When we last left our heroes...It's been awhile since we've seen Markes in the octagon. He was scheduled to face Derek Brunson in June, in what would have been the opposite of a barnburner, but had to be sidelined after a minor traffic accident. He's undefeated thus far in the UFC, at 3-0.
His wins have been somewhat modest, so a victory in this bout would definitely allow him to take that next step. I predict this fight will be very ugly, but it's a solid fight for a division that finally feels like it's moving forward.
Perhaps a word deserves to be said about MW. It's long been one of if not THE weakest division in the UFC. It wasn't just bout the dominance of its brilliant champion, which made the weakness so much more emphasized, but about the challengers.
Most of the MW challengers have faded. Either into other divisions (like Demian Maia), or into obscurity (like Thales Leites). Every division has had champions take bouts with fighters that felt like wasted in time in retrospect, but MW feels like it's had more.
Yet now the division feels like it's scrapping its visitors (goodbye Vitor!), and pretenders, and embracing some durability with the influx of the Strikeforce middleweight division, which had a pretty good stable of competitors.
This bout is a good reflection of that.
After all, opposite Markes is Yoel Romero; a Cuban freestyle wrestler good enough to compete in the 2000 games. He's won all of his fights thus far by TKO/KO, so he'll be looking to keep that streak alive.
What both men can do: Romero is a real blue chip prospect despite being the tender age of 36. Having a good shot means less, I feel, these days for wrestlers because fighters have learned how to get back on their feet better. But having a great shot can still be the difference, and Romero charges like a bullet when he's looking for the takedown.
His work in the clinch, his ankle picks...he's a beast for reasons that should be obvious when talking about a certified Olympian (instead of an MMA Olympian, where you're given credit as one even if all you did was compete in the qualifiers; see Kid Yamamoto). But it's his boxing that has made him successful. Muhammed Lawal likes to fashion his boxing after Romero's style, but Lawal executes that style with neither style, nor substance. Because I made the mistake of studying philosophy in college, I can qualify that statement by saying that I'm not dissing Lawal's striking. It's just that whereas Lawal boxes that way because he wants to look stylish, Romero boxes that way because he's learned to win fights this way, and to be proficient with it.
From his southpaw stance, he has a piercing right hook, and a swift left hand. But most importantly, he's got head movement. A lot of his previous fights were won because his opponent began swinging wildly, missed each punch, and then paid the price for it.
As for Markes, he reminds me a little of Ricardo Arona; the dinosaur with dengue fever everyone remembers from the Pride era. He's just a solid top control grappler who may not offer much in the way of dynamism, but who doesn't need much else.
He's a large MW who muscles his opponents to the ground. With good trips from the clinch, he's most comfortable dictating the pace in ways that get fans banging their keyboards with a Goku doll.
It's not always the most crowd pleasing. He has decent striking. Nothing real formidable, but he does what most fighters are capable of doing these days; jab every now and then, throw a right hand, and kick to the leg when you need to.
What both men can't do: It's clearly Markes' weak point. He's just not dynamic on the feet. This will be where Romero will have the advantage, though he's not without his flaws either.
One of the things that showed up in the Cavalcante fight was his weakness to leg kicks. Romero, even though he bounces around a lot, can get into that uncertainty trance, where he's not sure if he wants to strike (expected with just six pro fights), or if he wants to wrestle.
The Feijao bout was a very listless affair up until the knockout (and a brief flurry by Romero in the first). This is the kind of behavior Romero should look to avoid.
I'm really worried about the fan response if Romero doesn't score a quick, patented knockout. Should the winner be worried if this turns into Starnes vs. Quarry? Will the crowd in Fort Campbell throw more than just tomatoes?
X-Factor: Romero should take this regardless. He'll be able to keep it on the feet against Markes easily, and he has the standup advantage. This won't be action packed if it doesn't end soon, but Romero will be the winner.
Prediction: Yoel Romero by Decision.