One of the more interesting featherweight bouts pits the old guard versus the new guard this February 21, 2016 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Match Up
Featherweight Dennis Bermudez -340 vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri +280
3 Things You Should Know
1. Bermudez is probably the most dangerous fighter, pound for pound, coming off two consecutive losses in which he was finished.
Bermudez really blossomed after TUF. It seemed like none of the ingredients were there for a top ten fighter in the division save for "is jacked". Even on the show, he seemed too defensively porous to be nothing more than a featherweight Jamie Varner. He's more like a John Lineker in some ways. Perhaps his style is finally catching up to him but I would argue that his losses have been as swingy as some of his wins.
2. Kawajiri has lost several steps, but that still makes him above sea level and his recent fights have displayed as much.
I had to do a double take at Kawajiri's record. He's 3-1 in the UFC, but it feels like he's lost more. Perhaps because it's easy to lump his UFC record in with his Strikeforce one, which was, for lack of a better word, embarrassing. With his struggle to beat the unheralded Sean Soriano, and the curiosity that is Clay Guida at this point in his career, it's safe to say that nothing about his resume feels like the Kawajiri we all know and remember. Nonetheless, 3-1 is 3-1. It's hard to gauge where he's at given his age, but he commands respect nonetheless.
3. With all due respect to nostalgia, this fight would have been tough for Kawajiri even in his prime.
I don't think there was ever a time when Bermudez would have been the flailing lamb to Kawajiri's slaughterhouse despite common assumptions.
Kawajiri could once make a case for himself as the best lightweight in the world due to his unique two way game. On the ground is where Tatsuya earned his nickname 'Crusher'. But not because he flailed away like a horizontal Leonard Garcia. But because in addition to his sturdy ground and pound, he was a top level guard passer. I don't know what Kawajiri's grappling creds are, but he's as legit as they come. Or used to be.
Kawajiri isn't the fighter he used to be in part because he's just less likely to get the fight to the ground to begin with. There are a lot of reasons for this. Part of it's the North American style. But there's also the senescence element. He's just older and more depleted. You can probably add the difficulty of transitioning to the cage as well. He's spoken explicitly in his discomfort with North American crowds so even a psychological element may help explain his trend downward. In other words, a lot of different things have converged to make him seem like a shell of his former self.
Having said that, enough of his game still exists that any opponent must be set to defcon 3. Kawajiri was never a fluid puncher, but he's a strong one. Unlike most MMA hipsters, I don't think his kickboxing stock is top shelf just because he beat Kozo Takeda (aging like most aging kickboxers) and experienced Masato playing with his sushi. His mechanics are just fine, and he has above average power. But they're only as good as the vacuum his opponent allows. Even in MMA, fighters like Alvarez, Melendez, Gomi, and hell, frikkin' Luiz Firmino never found themselves victims of his face punching urgency.
He's still quite A-B-C in combat. His approach is a little too robotic for full tilt MMA, which is why I feel like Bermudez would have been a serious test for him at any point in his career. Bermudez just needs one big right hand against Kawajiri's open guard to blister him into submission. Tatsuya has a strong enough top control submission game to cut up Bermudez, who isn't defensively stellar, to absolutely steal this fight but the chances of Kawajiri getting it to the ground are slim.
For as much as I've been critical of Kawajiri's durability on the feet, it's not like Bermudez is any less prone. Both guys can get caught brawling, but Kawajiri just isn't at the point in his career where he can afford to play the young man's game. I think Bermudez will force him to by leaving him little room to capitalize with old man experience. Dennis Bermudez by TKO, round 2.