Nick Ring (12-0) vs. Tim Boetsch (13-4)
Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch was a four-time state high school wrestling champion who further advanced to four years on the NCAA Division 1 squad at Lock Haven University. He entered the UFC seven fights deep as a 205er with only one stain on the carpet, which was Vladimir Matyushenko in the IFL.
Boetsch made a lasting impression by rag-dolling David Heath at UFC 81 before encountering stiff competition in Matt Hamill and Jason Brilz, both of whom defeated him, though he notched a win over Michael Patt in between. After compiling three wins outside the UFC, Boetsch returned to the Octagon and once again split results, this time with Todd Browne (win) and Phil Davis (kimura loss).
Boetsch then made the plunge to middleweight where his tenacious wrestling and caveman strength was too much for Kendall Grove at UFC 130. Other than a few short instances where his cardio seemed to sputter, Boetsch's 185-pound initiation was a rousing success. His barreling takedowns and frenetic pace will be tough for any middleweight to fend off.
Nick Ring was flawless going into The Ultimate Fighter 11 -- where he defeated eventual winner Court McGee but was forced out due to a recurring knee injury -- and has maintained his perfect record in his dual Octagon stints. Nagging knee problems were the culprit for Ring's previous three year hiatus from the sport, where he warmed back up with a 4-1 tour in professional boxing.
His debut was a contentious decision win over DEEP middleweight champion Riki Fukuda at UFC 127 followed by a third round rear-naked choke on talented newcomer James Head at UFC 131. Ring has been a lurking talent with an unknown ceiling, but his limitations will surely be tested by the asperity of Boetsch's physicality.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
The baseline credential for this match up is the iron will of Tim Boetsch and his angry gorilla grappling.
At middleweight, his sheer brawn is an even deadlier counterpart to his overwhelming wrestling. Technique is always more important than strength, but Boetsch has a tremendously formidable blend of both.
He built a rep at 205 as a largely imposing fighter; a trait considerably enhanced with his recent drop in weight. Against Grove (right), his explosiveness and low center of gravity was unstoppable in the clinch.
Boetsch's compact frame, agility and athleticism are like fitting a supercharger on an already capable high-torque engine.
Notice how, in every capture, Boetsch lands in half-guard or side control and commences his pounding and positional advances without skipping a beat.
In plain terms: he's a brick shithouse with huge power in every movement and sound technique to follow through on takedowns. To beat him, you have to stop his attempts or submit him, and his submission defense has been kosher thus far.
His takedown prowess was so effective against Grove that striking hardly came into play. The threat of being hurled to the canvas instilled major hesitation in all of Grove's offensive pursuits.
I had my grappling consultant, "auspegicht" from Spladdle.com, comment on Boetsch's technique (right):
In wrestling this is simply a whizzer with a leg reap and far wrist control. If you watch closely he actually failed initially -- he wanted to go towards the turnbuckle that says Tapout on it. He met resistance and like anyone who wrestles intelligently, he flowed instead of muscling through it. Spiraling was the perfect follow-up. The wrist control is simply to prevent or slow down Kendall from using it to post on his head or get a better tie-up.
Though the stature of Grove and Ring are hardly comparable, the key elements of the Boetsch-Grove and Ring-Fukuda match ups are analogous here.
Ring's sweet spots are his sharp Thai arsenal and capable grappling.
He doesn't do anything flashy on the feet, just methodically unravels long, straight punches and clean, precise kicks while keeping his hands up.
Despite an admirable performance off his back against another domineering wrestler in Fukuda, playing guard against Boetsch is simply not advisable.
Though he will be heavier come fight-time, Boetsch is a 6'0" wrestler like Fukuda, so let's revisit that match up.
Compared to the examples with Kendall Grove above, the biggest difference with Ring's clinch game here is the cushion he keeps between him and Fukuda.
All three Boetsch takedowns are initiated through his control or manipulation of Kendall Grove's hips while deeply embedded in the clinch.
Notice how Ring keeps his hips back and his arms free to grab wrist control and block strikes.
Staying on balance and light on his toes, he also reacts with a sense of urgency when his back hits the fence by pushing off and circling out to avoid being trapped.
Thwarted by Ring's application of wrist control and keeping his hips and waist out of reach in the clinch, Fukuda switches away from trying to tie up and usher him to the fence to a perfectly timed level drop, penetrating deeply for a textbook double leg.
By setting it up with strikes, Fukuda catches Ring with a high guard to deflect punches and, by the time he makes contact, he's too low and deep for Ring to catch a whizzer and sprawl.
The goal is penetration and Fukuda simply adjusts to get it through different means.
Here we see the same concept to the right.
