Inside the Cage Blog
For reasons beyond my control (a wedding, honeymoon and a constant array of UFC cancellations and rescheduling) this will be the first MMA update I provide in quite sometime.
You can credit my wife. You can credit my lack of winning. Whatever the case, I'm back and just in time for one of the biggest fight cards of the year with UFC 178 this weekend. It won’t feature many notable names to the casual MMA fan, but it does have the significance of being the first modern day UFC Fight Card to feature all Top 15 ranked fighters on the main card. Not only a championship headliner, but at least three and maybe all of the other remaining fights could make a case for a No. 1 contender status fight.
Basically, you’ll need to figure out what you’re doing on Saturday night to make sure you’re in front of the TV.
Now to the fights:
Demetrious Johnson (20-2-1) vs No. 8 Chris Cariaso (17-5)
The smallest yet potentially most dominating champion in the UFC puts his title on the line as “Mighty Mouse” Johnson looks to make it five title defenses in a row as the inaugural UFC Flyweight Champion when he welcomes the relatively unknown Cariaso to the main event and pay per view main card (More on that later).
Johnson has been unbeatable and virtually untouchable as the flyweight champion. Since winning the title with a unanimous decision over Joseph Benavidez back in September of 2012, he’s outpointed and finished a variety of different opponents at 125 pounds, consistently showing his speed and variety in his evolution as a fighter.
Primarily known as a wrestler when he was competing as a bantamweight in the days of the W.E.C., Johnson is now full-fledged MMA Fighter that can dictate where his fights go and at what pace they go.
He’s not an elite level in any MMA discipline yet, but his speed and cardio is so difficult to deal with, it’s hard to envision him losing the title anytime soon.
Cariaso was a surprising candidate to earn a title shot, ranked currently as the No. 8 fighter in the flyweight division and with a current 8-4 record in the WEC/UFC it raised plenty of eyebrows when he was announced as the next challenger. Like Johnson, he too is a former bantamweight. A former golden gloves champion, Cariaso is also well versed in Muay-Thai and is a strong striker. He (like many before him) will try and keep this on the feet (and catch Johnson off guard).
Despite the height, that’s too tall a task.
My prediction, Johnson via submission (Rd 3)
No. 5 Donald Cerrone (24-6) vs No. 14 Eddie Alvarez (25-3)
Storylines galore dot the co-main event as “Cowboy” Cerrone once again tries to solidify is status as a lightweight title challenger as he welcomes Alvarez, the former Bellator Lightweight Champion and most sought after free-agent in UFC History, to the Octagon.
Cerrone is always knocking on the door of a title shot and is one of the most active fighters in UFC history. This fight will be the 15th fight in four years for the Cowboy and the second time in the last three he’s fought at least four times during a calendar year; the likelihood is that Cerrone will look for a fifth fight come December.
He’s an outstanding striker and prefers to walk down his opponents, showing little or no respect for their striking skills. He’s well versed in all areas, greatly improving both his striking and submission ability throughout his career. The issue is that whenever he’s gotten to or close to the mountaintop, he’s been dominated as seen his fights with top lightweights Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos.
So who is Eddie Alvarez?
Making his debut in the UFC as the 14th ranked fighter in the lightweight division, Alvarez becomes the latest prominent fighter to make his debut in the UFC, having won titles in other organizations prior to his stint in the Octagon.
He was widely considered the best fighter not under the UFC Banner and is an outstanding wrestler and volume puncher, showcasing a tremendous pace to his fights and ability to withstand punishment throughout. He possesses good takedowns and is a finisher; 21 of his 25 victories have come inside the distance.
Against Cerrone, he’ll look to get inside “Cowboy’s” pocket, but keep the fight standing; Cerrone should have a decisive advantage from both his back and the mount. The reach and variety of striking should be enough for the Cerrone to be the unfortunate welcome mat in Alvarez’s UFC debut.
My prediction, Cerrone via decision
No. 5 Dustin Poirier (16-3) vs No. 9 Conor McGregor (15-2)
The most hyped and anticipated fight on the card is a critical one for the UFC when potential future title challengers in Poirier and McGregor meet on the main card. Poirier is a consensus top contender and has been for years. He’s as well rounded as they come and is a finisher, 13 of his 16 career wins are by stoppage with nine coming in the first round.
