Monday I ripped into the UFC's less than ideal buzz building for UFC 154 but today I come not to bury Dana White but instead to praise Joe Silva, the UFC matchmaker, who's put together a card that's better than you might expect. The knock on recent cards headlined by Welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre is that beyond the headliner, they're padded out with crap fights and random Canadians.
Not so much this time. Sure GSP vs. interim WW champ Carlos Condit is the biggest fight on the card by several orders of magnitude but this time the rest of the card is actually pretty intriguing. Here's what I'm looking forward to:
- The debut of Azamat Gashimov against Ivan Menjivar
The UFC has been letting Bellator grab most of the promising Eastern European prospects in recent years so it's nice to see them bringing in someone new with an unspellable, unspeakable name. And on the serious tip, Gashimov is expected to bring a physical wrestling based game and should be a good stylistic contrast with the always entertaining Menjivar.
- Sam Stout vs. John Makdessi in a classic Muay Thai vs TKD bout
It's no secret that I mark out for fighters who can apply "traditional martial arts" like Shotokan Karate and Taekwondo in the Octagon and Makdessi is a double threat in that arena since he has trained in both styles and his arsenal of fancy kicks and spinning attacks is something to behold. Stout will be a stiff test for Makdessi since he brings a brutal and fundamentally sound Muay Thai style to the cage. Not to mention Makdessi's got his back to the wall coming off 2 straight losses.
- Mark Bocek vs. Rafael dos Anjos: someone's coming out a contender
Despite having 21 UFC fights between them (and a combined 13-8 UFC record) neither Bocek nor dos Anjos has ever really caught fans' attention. Now with both men riding two fight win streaks into UFC 154, the winner of this fight should emerge as a contender for the Lightweight title. Not to mention it should be a hard-fought contest between two highly skilled and gritty competitors.
- Francis Carmont and Costa Philippou could have break out performances
Carmont has looked really promising in his two UFC fights and Philippou has shown flashes of brilliance with a tight boxing attack. They're both facing opponents (Tom Lawlor and Nick Ring respectively) that will provide tough tests but also a true chance to shine. I'm looking for one of these guys to score a highlight reel win that will have fans talking come Sunday morning.
- Johny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann should be EPIC
Even though most of the focus after the event will be on a hypothetical GSP vs. Anderson Silva bout, Hendricks and Kampmann is an excellent #1 contender's bout. Both men have shown they can beat top flight competition and present a real threat to the champ -- whoever that may be.
More intriguingly, Hendricks and Kampmann present a perfect clash of styles, Hendricks the quintessential American wrestle-boxer against Kampmann whose blend of kickboxing, submissions and solid wrestling makes him a threat to expose any flaws in Hendricks' game.
- BONUS: Greg Jackson won't be cornering anyone at GSP vs. Condit
Honestly, this is the most important bout in the Welterweight division since GSP's rematch with Matt Serra way back in the day. GSP has his back to the wall, coming off a long series of injuries and surgeries and a longer series of tedious decision wins that have damaged his brand. Condit is a warrior, a WEC and now UFC champ who's one of the last serious pretenders to GSP's divisional throne. Should be one for the ages.
Especially because "Coach Caution" Greg Jackson won't be in either man's corner. After advising GSP to a long string of take-no-chances decision wins and crafting the no-fun-on-the-run strategy Condit used to slip past Nick Diaz at UFC 143, Greg Jackson is conflicted out of this fight. So no Yoda's will be whispering in anyone's ear or coming up with sneaky but boring game plans for the fight.