Fans often hear about post-fight bonuses being dished out to in-Octagon performers but come Saturday night it may be the ring’s engineers who deserve a little extra lettuce in their monthly salad. Combining for more than 500 pounds, UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar and first-round-phenom Shane Carwin will lock horns in Las Vegas and put the UFC’s trademark structure’s durability to the test at UFC 116 in the process (as well as each others’ chins). In addition to the title fight, Chris Leben rolls the dice by stepping in last-minute to face Yoshishiro Akiyama, Stephan Bonnar and Krzysztof Soszynski look for a headbutt-free result to make up for their previous bout’s ending, and Matt Brown/Chris Lytle look to battle it out with Kurt Pellegrino/George Sotiropoulos in hopes of possibly scoring the event’s “Fight of the Night“ honors.
Before I get into the actual “pick em” part of this article let me preclude the breakdown of bouts by saying one of the things about Mixed Martial Arts I’ve always loved is its unpredictable nature. I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction with a little insight/opinion included in the deal, but readers would be wise to avoid laying down money on my attempts to glimpse into the future. Just ask Bret “The Angry Hick” Bergmark or for that matter Fabricio Werdum. Beyond that, please don’t hesitate to share your own thoughts on any or all of the scheduled fights in the “Comments” section below, and let’s get this show on the road…
Jon Madsen vs. Karlos Vemola
Madsen should be entering this bout as the favorite due to his 2-0 record in the Octagon and the public’s familiarity with him from the Ultimate Fighter Season 10. However, Vemola shouldn’t be overlooked, as he’s 7-0 and finished all of his opponents in the first round using a near-even mix of strikes/submissions. Even more impressive is the fact five of those seven foes were felled in less than a minute! Madsen’s only hope appears to be using his wrestling as a means of holding Vemola down for three rounds and either out-pointing him or wearing him down to the point of exhaustion. Vemola’s power and striking look to be a massive threat to any individual he faces, and Madsen was knocked out by Brendan Schaub on TUF 10, so I think it would be a mistake for Madsen to try and stand with him. However, Vemola’s cardio is untested and could be the kink in his armor Madsen needs to expose for a win. I don’t see it happening though.
Winner – Karlos Vemola via TKO Round 1
Daniel Roberts vs. Forrest Petz
The loser of this fight will likely receive a pink-slip so both men have more on the line than normal. Roberts was 9-0 before suffering a brutal knockout to John Howard in his UFC debut, and, though he’s won four consecutive fights on smaller shows, Petz went 2-3 during an earlier run in the Octagon and lost two in a row before recently rallying off four straight. However, just because they’re at risk of seeking out a new deal in a different promotion, I think both will actually be cautious in their approach to the other rather than rushing in to exchange leather. Petz has either gone to decision or seen the finish come by way of submission in seventeen of his twenty-four career bouts, while seven of Roberts’ nine wins have been the result of a submission (the other two decisions). Don’t expect much more than minimal striking from either with the bulk of the action taking place on the mat. I like a ground war as much as the next person but only when it involves two high-level jiu-jitsu practitioners. This bout only has one. Petz’s experience could be enough to carry him through to a decision win, but I think Roberts’ youth/athleticism and superior BJJ should do the trick and earn him a tap-out before things are said and done.
Winner – Daniel Roberts via Submission Round 2
Gerald Harris vs. Dave Branch
Branch may be undefeated thus far in his young career, but he hasn’t faced an opponent like Harris yet so it will be interesting to see how he fares against what I would label as “superior” competition. Harris has won his last nine fights with eight involving a finishing performance. He’s got high-level wrestling, devastating slams, knockout power, and 3X Branch’s in-ring experience. Branch has shown above-average ability as both a striker and grappler but I’m not sure he’s ready to weather “Hurricane” Harris’ storm. However, because I do believe he’s talented, I think he’ll escape the fight without a tap or the need of smelling salts.
Winner – Gerald Harris via Decision
Kendall Grove vs. Goran Reljic
I’ve been a fan of Grove since the days of “Team Dagger” but these days it’s hard to know which Kendall will show up on a fight-to-fight basis. Will it be the “Da Spyda” who catches opponents like flies in his web of submissions or the one with a chin appearing as soft as silk? Fortunately for Grove, Reljic is known for his grappling as opposed to his striking so the match-up favors him in terms of avoiding a knockout. I think he’ll be able to defend or even catch a choke/limb from the bottom if Reljic takes him down while also using his lankiness to mix in a few jabs and keep the Croat at bay on their feet.
