The bantamweight belt is up for grabs in the headliner of Saturday night's UFC on Versus 6: Cruz vs. Johnson shindig. Devilish cage flux will abound as reigning 135-pound monarch Dominick Cruz defends the strap against the fleet footed Demetrious Johnson in the centerpiece.
Preceding the main, the live stream on the UFC's Facebook page will accommodate the entire six-fight undercard. Three lightweight contests will be featured: MMA veteran Yves Edwards takes on BJJ black belt Rafaello Oliveira, Division 1 wrestler Shane Roller tangles with another talented grappler in T.J. Grant, and submissionist Paul Sass faces TUF runner-up Michael Johnson.
With mostly new faces, the duplex of bantamweight bouts pits late entry Byron Bloodworth versus Mike Easton and Walel Watson versus Joseph Sandoval. The final undercard edition features the return of two experienced welterweights as Josh Neer draws Keith Wisniewski.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Yves Edwards (40-17-1) vs. Rafaello Oliveira (14-4)
Before eating a picture-perfect left hook, the kickboxing of Yves Edwards still looked sharp against Sam Stout.
The self-professed "Thugjitsu" practitioner boasts over three times the experience of Oliveira with fourteen years in the game and almost sixty fights, many against the sport's finest.
He responded by slicing through his next six opponents -- including finishes over Rich Clementi and Josh Thomson -- to become the de facto lightweight champion right before the UFC dissolved the division entirely.
As the balanced proportion of his stoppages (14 by TKO, 17 by sub) and vast experience would suggest, Yves is thoroughly composed and well rounded.
A southpaw, Edwards chains the whole enchilada of strikes together with exceptional quickness and accuracy.
On the mat, his scrambling and submission skills are equatable to the black belt level.
Edwards' foray into martial arts began with Muay Thai and submission grappling in the late 90's. His clinch work is strong as well and the only area he doesn't outwardly shine in is wrestling, but he's far from inadequate in any aspect of MMA.
Edwards showed a bulletproof beard throughout the bulk of his career; a trait that has declined of late. All four of his career TKO losses occurred within his last sixteen fights.
The vital disclaimer accompanying this stat is the high caliber opposition that finished him with strikes: Joe Stevenson (positional stoppage with elbows), Jorge Masvidal (high kick), K.J. Noons (punches) and the aforementioned Stout.
Some consider Edwards to be streaky or unpredictable because of his on-and-off performances, but I don't really get that. Every one of his seventeen losses were to top-ranked or highly formidable fighters.
Regrouping after a disappointing mid-career spiral where he went four and seven, Edwards has won six of his last eight since, scoring a decision over John Gunderson and handing Cody McKenzie his first defeat before the Stout fight.
Rafaello "Tractor" Oliveira trains out of New Jersey's AMA Fight Club alongside Charlie Brenneman and the Miller brothers. He's a BJJ stylist and instructor who set up shop in the states after starting out in Brazil.
Oliveira debuted in the UFC with ten fights -- all wins save a 2008 TKO to Lyle Beerbohm in ShoXC -- against Nik Lentz, who wore him down via decision. He split his next two with a win over Gunderson and a loss to Andre Winner, both by decision.
While singularly proficient in BJJ, Oliveira is a decent wrestler and has made impressive strides with his stand up.
His boxing and power are satisfactory, so while he's capable of catching Yves with his one-two on the feet, his intention should be to invoke his grappling acumen.
The catch is that Yves has superior striking but not a ton of knockout heft. His footwork, agility and fundamentals are top notch but Oliveira will likely drag him down if he can initiate the clinch. The more oomph Edwards puts on his punches, the more his feet are planted and susceptible to takedowns.
Edwards has gotten in trouble before for courageously engaging his opponent anywhere instead of exploiting his strengths. As long as he doesn't play Oliveira's game, I like Edwards here by surviving any ground encounters and plunging quick punches through his defense. If he can't finish, fifteen minutes leaves "Tractor" with plenty of chances.
My Prediction: Yves Edwards by decision
Shane Roller (10-4) vs. T.J. Grant (16-5)
WEC crossover Shane Roller has always been on the fringe of the elite, which is highly respectable considering he's only been in the sport four years.
Compared to his early days in the WEC, Roller has subtly enhanced his boxing game. To the right, he intelligently calculated the straight-line retreat of Tavares and started measuring his combinations to extend deeper.
Maintaining balance, Roller triples up his jab to set up his overhand right and follows up with a nice leaping knee when Tavares runs out of real estate.
The final sequence is a virtual carbon copy, this time requiring only two jabs to thin out the distance and smash the Brazilian with his right cross.
Roller was dabbed with some punches early against Tavares and has exhibited some defensive concerns in the stand up department, mostly with keeping his chin tucked.
He locks on to the neck to wrench vice-like guillotines in the clinch or anytime an opportunity presents itself. His sub-defense is a question mark as he hasn't clocked a lot of ground time with grapplers.
T.J. Grant will be dropping to 155-pounds for the first time against Roller.
As a welterweight, Grant experienced sequential wins and losses in all six fights: defeating Ryo Chonan, Kevin Burns and Julio Paulino with losses to Dong Hyun Kim, Johnny Hendricks and Ricardo Almeida in between.
Like Roller, Grant is a ground-oriented fighter, only with a more even balance between wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu (he's a brown belt).
I suggest a review of Kid Nate's Judo Chop on Grant's capacious bag of submission grappling tricks.
Above, Grant pursues a single with Ryo Chonan pinned on the fence. As soon as Chonan starts to control the head and gather his balance, Grant craftily snares an ankle pick on his support leg.
Grant's style is simple, smart and blue collar technique.