He’s a precision striker that fights at a ferocious pace and is well versed on the ground. Plus, he’s been to this spot before; featured in a critical fight with a win putting him in the crosshairs of a title shot.
His issue is that both times he’s lost in that spot to Chang Sung Jung and Cub Swanson.
Enter McGregor, probably the most hyped fighter to ever enter the UFC. He’s a trash talker, a brash dresser and is not ashamed to tell you about it. The UFC brass loves him because unlike nearly 90 percent of the UFC roster, he’s a needle mover. Fans want to see him fight and pay to do it too.
And it’s not just his ability to promote a fight. McGregor is a powerful striker that uses an orthodox stance and approach to his standup game, very similar to longtime middleweight champion Anderson Silva. He’s also well versed on the ground and should not be afraid if the fight goes there.
When analyzing this fight you have to ask if McGregor is worth the hype. The UFC certainly thinks he is. But this will be the first Top Ten opponent McGregor has faced. They also have two common opponents, Diego Brando and Max Halloway.
Both finished Brandao in the first round. Poirier needed one round to put away Halloway, McGregor went the distance, apparently fighting with a torn ACL.
My prediction, Poirier via submission (Rd 2)
No. 6 Tim Kennedy (18-4) vs No. 10 Yoel Romero (8-1)
Another fight that has extremely important title implications this time in the middleweight division is when grappling wizards Kennedy and Romero throw down. Like him or not, Kennedy has been on a roll since making the transition from the Strikeforce promotion to the UFC.
A former army ranger, the undersized Kennedy has greatly improved each time in the Octagon. He’s an outstanding grappler especially in transitions and working from the top. It will be extremely impressive if he can work that side of his game in this fight against Romero, so he’ll be better to keep this fight standing. He’ll have the advantage there, not with power, but volume and accuracy.
Romero is a world glass grappler, a former Olympian in free style wrestling that is extremely powerful. He’s striking is more solitary, each time looking for a one-shot knockout. He certainly can do it and his KO of the night against Clifford Starks is evident of that.
Kennedy is a workhorse and I certainly see him grinding out a later round win over the powerful Cuban.
My prediction, Kennedy via decision
No. 1 Cat Zingano (8-0) vs No. 8 Amanda Nunes (9-3)
The Main card opens up with the top contender in the women’s bantamweight division Cat Zingano, returning from a torn ACL (and the death of her husband) to take on the always-dangerous Amanda Nunes.
Over a year ago Zingano was on top of the world. She had just dominated MIesha Tate, earned a spot coaching on the Ultimate Fighter and was going to challenge Ronda Rousey for the women’s bantamweight championship. Then she tore her knee, had to work through the suicide of her late husband all to return to this spot, against a tough top ten fighter in Nunes.
Zingano is huge for the bantamweight division and is an extremely powerful striker and wrestler. She’s also extremely aggressive, a trademark of her opponent as well.
The only suspect here is the layoff, but I don’t think it’s a problem.
My prediction, Zingano via KO (Rd 1)
Finally after a three-week hiatus, the UFC returns to action and will be in action with loaded fight cards over the next several weeks.
It’s rather shocking that that UFC has not had a fight in a little less than a month, because MMA has hit the mainstream for both good and bad these past few weeks.
Despite the negativity and general animosity surrounding them, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and top contender Daniel Cormier have done all the right things in anticipation of their would be headlining title fight on September 27th at UFC 178.
Jones and Cormier made waves throughout the sports community for the brawl that took place in the lobby of the MGM Grand during their press conference for UFC 178. It was such headlining news that UFC PR Director Dave Sholler went viral on social media after he was shoved out of the way during the melee. Jones landed several punches on Cormier and it took several members of security to separate the two fighters.
Not to be out done later on Sportscenter, a microphone left “hot” right before the two fighters were planned to join ESPN caught a verbal bashing between the two light heavyweights.
Unfortunately on Thursday, Jones suffered not only a partially torn MCL, but also a turned ankle. The fight has been shifted from September 27th to January 3rd and will be the headliner for UFC 182.
