This event was plagued by injuries, which forced quite a drastic case of musical chairs, the most significant being champion Georges St. Pierre pulling out to pave the way for the Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit interim title match. On the FX card, Dustin Poirier was initially aligned with Erik Koch and then Ricardo Lamas, but ends up with newcomer Max Holloway. Matt Riddle was originally stepping in for Amir Sadollah against Jorge Lopez and now both have withdrawn, leaving another new entry in Henry Martinez for Riddle. The final FX lineup shakes out like this:
Since the top-two pairings feature debuting fighters versus established vets, we'll start with the more evenly contested match ups at the end of the list.
More UFC 143 Dissections
Alex "Bruce Leroy" Caceres (6-4) vs. Edwin "El Feroz" Figueroa (8-1)
Caceres has gradually shrunk himself down two weight classes after suffering two post-TUF losses (Mackens Semerzier at lightweight, Jim Hettes at featherweight), and looks to have found a home at bantamweight after upsetting veteran Cole Escovedo in his debut. His defensive grappling showed marked improvement against Hettes, who's proving to be a submission madman and eventually caught Caceres in a rear-naked choke in their back-and-forth scrap.
At just twenty-three years old, Caceres is relatively inexperienced and still finding his groove. He was always a quick and slippery athlete, and now maintains that agility but also with the foreign advantage of being one of the taller (5'9") bantamweights with a ridiculous reach length (73"). His unorthodox striking style, also drastically increasing in effectiveness, is rooted in Kenpo karate and Caceres, in most cases, has an excellent grasp of range of timing with good footwork.
Figueroa is a product of Muay Thai master Saekson Janjira and has a 75% TKO ratio to show for it. "El Feroz" has finished each of his victories (6 TKOs, 2 subs) with his sole defeat coming at the hands of Michael McDonald (in their mutual UFC debuts) in a bout he had less than two weeks to prepare for. Figueroa followed up with a dominant performance over Jason Reinhardt, scoring a strike-stoppage in the second.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Caceres' striking was nothing short of phenomenal in his unhinging of Escovedo, here flashing off a sweet alternating-leg double roundhouse kick (right). He used his crisp front snap kick to the body like a jab from the fringe of striking range and also splashed in some spinning back-fists and solid boxing.
He seems to have excellent natural instincts for fighting, stemming all the way back to his backyard fights in Miami and his feisty performances on TUF 12. Even back then, Caceres was a hard-nosed scrapper with a slick triangle and a good overall flow.
He's much busier with his feet than he is with his hands, yet his athleticism, balance and quick reactions usually keep him out of trouble when the risks of repetitive kicking arise. That's what we see in the sequence to the left, where Caceres unreels a jumping right side kick and then a turning left side kick. He's quite off target on the latter but still able to clinch up tight to avoid the counter right hand.
Caceres doesn't have bulletproof technique, but he's a fearless risk-taker who I feel will grow into a very talented martial artist.
Figueroa is really not much different than Caceres in the stand up department except for his distinct Muay Thai flavor. Perhaps it was because the fight was on short notice, but Figueroa came out against McDonald hurling some looping haymakers instead of the more fine-tuned combinations shown to the right.
McDonald is a serious talent with airtight kickboxing and was putting it on Figueroa early, reducing him to winging sloppy overhands. Figueroa did get grasp and become more competitive, later showing sound submission defense and scrambling in the "Fight of the Night" performance.
"El Feroz" might be a bit of a slow starter, as Reinhardt put him on his back early with a takedown. Again, Figueroa gained footing and started walking Reinhardt down, eventually connecting with a straight right and battering him on the ground to elicit the second round stoppage. He has shown the capability to assume the role of a technical counter-striker, which is a style that Caceres struggled with against Mackens Semerzier. Figueroa could be in for a long night if he goes tit for tat in a brawl with Caceres, who's become adept at range-fighting by capitalizing on his long reach.
