Oklahoma's James Head (8-2) started boxing in 2002 and won an amateur boxing championship, then hooked up with star grappler Rafael Lovato Jr. in 2008 to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and showed phenomenal progression by scoring the silver medal at the 2010 World Championships in the blue belt division. His MMA career shot off to a 5-0 beginning with 3 TKOs and 2 submissions before Head bumped into former UFC competitor Jesse Forbes, who handed him his first loss in a unanimous decision.
Head rebounded with another 1st-round TKO before notching a career-defining upset over Gerald Harris just after he'd been released by the UFC. This qualified Head for a stint in the Octagon and he debuted as a middleweight against Nick Ring at UFC 131. Head blasted Ring with a stiff combination early on that had him wobbled for a good minute or so, but Ring turned the tables in the 2nd by slicing up his schnoz with elbows from the top and closed it out in the 3rd by rear-naked choke. Head then dropped to welterweight successfully with a 1st-round submission over Papy Abedi.
More UFC 149 Dissections
Brian Ebersole (50-14-1) laid out an unforgettable performance in his UFC debut against Chris Lytle, treating fans to his signature cartwheel kick and hard-nosed D1-level wrestling acumen en route to the upset via decision. Few in contemporary MMA can match Ebersole's extensive 65-fight record, which was compiled at a furious pace: he fought 9 times in 2001 and then a virtually inconceivable 15 times in 2002. Seriously, think about that for a second -- fighting 15 times in a 12-month span.
Ebersole then assumed a more human-like pace but still competed an average of 6 times annually for the next few years. The win over Lytle was his 8th in a row and, now that he's kept the streak alive in the Octagon with 3 more (Dennis Hallman, Claude Patrick, T.J. Waldburger), Ebersole's surge moves to 11-straight and he's won 15 of his last 16, falling only to co-main eventer Hector Lombard in a 2008 middleweight bout.
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If there's been a chink in Head's armor, it's wrestling: Ring mounted his comeback through takedowns and a medley of strikes and submission attempts from the top and Abedi hit a high-crotch takedown to put him on his back for much of the 1st. Head is now a purple belt with a fine-tuned guard and wily tactics, but being underneath Ebersole and his torrent of ground-on-pound is not an ideal scenario for any welterweight.
Off his back, Head starts with a full, closed guard and gets strong control of his opponent's posture, head and/or wrists to quell their offense. Once he's stabilized, he uses the closed guard to push down on their hips and create some space to work with, then starts hitting angles and working sweeps and escapes from Half Butterfly guard. Head also spikes hard elbows and cracks with short forearms from the bottom, all of which are enabled by his determined control of posture and the head.
On the feet, Head has excellent timing and straight punches. He keeps it pretty simple with 2, 3 and 4-punch combinations of straight rights and lefts while establishing his jab from a distance. His clinch game is mean; Head goes high with the Thai plum grip and keeps his hips far back and out of reach. Offensively, he prefers plunging knees to the midsection and winding up with crisp horizontal elbows while he's fighting for position in tie-ups.
Ebersole is not a traditional striker but has a workable blend of pizazz and functional boxing. The cartwheel kick is a legit technique that he's used effectively in the past and the remainder of his stand-up is stiff overhands and straight lefts. His clinch and ground striking is a frenetic onslaught of short punches and elbows that take their toll through volume and persistence. Though 9 of his 14 losses are via submission, the last time Ebersole was caught in a submission was in 2005 and his showings against Patrick and Waldburger indicate major improvement in that department.
Despite the tremendous odds in favor of Ebersole, who's rated as high as -400 and -500 on the betting lines, I was tempted to pick Head for the upset here. I think his Fight I.Q. and offensive diversity will serve him well throughout his career but, from a pure match-up standpoint, Ebersole's wrestling, bulletproof chin and improved submission defense should make the difference.
My Prediction: Brian Ebersole by decision.