Picture Credit: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Following the crazy success of UFC 189 is a tough place to be, but with a solid undercard, the deciding fight for who faces the most famous fighter in the world (we’re looking at you Ronda), and the rematch of one of the greatest upsets in UFC history, the main card from top to bottom offers a little bit of everything characteristic of the UFC right now.
Starting it off, Takanori Gomi and Joe Lauzon are two veterans of PRIDE and the UFC who are both trying to prove that they have what it takes to keep up with the new breed of fighters. Slowing bodies may be betraying them and pushing them away from being title contenders, but there aren’t many fighters tougher or more willing to exchange than these two. Look for an explosive fight with the loser going out, most likely for good, on his shield.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Edson Barboza and Paul Felder have a great deal of hype following them into this fight. Felder is still undefeated, in the UFC and all-time, and shows a remarkable striking skillset. Barboza is tank of human, with the explosive power and athleticism that gives opponents fits. Oh, and he’s the only fighter in UFC history to end not one, but two fights via leg kicks. Felder tends to fight at range, but he may want to take a step or two in so as to not walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
In the women’s bantamweight matchup, Miesha Tate and Jessica Eye will battle to decide who gets to lose, er, fight Ronda Rousey next. Miesha is riding three fight win streak and is only improving her skillset with each outing. Eye, however, is looking to capitalize on a lingering gap in Tate’s game: her mediocre standup. Eye has historically lacked knockout power and had exceptional takedown defense, while Tate has had a horrific standing game and kind of grinding grappling style. This battle of opposite skillsets should be an interesting prelude to a title fight with Rousey, especially if either fighter can surprise with a more diverse offering in the Octagon.
To properly set the stage for the main event, and men’s bantamweight championship, we have to flashback to a little over a year ago. Both T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao were expected to fight at UFC 173, but at vastly different levels. Renan Barao was the champ and riding a 33 fight, and nine year, unbeaten streak. Analysts were speaking of his as the pound for pound best in the UFC, and while there was some debate in that space, there was none over whether his streak was the most incredible the UFC had ever seen. T.J. Dillashaw, the young kid from Cali, was scheduled to fight Takeya Mizugaki, an interesting matchup for the rising star. But for all the hype for T.J., Barao was still waiting in the wings like a ceiling resting heavily on Dillashaw’s career. When number one contender Raphael Assuncao got injured in the lead up to his title challenge, T.J. was tapped to climb the seemingly impossible mountain. Five dominant rounds and TKO later, the fighting world sat dumbfounded at this young blond kid and his wild-eyed coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig.
With that in the rearview, Dillashaw and Barao both have heavy weights on their shoulders. You can bet that Barao is furious and coming back better than ever, and when people previously spoke of his terrifying skillset and GOAT status, there wasn’t much exaggeration. Another safe guarantee is that Dillashaw and Duane Ludwig have put their heads together and got T.J. into insanely good shape, polished his skills, and come up with an ingenious game plan.
Weigh-In Video and Results
- Main Card (FOX, 8 pm EST)
- T.J. Dillashaw, Current Bantamweight Champion (135) vs. Renan Barao (135)
- Jessica Eye (136) vs. Miesha Tate (135.5)
- Edson Barboza (155) vs. Paul Felder (155.5)
- Takanori Gomi (155.5) vs. Joe Lauzon (155.5)
- Preliminary Card (FOX, 6 pm EST)
- Tom Lawlor (203) vs. Gian Villante (205)
- Danny Castillo (155.5) vs. Jim Miller (155)
- Kenny Robertson (170) vs. Ben Saunders (170.5)
- Bryan Caraway (135.5) vs. Eddie Wineland (136)
- Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 4:15 pm EST)
- Daron Cruickshank (155) vs. James Krause (155.5)
- Andrew Holbrook (155.5) vs. Ramsey Nijem (156)
- Jessamyn Duke (135.5) vs. Elizabeth Phillips (135)
- Zak Cummings (170.5) vs. Dominique Steele (170.5)
Main Card Predictions
Takanori Gomi vs. Joe Lauzon
This is a fight that is five years past its prime, but still will be a good show. On a card with T.J./Barao two lingering, this fight is easy to overlook, but both Lauzon and Gomi love to stand in the pocket and bang. If this fight goes in that direction, look for it to win knockout of the night.
