UFC 155 goes off on Saturday, December 29 (2012), from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and is highlighted by a heavyweight championship rematch between reigning belt-holder Junior dos Santos and once-beaten Cain Velasquez. Battles between lightweight scrappers Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller and middleweight monsters Costa Philippou and Tim Boetsch highlight the 5-fight pay-per-view.
Before the featured card begins, the FX Channel (8:00 p.m. ET) will air 5 preliminary card bouts while a pair christen the evening on Facebook (6:30 p.m. ET). Here are the specs for both undercards:
FX Channel (8:00 p.m. ET)
Brad Pickett vs. Eddie Wineland
Melvin Guillard vs. Jamie Varner
Erik Perez vs. Byron Bloodworth
Michael Johnson vs. Myles Jury
Leonard Garcia vs. Max Holloway
Facebook stream (6:30 p.m. ET)
Phil DeFries vs. Todd Duffee
Chris Cariaso vs. John Moraga
Brad Pickett (22-6) vs. Eddie Wineland (19-8)-- Bantamweight bout
Along with Gegard Mousasi vs. Rafael Cavalcante in Strikeforce, Pickett vs. Wineland remains an all too sensible pairing that never transpired in their birthing promotion (WEC). These experienced veterans boast a similar style of top-notch, technical boxing and have both been ever-present among the world's top-ranked bantamweights, currently residing in the 4th and 5th spots, respectively.
Under the WEC banner, Pickett posted a 3-1 pace with considerable style. He debuted with the rarely seen Peruvian Necktie submission over Kyle Dietz and went on to notch monumental wins over current UFC flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson and the widely respected Ivan Menjivar while falling only to tenacious wrestler Scott Jorgensen (all by unanimous decision). "One Punch" dropped his Octagon debut to elite contender Renan Barao but rebounded strongly with demonstrative finishes over Damacio Page (2nd-round mata leao) and Yves Jabouin (1st-round KO).
In the pre-Zuffa era of the WEC, Wineland became the promotion's inaugural bantamweight champion by shellacking Antonio Banuelos with a murderous combination in his debut (circa May 2006). He would relinquish the title in his sophomore effort (Chase Beebe by decision) and stumble consecutively by 1st-round submission to Rani Yahya, but close out his WEC tenure convincingly with 4-straight wins (decisions over Manny Tapia and George Roop; highlight finishes of Will Campuzano via body shot and Ken Stone by slam KO). Wineland's 1-2 UFC stint has been encumbered by elite bantamweights in Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez (both decision losses) and Jorgensen (2nd-round KO).
Though Wineland will enjoy an inch advantage in height and reach, he and Pickett can be generally categorized as ferocious wrestle-boxers. What may be the salient difference is the way Pickett has bolstered a 3rd dimension through his strides in submission grappling: his win ratio is punctuated by 10 submissions to 7 TKOs and Wineland, who boasts 10 TKOs and 5 subs, has been tapped out in half of his career defeats (4 of 8). Granted, barring his match with decorated black belt Yahya at WEC 40 in 2009, the remainder of Wineland's remaining trio of submission losses took place in the span of his first 8 professional fights, and it's an area he's undoubtedly reinforced.
Considering their equality in style, chin resistance (just a single TKO loss each) and overall experience, Pickett's additional prowess in sub-grappling is likely behind his slight push on the betting lines. This striking-centric match is the classic type in which anything could happen, and a risky one to bet on. I'll risk a nod for Wineland despite Pickett's submission advantage, thinking that his slightly cleaner boxing technique and height/length advantage will be put to good use with an elusive, fringe-striking strategy to keep Pickett on the outside.
My Prediction: Eddie Wineland by decision.
Melvin Guillard vs. Jamie Varner -- Lightweight bout
This tilt comes about from Varner's last-minute withdrawal at TUF 16. Feel free to peruse the featured Varner vs. Guillard Dissection, from which the following excerpts are derived:
Varner would be wise to be as unpredictable as humanly possible, which will likely come in the form of engaging Guillard just long and determinedly enough to take his mind off the takedown before setting up a power double with strikes. Varner will give up an inch in height but have the same advantage in reach, which could be pivotal as he's unlikely to match Guillard's obscene speed. Varner's indestructible chin might also play a role -- his striking defense is average but his beard has saved his ass on many occasions, and it's not uncommon for Varner to get rocked but slowly recover.
Submission wise, Varner's adept with basic "gimme subs" like guillotines from the clinch or rear-naked chokes from the top, and not the type to chain attempts together from his guard. That means his simple and ideal strategy will be to score a takedown or land the big-money punch and work a stifling top-game from there.
While Varner definitely has all the right tools to unhinge Guillard, I think Melvin's speed will be the biggest factor -- both in his hands and his footwork, which make for a deadly combination when he's on-point with his in-and-out movement.
My Prediction: Melvin Guillard by decision.
Michael Johnson vs. Myles Jury (10-0) -- Lightweight bout
TUF alumni square off here -- Michigander Myles Jury has chiseled a rock-solid reputation as a diverse and cold-blooded finisher by steam-rolling all 10 opponents inside the 1st round (6 subs, 4 TKOs), the last of which was Chris Saunders at the TUF 15 Finale (guillotine choke). Jury got a double dose of TUF: he was forced off TUF 13 early with a knee injury and returned at TUF 15, where he was edged out by eventual finalist Al Iaquinta in a razor-thin split decision. Jury was asserted as a strong favorite to win it all for both shows.
