Brendan Schaub (9-3) vs. Matt Mitrione (6-2) Heavyweight
When we last left our heroes...The good news is that both men are coming off victories. The bad news is that they're both 1-2 in their last three. Schaub and Mitrione have led exactly the kind of careers you might expect out of two guys promoted as "former professional football players!!" This is the heavyweight division, so the implication isn't derogatory. Both guys are solid heavyweights; in the land of the ataxic the former football player is king, as the saying goes.
In a way, this is a really good fight with some unfortunate matchmaking. Schaub's career is a strange one; he made a name for himself by beating fighters in the twilight of their careers (Filipovic, Gonzaga), only to lose to fighters in the twilight of their careers (Nog, Rothwell). So it's difficult to determine his ceiling.
For Mitrione, nobody expected much from him, but he's made the most out of his TUF experience. He made his professional MMA debut in the UFC, handling the flames, and scalding tarn amidst his baptism just fine. It wasn't until being matched up with Cheick Kongo and Roy Nelson that he stumbled.
Speaking of stumbling, this fight represents one for Joe Silva. Both guys are inexperienced heavyweights with a combined total of 20 professional fights, with a combined five losses between the two. They're solid heavyweights with decent upside who should have received the soft touch rather than the vindictive slap they're getting here. Nonetheless, this should be a good one.
What both men can do: Schaub has primarily earned his reputation as a solid UFC HW by standing up with his opponents. Sometimes you don't need proper mechanics when you've got sheer athleticism. Schaub chambers a quick, strong right hand, and is prone to flickering a none-too-subtle jab. His movement is a real asset on the feet, so as long as he keeps his distance, he can rack up damage.
He can also grapple. No matter what your thoughts of his performance against Roberto Abreu at Metamoris 2, he showed real grit and determination by being in uniform.
Mitrione is likewise, surprisingly technical. Whereas Schaub prefers to rely on being fleet of foot, 'Meathead' has quickly picked up the mechanics of boxing. He throws solid combinations, using his 82 in reach advantage very well. He's also fluid on the ground, with some rather gifted hips, and not just 'for a heavyweight'.
What both men can't do: Nonetheless, there's a reason why both guys are on the verge of the pinkslip match. In the past, Schaub has shown that his willingness to stand could be his undoing. All three of his knockout losses have been sudden, and all three knockouts were full throttle stone-henge rapture squalls. The consequence of this has led to some legitimate modern art.
However, Schaub seems to be aware that his chin won't hold up against some of the Heavyweights in the division, which is why he seemed more than happy to replicate his Metamoris performance against Lavar Johnson.
I don't think he'll drag the fight down (literally) in this fashion, but if he does, Mitrione doesn't have stellar enough takedown defense to stop him. While it's certainly serviceable, aided by the crafty movement off his back, Schaub will get it there if he's determined enough.
Still, there's a chance Matt catches the 'Hybrid'. Schaub's defense on the feet is still pretty ordinary; a flaw made all the more emphatic by the fact that his chin has shown to be crackable. Because Schaub likes to move in and out to defend, there's a good chance Mitrione's speed on the feet could compensate. Mitrione, along with being fast, has pretty good raw power as well. Not sure I'd bank on it
X-Factor: I've already touched on the X-Factor, but it's this; Schaub has lost three fights by brutal knockout. He seems incredibly self-aware as a result. The Lavar Johnson fight could well be a reflection of the fighter he wants to be; a risk-averse GSP-type who looks for victory by exploiting an opponent's weakness rather than impose his strengths.
As someone who has defended Tyron Woodley, I don't necessarily agree with that perception (even that last sentence is confusing to me; how is imposing your strengths any different from exploiting your opponent's flaws?). But it is something that could represent a trend in Schaub's game.
I feel like Schaub has a higher ceiling in this sport than Mitrione, which is partially why I favor Schaub in this fight.
Prediction: Brenden Schaub by Unanimous Decision.