Once again, the dynamic duo of Facebook and Spike TV serves up the entire UFC 130 undercard. The event takes place on Saturday, May 28th from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV.
The Edgar vs. Maynard main event was wrested from our grasp, but the balance of the lineup is still intact and looking solid. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Matt Hamill reanimates the headliner. There are no two human beings more opposite. Two of the most technical heavyweight grapplers in the game face off in the Roy "Big Country" Nelson vs. Frank Mir co-main, and the card's infrastructure is punctuated with just good ol' fashioned scraps.
The action begins with three fights streaming live on the UFC's Facebook page at 6:45 PM EST / 3:45 PM PDT, followed by the Spike TV preliminaries at 8 PM EST / 5PM PDT. The Facebook cast consists of two bantamweight match-ups in Cole Escovedo vs. Renan "Barao" and Chris Cariaso vs. Michael McDonald, and a lightweight tilt pitting Gleison Tibau vs. Rafaello Oliveira.
Cole Escovedo (17-6) vs. Renan do Nascimento Mota Pegado (25-1)
If you're not up to speed with Cole Escovedo's inspirational story and everything he's been through -- you should be.
Let me take a deep breath and give the semi-quick version: he finished his first seven opponents, five by triangle, won the first WEC featherweight championship, lost to Bao Quach by decision, finished his next four opponents, two by triangle; then lost three straight fights, his championship belt, and all feeling from the waist-down due to a gruesome staph infection, doctors said he would never walk or fight again, he did both anyway; made a comeback at bantamweight, beat five straight opponents, finished four, won the Tachi Palace Fights championship, rematched Michael McDonald after TKOing him the first time, lost, then fought Omigawa in a higher weight class on a couple weeks notice, lost, then triangled some guy, petitioned to be on The Ultimate Fighter 14; but the UFC called and asked if Cole would just skip the show and fight this other guy instead, who's on a twenty-four-fight win streak, only lost one fight in 2005, and has a really long five-word name but everybody just calls him "Barao"; oh, and take the fight on short notice too.
Cole said, "Okay." And here we are.
Almost everyone's background sounds boring after hearing Cole's, so just because Renan do Nascimento Mota Pegado's story is simpler doesn't mean it's not impressive. I'm guessing you can't come up with too many examples of fighters at the elite level who have won their last twenty-four fights, as his MMA debut in 2005 was his first, last, and only defeat. I'm guessing you can, however, deduce why he's more conveniently referred to as Renan "Barao".
Training alongside gamers like Jose Aldo, Marlon Sandro, and Wagnney Fabianno at the prestigious Nova Uniao academy, Barao was voted by Sherdog as the top Brazilian prospect of 2010. Later that year, he notched back-to-back wins in the WEC over Anthony Leone and Chris Cariaso by submission; a method accounting for one-half of his career victories.
We'll dissect the phase-by-phase breakdown of each fighter along with the two other Facebook fights after the jump.
Escovedo is a smart fighter with solid kickboxing.Though every fighter surely attempts to recognize weak areas, Escovedo is especially clever in flicking out a variety of strikes and carefully gauging his opponent to calculate his next sequence accordingly.
In the animation to the right, you can see him getting a bead on Maeda's head when he breaks his stance open and knocks him off balance with the low kick, then beautifully snaps off the follow up kick to the jaw.
What follows is affectionately known as the "Apache Airline Assault", bringing a new definition to the phrase "pounce for the finish". I'm not sure which rapid reaction is more stunning: Escovedo landing the combo and levitating Matrix-style, or the way he recognizes in mid-air that Maeda was already in La La Land to withdraw the flying superman punch. Others have been less merciful.
Escovedo switches from southpaw to conventional stance, has a nice, straight one-two, and even unloads flying knees to close distance. Even though his triangle is legendary, Escovedo was a karate black belt at age sixteen, and draws upon that experience to roll out everything in the tool box. The only thing you can really knock the guy for is kicking with his foot more than his shin, but I don't think Yoshiro Maeda noticed.
