UFC 134: Rio - Spike TV Preliminary Card Dissection

The sport of MMA has a wide range of submission virtuosos, but only a select few, the crème de la crème, have the ability to truly captivate the audience when working their grappling magic.

Like all other masters of their respective crafts, they take a complex sequence of technical maneuvers and draw admiration from those of us who've clumsily stumbled our way through the process by making it look painfully easy. They are graceful acrobats who pirouette, twist and twirl in a hypnotizing dance on the mat, with their hapless opponent seeming no more than an inanimate prop at their disposal.

Even a casual observer could appreciate the fluidity and unquestionable talent involved, but only the partially demented combat sports world values that the sole intent of this mesmerizing ballet is a hostile persuasion to make his opponent quit.

Spike TV will treat us to one of these unparalleled submissionists Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET on their double-decker display of preliminary fights from the UFC 134: Rio card.

MMA legend and Brazilian Top Team founder Murilo Bustamante's top protege, Rousimar Palhares, tangles with AMA Fight Club's venerable Dan Miller. Two dynamic lightweights will clash in the second match, as the assiduous Thiago Tavares meets Thai practitioner Spencer Fisher.

Full match up breakdowns after the jump.

More UFC 134 coverage from SBN

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Rousimar Palhares (12-3) vs. Dan Miller (13-5)

There is just something unsettling about a fighter whose last three wins were all heel hooks, especially at the UFC level.

Lucio Linhares, Tomasz Drwal, and Dave Branch all succumbed to the same hold, and "Toquinho" holds five victories by way of heel hook overall.

Since losing his third pro fight by decision in 2006, Palhares has won ten of his twelve matches, submitting everyone but the rubber-limbed pioneer Jeremy Horn. Elite middleweights Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt have been his only UFC losses.

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To the right we see the shocking fluidity of Palhares' submission game.

What sets him apart is how he apparently short-cuts the set ups for each attempt and somehow teleports directly to the final stages of the catch.

When Branch sprawls and uses the underhook to take him down, Palhares traps and spins on the arm in mid-air so that he's wrenching the armbar before Branch even completes the takedown. He's relentlessly creative in flowing from one threatening attempt to another.

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In the uncharacteristic moments when he's not manipulating a submission, the sequence to the left shows how Palhares is generally in complete control of the pace and momentum from his guard.

His wrist control is vice-like; serving as his method of both stifling his opponent's strikes and triggering a myriad of his attacks.

Most of his endeavors to latch the upper body stem from the butterfly guard, where his unshakable wrist-control in conjunction with having his feet planted on the pelvis give him unlimited leverage.

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Dave Branch might not be a popular fighter, but he's a BJJ black belt under the great Renzo Gracie, so don't mistake this as Palhares toying with a novice.

Notice how, in this sequence and the first, Palhares transforms his failed takedown attempt into an advantage.

This is what I meant about the way he skips steps: most sub-fighters would be looking for a takedown and then possibly to transition to a guard pull, but Palhares goes from a double-leg that isn't there directly to devouring the heel hook.

Hopefully everyone understands that the gist of the analysis revolves around the jaws of Palhares' grappling, because the prime directive for Dan Miller at all times is avoiding it. The reason the odds are stacked against him, however, is that defending his chained attempts is not "winning"; it's merely "not losing".

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Miller is burdened with the task of mounting offense of his own while warding off Palhares.

The New Jersey native, who's been defeated in three of his last five but tackled some of the division's best throughout this career, will have to enforce his solid BJJ skill in reverse to stay safe.

To the left, against another dangerous sub-fighter in Joe Doerksen (33 career sub wins) at UFC 124, Miller shows an innovative approach.

When Doerksen seeks out a leg from his guard, Miller bases down hard with an underhook to keep him from getting underneah, then controls the head with the arm-in guillotine position to limit Doerksen's movement and set up the roll, using his right leg as a fulcrum to flip him over.

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Miller's best attributes are his fight I.Q. and his well rounded style.

This is a skilled, intelligent athlete from a reputable team who gets a grade of "damn good" across the board.

