The Line Up
Flyweight John Moraga vs. Willie Gates
Women's Strawweight Claudia Gadelha vs. Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Welterweight Joe Riggs vs. Ben Saunders
Lightweight Jamie Varner vs. Drew Dober
Middleweight Derek Brunson vs. Ed Herman
Lightweight Joe Ellenberger vs. Bryan Barberena
Lightweight David Michaud vs. Garret Whiteley
Bantamweight Henry Cejudo vs. Dustin Kimura
Bantamweight Anthony Birchak vs. Ian Entwistle
Moraga -420 / Gates +335
Gadelha -260 / Jedrzejcyk +220
Riggs +195 / Saunders -235
Varner -330 / Dober +270
Brunson -330 / Herman +270
Ellenberger -270 / Berberena +230
Michaud -220 / Whiteley +180
Cejudo -270 / Kimura +230
Birchak -240 / Entwistle +200
3 Things You Should Know
1. A couple of former title contenders are looking to make the most of their gimmie matchups, while some returning once UFC veterans try to steal Dana's blackjack money.
Varner is kind of an odd duck. You almost get the feeling that his talent is hindered less by his mentality, and more by some cosmic force that enjoys torturing the poor man with Murphy's Law. His last two fights ended with the sort of fight ending weirdness we've come to know Varner for. A savage exchange against Trujillo that went from great to dead and an ankle injury that turned his foot into a gurney wheel have taken him to 1-4 in his last 5.
He's still good for a tough outing against most guys in the division, but his career is a collection of x-factors. Still, even Varner and the bad joojoo that surrounds him shouldn't be enough to prevent him from beating Dober, who is already 0-2 in the UFC. Dober is a well rounded fighter who is capable mostly anywhere, but prefers the ground. It'll be competitive for brief stretches, but Varner's right hand left hook to the body are exchanges Dober won't win, nor does he have the pedigree to take Jamie out of his element.
John Moraga is a lot like Varner in that his all around skillset will just never be enough to compete against the premier gatekeepers. Yes, Moraga has fought for a title. So did Patrick Cote. Forrest Griffin even won a title. Legitimately. Divisions experience ebbs and flows like anything else, and Moraga is just a really solid, well rounded fighter who competes in a thin, still growing division. Solid win against Justin Scoggins, but Scoggins needs a few more fights before being given the Charles Oliveira treatment. Gates has been a staple of the Gladiator Challenge series. He's, as they say in stereotype speak, "athletic and explosive" which means the punches come fast thanks to his fast twitch muscle fibers. However, Moraga is a durable flyweight, and should be able to put Gates on his back, who doesn't have stellar takedown defense.
Riggs has taken an interesting career journey from blown up 300lb HW, to potential welterweight contender in 2006, and now here he is in the UFC almost a full decade later after going on a 6 fight win streak. His game is still pretty much intact: very heavy striker, well rounded game in general, and probably won't ever live down his method of defeat to Diego Sanchez many many moons ago. Fighting Killa B feels perfect. It's a rough and tumble matchup against two very aggressive competitors with enough skill to not feel ashamed when watching with boxing snobs.
Saunders is 8-3 since being let go from the UFC. Both men are relatively unchanged. Saunders still excels in the clinch, which is a place Riggs makes his living too. For some reason I thought Riggs was much older than he is, but with 50+ fights, it's only natural to assume. Saunders should be able to land form afar, and scramble for chances against the more plodding Riggs. The grappling should be a major factor, as Riggs is prone to winning conservatively when he needs to but I think Ben has a good pulse on how to counter excessive clinching, and top control.
2. There's a 'somebody's O has got to go' fight, and it happens to be the one involving two female strawweight contenders buried on a TUF Finale that has Yancy Madeiros vs. Joe Proctor taking its place on the main card.
Why two top females are getting matched up on an undercard when any one of the countless TUF reject #1 vs. TUF reject international #2 main card matches could have been removed in their place is beyond me. This fight would be much better than Urbina vs. Garcia on the UFC 180 main card, but whatever. This matchup is pretty nuts, as Gadelha and Joanna are two talented prospects who also happen to be undefeated. It's also a classic matchup of styles. Joanna has a lightning fast stalk and counter kickboxing game that is just a sheer delight to watch. She doesn't have sheer raw power, but it's there. All of her decision wins came against women who collectively have one TKO/KO loss among them.
However, she's fighting the heavy duty ground specialist from Nova Uniao. Gadalha should have trouble getting the fight to the ground. Joanna does a great job of keeping her distance, and it helps that she's never in range for a deep knee tap/double with her counterstriking style. On top of that, she pummels well, but I can't help but suspect that Gadelha will be dogged enough to score the one takedown she really needs.Also, Claudia isn't that bad on the feet. She's quite crisp, actually, but at the same time, she'd be foolish to take her chances against Joanna.
3. A Henry Cejudo sighting will be good enough to pay attention, even if he ends up not making weight. Again. Come for Cejudo. Stay for the Corn Nuts.
Cejudo, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, is as elite a prospect you'll find in MMA. There's a lot to be curious about though. His fight with Scott Jorgensen was canceled because Cejudo was sick, making his list of bad weight cutting and questionable commitment to three in a row. This fight is clearly a "pack up your shit and get out if you don't get it together" situation. However, I expect Henry to deliver. Kimura is a tough opponent, but Cejudo will be able to illustrate what you can do when a single skill set is so well honed that the jack of all trades sensation you face from your typical MMA fighter won't pose a threat.
Cejudo is pretty sharp on the feet as well, it should be noted. He reminds me a lot of Chad Mendes minus the raw power when it comes to his striking. The blueprint is there to develop something much more organic, and varied, but he's looking to work his wrestling first and foremost. I expect Cejudo to do in Flyweight what GSP was doing at welterweight: his wrestling will be dominant because he's an athlete first, freestyle phenom second.
Moraga by Guillotine, round 2.
Gadelha by Split Decision.
Saunders by Decision.
Varner by TKO, round 3.
Brunson by TKO, round 2.
Ellenberger by Decision.
Michaud by Decision.
Cejudo by Decision.
Birchak by TKO, round 1.