Since his Ultimate Fighter Days (Season 5, Team Penn), Joe Lauzon has shown himself to be gifted on the ground and incredibly tough. At 24-10 he has had a prolific, if not exactly hardware-heavy, UFC career. As he’s aged into veteran status, Lauzon is notable for being a fight ender, angling for the submission or the knockout at all costs. When he hits the mat with an opponent, look for him to chase the submission with a relentless pace. And on his feet, he leans heavily towards counter-punching, with the power to back it up. But Joe’s flaws, best illustrated in his tough-to-watch last fight with Al Iaquinta, are his inability to keep pace with the new breed of fighter and his lack of solid defense in his stand-up.
Takanori Gomi is another veteran struggling to keep up with the rapidly changing MMA world, but with the credentials and wherewithal that has to be respected in any matchup. After losing by TKO to Myles Jury at UFC Fight Night 52, there are lingering questions about Gomi’s future in the UFC. At 35-10, Gomi is one of the more experienced fighters in the UFC stable, with a PRIDE 2005 Grand Prix and Lightweight Championship belt to show for his longevity. He’s lost much of his explosive speed and power, ten years later, but he retains solid technical skills and comfort in the pocket that is inhuman.
A pick is exceptionally hard in this case, because this will be one of two fights, if history is anything to go on: Lauzon and Gomi stand toe-to-toe and see who the tougher veteran is, or Lauzon drags the fight to the ground and Gomi’s ever-gaping hole that is his ground game is exposed. The first scenario is impossible to predict, as one lucky punch could end either man’s night. The second is also tricky, with Lauzon’s questionable gas tank and Gomi’s still solid takedown defense. I’m rooting for the slug fest, but hoping the Lauzon’s camp has told him his best chance is to take Gomi down and choke him.
Joe Lauzon by submission. Second Round.
Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder
Another fight in the lightweight division, but with a younger generation of fighters competing. Unlike Gomi/ Lauzon, where a loss means a pink slip and a win means another payday or two, the winner of this fight will look forward to a high level match-up (the heights of which will be decided by how this fight plays out). With all of that looming on the horizon, and both fighters’ casting a wary eye towards it, look for this fight to bring an explosive energy that will feed the rest of the card.
Edson Barboza game lives and dies in his standup. Incredibly effective at keeping range, with devastating leg kicks and a shield of a jab, Barboza has twice finished fights via low kicks. But in the same breath, he tends to sit back and ride the fight, keeping range and throwing low-risk kicks and relying on his overwhelming athleticism. This can, and does, get him trouble with fighters that seek to close the distance, either to trade punches or shoot for the takedown. At 15-3, Barboza is only getting better, though, and could surprise if he brings the pressure.
Paul Felder, at 10-0 is a bit of an unknown, with a high level of potential. With only two of his wins coming in the UFC, one of which came via split decision, Felder needs this win to be considered a top contender. What he has going for him are a tough clench game and crisp, if flashy, standup. Felder will throw a spinning backfist or two, but he truly excels in tying his opponent up and delivering brutal elbows and knees. The issue he’s likely to experience in this fight is his favorite place to deliver his close-up brutality is when his opponent makes the mistake of shooting for a takedown. Barboza, for all his explosiveness and sharp skillset, is not much of a risk to shoot, especially with an opponent willing to trade punches.
Both fighters are low risk of taking the fight to the ground, but each enjoys a ranged approach to striking. Barboza is slightly ahead in technical skill, and far ahead in kickboxing experience, but Felder is often praised on his baiting style and lighting counters. My pick hinges on Barboza surprising and pushing the pressure. If this fight goes to a decision, we should all be disappointed.
Edson Barboza wins via third round TKO.
