The UFC bids sayonara to 2011 with a stacked card on New Year's Eve this Friday. UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem kicks off in three waves from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas: four fights on the Facebook undercard at 6:50 p.m. ET, two bouts on Spike TV at 9:00 and the main card on pay-per-view at 10:00.
The four Facebook preliminary match ups are Dong Hyun Kim vs. Sean Pierson (welterweights), Jacob Volkmann vs. Efrain Escudero (lightweights), Matt Riddle vs. Luis Ramos (welterweights) and Manny Gamburyan vs. Diego Nunes (featherweights). The lineup is solid and carries a little more weight in relevancy and match-up appeal than a typical bottom-end undercard.
Dong Hyun Kim (14-1-1) vs. Sean Pierson (11-5)
Kim is coming off his first official defeat at the hands of Carlos Condit at UFC 132. "Stun Gun" was taken to contentious split-decisions against Matt Brown (win) and Karo Parisyan (lost originally; later changed to a "No Decision" when Parisyan tested hot for unauthorized painkillers) but managed to avoid a legit notch in the loss column. Condit changed all that by finishing Kim definitively, unleashing a vicious flying knee with follow-up punches for a first-round stoppage.
In addition to the aforementioned bouts, Kim had mounted a strong and steady surge throughout his seven-piece Octagon stint. He finished Jason Tan with elbows in his debut and took impressive decisions over T.J. Grant, Amir Sadollah and Nate Diaz sequentially before the Condit loss.
Canadian Sean Pierson has had a unique road to the UFC. He made his MMA debut way back in the Vale Tudo days with the IFC promotion and competed seven times from 1999-2003, winning four. He dropped out of the scene for four years and didn't return until 2007, where he chalked up six wins in seven outings. Future UFC welterweight Jesse Bongfeldt was the only opponent to defeat him leading up to his Octagon debut.
Pierson has one win and loss apiece on the big stage, coming out of the gate strong with a decision-upset over Matt Riddle at UFC 124 but falling to the heavy-handed Jake Ellenberger by first round KO at UFC 129.
Match up analysis in the full entry.
Kim's best assets are his ability to ground the fight with astronomical Judo and his utterly asphyxiating top-game. His boxing is decent but generally employed as a means to set up his advances into the clinch to work his bread and butter. He's a very smooth and methodical tactician with both his top-play and clinch takedowns, maintaining a nice blend of aggression and tenacity without sacrificing position or leaving himself exposed defensively.
When he's able to secure a takedown, Kim sticks like glue and alternates between streams of precise ground-and-pound and clever guard passing, all executed at a frenetic pace. With only one submission on his record, his intentions on the mat are clearly geared toward achieving the best position to pound from.
Pierson, a southpaw, has excellent hands and a nice boxing game. He's also billed as a "Multiple Time Canadian National Greco Champion and Canadian University National Freestyle Champion" in wrestling on UFC.com and a purple belt in BJJ, making for a well rounded package, especially considering his experience. He's been comfortable on the ground and has a capable guard with decent sweeps and scrambling.
Though neither fighter is one-dimensional, each will have a slight advantage in their area of specialty: Kim on the ground and Pierson on the feet. Pierson's footwork will be crucial in open space to keep Kim at bay and on the end of his punches, just like his Greco Roman wrestling will be in the clinch to avoid finding himself under the South Korean's merciless onslaught from the top.
The betting lines see it as a landslide for Kim, favoring him as high as -500. He definitely deserves the nod but that assessment is quite absurd. Pierson's long and crisp punches will be tough to navigate through, his wrestling will be implemented defensively to avoid throws and trips in the clinch and his grappling chops should facilitate a few opportunities to escape. I would not be surprised to see Pierson pull off the upset by narrowly avoiding a few scares and out-striking Kim on the feet, but I'll go with the favorite here. My Prediction: Dong Hyun Kim by split-decision.
Jacob Volkmann (13-2) vs. Efrain Escudero (18-3)
Released in 2010, former TUF winner Escudero returns to the UFC to replace an injured Ramsey Nijem. After defeating Phillipe Nover in the finale, Escudero went two-and-two with wins over Cole Miller (TKO) and Dan Lauzon (decision) and submission losses to Evan Dunham and Charles Oliveira. The Arizona native went on to win six of his seven affairs outside the Octagon, though former UFC lightweight Fabricio Camoes -- a stellar grappler -- is responsible for his only defeat, which was a decision at Tachi Palace Fights 9.
