Wednesday, February 22, 2012
UFC 144 Preview (Part One)
I've already splooged out roughly 2,000 largely misunderstood words about the location of this card, so I'll spare all of you out there more jabberwocky (you're damn right I just used "jabberwocky" in a column) on the subject. Instead, I'll throw out a shameless plug.
I stand by the things that I wrote in the column, even though I didn't do the best job of getting a clear point across. My problem now is that I've been studying the actual matchups on the card. And, well ... they're pretty damn good. Not only that, but most of them make sense. Since you all know that I can't resist pretending to know what I'm talking about, here are my thoughts on the prelims, with the main card coming shortly thereafter.
Tiequan Zhang (15-2, 1-1 UFC) vs. Issei Tamura (6-2, 0-0 UFC)
Issei Tamura is coming off a loss to Guy Delumeau. Don't worry, I don't know who he is, either. My research on Tamura revealed that he trains at Krazy Bee, which used to mean something, but now it doesn't. This was Zuffa's third choice, after Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan. As crazy as it sounds, Zhang is a winnable fight for Leonard Garcia. Whens the last time you could conceivably say that, especially during his latest UFC tenure? So, um ... Tiequan Zhang!
Zhang is another fighter (they're all over this card) who is dangerous in the opening minutes and then gasses hard. However, I don't see him having too much trouble against a guy with zero offense on top. I think he either pulls off that slick guillotine or hurts Tamura on the feet enough to warrant a stoppage. It won't last five minutes. Zhang by submission.
Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto (18-5, 0-2 UFC) vs. Vaughan Lee (11-7-1, 0-1 UFC)
I'm just getting this one out of the way, because there are few high profile guys that care less about what they do than Kid. Long gone are the days where Yamamoto would KO an overmatched opponent and beat him senseless as the ref and both corners frantically tried to stop him. I just don't think Kid gives much of a damn about mixed martial arts. Maybe he did at one point, but after his Olympic wrestling hopes were derailed due to injury, he's been on borrowed time. He shows up with cool shorts, throws a few bombs, and hammers another check. Will he get another fight if he loses this one? I don't think so. But you never know.
Kid realness aside, he does have a big wrestling advantage over Lee, and he can always land that big shot. The problem is that he has never, not once, put combinations together. Lee will throw up enough head kicks and side kicks to beat up Kid and win via decision.
Takeya Mizugaki (15-6-2, 2-1 UFC) vs. Chris Cariaso (12-3, 2-1 UFC)
This fight is the equivalent of a "8 vs. 9" March Madness game; both guys are good fighters that wont beat the best fighters in the division unless something truly incredible happens, but they're also more than skilled enough to stick around and probably win more than they lose.
Chris Cariaso is really, really short. This works to his advantage, because no one expects a shrimp to beat them up. Cariaso is a capable striker, with solid kicks and a pretty good gas tank.
In this fight, it's the latter that Mizugaki has to worry about, because he tends to start well. He'll land his patented straight right over and over, but he tends to fade down the stretch, which is where Cariaso has a good chance to mount a comeback.
That's really the story here; Mizugaki has blown leads, and Cariaso can come from behind. However, Mizugaki is better in the clinch, and has a solid top game. I like Mizugaki to take a close decision win here, but he could possibly knock Cariaso out. Then, he'll go on to either become the official gatekeeper to the stars at 135, or immediately get thrown in against a top 5 guy and get beaten again. Takeya is good; he's just not THAT good. Regardless, a fun matchup.
Takanori Gomi (32-8, 1 NC, 1-3 UFC) vs. Eiji Mitsuoka (18-7-2, 0-0 UFC)
After a month that was filled with Dan Stittgen-caliber UFC debuts (Bernardo Magalhaes, Tim Means, Justin Salas, and of course, the immortal Dan Stittgen), it'll be nice to see a well traveled, skilled veteran that actually deserves to be in there.
Eiji Mitsuoka has the skills to stick around in the UFC, and Takanori Gomi is a fantastic first Zuffa opponent for him; a big, undisciplined puncher with poor submission defense. Mitsuoka has always been a solid submission guy, but he's shown marked improvement in his stand up game in recent fights. He seems to understand when to throw combinations and when to throw with power.
That being said, and we say this every time with Gomi because it never stops being true, but it only takes one punch from the Fireball Kid to get everyone talking about him again. Gomi has some of the best one punch power in the history of MMA, but the problem is that, somewhere around his 35th beer during the lead up to the Nick Diaz fight, he stopped going to the body to set up those hays. It's inexplicable. To watch him now, you'd think he was just a brawler who was blessed with unreal power, but this is someone that deserved to be called the best lightweight alive at one point in time. Watch his fight with Tatsuya Kawajiri sometime; he mauls Kawajiri's body and sets up every big punch to the head with accurate, punishing rib roasters. Maybe he's one of those guys that has a hard time with all of the surface area of the Octagon, because guys have so much more of an opportunity to be elusive and not get decapitated. I don't know.
If Gomi loses this, he's done as a Zuffa employee. Mitsuoka wont be a world beater, but he's a nice addition at 155, and has a pretty tailor made skill set to beat Gomi. I think Gomi will try to land that big punch as Mitsuoka scampers out of harms way. He'll get the fight to the ground somehow and have Gomi tapping within 10 minutes. It would be really fun if I turned out to be wrong here, because there aren't too many things in MMA that are more exciting than a Gomi punch landing flush. But I think this is Eiji Mitsuoka's fight. Imagine the guffawing if I had tried to make this argument 6 years ago.
Riki Fukuda (17-5, 0-1 UFC) vs. Steve Cantwell (7-5, 1-4 UFC)
Hey, remember when Steve Cantwell won his lone UFC bout? That night, I got drunk on shitty whiskey and wrote a column explaining why Cantwell represented everything that was wrong with America. It's a fascinating re-read: even in my angry, misguided, and embarrassing state, I KNEW that this man was headed for terrible things. You can't break a man's arm that badly, gloat that openly to Joe Rogan ("I've been waiting so long to do that."), and expect the karma gods to smile upon you.
Multiple injuries, a mysterious illness that kept him out for a year and a half, and 4 consecutive losses later, I'm ready to start anew with Cantwell. In fact, I almost feel responsible for his rapid decline.
Riki Fukuda is a bruising southpaw that was ripped off in his UFC debut against Nick Ring. The strange thing about that fight was that it was the kind of fight that the judges usually favor for Fukuda; he dominated the entire second half of the fight, and he dominated the third round on top as Ring was passive on the bottom. Usually, that's enough to earn a judges nod, and in this case, it actually would have been the correct call. But no.
I really like Fukuda here. Cantwell is a good striker, but if Fukuda can suck him into a dirty boxing-heavy brawl, he'll pull ahead. Also, Fukuda is a good wrestler, and can have success on the floor should the fight go there. Cantwell is tough, but I see him dropping his fifth consecutive decision, especially since the judges will most likely know about the jobbing Fukuda got in his last fight and will be hesitant to call any close fight for Cantwell.
(I don't know if this has ever happened, but it seems like human nature to be aware that a man is "due" for a fair decision. I'll take Fukuda on points.)
Main Card coming tomorrow. Stay tuned.