To the left is the first in another nice little transition against Chonan.
In the turtle position and eating right hands, watch how Chonan switches from posting his left arm to seeking control on Grant's left wrist.
As soon as Chonan loses the support of his left arm, Grant takes advantage by not only rolling him over on that side, but passing to mount during the scramble and holding the wrist control to isolate Chonan's left arm.
The benefit of this cerebral maneuver is shown to the right. Grant volleys unhindered right hands to the head while Chonan has only his right arm to defend with at an ineffective angle.
Attesting to his prowess, Grant has submitted twelve of his sixteen victories.
Roller should be the stronger wrestler with the edge of control while Grant's technical arsenal is much broader.
This will be a steep test for Roller's fight IQ and mental fortitude. He has more punching power and strength but must carefully avoid the litany of traps that Grant will bait him with, especially in scrambles. It's possible that Roller will keep this fight standing where the same proportion of power versus technique applies -- though Grant's resilient chin should carry him through on the feet.
As I mentioned, we haven't really seen Roller engage an opponent like Grant, so I'm admittedly unsure how he'll perform. Assuming Grant doesn't suffer adversely from the weight cut or get stuck in a stand up fight, I think he's the safe bet here.
My Prediction: T.J. Grant by submission
Michael Johnson (9-5) vs. Paul Sass (11-0)
British submission provocateur Paul "Don't Call Me Sassy" Sass meets TUF finalist Michael Johnson in a battle for lightweight relevance.
A little known fact: Johnson beat undefeated Pablo Garza (currently a UFC featherweight) by decision to get into the house.
Mostly lauded as a wrestler, it was Johnson's boxing that I was impressed with. He's an athletic kid with great instincts and a lot of time to grow and mature.
In his post-TUF debut against Edward Faaloloto, his striking was crisp and his takedowns were fully functional.
Johnson also switched stances (above) and looked entirely comfortable snapping one-twos.
Not big on circling or angles, Johnson generally darts in and out of range while goring with straight punches or cracks a low kick from outside.
To the left, Johnson shows encouraging diversity with his clinch game.
After he clips a knee to the body but can't retain the Thai plum hold, Johnson thwacks a short forearm to the head that causes Faaloloto to cover up, enabling Johnson to regain the plum and bomb with knees.
As soon as Faaloloto extracts his right hand and decides to attack rather than defend, Johnson disconnects and flurries with a brutal combination.
This is a nice example of intelligent aggression.
If you think pulling guard is some sort of dishonorable and degenerate act of mere desperation, Paul Sass might change your mind.
He lit off his career with seven -- yah, seven -- wins by triangle, all in the first frame but one. His next bout was a first round heel hook, then he won his only decision, then another first round heel hook.
In fact, I don't remember another fighter executing the technique so perfectly and consisting.
Note, in all of these gifs, how Sass thrives with what so many are missing when pulling guard: deep penetration on his initial double leg.
When the attempt is telegraphed and the result of failing miserably on the takedown, then it does seem like more of a disheveled flop.
To the right is a prime example.
After he's stuffed, notice how Sass stands back up and takes a deep step inward with his right foot; so far that he almost steps on Holst's left foot.
Buried deep in the pocket, Sass quickly shuffles his left foot forward and drops to his back while holding a strong overhook on Holst's left arm.
Pulling guard is a science that Paul Sass has perfected. It's refreshing to see someone bursting with confidence in their guard that strives to get into the position that many view as a weakness by default.
From his guard, Sass drenches his opponent with relentless submission attempts through a hyperactive set of hips.
As only the top of the food chain can, Sass controls posture and envelopes with his octopus-like limbs to chain unending submissions and sweeps together in effortless harmony.
Both Sass and Johnson are fairly green against upper shelf competition. Sass has tackled big punchers in the past, but Johnson is yet to face a pure grappling wizard.
Sass's stand up is not bad, but Johnson will have a hefty advantage, so the question becomes how well and how long Johnson can force a striking battle. If unwaveringly fixated on sprawling and brawling, I'd give this to Johnson, but I foresee Sass eventually working his magic.
My Prediction: Paul Sass by submission
Josh Neer (31-10-1) vs. Keith Wisniewski (28-12-1)
Eighty fights worth of joint experience will accompany welterweights Josh Neer and Keith Wisniewski into the cage.
Neer is the sort of fighter that I love to watch even though he won't become champion or perhaps even make waves in the division. A multiple-time "Fight of the Night" winner and Miletich Fighting Systems vet, Neer has always been a rugged boxer, but has significantly evolved his ground game late in his career.
Wisniewski has also been in the cage with top-flight competition and returns to the Octagon for the first time since a UFC 56 loss to Nick Thompson. Both of these scrappers are tough as nails, but I like Neer in this one for his wicked hands and killer instinct.
Mike Easton (10-1) vs. Byron Bloodworth (6-1)
Easton's name might ring a bell from the controversial decision he was awarded in UWC over Chase Beebe. In fact, that 2009 catastrophe was the last time he fought. His original opponent, Jeff Hougland, has been replaced by another newcomer in Byron Bloodworth. Regardless of the decision, Easton hung in with a reputable bantamweight in Beebe and I expect a convincing victory.
Joseph Sandoval (6-0) vs. Walel Watson (8-2)
Being unfamiliar with Sandoval, I have seen Walel Watson in a losing effort at Tachi Palace Fights. Seven of Watson's eight wins are by submission. Sandoval has been a Shark Fights staple, fighting only once elsewhere. Watson is incredibly tall for a 135-pounder at 5'11" and I'll guess that his height and sub-game will prevail.
T.J. Grant and Paul Sass gifs via Chris Nelson for BloodyElbow
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com