Our shared penchant to behold an array of choice face-punching will be sated mid-week in the form of Wednesday's UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Kampmann 2 from Indianapolis, Indiana. The show's namesake is a long awaited rematch between top welterweight contenders Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann, which helms the six-fight main card on Fox Sports 1 with a start time of 8:00 p.m. ET. Lightweights Donald Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos hold down the co-main event while TUF alums Brad Tavares and Bubba McDaniel will lead off the featured card.
When the cast for season 17 of "The Ultimate Fighter" (TUF) was announced, Bubba McDaniel (21-6) was considered by many as the favorite to win due to his respectable level of experience, well-rounded abilities and propensity to finish his wins convincingly (16 subs, 4 TKO's, 1 decision). Unfortunately for the Jackson's MMA rep, he was overshadowed by eventual winner Kelvin Gastelum, who choked out McDaniel after each won their elimination match, and the heavily hyped Uriah Hall, who vanquished him with a nine-second TKO after McDaniel scored the wildcard rebirth and submitted Kevin Casey.
Despite being forced into a seat behind those two standouts, McDaniel's attributes give him a decent chance to stay afloat in the UFC: he's one of the tallest middleweights in the division at 6'3", his kickboxing is technical and effective, his submission savvy is reflected in his fight record and he has a strong grasp of the myriad intangibles that inexperienced TUF competitors struggle for years to get comfortable with.
But the days of TUF candidates enjoying the luxury of developing gradually against mediocre competition are long gone. Hawaiian Brad Tavares (10-1) is, at the least, a dark horse in the division if not one of the most consummately overlooked prospects in the game. The 25-year-old first appeared on TUF 11, and a win over Seth Baczynski by Disqualification (illegal soccer kick) and tapping to season winner Court McGee's rear-naked choke didn't really establish Tavares as anyone out of the ordinary.
His post-TUF run did, however. As of now, Tavares stands at 5-1 in the Octagon and his sole flaw, a decision loss to Aaron Simpson, who was content to throw short and ineffectual strikes while holding Tavares on the cage, didn't really detract from his overall potential. If anything, it showed that the young and inexperienced striker had the takedown defense to affect a stalemate with a two-time Division 1 All-American wrestler.
Tavares is strong and athletic with great instincts. Striking wise, he's mostly a boxer with passable technique and exceptional power, and his physicality, infighting and well-timed knees give him a mean clinch game. Though his overall tenure in MMA, especially his finishing rate (4 TKO's, 2 subs, 4 decisions), pales in comparison to Bubba's, Tavares has spent over half of his embryonic career tangling with UFC-level competition whereas McDaniel's really getting his first taste.
To expound on my previous statement about McDaniel's experience and firm grasp of intangibles -- the man stays calm and composed at all times, focusing on the proper fundamentals to manage each individual scenario. For example, he stays poised when crammed against the fence and has shown the key ingredients of takedown defense, such as getting a low, wide base with good head position, utilizing the whizzer effectively, alternating between choke attempts and underhooks based on his opponent's actions and staying busy with a wide array of close-range strikes including knees, punches and elbows.
Though he has the lengthy stature and striking that's ideal for a defensive counter-puncher, McDaniel likes to bide his time and then wade forward with snapping combinations, but does so with excellent control and balance, which allows him to smoothly change gears and defend takedowns if necessary. It wouldn't be outlandish to construe McDaniel as a striking specialist if you've only seen his TUF sequence, but latching on an admirable 16 submissions in 21 fights speaks to his laudable diversity.
Formerly, Tavares employed his wrestling to stay afoot and work his striking, but he's been pursuing offensive takedowns recently, which opens up a brand new avenue of offense for him and gives defenders more to be concerned with. Being mostly a "hands guy" with almost a traditional boxing stance, Tavares is absent of any distance weapons and the extended lead leg from his closed stance is a prime target for low kicks (a regularly used weapon in McDaniel's arsenal).
Both of Tavares' submission wins are rear-naked chokes so, on paper, it'd seem that McDaniel has a substantial edge there. The catch is that Tavares' commanding cage presence rarely puts him in a position that's conducive to submission attacks. Since McDaniel is a southpaw and Tavares stands orthodox, the mini chess match to dictate the striking centerline will ensue. This is commonly addressed with lead-foot position, but Michael Johnson's crisp, straight combinations and in-and-out movement exemplifies that there's more to it than lead-foot position. That is an aspect, however, in which McDaniel's experience will serve him well.
The finely crafted strategies and advisement from Greg Jackson and company always deserves a mention, though Tavares has been laboring away at Xtreme Couture since his reality show birth and should come in comparably prepared. Both fighters clock an impressive reach measurement at 75" (Bubba) and 74" (Tavares). Still, despite the near equality of their reach, Tavares clearly prefers toe-to-toe range while McDaniel is comfortable at any distance, and would be wise to exploit Tavares' inside-only tendencies with a motion-based fringe striking approach.
I see this fight as a little more competitive than the landslide betting odds for Tavares, who is the biggest favorite on the entire card. McDaniel probably can't match the sheer strength and wrestling of Tavares, but he's more dynamic overall, a true technician and intelligently aggressive.
Personally, I think McDaniel's insistence to finish fights is a habit that needs breaking. Tavares is a great example of why: he has a great chin, he's durable as hell, he's never been finished, and he's simply not the type to make mistakes and get run over as a result. Rather than attempt to overwhelm such a robust opponent, McDaniel will have to rely more on his measured aggression and calculating offense in order to find the right time and position to unload his weaponry. A good starting point would be to establish his range with long jabs and low kicks, then look to carefully commit to more meaningful strikes when Tavares is subsequently relegated to charging in to shrink the gap.
I'm on board with Tavares here. He's tough to move around and control, he hits hard and shakes off punches eerily well. Points of concern for the Hawaiian include his entries and maintaining a semblance of defense when he's squeezing the trigger on the feet, and making sure to respect the activity and effectiveness of McDaniel's grappling, even when he's on his back.
My Prediction: Brad Tavares by TKO.