Still, If this were any other sport, the actions of the two fighters could be perceived as a black eye. Not the UFC and not “Bones” Jones. The sport needs the attention. An incident (or two) like last week is only going to force more interest into this fight and push the possibility of a million dollar buy for the PPV ever more a reality.
The bad (or even worse) of this week is War Machine, a.k.a Jon Koppenhaver was apprehended after a weeklong manhunt. He allegedly nearly killed his girlfriend; no matter what the outcome, I’m happy that he’s in the custody of our government.
Now to the fights
No. 8 Ryan Bader (18-4) vs No. 10 Ovince Saint Preux (16-5)
The UFC is in Bangor, Maine for the first time and features a light heavyweight tilt between two-top ten fighters looking to continue their current winning streaks.
Bader, the former All-American wrestler and Ultimate Fighter winner, has been here before. He’s faced several former champions and seemingly has never been able to get over the hump. Losses to Lyoto Machida, Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz have derailed his momentum.
Now having one two in a row, Bader believes he’s finally righted the shit and is prepared for a Top 5 opponent next. He’s always been and outstanding wrestler that packs a nasty right hand. The issue is that he’s always settled on kickboxing his opponents and has been knocked out for trying (see his fight with Machida or Glover Teixera). This time he says that he’ll utilize his wrestling.
He’ll need to against OSP, a former Tennessee Volunteer football player that has won five fights in row, four since joining the UFC. He’s strong, long and is getting better each time we see him fight.
If Bader holds to his game plan, OSP will likely struggle grappling against the former Sun Devil.
However, I don’t think he will. I think OSP holds his ground and wins via decision.
My prediction, St. Preux via decision.
No. 12 Gray Maynard (12-4-1) vs Ross Pearson (17-7)
What a fall from grace Gray Maynard has had. Once a glimpse away from being the lightweight champion of the world, Maynard has gone 1-3-1 in his last five fights, losing the last two by brutal knockout in the first round.
Time may have finally caught up with the former Michigan State wrestler, whose wars with Frankie Edgar will be remembered as some of the best fights in UFC History. He, like Bader, is a powerful wrestler and likes to ground and pound his opponents. But will he keep the fight standing against Pearson?
The former Ultimate Fighter winner likes to stand and bang. The English lightweight will look to turn this into a dirty fight on the feet, plus he has the power to knockout Maynard.
I’m siding with Maynard here, who will fight smart, safe and win via decision.
My prediction, Maynard via decision.
No. 14 Tim Boetsch (17-7) vs Brad Tavares (12-3)
An intriguing middleweight contest is also featured on this card between Boetsch and Tavares.
“The Barbarian” Boetsch is a powerful former junior-college wrestler that also likes to grind out his opponents. Tavares is a more well rounded fighter that ran into a buzz saw in Yoel Romero his last time out, ending a five fight win streak.
My prediction, Tavares via decision.
Shawn Jordan (15-6) vs Jack May (7-1)
Finally we get to a fight that shouldn’t go to decision. Jordan is a former LSU football player that has gone to decision only three times in 21-professional fights. He’s extremely athletic and powerful, but has been proven to have a suspect chin.
May is a large heavyweight that will look to stand and trade. He also has a suspect chin.
My prediction, Jordan via KO (Rd 1)
Thiago Tavares (22-5-1) vs Robbie Peralta (18-4)
Well-rounded featherweights Tavares and Peralta start off the card and should be to the crowd’s delight. Both guys are excellent jiu-jitsu experts and can stand & trade as well. I’ll go with the more seasoned veteran here.
My prediction, Tavares via submission
This week may have been the biggest newsmaker in mixed martial arts history. Names like Ronda Rousey, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones all made headlines, only to lead up to another network television appearance for the UFC. Before we get to the fights, let’s rundown what happened this week in MMA:
Dana White fully admitted that he is attempting to book current UFC Bantamweight Champion Rousey vs former Strikeforce champion and movie star Gina Carano for a fight in December.
Speaking of December, Vitor Belfort has received a temporary license from the Nevada State Athletic Commision to fight Chris Weidman for the UFC Middleweight title at UFC 181 on December 6th.
