little Nog is a Brazilian boxing champion but couldn't really capitalize on the feet when he managed to avoid the double-legs.
Even though it doesn't excuse him, it's hard to look at Bader's loss to Ortiz as anything other than "he got caught". That's only meant to convey that the outcome doesn't offer much to analyze.
That leaves the inimitable, ninja-like creativity of Jones, which doesn't really reflect a viable strategy for Brilz to undertake either.
Catching Bader on the feet comes with the disclaimer of how Brilz, who is not really a knockout puncher, will have to plant his feet to generate power, which will make him susceptible to takedowns.
I think Brilz is still a bit of an under-rated fighter but doesn't have many options to exercise against Bader, who might be a bigger, stronger and faster version in all the areas where Brilz excels. I am interested to see if Brilz can surprise with takedowns or at least threaten with them to disrupt Bader's striking, stay on his feet, hold his own in the clinch or create scrambles off his back.
If he's able to find success in any one of those aspects, he could present a stiff challenge for Bader. Their stand up is close but Bader has more power and better quickness, which holds true with the wrestling comparison as well.
My Prediction: Ryan Bader by decision
Since this is literally the only fight on the card that I can't see going either way and there are no gifs of Alex Soto available, I'll make this a quickie.
I think this is a clear mismatch for McDonald and that he'll win easily. Of course, the first thing that runs through my mind is the act of highlighting that bold statement followed by some Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V lambasting if I'm wrong.
Michael McDonald might not be ready for the top-shelf bantamweights, but the kid is an exciting killer who I believe is firmly on the rise.
Alex Soto is making his Octagon debut as an undefeated fighter but hasn't really tackled any formidable competition and was still put in many precarious spots on his rise to the UFC. McDonald's unreal pace and top-notch striking, wrestling and submissions should carry him to a commanding win.
My Prediction: Michael McDonald by submission
Jones vs. Bader and McDonald vs Figueroa gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
Brilz vs. Nogueira gifs via Chris Nelson for Bloody Elbow
All others via MMA-Core.com