Volkmann debuted in the UFC as a flawless welterweight after nine fights, but suffered consecutive losses to top-shelf talent in Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann. He then shrunk his frame down to lightweight where he's pegged four successful decisions in a row over Ronys Torres, Paul Kelly, Antonio McKee and Danny Castillo.
Volkmann is a heavily decorated collegiate wrestler at the D1 level, graduating from the University of Minnesota as a Big Ten Champion and three-time All American. While his striking is nothing to write home about, his wrestling prowess is almost unstoppable and he's recently started to complement that foundation with a broader arsenal of submission threats. In his last outing against the stalwart Danny Castillo, Volkmann handled the scrappy WEC wrestler with takedowns and constantly attacked the neck with Brabo and guillotine chokes.
Escudero is more dangerous standing but I don't think he's polished nor powerful enough to compensate for Volkmann's overwhelming takedowns and top control which, frighteningly enough, seem to be improving with each performance. My Prediction: Jacob Volkmann by decision.
Manny Gamburyan (11-6) vs. Diego Nunes (16-2)
Two featherweights who have lost ground amidst the top contenders look to regain clout here. Gamburyan, a TUF 5 finalist and Judo-centric fighter out of the renowned Hayastan Studio, dropped to 145 after consecutive lightweight losses to Robert Emerson (KO) and Thiago Tavares (decision). Shuttled over to the WEC, "The Anvil" rattled off three respectable wins: John Franchi, Leonard Garcia (decisions) and an attention-grabbing knockout of former champion Mike Brown.
Plastering Brown was a bold exclamation point and enough to warrant a title shot at WEC 51 in September of 2010. Unfortunately, the tide would shift yet again. Aldo maintained his aura of invincibility with a second-round knockout and Tyson Griffin, in Gamburyan's return to the Octagon, out-worked him on the score cards.
Nova Uniao hitman Diego "The Gun" Nunes welcomed Kenny Florian to the featherweight division and made the former lightweight star look average. In what many expected to be a showcase fight for Florian, Nunes dropped Florian with punches and gave him hell for all three rounds. Florian took the decision and went on to lose to Aldo, but Nunes gained some respect for his staunch showing.
Nunes initially emerged in the WEC with a perfect eleven-fight record. In his six ventures prior to meeting Florian, he defeated five opponents (Cole Province, Rafael Dias, Raphael Assuncao, Tyler Toner and Mike Brown) with one loss to savvy wrestler L.C. Davis at WEC 44.
Nunes boasts the traditional Nova Uniao style that meshes BJJ with wicked Muay Thai, though his true voracity lies mostly in the latter. He has incredible speed and quickness to complement his aggressive kickboxing and also a rather adept wrestler. Both Gamburyan and Nunes have an innate toughness and are gamebred scrappers to the core, so I expect this to be one of the more violent and entertaining wars on the Facebook card.
Gamburyan wields ungodly punching power in his stand up, but his approach has always been a little wild and unkempt. His combinations are more of a berserk charge of haymakers thrown "from the pockets" where Nunes is a highly refined technician with a broad arsenal and excellent footwork, accuracy and grasp of range. I think the strong beard and under-rated wrestling of Nunes will keep him out of trouble and in the ideal scenario to exploit his striking edge. My Prediction: Diego Nunes by decision.
Matt Riddle (5-3) vs. Luis Ramos (19-7)
Luis "Becao" Ramos made his UFC debut in Rio against Erick Silva, losing by quick TKO. He's another Nova Uniao fighter who's looked strong against B-level competition but has yet to prove he's UFC caliber.
Matt Riddle is a TUF vet who has hung around with hard-nosed performances. Despite a less than stellar record, all eight of his career fights have taken place in the Octagon and two of his three losses were to under-valued sleepers in Lance Benoist and Sean Pierson (his third loss was Nick Osipczak.
Riddle is still a young guy who shows improvement in each outing. He's strong, athletic and has great instincts even though he doesn't necessarily excel in one particular area. The lines are close for this match up but I'm giving Riddle the nod, guessing his considerable level of competition at such an early stage of his maturity will start to pay off. My Prediction: Matt Riddle by decision.