One of the benefits of Strikeforce finally folding into the UFC after years of intense speculation (and by intense speculation I mean the 'frustratingly inevitable') is that we're finally beginning to see the depth we've longed for. Undercards are just a little more interesting, despite some growing pains.
The preliminary card on FX is a prime example of this. Instead of Schaub versus say, Oli Thompson, we get Schaub versus the more respectable, and certainly more entertaining Lavar Johnson. If UFC 156 proved anything, it's that no one coming from Strikeforce is gonna give it to you. You're gonna have to take it.
It's odd to consider how highly touted Schaub once was. Well, 'highly touted' is a bit of stretch, but HW needs as many talented, and marginally talented heavyweights it can get. Schaub fit the bill of a presentable young man with an exciting style, and a talent for the job. Of course, that was after he beat a couple of aging veterans, and before he got obliterated by a couple of aging veterans.
It's hard to know how to gauge Schaub. He's aggressive enough to challenge good opponents, but his chin betrays him. It's a reality about Schaub as visceral as the 'searching for ghosts' pose on display when Ben Rothwell knocked him out at UFC 145. He's quick with his punches, and most of the mechanics seem to be in place for him to go far, but then he overcommits, and finds himself counting Nog-faced sheep.
Say what you want about Johnson, who is limited as a HW, but if Schaub decides to fight him the way he fought Nog and Rothwell, he's courting death. Johnson's assets are no secret. He punches hard. Schaub is on record as saying he's gonna "box the brawler", which is either the truth, or just a way of saying "I'll stand with him after I take him down and beat him up".
Schaub is not necessarily a good boxer. But he's quick. Which is why he doesn't get punished as often he does. Still, he loves the straight right, yet keeps his left arm at his side when he throws it (or with his head down; another no no). He also doesn't defend the jab well, which is what Nog kept catching him with; the punch that basically set up the finish (Schaub throwing a wild uppercut with his back against the cage didn't do him any favors either).
Lavar has a decent jab (which he put on quick display against Beltran when he doubled up on the jab and then went to the body all within the first 10 seconds of their fight), and will throw to the body when he needs to. This is no gimmie, but on paper, I think Lavar matches up nicely with Schaub. He's not the brawler Brendan thinks he so (though it's accurate enough), and I see Schaub making the mistake he always makes: he lands a few nice punches, clinches, punches some more, gets overzealous, and in this case, gets knocked out.
Prediction: Lavar Johnson by KO, round 1.
Season 15 Ultimate Fighter winner Michael Chiesa is not quite making his UFC debut, but it feels that way. Usually people at least know the TUF winners, but I'm not sure that's true in Chiesa's case...who was last seen back in June. For Chiesa, this will be the narrative; how much has time off affected him? Unlike most fighters, Chiesa had to battle real loss (his father passed away during the show), and whatever momentum he felt was gained from the show might be lost.
Chiesa's advantage is the submission game. 6 of his 8 wins are by submission, which his long and gangly body are perfect for. This is also what benefits him in his fight against Kuivanen this weekend. Anton's best bet is to score points on Chiesa with his diverse attack; he's got good kicks, nice teeps (as Goldberg has the potential to remind us ad nauseum), and good punching power despite a fairly rigid stance. However, the reach disadvantage won't do him any favors, and if his fight with Mitch Clarke is any indication, he'll be more than willing to engage Chiesa on the ground.
While Mike's game still needs polishing, he's tenacious as hell, which is what I like about him. Plus, given his story, who doesn't want to see him succeed?
Prediction: Michael Chiesa by submission, round 2.
I love this match. It's not particularly special on paper, but it's a scrap alright. Bermudez seeks out the most grueling wars possible with any opponent, and Grice is always willing to oblige. His fight with Jason Black is still an 'all timer' when you look back at their second round. It's probably the most dramatic round of MMA you'll ever see.
Will we get something similar? No, but anything close is worth it. Unfortunately it could be a short night for Grice. Bermudez has power, and even though he's a liability on the feet, and tends to get caught, Grice probably won't catch him (in the permanent sense). Grice has moderate power in his hands, and I don't doubt he'll land on Dennis, but I just don't think he's the more powerful of the two.
Normally I'd apologize for the lack of analysis on this one, but there's not much to say. Both guys are gonna have a punch in the face contest, and we'll happily observe like the savages we are.
Prediction: Dennis Bermudez by TKO, round 3.
Have I mentioned how solid the FX card is?
Another fight that is fascinating on paper. Stout started his UFC career on a high note with his fantastic scrap with Spencer Fisher when Fisher seemed like a potential contender. He's been a roller coaster ever since, winning some, and losing some. Since his UFC debut he's never won more than twice in a row. Although now that I think about it, I feel like I'm picking up bad habits from Mike Goldberg's school of arbitrary statistics (with "Joe Lauzon has never lost more than twice in a row!" being the winner*).
The only problem with this fight is that it's gonna be hell to judge. Stout likes to stay in the middle and keep his distance while Fodor likes to move forward, not necessarily utilizing his range, but doing a good job of maintaining movement. His strikes are deceiving, but he certainly doesn't have the power to put away Stout (not many men do, regardless of weight). It's quite possible this fight ends up in the clinch. A lot.
Expect this to be your typical quantity vs. quality style fight, with Stout likely racking up more punches, and certainly throwing more, but Fodor landing the better shots, assuming they don't end up one big pile of clinch for minutes at a time. I like Stout in this one, not because I think he wins legitimately, but because I think he'll string punches together, and shrug the ones that do land, making Fodor look inefficient in the eyes of inefficient judges when he's not.
Prediction: Sam Stout by (controversial) Decision.
*I try to entertain the notion that the Brad Tavares takedown defense comment simply never happened.