The latest UFC on FOX might not have MMA fans satisfied given its lack of star power, but the main card promises blistering action. In fact, I'll predict that the main card will deliver some of the best MMA action of the year. As usual, the same can't be said for the Zuckerberg portion of the card (though to be fair, these two fights are better than usual).
When Aaron Riley made his debut, Murilo Bustamante defended his UFC Middleweight crown by beating Matt Lindland twice in one fight. That's long enough to shake even the sturdiest of memories. Riley made quite the debut, refusing to go down in a slugfest with a then undefeated prospect in Robbie Lawler.
It's been Riley's calling card ever since. He's a journeyman whose journey never seems to end, despite his reckless style. He's taken steps to be a little less reckless, and reaped the rewards as a result. In the meantime he's become the resident good guy, beating the Hoelzer Reich-sponsered Joe Brammer, and the abrasive TUF 8 vodka villain Shane Nelson.
Riley's coming off a loss to Tony Ferguson, where his jaw was broken and the fight had to be stopped; which isn't the first time. His opponent is Justin Salas, who has an official wikipedia page.
What both men can do: Riley's strength is his boxing. But he's evolved over the years, utilizing inside elbows on the feet, and becoming the 'overall package'; which basically means he's gone from brawler to wrestle-boxer. I'm simplifying Riley's game, however, which is unfair. I hate using such an arbitrary, abstract quality like "experience", but Riley has that in spades. Where usually 'experience' is a synonym for 'has lost a lot but still inexplicably has a job in the UFC', Riley actually seems to have used that experience to grow in spite of the odds.
Salas doesn't do a whole lot well, but his conservative style usually leaves him in a good position to capitalize on opponent's mistakes. He doesn't throw many punches, but he has a snapping, and very sneaky lead right hook. He's also solid on the ground from top control in the way he's able to dish out punishment.
What both men can't do: Salas' problem is that he's often too content to establish distance with nothing but a sinister stare. He doesn't have an active jab, and while he counters well, he's still the kind of fighter who gets punished for not 'controlling the octagon'.
For Riley, I don't have much to say in terms of what he can't do. One of Riley's key strengths is his ability to sneak in brutal knees to the face in the clinch. I feel like this fight will see more ground scrambles. Riley can't just wing punches because for all of Salas' faults, he chambers his counters quickly, and has a particularly brutal hook to the body, which he used to great effect against the touted prospect Joe Ellenberger. Riley scrambles well, and should take this one to a decision.
There's an X-Factor? If MMA were science, we'd still be talking about phlogistons. It's with this in mind that I'm devoting analysis to some unforeseen "x-factor". This is the section where I successfully predict Anderson Silva will feign a fish dance, only to do a real one while his head gets dribbled off the canvas. Things like that.
Unfortunately the x-factor here is Riley's jaw. It's been broken twice, officially (following his Spencer/Ferguson fights). You're not gonna convince me it wasn't broken during the Lawler fight. If it happens again, expect the doctor's to play a role; a role they've played on three separate occasions during a Riley bout in the UFC.
Prediction: Aaron RIley by Decision.
John Albert is the BW Dan Hardy: living proof that all you need to do is !JUST BLEED!, and Dana won't have a problem keeping you on the roster despite having lost three in a row in the UFC, all within the first round.
To be fair, he's a skilled fighter who has had a very tough BW schedule: the crafty Ivan Menjivar, the upstart Erik Perez, and the once-contender Scott Jorgensen. His opponent, Yaotzin Meza is better than his baptism by bazooka against Chad Mendes would indicate.
What both men can do: Albert is a sturdy, large BW who does a lot of things well. He's aggressive, always mixes his punches with his kicks, and is seamless in the ground transitions. Meza is surprisingly similar, all things considered. The difference is that he has no power in his hands, and isn't much of a finisher despite some very fluid movement on the ground. He has a pretty good check (?) left hook that he looks to start the exchanges with, which can be dangerous for fighters who don't set up their takedowns well.
What both men can't do: Albert sets up his takedowns well when wants to. Albert has shown to be a defensive liability in the grappling department; unless you fought Roger Gracie, Jacare, and Braulio Estima back to back to back, not even quality of competition explains three first round submission losses. Albert needs to focus on defending submissions.
X-Factor: Despite Meza's faults, his back control is quality; he's adept at maintaining position during scrambles and should fight like hell to get it if he can. I don't expect it to happen because I think Albert's pressure on the feet will be enough, but this is where Albert loses if he does.
Prediction: John Albert by TKO.