Spike TV will handle two more preliminary affairs immediately preceding the UFC 131 main card, featuring two bouts: veteran lightweights Yves Edwards vs. Sam Stout and middleweights Jesse Bongfeldt vs. Chris Weidman. For a card riddled with injuries and late replacements, UFC 131 still has some exceptionally exciting fights, and perhaps none more intoxicating than the surefire slugfest between Stout and Edwards.
Sam "Hands of Stone" Stout is another resilient fighter that's managed to stay afloat in the UFC's lightweight shark tank for a half-decade.
Entering the UFC after cutting a swathe through Canada's TKO promotion with only one loss and one draw in ten fights, Stone upset Miletich product Spencer Fisher in a highly entertaining barn-burner for his Octagon debut. Even though "The King" took the fight on short notice and later avenged the loss convincingly, their first match was an instant classic and a prodigious beginning for Stout.
Though Stout has three victories in the TKO promotion interspersed throughout his UFC tour of duty, he's batting an inconsistent .500 in his ten Octagon bouts, never winning or losing more than two in a row, albeit against stellar opposition. After consecutive losses in 2008 to Rich Clementi and Terry Etim, Stout has been victorious in three (Matt Wiman, Joe Lauzon, Paul Taylor) of his last four (lost to Jeremy Stephens at UFC 113).
Before the UFC decided to dissolve their lightweight division, causing most of the smaller North American fighters to flock overseas, the two clear standouts were Josh Thomson and Yves Edwards. Thomson was just starting to build a strong reputation as a feisty wrestler and slick kickboxer, and was unbeaten after his first eight fights when he met Edwards at UFC 49.
It's stunning to realize that, going into that bout with Thomson way back in 2004, Edwards had already compiled almost forty career fights against some of the best competition on the market: Rumina Sato, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Aaron Riley, Fabiano Iha, Hermes Franca, Caol Uno, Rich Clementi, and even heavier fighters like Nate Marquardt, Matt Serra, and Pete Spratt.
Though Thomson was a heavy favorite, Edwards chalked up a highlight-reel finish that will forever be burned into the minds of many fans.
It was as if the MMA Gods endowed us with some futuristic amalgamation of Urijah Faber's first match with Mike Brown and Anthony Njoukani knocking out a retreating Chris Horodecki, wrapping both shocking outcomes into one neat and tidy package.
On the move, Thomson unlatches the rear waist-cinch and casts the half-spinning back-fist, but Edwards levitates and scores the viciously poetic knockout via flying high-kick.
I, and many others, have been Yves Edwards fans ever since. When the UFC shut down the division, Edwards was considered the de facto lightweight champion.
As we've all found with many of our sentimental favorites, time can be unkind in combat sports. Edwards eked out a decision over the UFC's other star lightweight Hermes Franca in Euphoria, then shipped over to Pride, where he kicked things off impressively by submitting Mishima. Dark times would follow, as the Thugjitsu practitioner would go on to lose seven of his next eleven bouts, even though the competition was of sound repute, such as Joachim Hansen, Mark Hominick, Joe Stevenson, Mike Thomas Brown, Jorge Masvidal, K.J. Noons, and Duane Ludwig.
Defying the usual trend, after experimenting with a change in weight and a new training camp, Edwards has won five of his last six, the final two taking place back home in the Octagon over John Gunderson and Cody McKenzie. Even his sole defeat at the hands of Mike Campbell in the Moosin promotion was a questionable decision.
For all the criticism that fans have thrown at guys like Karo Parisyan and Jon Fitch over the years for their finishing ratio, it's odd that Stout is rarely mentioned. Every single result of his UFC career came via decision except for crying uncle to a Kenny Florian choke, and four of his nine decisions were split.
My only suggestion would be to switch the nickname to "Chin of Stone", as whatever material his jaw is constructed of deserves a passage in some obscure scientific dictionary.
Stout takes full-force combinations square on the chin like a normal human being takes bad news: with an unflinching, somewhat bewildered look of curiosity, as if to ask with annoyed indifference, "Really?"
