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Pierce has become one of the most under-rated fighters in all of MMA. He came into the UFC with a 9-2 record, losing only to current top middleweight contender Mark Munoz (in Pierce's 2nd fight) and former Strikeforce welterweight and ATT fighter Nathan Coy (11-4). Inside the Octagon, he's 5-3 with ultra-competitive split-decision losses to the 4th- and 7th-ranked welterweights in Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck and a respectable unanimous decision loss to 6th-ranked (and longtime #2) welterweight Jon Fitch. There are sound arguments for giving Pierce the nod in both the Hendricks and Koscheck decisions and he put Fitch on roller skates with a 3rd-round flurry.
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Rocha is the exact definition of a lose/lose situation: he's fairly unknown and exceedingly dangerous. Rocha has some big shoes to fill as well after debuting with a kneebar victory over Kris McCray and making a strong impression in his sophomore effort against Jake Ellenberger. Rocha was edged by split decision for his first career defeat but put on a grappling clinic against Ellenberger, hitting some high-level sweeps and positionally dominating him in exchanges on the mat while chaining together submission attempts.
The Brazilian has been sidelined since that bout in February of 2011 while recovering from elbow surgery, but has since hooked up with Team Nogueira and moved to the states to train. Nationality plays a particular role in this pairing, as Pierce asked for a Brazilian opponent on Twitter because he was "looking for an easy fight." The Oregon-based welter one-upped that first Twitter barb by following with: "WANTED: no work ethic, no cardio, terrible striking and limited ground game. Brazilians, please send fight applications to Joe Silva."
Continued in the full entry.
There were a handful reasons why Rocha's showing against Ellenberger was so arresting, and one was the functional Judo and wrestling technique he showed. Ellenberger sprung for a double leg early but Rocha easily reversed with a counter hip throw and he was incredibly busy in maneuvering his hips around in the clinch to work trips and throws. While he compromised his balance and left himself vulnerable in some clinch exchanges, the end result was Ellenberger powering him down to the mat, which is far from an unfavorable position for the grappling whiz.
The same applies to Rocha's striking -- it's distinctly wild and aggressive because Rocha isn't concerned with maintaining strong balance in order to sprawl or resist takedowns; rather, he welcomes that counter attack as an outlet to enforce his ground skills. While being susceptible to clinch or grappling counters works in his favor, Rocha is also somewhat open to counter strikes, which is never an advantage. Ellenberger touched his chin on several occasions and he took it in stride, but that's an area that could come back to bite Rocha.
The fact that Pierce is such a poised and balanced striker will be a key factor against Rocha. In fact, the best approach to an unpredictable and aggressive striker is a good guard and hand position for defense, a strong semblance of balance to allow reactive footwork and counter punches, a basic array of distance tools and in-fighting weapons and the Fight I.Q. to implement them. That's Mike Pierce in a nutshell. He never over-commits, stumbles into a vulnerable position or does anything flashy on the feet. He might not be the quickest, most powerful or exciting striker, but Pierce's style is extremely stable and reliable.
He sticks to basic boxing from the fringe, generally needling some combination of a jab, straight right and left hook, but has a brutal repertoire of close-range tactics. His Division 1 wrestling background (Portland State University) enabled him to lock horns with elite welterweight wrestlers in Hendricks, Koscheck and Fitch, and more than hold his own. His record is devoid of submission specialists like Rocha, so the true level of Pierce's submission grappling for MMA (specifically his submission defense) is virtually unknown.
That's why this match up is not far from a coin-toss. I think Pierce deserves the slight edge for his past level of competition and proving himself against top-tier 170-pounders, but Rocha is a wild card for anyone in the division. My guess is that Pierce will stay composed on the feet and avoid getting into a brawl while repelling Rocha from contact range with short, cleaving punches and elbows.
My Prediction: Mike Pierce by decision.
Baczynski is part of the Power MMA team and an original member of TUF 11, where he lost to eventual winner Court McGee. He was defeated by Brad Tavares at the TUF 11 Finale and subsequently released, though the unanimous decision does not reflect how evenly contested the match was. Baczynski scored a pair of TKO stoppages outside the Octagon to earn another crack and has since rattled off another pair finishes, this time by submission (Clay Harvison and Matt Brown).