On the same token, Caceres' breakout performance was against a noticeably and uncharacteristically lethargic Escovedo, so this should be much more telling for both fighters than their recent bouts. I'm really torn on a prediction as well: Caceres seems to be hitting his stride and has a formidable stature for 135-pouds but Figueroa should be more technically savvy on the feet. At the time of writing, no betting odds have been released and I'm guessing Figueroa will be a moderate favorite, but I'll take a chance on Caceres in a close one.
My Prediction: Alex Caceres by decision.
Matt "The Immortal" Brown (12-11) vs. Chris Cope (5-2)
Being endeared to Matt Brown ever since the cheerful little ensemble of violence against Pete Sell to the right, I'm glad he wasn't released after the guillotine loss to Seth Baczynski at UFC 139. The unflattering record doesn't reflect how dangerous Brown is. He seemed to fit the stereotype of a TUF competitor that couldn't cut it in the big leagues until he lost a contentious split-decision to Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 88 in a fight he accepted on short notice. Brown's rugged toughness was apparent in scrambling exchanges and clinch tie-ups, and he earned a lot of respect despite the outcome.
He went on to crush three consecutive opponents (Ryan Thomas by armbar, Sell and James Wilks by TKO) before sequential submission defeats (Ricardo Almeida, Chris Lytle, Brian Foster). Brown bounced back with a valiant upset over John Howard on the UFC Live 4 card, digging in with a stout clinch to fend off takedowns and lighting off his explosive kickboxing for a strong decision win. Continuing to ride the wave, Brown tapped to Baczynski's guillotine in the second for a disappointing loss in his last. While his offensive grappling has tightened up, nine of Brown's eleven career defeats are by submission.
Like Brown, Chris Cope was another middle-of-the-road TUF (13) contestant who turned out to be surprisingly game. He has a black belt in Taekwondo and trains at The Arena in San Diego, holding two wins by TKO and the other three via decision.
Despite competing since 2007, Cope had only five fights under his belt (4-1) going into the reality show, but was fresh off a head-kick TKO of AKA member Ron Keslar (8-3) on the Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum undercard. Cope's only loss at the time was to (BE community member) Josh Samman by first round KO.
Cope's irrepressible and ultra-methodical sprawl-and-brawl characteristics make him somewhat of a "poor man's Chuck Liddell." His unflinching patience and technical sprawl carried him to two upsets on the reality show (Javier Torres and Shamar Bailey, both by decision. Cope was eventually nixed from the running by finalist Ramsey Nijem, but again employed his slow but calculating strategy to pick apart Chuck O'Neil at the TUF 13 finale. Most recently, Cope suffered his second loss to UK veteran Che Mills (TKO), who has long been pegged to make an impact in the Octagon.
I've come to appreciate how judicious and efficient Cope is on the feet, mostly because he's very cautious, but not overly so or to the point of hesitancy. He's a perpetual stalker and still explodes aggressively, as he shows in both of the animations above, yet he's very intelligent in picking the right time and position to turn it up. He's a pretty likable guy as well. Here's a snippet from Cope's UFC.com interview on UFC 143:
I used to drink myself into oblivion on Sundays, but since I'm in recovery, I don't get to indulge my alcoholic tendencies anymore. I've been sober for 13 months now. Woooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!! I tell you what, my life sober is 10x better than what it used to be and I wouldn't have been able to accomplish what I have in the last year if it wasn't for my sobriety. That is why this fight is pretty cool because Matt Brown is clean from prior drug use and I'm sober from alcohol, so I guess in a way it's like a battle between two men that have both battled with substance abuse.
Thoughts on opponent, Matt Brown? My upcoming thoughts on Matt Brown are that he is just a tough guy who has a good ground game and good standup. He always brings it when he fights and it is really cool to fight him because I was a fan of his on The Ultimate Fighter when I was coming up.
From a match up standpoint, Brown has excelled against fighters like Cope. He's been a beast on the feet by using his lanky reach well and cracking off rapid-fire combinations with blazing speed and unfriendly intentions. Cope doesn't embody the traits that Brown typically struggles with, but the same can't be said in reverse.
My Prediction: Matt Brown by TKO.
