UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage takes place Saturday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. A championship dogfight between newly crowned Jon Jones and grisly veteran Quinton Jackson headlines the card, supplemented by a welterweight clash between Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck.
Preceding the Spike TV preliminary bouts -- Nick Ring vs. Tim Boetsch and Anthony Ferguson vs. Aaron Riley -- three undercard matches will stream live and free on the UFC's Facebook page. The lineup looks like this: Takeya Mizugaki vs. Cole Escovedo, James Te Huna vs. Ricardo Romero and Junior Assuncao vs. Eddie Yagin.
This bantamweight tilt pits two game and experienced veterans known for their rugged toughness. Since his thrilling WEC debut against Miguel Torres in 2009, Mizugaki has sequentially alternated wins and losses in his six follow up performances. He was defeated by the division's upper tier (Torres, Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber, Brian Bowles) but interspersed decision wins over Jeff Curran, Rani Yahya and Rueben Duran.
After being paralyzed from the waist down and told he'd never walk again, Escovedo made an inspirational comeback from a severe staph infection in 2009. "The Apache Kid" notched five straight wins that included stoppages over UFC newcomer Michael McDonald and former WEC fighter Yoshiro Maeda. Escovedo lost momentum by dropping three of his last four: McDonald exacted revenge in their 2010 Tachi Palace Fights rematch, Michihiro Omigawa became the first to submit him, and he fought Renan Berao on short notice and lost a decision.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Mizugaki is a skilled boxer who loves to brawl in close quarters.
His modus operandi boils down to standing in the pocket, keeping his chin tucked with good balance and slamming home crisp combinations.
Even though he's highly aggressive and transmits a ton of power into all his punches, his striking is not sloppy.
As depicted to the right against Bowles, his elbows stay tight, his defense and head movement are adequate and he puts plenty of steam on his rapidly unfurled punches.
Interestingly enough, despite his apparent power and prowess in the striking department, Mizugaki has only four career wins by TKO.
He has a staunch clinch game with strong footing, good use of underhooks and a thorny array of knees and punches.
He's demonstrated the ability to stay on his feet and escape well when taken down, though crafty grappler Rani Yahya was successful in grounding him with a half-dozen takedowns.
Generally preferring to stand and trade, Mizugaki is not bad with offensive grappling either. He put strikers Duran and Torres on their backs and even hit two clinch-trips on the hefty Scott Jorgensen.
Even though his boxing technique is solid overall and only one TKO loss mars his record, anyone who digs in and brawls like Mizugaki is always susceptible to being hit.
Torres, Jorgensen and Bowles all speared stiff punches through his guard, but Mizugaki's iron chin carried him through.
He's a durable workhorse with no glaring weaknesses, having been finished only twice. The sequence to the right is a fitting capture of his raw toughness and strength.
Cole Escovedo has one of the deadliest guards at 135-pounds and a fearsome finishing rate, stopping all but one of his seventeen victories (10 subs, 6 TKOs).
He's the type of avid grappler that can afford to let loose with his strikes, as being taken down is a welcome transition into his spidery and enveloping guard.
Cole is highly creative offensively, throwing everything imaginable on the feet and drawing from endless options on his back. He goes high in the clinch with the Thai plum and cracks hard knees and short elbows.
From his back, Escovedo is a pure technician. His perilous elbows from the bottom defy the wisdom that strikes can't be effective from the guard. He spikes elbows to the head and body with a closed guard or switches to butterfly as a conduit for a stockpile of sweeps and submissions.
His hips are relentlessly in motion to create angles while setting up a chain of attacks. He's one of the few modern day fighters who can completely take over from the bottom position.
Range will be the pivotal factor in this pairing.
Escovedo excels on the fringe of striking distance where he keys off his low kicks to devour openings based on his opponent's reactions. Mizugaki's tight boxing is most effective in close; be it free standing or in the clinch.
Not known as a wrestler, Escovedo will have to prey opportunistically on takedown attempts or chances to pull guard. His tendency for straight-line retreats and dropping his hands while trading might play a role if Mizugaki forces a stand up fight.