Alexander Gustafsson tore his MCL and will be replaced by Daniel Cormier in a title fight vs Jones at UFC 178 this September.
Chael Sonnen was handed a two-year ban from competition from the Nevada State Athletic Commission for multiple positive tests of PED use.
Lastly, Nick Diaz has signed a new 3-year deal with the UFC and is being targeted for a Super Bowl weekend fight with the returning Anderson Silva.
Now to the fights:
No. 1 Robbie Lawler (23-10) vs No. 5 Matt Brown (21-11)
Two of the most entertaining welterweights on the planet meet in the main event of UFC on Fox 12 with the winner being determined the No. 1 contender to current UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks.
Both Lawler and Brown are unique stories. Both are guys that appeared in the early days of the UFC and both hit hard. Before this run that vaulted them both to the doorstep of a title shot, Lawler and Brown were a combined 9-8 in the Octagon.
Lawler was a Strikeforce import when the Zuffa purchased the California based promotion. Since that time, the "Ruthless" one has gone 4-1 with three knockout victories. He hits hard, extremely hard and has gradually improved his wrestling and submission defense almost every time in the Octagon.
Three years ago, Lawler was likely to knock his opponent out or be submitted; now he is a full-fledged MMA Fighter and surprisingly, just entering his prime at 32-years old. His fight against Rory MacDonald spoke to his improved conditioning, but also strategy. Instead of looking for the kncokout against "Ares", be plodded his attack against the top welterweight and earned a decision victory. He was also a razor thin loser versus Hendricks which is why many believe a rematch is the next logial step.
Matt Brown should change his name from “The Immortal” to “Mr. Fox.” Although "The Immortal" might be an appropriate name not only for his life (he overdosed on Heroin and was pronounced dead) but also for his career. Brown was a castoff of one of the earlier seasons of the Ultimate Fighter and was a below .500 fighter until rattling off seven wins in a row, six via TKO. Now headlining his first official network Fox TV card, Brown may have finally arrived. He's has five straight finishes on the Fox Television family of networks.
He is a relentless pursuer of the standup and has a wide variety of striking skills at his arsenal. He’s also shown the ability to survive; his last fight with Erik Silva was a war in which a body shot should have put him away, twice. Now he finally gets that Top 5 welterweight opponent with a chance to fight for the title.
It's a great story for both guys, but in the end I side with the better overall fighter.
My prediction, Lawler via TKO (Rd 2)
No. 5 Anthony Johnson (17-4) vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (21-5)
The Co-Main event has turned into a showcase fight for South Florida’s Anthony Johnson. The powerhouse, who trains with the “Blackzillians” in Boca Raton, was once a welterweight, that’s right; a welterweight.
Weight cutting issues forced him out of the UFC and into regional promotions where he settled in on his natural weight class of 205 pounds and subsequently won six fights in a row to earn a spot back in the UFC.
Upon his return, Johnson shocked most (including myself) with a dominant decision victory over perennial contender Phil Davis. Now a victory over Noguiera could put him right in line to challenge Jones or Daniel Cormier for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title. (Who knows how long Gustafsson will be sidelined for)?
Johnson has a variety of strikes to use, inluding a wide range of head kicks and has a tremendous amateur wrestling that has transitioned his explosiveness to MMA. He's nearly impossible to take down.
He’ll face the always game Noguiera, a former Pan American bronze medalist in boxing that has won two fights in a row (Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans), but the last victory came in February of 2013. A back injury has kept him out of action for quite sometime.
Noguiera does have great standup (from his boxing) and is a black belt on the ground. He’ll look to slow this fight down and survive the early attacks of Johnson. That might be too tall a task to ask.
My prediction, Johnson via TKO (Rd 1)
No. 7 Clay Guida (31-11) vs No. 11 Dennis Bermudez (14-3)
In what could be a fight that determines the future of both fighters, Guida and Bermudez meet in a “crossroads” fight. Guida has always been a top contender, but appears to be on the backend of his career while Bermudez is a an up and comer, currently boasting a six-fight winning streak, one of the longest in the division.
Both buys are outstanding wrestlers and fight with a tremendous pace. Both guys are fan favorites and neither is a true finisher. This fight has split decision written all over it. I think Bermudez will get a few more takedowns and take it.
