Rivera will be making his fifteenth appearance in the Octagon and looking to unbalance his evenly split UFC record (7-7) with a notch in the win column. Though the numbers might not be pretty, Rivera has bumped heads with a mile-long list of reputable middleweights and now has over a decade of high-level experience under his belt.
After a six-piece stint in which "El Conquistador" kept flip-flopping with wins (Dennis Hallman, Edwin Dewees, Kendall Grove) and losses (Chris Leben, Terry Martin, Martin Kampmann), the Massachusetts based veteran broke the curse with three consecutive victories (Nissen Osterneck, Rob Kimmons, Nate Quarry). The last two of that sequence were rather eye-catching and belligerent demolitions by way of his thunderous punching power.
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Schafer is a former light-heavyweight and Roufusport fighter who has recently dropped down to middleweight and opened a school in Wisconsin called "Red Schafer MMA." Record-wise, though he doesn't match Rivera's volume, Schafer, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, exceeds his opponent's tenure with fights stemming back to 1998, putting him on the verge of clocking fourteen years in the cage.
"Red" has also bounced in and out of the Octagon: he submitted Rob Macdonald in his UFC debut, then suffered back-to-back TKO losses (Stephan Bonnar, Michael Bisping); he scored two first-round stoppages elsewhere and then re-emerged in style with two more (arm-triangle on Houston Alexander; TKO over Antonio Mendes). Ryan Bader and Jason Brilz would give him the boot again (both decision losses) and Schafer made a successful test-run at 185 by latching another quick submission in a smaller show. Aaron Simpson, however, offered an unfriendly homecoming with a dominant decision performance at UFC 136.
Continued in the full entry.
Rivera is a complete fighter but prefers a down and dirty slugfest, and it should be business as usual against Schafer, who's won eight of his twelve by submission. Rivera's sturdy takedown defense and affinity for close-quarters brawling and clinch warfare should be a handful for Schafer to overcome. While his recent drop in weight should improve his strength and takedown prowess, Schafer lacks the strong wrestling pedigree he'll need to ground Rivera.
Both men are wily veterans who excel in their areas of specialty but Rivera has a much better chance of keeping things standing and battering Schafer with dirty boxing and his grinding clinch game. Schafer is smooth on the mat but he'll be hard-pressed to get and keep Rivera there, who should have enough submission savvy to hold his own in grappling encounters.
My Prediction: Jorge Rivera by referee stoppage due to strikes.
If the smattering of unknown names has left you feeling a little "meh" about this card, Habib Nurmagomedov is Exhibit-A for why you shouldn't be. At only twenty-three years of age, the young Russian is a two-time world champion in Combat Sambo, he's undefeated after sixteen entries and closed out his last six foes in the opening round. He's hooked up with MVC Management under K-Dojo's Samuel Kardan and AMA Fight Club's Mike Constantino for stateside exposure and to harness his wealth of malleable talent.
Though his past level of opposition is mediocre at best, there's no question that Nurmagomedov's age and credentials show promise for the future. Combat Sambo offers a multi-faceted foundation of striking, takedowns and submissions, so Nurmagomedov is well rounded but will suffer from the syndrome of being good everywhere and great nowhere. Training alongside Charlie Brenneman and the Miller brothers will surely pay dividends in time, but the immediate present holds a stiff challenge.
Kamal Shalorus, "The Prince of Persia", will await the young newcomer in the cage. The once-defeated Iranian earned a reputation as a perilous striker after coming into the WEC with a vicious TKO of Will Kerr in just a minute and a half. He picked up three WEC wins all together, including a split-decision over Bart Palaszewski, and fought to a split draw with Jamie Varner in a bout where his relentless inside leg kicks kept straying cup-ward, resulting in a point deduction.
Shalorus made his Octagon debut against the stalwart Jim Miller at UFC 128 and suffered the first loss of his career in the third-round TKO. Four of Shalorus' seven wins come via strikes and he's a talented and aggressive kickboxer who goes all out. Despite his propensity to trade hands, he represented Great Britain as a wrestler for the Olympic trials and can generally dictate whether the fight takes place standing or on the mat. I expect him to overwhelm the young Nurmagomedov convincingly.
My Prediction: Kamal Shalorus by TKO.
AMA Fight Club's Charlie Brenneman meets Cesar Gracie product Daniel Roberts in a welterweight collision. Brenneman finally stamped his name on the weight class with a dramatic upset of Rick Story in the UFC Live 4 headliner with roughly a day to prepare. He was a successful Division 1 wrestler who was on the cusp of earning All American honors with a 2004 "Top Twelve" finish. Here's Coach Mike, my wrestling consultant, giving his assessment of Brenneman's collegiate wrestling career.
In 2004 Brenneman was one match away from placing top 8 (being an All American) at 157. This is a major accomplishment and the round of 12 is the deepest that many MMA notables have lasted into the NCAAs, including Urijah Faber, Frankie Edgar, and Scott Jorgensen. Brenneman did the best he could in his final All-American bid -- he had the unenviable task of facing future world-team member, Travis Paulson, and he was eliminated in the round of 12 by none other than a freshman named Johny Hendricks.
Interestingly enough, Hendricks is responsible for the first of Brenneman's two UFC losses, the last being a momentum killing head kick delivered by Anthony Johnson on the UFC Live 6 card last October. In addition to defeating Story, Brenneman has pegged wins over Jason High and Amilcar Alves, both by decision.
