The co-main event of tonight's 3 Amir Sadollah and Jorge Lopez.
It's somewhat ironic that Amir Sadollah (5-3) defeated -- and finished -- a more impressive assortment of middleweight competition to win TUF 7 than he has in the Octagon as a welterweight, and did so without a single pro-fight on his record. Starting with the elimination bout to gain entrance to the TUF house, Sadollah defeated Steve Byrnes (6-1) by armbar, Gerald Harris (21-4) by TKO, Matt Brown by triangle choke and Division 1 All-American wrestler C.B. Dollaway (11-4) by armbar ... twice.
In retrospect, trampling such a respectable array of game middleweights with a potent blend of striking and submissions, with all but the last Dollaway catch coming before his pro-career even began, is monumentally admirable. When Sadollah announced that he'd be dropping to welterweight after clenching the TUF crown, he seemed destined for a top-contender slot. From a strict win-loss standpoint, Sadollah's post-TUF is considered disappointing by many. I would politely assert that the defeats on his 5-3 clip in the Octagon were all unfavorably styled opponents: current #1-contender Johny Hendricks (1st-round TKO), imposing grappler Dong Hyun Kim (unanimous decision) and Muay Thai champion and experienced MMA vet Duane Ludwig (unanimous decision).
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Jorge "Lil' Monster" Lopez (11-2) has been trumpeted as the top student of MMA legend Wanderlei Silva and his own Wand Fight Team. Lopez has spent a few years under Silva's tutelage and also had the honor of training with the infamous Chute Boxe team, yet doesn't quite exemplify the style that crowd is known for. Lopez is a "2x Utah state champ and 3x regional champ in wrestling" according to his UFC.com profile, though it's not specified if that was in college or high school, and has 6 wins by decision and 5 by TKO.
Rather than a crippling Thai machine, Lopez is a physically imposing grinder with considerable strength and a formidable clinch game. He made his Octagon debut against Justin Edwards having a single flaw on his record after 12 outings, which was a split-decision loss to former Strikeforce fighter Nick Rossborough in Lopez's 2nd pro-fight. Edwards defeated Lopez by unanimous decision and snapped his 10-fight win streak.
Because Sadollah commands a higher status than Edwards, he comes in as a big favorite over Lopez. However, again turning to the "styles make fights" cliche, Edwards is a deceivingly beefy welterweight and a straight-up bruiser in the clinch, and Sadollah will not be able to replicate those traits.
Continued in the full entry.
Though he's billed as a Master of Sambo, Sadollah isn't a power-clincher and mostly relies on his stellar Thai arsenal in tie-ups. His strengths are maximizing his length with a distance-based kickboxing onslaught replete with front snap kicks, teeps, roundhouse kicks and solid boxing. Sadollah typically prefers to unreel long combinations while closing range to work knees and elbows in the clinch, but that should be adapted to a sting-and-disengage style to avoid locking horns with Lopez.
Lopez is indeed a power-clincher and I foresee him causing trouble for Sadollah at contact-range. He has a wide body, excellent balance, a strong base and a low center of gravity. This translates to a lot of control whenever he can get his hands on his opponent; an attribute similar to "Stun Gun" Kim's trademark approach, who was able to stifle Sadollah's striking with clinch control and takedowns.
That will undoubtedly be the strategy for Lopez, spinning this match up into a game of distance. Sadollah's footwork and cage motion should be employed to keep him out of reach while raining strikes from the fringe, while Lopez will be tasked with closing the distance to initiate a clinch without eating too many shots on the way in.
Sadollah showed some striking power on TUF yet he's without an official TKO in the UFC since. Knockout power is never a bad thing, but Sadollah has chosen to judicious in strike selection and prioritize balance and composure when loosening strikes rather than raw power. The advantage is that he's rarely caught off-balance or out of position and can therefore defend strikes, clinch blitzes and takedowns more effectively.
Sadollah is the narrow favorite in the -165 range, which seems accurate. He's the more proven and dangerous fighter, but Lopez absolutely has the type of blender-clinching to negate his Muay Thai. The deciding factor is Sadollah's under-rated BJJ acumen, which gives him the edge in the Free Movement and Grappling Phases. Unless Lopez goes all Randy Couture, I like Sadollah in a close one.
My Prediction: Amir Sadollah by decision.