Mike Pyle vs. T.J. Waldburger (UFC 170) Welterweight
When we last left our heroes...When we last left Mike Pyle, he was nursing his wounds and experiencing defeat in a fashion eerily similar to his destruction in Universal Soldier (likely mumbling the same last words to Matt Brown at UFC Fight Night 26 as well).
It was an odd departure from Pyle's resume, who had racked up big wins since 2010 from John Hathaway to Ricardo Almeida to Rick Story.
Pyle continues to play the part of the gatekeeper who does his job just a little too well. Not only do prospects worry about seeing his name mentioned at Joe Silva meetings, but even Joe Silva himself is probably wary of when to properly use Pyle.
This is an interesting bit of matchmaking when you think about it. Both men are like matter and antimatter. Waldburger is a prospect who can't stay consistent while Pyle is the veteran who can't stay consistent yet both seem to lose spectacularly when they do.
It's a tough fight for Waldburger who I think the UFC feels has reached his potential, more or less, and now it's sink or swim. Pyle has proven he deserves a steady UFC career. TJ is still looking for his moment. A win over Pyle would be the logical next step for a fighter that seems to ooze potential.
What both men can do: Faux analysts like myself always use abstract phrases like "good in the scramble" and bla bla bla. Well what the hell does that actually mean? If I couldn't rely on the better intelligence of others, I would sum it up as the ability to maintain or reverse position when said position is threatened. Thankfully I have T.P. Grant to actually explain this in detail.
Grant covers his bouts with Jake Hecht and Mike Stumpf, articulating well TJ's ability to predict the escape, and therefore plot the next move. This is something even well trained grapplers just aren't able to do in mixed martial arts. It's one thing to understand the mechanics. It's another to apply them amidst the unique frenetic pace in this sport, which is why Marcelo Garcia was such an MMA bust.
This is TJ at his best. He's not an awful striker, but he's a large WW who nonetheless retains all the speed of a LW. Pyle is different. He has similar killer instincts, but his striking serves him best despite having as many submissions victories as Waldburger has wins.
He's a savage in close quarters with his knees, but he excels at fighting for takedowns with a variety of weapons at his disposal while complimenting his grappling with heavy right hands when possible.
Offensively, he's a gifted grappler with excellent movement on the bottom and on top.
What both men can't do: However, he's a defensive liability. This is one of the things that always kept Pyle out of elite status. He seems to fight to the level of his opposition. It's just plain weird to see the same guy with wins over Story and Hathaway get blasted by Brock Larson and Rory Markham (you could argue there was an element of "flukishness" to both, which I would argue in response as being ridiculous).
TJ winning this fight wouldn't surprise me one bit. He has that exact same style that sometimes exploits Pyle's lack of discipline and maturity (which only seems questionable on occasion) in the cage: high octane grappling in an underdog shell. People are expecting Pyle to walk through TJ, and I just don't see it.
Then again TJ has his own MMA skeletons in the closet, losing to Ricardo Funch and all. Despite Pyle's resume, I feel like this is a coin flip bout. Mike can land a big enough punch in this fight to put TJ down. But since I'm feeling frisky, I see this as a Brock Larson redux: Pyle is more than willing to engage Waldburger and the two get into a Sakuraba vs. Newton level grappling exchange with TJ getting his hand raised for the upset.
X-Factor: The real question, what kind of fight would have to take place in order for TJ to take advantage of those scrambles? Pyle won't be afraid to go the ground, so Waldburger will get his looks. I actually (mostly) believe in this outcome not because Waldburger is better, but because I don't think he has to force the fight into a scramble fest; Pyle will willingly give him those opportunities.
In-Fight Soundtrack: The outcome of this bout will tell us Anything 'Cept The Truth.
Prediction: TJ Waldburger by RNC, round 3.