Fighter images via UFC.com
Alliance MMA heavyweight Travis "Hapa" Browne will welcome consummate Strikeforce spoiler Chad Griggs to the Octagon in the feature bout of the FX prelims. Browne is undefeated after 13 turns, though he narrowly escaped his first loss when Cheick Kongo was docked a point for grabbing his shorts at UFC 120, which evened out the score cards for a unanimous draw. Browne's stock skyrocketed after he massacred Stefan Struve by 1st-round TKO, but his decision over Rob Broughton in his last turn was somewhat unflattering.
Complete analysis in the full entry.
Most fans got familiar with Chad "The Grave Digger" Griggs as the guy Strikeforce was feeding to the marketable and then-undefeated Bobby Lashley. Though facilitated by one of MMA's most absurd referee stand-ups after Lashley had secured full mount, Griggs shellacked the leviathan by TKO for a career defining upset. Griggs has finished each of his 11 wins (9 TKOs, 2 subs, 8 in the 1st round), which include former UFC and Pride heavyweight John Marsh along with Gian Villante and Valentijn Overeem in Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix reserve bouts.
On paper, this battle of strikers is all Browne: he'll have the height advantage (6'7" vs. 6'3"), cleaner technique, better footwork and agility, the more diverse arsenal (his left high kick is particularly smooth), a higher level of experience and a legit grappling game to fall back on. However, facing a list of perceived disadvantages definitely hasn't discouraged Griggs thus far. His gameness is off the charts and he hits like a Mack truck, even though his boxing and defense are far from flawless.
The raw grit and durability of Griggs could come into play in later rounds, as Browne has sputtered out in both of his UFC decisions (Cheick Kongo, Rob Broughton). Browne is billed as a purple belt in BJJ and has shown some surprisingly adept sweeps and ground technique, but getting and holding Griggs on the mat is no easy task and more likely to occur by surprise, in a transition or after a knockdown. Browne deserves the nod here but Griggs is one of the best underdog bets on the card.
My Prediction: Travis Browne by submission.
The venerable Matt Brown greets Stephen Thompson for the striking phenom's sophomore effort. Thompson, a karate stylist and 5-time world champion kickboxer on a preposterous 63-fight win streak in kickboxing and MMA, unrolled a Kempo flavored, horizontally chambered roundhouse kick to flatten Daniel Stittgen in his UFC debut -- just as advertised.
Thompson has been studying kickboxing and karate for 24 years, was undefeated as an amateur (37-0) and professional (56-0) kickboxer, and boasts a laundry list of knockouts (40) and championship accolades in the pure striking arts. Igniting his MMA career in February of 2010, "Wonderboy" has maintained his perfect record thus far (6-0) and adapted his foundation the right way with the right people. Already having a black belt in traditional Japanese Jujutsu, Thompson has been working on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with his brother-in-law, the great Carlos Machado, and training MMA under Firas Zahabi at the Tristar Gym with Georges St. Pierre, both of whom have praised the up-and-comer.
There's no question Thompson delivered in his Octagon debut, yet his opponent was also a UFC first-timer who replaced Justin Edwards on about a month's notice. Though his record might not reflect it, AMC Pankration scrapper Matt Brown is a stiff test for any welterweight and represents a vast leap in competition for Thompson. At 6-5 in the UFC, Brown has never been topped in the stand-up department. His explosive striking inspired the likes of Chris Lytle and John Howard to initiate a grappling match; an aspect that's proven to be the Achilles Heel for Brown (9 submission losses overall, 5 of 6 UFC losses by sub).
That angle makes Thompson, the epitome of a striking specialist, an intriguing draw for Brown. As with any excellence in a singular art, Thompson's karate and kickboxing background speaks for itself but has yet to endure the calamitous environment of high-level MMA -- and Brown is the perfect measuring stick at this embryonic stage of Thompson's career.
Specifics to watch out for with Thompson's unique stand up:
- Defense: Thompson tends to keep his hands dangerously low when reading his opponent and is a kick-heavy striker. Lax hand position while he's loading up an elaborate distance kick is a red flag against an aggressive counter-puncher like Brown.