While Escovedo's patterns of retreat may be predictable standing, Mizugaki consistently ducks his head and hurls fireballs in the pocket. His sturdy chin and clinch presence usually atone for the habit, but Escovedo thrives with body attacks through roundhouse kicks and flying knees.
Mizugaki seems to have a better chance of enforcing his strengths through an attentive sprawl and brawl strategy. Escovedo is vastly superior on the mat but will be challenged with doing something drastic to overcome the judges' penchant for the top player, and Mizugaki's submission defense and ground-and-pound have been efficient.
Unfortunately for any readers hoping for an unbiased projections, there are two fighters on this card that I refuse to pick against as personal favorites: Takanori Gomi and Cole Escovedo. Mizugaki by decision might be the safer pick ... but it's not mine.
My Prediction: Cole Escovedo by submission
Fans should get a treat here. Two musclebound 205ers with knockout power and malicious intentions will collide as New Zealand's James Te Huna meets AMA Fight Club's Ricardo Romero.
After a mediocre start in his first five, Te Huna turned it on by winning eight of his next ten, defeated only by Bellator's Hector Lombard and former Pride and UFC fighter James Lee.
Te Huna's invitation to the UFC stemmed from his crushing first round KO of Anthony Perosh, who currently holds a slot on the light-heavyweight roster.
He was awarded a TKO over Igor Pokrajac (left) despite the referee intervening whilst Pokrajac signaled his awareness with a thumbs up. Alexander Gustafsson submitted him in his last outing at UFC 127.
Te Huna started boxing at age fourteen and swings a vicious set of sledgehammers standing and on the ground. He's a physical specimen who normally overpowers his opponents while battering them with strikes.
Ricardo Romero wrestled at Rutger's University and holds a purple belt in BJJ. He is the former Ring of Combat champion at both heavyweight and light-heavy. His UFC debut was an impressive armbar on the wily Seth Petruzelli, but Romero was tagged with a huge knee from Kyle Kingsbury in his last fight.
It only takes one Te Huna haymaker to end things quickly, but Romero's combination of wrestling and submissions should be the difference maker. I expect him to joust with Te Huna just enough standing to set up a double leg before clamping on a submission.
My Prediction: Ricardo Romero by submission
Kicking off the show will be Alliance MMA's Eddie Yagin -- making his UFC debut -- against Junior Assuncao in a featherweight bout.
Assuncao trains alongside Brian Bowles at the Hardcore Gym in Athens, Georgia, and is the brother of Raphael Assuncao. He's a BJJ brown belt who dabbles in Capoeira and holds a TKO win over Dustin Hazelett. Assuncao is returning to the UFC for the first time since a submission loss to Nate Diaz as a lightweight at UFC Fight Night 11 in 2007.
Eddie Yagin, the Tachi Palace Fights and Hawaiian X-1 featherweight champ, has been around since the turn of the century and tangled with a few big names. All four of his losses are respectable fighters who have fought in the UFC or Strikeforce (Diego Saraiva, Rich Clementi, Joe Jordan, Vitor Ribeiro) and Yagin is fresh off a first round guillotine win over Joe Soto.
Yagin is a compact little fire hydrant with big power and the type of submission attempts that are snatched wickedly instead of fluidly. Assuncao, a southpaw, will be the taller and longer fighter who will apply his powerful, wheeling kicks while changing pace to charge forward with straight one-twos. Yagin has a straight-forward street fighting mentality and will look to time his boxing combinations when he can get inside on Assuncao's long strikes.
Neither of these guys will be challenging for the title soon yet they both are very experienced and have a determined, aggressive and entertaining style. Assuncao has more tools in more areas, will be pesky to counter on the feet and could finish things on the ground, but Yagin's more deliberate approach can be overwhelming if he can overcome the distance factor.
My Prediction: Junior Assuncao by decision
Te Huna x Pokrajac gif via smoogy
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com