Undefeated English lightweight Paul Sass (13-0) deserves some dramatic praise.
He's one of the ultra-elite submissionists in all of MMA. Considering how the perennial clique of world-class grapplers have aged or faded out of the spotlight, such as Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Shinya Aoki, he might have the best and most dangerous guard in the sport right now. Sass and his success are also largely responsible for reviving the once lost art of Luta Livre; an age-old grappling style that nearly disappeared after Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's explosion in popularity.
Sass is also a rare-breed fighter for many different reasons: he's on a big-show roster with a perfect record, he's finished 12 of 13 opponents by submission, 9 of which involved the triangle choke, a jaw-dropping 11 of those cry-uncles came in the 1st-round and Sass is one of the few phenoms who dramatically excels in just a single aspect -- yet he's so damn good in that single aspect that foes keep dropping like flies even though they know what's coming.
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On the flip side, while the Team Kaobon juggernaut is soaring with momentum after being brought up unhurriedly, he draws Matt Wiman at , who was thrown to the wolves immediately -- in both his pro fighting and UFC debuts -- and doesn't seem to get the respect or recognition he deserves. Wiman's very first night of pro MMA consisted of him plowing through 3 opponents en route to winning the XFL championship. 2 years later, he made his Octagon debut against a prime-era 5Spencer Fisher with only 2 weeks to prepare. As it goes in combat sports, fans recall the ill-fated, highlight-reel-worthy flying knee that ended Wiman's night in the 2nd but conveniently forget the way he dominated most of the 1st round.
Yes ... dominated. Wiman sprang for a double leg on Fisher early, cracked him with some stiff ground and pound, dropped back to wrench a fully locked guillotine, used the hold to sweep Fisher into full mount and then took his back while threatening with rear-naked chokes. The same bold courage and fearless bravado Wiman exhibited in his MMA and Octagon debuts have yet to relent and define him as a fighter.
"Handsome" chalked up 4-straight after meeting Fisher, stopping all but the durable Michihiro Omigawa (including a TKO over firecracker Thiago Tavares). He would then fall by decision to front-running contender Jim Miller and kickboxer Sam Stout, though a case could be made for Wiman deserving the nod in the latter. Since those consecutive losses, Wiman's notched 4 of his last 5 with another highly debatable decision loss, this time to Dennis Siver, accounting for his only stumble.
Continued in the full entry.
Sass has a complex and labyrinthine submission repertoire that's anything but simple, but the specs on his style are contrastingly straightforward. He's a tall and long-limbed lightweight -- an overlooked advantage for sub-grapplers -- at 6'0" with a 73" reach. His standard M.O. is shrinking the gap, engaging his opponent in a close-quarters firefight and then just adhering himself in some bizarre way before pulling a submission out of nowhere.
The 24-year-old prodigy just has a knack for conjuring up a submission win, whether it's achieved by conventional means -- like shooting a takedown from outside or working throws and trips from the clinch -- or unorthodox methods such as pulling guard with true technique and intelligence or simply identifying the nearest available appendage, diving on it like a fumbled football and then wrenching the unfortunate limb in angles the human anatomy can't tolerate.
Wiman is a handful for any lightweight but especially attuned for Sass because of his 3-dimensional capabilities. Though he's mostly touted as a hard-nosed wrestle-boxer, Wiman has a widely under-rated submission grappling arsenal of his own. His quickness, timing and explosive takedowns generally put him on top during ground exchanges, where Wiman brilliantly harmonizes short punches and elbows, positional mastery, ceaseless guard passing and nonstop submission attacks. Another standout aspect of his synchronous offense is how much pressure Wiman drenches on his opponent throughout his high-paced frenzy.
Off his back, Wiman is equally adept in pestering with effective elbows, initiating scrambles, hitting sweeps, defending ground strikes and using his compact frame to create space and escape by thrusting opponents away with both feet. Wrestling-wise, Wiman's been able to score takedowns in every UFC outing except one. The sole exception was his first encounter with Mac Danzig, where Danzig took Wiman down quickly but found himself squirming out of a leg lock, then being constricted in Wiman's signature transition to full mount from the guillotine choke before the premature referee intervention.
Against a grappler with the venomous wizardry of Sass, Wiman will want to apply his submission knowledge for defense and stability. Obviously, not being submitted is priority #1, followed closely by implementing his own offense without compromising himself. Though Sass will have the edge in size and submission voracity, I think Wiman's crisp kickboxing and stout wrestling will make the difference. He unreels tight and fast combinations while splashing in a few high kicks, and his speed also complements the constant angles he employs to set up his strikes. Taking Sass down and tangling with him on the mat is risky, but Wiman should be able to survive in spurts by quickly disengaging and posturing up and out of reach before hurling down leather as he did against lanky sub-specialist Cole Miller.
Sass' past level of competition should also play in: the pair of UFCers he submitted, Jacob Volkmann and Michael Johnson, are not known for submission defense and have actually been somewhat susceptible to them, as they account for 2 of Volkmann's 3 losses and 5 of Johnson's 6 defeats. Wiman has never been submitted and the only time he's been finished at all was against Fisher. Therefore, Wiman will not only be a huge step up in submission awareness but he's thoroughly skilled in striking and wrestling, which bestows him with the ideal package to unhinge a one-dimensional specialist.
Sass' unparalleled finishing ability makes him an ever-present threat and justifies the nearly deadlocked betting odds, but Wiman's overall diversity and the vast leap in competition he represents gives him my vote.
My Prediction: Matt Wiman by TKO.