While Fukuda's set up and shoot are beautiful, Ring gets caught flat-footed again. This is why his footwork and cage movement must be synced to his defensive clinching skills to maintain a safe distance.
If I were Nick Ring, my prime directive would be maintaining that bubble of space.
Anytime Boetsch can use his arms to manipulate the waist and hips, it's like controlling the fulcrum of Ring's balance, and Boetsch's acceleration, power and use of angles will likely topple him over consistently.
The problem is that Ring has to stay on the trigger in the striking game to win this fight, and targeting openings with any semblance of power requires planting the feet to generate torque ... which is the exact position where he's vulnerable to Boetsch's advances.
Ring doesn't get enough credit for his multi-layered ground game. He's composed, he has good defense and a wide range of sweeps and subs, but I'm not sure he can muster anything other than a few escapes here. Boetsch's posture, base and ground and pound are Herculean and I don't think Ring will be successful offensively from the bottom.
Standing, he's superior, but he doesn't have a ton of punching power. Boetsch does, which, along with the looming threat of takedowns, will equalize things on the feet. As long as his gas tank is full, "The Barbarian" should dominate with control.
My Prediction: Tim Boetsch by decision
I'm surprised there's not more of a buzz surrounding The Ultimate Fighter 13 winner. He was utterly dominant on the show, throttling all of his adversaries, including fellow finalist Ramsey Nijem, by jaw-crushing TKO. Emerging from the show as the top welterweight, Ferguson is now making his UFC lightweight debut.
The kid was an athletic whiz in high school who competed at the varsity level all four years in wrestling, football and baseball, then went on to collect a state championship and dual All American honors at a Division II college in wrestling.
For reference, spindling welterweight Ben Saunders has a 77.5" reach measurement.
Reach becomes a prominent factor when meshed with accuracy, power and head movement. A common response is for opponents to bull-rush in order to account for the extra distance, which leaves openings.
In the sequence above, note Ferguson's avid bobbing and weaving while Nijem presses forward while flurrying.
Alternating between striking and takedowns can wreak havoc on the feet, and here Ferguson transitions from vivacious head movement while boxing to a level change for the takedown.
To the left is another defensive takedown from Ferguson when Nijem over-commits to his punches while barging forward. He senses the heavy pressure as Nijem swarms, knowing he's within takedown proximity based on the depth of the incoming strikes.
To finish the takedown above, check out how Ferguson is initially countered on the double but spins gracefully to his right to cut a fresh angle and grabs Nijem's left ankle to break down his base.
In the standing two-piece Ferguson connects with here, the advantage of his enormous wingspan is evident; especially with his left hand, which he turns over hard to torque it like a casting punch.
The straight right, left hook and uppercut make up most of his combinations.
Ferguson has also shown highly creative scrambling abilities.
When Nijem switches from the single and gets his arms deep on the double leg, Ferguson anticipates brilliantly and hits a forward roll to break his hips free.
Then, he takes a knee and spins up to his feet to bomb uppercuts in the blink of an eye.
Aaron Riley is old school, hard-nosed, well rounded and known for excitement. Unfortunately, Riley's prime predates the era where gifs of his style are aplenty.
He's a southpaw with rock solid striking and grappling, a nice, needling straight left and good kicks. His grappling is rife with over a decade of experience and he fights like a composed vet at all times.
His debut was in 1997 and he's fought the likes of Robbie Lawler, Chris Lytle, Yves Edwards, Eddie Alvarez, Michihiro Omigawa, and Falaniko Vitale. He clipped Omigawa with a head kick in the Japanese Judoka's MMA debut at Pride Bushido 7, but Spencer Fisher made for an unfriendly welcome back to the Octagon, winning by KO. Riley's first UFC appearance was a gritty decision to then-phenom Robbie Lawler at UFC 37.
Riley avenged the premature stoppage with a decision over Nelson in the rematch, was finished via TKO by Ross Pearson and defeated Joe Brammer by decision at UFC 114.
Back in the day, Riley was right on the fringe of top lightweights, but presently shouldn't have a lot of options for Ferguson's youthful exuberance and versatile offense.
The advantage of experience is applying intelligence at split-second intervals, so while his cerebral approach could foster some surprises for the fairly green Ferguson, Riley will have his hands full fending off long punches and explosive takedowns.
He's not a bad wrestler and could put Ferguson on his back -- as we saw Justin Edwards do on the reality show -- where his mesh of positional and submission skills are formidable. Riley also has the kind of cracking mid-level kicks that commonly intercept a fighter with drastic head movement (see Pat Curran vs. Marlon Sandro).
However, his chances of holding Ferguson down or invoking damage are probably slim.
My Prediction: Tony Ferguson by TKO
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com