- Distance: At 6'0", Thompson is a fairly tall and rangy welterweight who excels at jousting on the fringe. He prefers to keep his foe on the outside of the bubble, cut a retreating angle with his footwork and undress them with an evasive, Machida-esque strategy. Brown will look to get inside and pressure Thompson with high-output brawling at phone-booth range.
- Clinch: Muay Thai is an example of a striking system that focuses heavily on the clinch; Karate mostly centers around the no-contact, free-movement phase. In addition to solving the distance factor noted above, Brown, who's shown slick Judo, could employ the clinch to wear Thompson down, stifle his offense and threaten with takedowns. Brown has been vulnerable with submission defense, yet he's made impressive strides with his offensive grappling, scrambling and sweeps.
- The Mixed in the Martial: There have been exceptions but, basically, failure is inevitable for those who can't synchronize all of MMA's layers. Brown has become quite comfortable with phase-shifting but the jury is still out on Thompson.
The betting lines are boldly in favor of Thompson at odds that average -300. Personally, to use one of my father's favorite words, those odds are catawampus. Brown is admittedly a sentimental favorite, but he's tangled with some steep UFC competition and more than held his own in all realms except submission fighting, in which Thompson is not a force.
I know -- you're asking how a gritty journeyman could possibly survive in a stand up war against a kickboxing champion, and my answer is the same way that Mike Russow dismantled BJJ champion Jon Olav Einemo on the ground (UFC on Fox 2) and Mike Kyle out-gunned Thai champion Marcos Rogerio de Lima on the feet (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov). Experience and diverse proficiency in MMA goes a long way and, additionally, Brown has a kitchen sink for a chin, an unflinching, hard-nosed mentality and an under-rated clinch game.
I see Brown attacking with lively and determined combinations, i.e. "brawling the boxer", and pressuring him with infighting or setting up clinch trips with his striking. Guided by the wisdom of Matt Hume, I expect Brown to exert nonstop tension and overwhelm Thompson with a medley of all the variables he won't be accustomed to. A point of caution is the method in which Brown closes the gap -- he can't be careless against such a savvy striker and will struggle if Thompson can circle out into open space consistently.
My Prediction: Matt Brown by submission.
In what is perhaps the most exciting, striking-centric pairing on the card, karate, Taekowndo and kickboxing specialist John Makdessi squares off with Saekson Janjira Muay Thai product Anthony Njokuani in a lightweight tilt. Like Stephen Thompson, Makdessi is a rising Tristar Gym rep with unorthodox, traditional-based striking. He suffered his first career loss in his latest when the wily Dennis Hallman bamboozled him with his signature attack of sprinting out of his corner, flicking a high kick and then nailing a double-leg takedown. The cunning submission grappler was too much for Makdessi, who succumbed to a rear-naked choke in the 1st.
Makdessi first emerged at UFC 124 and notched sequential highlight-reel performances against Pat Audinwood (unanimous decision) and Kyle Watson (spinning back-fist KO at UFC 129). Standing at a wide-bodied and broad-shouldered 5'8", Makdessi is a compact little tank with a low center of gravity, uncanny motion, timing and footwork, blinding speed and an electric arsenal of showtime kicks. Makdessi excels with playing a little game in setting up his kicks: he'll lead off with something uncommon like a chambered side kick to the body and, when his opponent focuses on the repetitive attack, switch things up with a hook kick. The hook kick begins with the same horizontal chambering of the leg as the side kick, but undergoes a dramatic change in trajectory halfway through and pinpoints a different target zone.
Anthony Njokuani is an athletic kickboxer who went tit-for-tat with reputable marksmen like Bart Palaszewski (TKO win), surging Brazilian Edson Barboza (competitive decision loss) and Andre Winner (decision win). Barring his TKO loss to Maciej Jewtuszko in the WEC, Njokuani has been consistent and only defeated by high-caliber marauders, such as Benson Henderson and Donald Cerrone, or unfavorably styled opponents like wrestlers Shane Roller (1st round submission) and Danny Castillo (controversial split decision in his last).
Size will be a factor: Makdessi is a squatty lightweight at 5'8"; Njokuani stands 6'0" tall with a spidery 75.5" reach. Makdessi showed sound clinch work and takedown defense before encountering Hallman, but neither Watson nor Audinwood are known for their wrestling. Njokuani has also cemented his clinch prowess and (offensive and defensive) wrestling and, though he was not flawless, did so against an elevated level of competition compared to Makdessi.
