This Saturday's UFC 154 blockbuster from Montreal is captained by the return of welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who defends against Carlos Condit, and packed with 13 fights overall. The show will unfold in a trisected broadcast: the main card airs on pay-per-view at 10:00 p.m. ET, the back end of the preliminary card airs on the FX Channel at 8:00 p.m. ET and the front end leads off the evening on Facebook at 6:00 p.m. ET.
With the Facebook echelon being analyzed yesterday, we'll focus on the FX preliminary card:
UFC 154 Prelims on FX
Canadian Patrick Cote has tangled with a pretty formidable list of UFC talent: he debuted on short notice against Tito Ortiz at UFC 50 and went on to be matched with the likes of Anderson Silva, Cung Le and Alan Belcher. His UFC record stands at a mediocre 4-8 but he's never lost outside the Octagon. Cote is also one of the toughest guys in the game; his chin is legendary and his only TKO loss was via knee injury against Silva.
Roman-born Alessio Sakara has long been touted as a top-level boxer. His pro-boxing record stands at 8-1 with 6 TKOs. Sakara is undoubtedly gifted with his hands and flaunts a BJJ black belt to boot, but he's struggled to define himself in the top-tier. After a No Contest in his Octagon debut from a wicked shot to the pills from Ron Faircloth, Sakara is dead-even in the UFC with 6 wins and 6 losses.He finally built some much needed momentum with 3-straight wins but enters the cage on Saturday with a 2-fight losing streak.
Since they have a similar set of skills -- boxing-based striking with decent wrestling and submission grappling -- Cote sure stands out as the more solid candidate here. Sakara is definitely the more explosive and polished boxer with quicker hands and tighter combinations, but Cote's simple and straightforward selection of crisp and accurate punches, especially when combined with his chin strength, gives him the edge on the feet. When Sakara can assume his ideal range in the pocket, his blazing flurries can be deadly, but Cote is more effective with controlling distance and scoring with in-and-out movement.
Unless one gets wobbled on the feet and attacked when they're out of sorts, a submission finish seems unlikely, which leaves the mechanics of their striking characteristics. Cote is a fearless brawler and could get in trouble if he decides to trade leather at phone-booth range, but his gritty toughness and ability to take a punch seems to be what Sakara is missing, as 4 of his last 5 losses have been 1st-round TKOs.
My Prediction: Patrick Cote by TKO.
Griggs is a Strikeforce crossover who's best known for an epic set of chops and playing spoiler in a purported "gimme fight" against heavyweight Bobby Lashley in Strikeforce. Griggs was unbeaten in Strikeforce but ran into Travis Browne's flying knee in his Octagon debut and was finished off with a slick arm-triangle. Now, though he used to tip the scales at around 240-pounds, the bruiser is making his 205-pound debut against the division's tallest in Cyrille Diabate, who also represents a serious striking threat with a number of kickboxing titles to his name.
Diabate packs stellar kickboxing prowess into a frightening frame at 6'6" tall with a 81" reach. Though not quite a spring chicken at age 39, Diabate has spent a lifetime in combat sports and gradually bolstered his striking proficiency with improved wrestling and defensive grappling. He's won 12 of his last 15 with the only losses coming by way of former light-heavyweight champ Mauricio Rua (in Pride FC), top 205-pound contender Alexander Gustafsson and submission expert Anthony Perosh.
Even though his foundation is pure kickboxing and Muay Thai, the Frenchman is highly aggressive and unafraid to take risks, which has left him susceptible to counter-punching and takedowns. He's admirable focused on offense but that has resulted in some defensive susceptibilities, and he seems to be accustomed to shield blocking incoming punches with bigger gloves on, which is a sketchy habit with MMA's drastically reduced glove size.
Grigg's physicality and bulldozer mentality will be his biggest assets here, while the potential perils of making such a steep weight cut for the first time present some questions and concerns. If we see a prime Griggs at light-heavyweight and he's able to maintain the same level of strength and close-range, power brawling, he could be well attuned to grind Diabate down in the clinch or from the top position after a takedown -- which could open up some basic choke attempts as well.
With their preferred fighting distances being pretty clear, footwork and range should dictate this match. Griggs will try to shrink the gap and batter Diabate at toe-to-toe range whereas Diabate will look to capitalize on his reach and striking finesse by plunging long shots from the fringe and then circling out of danger. Griggs is a wild card here so I'll side with Diabate for being a little too technical and smooth with his length.
My Prediction: Cyrille Diabate by TKO.
It's Canuck vs. Canuck as strikers Sam Stout and John Makdessi face off. Makdessi is a very uniquely talented kickboxer who's been able to adapt his Karate and Taekwondo base into a fully functional MMA striking arsenal. He's excelled against mid-tier competition but fell short against high-end grapplers (Dennis Hallman) and strikers (Anthony Njokuani).
Stout has been floating around somewhere in the upper-middle pack of lightweights throughout his UFC career. He's tackled a prestigious group of 155ers and his picture-perfect kickboxing technique and brick-lined chin are his strongest qualities.
Makdessi still seems to be a work in progress who's yet to prove that his one-dimensional style is good enough to survive in the UFC. However, with that being said, he's absolutely phenomenal in that one aspect: his balance and footwork are extraordinary and, though he's a smaller lightweight, his sizzling quickness makes up for it. Stout is a technical wizard with excellent footwork and use of angles, but, at certain times, appears to unreel his combinations in slow motion. Stout has also made strides with his defensive wrestling and may want to apply that offensively, if for nothing more than to keep Makdessi hesitant to commit for fear of the takedown.
I expect the standing exchanges and footwork to be brilliant in this match. On paper, Stout is the clear choice for his rubbery chin and huge advantage in top-level experience.
My Prediction: Sam Stout by decision.
(11-4) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (17-6) -- Lightweight division
This is another sleeper-type, intriguing match up. Dos Anjos has always been a nasty kickboxer with volatile Muay Thai and merciless submission grappling, but has recently unveiled a marked improvement in his wrestling game. Bocek is constantly defined as a BJJ black belt but I feel his takedowns and wrestling are by far his most formidable weapons. For a 155-pounder, the sheer strength and force of Bocek's power takedowns, either from outside or in the clinch, is quite evident.
Striking-wise, Bocek is noticeably slow in hand speed and footwork, but look no farther than when he floored Frankie Edgar with a short jab to validate his power. Dos Anjos is a blistering Thai striker who puts a lot of torque into his low kicks and punches. His fiery personality augments his offensive output, as dos Anjos is fearless in swinging for the fences or pursuing a submission attempt even if it means sacrificing position; an admirable but hazardous outlook.
In fact, their difference in character shines through in most of their characteristics: Bocek is calm, composed and intelligent with good overall fundamentals; dos Anjos is an unpredictable firecracker with enormous offensive potency on the feet or on the mat.
Bocek's stellar wrestling and submission grappling earn him the nod -- he should be able to overpower dos Anjos with takedowns and nullify his sub and scrambling attempts.
My Prediction: Mark Bocek by decision.