This is the second part of my questions and predictions article, and I think it's safe to say we're all a little more than disappointed that Nate Marquardt will not be making his welterweight debut. I'll refrain from comment about Nate due to the circumstances, but I think there is probably a significant let down for Rick "Horror" Story in not only having to fight a definitive step back from his last opponent, but also getting demoted despite being the only top 5 fighter on the card.
I won't elaborate, but I think Rick Story has earned main event status despite Marquardt's situation.
-Joe "Daddy" Stevenson makes his debut to featherweight tonight, coming off three straight losses at 155 lbs to George Sotiropoulos, Mac Danzig, and Danny Castillo respectively. I find his recent run of losses very suprising, because in the two fights prior to this streak he had looked dominating; outgrappling Nate Diaz and outmuscling Spencer Fisher. I'll say this: there is a reason why most foreign lightweights bring Stevenson into the conversion of fighters they would love to face. "Daddy" comes out hard, and comes to fight. I can't remember the last boring Joe Stevenson fight I've watched, can you? Coming down two weight classes since his run and eventually victory on the Ultimate Fighter, Joe strength-and-skillwise was a tough matchup for anyone at lightweight; I suspect this won't be his last fight in the UFC, even if he loses.
- The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Javier Vazquez is his armbar victory over Jens Pulver while the featherweight division was still under the WEC banner. That night, he looked sharp on the ground, and I remember thinking it was a matter of time before Jens was tapping in to retirement. Javier has only lost by decision in his career, three of five being split decisions losses at that. His last loss to Chad Mendes snapped a two fight winning streak, and the win propelled Mendes to the top of the division. Vazquez is the definition of a game fighter, and I think he is the perfect opponent to welcome Joe Stevenson to featherweight.
Questions: We now know that Stevenson has successfully made 146, but how does he respond to the cut? Does he appear as physically imposing after losing the ten pounds? Will this be his last fight for the time being in the UFC? With Javier Vazquez being primarily a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter, does he appear to have superior grappling skills to Stevenson? Will he have improved in his deficiencies after getting soundly beaten by Mendes?
Predictions: This fight is hard for me to call because I've always liked Joe Stevenson. Javier's appearance on Inside MMA only confirmed to me that he was very likeable fighter as well, and he's been competitive in every fight of his I've ever seen. That being said, I think that Joe is more or less a victim of a Mac Danzig knockout. Danzig seems to get little respect in terms of the division, and the image of Stevenson face-planting after Mac's stiff left hook just lingers in the mind. Stevenson was a gatekeeper to contender status at lightweight, but I believe he will contend for the title at featherweight. He was put out by Danzig, but has shown great durability throughout his career, and for a good run of time only lost to the upper echelon of lightweight fighters. I also look to the fact that he has fought most of the top lightweights over the last few years in the UFC, yet he is still only 29. He has above average MMA striking, and a fearsome grappling style that has subdued past opponents. If his BJJ looks as tight as it did against Nate Diaz, than he will beat Javier Vazquez. I don't see a Stevenson finishing Javier, so this fight goes three rounds and Daddy gets the nod.
-Manny Gamburyan has had followed a strange path since his loss due to injury on the Ultimate Fighter Finale card, against the younger of the Cesar Gracie-trained Diaz brothers, Nathan. After rehabbing injuries, he went 2-2 at lightweight before he was "deported" to the featherweight division of the WEC, surprisingly knocking out Mike Brown after unanimously decisioning Leonard Garcia and John Franchi in his first two fights with the promotion. Brown at the time was still a top five featherweight, and the win propelled Gamburyan to a title shot against Jose Aldo jr., which he lost by second round TKO. Despite his top win being a knockout, Manvel "the Anvil" is not necessarily known for his striking- he's a stout, strong, and tough Judo player. I think Manny's physical strength is probably his best asset, and as evidenced by his victory over the durable Brown he does yields power in his strikes at close range.
- Tyson Griffin is a walking Fight of the Night bonus waiting to happen. In fact, I think anyone who gets the call to match up against him should lick their lips at the prospect of gaining an extra 60 thousand in their fight purse. With the exception of his knockout loss to "The Fireball Kid" Takanori Gomi, Tyson has always been in competitive, back and forth fights, evidenced by the losses framing the fight with Gomi being by split decision. He has a well rounded game, with his strongest assets probably being his wrestling background and thick frame. One of the lasting images in my mind is Tyson's mangled leg against Rafael Dos Anjos, where Dos Anjos had Griffin in a calf slicer that appeared to contort Tyson's leg about 10 different ways. He made it through the hold, teetered for the next few minutes after, but gained the eventual victory. In his post fight interview he said the hold was (paraphrasing) just a pain hold. JUST A PAIN HOLD. Just LOOKING at his mangled leg made me nauseous at the time, so I'm forever putting Tyson in my "inhuman threshold for pain" fighter category, of which Strikeforce's own Conor Heun is a recent member. Griffin has ever-improving kickboxing, and the stalwart of a great wrestling base that, like Joe Stevenson, made him a tough matchup for any lightweight, and now any featherweight.
