A pair of featherweights who have faded as of late will open up the UFC 154 pay-per-view in Montreal, as Canadian Mark Hominick meets Pablo Garza. The event is captained by welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who returns after an 18-month absence, taking on interim champ Carlos Condit.
It was all good times and high fives when Mark "The Machine" Hominick blitzed through 5 opponents to earn a crack at Jose Aldo's belt. It was even so afterward when he lost, having given the heavily favored featherweight champion a run for his money in a highly respectable decision. Unfortunately, that defeat would be the first of 3, as surprising losses to Chan Sung Jung (7-second KO) and Eddie Yagin would plummet Hominick from #1 contender to likely fighting for his job this Saturday night.
Making his big-show debut in the WEC with a 9-0 record that included 7 stoppages by submission, Pablo "The Scarecrow" Garza hit a speed bump with a loss by guillotine to Tiequan Zhang. Garza made up for his first career flaw -- and then some -- with a couple of the most electric finishes of 2011. As fans, we can't help but crave and appreciate violent, highlight-reel-worthy stoppages, but Garza's flying knee knockout of Fredson Paixao at the TUF 12 Finale was so extraordinarily brutal that Paixao had to be carried out of the cage on a stretcher and onlookers were justifiably concerned for his well being.
Getting a fresh start with that devastating win to ignite his UFC career, Garza, a former point guard for Jamestown College, had another trick up his sleeve. Drawing crisp kickboxer Yves Jabouin, who nearly dismembered him with leg kicks early, Garza snatched the Thai plum grip in the clinch and laced on a flying triangle that was a thing of sheer beauty. The back-to-back, career defining performances put Garza on the map as a fan favorite and featherweight to watch out for.
The hype train would come to a screeching halt with just as many consecutive losses, as rising 145er Dustin Poirier would finagle a D'arce choke in the 2nd round of their UFC on Fox 1 bout and TUF 14 finalist Dennis Bermudez would out-wrestle Garza for a definitive decision loss.
Size and experience will be the salient differences between Hominick and Garza: Hominick, who stands 5'8" with a 68.5" reach, has 31 total fights and a decade of reputable fight time while Garza, a gangly 6'1" tall with a 73" reach, has 14 fights and 5 years in the game.
Hominick has a well deserved reputation as one of the most technically sound kickboxers in the weight class, but his strong grasp of combat fundamentals is prevalent in every aspect of his game, specifically in his wrestling and submission grappling. Not one of the heftier featherweights, Hominick's quickness and agility are pivotal aspects and supplement his striking well, particularly in conjunction with his high-level footwork, head movement and use of angles.
Garza is a wildly offensive and unpredictable fighter. Despite his stretchy proportions, he does most of his damage in the clinch where his height transfers to massive leverage, which he applies with stifling head control. Garza affects strong control from the double collar tie and uses the position to off-balance his opponent while dirty boxing and slamming heavy knees to the head and midsection. Actually, Garza has struggled somewhat while out on the fringe against technical strikers (Jabouin, Poirier) -- he's much more of a raw and primitive powder keg of Muay Thai than a polished or finesse-type striker.
Garza is only billed as a blue belt in BJJ but he's obviously shown shades of excellence that surpass that level. Hominick is skilled on the mat as well but submissions account for 5 of his 11 losses. Garza hasn't pursued many offensive takedowns and usually looks to keep things standing; Hominick has deceiving wrestling chops and the Fight I.Q. to mesh in unexpected takedowns with his blistering combinations, which could be a wise tactic against Garza.
I expect this play out in the classic "box the brawler, brawl the boxer" scenario. Hominick's quickness, intelligence and overall technique will be matched against the length, aggression and creativity of Garza. It's too hard not to side with a polished vet like Hominick under those conditions but it leaves the door wide open for some of Garza's showtime panache. Hominick should be wary of that risk and be able to keep his distance on the feet, use his precise footwork, fast hands and feet and a lot of evasive circling to sting Garza before retreating to open space. Hominick's jab and low kicks will serve him well on the fringe and his straight right and left hook are money punches when he's being stalked.
My Prediction: Mark Hominick by decision.