After some surprisingly entertaining mixed martial arts action this past weekend at UFC 120, the Zuffa machine forges ahead, bringing us another great card featuring a main event heavyweight title showdown between current UFC champion Brock Lesnar and #1 contender Cain Velasquez. UFC 121 will take place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California on Saturday, October 23rd, and it will feature two free preliminary match-ups that will air live on Spike TV one hour before the 10 PM EST start of the pay-per-view broadcast.
We'll scrutinize the main card showdowns throughout the rest of the week, but first -- here's a lengthy look at the UFC 121 preliminary card.
Middleweight: Court McGee (12-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Ryan Jensen (15-6, 2-4 UFC): The Ultimate Fighter season eleven winner will get his first taste of action following his finale victory over Kris McCray back in June as he battles veteran middleweight submission artist Ryan Jensen in the headlining bout of Spike TV's free preliminary broadcast. During the show, McGee defeated veteran Seth Baczynski to gain entry into the house, and later defeated James Hammortree and Brad Tavares to secure his spot to vie for the title of season winner.
Jensen has been fairly busy in the last two years after he returned from a year-long layoff after losing to Wilson Gouveia at UFC Fight Night 15. He defeated Steve Steinbeiss in his return at UFC Fight Night 19 via guillotine choke, but ran into powerful ground and pound abilities of Mark Munoz at UFC 108, losing in the first round. Four months later, he submitted Jesse Forbes in a Submission of the Night effort.
Normally, I'd expect McGee to come into this fight with a gameplan of tying up his opponent and securing an early takedown, but Jensen's submission ability, specifically his prowess in securing guillotine chokes, could hinder that sort of strategy. Instead, I'm more inclined to believe McGee will use his boxing background to keep this fight on the feet and strike with Jensen, a proposition that's much more favorable for him.
Don't count out Jensen, however, as he does work out with many major training camps such as Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico and Team Quest. His ground skills will be his strength here, but McGee is very tough to put on his back. While I'm not overly confident that McGee's striking will be good enough to crush Jensen within the three round limit, I think he'll edge out Jensen on his way to decision victory.
Middleweight: Patrick Cote (13-6, 4-6 UFC) vs. Tom Lawlor (6-3-0-1, 2-2 UFC): In the opening bout of the free Spike TV broadcast, former UFC middleweight contender Patrick Cote will aim to put behind him a failed attempt at a return to the Octagon as he meets The Ultimate Fighter season eight contestant Tom Lawlor. As most fans recall, Cote met current champion Anderson Silva in October of 2008 at UFC 90. While many fans felt he wasn't a legitimate challenger to the crown, he did manage to last longer than most of Silva's past victims by making it to the third round. Unfortunately, he injured his right knee after landing awkwardly, ending his night and putting his career on hiatus for a year and a half.
His return was disastrous however. Facing Alan Belcher at UFC 113, Cote repeatedly ate body and leg kicks in the first round, and was then tossed to the ground, nearly knocking him out. Belcher transitioned to the back and submitted Cote via rear naked choke. While there was some debate as to whether the slam was illegal or not, it certainly wasn't a great showing for a former contender.
Lawlor is truly a step down the ladder for Cote, but Lawlor has had some gutsy performances in the Octagon. He lost a very close, highly entertaining war against Aaron Simpson at UFC Fight Night 20, and lost to Joe Doerksen in a miraculous come-from-behind effort. While Lawlor certainly could be 2-0 in those match-ups, he'll need to show that he can improve and learn from the mistakes of those failures.
This is definitely an interesting fight. A cursory glance would suggest that a former contender blasts through a TUF contestant like Lawlor, but knocking out Kendall Grove and Drew McFedries while narrowing defeating Ricardo Almeida doesn't seem as impressive as it was in 2008. Almeida was, after all, only performing in his second fight since leaving the sport for nearly four years.
Cote has proven that he has the hands to be a threat on the feet, but Lawlor has also proven that he can take a beating and continue to be a pest. Lawlor's pace can be relentless, but he has had conditioning problems. It'll be interesting to see what the pace is like and whether either of these guys gives out quicker than the other. If I were a betting man, and I am, I'd believe Lawlor is much more likely to give out, but that's normally because he goes for the kill when it presents itself. The question is... can he finish Cote if that opportunity presents itself? I actually like Lawlor in a spoiler effort here, but the safe bet is Cote. Pick your poison.
Welterweight: Mike Guymon (12-3-1, 1-1 UFC) vs. Daniel Roberts (10-1, 1-1 UFC): Grapplers clash in this welterweight showdown as Mike "The Joker" Guymon meets Cesar Gracie student Daniel Roberts in the lone welterweight dark match on the UFC 120 preliminary card. Guymon recently staved off termination from the UFC as he sent Yoshiyuki Yoshida packing in a decision win at UFC 113 while Roberts narrowly defeated Forrest Petz at UFC 116.
Guymon is by far the superior grappler in this match-up while Roberts has had success in the lower divisions of grappling tournaments as he steadily progresses toward possibly obtaining a black belt in the future. He's nowhere near there yet on paper, but a NAIA All-American wrestling background certainly gives him a step up on the competition when it comes to control from the top. Ultra-powerful and explosive, Roberts will be a tough customer for Guymon to break on the ground, but he has the grappling acumen to win via submission.
I'd be lying if I wasn't leaning toward Guymon here due to his grappling ability, but Roberts hasn't truly shown his form in the Octagon just yet. He had some problems with Forrest Petz' defense in their battle back in July, and Guymon had equal trouble actually putting Yoshida into submission danger in their tilt. Both guys can improve, although Guymon did positionally dominate Yoshida at times. I'm gonna go with Roberts though. I think his wrestling and relentless takedown attacks will wear out Guymon over the course of three rounds.
Lightweight: Sam Stout (15-6-1, 4-5 UFC) vs. Paul Taylor (10-5-1-1, 3-5 UFC): Stout should be the victor in this classic striker showdown on Saturday night. While he'll never battle for a top spot in the division, Stout has solid hands and good footwork. Taylor should provide a challenge with his kickboxing, but I expect Stout to move forward and pepper Taylor, edging him via decision.
Middleweight: Chris Camozzi (13-3, 1-0 UFC) vs. Dongi Yang (9-0, 0-0 UFC): I'm not exactly sure how well Yang will look in his transition stateside, but he does have the power in his hands to make it rather interesting in his debut against Camozzi. Camozzi's 6'3" frame in combination with his submission ability should be a nice advantage in this fight, and it really makes me believe he'll win. Unfortunately, "The Mongolian Wolf" proved me wrong at WEC 51 in an almost similar type of fight. Yang's power intrigues me, so I'll go with him over Camozzi. I'll throw a bit a dough on Camozzi though as I think he's a solid underdog bid here.
Heavyweight: Gilbert Yvel (36-15-1-1, 0-2 UFC) vs. Jon Madsen (6-0, 3-0 UFC): Yvel has been a sloppy mess in the UFC, and Madsen's wrestling should humble him once again and send him packing.