Then again, at 6’3, Reljic is a relatively tall middleweight himself so Grove won’t have the height/reach advantage he’s typically used to. He’s yet to be finished in his career as well. He’s also stronger than his Hawaiian adversary, and should be well-aware of Grove’s susceptibility to strikes, so he may throw his jiujitsu out the door and focus just on stand-up. If that’s the case then Kendall is in for a long, long night (and probably a wake-up call from the UFC with his release from the company).
Winner – Goran Reljic via Decision
Ricardo Romero vs. Seth Petruzelli
This will surely be an entertaining fight if for no other reason Petruzelli’s choice of entrance attire/music. “The Silverback”, a partner in shenanigans with fan-favorite Tom Lawlor, hasn’t stepped foot in the Octagon since going 0-2 in the eight-sided cage a few years ago and should be ready to make the most of his opportunity at redemption. Beyond the energy he’s put into his walk down to the ring, Petruzelli has also struggled to ink bouts that have actually come to fruition since knocking out Kimbo Slice in October 2008 so I think it’s likely he trained his ass off for another chance at earning a place on MMA’s biggest stage. Beyond those stakes, his in-ring competition is also a game opponent with solid jiujitsu and stand-up so Petruzelli will need to be in top form in that regard too. Romero is 10-1 with his only loss being by way of disqualification (an illegal soccer kick). If the two decide to stand I think Petruzelli will land a knockout blow, but if things hit the mat then I believe the outcome will be in Romero’s favor. Truly, this is one of the tougher UFC 116 bouts to pick a winner in.
Winner – Seth Petruzelli via entranceTKO Round 2
Brendan Schaub vs. Chris Tuchscherer
This match-up brings a smile to my face in that it’s essentially a preliminary card version of UFC 116’s main event with the level of experience being reversed. Schaub trains with Carwin and is known for knockout power while Tuchscherer trains with Lesnar and is known for his wrestling. Tuchscherer should enter the bout with a strength advantage while Schaub is a bit faster and more technical. As such, I think the fight’s action will be similar to that in Carwin’s attempt at taking Lesnar’s title later in the evening. I see Tuchscherer trying to close the distance at all times in hopes of limiting Schaub’s power, as well as in order to take him down and work from the top. Meanwhile, Schaub will try to maintain his range and fire away shots from a variety of angles while also being prepared to dirty-box or clinch. In the end, I think he’ll stay active to the point of tiring Tuchscherer out. Doing so should allow him to successfully defend takedown attempts and land enough strikes to either procure a TKO or decision win.
Winner – Brendan Schaub via TKO Round 3
George Sotiropoulos vs. Kurt Pellegrino
I said earlier in this article that I have a great deal of love for ground wars when both men are BJJ bad-asses. Case in point – Pellegrino vs. Sotiropoulos. This bout has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. For reasoning, I’ll defer to my assessment in this week’s “Grappling with Issues” on why it’s the non-main event match-up I’m most excited about…
“Both go 100% at all times and have shown the kind of heart which makes me believe neither would ever mentally tap out in a bout; that they only quit when physically forced by their body to do so.
Beyond that, their skills match-up well as far as promise for entertainment goes. Sotiropoulos has yet to be finished in fourteen fights and Pellegrino is 8-2 in his last ten in-Octagon appearances with losses to the typically-tough Nate Diaz and Joe Stevenson along the way. I can see them trading shots for the first round, then putting on a ground-clinic until the third round ends or one of them is submitted/TKO’d. Their pairing should definitely be a ton of fun to watch and an excellent way to open up the PPV portion of the show.”
As far as a winner, it’s a literal coin-flip for me. I think Pellegrino may edge Sotiropoulos out when it comes to boxing and wrestling but not when it comes to the Australian’s jiujitsu. I don’t believe either will be finished and a split decision is probably the most likely result.
