UFC on FX 5 goes live this Friday on the FX channel with heavyweights Travis Browne and Antonio Silva slated as the featured attraction. A welterweight dogfight pitting Josh Neer vs. Justin Edwards an especially loaded 8-fight preliminary card
Obviously, the hottest prospects churned out by the UFC's reality television series "The Ultimate Fighter" are the outright winners. However, the show breeds some sleepers too; guys that didn't wow the audience and pretty much blended in with the crowd but went on to prove their legitimacy with respectable turns in the Octagon. Matt Brown, Seth Baczynski and Brad Tavares are all examples, and TUF 13 entry Justin Edwards (7-2) just might be as well.
Edwards, who was inserted as a replacement, got blasted with an up-kick from eventual winner Tony Ferguson in his first and only match. Thus he was better recognized as "that guy who looks like Randy Couture" than for demonstrating any promising potential. His split-decision loss to Clay Harvison at the live finale hardly increased his stock, as Edwards was noticeably gassed and the fight was far from a barn-burner.
Eyebrows first raised when "Fast Eddy" unveiled his tenacious clinch game to spoil the anticipated premiere of Jorge Lopez, a once-beaten Wand Fight Team prospect. Though Edwards was unable to stay in the win column in his last outing against John Maguire, he came out in style by planting a spinning back kick to the midsection and following up immediately with a massive overhand right that flattened Maguire, and performed admirably throughout the decision defeat.
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Josh "The Dentist" Neer is approaching a full decade of experience in MMA and now soldiering his 4th tour of duty in the Octagon. The Iowa native was originally a member of Miletich Fighting Systems but has recently gravitated to the Cesar Gracie Fight Team to train with Jake Shields and the infamous Diaz brothers. Initially billed as a boxer, Neer has undergone a gradually effective evolution by polishing up his submission grappling and amplifying his clinch prowess, and tested that mettle liberally against the legion of reputable light- and welterweight competition he's tackled over the years.
The perma-scowling Neer won't win you over with his personality, but he might with his combat grit. Neer is one of the most naturally tough and game-bred scrappers on the block: he might not be fantastically technical or consistent, but his opponents know that he'll be cramming elbows and punches down their throat from bell to bell and inevitably represents a long and exhausting night of intractable offensive aggression.
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My initial take on this clinch-centric match up was comparing Neer's spidery height and reach to the short-and-stocky strength of Edwards, so I was surprised that Edwards clocks in at 5'10" tall with a 71" reach, leaving him just an inch shy in height and 2" less in reach.
Edwards specializes in a feisty and frenetic clinch onslaught: he closes distance well with blistering strikes, steers his opponent against the fence and weighs on them with stifling control via double underhooks or a full body lock, all the while threatening with dirty boxing or takedown attempts. His excellent balance, low center of gravity and strategic head position convert to a lot of leverage in standing tie-ups.
Though his trio of UFC outings have all ended by decision, Edwards flat-out rolled his previous opponents with 6-straight stoppages (5 subs, 1 TKO) in the 1st-round, most of which were tidied up in a minute or less. That opening streak includes short-time UFCers in Josh Rafferty and Daniel Stittgen, both of whom were finished in about 30 seconds. While he's pummeling in entanglements or hand-fighting for a more dominant position, Edwards likes to switch to the guillotine choke, which accounts for 4 of his 5 submission wins. This, along with his high-paced pursuit of trips and throws with heavy strikes mixed in, makes him a triple threat in the clinch.
Despite his scrawny frame and striking background, Neer prefers to bury himself in the clinch as well. He's been especially deadly in chipping away with elbows, either the powerful, slashing type or a machine-gun release of short-range shots during the chess match for hand/arm position. Instead of strength and a low center of gravity like Edwards, Neer uses his lanky frame to apply leverage in the clinch. His takedown defense has improved and he'll even pursue offensive takedowns on occasion, but Edwards should have the edge with control in the clinch.
In free-space striking, Neer pumps a long, busy jab and picks his spots to couple them with a streaking right cross. He is much more of a distance striker than Edwards, who hurls big hooks and uppercuts in the pocket. Neer might be a tad susceptible to submissions but he's voracious in attacking with his own, where his long limbs are well suited to be thread around the neck for chokes.
Neer has emerged as a monstrous favorite on the betting lines in the range of -285. While he gets my vote for his thorny clinch striking, resistant chin (his recent TKO loss to Mike Pyle was just the 2nd of his career), superior experience and general meanness, I think Edwards poses a serious threat here. He's a durable and wide-bodied bruiser in the clinch, which is where Neer prefers to handle his business. Neer is more inherently offensive and has the better chance of finishing, but Edwards is a stout little force who could pull off the upset with his power and clinch control.
My Prediction: Josh Neer by TKO.