The featherweights take center stage in the first half UFC Fight Night 26 with a pair of fights that won't set the world on fire, but that should nonetheless deliver.
History Lesson: MMA moves so fast, that despite trying to make this my dayjob, I honestly forget that some fighters are even on the roster. Take our current WEC Featherweight Champion, for example....wait...the WEC doesn't exist anymore? What? He got knocked out by Manny Gamburyan??
You get the picture. Though Brown is coming off two wins, he's only 2-2 in the UFC, and hasn't felt relevant despite a well-earned title that saw him overcome the relentless assault of Urjiah Faber, who continues to dazzle us with his California flair.
It's difficult to say where it all went wrong, but the 37 year old from Portland, Maine has plenty of mileage on his body. He's had to battle numerous injuries throughout his career.
Siler has had a drastically shorter career; a career that began on The Ultimate Fighter where he gained casual viewer fandom by getting the toughest fight just to get on the show when he was paired up with MMA veteran Micah Miller. A point the show emphasized with glee. Since then he's gone 4-1 in the UFC.
What both men can do: Despite starting his career out as a highlight reel for Genki Sudo in one of the slickest back control takeovers you'll ever see, Brown is a deceptively versatile fighter. While he's a plodding striker, he's got immense power in his right hand. In addition, his ground game is slicker than advertised. Leonard Garcia is a punchline among striking enthusiasts, which happens to be an unfortunate side effect of MMA judges being lunatics, but he's well rounded enough that watching Brown cut up his guard and sinking in an arm triangle should be seen as a reflection of the many ways Brown can threaten an opponent.
"Appearances can be deceptive", Chad Feldheimer once eloquently intoned. And so it goes with Steven Siler. He doesn't look imposing, but he has a rugged game that has served him well thus far. Siler is your traditional jack-of-all-trades type, but what I like most about Siler's game is that he's a tall fighter that doesn't need to jab just to emphasize how well one can take advantage of reach. He takes a very square stance when striking, which is important for taller fighters, and displays some very quick and efficient knees in close. While most of his wins are by submission, I wouldn't call that the best part of his game, but it does illustrate how crafty he is when the fight goes to the ground, as he has solid back control, and a suave guillotine.
What both men can't do: With that said, he's less capable on the ground from his back. While he's got a slick triangle, it's not something he should rely on against Brown. In addition, he's too eager to throw knees inside, which means someone like Brown might success dirty boxing him. It's not something I'd bet on, but something to watch out for. While I think Siler deserves praise for some of his ability on the feet, his chin has yet to prove its durability. Sure Brandao, and Mendes hit hard, but so does Brown.
Brown, however, can be picked apart on the feet. It's a testament to his limitations that Faber was able to adapt and score points on the feet minus one hand in their rematch. While it was a brilliant display of adaptation on Faber's part, it was also a revelation of Brown's deficiencies. Nam Phan had no problem scoring big on the feet.
X-Factor: Ever since Masakzu Imanari tore apart Brown's leg, Mike has had to deal with some sort of injury. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brown look lethargic, and sluggish. Brown has the tools to win on paper. He has the wrestling to get it to the ground, the striking to threaten and defend, and the submissions to counter Siler's offense, but will his body and mind to up to the task?
Brown did not look great against Pineda, or Phan; in fact, I was more impressed with Pineda and Phan than I was with Brown in both cases. While I think Siler will lose the first round, I think he can use his range to defend takedowns better as the fight goes on, leaving Brown to get increasingly picked apart on the feet from outside. The other x-factor is the judges; this is exactly the kind of fight prone to Cecil People-ian skullduggery.
Prediction: Steven Siler by Unanimous Decision.
History Lesson: Brandao began his career like a lot of TUF contestants; getting drunk for the cameras, and revealing his masculinity with his fists bongo-drumming his chest. Having said that, he beat Dennis Bermudez in one of the better TUF Finale bouts ever, and has proven himself a solid FW since then, losing only to Darren Elkins.
Pineda has had some tough opposition for an unknown, drawing Antonio Carvalho and Mike Brown early on his short UFC tenure, but with 3 victories on the octagon thus far. His last victory got him SOTN bonus money as he took out Justin Lawrence with a beautiful kimura early in the first round.
What both men can do: Brandao is as high-octane a competitor as it gets. His short fuse is a decent representation of how he fights in the cage. He's managed to translate his hatred of doors into the cage, where he fires punches and kicks with reckless abandon. A good arsenal of knees (particularly the flying variety), and a talented ground game allow him to take the chances he does.
The reason I'm being brief with Brandao's talents is that I feel like he's a lot like Pineda. Pineda is only a slightly less restrained version of Diego; both are guys who possess a fluidity in all facets in the game, but it's Pineda who I think might be a slightly better technician. His ability to double up the jab, and mix in combinations with high kicks makes him a threat similar to a Rafael dos Anjos type; fighters who aren't world beaters, but that tend to be sleepers in the division. However, I have to concentrate on...
What both men can't do: Their porous defense. Brandao seems almost eager to get punched in the face, whereas Pineda is just technically deficient. One of the things I didn't like from Pineda in the Mike Brown fight was watching him throw strikes focused on quantity rather than quality. If he fought even just slightly more intelligent, he might not have gassed. Throwing one too many punches with little to no-power is not how you beat Diego.
X-Factor: It's quite possible that Brandao's fists are where you can find his occipital lobes. Pineda may not be a power punches, but accuracy is more important in this sport, and it's not like Pineda won't find his target given how he fights. I know I'm harping too much on Brandao's defense, or lackthereof, but it's impossible to underemphasize.
I wouldn't say it's enough to not pick here though. Like I said...if Pineda can weather the initial storm, expect this to be FOTN-level action. Hell, even FOTY-level action. It's that good stylistically. But I feel like Pineda's lack of power will let Brandao's aggression on the feet to take over with a bout-ending punch.
Prediction: Diego Brandao by TKO, round 2.