Winner – Kurt Pellegrino via Decision
Stephan Bonnar vs. Krzysztof Soszynski
I know UFC President Dana White has a lot of love for Bonnar based on his original promotion-making fight against Forrest Griffin but the reality is “The American Psycho” is 2-4 in his last six bouts and hasn’t beaten a relevant opponent in three years. He’s also tested positive for steroid use before and been relatively injury prone throughout his career. If he can’t beat Soszynski then he needs a fresh start in a smaller promotion. That’s not to say “The Polish Experiment” is an easy draw, because he is far from it, but Bonnar needs to prove he can win against upper/mid-tier competition to earn his keep. It’s been five years since TUF 1, folks.
As long as Stephan keeps his strikes coming from a variety of angles and uses movement to avoid Soszynski’s power (and forehead) I think he’ll be fine this time around. Bonnar has never been submitted in his eighteen-fight career and the only time he’s been finished with strikes was to Lyoto Machida seven years ago. I don’t think he’ll put Soszynski away but I do think he can win a decision against him.
Winner – Stephan Bonnar via Decision
Chris Lytle vs. Matt Brown
As was the case in my earlier breakdown of Pellegrino vs. Sotiropoulos, neither Lytle nor Brown have any “quit” in them and the combination of their styles should result in an extremely exciting affair. I can see Brown and Lytle standing and trading punches for a good deal of the first round as a means of appeasing the crowd and testing themselves, nit in the end I think “Lights Out” will likely opt for his reliable combination of wrestling/jiujitsu in hopes of procuring a win. His boxing is better than Brown’s but there’s no reason for Lytle to risk catching a solid shot on the chin when Brown has lost six of eight by way of submission and hasn’t been TKO’d in nineteen career fights. Beyond that, I don’t see “The Immortal” doing enough to win a decision nor knocking out an opponent who has traded shots with the likes of Robbie Lawler and come away conscious.
Winner – Chris Lytle via Submission Round 2
Yoshishiro Akiyama vs. Chris Leben
First off, props to Leben for stepping in to fight Akiyama at the last minute regardless of the financial gain he’ll receive for competing two weeks ago on the Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale. His ability to leave foes snoozing, his chin’s durability, and his “bushido” make “The Crippler” a threat to beat most middleweights not named Anderson Silva. However, to enter the Octagon against a competitor of Akiyama’s caliber on short notice, let alone after the physical grind of back-to-back training camps, is a lot to ask of any individual. I believe Akiyama’s speed will allow him to avoid a lot of Leben’s power-punches, landing counter-strikes of his own or using judo to take him down, and ultimately take advantage of what I suspect will be questionable cardio from his pink-haired opponent. In the end I believe the circumstances surrounding the match-up will result in either a submission or decision win for the samurai of sexiness.
Winner – Yoshishiro Akiyama via Submission Round 3
Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin
This clash of monsters might just have King Kong and Godzilla a little jealous given the amount of anticipation surrounding the scrap. Lesnar and Carwin’s physical dimensions are well-documented. For the first time in recent history two UFC big-boys will be dropping pre-fight pounds in order to step on the scales at 265 pounds, giving fans a TRUE “heavyweight” fight to salivate over. To paraphrase something MMA Live’s Jon Anik said on a recent episode, for the first time in his career Lesnar is facing someone who could legitimately leave him looking like he’d just missed a Shooting-Star Press and landed on his face. Comparably, Carwin is also in a situation where he’s taking on an opponent who matches him in size/strength/athleticism for the first time in his career. Though some may feel conditioning could be an issue because Carwin has never seen the second round in his career I don’t believe that will be the case even if the title-fight remarkably goes the distance. He trains at high-altitude in Colorado with a group of high-level partners so I’m positive he’ll be ready to go full speed for at least fifteen minutes if not longer. Also, keep in mind Lesnar is coming off an extended layoff and a serious ailment so his fitness may not be where it normally is come game-time.
Since I see cardio as a push, and jiujitsu is a wash, it’s clear wrestling and striking will determine the winner. As long as Brock can avoid clinching with Carwin and doesn’t make the mistake of standing toe-to-toe with him I think he’ll retain his belt. Carwin is a solid wrestler but Lesnar is on another level from everything I’ve seen/heard; that his combination of speed/power is something you can’t simulate in a gym. As such, I think he’ll eventually get Carwin on his back and pound out a win.
Winner – Brock Lesnar via TKO Round 2