For a highly technical kickboxer, the one trait that always baffles me about Stout is that he seems to unwind his combinations tight, but a little sluggishly. That description seems like any oxymoron for an accomplished striker at the highest level of MMA, but I think Stout's chin makes up for his lack of quickness.
Stout mostly wades forward while hurling nicely balanced combinations integrating his hand and feet, Yves is one of the most creative fighters around.
Like Stout, Edwards has a fully stocked striking repertoire, but also a finely tuned clinch game, under-rated wrestling, and one of the craftiest ground games in the biz. He's the type of fighter that's comfortable anywhere, so he never needs to achieve one certain position or force a particular phase of combat.
I think Edwards matches up very well with Stout, even if Stout has enjoyed more prominent status as of late. In most of Yves' losses through his career, he was either knocked out or out-worked, and I'm not sure Stout can do either. Stout's lack of crushing power and Edward's frightening acceleration and frenetic pace might foster a minor upset here.
Stout is typically a counter-puncher, and I think if Edwards makes a dedicated effort to keeping his guard up when committing to his combinations, sticking to angles on the way in and out with a lot of head movement, and steers clear of Stout's nice left hook, he should be in the driver's seat.
Stout is tough in the clinch as well, but Yves is more dynamic, and though he won't force a ground battle, Edwards will have his way if it hits the canvas.
My Prediction: Edwards by decision
Despite having never gone to a decision and boasting the best nickname in MMA, Jesse "Water" Bongfeldt is yet another prospect that doesn't seem to be getting enough attention.
He's been training in Karate and Judo since he was a wee lad, and after a mediocre take-off where he won only half of his first six fights, Bongfeldt soared by smashing through each of his next fourteen opponents with the exception of former UFC fighter and fellow Canadian Jonathan Goulet. His finishing ratio consists of a solid 60:40 balance between submissions and TKOs.
Making his debut at UFC 124 against highly acclaimed BJJ black belt Rafael Natal, Bongfeldt dueled the skilled grappler with surprising gameness despite being edged out in the first two frames, then dominated the third to register the rare 10-8 round and unanimous draw decision.
The betting lines for UFC 124 only slightly favored Natal, but I was thoroughly astounded that "the Canadian karate guy" held his own on the ground against the BJJ instructor at Renzo Gracie's academy in New York. Now a little more familiar with his game, it's a crime to label Bongfeldt anything other than a seriously well rounded mixed martial artist in all areas.
He's a good wrestler, he's furiously aggressive, his clinch is strong, his ground and pound is on-point, and his knowledge of sweeps and positioning is fully adequate. Bongfeldt was the welterweight champion in the TKO promotion and the welter- and middleweight champ of Rumble in the Cage.
Chris Weidman burst onto the scene for not only soundly defeating striker Alessio Sakara on two weeks notice, but being more than comfortable trading with him on the feet.
Weidman was a two-time All American Junior College and D1 wrestler, and in the submission grappling world, was a Grapppler's Quest and ADCC trials champion.
It goes without saying that anyone with that blend of prestigious grappling accolades who can throw hands like Weidman can is a very scary thing.
Weidman had only four professional fights under his belt in the New Jersey based "Ring of Combat" promotion, where he became middleweight champion, when he accepted the late-notice bout with Sakara, and remains undefeated.
The oddsmakers have this fight all Weidman, which is understandable for how staggering his showing against Sakara was, but seems a bit steep for someone with only five pro-fights.
From a realistic standpoint, Sakara's Achilles heel has always been his wrestling and ground wit, so while there's no question Weidman is a brute, I actually think Bongfeldt's survival against Natal's pressure-game is comparably impressive. Weidman will also bring more capable wrestling and better striking to the table than Natal did.
I'm tempted to pick Bongfeldt for an upset here, but if Weidman looked that good with only two weeks to prepare, having two months to train is a scary thought. His multifaceted offense is too formidable to pick against, even though I believe Bongfeldt will impress in an electrifying fight.
I'll conclude with another warning to watch out for the underdog, and caution everyone not to overvalue Weidman's win over Sakara.
My Prediction: Weidman by decision
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