Like Escovedo, many mistake Barao as strictly a submissionist, but his striking is quite functional. He's a diversified and prolific kicker with both legs, targeting all levels (low, mid, high) while constantly alternating techniques. He employs a long jab and right cross very effectively, leads with a leaping left hook on occasion, and throws cardio-sapping body shots with his hands and feet.
His stance might be a bit too closed and his feet a tad flat, potentially leaving him open for leg kicks and takedowns, but his quickness compensates for it. Barao does appear to drop his hands when firing his steady stream of kicks, but the trade-off is that they pack a wallop and have finished foes in the past.
Despite the outcome, Escovedo has dueled with Urijah Faber, Antonio Banuelos, and Jens Pulver, and also has a gangly wingspan for the weight class. I estimate his intelligent delivery of strikes and experience should give him the slight edge standing, though both fighters have a tendency to focus on offense more than chin protection.
Barao is strong in the clinch with good control through underhooks. Control is his top priority in the clinch, with a very methodical approach to capitalize on the best angle or technique to ground the fight. His style in the clinch helps him impose his will and assume the ideal position if he can force a ground battle, but his predictable forward momentum can also be used against him by a good counter-clincher.
Escovedo usually steers for the Thai plum and plants knees to the midsection, keeping a low base with good balance. He's more offensive in standing tie-ups than Barao and will look to accumulate strikes with knees and dirty boxing. This might leave his waistline open for body-lock trips and takedowns, but really, being taken down and working guard is hardly something that either of these fighters fear.
Barao uses the clinch to gain a dominant perch on the mat and trigger a deadly grappling sequence, and probably has the edge with takedowns. Cole is more attack-minded and perfectly confident from his guard, so their traits will likely cancel each other out despite their differences.
This is a tough category to predict. Barao is a wickedly aggressive grappler who snatches limbs and takes position with force. Historically, he's finished with a wide arsenal of catches, has unstoppable back-control, and is the type to slowly and methodically devour you for every tiny little inch you give him.
Escovedo is more fluid in his movements and intent. He's got a smooth guard with deadly sweeps, apt defense, and one of the scariest triangles around. Overall, on the ground and everywhere else, he's more inclined to take risks over playing it safe, which can be a double-edged sword.
Both are extremely technical in every imaginable aspect. Escovedo was caught in Omigawa's inverted armbar for his only loss via submission, but I think his significantly deeper history against top competition makes up for that. Instead of speculating on the unknown, I'll let Barao's ground game speak for itself against his steepest test to date, and score this round a 10-10.
Cole Escovedo and Renan Barao are very similar fighters. They're ridiculously well rounded with high-paced aggression, and capable everywhere. Barao's nearly spotless record likely accounts for his commanding -345 betting odds, and the late notice probably hurts Escovedo more, as at least Barao was aware of and preparing for a fight.
I don't take any issue with him being the favorite, for the simple fact he's won twenty-four straight and trains at one of the top camps for lighter fighters. The safe and sensible pick is Barao, but at those numbers, not for a wager.
The only thing better than making a clearly biased prediction is plainly admitting you're making a clearly biased prediction. Escovedo's slogan is, "Victory is reserved for those willing to pay its price", and -- even though I'm not sure he'll win -- I'm sure he's paid his dues and deserves it.
My Prediction: Escovedo by TKO
Rafaello "Tractor" Oliveira (14-3) vs. Gleison Tibau (22-7)
A result of more injuries complicating the card, Gleison Tibau stepped in against Bart Palaszewski when Cody McKenzie withdrew, and Rafaello Oliveira is now taking Palaszewski's spot after he pulled out last week.
Oliveira, who trains with the Miller brothers out of New Jersey's AMA Fight Club under Mike Constantino, is a BJJ black belt now making his second UFC run. "Tractor" had a three-fight stint in 2009-2010 where he beat John Gunderson but lost to Nik Lentz and Andre Winner, all by decision. He has since scored four in a row including wins over former WEC fighters Rafael Dias and Bendy Casimir.
