Wednesday, February 15th marks the UFC on Fuel TV event from Omaha, Nebraska. Hometown welterweight Jake Ellenberger meets Diego Sanchez in the headliner and heavyweights Stefan Struve and Dave Herman assume the co-main slot.
The main card festivities begin at 8 p.m. ET and will be preceded by a five-fight preliminary lineup that will stream on the UFC's Facebook page. The lower-echelon of the undercard is once again punctuated by new names and fresh talent:
Bantamweights will captain the undercard, as veteran Ivan Menjivar meets TUF 14 entry John "Prince" Albert. On the show, Albert submitted his way into the house but fell short by decision to eventual winner John Dodson. He carried a 6-1 record into the competition and thoroughly dominated Dustin Pague at the live finale for his seventh and most significant victory.
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Menjivar has over a decade of experience under his belt against esteemed competition, most of which was contested at lightweight. Each of his eight career defeats were dealt by highly reputable opposition and he's only been finished twice with welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre responsible for one (TKO in 2002). Shortly after incurring back to back losses -- the first to Caol Uno in the Hero's 2006 Lightweight Grand Prix, the second a split decision to Bart Palaszewski in the IFL -- Menjivar disappeared for a few years and then re-emerged in the WEC as a bantamweight.
He lost a unanimous decision to the feisty Brad Pickett at WEC 53, but reinvigorated his reputation with a rousing TKO of Charlie Valencia in his Octagon debut that was ignited by a brutal horizontal elbow in the clinch. In his last foray, Menjivar took on Nick Pace at UFC 133 and survived the rising phenom's third-round comeback to notch a unanimous decision, though "The Pride of El Salvador" missed weight and the bout was contested at a catchweight of 138-pounds.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Pague turned out to be a pretty decent kickboxer on the reality show, but here Albert cracks him with a left hook, pounces with punches and hops into the full mount. Already having shown a wicked killer instinct, Albert impressed even further when he secured the gift wrap. When Pague rolls onto his side, Albert gets wrist control on Pague's right arm and then feeds it from his own right hand to his left, which is snaked around the back of Pague's neck. The result is somewhat of a humiliating and defenseless, big-brother type of beating that hearkens back to Frank Shamrock vs. John Lober.
Menjivar applies his years of high-end experience here with a quick transition from stiff-arming Valencia's head to keep distance to shellacking him with a quick and short horizontal elbow. The technique isn't unlike that often applied by a top-player on the ground in which you palm the head to control and stabilize it, then immediately snap down a vicious elbow. I believe Jeremy Horn is accredited for making this ground-and-pound tactic popular back in his early MFS days.
Menjivar is a perfectly balanced fighter with no glaring weaknesses and nothing comes easily against him.
Plus, he trains out of Canada's Tristar Gym and will surely come equipped with a good strategy and coaching. Albert trains with the Victory Athletics team in Washington and will have a height advantage (5'9" vs. 5'6") and probably a little more physical strength. The question is whether those minor edges along with his youthful exuberance can make up for Menjivar's steely composure and sturdy experience.
Albert is a pretty capable striker with good power as well. His goal should be to replicate the aggressive kickboxing Nick Pace unrolled on Menjivar to put him in survival mode. This is one of those match ups where it's just too hard not to side with Menjivar because Albert is so unproven. I would flash a warning about Albert though, as he might turn out to be a little better than expected. John Dodson outpointed him to a decision on the show, which is far from a conspicuous loss, and the way he crushed Pague leads me to believe he might be a lurking talent. Menjivar could get in trouble if he doesn't protect his chin or respect Albert's power.
My Prediction: Ivan Menjivar by decision.
Two former lightweights square off as Jonathan Brookins welcomes Brazilian Vagner Rocha to the featherweight class.
Brookins was sidelined due to contract disputes after beating Michael Johnson to win the twelfth season of TUF as a lightweight and later returned to his natural fighting weight of 145-pounds. He met the once-beaten Erik Koch at UFC Fight Night 25 and dropped a unanimous decision; his fourth overall and the first since Jose Aldo at WEC 36 in 2008.
Brookins is a beanpole for featherweight and applies his length much better as leverage on the mat than with range on the feet. He's an adept wrestler with good submissions and excellent scrambling.
Rocha is a Pablo Popovitch black belt who won the 2007 Pan Ams as a brown belt and took third at the World Jiu Jitsu Championships the same year. He first turned heads in MMA when he defeated Igor Gracie (a welterweight) by unanimous decision in a 2009 Bellator bout, which was only Rocha's second outing. At 5-0, he graduated to Strikeforce and suffered his first loss to Bret Bergmark (7-1), a Cesar Gracie trained fighter with a win over Brian Ebersole and just one career loss to the UFC's Mike Pyle.
His Octagon debut was as a short-notice replacement for Mac Danzig against Donald Cerrone at UFC 131, who vented an obvious animosity toward Rocha's limbs with three full rounds of crippling low kicks. It was a dominant decision loss but Rocha showed admirable heart and resilience in enduring the nonstop barrage of Thai kicks.
Despite scoring a win in his last against Cody McKenzie, which was a second round rear-naked choke, Rocha's taking the plunge to featherweight for the first time and could prove to be a rugged and formidable adversary. Size-wise, he'll be a monster -- at just shy of six-foot, he'll be amongst the tallest featherweights in the division and has exceptional strength and agility. While his striking is nothing to write home about, Brookins' isn't either and Rocha's ground game is serious business.
Rocha is a tenacious submission grappler who relies on aggression and explosiveness more than finesse. Being a BJJ black belt isn't as special as it used to be, but Rocha is a legit, high-level submissionist with a frenetic pace and technical transitions.