While stifling Palhares' arsenal of subs is imperative, replicating Gilbert Melendez vs. Shinya Aoki will put him ahead on the score cards.

While he's not a power-puncher, Miller's hands and footwork are adequate enough to sting Palhares when he advances aggressively. Like Melendez, Miller has to maintain the same mental capacity of refusing to play the game, as the only scenario Palhares can assume complete control is when he's connected.

To pull this off, Miller will have to be technically flawless. One step in the wrong direction or reacting a second too late on the ground could seal his fate. Miller has never been finished, his submission defense is excellent, and he's a BJJ black belt himself, but -- while I definitely think he has the horsepower to pull off the upset -- the odds favor Palhares adhering to Miller too often and making something happen.

My Prediction: Rousimar Palhares by decision

Tavares_x_fisher_medium Thiago Tavares (15-4-1) vs. Spencer Fisher (24-7)

There was a time, around the second Sam Stout fight, that I would've mentioned Spencer Fisher as someone with one of the best Thai-adapted striking onslaughts in MMA.

Unfortunately, hard times have befallen "The King". Since that point in his career, he's split results in his eight fights, which is far from disappointing at the UFC level but not on par to be considered one of the division's best.

While some match ups among those defeats were understandably unmanageable (Frankie Edgar, Joe Stevenson), others seemed right up his alley (Dennis Siver, Ross Pearson).

Fisher has proven to be hard to finish, he's got a great chin and solid defense overall with a wealth of impressive experience. Lately, his pace and activity seems to sputter out as the fight goes on, which was a key factor in Siver and Pearson finishing strong after Fisher came out with guns blazing early.

Then again, the momentum of Thiago Tavares has also planed out, so this battle will be crucial for two lightweights who are deadlocked somewhere in the middle of the deep 155 division.

After winning three of his first four in the Octagon, Tavares has won two and lost three (along with a draw against Nik Lentz after he lost a point for two kicks to the groin). He looked sharper than ever when overwhelming Pat Audinwood with a jumping guillotine, but paid the price for making a mental error against Shane Roller, who found his chin when he kept retreating in a straight line.

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I'm guessing that Tavares, a BJJ black belt, will use his strength and agility to out-hustle Fisher and bully him around.

Fisher's array of cleaving Thai strikes gives him an enormous advantage standing, but his takedown defense has been questionable and he'll have to carefully measure his attacks.

Here Fisher starts out against Pearson full of energy and movement, staying light on his feet and cutting angles to pepper with sharp punches.

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There's no question that he struggled with the length of Pearson, but his level of activity dropped off as the fight progressed, as this second round clip shows.

Pearson's punches found the mark at a much higher rate when Fisher was a static target and more flat-footed.

Fisher is precision and dynamic striker rather than a knockout artist, which should serve him well against Tavares, who will likely try to bullrush him into a corner and work takedowns from the clinch.

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Tavares doesn't have a noteworthy wrestling background, but his quickness and short, sturdy frame make him a worthwhile takedown threat.

His stand up is average and, considering the cardinal error he made right from the get-go against Roller, I'm interested to see if Fisher leads the attack or assumes the counter-punching role.

From an offensive standpoint, I think he'll have more success being aggressive, but the easiest takedown to hit is against an opponent who's coming at you.

Neither are really powerhouses in the clinch -- Fisher is eerily composed in dealing short elbows and knees where Tavares will be looking to ground the fight -- nor known for their wrestling, so the ace in Fisher's deck is his under-rated ground game.

Though he doesn't boast a particularly high rank like Tavares and the Brazilian is probably a touch more skilled there, I wouldn't hesitate to put a longtime veteran of the Miletich Fighting Systems like Fisher too far behind him. The near-decade of time on the mat has bestowed Fisher with a litany of sweeps, submissions and defensive tricks to keep him afloat.

I'm going to risk another call for the underdog here. Tavares is favored slightly on the betting lines, strong as a bull for 155, blindingly fast, heartily conditioned and well versed on the ground, but I think Fisher's precise hands, extra few inches of height and reach, and veteran savvy on the ground should keep him in the driver's seat for the majority of the fight.

My Prediction: Spencer Fisher by decision

 

 

 

Gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com

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