When we last left our heroes...John Howard began his now 22-8 career with the image of a knockout artist. That image is now long and forgotten. This is Howard's second run in the UFC. He got cut after losing three in a row. His losses at the time were to Jake Ellenberger, Thiago Alves, and Matt Brown. "Damn Joe...."
The UFC matchmakers have been a bit more kind to him lately. Kind enough to put him on the main card despite his last two bouts, particularly his fight against Uriah Hall, being highly polarizing.
LaFlare is an interesting fighter to be 10-0 at 30 years of age, undefeated in the UFC, and undefeated overall (obviously). He's not a guy who made some noise on TUF, but as a fixture for Long Island MMA, his trainers have a strong belief in his ability to make some noise in the deep WW division.
This is a good paper bout for two guys that will end up with gatekeeper status in the division who prospects and contenders would prefer to not meet at the gates.
What both men can do: Howard earned a reputation for having big power in his hands, and no matter how many times he goes to an uneventful decision, that ability won't change. Howard isn't a great boxer, but he flurries well in close, and is fast enough to put you in the hurt locker with a big right hand.
However, his vaunted power is really just an excuse to get the fight to the ground. In the UFC, he takes a more blue collar approach to each bout, looking to out attrition his opponent than to steamroll them. For fighters he don't make much money, it's hard to blame them. After all, winning is more important to job security, and it's not like UFC contracts guarantee you a certain amount of fights even in victory. Still, it's better than garnering a pinkslip by fighting like a maniac and guaranteeing yourself three losses in a row. Inch by inch...that's a Howard fight in a nutshell.
As for LaFlare, this feels like a good matchup for him. He's a beast in the clinch, is always looking to close distance, and looks for hooks in close quarters while putting himself in the body lock transition towards the ground. Despite winning all of his UFC bouts by Decision, he's fairly gifted in the grappling department. He knows when to take a chance for the submission and when not to.
What both men can't do: Both guys don't have any glaring flaws. In this day and age, that's a problem in and of itself, but since they're not specialists, it won't be a problem here.
For LaFlare I suspect he'll run into trouble when he has to deal with a real striking specialist who can keep his distance on the feet, and pick him apart from the outside. Howard is definitely not that. This could be an awful fight from an entertainment perspective, to be frank. Not because both guys won't try but because their definition of trying means incremental advantages at a time.
Howard's problem is that when he's inactive, he's a pylon. Activity doesn't have to mean constant punching and takedown attempage. Diego Sanchez is highly active and his ineffectiveness is directly proportional to his level of activity. The more active, the easier he is to beat. Howard is the antimatter version of that.
Nonetheless, he's still the quicker fighter on the feet, and should he land shots on LaFlare, could slowly take over the fight. I kind of like LaFlare in this one because he wastes little movement inside the clinch, but expect this one to be competitive, and close where it might end up on a judge's highlight reel of painfully stupid decisions.
Odds and Ends: No matter what the odds, fights like these are always the kind that directly lead to strokes, aneurysms, and other forms of rage induced head trauma.
Why? Because the winner won't always convince the judges who Dana has left in the fighter's hands. Howard is a +290 and that's an awesome bet. He's a tough guy and won't be easily bullied by LaFlare's clinchwork. Still...
Prediction: Ryan LaFlare by Decision.