Dustin Poirier (11-1) vs. Max Hollaway (4-0)
It's a bummer that Erik Koch, who is ranked eighth in the consensus featherweight rankings, was forced out against seventh-ranked Poirier, which was just great match making. Poirier has been on a vicious tear since making both his Octagon and featherweight debut against Josh Grispi at UFC 125, which was the showcase fight of his career. The change in weight came shortly after Poirier suffered his first defeat in his WEC debut, which was a decision to powerhouse Danny Castillo.
Poirier is the ultimate example of an overwhelming mauler who just breaks opponents under a steady cascade of offense. He's absolutely unruly in pressing on the feet with automatic fire and then seamlessly transitioning to submission attacks at contact range. Both of these gifs testify to Poirier's merciless onslaught; the first against Grispi and the second (left) in his latest dismantling over Pablo Garza. Generally, a martial artist who is this fixated on pure offense pays the price defensively, but Poirier has been phenomenal in escaping precarious situations, such as the leg lock Garza threatened with early.
Even without the lofty status of Koch, newcomer Max Holloway is not lacking in talent nor aggression and should make for an entertaining opponent. Here's Holloway's highlight reel, who was only age nineteen when this video was posted by SideBang Entertainment last June.
Holloway, a Hawaiian who cut his teeth in the X-1 promotion, is undefeated after four outings, with staunch veteran Harris Sarmiento giving him his best run in a split-decision outcome. Keeping with the recurring theme for this influx of new prospects: Holloway seems to have frightening skills for such a young fighter who is still in the embryonic stage of his career, but will be hard-pressed to compete when skyrocketing into the apex level of MMA.
I mean, we're talking about a kid who can't legally drink in the states who has four fights in a smaller promotion being expedited into a match with the seventh-best featherweight on the world's biggest stage. With the violent striking he has, there will always be a chance that Holloway could touch Poirier's chin, but this is a landslide for Poirier on paper.
My Prediction: Dustin Poirier by submission.
Matt Riddle (5-3) vs. Henry Martinez (8-1)
Former TUFer Matt Riddle has been tasked with welcoming two deceivingly crafty newcomers to the UFC in Sean Pierson and Lance Benoist, both of whom topped him in competitive decisions. Riddle is one of the rare few whose entire MMA career has transpired in the UFC. After shattering Matt Simmler's jaw in his TUF 7 elimination match, Riddle was submitted by seasoned BJJ black belt Tim Credeur on the show, but accrued three straight decision wins in the Octagon afterwards. Nick Osipczak broke his streak with a third round TKO, yet Riddle was able to score two straight in response (Greg Soto, DaMarques Johnson).
In these two gifs versus Benoist, Riddle showed a big heart in weathering the storm before mounting a strong comeback in the third, where his nasty clinch-knee (above) opened the faucet on Benoist's battered shnaz. Riddle ended up dominating the third and presenting a strong case for a 10-8 round that would've resulted in a draw, but those scores are few and far between.
Riddle is a jack-of-all-trades and a natural, lanky athlete with improving boxing, solid wrestling and great instincts for the game. He trains at Throwdown alongside Forrest Griffin and Amir Sadollah.
Henry Martinez is a once-beaten fighter who trains under Greg Jackson and will be making his UFC debut. His sole loss came at the hands of sub-specialist Wilson Reis in Bellator. Martinez seems to be a strong guy and a highly competent wrestler with a balanced win ratio (4 subs, 2 TKOs, 2 decisions). He was able to slam Reis immediately but succumbed to the BJJ black belt's formidable submission game.
Wrestling seems to be his best aspect, so Martinez (5'7") will likely look to close distance and get inside on Riddle (6'1") to counter-act the significant size disparity. Riddle, a decent wrestler himself, should be able to hold his own in tie-ups and either work his Thai clinch or blast Martinez with long punches from the fringe. I could see Martinez having an impact if he makes it ugly with a close-range brawl or persists with takedown attempts, but Riddle's boxing has gradually gotten sharper and his wrestling and experience should carry him through.
My Prediction: Matt Riddle by decision.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com