This Saturday night, live from Boston, M.A. on FOX Sports 1 is the epic return of UFC Fight Night, a popular UFC event series. Known for their high-action cards, UFC Fight Night brings a line-up that most MMA fans could not have dreamed of. At the top of the night is a showdown between two of the sport’s baddest men as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua faces the highly controversial, but ultra-popular, Chael Sonnen. This main card looks to have some real firework potential, so here are some predictions:
Joe Lauzon vs. Michael Johnson
Starting things off with a bang, the viewers get a real treat as lightweight bonus-monger Joe Lauzon steps into the Octagon for the 15th time. While Lauzon is coming off of a loss, he’s still one of the divisions biggest source for excitement, but also talent. We all know that with Joe’s entertainment value and skill level that he’s rarely too far off from the crème of the crop at 155lbs. His opponent, Michael Johnson, is looking for a big win, and a desperate one at that, after dropping to straight. While Johnson looked red hot when he knocked out Danny Castillo, an upset to Myles Jury and a submission loss to Reza Madadi has knocked him down the ladder and has put him in need of a win.
UFC company-men like Joe Lauzon often find themselves in desirable positions because of their attitude, their exciting fighting style, and most importantly their consistency. It’s almost expected of Lauzon to either win by impressive submission, or take his opponent all 3 rounds in what is nearly almost a fight of the night performance. For a guy who appears to lack much athleticism, Lauzon is deceptively strong and dangerous from all areas. While he prefers the grappling, we’ve seen Lauzon’s dangerous hands in the striking department. It may not be the power that Lauzon possesses, but more of the precision, accuracy, and timing.
His opponent, Michael Johnson, is an explosive wrestler who has really shown some potential when it comes to using his athleticism. Often times resembling Melvin Guillard, Johnson’s explosive hips and physical strength is often used to dominate his opponents from top position. Ontop of that, Johnson’s stand up packs some serious power as he can score knockout blows from just about any position. He’s slick on the feet, has some real good footwork, and will most likely look to out-box Lauzon on the feet.
In the first round, it’s often a misconception that Joe Lauzon empties his gas tank in search of a quick finish, but then is doomed later in the fight if he doesn’t get it. While this may have been true several years ago, we’ve seen Joe Lauzon mature and tighten up his strength & conditioning to the point where I don’t believe he has many issues. This leads me to believe that we’re not going to see Johnson out-wrestle Lauzon for three rounds like he’s often done to other opponents. I believe Johnson brings the most danger on the feet where Lauzon has lost striking battles in the past. With an ever-developing striking game however, I again see Lauzon holding his own and not letting Johnson initiate his will. This fight will most likely play out like other Lauzon fights with him pressing the action on the feet, receiving and giving punishment, until he can drag the fight to the ground. From there, look for Lauzon to wrap up an impressive submission and take home possibly a submission of the night bonus.
Joe Lauzon via 1st Round Submission
Uriah Hall vs. John Howard
This middleweight bout will feature the anticipated return of two fighters; Uriah Hall and John Howard. After having a sensational run in his season of The Ultimate Fighter, knockout artist Uriah Hall dropped the ball in the finale with a lack of aggression and an inability to score offensive strikes. This return against John Howard will answer a lot of questions about Hall’s mindset and true talent as John Howard is an extremely experienced veteran who knows a thing or two about pushing the pace. Its been two years since Howard was cut from the UFC, but a 6-1 run in other promotions is enough to give him the late-notice call in this bout. Howard started out as an aggressive grappler but quickly found his rhythm on the feet and displayed his fair share of knockouts in back-to-back KO’s in the UFC back in 2009 and 2010. This fight could very well be an exciting striking match.
On the feet, it’s hard to say which Uriah Hall is going to show up, but that’s more dependent on his opponent. If Howard comes in, pushes the pace, and keeps Hall backing up, then we could see Howard take control of this fight and really give him the same treatment that Kelvin Gastelum did. However, if Howard tries to strike with Hall in a back-and-forth chessmatch sort of fight, expect Hall to finish things brutally, quickly, and spectacularly.
