A bantamweight tilt pitting Scott Jorgensen vs. Eddie Wineland will kick off Friday's show from the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The event is captained by the resolution of the 3 Flyweight Tournament semifinal match between Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall with the winner advancing to face Joseph Benavidez to crown the UFC's inaugural flyweight champion.
Scott Jorgensen (13-5) and Eddie Wineland (18-8) were staples in the WEC and perennial top-15 bantamweights. Wineland knocked out Antonio Banuelos in 2006 to become the WEC's first bantamweight champion, but back-to-back defeats to Team Alpha Male fighters (Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez) in his last turns caused him to plummet to #23 in the consensus world rankings while Jorgensen's held strong at #6.
Their recent records reflect a level of performance that exceeds the pack but falls just short of elite-level recognition: Jorgensen has won 7 of his last 9 with losses to current champ Dominick Cruz and top-contender Renan Barao while Wineland just had a 4-fight rally snapped by his aforementioned losses to Faber and Benavidez. While they may not be considered among the very best in the division, both fighters are gamers and a handful for any and all 135ers.
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They share a wrestle-boxing foundation yet each has a clear specialty in the opposite category. Jorgensen's striking is effective but painfully basic while Wineland is a smooth and technical boxer, as evinced by his coiled stance, fluid footwork, active head movement and tight barrage of punches. Jorgensen flaunts impressive wrestling credentials as a 3x Pac-10 champion at Boise State University with a respectable Top-12 finish at the NCAA tournament; takedowns and top control are his bread and butter.
Though they're capable in many areas and not what I'd call one-trick ponies, this match up boils down to Jorgensen's ability to secure takedowns and Wineland's awareness to avoid them.
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When scrutinizing their latest defeats, Wineland looks to have continued his evolution with subtle enhancements while Jorgensen hasn't really changed up his approach.
As almost a boxing purist, Wineland's been tasked with melding his artful in-and-out parrying with the contrasting fundamentals of takedown defense. In order to put any sizzle on a punch or combination, the thrower has to plant his feet and torque his hips into it. However, that exact moment -- when a fighter is stationary, with his feet rooted to the floor and his hips committed to forward motion -- is precisely when one is most vulnerable for a takedown. Therefore, like everything else in MMA, the solution is to synchronize these conflicting elements and attack with crisp strikes while maintaining the balance and composure to defend level drops.
In the 1st-round against Faber, Wineland had it down to a science. He pestered with stiff punches, swiveled around to fire leather from different angles and maintained the balance to react and evade as necessary. Unfortunately, whether attributable to a cardio issue or Faber's adjustments, his efficiency dwindled in rounds 2 and 3. Surprisingly, Benavidez was more effective with his ever-improving striking, as he's excelled leaps and bounds with using the threat of his wrestling to augment his stand up.
Jorgensen struggled against the cyclone kickboxing and blinding quickness of Barao, which kept the Brazilian out of harm's way and moving of his own volition. In fact, Barao's performance exemplified the overwhelming value of blending offensive striking and defensive qualities equally, along, of course, with the critical aspect of footwork. Really, the recent stumbles of Jorgensen and Wineland serve as the perfect blueprint to adopt for this encounter.
While it's conceivable that Wineland could win the majority of rounds when Jorgensen's hitting takedowns or Jorgensen could do the same if forced to stand with Wineland, on paper, the pivotal factor hinges upon whoever controls the phase of combat. Overall, the odds favor Wineland in a stand-up shootout and Jorgensen on the mat, with the clinch phase serving as a balancing point between the two. The reason I feel Jorgensen deserves to be the -225 favorite on the betting lines is because his wrestling and low center of gravity should give him the edge in clinch exchanges.
So it all comes down to how intelligently and unpredictably Jorgensen can close distance and get his hands on Wineland. While he excels in that single aspect more than any other, I wouldn't say Jorgensen shrinks the gap as dynamically as he should -- he sets up his shots with strikes, but not with angles and typically lunges forward in a straight line. Additionally, Jorgensen doesn't transition fluidly and seems to be locked in either striking or wrestling mode.
I see this contest as much closer than the betting lines reflect and I'm on the fence for a pick. I'm really tempted to take Wineland but, despite his gradual improvements, the way he fizzled out against Faber and ate haymakers from Benavidez is hard to overlook. I'll play it safe and side with Jorgensen who's often compensated for his predictability with admirable heart, determination and spirit. Wineland might be worth a look for a chance-bet and I think he's a legit live-dog here.
My Prediction: Scott Jorgensen by decision.