Undefeated Brit Mike Wilkinson will meet Rony Jason in the hostile environment of the latter's home turf this Saturday on the main card of UFC on FUEL TV 10 from Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil. The 6-piece lineup begins on Fuel TV at 8:00 p.m. ET after the 7-fight preliminary card cycles through on Facebook, which has an approximate start time of 4:30 p.m. ET. The featured card is headlined by Brazilian heavyweights Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fabricio Werdum in a pivotal rematch of their 2006 Pride FC collision and, in the co-main role, TUF: Brazil 2 finalists Leonardo Santos and William Macario will battle for the coveted TUF title.
Mike "The Warrior" Wilkinson (8-0) was a TUF: Smashes lightweight entry who submitted his first opponent on the show, but was later scratched on account of a training injury. The 25-year-old got a shot on the UFC on FX: Sotiropoulos vs. Pearson card and defeated his friend and TUF: Smashes teammate Brendan Loughnane by decision. The Brit entered the show with a good rep, much of which stemmed from his flawless record and propensity for stoppages (2 TKO's, 4 subs, 4 1st-round finishes). Wilkinson has now descended a weight class and will make his featherweight debut on Saturday night.
Team Nogueira/Pitbull product Rony Mariano Bezerra, better known as Rony Jason (12-3), emerged victorious on the inaugural season of TUF: Brazil with a unanimous decision over Godofredo Pepey on the UFC 147 card. Jason picked off a sensational flyweight talent in Dileno Lopes, who was simply fighting too far above his natural weight, to make it into the house, then tacked on wins over Anistavio Meideiros (armbar) and Hugo Viana (decision) to advance to the finals.
Jason shares Wilkinson's affinity to finish fights -- he's closed out opponents in 11 of his 12 wins (7 subs, 4 TKO's) -- but he does not share the Brit's perfect record. Jason incurred a trio of losses on the Brazilian circuit before appearing on TUF: he took the once-beaten juggernaut and current UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao to a split decision, which is extremely impressive considering the force Barao's proven to be, was TKO'd by electric Bellator featherweight Genair da Silva, aka "Junior PQD," who's quite a violent and underrated terror, and was viciously stomped out by a heavily experienced Brazilian vet in Joao Paulo Rodrigues de Souza (35-14).
Regardless of his past losses, which are still pretty respectable overall, Jason, like most TUF standouts, is still growing and evolving as a fighter. The combination of his top-shelf training partners and the unmatched experience of fighting on MMA's biggest stage typically results in dramatic improvements over a short time, and I expect nothing less from Rony Jason. The Brazilian's base is in BJJ (black belt) and kickboxing, yet he's also adept with Judo and his wrestling is coming along nicely. He has a diverse foundation of martial arts skill, and one that makes for an excellent platform to build upon.
At the risk of being anti-climactic, I'll be siding with Jason for my prediction but the yawning spread on the betting lines leads me to believe that folks might be overlooking Wilkinson. For starters, the kid is unbeaten, and he also wields a well-rounded arsenal of weapons: his boxing is good -- he squeezes off tight and on-balance combinations and picks his spots to launch forward with straight and aggressive lefts and rights -- and he can transition very smoothly into fundamentally sound takedown attempts when uncorking his strikes.
Based on his fight with Loughnane, concerns with Wilkinson include his cardio -- he seemed to sputter out a little after his outburst of takedowns and top control in the 1st round -- and his striking defense, as he was successful when pushing the action and leading attacks, but ate some unnecessary leather when Loughnane started to dictate the engagements.
Wilkinson is also a strong and agile featherweight at 5'8" with the chance to out-muscle Jason with his hefty size. However, Jason boasts a monstrous reach length for a featherweight (73"), and the range and leverage of his 6" edge (66" reach for Wilkinson) could help to even the scales.
Since both fighters are adept in the key categories of striking, wrestling and submission grappling, I feel the ebb and flow will be dictated by whomever is able to find the means to impose any of those skills. Of course, that holds true for any match up but, since there is really no glaring advantage for either combatant, they'll both look to draw from their extensive toolbox to enforce any attribute that will shift the momentum in their favor. This means that the lesser pronounced or secondary qualities, such as footwork, feints, set ups, timing, instincts and Fight I.Q., will be greatly emphasized.
And Rony Jason seems to have the strongest grasp on applying those auxiliary traits in order to maximize his cardinal attributes. I expect a surprisingly competitive opening stanza, wherein Wilkinson could vault to an early lead with well-timed takedowns and methodical top control. In fact, the takedown battle is the aspect with the most potential to set the tone of the fight, as the back-and-forth encounters should be closely contested and takedowns, regardless of efficacy, often hold the most sway in a round. Keep your eyes on Wilkinson here, who has a decent chance to play spoiler.
My Prediction: Rony Jason by decision.