Given Howard’s previous performances, expect him to try to tie things up. This would work normally if Howard wasn’t at a major size disadvantage – Howard previously fought at 170lbs but this middleweight fight is going to see him massively dwarfed against Uriah Hall who is extremely athletic at 185lbs. Look for Hall to defend any of Howard’s offensive maneuvers in the clinch, and most likely put on a clinch as he scores with knees and other crushing blows to stay one step ahead in this fight. While I think Howard’s aggressiveness will keep Hall on edge, I don’t think it’ll be enough to stop Uriah from picking up the decision in the end. Hall is going to take more damage than he’d like, but at least he’ll get the victory as he batters Howard in and out of the clinch while defending takedowns.
Uriah Hall via Unanimous Decision
Matt Brown vs. Mike Pyle
In a battle of welterweight dark-horses, two guys that most fans my not have expected to be on the ridge of a title shot find themselves battling one another to get one step closer towards their ultimate goals. Matt Brown and Mike Pyle have both had up and down careers, but have persevered thanks to their diligence, motivation, resilience, and grit. This welterweight showdown could very well be a head-pick for Fight of the Night as both of these guys bring it every time they step into the Octagon, so expect some real fireworks in this match up.
Matt Brown may not seem like the most technical fighter in the world, but he is effective and he’s a nonstop train of punishment. Now on a 5 fight win streak (with 4 finishes), Matt Brown’s stand up skills have received attention and notice from fans around the world. After beating down prospect Jordan Mein, it was undeniable that this guy is one of the very best at 170lbs. Standing in Brown’s way of 6-0 is the MMA veteran Mike Pyle. Pyle is a very experienced veteran with over 30 professional bouts under his belt and is also on an impressive run inside of the UFC, his being at 4-0. Pyle has always been regarded as a high-level grappler who’s aggressive offense on the ground has often left his opponents tapping out, but with recent victories by TKO and knock out, Mike Pyle is starting to look like a real well-rounded machine.
Ironically, the majority of Mike Pyle’s losses have been due to submission. This is most likely attributed to Pyle’s risk-taking style on the ground and his habit of leaving himself open for sweeps and reversals. Don’t expect Brown to be going for any submissions on Mike Pyle, but what he will do is rain down elbows and punches much like Rory MacDonald did to Mike Pyle.
On the feet, you can’t deny that Brown has the edge. He’s the longer fighter, and is also the bigger fighter so it’ll be hard on Pyle’s part to muscle him around and gain any sort of wrestling advantage – that, and the fact that he’s got to watch out for Matt Brown’s destructive knees. I see this fight being a sloppy, bloody battle that will ultimately come down to who is the tougher of the two. Stylistically, Brown’s style is going to produce much more damage and will most likely favor him in most positions. It’s just going to be too hard for Pyle to close the distance and initiate his will if he has take elbows, punches, and knees from Brown every second of the way. Pyle has been finished before, and I’m expecting Brown to score a late finish in this fight as his high volume out-put of damage just becomes too much.
Matt Brown via 3rd Round TKO
Urijah Faber vs. Yuri Alcantara
Set in the bantamweight division, an exciting match-up between the young and talented Brazilian up-and-comer Yuri Alcantara and the long-time star Urijah Faber. This is another bout that has fireworks written all over it as you have two of the most ferocious and fast-paced fighters in the division against eachother in a fight that both guys need very desperately if they want any chance of fighting for the belt soon. Faber has been on a streak of smashing other contenders that aren’t quite on his skill level, while Alcantara lacks the name recognition for most fans to think otherwise, Alcantara could true be one of Faber’s biggest tests to date. The young up and comer, Yuri Alcantara, has displayed lightening fast hands and transitions on the feet that instantly makes you think of this guy as being the next big thing. While he suffered a minor set back to Hacran Dias, Alcantara has rebounded with two finishes (one being switched to a No Contest). While Faber is no doubt Yuri’s biggest test to date, this is also his largest chance to rocket to the top of the division and prove the hype true.
