Wait -- tell me you're not still disparaging TUF 12 contestant Alex Caceres and whining about why he's still getting fights in the UFC? Yeah ... that is so 2011.
Caceres is for real. Here's why: only a select few 135-pounders can match his height (5'9") and none even approach equality with his Jon Jones-ish reach measurement (73"). At only 24-years-old, Caceres already has a few years of Kimbo Slice style backyward brawls under his belt, 2 full years in the Octagon and 5 outings against highly respectable competition. Granted, his 2-3 UFC record isn't mind-blowing from a numbers standpoint, so let's take a closer look.
Competing as a lightweight on TUF 12, Caceres ran through Paul Barrow (1st-round submission) in the elimination round; Barrow, 3-0 at the time, is now 5-2 and just won his Bellator debut. The ciggy smoking and beer chugging Jeff Lentz was up next and Caceres locked in his signature triangle choke in the 2nd round; Lentz is now 9-2 with wins over former WEC fighter Anthony Leone and current UFC bantamweight Dustin Pague.
Now-accelerating lightweight Michael Johnson was the man to defeat Caceres on the show, but the loss was respectable then and even more so in retrospect, as Johnson's proving to be a legitimate talent with a 4-2 pace in the Octagon and wins over TUF 13 winner Tony Ferguson and former WEC grappling standouts Shane Roller (unanimous decision) and Danny Castillo (2nd-round TKO). Now -- Caceres' losses to Mackens Semerzier (1st-round submission) and Jim Hettes (2nd-round submission) after dropping to featherweight? No excuses. However, I might add that his performance against Hettes, who's established himself as an A-level submission grappler, was the first sign of his admirable evolution.
The authentication began when Caceres, much to the chagrin of impatient and intolerant fans, was given yet another chance as a bantamweight -- a full 20-pounds lighter than his original fighting weight. Cole Escovedo, the WEC's inaugural featherweight champ, might not be the wrecking machine he once was, but he did give #1 contender Renan Barao his most competitive UFC fight and is still a respectable win. Caceres went on to dominate Anthony Figueroa at UFC 143, but also twice dominated his cup with kicks.
Despite the blows being unintentional, referee Herb Dean took a drastic departure from the norm: it's not super common, but we've definitely seen fighters take more than one shot to the pills in a fight, right? The punishment was incongruously harsh, as Dean docked Caceres a full two points, making it nearly impossible to win without a finish or multiple 10-8 rounds. The irony is that, even with this massive handicap inflicted, I and many other journalists still penned in Caceres as the winner, though the judges disagreed and gave Figueroa the split nod.
Finally, the only fighters that Damacio Page has lost to since 2007 are elite in their respected divisions: Brian Bowles (twice), Urijah Faber, Brad Pickett and flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Caceres handily dispatched the Jackson's MMA vet with a 2nd-round triangle after thoroughly controlling the first-round action with stellar guard play.
The point? I expect Caceres to not only hang around but eventually work his way into the role of a serious contender.
Unfortunately, Motonobu Tezuka, who'll he face atop the Facebook preliminary card on Saturday's UFC Macao or Fuel TV 6 show, will be a high risk-low reward opponent. Tezuka, a highly experienced (19-4-4) and young (age 25) prospect who was deemed the DEEP and Pancrase "Rookie of the Year," is a worthwhile acquisition. He'll make his Octagon debut having won 12 of his last 13 against decent competition on the Japanese circuit.
Tezuka is a longtime Judoka who also holds a brown belt in BJJ. He's lit the Pancrase ring on fire with 9-straight wins while cementing himself as a young, standout prospect in the overseas scene. Tezuka is stepping in on short notice for Korean Kyung Ho Kang, who withdrew with an injury.
Tezuka flaunts a combat package that's fairly similar to Jimy Hettes: strong Judo combined with submission savvy and a bulletproof chin. His Judo background provides excellent balance and makes Tezuka a tough fighter to push around physically. He's a high-paced and aggressive pest who adheres to his opponent with clinch control and pressures with busy striking and takedown attempts. On the mat, Tezuka has good control and knowledge of position, and has a knack for maximizing his efforts with intelligence. He's the type of fighter who will capitalize on tiny mistakes and turn the slightest opening into a round-altering shift in momentum.
The main selling points on Caceres are his creative, karate-based kickboxing arsenal, his vastly improved scrambling and grappling game and his exceptional size, length and athleticism. Since Tezuka is more of a steady grinder and not the sort to steal the round with crushing knockdowns, this bout should be dictated entirely by range. Caceres is a killer out on the fringe, where his unorthodox kicks and capable boxing wreak havoc on smaller fighters. His height and length once again comes into play when his opponents counter his fringe striking with takedowns and advances into the clinch, as Tezuka will surely look to do -- the foot speed and agility of Caceres allows him to dodge incoming attacks and or get strong control from the front headlock position and retract his hips a mile back to stave off takedowns.
The huge deficit in length translates to a huge deficit in fighting range, and opponents tend to get frustrated while crossing through the considerable distance in order to mount their own offense. This is when Caceres starts to prey on openings by slicing straight punches and kicks through their defense while he's retreating back out of range and into his safe zone.
Tezuka should be significantly outmatched in striking exchanges and, by my estimation, will struggle to keep up with Caceres in transitions and scrambles. While he could turn the tide with submission attempts or chiseling his way to a dominant position (like back control), that leaves his advantage in the clinch. Clinching is obviously an important area but one that will be tough to contain the slippery Caceres in and, if he can manage that, even tougher to mount memorable offense from. Caceres comes in as a solid favorite at -220 and needs a premiere performance to sustain his momentum. I'll guess he can do that here, though Tezuka is durable and game enough to prevent a showcase performance and will probably scratch and claw his way to a gritty decision loss.
My Prediction: Alex Caceres by submission.