Preceding Jury's run on the reality show, Michael Johnson didn't make the cut for TUF 8 or 9 but his persistence landed him a spot on TUF 12, where he carved his way through 3 opponents (Pablo Garza, Aaron Wilkinson, Nam Phan) toward a losing effort against Jonathan Brookins at the live finale. Since then, Johnson's evolution has been widely apparent and noisy: he's etched a 4-1 pace with respectable names topping the list, such as Tony Ferguson and Danny Castillo, with the limb-devouring Paul Sass (1st-round heel hook) accounting for his sole defeat amidst that stretch.
I'm not a fan of this match up on Jury's behalf. He's one of the most exciting lightweight prospects in the UFC and it seems his removal via injury and contentious loss to Iaquinta would warrant more of a showcase opponent. Johnson is anything but; in fact, due to Jury having yet to shine in the Octagon, this could be perceived as a step down after his recent victories over the well established Ferguson and Castillo, as the betting lines reflect.
The athletic Blackzilians product has a base in wrestling but has honed his crisp and precise boxing game into top-level weaponry. Jury is complete in all aspects, thoroughly durable and entirely unafraid to take risks for a finish. I agree that Johnson's strides should elevate him as the favorite and I'll begrudgingly side with him, yet Jury is an ultra-live dog and worth a look at the existing +220 rating.
My Prediction: Michael Johnson by decision.
Leonard Garcia (16-9-1) vs. Max Holloway (6-1) -- Featherweight bout
Holloway, the youngest fighter on the UFC roster at age 21, is a Hawaiian who debuted on short notice against a stiff test in Dustin Poirier (1st-round triangle/armbar). He displayed the technical finesse of his kickboxing in a commanding decision over Pat Schilling and, most recently, showed he had power to boot with a 2nd-round TKO over Justin Lawrence, which was Holloway's 2nd career stoppage. Garcia is a well-documented brawler often obscured by the whirlwind of blazing leather surrounding him in the cage. The hard-nosed Jackson/Winklejohn product is heralded for his gameness and aggression yet might be facing his release, as he's lost 3-straight and 4 of his last 5.
And Hollway should be perfectly suited to hand him another. The youngster has the uncanny focus and skill-set of a veteran, and will likely "box the brawler" with busy circling and in-and-out motion to supplement his precise kickboxing.
My Prediction: Max Holloway by decision.
Erik Perez (12-4) vs. Byron Bloodworth (6-2) -- Bantamweight bout
In another set of odd matchmaking, Jackson/Winklejohn fighter Perez, who's monumental 1st-round stoppages over John Albert (armbar) and Ken Stone (KO) extended his win streak to 7 in a row, meets 2nd-timer Bloodworth, who dropped his Octagon debut to Mike Easton in a forgettable performance. By all accounts, Perez is a mean S.O.B. with fight-finishing prowess in his striking and submission grappling, and should have his way with Bloodworth in either setting.
My Prediction: Erik Perez by submission.
Phil DeFries (9-1) vs. Todd Duffee (7-2) -- Heavyweight bout
Duffee's presence marks the return of yesterday's surging heavyweight, even though his record reflects a single win in the UFC. Duffee debuted against Tim Hague and registered a highlight-reel-worthy clubbing that broached the UFC's fastest finish at 7 seconds of the opening frame.
He was handing Mike Russow a one-sided beating before he ingested a Hail Mary punch halfway through the 3rd round, and was then released under mysteriously unknown circumstances. Duffee was flattened by 1st-round TKO against current UFC heavyweight mauler Alistair Overeem in K-1's year-end Dynamite! show but dealt the same punishment to one-time UFCer Neil Grove in his last.
DeFries, an English fighter representing Alliance MMA, is 2-1 in the UFC: he debuted with a decision win over Rob Broughton and is coming off a 2nd-round submission of Oli Thompson with a 1st-round TKO loss to Stipe Miocic sandwiched in between. DeFries is a fundamentally sound submission grappler (8 of 9 wins by sub) but his wrestling and stand-up are altogether average. He should have his hands full with Duffee's obscene punching power, strength and athleticism; landing a beefy punch on the feet is probably his best chance, as I don't believe his wrestling is up to par in order to impose his submission game.
My Prediction: Todd Duffee by TKO.
Chris Cariaso (14-3) vs. John Moraga (12-1) -- Flyweight bout
Newer entries to the flyweight world rankings collide as the 6th-ranked Cariaso meets 11th-ranked Moraga. In the big leagues, Cariaso's only been defeated by stellar bantamweights in Renan Barao (1st-round sub) and Michael McDonald, the latter being a highly competitive split decision. "Kamikaze" tacked on wins over Vaughan Lee (split decision) and Takeya Mizugaki (unanimous decision, much of which was fought off his back) before hopping aboard the UFC's new flyweight train, where he started strong with a decision over Josh Ferguson.
Moraga registered one of the more memorable Octagon debuts when he tenderized Ulysses Gomes, a formerly top-ranked 125er, with a smattering of punches and elbows. The Arizona native splits time at Arizona Combat Sports and the MMA Lab, and is also a hefty sized flyweight at 5'6" (compared to Cariaso at 5'3").
With all due respect to Cariaso, I find his elevated status a bit inflated. Being a vocal supporter in acknowledging the efforts a guard player, I was still somewhat baffled when he got the nod over Mizugaki, which leaves his undoubtedly impressive performance against McDonald -- despite the loss -- as his marquee moments. Those accomplishments are admirable, yet not fulfilling enough to warrant the label of the 6th-best flyweight in the world, especially considering that this will only be his 2nd stint in the division.
It was hard not to admire the devastation of Moraga's debut, and I think his size and well-balanced offense will be too much for Cariaso, though I expect a highly competitive bout. (I'm mildly surprised to see the betting lines in agreement.)
My Prediction: John Moraga by decision.