The buzz surrounding the main event for UFC 128 has the MMA world set to explode. But before one of the most dangerous fighters in the world takes on the meteoric prodigy, the UFC has put together a preliminary card filled with exciting match-ups. The event takes place this Saturday, March 19th from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey and while the main card features exciting fights across the divisional spectrum the undercard has no shortage of action.
Aside from the pay per view treatment, the UFC is once again extending portions of the preliminary card to the public by streaming two bouts on UFC's Facebook page starting at 8pm ET.
Both fighters have premier ground games and it would be a surprise to see this fight take place on the canvas. Pyle has looked extremely impressive in his last two outings with the most recent coming in the form of a lopsided decision victory over the young Brit John Hathaway at UFC 120. The fight was considered by most to be a stepping stone in the ascension of Hathaway but Pyle had other plans as he out grappled and thoroughly outstruck Hathaway in route to the victory. "Quicksand" has publically stated that he has title aspirations and a win over Almeida will put Pyle in position to face some of the prime talent in the competitive welterweight division.
While Almeida won his most recent contest against T.J. Grant, it was the first round submission defeat to Matt Hughes that is still fresh in the minds of MMA fans. Almeida showed a suspect chin as a hook from Hughes put him on Queer Street before the UFC Hall of Famer pounced and finished the Renzo Gracie blackbelt with a front headlock choke. While the majority of Almeida's success has come at 185 lb. he has yet to show that he can perform consistently at welterweight and facing an opponent as well conditioned as Pyle will certainly show what kind of gas tank the "Big Dog" is carrying.
"Batman" was on an impressive run before being derailed by Australian submission ace George Sotiropoulos at UFC 116. Pellegrino will need a strong showing against Tibau to stay competitive in the UFC lightweight division which has turned into the "wild wild west" since the WEC merger. Despite carrying a respectable 7-4 record in the UFC, a loss to Tibau could push Pellegrino into obscurity.
It has been an up and down affair for Gleison as his lack of consistency has kept him buried amongst the also rans in the division. With that being said Tibau had a respectable showing in his last bout as he took potential future title contender Jim Miller to the judge's cards in their bout at UFC Fight Night. In fact Tibau's only other loss in the last year and a half came against another top lightweight in Melvin Guillard.
The remaining bouts on the preliminary portion of the card feature some of the UFC's newly acquired talent as Joseph Benavidez (13-2) takes on Ian "The Barn Owl" Loveland (14-7) and Duke Roufus standout Erik Koch (11-1) faces Raphael Assuncao (16-3).
Benavidez dropped a second loss to 135 lb. champion Dominick Cruz which put him in somewhat of a divisional limbo but "Joe B Wan" proved he is hungry to get back to the top with a submission victory over Wagney Fabiano last November. There is no doubt Benavidez is one of the best fighters in the bantamweight division as he has busted up top competition such as Miguel Torres and Rani Yahya but Benavidez is going to have to give matchmaker Joe Silva reason to believe things would be different if he were to fight for the title once again.
Loveland is coming into this fight on a 7 fight win streak and a victory over a name like Benavidez would skyrocket Loveland's status in the UFC. In his octagon debut he stepped up on two weeks notice to face Tyler Toner in a fight the Team Quest product dominated from start to finish. The matchup with Benavidez marks Loveland's bantamweight debut and while it is a large jump in the quality of opponent if he can control one of the best scramblers in the division, he very well could make it 8 in a row.
There is a lot of noise coming out of Milwaukee's Duke Roufus fight team and Erik Koch is a big part of the buzz. The 23 year old has been a nightmare for anyone who steps inside the cage with him and while he was originally slated to face Cub Swanson at UFC Live on Versus 3, an injury to Swanson pushed Koch to the card at UFC 128. The only loss on Koch's record came against Team Alpha Male wrestling powerhouse Chad Mendes and since dropping the bout to "Money", Koch has rebounded strong including a 90 second head kick knockout of Francisco Rivera at WEC 52.
Assuncao saw a six fight streak broken at the hands of former featherweight champion turned bantamweight Urijah Faber. Raphael also fell short in his next outing against Diego Nunes but was able to get back to the winning track with a unanimous decision victory over L.C. Davis. While Koch's stock is definitely on the rise, if Assuncao can pull out a victory against the "New Breed" he has the potential to steal that momentum in Newark.
The final addition to the card is a catchweight bout between Nick Catone (8-2) and Costantinos Philippou (7-1). Catone had been scheduled to face Dan Miller in a middleweight bout. Miller got the call up to the main card against Nate Marquardt when Yoshihiro Akiyama had to pull out of that bout due to the tragedy in Japan.
Catone has an obvious advantage in that he got to run a full fight camp but he hasn't fought in over a year after being dogged by injuries. He had to pull out of fights against John Salter and Thomas Drwal in the past year. He's 2-2 in the UFC with wins over Derek Downey and Jesse Forbes and losses to Tim Credeur and Mark Munoz.
Philippou was #6 on Bloody Elbow's Middleweight Scouting Report. He trains under Matt Serra on Long Island and combines boxing with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.