My prediction, Bermudez via decision.
No. 3 Josh Thomson (20-6) vs No. 13 Bobby Green (22-5)
The fight card opens with a man looking to put a stamp on being a future title contender against another looking to crack the top ten. Thomson has a variety of skills, an athleticism that keeps him in most fights and a certain cache about him that makes him important in any lightweight title dicussion.
His last fight, a TKO of former title challenger Nate Diaz, might have been his most impressive.
Green is an athletic lightweight that has won every fight he’s fought in the UFC and is on a seven fight win streak. He takes this fight instead of Michael Johnson, who was forced out with an injury.
I don’t think Green is ready for this one.
My prediction, Thomson via decision.
Every Saturday morning, Jordan Sherwood and Frank Zaffere hit on the top news as it pertains to mix martial arts, on Inside The Cage. Here are the highlights from today's show:
Ahead of UFC 175, Jordan and Frank discuss if this is the Chris Weidman era in the sport. Audio
Our MMA experts weigh in on the ongoing saga of Chael Sonnen, following his release from the UFC. Audio
World Series of Fighting president Ray Sefo joins the show to preview the WSOF 11 fight card. Audio
Jordan and Frank make their UFC 175 predictions and picks. Audio
Happy Fourth of July weekend to everyone! Hopefully most of you are recovering from the disappointing end to the USA’s run through the World Cup and are now celebrating the holiday with friends and family.
The UFC, well actually the sport of MMA, wants you to celebrate as well, with three MAJOR fight cards taking place this week. The UFC is attempting to garner attention off of the World Cup with outlining a “Country vs Country” theme to its promotion of UFC 175 this Saturday night.
However, the story of the weekend might actually be taking place Saturday afternoon when unbeaten lightweight Nick Newell challenges Justin Gaethje for the World Series of Fighting lightweight title live on NBC.
Newell, who trains in South Florida, was born with a condition called congenital amputation on his left arm, which stops past his elbow. Yet, Newell has defied all odds and garnered both an accomplished amateur wrestling and now MMA career. He'll have a shot at a major promotional title this Saturday.
Both Newell and Gaethje are top tier lightweight prospects and may find themselves being offered contracts by the UFC in the very near future.
Now to the fights on Saturday night.
Chris Weidman (11-0) vs No. 3 Lyoto Machida (21-4)
For the first time in over a year, Weidman prepares for an opponent not named Anderson Silva in his second title defense, this time against former light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
Weidman, the soft-spoken former All-American wrestler from Hofstra University, was thrust into the spotlight one year ago when he knocked out the previously impenetrable Silva and went on to defeat him a second time via TKO this past December.
Weidman possesses all the skills to prosper as the middleweight champion for a long time. He has tremendous athletic ability and is a devastating striker, showcased in his TKO victory over Mark Munoz; not to mention his wrestling skills have transitioned well to MMA. He’s also an extremely intelligent fighter and has surrounded himself with some of the best coaching talent in the business; Ray Longo and former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra.
He’ll need that strategic advantage against Machida, a karate expert that won the light-heavyweight title several years ago. “The Dragon” is certainly difficult to game plan against; he has a unique stance inside the Octagon and looks to couple a striking attack of counters and blitzing combinations. He’s also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, so he’ll be comfortable if Weidman decides to take this fight to the ground.
Machida has really found success when’s he frustrated opponents, forcing them to rush in (See his fight vs Ryan Bader). He does have a tendency to have a boring fight, waiting for his opponent to strike.
Weidman showed confidence, patience and poise vs Anderson Silva. That should be difference against Machida.
My prediction, Weidman via decision
Ronda Rousey (9-0) vs No. 2 Alexis Davis (16-5)
The fighter that I believe is the face of MMA, unbeaten women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey returns to the Octagon, looking to defend her title for the fourth consecutive time against Davis, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who has won three in a row in the UFC.
Rousey is everywhere. She is starring in movies, she is making appearances on TV, she’s appearing in magazines and oh, she’s also dominating the sport of women’s MMA. Nine MMA fights, nine finishes including her most recent against former Olympic wrestling silver medalist Sara McMann. Rousey’s style is to press forward, use one of her now famous judo throws to get you on the ground and submit you. She’s improved her striking and has an outstanding clinch game, with an uncanny ability to transition the fight to the ground.
