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UFC 161: Ryan Jimmo vs. Igor Pokrajac Dissection

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Staff fight nerd Dallas Winston scopes out the UFC 161 match-up between light-heavyweights Ryan Jimmo and Igor Pokrajac with a preview, analysis and prediction.

Trade'ja a jelly donut if you paint the washroom of Elsinore Brewery my favourite colour, hoser? What's all this aboot, eh? It can only mean that my idea of Canadian dialect is centered solely around the classic flick Strange Brew and the UFC is returning to Canada for UFC 161: Evans vs. Henderson this Saturday, June 15.

The featured fist-fight, Rashad Evans vs. Dan Henderson, is a battle of elite light-heavyweights, while big boys Roy Nelson and Stipe Miocic land the co-main event. The pay-per-view card takes place in Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada, with a 10:00 p.m. ET start time after the preliminary lineups cycle through beforehand on the FX Channel (8:00 p.m. ET) and Facebook (est. 7:00 p.m. ET).

Leading off the pay-per-view festivities is a light-heavyweight scrap pitting Ryan "Real Deal" Jimmo vs. Igor "The Duke" Pokrajac.

Ryan Jimmo (17-2) was finished by 1st-round TKO in his MMA debut at Maximum Fighting Championships (MFC) 11: Gridiron back in 2007 but, though he strayed to other fight leagues in the process, ended up winning his next 17 matches and becoming the MFC light-heavyweight champion. Upon his Octagon debut, the Canadian karateka had been knocked for winning half his fights via decision (8 of his 16 at the time) and, like almost every other noteworthy fighter outside the UFC, for looking good against diluted competition.

The latter critique was in spite of Jimmo facing and defeating former UFCers en route to the big show like Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Wilson Gouveia and Marvin Eastman; even current Bellator light-heavyweight tournament champ Emanuel Newton. The question of whether Jimmo was truly ready for UFC-level competition was answered resoundingly by his thunderous shellacking of Aussie Anthony Perosh at UFC 149, which took a whole 7-seconds to transpire and was the 3rd-fastest KO in UFC history. Though Jimmo flattened him with an early left high kick, James Te Huna brought the streak to screeching halt with a gutty unanimous decision win at UFC on Fuel TV 7 last February.

Igor Pokrajac (25-9) is an no-nonsense brawler out of the Croatian Top Team. As a wrestling-based athlete, Pokrajac helped to prepare his mentor Mirko Filipovic, a K-1 kickboxing crossover, with the grappling aspects of MMA and jumped in the fray shortly after. Pokrajac's pre-UFC record was average but supplemented by a 7-fight win streak that earned him a shot.

Again, "The Duke" started off slow with consecutive losses (Vladimir Matyushenko, James Te Huna) before turning it on by winning 4 (James Irvin, Todd Brown, Krzysztof Soszynski, Fabio Maldonado) of his next 5 (decision loss to Stephan Bonnar). In his most recent outings, he succumbed to an armbar from BJJ phenom Vinny Magalhaes and was the victim of a surprising upset courtesy of former heavyweight Joey Beltran, though the decision was changed to a No Contest when Beltran's post-fight drug test was flagged for a banned substance.

Offensively, Jimmo and Pokrajac are not drastically different. They share the top skills of striking and wrestling, in that order, though Jimmo is more dynamic on the feet as a kickboxer and Pokrajac is mostly a gun-slinging, toe-to-toe boxer. Both are sound wrestlers with the ability to shoot single- or double-leg takedowns from outside, but typically prefer to do battle in the clinch with a combination of control, trip and throw attempts, and effective short-range striking (knees, elbows and dirty boxing).

While neither are incapable here, the realm of submission grappling is not a strong suit. Their grappling efficacy boils down to excellent top-play, replete with knowledge of position, strong ground-and-pound and basic submission skills, but they're not the type to pull guard and go all Aoki. In fact, it's no coincidence that fighting off their backs has gone hand-in-hand with most of their defeats.

Fighting mentality is an aspect standing in sharp contrast: Pokrajac travels in one direction (forward) and at one speed (white knuckle) while unloading a cannonade of close-range punches, often dead-ending his pursuit in the clinch where he persists with more bombs or intermittent takedown attempts. Jimmo is a very calculating and composed strategist who methodically selects the right time and position to explode with offense. Since Pokrajac, for the most part, keeps the trigger squeezed from bell to bell, Jimmo's cerebral style affords better defense and less of a chance to find himself in an unfavorable position.

Since it's been pivotal to their success in the past, the takedown war will likely be the most influential factor in this match up. For Pokrajac: Matyushenko (4-1), Te Huna (5-2) and Bonnar (3-0) all rivaled him with takedown prowess; he was even with sub-whiz Magalhaes (1-1) and Beltran was keen to overpower and out-muscle him in standing tie-ups. Te Huna, after getting knocked on his can early, used takedowns and top position to turn the tide in his favor (2-0) in rounds 2 and 3.

My personal take is that Pokrajac's wrestling is very effective against opponents over whom he enjoys either a size, strength or agility advantage. Jimmo, however, gets the check-mark in each of those categories. At a robust 6'2", "Real Deal" is a big, strong and athletic 205er with complete fundamentals in the clinch. When you add in his solid Fight I.Q. and vigilant avoidance of bad decisions and positions, that leaves Pokrajac's obscene punching power as his best path to victory.

Jimmo is an intelligent and technical striker who won't over-commit or sit down on his punches and kicks unless the circumstances are right for it. His judicious and sometimes reserved strike selection is the very reason fans had a few complaints about him, but also the reason why he's enjoying a sizable edge on the betting lines. Jimmo's clinch fortitude, size, agility, and composure tilt the scales in his direction against the shorter and steam-headed brawler.

Pokrajac deserves credit for rightfully attaining the reputation of a balls-out marauder, but doing so without fighting sloppy or leaving gaping holes in his defense. He achieves this by meting out a steady stream of short-arcing wallops, usually big uppercuts and short-arcing hooks with a few semi-straight shots mixed in, with a strong sense of balance and a good stance. Rather than the type of striker who digs his feet in and throws a few home-run blows out in open space, Pokrajac shuffles forward while uncorking a combo or two at a time, all the while adjusting on the fly for his opponent's reactions with angle-changes in his footwork, moderate head movement, and the willingness to lock horns in the clinch in order to stifle any incoming counter-fire.

While that's been a reliable game-plan in the past, my opinion that Jimmo will be a tad stronger and more technical in the clinch takes a big chunk out of Pokrajac's effectiveness and, as mentioned above, really emphasizes putting Jimmo out on the feet as best chance. You can never rule that out with a savage puncher like Pokrajac but, for betting and prediction purposes, it justifies Jimmo's push on the betting lines.

My Prediction: Ryan Jimmo by decision.