The UFC stacked the deck this weekend for the promotions debut on FOX Sports 1. Five of the main card fighters (Shogun, Sonnen, Overeem, Browne and Faber) have all headlined UFC events in the past.
Some pivotal matchups take place Saturday but the biggest matchup on TSN.ca is the return of Jordan Cieciwa who goes head-to-head with me this week with his picks. As always you can follow me (@LynchOnSports) or Jordan (@FitCityJordan) if you agree or disagree, also feel free to leave your opinions in the comment section below.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Chael Sonnen
Lynch: In a fight that was rumored to save the UFC 161 card in Winnipeg, Shogun and Sonnen finally lock horns in a matchup where both fighters are looking for contender status in the 205-pound division. If Shogun had any hopes of a rematch with Jon Jones that was all shattered in his last fight as he endured a one sided beat down to current number one contender Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on FOX 5. The biggest knock on the Brazilian throughout his entire career is his conditioning, and that was evident against the Swede who looked faster and landed more shots than the former UFC light heavyweight champion.
“The American Gangster” meanwhile competes in his first non-title bout since January of 2012, and aims to bounce back from his current two-fight losing streak. Conditioning has never been an issue with Sonnen, who took former middleweight champion Anderson Silva into deep waters during their first encounter and nearly won the fight. On paper the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has all the talent in the world to defeat the former NCAA Division I wrestler, but depending on what type of shape he comes in for this fight, will determine the outcome.
This is a tough fight to call as it's possible Rua lands a fight ending submission on the 36-year old (who has been tapped out eight times in his career) however it's also possible the Sonnen effectively secures takedowns and grinds out a decision. Overall this fight comes down to who wants it more and I believe “The People's Champ” is hungrier than his 31-year old foe.
Sonnen via unanimous decision
JC: Well the fight is finally here. I really thought this was going to happen for UFC 161, and it would have really added to the card in Winnipeg. It didn't.
Now the problem remains, who shows up to this fight? Obviously, it's Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Chael Sonnen, but which Rua will we see on Saturday night? Are we talking the "Shogun" from his Pride days, or the "Shogun" that fought Gustafsson? At 31, Rua is still in his prime and there is no reason for him to do anything other than show up in shape and leg kick a slower, one dimensional Sonnen.
Sonnen can wrestle, and he can throw strikes, but they aren't pretty. Truth be told, this fight in my opinion is Rua's to lose. He can beat himself on this. There are no better athletes than wrestlers. Sonnen will control Rua if he lets him. Can "Shogun" keep the distance, and out strike Sonnen. We'll see, and this will be a very long drawn out fight. It's going to look a lot like Rory MacDonald vs. Jake Ellenberger. I'm hoping we see a proud Brazilian come out to knock out a loud mouth American.
Rua via unanimous decision
Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne
Lynch: On paper this fight has all the potential of a “Knockout of the Night” fight as former Strikeforce champion Overeem squares off with 6'7 juggernaut Browne. The former K-1 Grand Prix Champion was embarrassed in his last fight, having been knocked out by considerable underdog Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 156. That loss immediately shattered any talk of fighting for the UFC heavyweight title and questioned the Dutch fighter's use of PED's during his career outside the UFC. “The Reem” hopes an impressive performance against the Hawaiian will prove his doubters wrong.
Browne meanwhile looks to build off his impressive victory over Gabriel Gonzaga back at the TUF 17 Finale and aims for his 11th career knockout; however that might be easier said than done. The former DREAM champion is clearly the better striker having looked impressive during his tenure in K-1 kickboxing. The other factor to consider is the Dutchman has fought 49 times compared to the Jackson/Winklejohn student's 15 fights. While Overeem was knocked out in his last fight, much of that had to do with his cockiness and leaving his hands down in the third round. Look for the Blackzillian fighter to be more composed and use his muay-thai to neutralize any of the knockout power Browne possesses.
With what's at stake for Overeem, I see him executing a smart game plan of picking his shots and playing it safe, on route to a unanimous decision victory.
Overeem via unanimous decision
JC: I don't know where I stand on Alistair Overeem. He's the scape goat for a very troubled UFC, as far as the drug allegations go. He didn't go the TRT route like a bunch of American wrestlers or Vitor Belfort. He got busted, same as Barry Bonds, in the prime of his career in a sport where no one seems innocent. If you look at Overeem's career, it's beyond impressive. He's been fighting as an MMA professional since 1999, since he was 18. His striking is world class, and he can wrestle enough to take dominant positions to throw strikes. That all said, he looked like a rookie in his last fight against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. You have a Dream Champion, K-1 Champion, and a threat in every fight he has been in, fighting a relative newcomer. My money is on the new comer Browne.
"The Reem" is still going to be under the microscope for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED's) and I hate to say it that seems to be the secret to most of his wins. Browne has the best corner in the game, and even though I don't like the Jackson/Winklejohn camp, they produce guys who win. All Browne has to do is be aggressive, fight smart, and control this fight. He'll catch Alistair just like Gonzaga did.
Browne via 2nd round TKO
Urijah Faber vs. Yuri Alcantara
Lynch: Two of the top fighters in the bantamweight division clash as former WEC featherweight champion Faber meets submission ace Alcantara. “The California Kid” has taken his fight game to another level since adding striking coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig to his team, finishing his last two opponents in impressive fashion. A matchup with the Brazilian Alcantara is just another stepping stone on the path to earning a rematch with current 135-pound champ Renan Barao.
