Every once in a while, a familiar fighter will exact a momentous performance that changes your entire opinion of them. For Joey "The Mexicutioner" Beltran, that fight came against Igor Pokrajac in his last turn at UFC on FX 6. Formerly a bit of an undersized heavyweight without enough oomph in his punches or physique to make a lasting impact, all of Beltran's usual tactics -- a relentless clinch game, rapid-fire fist ballistics and surprise takedowns -- were noticeably more effective than ever before.
It was the best Joey Beltran (14-6) we'd seen and, after dropping a short-notice bout with James Te Huna in his first Octagon appearance as a light-heavyweight, it was the best outcome he could've hoped for. But the glory was ephemeral. News that Beltran had tested positive for nandrolone came to light, which rendered the encouraging win as a No Contest. Still, despite the victory being scratched from the record books, Beltran's showing lent credence to the concept that he could make some waves and hang around at 205 pounds.
Team Nogueira rep Fabio Maldonado (19-6) is also due for one of those redefining and reinvigorating performances. After a memorable debut against James McSweeney, the former pro boxer dropped three consecutive bouts (Kyle Kingsbury, Igor Pokrajac, Glover Teixeira) and suffered his first TKO loss (Teixeira) in the process. While he persevered through a battle to keep his job with a win over Roger Hollett last time out, those concerns still loom overhead with the potential of losing four of his last five when the dust settles on Wednesday night.
This tilt bears odd similarities to the Mike Pierce vs. Rousimar Palhares match up on the same card: the festivities both feature one fighter -- Maldonado and Palhares -- who is uniquely almost one-dimensional. Their limited offensive capabilities also clearly elicit one particular range they must assume in order to ply their specialized trade and, oddly enough, their opponents (Beltran, Pierce) are alike in that they're mostly unequipped with a distance weapon to exploit that weakness.
In plain terms, Maldonado is not just a standard boxer for MMA, but a phone-booth brawler who handles all his business at toe-to-toe range. His propensity for crouched down hooks, uppercuts and any bent-arm punches makes him a human wood-chipper in his preferred range, yet relegates him to assuming that same position in all other aspects and ranges of combat. If Maldonado isn't inside carving his opponent up, he's hellbent on getting there. This makes his distance weaponry in the open space of the cage quite pedestrian and, overall, dilutes his striking arsenal.
On the same token, Beltran is not known as the type to hang out on the fringe and keep opponents on the end of his punches. He also gradually slithers his way into tight quarters to wield an equally fearsome but more diverse bag of tricks in the clinch. His control has become more effective at light-heavyweight and his vice-like collar tie holds open up many opportunities for knees and dirty boxing.
Another unusual tendency at play here is the way Maldonado has been content to accept strong head control in the clinch and just fire a salvo of body shots while double-forearm blocking knees in a hunched over stance. While it's exciting to watch and reinforces his gameness, it's not the ideal strategy to counter effective head control in the clinch. The kicker with Maldonaldo has always been that having fight-ending punching power would probably forgive him of those questionable tactics, but he just doesn't seem to have it. He's a pure volume puncher intent on quantity over quality from a striking standpoint.
That balance is adjustable, so personally, I'd love to see Maldonado dig his feet in and wind up on some straight power punches and take a giant whack to fell the tree instead of only whittling it down with speed, persistence and volume in short-arcing swings. Along with Maldonado's absence of sizzling punching power, Beltran's chin has been among the sturdiest with a single TKO loss spread out over the 22 frenetic brawls of his career.
I see no significant advantage for either in cardio or submission grappling, but a clear edge in wrestling and takedowns for Beltran -- mostly because, again, Maldonado's goal consists of little more than knifing into range and letting his hands go.
Overall, Beltran would seem to have more options to win than Maldonado. Am I wrong here? Maldonado has one TKO win in the UFC and McSweeney's durability and chin aren't comparable to Beltran's. "The Mexicutioner" isn't a KO puncher either, but he gets better extension on his strikes by throwing straight punches, he can mimic Maldonado's machine-gun eruptions at close range but also adds in cleaving elbows, takedown attempts and a steady diet of knees. Most importantly, Beltran supplements his clinch offense by first achieving and maintaining strong head control -- either by way of a vice-like double collar tie or by jamming his head underneath his opponent's jaw to stand them upright while burying them on the cage.
I'm semi-surprised to see Maldonado enjoying a marginal push on the betting lines. I'm leaning toward Beltran for his chin, his diversity in range and strike selection, having the better chance to hit takedowns and being able to match Maldonado's blistering in-fighting. Keep an eye on how Maldonado decides to close range and counter Beltran's head control in the clinch, which will undoubtedly influence the outcome.
My Prediction: Joey Beltran by decision.