Jessica Eye vs. Miesha Tate
Continuing the pressure build-up that is this card, Jessica Eye and Miesha Tate is the fight to decide who gets to challenge the throne. In Women’s MMA, Ronda Rousey is everything. With a profile that only gets bigger by the day, the champ brings name recognition and t.v. time to all her opponents. And the woman that can unseat her well-entrenched hold on the throne will be MMA’s biggest hero, or villain, since Chris Weidman showed the world Anderson Silva was human. Those are the stakes for this fight, and both ladies seem primed for the matchup.
Miesha Tate, 16-5, has three straight wins over some of the best talent in the women’s bantamweight division (Rin Nakai, Sarah McMann, Liz Carmouche). Her last loss was to Rowdy Ronda, who simply outclassed her and raised major questions about her skillset. Those questions are still outstanding and focus on her standup. Showing a toughness that borders on terrifying, Tate will bang to her own detriment, consistently showing that her striking ability hovers around mediocre. But while Ronda may be nigh impossible to take down and finish, Tate has shown a pressing grappling style that has overwhelmed her last three opponents and won her three straight decisions.
Jessica Eye, 11-2, is a quick rising transplant from Bellator, released after the cutting of the women’s division. Since August of 2013, Eye has proven herself to be a solid striker, albeit with underwhelming power. She has also displayed an aggressive clench, with elbows and knees coming in flurries. The major question of this fight is her takedown defense, and stopping ability. Two split decisions (one of which became a “no contest” due to lingering traces of marijuana in her post-fight drug test) and a doctor stoppage since joining the UFC, raises some questions about the odds of her ending a fight.
A part of me is always thinking of Rousey when discussing the women’s bantamweight division and this fight is no exception. Tate’s offering in her last title shot left something to be desired, but Eye is fairly untested. Eye offers an intriguing different style to a potential title matchup, but without finishing power, and a complete lack of submissions, she plays right into Ronda and Tate’s wheelhouse. Tate will eat punches, and may come away from this fight with a face like hamburger, but Eye won’t be able to knock her out and Tate will take her down repeatedly.
It’s hard to root against Cupcake.
Miesha Tate wins via judges’ decision.
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao
T.J. Dillashaw stomped Barao last time. Anyone who watched the fight, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, remembers the five rounds of consistent beating that T.J. dished out and the subsequent TKO. T.J. fighting with such dominance, and Barao being so heavily favored, left commentator Joe Rogan spluttering in the cage during his post-fight interview (and who can blame him? I was still screaming at my t.v.) The question for this fight will be: can T.J. handle a Barao as a challenger?
T.J. Dillashaw is an exceptional grappler, holding the distinction of having never been taken down in the UFC. Under Duane Ludwig’s tutelage he has married that grappling ability with a creative, if oddly-timed, stand up game. Fast paced, ever-changing, T.J. works all the angles and darts in an out of range. His counterpunching isn’t simply explosive, it’s timed in a way that goads his opponents into the exact position he wants them in. He is one of the first truly complete fighters in the UFC, and second only to Mighty Mouse in champions of the “new breed”.
Renan Barao is a monster. Where Dillashaw is an exceptional grappler, who had never been taken down, Barao matches him. Where Dillashaw works the angles and changes his stance, Barao has a variety of strikes that make him dangerous and a vicious clench game. Renan Barao is an MMA fighter of the highest caliber and quality, with best in the division skills in every phase of the game. And should there have been any doubt about the first fight, any questioning of Barao’s focus on the drop-in challenger, there won’t be in this match up. As soon as the last fight was over, the whole fighting world was ready for the rematch. And that is all Barao has been working on. He has been living, eating, and training to beat T.J. for over a year.
This fight will be close. I tend to believe that the last fight was a combination of lack of focus and preparation by Renan Barao’s camp, especially with Dillashaw being a drop-in, and the impressive game planning done by T.J. and Duane Ludwig. Barao has a tendency to plant his feet and swing when threatened, a small hole in his game that the wonder team managed to exploit for five straight rounds and the belt. With Barao focused fully on plugging the holes in his game and locked in on T.J. as an opponent, will he be able to overcome the coupling of T.J. and Duane? For me, I’m betting on T.J. Dillashaw continuing his meteoric rise with Duane Ludwig at the helm. But it will be a war.
Prediction: T.J. Dillashaw wins via judges’ decision.