Daniel "Ninja" Roberts was an All American wrestler, but at the NAIA level. What may compensate for Brenneman's superior wrestling accolades is the fact that Roberts has complemented his grappling with the art of BJJ (purple belt) under the great Cesar Gracie. Roberts has compiled a solid list of achievements in sport grappling, such as medaling at ADCC and the worlds (twice) among others.
Overall, Roberts is dead even in the UFC after six fights: he lost to John Howard by KO in his debut, then compiled three straight wins (Forrest Petz, split decision; Mike Guymon, anaconda choke; Greg Soto, kimura) but has fallen in his last two (Claude Patrick, Rich Attonito), both via decision.
I'd give Roberts a slight edge standing but neither are known for their striking, so the dynamics boil down to Brenneman's wrestling advantage and submission defense. He's never been submitted though Roberts will be his biggest test in that department to date. Brenneman should be able to impose his strengths and be wary of Roberts' devices on the mat, but "Ninja" is definitely the more thorough fighter and could pose problems in scrambles and the use of his wrestling in reverse to stay upright.
Brenneman emerges as the strong favorite at -300 which, even though I'm taking him for the win, seems a tad steep. With scant time spent on his feet and over half of his wins being decisions, his intentions are pretty obvious. Roberts would be well advised to work his hands and avoid takedowns while staying ultra-active from his back to avoid containment.
My Prediction: Charlie Brenneman by decision.
Fabricio "Morango" ("Strawberry" in Portugese) Camoes was initially stepping in to replace Rafaello Oliveira against Reza Madadi, but Madadi withdrew as well and newcomer Tom Hayden was supplanted. Camoes was cut from the UFC after drawing with Caol Uno (Camoes was ahead on the cards but docked a point for an illegal up-kick) and a submission loss to Kurt Pellgrino at UFC 111. His release was somewhat contentious and the UFC's axe was particularly sharp at the time. He's since accrued two wins over UFC caliber opposition in Steve Lopez (vicious head kick TKO) and Efrain Escudero (decision).
Tom Hayden fights under Jorge Gurgel and was choked out by Cameron Dollar in the elimination round of The Ultimate Fighter's "US vs. UK" season. Five of his eight wins come by submission with two TKOs and one decision. One of those five catches was a rear-naked choke on recent TUF competitor Dustin Neace.
Don't be fooled by Camoes' substandard fight record: in his second and third professional outings, he was defeated by Pride standout Luiz Azeredo and none other than Anderson Silva. Along with Gleison Tibau, Camoes suffered two early losses to an under-rated shark in Renovacao Fight Team's Luis Dutra Jr., aka "Besouro", who is a talented Luta Livre specialist. This made for an unflattering start to Camoes' career and his UFC shortcomings are his only flaws since his opening pace (4-5). "Morango" is a stellar grappler with good wrestling, excellent submissions and electric scrambling abilities, and I reckon he'll dominate.
My Prediction: Fabricio Camoes by submission.
Two new featherweights with a reputation for finishing fights will debut opposite one another. Daniel "The Pit" Pineda is a twenty-six year old fighter from Houston who's stopped all fifteen of the opponent's he's defeated. Better yet, his method of finishing is just as diverse (9 subs, 6 TKOs) as it is effective. He kneebarred Johnny Bedford but was in turn submitted in the rematch. Pineda had a single stint in Bellator that resulted in a submission loss to Chas Skelly, but he's since lined up five stoppages that include a rear-naked choke on former WEC fighter Frank Gomez.
Pat "Thrilling" Schilling trains at Minnesota's Ambition Training Academy alongside Brett Rogers and female standout Kelly Kobold. He's just spreading his wings at age twenty-three with five pro-wins under his belt, all of which were first round stoppages (4 subs, 1 TKO). While Pineda will have a significant edge in experience with four-times as many fights, Schilling's past level of competition leaves much to be desired. His opponents have a poor cumulative record (14-31) and two are yet to win (0-1, 0-7). In fact, he's only beaten one fighter with a winning record, which was Tom Waters (4-3).
My Prediction: Daniel Pineda by TKO.
When familiarizing yourself with Nick Denis, it's imperative to note that he's "The Ninja of Love" and his favorite grappling technique is "anything cuddle-jitsu related." Denis is a Canadian madman and a BJJ purple belt who has never gone to a decision and only seen the third round once in his career. His first step into the limelight was participating in Sengoku's stacked 2009 Featherweight Grand Prix, where he hammered Seiya Kawahara by first round TKO to advance in the brackets. Denis was knocked out of the tourney by Nova Uniao slugger Marlon Sandro for his first career loss and then again in Sengoku by Yuji Hoshino (who holds a win over recent UFC acquisition Antonio Carvalho) a year later, though two more violent TKOs were registered betwixt those defeats.
Joseph Sandoval is a former Shark Fights bantamweight champion who was unable to maintain his unbeaten record in his UFC debut against fellow newcomer Walel Watson. I believe the extraordinarily long and tall Watson (5'11"), however, will blossom into a savvy and exciting fighter, so I don't hold Sandoval's first-round TKO loss in ill regard. Only seven fights deep, Sandoval is still improving and already wields a solid set of hands with decent wrestling.
Experience, level of competition and diversity all favor Denis in this one, who has shown that he's quite a capable boxer (9 of 10 wins via TKO), no stranger to submissions and he's fresh off a brutal slam KO to validate his wrestling.
My Prediction: Nick Denis by TKO.