This might be a rough match up for Brookins, who's still a little clumsy on the feet and much more comfortable pursuing his signature lateral-drop takedown or singles against the cage. The threat he's presented in the past is being a wiry and slippery wrestler with deceivingly clever scrambling and transition instincts, which plays right into Rocha's hands. Brookins might be able to use his wrestling and phase-shift constantly while avoiding submissions, but I don't think he can out-strike Rocha or match him for extended periods of time on the floor.
My Prediction: Vagner Rocha by decision.
Leland Roling's Bloody Elbow Scouting Report proves prescient again as two selections make their big league debuts here. Finland's Anton Kuivanen was stamped as the number-eight lightweight prospect and Justin Salas as the fourth in the 2012 edition of the Scouting Report.
Joona Pylkäs, a former colleague who specializes in European MMA and is now writing for MMAViking.com, has been following Kuivanen's burgeoning career closely and lent his perspective on his skills.
Kuivanen can end this fight both on the feet and on the ground, top or bottom. Worst case scenario for him is that Salas is able to take him down repeatedly and Kuivanen tires himself trying to make it back to the feet or squeezing for subs.
- Athletic: strong and explosive
- Technical, diverse striking: punch combos, variety of kicks, strong teep and flying knee
- Solid ground game: moves really well from the bottom also even though he really rarely ends up there. Really hard to submit (see the Meller fight for examples)
- Can take a shot and keep fighting
- Cardio: like most explosive guys Kuivanen also has had problems with cardio in some of his fights
- First time fighting abroad since 2008; time difference, long flights and the weight cut, etc.
Kuivanen's career began in his early twenties and he won seven of his first eleven, the last of which was a submission loss (kneebar) to Bendy Casimir (12 of 19 wins by sub), who would eventually appear in the WEC. Since that defeat in 2008, Kuivanen has gone on a tear with a flawless nine-fight streak and will enter the Octagon having won twelve of his last thirteen. The Fin has exceptional fundamentals across the board but, as we see with many imported prospects, does not have a notable wrestling pedigree.
Justin Salas, however, does. He was a Division 1 wrestler at the University of Wyoming for three years, but departed early when lured into his first pro-fight with less than two weeks to prepare. "J-Bomb" was defeated by armbar in the third, but exacted vengeance in an immediate rematch with a first-round knockout. The win was the first of four that Salas would string together before suffering back-to-back losses. His average career (4-3) would then go ablaze, as Salas stopped three consecutive foes (1 sub, 2 TKOs), defeated former UFCer Robert Emerson to become the Full Force lightweight champion and collected the Victory Fighting Championships lightweight strap by defeating Joe Ellenberger (main-eventer Jake's twin brother).
While his wrestling chops are his best asset, Salas, a southpaw, has a serviceable stand-up game. He's pretty thick for the weight class but maintains good agility and stays fairly light on his feet when closing the distance with strikes. He leads with a nice right hook-straight left combination and transitions well to the low single. Kuivanen has solid takedown defense and mechanics off his back, and is likely to hold his own though I envision him expending too much effort defensively. While I'd like to see him notch an impressive debut and think he could pull off a late turnaround, Salas' ability to dictate the action with his wrestling makes him a safer pick.
My Prediction: Justin Salas by decision.
More fresh talent abounds in this match up pitting two game UFC newcomers. Roberts is a Greg Jackson product who will be dropping to middleweight for the first time, a purple belt in BJJ and a former NCAA football player at Howard Payne University. He's riding a five-piece roll that's highlighted by an impressive decision over scrapper Tony Lopez, who is the current King of the Cage heavyweight and super-heavyweight champion and a former light-heavyweight champ in the promotion. Roberts has a balanced finishing ratio with five submissions, four TKOs and two decisions.
Sean "The Destroyer" Loeffler might be best known for his first-round TKO loss to Bryan Baker at Bellator 16, but that defeat is the only in his last thirteen. Loeffler also has a proportional set of career stoppages with a frightening finishing rate, accruing twelve submissions and TKOs apiece, twenty-two of those coming in the first round, with just one win via decision. He has a thorough conglomeration of MMA titles in smaller promotions as well as a few accomplishments in amateur boxing and BJJ tournaments (he's a brown belt under Bob Bass).
This is a tough one to call. Loeffler is a substantially sized middleweight (6'3") and entertaining nut-job who will look to bury Roberts in a fierce blaze of glory right out of the gate. Roberts athleticism and wrestling could be the perfect front to neutralize Loeffler's aggressive and perpetual forward motion, but making his virgin run at 185-pounds against a dangerous and wary veteran is the tiny fragment that sways me toward Loeffler.
My Prediction: Sean Loeffler by TKO.
Bernardo "Trekko" Magalhaes is the current CFC lightweight champion, which is Australia's most prominent fight league. He's also a BJJ black belt, the Pan-Pacific BJJ champ (both with and without the kimono) and has some boxing and Muay Thai experience. His ability to control opponents is reflected in his nine wins by decision, which are complemented by two submissions.
Tim "Dirty Bird" Means started out with an unremarkable record (3-2), but returned from a four-year absence to register a stellar run (13-1-1). Means is a wrestling-based fighter who's won twelve of sixteen by TKO with three submissions and one decision, and has held the welterweight, super-lightweight and lightweight titles in King of the Cage. He'll have a substantial height advantage (6'2" vs. 5'9") but will be faced with the tough test of overcoming Magalhaes' solid submission grappling acumen.
My Prediction: Bernardo Magalhaes by decision.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com