On the feet, both of these are very solid. We know Faber isn’t primarily striker, as the majority of his losses have been lost on the feet, but he still has some very large amounts of power in his hands and a very wide arsenal to use. Alcantara brings a striking game that is heavily based around his kicks and his in-and-out punching combinations. This could favor him but also hinder him as Faber will most likely be looking to take Alcantara down. Yuri will have to watch out throwing kick as Faber’s takedowns come at an instance noticed and because of the massive size advantage Faber has, it’ll be hard for Alcantara to deal with the wrestling. While Yuri is active off of his back, and threatens with submissions, Urijah Faber has one of the most sound ground games in the business. He always seems to be one step ahead, and is a huge threat in scrambles because of his speed and explosiveness. Alcantara will be dangerous the whole fight, but ultimately it’ll be Faber’s strength and control on the ground that will give him the victory. Expect Yuri to damage Faber on the feet, but the takedowns will change the pace the fight totally and put Faber in a spot where he’ll spend the majority of the rounds – on top.
Urijah Faber via Unanimous Decision
Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne
This heavyweight fight is a true attraction as it features two real “bangers” of the UFC. Alistair Overeem, the popular and highly controversial Dutch striker, looks to rebound from an embarrassing loss. While Overeem seemed to be next in line for the title, a “gimme fight” against “Bigfoot” Silva went south and tanked his momentum in the third round.
Now with a suspicion surrounding his ego and ability to take a punch added to his lingering suspicion regarding steroid usage, Overeem could very well be fighting for his career in this bout. His opponent, the red hot “Hapa” Browne, fortunately doesn’t find himself with much at risk. While Browne does carry a dominant performance over Gabriel Gonzaga on his shoulders into this fight, he’s already declared himself as one of the heavyweight division’s most exciting talents. With a tall frame and large amounts of athleticism to go along with it, the well-rounded Travis Browne will be ready to take on the largest task of his career in Alistair Overeem.
Even though the odd chance of landing a knockout blow against Overeem on the feet isn’t too far from reality, as proven by Bigfoot Silva, it should still be heavily advised not to stand with a former K-1 World Grand Prix Champion. On the feet, Overeem has a deadly arsenal at his fingertips to unleash on the much larger target in Travis Browne. While Browne is the longer and taller of the two, he’ll find lots of a difficult staying out of the landing-zone of Overeem as kicks, punches, and knees are all possibilities. If Browne stays at range, expect lots of kicks. If he stays in the pocket, it’ll be the punching combinations. If he dares to clinch, it’ll be those vicious jumping knees straight up the pocket that will thrown towards the taller head of Browne. Long story short, Browne’s length and height will not save him much punishment on the feet.
Browne’s biggest advantage is hands down his grappling skills. Even though Browne is primarily a striker, he has some underrated Jiu Jitsu, and against a fuel-deficient tank like Overeem, a third round grappling match could very easily go Browne’s way. The hardest part is going to be surviving however. Overeem is the stronger of the two physically, and his shorter stockier frame will make it difficult for Travis to get any takedowns. If Browne does find himself ontop, then he’s landed himself in a golden position as it will now be Overeem’s everlasting mission to try to carry Browne’s weight back up to his feet. That will wear him down immensely and push the momentum more towards Browne.
Ultimately, I’d be more inclined to pick Browne if he somehow had a Mark Hunt-chin, but he doesn’t. Browne has a very average chin that has been proven to be fairly hittable as long as you take his mobility. The strong kicking game of Overeem will do just that which should put Alistair in range to uncork his vicious punches and knees which should grant him the finish in the second round.