While Alcantara poses a threat on the ground, this is Faber's fight to lose as he has a lot more tools in his arsenal to impose on his opponent. The step up in competition and the fact he's facing an opponent who outside of title fights is currently 7-0, doesn't bode well for the Brazilian. We should see Faber outwrestle the 33-year old and pick his shots at will, but not likely finish his opponent on the ground as he is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
Faber via unanimous decision
JC: I'm going to tape this fight and watch it in slow motion so I can actually see the guys striking. I love the Bantamweights, and hearing that Faber is adding striking into this camp in a big way has me excited to see a great match up. Faber has always relied on his wrestling, as the whole Alpha Male team has. A win in this fight will have Faber back in the hunt for the title.
Faber's wrestling and now improved striking means his only hole is the submission game. Having been on the ground with better submission guys than Alcantara, I don't see Faber giving up an easy submission here. I'm hoping to see the Faber of three or four years ago. The fearless fighter who throws crazy angle shots, spinning elbows of the cage and tries to win in explosive fashion.
Faber via unanimous decision
Matt Brown vs. Mike Pyle
Lynch: Bet you didn't know that both Brown and Pyle combined have a winning streak of nine-straight fights inside the UFC's 170-pound weight class. Well now you do, and it should also be noted that these are two of the most underrated fighters in the UFC's welterweight division. Back in 2011 “The Immortal” was on the verge of unemployment with the UFC having lost four of his last five fights. Since then he's been on a roll, dispatching the likes of Stephen Thompson, Mike Swick and most recently Canadian prospect Jordan Mein. The Achilles heel throughout the Ohio native's career has been his ground skills, with nine of his eleven losses coming by way of submission. Because of an injury to Thiago Alves, his replacement Pyle poses an interesting threat because16 of his 25 wins has come by way of submission.
In his last fight “Quicksand” narrowly squeaked out a decision over Rick Story, in a bout which he almost lost due to overwhelming strikes in the first round. Brown hits a lot harder than Story and has more tools in his arsenal to finish this fight. The TUF 7 alum should be able to avoid the mat, keep this fight standing and earn his 11th career knockout for what should be the ‘Fight of the Night'
Brown via second round knockout
JC: GSP, Hendricks, MacDonald... Brown and Pyle? Yes folks, these boys are in that welterweight division and no one talks about them. They don't like to lose.
Pyle is 7-1 in his last 8, his loss was to Rory MacDonald. Brown is 6-1 in his last 7. He had a bit of a rough go in 2010 with 3 straight losses, but like any great fighter, went back to the lab and perfected his craft. Now both of these underrated fighters are poised to make a run to the top 5 and maybe a title shot. My pick is Pyle doing everything right, getting this fight to the mat, and showing the only weakness Matt Brown seems to have, getting submitted. Brown has a tenancy to make major mistakes on the ground and leave the cage early due to chokes.
Pyle via second round submission (Guillotine)
Uriah Hall vs. John Howard
Lynch: TUF 17 Middleweight Tournament runner up Hall aims for his first UFC victory Saturday night when he is paired with hometown favorite Howard. With all the hype building from his spinning hook kick knockout of Adam Cella on his season of the Ultimate Fighter, Hall struggled at the TUF 17 finale, losing a split decision to eventual winner Kelvin Gastelum. One area that was greatly exposed in that loss was Hall's mental struggles and his inability to stop a takedown.
In matching up with a seasoned veteran like “Doomsday”, Hall will need those issues to be resolved. The 30-year old Howard meanwhile makes his return to the UFC for the first time since June 2011 and hopes to find success as a middleweight, as he previously competed inside the octagon in the 170lb division. However because of the short notice of taking this fight (replacing Josh Samman) and the fact that Hall has a three inch height and eight inch reach advantage, the edge has to go to Hall.
With Howard being stopped just three times in his career, it's doubtful Hall will be able to finish him, instead I think we see him play it safe, pick his shots and earn a unanimous decision victory.
Hall via unanimous decision
JC: I'm going to assume that Uriah Hall is a hard working athlete, that he is smart and that he has a team around him who will take him back to basics and teach him how to sprawl. Hall needs to win big fights, and do it with improving his takedown defense. This fight will be interesting as it's a short notice replacement fight. Those always throw wrenches into the game plan. Hall will be ready, the jitters of the big show should be out, and my hope is he has fixed the major problem in his game.
If he can stay in control with his height and reach advantage and defend the takedown, he should safely take this to the full 3 rounds.
Hall via unanimous decision
Joe Lauzon vs. Michael Johnson
Lynch: Boston native Lauzon makes his return to the octagon after his grueling loss to Jim Miller back in December to face TUF 12 runner up Johnson. Both are coming off losses and are well rounded, so fans should expect an exciting all-out war. Lauzon has a clear advantage on the ground and should be able to submit Johnson rather easily should he be able to take this fight to the mat. The Blackzillian member has six submission losses and most likely it will be seven after Saturday night.
Lauzon via second round submission.
JC: Michael Johnson is making the trek from Florida where the Blackzillians train to Boston, my hope is that he has fixed his submission loss ways. That's actually not true, I really like Joe Lauzon and want to see him win this with a submission. Lauzon needs this win to jump back up in to the top 10 of the 155-pound division. He has the toughness; he just hasn't won the big fights. Lauzon with some consistency, is one of the best fighters at 155. He can dominate this one on the mat, the question is, does he get it there or does he get frustrated and let Johnson keep this one standing. We all know Lauzon can take a beating but the problem is that's just the "tough way" to lose a decision.
Lauzon via unanimous decision
Lynch: McDonald, McGregor, Brown, Brandao, Miller, St-Preux, Nijem
JC: Pickett, McGregor, Brown, Brandao, Miller, Donovan, Nijem
Also be sure to tune into the “Weigh-In” on TSN Radio 1290 Winnipeg every Saturday as Jordan and I go toe to toe in discussing the hottest topics in Mixed Martial Arts.