The Line Up
Today we're gonna get right down to business. UFC 177 was a horror movie. And just like horror movies, there's value amidst the gruesome excess even within the worst of them. We thought we were getting Brett Ratner, and instead received Ruggero Deodato. This card is much better on paper. And so it goes with the undercard.
To give you an idea, there are 95 Wins, and 31 Losses between the eight fighters listed above for a win percentage of 75%. Among those 95 wins are 32 submissions and 25 TKO/KO's for a 60% finishing rate among this 'hateful eight'. Underdogs are Damm at +450. Camozzi at +140. Matsuda at +325. And Soriano at +185.
Controversies, Imagined and Otherwise
Chas Skelly is fresh off a win against Tom Niinimaki at the Henderson vs. dos Anjos card, which will be exactly 14 days by the time Skelly steps into the cage this weekend.
Am I the only lunatic that kind of has a problem with this? I know the justification. Skelly was only in the cage for a little over two minutes, and was medically cleared after the fact. However, this completely ignores everything that constitutes a fighter's ecosphere. Nobody monitors a fighter's health during camp. The accumulation of punishment during training is, at least I would imagine, significant enough to keep fighters from fighting less than a month at a time. Maybe I'm just falling under some sort of feminist frequency spell, and Anita Sarkeesian is telling me subliminally that fighter safety matters when it's only peripheral, but I kind of have a problem with this. But only kind of.
Iaquinta and Damm are both fascinating fighters to me. They're not elite by any stretch, but both possess qualities that make them more interesting than your average undercarder. Both guys are coming off losses (Iaquinta to Mitch Clarke, Damm to Rashid Magomedov) that I think a good amount of fans picked them to win.
Damm has an incredibly stacked resume with names like Gilbert Melendez, Jorge Masvidal, Maximo Blanco, and Antonio Carvalho. His stint on the Ultimate Fighter Brazil proved that he didn't belong, but in a good way. He's well rounded, but not in a traditional way. His jiu jitsu is well above average, and if you're wondering how he got submitted by Eiji Mitsuoka, then you should watch the actual fight. Not to excuse the actual loss, said bout is a good example of what limits him. Damm is the jiu jitsu version of Ramsey Nijem: just porous defense on the feet. He keeps a wide base, except instead of tucking his arms in close he leaves them hanging. This is why the two best strikers he's faced straight blitzed him (the comical stoppage against Masvidal notwithstanding).
And that's why I suspect Iaquinta will win. Rodrigo has managed to shore up some of his shortcomings on the feet, along with some of his cardio problems of years past, but Al is a fairly unique beast on the feet. He utilizes a lot of movement, lateral and otherwise. He has a solid right hand to compliment his swiftness of foot. Still, if this match is competitive for anything it's that Iaquinta has lost all of his bouts by submission, which Damm is very very good at. At those odds, you'd be crazy not to be tempted.
Rafael Natal (17-6-1) and Chris Camozzi (19-8): now this is an undercard bout. And I mean that in the best, and worst way possible. Both guys are good journeyman, but like all journeyman, you've got to give them the right matchups to keep them here. Natal lost his last two to Ed Herman and Tim Kennedy, while Camozzi lost his last three to Bruno Santos, Lorenz Larkin and Ronaldo Souza.
Both men were scheduled to face off at one point last year. For Camozzi, this would have been the fight in place of his Jacare bout, but Jacare's then opponent, Costantinos Philippou, got injured. Camozzi seemed like a TUFer with more to offer than your usual frat pack, racking up some solid wins that included a four fight winning streak over guys like Nick Ring, Luiz Cane, and Nick Catone. Natal is the underachiever to Camozzi's overachiever. Natal flat out lost to hubris against Andrew Craig.
It's hard to say how this fight plays out. Natal is the simple pick. Simply put, athleticism is the great equalizer, and Natal is simply the better athlete. When he chambers a leg kick, those kicks either land quickly, or miss quickly. When he chambers a punch, they either land quickly, or miss quickly. Camozzi is tough, and durable but still prone to submissions. Natal's cardio problems are less evident, but they still linger every now and then. Expect Natal's searing leg kicks to take over.
At 29 years of age, and a 9-0 record, it's hard to call Chris Beal a prospect, but it doesn't make some of us any less excited. His flying knee knockout over Patrick Williams was simply incredible. Flying knee KO's provide some of the best images in the sport, but some are either missing too much of the "flying" or too much "knee". Rarely do we see a fighter soar through the air like he's wearing Mario's Tanooki Suit.
But that's what Beal offered us that night. In the other corner is Tateki 'Tech' Matsuda out of Team Sityodtong. At 10-5, you quickly understand why he's such a massive underdog. When you watch him, you understand further. Matsuda is a decent fighter. He's got good combinations, and throws with authority along with volume which can kind of mask his lack of power. But Beal's high octane offense will prove to be too much. With that said, Beal is not a lock by any stretch. For as wonderful as his combinations are in conjunction with his footwork (love his ability to throw moving forward and backward all in one sequence), his takedown defense is still lacking. Granted, Sirwan Kakai is actually a decent fighter (the man he beat in the sudden death round to get into the TUF house), but Beal needs to show he work his magic on the feet when his opponent is more worried about putting him on his back, otherwise we may be looking at a Bantamweight Lorenz Larkin.
Finally we have our first bout of the evening, with Chas Skelly (12-1) against Sean Soriano (8-1). Soriano was the fighter last seen giving Tatsuya Kawajiri his first win in the Octagon. Skelly pulled off what I think was a modest upset against Niinimaki. As one of our diligent, participatory readers pointed out, maybe we simply underestimated Skelly's opponent, Mirsad Bektic, who may be better than we think.
Skelly enters the favorite over the Blackzilian product. I wouldn't ignore Soriano completely. Normally I justify this statement by saying that Kawajiri is a brilliant opponent, but Kawajiri looked awful. Completely desperate and predictable takedowns with barely any strikes (from a guy whose gone to war with Gomi and Alvarez in slugfests) to conceal them, all saved by his still elite grappling. Instead I'll justify that statement by looking at what Soriano did right. He's aggressive on the feet, with very good movement, and some pop in his strikes. He will absolutely pressure Skelly when he wants, but Skelly's ability to get the fight to the ground, and finish him will be the difference just as it was for Kawajiri.