By the time he made his Octagon debut at UFC 42 in 2003, Duane Ludwig (21-11) was one of the most exciting new prospects in MMA. For starters, "Bang" had already beaten renowned kickboxer "Malaipet" to win the ISKA World Muay Thai title and, while simultaneously masquerading in MMA as a Bas Rutten protege, accrued nine wins in his first eleven fights. Amongst that introductory streak, Ludwig became the UCC lightweight champion with a shocking first round knockout of a prime Jens Pulver, who had just successfully defended the UFC 155-pound strap against B.J. Penn, and forced Charles Bennett and Thomas Denny to cry uncle by way of his utterly trenchant striking.
Ludwig would defeat Genki Sudo, the revered Japanese entertainer and grappling virtuoso, by decision in his UFC debut. In a classic striker vs. grappler match up, Sudo bloodied Ludwig's nose with ground-and-pound severely enough to warrant a pause in the action for the doctor to check on him, but then absorbed a barrage of Ludwig's ruthless Muay Thai when the fight was reset in the standing position. The outcome was one of the most hotly debated controversies in the early era of the sport, inspiring the implementation of the contemporary rule which specifies that the competitors will be restarted in the same position after the referee calls time for a foul and/or to consult with the ringside physician.
Ludwig ended up bouncing back and forth between lightweight and welterweight and, because he was unable to level his ground game with his stand up, never made a huge splash in MMA. Barring the lofty expectations he created for himself, he still had a successful career and plugged away in the UFC, Strikeforce, K-1 and Sengoku, where he lost to the big kids on the block like Penn, Paul Daley, Tyson Griffin, Josh Thomson and Takanori Gomi. Most recently, his almost immediate shellacking of Jonathan Goulet at UFC Fight Night 3 was finally christened as the fastest knockout in Octagon history, and Ludwig's remolded his latest tour with two straight decision wins (Nick Osipczak, Amir Sadollah) after opening with two losses (Jim Miller, Darren Elkins).
More UFC on FX Dissections
Josh Neer (32-10-1) has a well earned reputation for being a gritty, hard-nosed scrapper. The longtime Pat Miletich product has an unconfirmed yet relatively insane amateur record (87-1) in Iowa and is rumored to have taken on multiple adversaries on the same night. After turning pro and ratcheting two TKO wins, Neer would encounter future training partners and UFC lightweights in Joe Jordan (draw) and Spencer Fisher (split-decision loss). His all-out war with "The King" is probably one of the best back and forth dogfights that you've never had the pleasure to witness.
"The Dentist" bounced back from his first defeat in style with ten crushing victories, finishing all but one with six TKOs and three submissions (armbar, triangle, strike-submission). This awarded a single-stint in the UFC where he was choked out by avid grappler Drew Fickett. Neer kept his nose to the grindstone and impressively fitted Forrest Petz with a triangle but was tapped by Nick Thompson, both of whom were eventual UFCers. Neer put himself on the map as a "TUF Killer" when he re-emerged in the Octagon and bested Melvin Guillard (triangle choke) and Joe Stevenson.
Finally recognized as a genuine lightweight force, Neer would tackle a litany of top level opposition with mixed results: T.J. Waldburger, Din Thomas, Mac Danzig, and Keith Wisniewski in his latest (all wins); Nick and Nate Diaz, Kurt Pellegrino, Gleison Tibau, and Eddie Alvarez (losses).
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Early on, Neer was heralded for his boxing and it's still his best asset. He doesn't necessarily have the cleanest style according to traditional boxing standards, but this is MMA and few do, and Neer's long and aggressive punches are quite effective.
His inherent toughness shines through everywhere, as Neer is the type who compensates for imperfect fundamentals with raw tenacity and unshakable perseverance. He's got enough experience now to be supremely confident in his ability to throw down with the best of 'em.
I was most endeared by Neer's brilliant use of short, slashing elbows from the clinch in his last entry against Wisniewski, which cracked open a gash on his forehead. Standing Thai elbows are, in my opinion, a vastly under-utilized weapon that we'll see more of in the future, especially in the clinch where the emphasis on ideal hand and arm position can yield significant advantages.
Neer is an average wrestler and his submission acumen has been hard to read; commonplace or even a weakness at times, shockingly virtuous in others.
Let it be known that any analysis regarding "Bang" Ludwig is hereby rendered vacuous without the epic gif to the right.
I put this one together myself because the maelstrom of this glorious devastation was one of the initial memories that MMA burned into my forever, consummated by Ludwig styling the Karate Kid crane stance. The massacre took place against Shad Smith and his equally fashionable wardrobe choice of Vans skate shoes.
Pre-unified rules MMA nostalgia aside, the beatdown is an undeniable testament to the apex level of Ludwig's stand up prowess. That is a perfect mesh of extraordinary technique and combat-adapted ferocity.
It was enjoyable to see that Ludwig still had it more than a decade later in his thorough disassembly of Sadollah. Given, the more inexperienced kickboxer presented a favorable match up, yet it cemented that anyone who stands with Ludwig is in for a long night.
He's not impossible to catch on the feet and Neer is a savvy striker with a long reach, but few can match Ludwig's Muay Thai finesse. Note the exemplary mechanics of his fluid head movement, excellent timing and pinpoint accuracy.
Common sense asserts that Neer would be wise to force a grappling match. Ludwig's sole focus after dedicating himself to MMA was to reinforce his wrestling and BJJ, and he became quite adept with sprawling and employing a defensive guard to create scrambling opportunities.
Since he's not a pure wrestler, Neer uses his intelligence to bore his way into the clinch where he grinds away with tight-range strikes to set up throws and trips. It will be interesting because he prefers to lead with the Thai plum and has a little height and length on Ludwig despite the vastly inferior Thai credentials.
The betting lines for this fight give Ludwig a tiny push and have Neer about even. From a pure skill standpoint, Ludwig is comparable to Neer everywhere except in striking, where he's just too polished to match. The key x-factors are Neer's ability to break people with his unwavering willpower and Ludwig's conditioning in later rounds. Neer can wrap things up quickly with his hands and, with a high pace and preferably from close-quarters, will throw everything but the kitchen sink at Ludwig, including submission and takedown attempts from the clinch. With only career TKO loss, he's also difficult to finish and walks through punches without batting an eye.
All things considered, I like Ludwig here, who I expect to "out-box the brawler" and either catch Neer early with an accumulation of strikes or survive a third-round surge in a decision.
My Prediction: Duane Ludwig by decision.
Neer vs. Wisniewski and Ludwig vs. Sadollah gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com