I hate to admit it, but all eyes are going to be on CM Punk. Any MMA fan will admit that it is going to be the worst fight on the card in terms of developed skills, perhaps the worst one at the UFC level in years. The only other one in recent memory that comes to mind was Gall's UFC debut. Yikes.
It's really a shame as the two main card fights preceding the sideshow are both quality contests in terms of competition and entertainment. Jessica Andrade and Joanne Calderwood are wild cards in terms of contending for the title in a wide open division. Even better for us, they are a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
The other contest is a case of the new guard trying to knock the old aside as Jimmie Rivera looks to add the name of Urijah Faber to his list of victims. I can't see Faber getting yet another title shot after being easily handled by Dominick Cruz, but he can still beat the vast majority of 135ers on the roster. He isn't ready to go quietly yet. For Rivera, a win would launch him into title talks in a division full of youngsters jockeying for the right to call out Cruz.
The main card starts at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT.
Do I really have to break this fight down? Punk is a former professional wrestler while Gall should still be making his name on the regional scene. There isn't much information available to break down... unless you count the UFC's documentary on Punk....
Punk was signed all the way back in December 2014. That was 21 months ago. While that isn't nearly enough time for him to become a viable UFC competitor, it is more than enough time for someone to prepare for their professional MMA debut which is exactly what this contest will be for him. He has been training with the Roufusport team in Milwaukee, so he has been receiving championship caliber coaching as Anthony Pettis and Ben Askren both hail from there. The reports out of the camp have been that Punk has worked hard, earning the respect of those working with him. For all of the talk that Gall is going to make quick work of him, Punk has seemingly done the necessary things to avoid embarrassing himself in the cage.
Gall called out Punk after his MMA debut on the regional scene knowing Dana White was in the house. White liked his moxie and decided to bring him to the UFC with the purpose of making him "earn" the chance to fight Punk. His test: MMA journalist Mike Jackson. Gall blew threw him in less than a minute. He has the physical tools to be a quality UFC fighter, but he is far too early in his career to be winning fights against anyone other than Punk. Even the much maligned Sage Northcutt has more seasoning than Gall.
What we do know about Gall is that he is fast and aggressive. It was thought he would be looking for the takedown in the Jackson fight, but instead showed improved accuracy with his hands, flooring Jackson with the first serious punch he threw. He displayed his aggression from there by immediately jumping on his fallen foe and sinking in a choke for a tap. Gall's submission technique still looks raw and his wrestling success in his MMA debut seemed more accredited to his enthusiasm than actual technique... but he's facing CM Punk. Does it really matter how clean his technique is at this juncture?
Punk is a complete unknown. The footage on him for the documentary hyping his fight is selective and mostly just brief clips making it hard to know if Punk is progressing at all. It showed him winning a practice fight against a fellow teammate of unknown level in the final episode and it was clear he had become a better fighter after well over a year of training. But isn't the documentary designed to make it look like he has a better shot than the Vegas odds would have you believe? Being somewhat familiar with his WWE work, I do believe he is a tough SOB who will leave it all out there. But he is already 37-years old, has suffered an undetermined amount of concussions, and was never a great athlete to begin with. I don't like his chances.
While I admit this is among the crappiest breakdowns I've ever done, it isn't like I have much to go off of. The popular narrative is that Gall will blow past Punk and I'm prone to believe that as well. Punk's coaches have lauded his punching power which would give him a better than expected chance if that is the truth, but we have no proof other than hearsay. I'm hoping Punk can surprise us all and not necessarily win, but at least put forth a respectable performance. I'm not counting on it though. Gall via TKO of RD1
Urijah Faber (33-9) vs. Jimmie Rivera (19-1), Bantamweight
Faber may not be the legendary performer he was at the apex of his career, but he does still have the legendary name. Rivera hopes to take advantage of that and score a breakout performance.
What does Faber have left in the tank? It's hard to say. Yes, he lost decisively to Cruz in his last contest to close out their rivalry. But Cruz is the best in the world at 135. It isn't like Faber is losing to guys he would have once upon a time beaten. Not yet at least. Though it is only natural that he has lost a step at 37-years old, he has been able to beat all but the elite. This could be the fight where he truly begins to show his age... provided you don't believe he already has.
Rivera is the perfect guy to test where Faber is at. He has looked awesome in his three UFC contests which include wins over another up-and-comer in Pedro Munhoz and mainstay Iuri Alcantara. At 27, he should be entering his physical prime. Bantamweight is bursting with young talent at this point and Rivera's chance to let the world know that he is not to be ignored is now.