Lance Benoist is easily one of the most intriguing new prospects in the UFC. The young 23-year-old debuted at 5-0 in his pro career -- all fights won by 1st-round stoppage (4 subs, 1 TKO) -- and carried in an impressive amateur standing of 17-0, finishing 16 and allowing only 2 to surpass the opening frame. His foundation is rooted in boxing (novice Golden Gloves champ) and submission grappling, in which he won a few smaller tournaments (NAGA, Arnolds) and how holds a purple belt.
Benoist drew Matt Riddle for his Octagon premiere and just exuded the vibe of a confident, diverse and dangerous fighter. He cracked Riddle early with a mean straight left, whipped out a hook kick, went right to the rubber guard in ground exchanges and cleverly baited Riddle with a kimura to hit a hip heist sweep ... all in the first 5 minutes. Though Riddle mounted a comeback, bashed his nose silly with elbows and evened things out late, Benoist was awarded a unanimous decision and definitely caught the fan's attention.
While Benoist made waves as a promising newcomer, Baczynski is the consummate spoiler. Beating Matt Brown -- and finishing him, no less -- is a huge accomplishment and a testament to his prowess. Baczynski is a massive welterweight at 6'3" and a solid wrestler, so his intentions will be to overcome the technical finesse of Benoist by turning this into a dogfight. Benoist is much smoother from outside and will look to plug his crisp punches through the holes in Baczynski's defense and Baczynski will likely force the clinch and overpower Benoist with dirty boxing and knees or takedowns.
The turning point of Benoist's battle with Riddle was when the latter closed the distance and put Benoist on his back and proceeded to pummel him with elbows. Baczynski has the awareness to keep good posture from the top and smash Benoist's head into the cage to limit his movement and options. Additionally, Riddle's striking defense is mediocre at best and Baczynski should be well aware of how threatening Benoist is on the feet. As much as I'd like to see Benoist roll out another career-defining performance, I can't help but feel like Baczynski can grind this out with his size, wrestling, clinch tactics and some cautious top play.
My Prediction: Seth Baczynski by decision.
Grice is a former UFC lightweight who went 1-3 with a split-decision over Jason Black and losses to Terry Etim, Shannon Gugerty (submissions) and Matt Veach (TKO). Upon his release, Grice chalked up 4-straight wins with 3 stoppages to earn another shot and dropped down to featherweight for his return against Ricardo Lamas, which he lost by 1st-round TKO (head kick and punches). Grice was a standout wrestler in high school, earning 4 state championships in Oklahoma and attracting the eye of big-name colleges. He attended the University of Oklahoma but a car accident caused myriad injuries that hindered his performance.
Well, we should all know what to expect from Leonard Garcia by now: flying fists, each one designed for decapitation, a limitless gas tank, an admirable fighting spirit and 15-minutes of in-your-face brawling. Garcia takes a lot of flak for his style, but he's definitely not without skill; he just opts to punch people in the face instead of being defined by pretty technique or chess-match strategies. His striking is easily his most formidable aspect, yet Garcia is quite competent in the clinch, with wrestling and with submission defense and scrambles on the mat.
Grice was dominated by a heavy-handed striker in Lamas, though that opponent came equipped with excellent wrestling and a tight, compact striking style. Garcia's balls-out barrage puts him at risk for takedowns and I'm not sure he's got the guard finesse to submit Grice or escape back to his feet regularly. For that reason, Grice is kind of a sleeper here and represents a tough match up for him.
The betting lines favor Garcia at -200, which I assume is based mostly on name recognition. I'd assess this as much closer but will still give "Bad Boy" the nod despite the unfavorable stylistics. Grice has the potential to work his way into clinch range, score takedowns and contain Garcia on the mat, but I'll take a chance on Garcia's wicked punching power and unparalleled determination to prevail by finding Grice's suspect chin.
My Prediction: Leonard Garcia by TKO.
Pierce vs. Rocha, Baczynski vs. Benoist
Pierce and Baczynski (159 votes)
Rocha and Baczynski (69 votes)
Pierce and Benoist (29 votes)
Rocha and Benoist (26 votes)
283 total votes