As a champion, you always face new challenges. This will be the first time Rousey fights a legit black belt on the ground who may be able to prevent Rousey’s armbar and other submission attempts.
Struggling early in her career against more experienced fighters and dominant strikers, Davis has been able to put together this recent 3-fight run by dictating the pace and direction of each one of her fights. Her submission skill set is typically so far advanced than her opponents, she’s been able to best former title challenger Liz Carmouche and top ranked Jessica Eye along this current run.
Still, Rousey is not only another level of an opponent, she’s on another planet,.
My prediction, Rousey via submission (Rd 1)
No. 12 Stefan Struve (29-6) vs Matt Mitrione (7-3)
Everyone loves a comeback story, it’s the “American way”, right?
That’s why the heavyweight title between Struve and Mitrione gets the high billing on this fight card, but it’s the Dutch Struve that is making the comeback.
In August of last year, Struve was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve, meaning that his aortic valve only has two leaflets instead of three, causing an enlarged heart. Shelved for sometime while he was treated, Struve received news and doctor clearance this past April to fight again.
When healthy, Struve is a monster heavyweight, standing 6’11 and using his reach both on the feet and on the ground. He’s fought 13-times in the Octagon, making his debut as a 21-year old. His only losses, former champion Junior dos Santos and top ranked heavyweights Mark Hunt, Travis Browne and Roy Nelson. His jab is a great weapon and if this fight were to go to the ground, Struve has a strong finishing rate; 16 of his 25 MMA wins have come via submission.
There is no way to tell how Struve will perform, having been on the sidelines since March of 2013. Which is why a matchup with Mitrione, one of the most unpredictable personalities in the sport, is a perfect return bout.
The former NFL Football player and competitor on the Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights season has had mixed results in the UFC. He’s a great athlete with KO power, but has never been able to fully put together a strong run of performances in the UFC. His entire professional career has taken place in the Octagon and he has now committed to fully training in South Florida with the Blackzillians.
I like comeback stories and I think the reach advantage will be too much for Mitrione to handle.
My prediction, Struve via TKO (Rd 2)
Urijah Hall (9-4) vs Thiago Santos (9-2)
The complex, yet always devastating Hall returns to the Octagon against Santos, an Ultimate Fighter Brazil Season 2 competitor.
Hall was billed as the “next big thing” on his season of the Ultimate Fighter, yet lost to now welterweight Kelvin Gastelum. When he’s right, Hall is a spectacular striker whose variety and power make him a threat every time the fight is on its feet. He may have finally righted the ship with his last victory, a TKO finish of Chris Leben.
Santos practices capoeira, a form of “dance fighting” that emulated in both Brazil and Africa. He is not as talented as a striker as Hall, but I’m siding with Santos here just because I don’t believe in Urijah’s ability to get out of his own way.
My prediction, Santos via decision
Marcus Brimage (6-2) vs Russel Doane (13-3)
The fight card opens with the powerhouse Brimage taking on Hawaiian striker Doane in a bantamweight contest. Brimage is making is debut at 135 and showcased his power at 145 with victories over Jimy Hettes and Maximo Blanco. What he lacks in striking, Brimage is a powerful grappler that will look to get on top of Doane and get the finish.
As mentioned before, Doane has a healthy dose of muay thai and boxing at his disposal, plus can work a submission.
I think Doane, who has gained some momentum, likely gets it.
My prediction, Doane via TKO (Rd 2)
Every Saturday morning, Jordan Sherwood and Frank Zaffere hit on the top news as it pertains to mix martial arts, on Inside The Cage. Here are the highlights from today's show:
Jordan and Frank debate if MMA can ever reach World Cup fever. Audio
With the World Cup in full flex, Jordan and Frank review the action steps MMA is taking to become international. Audio
Jordan and Frank go Five Rounds, hitting on the hottest topics in the world of MMA, including if a UFC fighter will win an ESPY this year. Audio
Jordan and Frank make their UFC Fight Night San Antonio predictions and picks. Audio