Alistair Overeem via 2nd Round KO
Shogun Rua vs. Chael Sonnen
Finally, we’ve shot through the stacked main card to reach the icing on the cake which is the highly anticipated match between Shogun Rua and Chael Sonnen. While the pre-fight antics haven’t been up to par compared to the potential in any Chael Sonnen fight, the actions in the cage will more than make up for any loss in words. Both of these guys desperately need this win to stay relevant, not just in their division, but in MMA. It’s been a fairly disappointing couple of years for Shogun who somehow seems to be getting sloppier and sloppier but at the same time remaining a very dangerous opponent. With more and more attempts to “rejuvenate” his younger self, the wild and reckless Shogun has cost himself more and more chances at the title. Hopefully a stronger emphasis on technique and cardio this time around will unleash the true potential inside of Shogun.
It’ll be hard to do just that however when you’re facing a blitzkrieg freight train called Chael Sonnen. A man that was once atop of the MMA world has been sent on a controversy-fueled down spiral resulting in three straight losses and a huge chunk of his fans MIA. With all that said, Chael Sonnen is still one of the best public speakers under the UFC roster and when it comes to salesmanship and selling a fight, no one does it better than that man. While he may find himself on a bit of a losing-streak, Sonnen will always find a way to make himself relevant. It’s hard not to be when you’re fighting entails no feeling out process, no running away, but rather a promise to honor the money paid by the fans for the tickets to see the one and only. Enough of the descriptive talk, let’s get on to the fight.
The majority of the speculation regarding this fight will be answered in the first round. First of all, will Chael Sonnen be able to take Shogun down? Even though I have no doubt in my mind Sonnen possesses the ability to do so, it’s more about whether Shogun will have an answer or not. If Rua is expecting Sonnen to stand with him long enough to find his rhythm and start setting up his combinations, then he’ll be in for a rude awakening. However, if Shogun approaches this fight with an attitude that entails making every second spent on the feet an attempt to knock Sonnen out, then he very well could find himself some success. Unfortunately, Shogun’s reckless abandonment will most likely result in Sonnen scoring easily double legs on him as long as he doesn’t eat a big knee on the way in.
However, the ground game is where more speculation arises. Shogun has often been praised for his underrated ground game and dangerous submission abilities despite only picking up one submission victory throughout his career. I do expect Rua to have a very active guard, but also a defensive one that should be solid enough to avoid eating punishment from Chael Sonnen. The next question is going to surround Sonnen’s submission defense and whether or not Rua will be able to score a submission. If you look at the guys Sonnen has been submitted by, they’re all pretty good. It’s not like Sonnen gets submitted by every scrub he ever hops into full guard with. That being said, where does Rua’s grappling status rank compared to the high-level guys Sonnen has been submitted against and the lower level guys Sonnen has NOT been submitted against?
And finally, the final speculation is going to be about Rua’s cardio. Can Shogun even go two rounds with Chael Sonnen ontop of him punching him in the face? Believe it or not, Chael Sonnen’s style of fighting is extremely taxing on his opponent and often times results in Sonnen leaching energy from them slowly until their defense wears out. That is extremely possible in this scenario given Shogun’s previous experiences and should be a gigantic caution in this fight.
In conclusion, I do believe Sonnen will be able to take this fight to the ground wherever he wants. However, he’s going to be met with high amounts of resistance courtesy of Shogun’s knockout power, reckless striking, and active ground game. Expect Shogun to look sharp with his defense and offense in the first round or two as Sonnen struggles to keep Rua on the mat and struggles to avoid big punches while pushing forward. However, as the fight drags on and Sonnen’s toughness keeps him alive, the tide will slowly begin to turn as Shogun tires out. This will fuel Sonnen’s wrestling and ground and pound and throw Chael back in the drivers’ seat in this fight. Expect Sonnen to ride out the latter half of the fight en-route to a narrow split decision victory.
Chael Sonnen via Split Decision