Gleison Tibau is the ATT southpaw who has consistently demonstrated superiority over the pack (wins over Etim, Clementi, Stephens, Neer, Uno) but has yet to break into the elite echelon (losses to Griffin, Stevenson, Guillard, Miller). A black belt himself and physical leviathan at lightweight, he scored his biggest career win over perennial contender Kurt Pellegrino at UFC 108 in his last showing.
This is an extremely difficult opponent for Oliveira, especially with just over a week to prepare. Oliveira's standard advantage is his ultra-technical ground acumen, which -- even though it might be at a slightly higher level -- probably won't be enough to overcome Tibau's hulking strength, sharper striking, strong wrestling and comparable ground skills.
The question mark that permanently surrounds the steep weight-cutting Tibau undergoes is that it can unfold as a significant edge and a serious detriment. I'm curious if the short notice will heighten the chances of it becoming a problem. If so, gassing out is the biggest weakness that can afflict a fighter, and could easily permit Oliveira to wreak havoc with his top-notch grappling.
The betting lines have Tibau in the lead at -325, which makes sense if he's 100%. I think he's stronger in more areas and should emerge victorious, though I would caution him to avoid an outright grappling match with Oliveira. Tibau should exploit his straight-left hand and stout clinch presence, being careful not to blow his wad or let "Tractor" find his groove on the mat.
The fight is even if Tibau loses steam and Oliveira is overlooked or allowed to find his rhythm, so keep your eyes on Tibau's conditioning in later rounds.
My Prediction: Tibau by decision
Chris "Kamikaze" Cariaso (11-2) vs. Michael "Mayday" McDonald (12-1)
Getting back to the bantamweights, you may or may not recognize Michael McDonald as one-half of the blurry tornado that was streaking throughout the cage at UFN 24, where he earned "Fight of the Night" honors.
In his Octagon debut, McDonald engaged Edwin Figueroa frenetically and relentlessly for three rounds of nonstop entertainment. The back-and-forth bombardment of strikes, takedowns, and submission attempts made McDonald an instant fan-favorite. The most intriguing aspect of this result is that elements like "round three" and "a decision" were completely foreign to McDonald, who's finished every past win within the first two frames (7 TKOs, 4 subs).
His sole loss is to fellow UFC 130 bantamweight Cole Escovedo, but McDonald exacted vicious revenge in the rematch with a fierce stoppage from strikes that elicited a call from the WEC's Sean Shelby. "Mayday" is a shocking twenty-years old and has already experienced impressive opposition in Escovedo, Manny Tapia (first round stoppage in Tachi Palace Fights) and Clint Godfrey (first round submission) in his WEC debut.
Chris Cariaso has been on the edge of the big leagues since defeating Anthony Figueroa by decision on the 2007 Strikeforce-EliteXC "Shamrock vs. Baroni" undercard. The striking specialist remained undefeated until his second venture on the ShoXC stage -- where Mark Oshiro pounded him out in the first -- but then rematched and finished Figuero on the Strikeforce "Melendez vs. Thomson" show from the Playboy mansion.
Two wins later, Cariosa landed a preliminary spot on the WEC 49: "Varner vs. Shalorus" card. "Kamikaze" increased his momentum with a decision over Rafael Rebello, but then his streak was extinguished by Renan Barao with a commanding and quickly applied rear-naked choke. Citing a renewed focus and dedication, Cariaso bounced back against Will Campuzano at "Fight for the Troops 2" in his UFC debut.
Cariosa, a southpaw with tenderizing leg kicks and volatile stand-up, is a former Golden Gloves and SanShou champion. McDonald has been training MMA since age ten and competing in kickboxing smokers since he was fourteen, so even though his striking is fully adequate, his overwhelming ground game should be the difference.
No longer a secret weapon, it will be interesting to see how McDonald reacts to breaking into the mainstream spotlight at such a young age, as there might be some additional pressure to duplicate his memorable and exhilarating clash against Figueroa. Cariaso is definitely a handful standing, but McDonald, who might be the sport's most exciting new talent, should endure the challenge.
My Prediction: McDonald by TKO