It's interesting that both come from strong wrestling backgrounds, yet don't use their wrestling as successfully as their reputations would suggest. I'm not saying that they are horrible wrestlers, just that they have struggled to successfully implement it in their recent fights. When Faber fights a weak wrestler, he returns to his roots and is capable of driving his opponent through the mat. Rivera has had similar success on the regional scene, though he has only taken down Alcantara -- a notably weak wrestler -- with regularity in the UFC thus far. Both have shown outstanding takedown defense and considering each of their struggles against opponents with like takedown defense, expect this one take place mostly on the feet.
Faber has gotten a bum rap as a striker. Yes, he takes a simplistic approach, but it is an effective approach. Even if he has lost a step athletically, he is still a plus athlete which he uses to blitz on his opponent unawares looking to land his powerful right hand. Aside from that, he stays on the outside switching stances while using subtle feints and movements hoping to elicit a response so he can counter. He's a beast in the clinch at 135 as he can often bully his opponent against the fence where he looks for his takedowns.
Rivera's striking is a bit more polished, utilizing a more traditional boxing approach. Feeling his way with a jab, it isn't long before he's figured out his range and begins attack with lengthy combinations before moving out of the way of his opponent's attack. He's gotten a reputation as being pillow-fisted as he scored a single KO in his first 14 wins. He's actually become much more comfortable sitting down on his strikes and the results have since been seen with three KO/TKO finishes in his last five wins. Leg kicks are pretty common with him as well.
The casual fan will see Faber's name and automatically pick him since that is the name that they recognize. That would be a mistake. Not that Faber can't win, but Rivera has the look of a major player in the near-future if not the present. Both are durable, strong wrestlers, and smart fighters. I'd give Faber an advantage in scrambles and submissions while Rivera gets a slight nod in the striking. So who am I going to pick in a fight where a single takedown is likely to be all the difference? I'm favoring youth here ever so slightly as a Faber loss signals the beginning of a new era. Rivera via decision
Jessica Andrade (14-5) vs. Joanne Calderwood (11-1), Women's Strawweight
After extended absences from the cage, both Andrade and Calderwood returned this June to look better than they ever have. Don't be too surprised if the winner is able to earn a title shot with a win here.
Andrade has been in the UFC since 2013, long before the strawweight division was around. She hit a rough patch in 2015, revaluated her options, and decided dropping to 115 was the best course for her career. The results were spectacular as she absolutely tore apart former title challenger Jessica Penne with relative ease, immediately injecting herself into contendership in a division still looking for its identity.
Calderwood was supposed to be an immediate contender upon the division's UFC inception, but she appeared to sleepwalk through her first few UFC fights. Her last contest took place at flyweight against former title contender Valerie Letourneau, doing something Joanna Jedrzejczyk couldn't do in stopping the Canadian product. Was it the weight class or has she found the proper motivation? We're about to find out.
Andrade was able to make the 20 lb. drop from bantamweight thanks to her stout 5'1" frame. The worry is that she would lose her strength with the weight cut or be depleted of her energy. That didn't turn out to be the case at all. She pressured Penne the whole time, dropping rapid punching combinations with her fast hands and mixing it up beautifully between the body and the head. Her volume and power is a rare combination for the strawweight division, perhaps even unmatched.
Calderwood isn't quite the powerhouse that Andrade is, though she is able to make up for that with her technical skill and diversity. She's equally comfortable at range with round and front kicks as she is in the clinch, cinching in the Thai plum to rocket her knees into the body. Her boxing isn't as developed as the rest of her striking which is why she tries to stay out of the pocket. She has at least developed a sound jab which helps her to establish her range.
Despite their reputation as strikers, both have a tendency to take the fight to the ground several times throughout a fight in addition to suffering mental lapses in terms of their submission defense. Andrade uses her bowling ball frame to get leverage in her level changes while Calderwood relies more on trips and throws from the clinch. Neither is noted for their grappling prowess, preferring to throw ground strikes rather than look for a sub. As a result, there is a good chance their submission defense won't be tested.
This may be my favorite fight on the entire card. No joke. The difference between the two is razor thin and the fists should fly. The reason I'm picking Calderwood is she offers a lot more sting in her striking than Andrade's previous opponents and she'll know how to use her reach advantage. Plus, I still have questions about Andrade's gas tank the deeper the fight goes. Though I'm picking Calderwood, I'm not doing so with a lot of confidence as I can easily see Andrade taking the W. Calderwood via decision