Questions: Will this new crop of lightweights-turned featherweights make Manny Gamburyan reassess his ability to find success in the 145 lbs division? A few months ago, we were told to forget everything we knew about the featherweight division, and it appears that we are now seeing this theory become more and more evident. Gamburyan is an excellent fighter, but much like Joseph Benavidez faces a great deficiency when it comes to reach; only now his judo skills and strength might appear lesser against another thick featherweight in Griffin. Does Manny look like he may want to consider a move to bantamweight? Much like with Joe Stevenson, we know that Tyson has successfully made the cut to featherweight- will his gas tank suffer? How has his body type changed with the 10 pounds shed?
Predictions: I'm taking Tyson Griffin all the way in this fight, and I predict the success of Kenny Florian, and now possibly Griffin and Stevenson will cause a further shuffling between the three lowest UFC weight classes. We've already heard Clay Guida say he didn't cut any weight for his fight against Anthony Pettis, so he is yet another potential featherweight (possibly even bantamweight?) Manny is tough, and strong, but other than the shocking knockout of Mike Brown I can't actually say i've ever been overly impressed with him. Griffin, on the other hand, has been competitive with almost everyone he's ever fought, and that was against the shark tank of lightweight. His size (I mean, his thighs are California Redwoods), will enable him to bully many of the current featherweights, and I think he puts on a clinic against Manny. One of Griffin's major issues at lightweight was his reach and height, and rest assured that will not even be close to a problem against Gamburyan. I can't see a finish in this fight either, so I'll take Griffin by decision.
- Charlie Brenneman is one of the many American wrestling products that excelled at the sport through school and into college, where the competitive level exceeded his skills and forced an end to that chapter of his life. It seems like his story is a common one we hear in our sport: While he lacked the skills to compete at the next level of international competition, he had the drive to compete and the foundational skillset that made the fledgling sport of MMA an attractive way to make some money. Amassing five straight wins to begin his professional career, it was obvious that the integration of his wrestling into different mixed martial art disciplines was a smart career decision. Brenneman only has two losses in his career: one to John Howard, who is also fighting tonight, and next to another highly touted Division 1 wrestling product in Johny Hendricks. It may be a bad omen for Charlie that Hendricks' only loss is to Brenneman's opponent tonight, Rick Story. Brenneman definitely has the chops to beat other wrestlers however, as his UFC promotional debut was a victory over yet another fighter we had a chance to see this weekend in Jason High. Overall Charlie is 2-1 in the UFC, with his most recent fight being a victory over Amilcar Alves, who went 0-2 in his own UFC tenure. I'm not sure that MMA math works, but there seem to be a lot of negatives and not so many positives for Brenneman entering the Octagon tonight.
- Horror. That is Rick Story's MMA pseudonym and seemingly a fitting description for an emotion many of his opponents might feel while they're confined with him in an eight sided cage. The term "blue collar" has probably been thrown around more than a few times to describe Story's fearless style, as he looks to grind out his opponents with his wrestling face and brutal body shots that aren't often utilized in the sport. Story has amassed a 6-1 record in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, winning six straight after losing his debut to John Hathaway. I feel that the two victories that stand out on his resume are the aforementioned Johny Hendricks and most recently the highly regarded Thiago Alves. From these two fights I think we gain a few insights into Story's abilities: First, that he has the wrestling skills to compete with the most accredited wrestlers in the division, and second, that he has the type of inhuman "chin" that the powerful Thiago Alves could not seem to dent. His defense may be lacking, but in Story we're talking about the type of chin that is metaphorical to Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva's reality.
Questions: Seeing as Brenneman's only wins are over two fighters no longer in the UFC, will this step up to the top 5 Story be too much, too soon for Charlie? Can he capitalize on the greatest opportunity of his career in being promoted to a co-main event against a top-ranked opponent? Does the quick turnaround and definite disappoint in no longer facing Nate Marquardt affect Rick Story's mentality in the cage? If Story does not find success in taking Charlie down, will his take-to-give style put him at risk in the cage?
Prediction: Often when we see two wrestlers face off in the cage, it turns into a bad kickboxing matchup where there isn't much defense, but instead a toughman, wild-winging-hooks-until-one-man-stands-or-the-bell-sounds type of fight emerges. If Charlie Brenneman has any sense in him, or has seen Story's fight with Thiago, there is very little chance of this happening. Story is fierce, and brutally strong- He submitted Brian Foster with an arm triangle FROM GUARD. I stated before that Story's type of body work is under-utilized in our sport, and I stand by that- the most recent example of great hooks to the ribs I can think of is Fabio Maldonado turning Kyle Kingsbury's ribs into stewed beef. I'm not guaranteeing victory, but I don't see Story being the type of fighter phased with the setback he suffered with opponents- if anything, I see this as a night to make a statement that he was more than ready for Marquardt. And this is why I see this fight ending by a second round finish, either a submission or TKO in Story's favor. If it does go the distance, I see Brenneman's medical suspension lasting about 6 months.
by Austin Martin