The betting lines have Njokuani as the favorite with an edge that averages somewhere around -200, which I agree with. Makdessi is more of a technician than a power-striker and will have a slight advantage in speed and agility, but Njokuani's size, (fairly) comparable kickboxing and past level of opposition earn him my vote in what should be a crowd-pleaser.
My Prediction: Anthony Njokuani by decision.
In a lightweight battle of TUF champions, Mac Danzig, winner of TUF 6 (as a welterweight), meets TUF 8 winner Efrain Escudero. Danzig is a seasoned veteran with just shy of 30 fights and just over a decade of experience to his name. Danzig is a crafty old-schooler who's wrestled under Rico Chiapparelli, trained BJJ under the renowned Javier Vazquez at Millennia MMA and steadily polished up his striking to form a thoroughly well-rounded package.
I was unable to confirm his BJJ belt ranking, but Danzig is definitely a top-of-the-food-chain submission grappler who's submitted black belts (Mark Bocek at UFC 83, Joe Scarola on TUF). Despite being a tad inconsistent, the only head-scratching loss for Danzig was a 2009 submission (triangle choke) to Josh Neer. All of Danzig's remaining UFC defeats are highly respectable (Matt Wiman twice, Clay Guida and Jim Miller) and his wins over Joe Stevenson (TKO) and Bocek were definitive stoppages.
On the heels of winning TUF, Escudero, an Arizona-based wrestler, alternated wins (Cole Miller, Dan Lauzon) and losses (Evan Dunham, Charles Oliveira) and was released by the promotion. He posted a 5-1 clip outside the Octagon with Fabricio Camoes, who also earned a second chance in the UFC, accounting for his sole defeat in that stretch. Escudero drew Jacob Volkmann in his comeback affair and dropped a decision despite almost finishing Volkmann in the 3rd.
These fighters are similar in size and capable in all the key areas (striking, clinching, wrestling and submissions) except Danzig should have a mild to moderate advantage in every aspect save wrestling. Danzig emerges a solid favorite at -245 and I flat-out don't see many avenues for Escudero here.
My Prediction: Mac Danzig by submission.
In the first of the pair of Facebook preliminaries, Maxi Blanco will make his Octagon and featherweight debut against ATT's Marcus Brimage. Blanco is a violent striker, a former King of Pancrase and a bronze medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 2007 Pan-Am games. Blanco was a staple in Sengoku and recently made his stateside debut in a losing effort against Pat Healy. Accustomed to the broader allowance of techniques in overseas combat, Blanco was docked a point for unloading a series of kicks to a downed Healy while escaping a leglock attempt and tapped to a rear-naked choke in the 2nd frame, but looked strong overall against a very game lightweight.
Brimage appeared on TUF 14 and was submitted by Bryan Caraway in his opening effort on the show. With only 5 turns under his belt, Brimage is a natural striker and green fighter with loads of unpolished potential. He defeated Stephen Bass by decision at the TUF 14 finale but is yet to encounter a high-level adversary like Blanco, who should have the edge (on paper) everywhere. Maxi's devastating combination of Chute Boxe style striking and overwhelming wrestling should make him a force at 145-pounds.
My Prediction: Maxi Blanco by TKO.
It's veteran versus up-and-comer in this match, as exciting new prospect Chris Clements makes his Octagon debut against the well-traveled Keith Wisniewski. Clements is a native of Canada who trains with Mark Hominick and Sam Stout at Team Tompkins and brings in a raucous 10 finishes by TKO. 3 of his 4 defeats are to former or current UFC fighters in Jesse Bongfeldt, John Alessio and Rory Markham.
Wisniewski is a sturdy fighter with plenty of legit experience who's engaging in the second effort of his second UFC turn, having lost to Nick Thompson at UFC 56 in 2005. His last was a gutsy defeat to Josh Neer, who pelted him with relentless elbows for a 2nd round stoppage, though Wisniewski has absolutely no quit in him. This is a toss up, but I'm leaning towards Clements in a thrilling debut.
My Prediction: Chris Clements by TKO.
All betting odds references via BestFightOdds.com