The UFC will be looking to build on an impressive Fox card with their return to Denver, Colorado. The last time the UFC took to the mountains of Colorado, the card featured a number of big athletes slowing down in the thin mountain air, leading to lackluster affairs and slow paced brawls. The UFC seems to have learned from past mistakes, as this card features men no larger than the Middleweight limit of 185-pounds.
The main event features re-match virtuoso and former UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie “The Answer” Edgar looking to regain his title from the man that took it from him “Smooth” Benson Henderson. The co-main event features a Lightweight tilt that seems to have Fight of the Night written all over it, as former teammates collide when Melvin Guillard battles Donald Cerrone. Other main card action features two Middleweight tilts and a potential Featherweight slugfest. In Middleweight action Jake Shields returns to the division for the first time in the UFC as he takes on resurgent veteran Ed Herman. Japanese standout Yushin Okami looks to get back to his winning ways in a bout against late-replacement Buddy Roberts. Kicking off the main card is a Featherweight bout between Max Holloway and Justin Lawrence.
Preliminary Card (Facebook): Featherweight Bout: Nik Lentz vs. Eiji Mitsuoka
Nik “The Carny” Lentz is an American fighter from El Paso, Texas. Lentz is a member of the American Top Team Gym based out of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Lentz is a former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler from the University of Minnesota. This will be Lentz’s first bout at 145-pounds, after spending the majority of his career at Lightweight. Lentz owns a professional MMA record of 21-5-2. Eiji Mitsuoka is a Japanese fighter from Handa, Aichi, Japan. The 36-year-old is a member of the Wajyutsu Keisuyaki RJW Dojo in Saitama, Japan. Mitsuoka has a background in Freestyle Wrestling and has fought for a number of major Asian MMA Promotions including DREAM, World Victory Road, PRIDE, Shooto and DEEP. He holds a professional record of 18-8-2.
Analysis and Prediction: Both of these fighters rely on their wrestling to get them through fights. While neither fighter is completely awful in the striking department, neither one of them is going to be looking to keep this bout standing. This means that it will likely become a battle of takedowns and submission attempts. In a wrestling battle I’ll usually favor an NCAA alumnus versus a Japanese wrestler (unless it’s Yushin Okami), so I think Lentz lands more takedowns and is able to stay out of submissions from on top and grinds out a decision victory. Just don’t expect fireworks. Nik Lentz via Unanimous Decision
Preliminary Card (FX): Bantamweight Bout: Dustin Pague vs. Chico Camus
Dustin “The Disciple” Pague is an American fighter from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The 25-year-old is a member of the TapouT Ranch in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Pague is best known from his stint on the fourteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter where he lost in the semi-finals. Pague has a pro record of 11-6 and has finished all eleven of the opponents that he’s defeated. Chico “King” Camus is a member of the Roufusport Gym in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This fight will be Camus’ UFC debut and Pague will represent a pretty significant step up in competition for him. While most Roufusport fighters are excellent strikers, Camus isn’t really a kickboxing expert but is fairly well rounded. He holds a career record of 11-3.
Analysis and Prediction: Pague is definitely not the world’s greatest striker, but he will hold a height and reach advantage, which will probably negate some of Camus’ striking edge. Despite being well rounded he’s definitely going to be overmatched by Pague’s grappling skills on the mat. The question then becomes whether Pague can work the fight to the mat often enough to take advantage of that edge. I think he eventually does and secures a rear-naked choke late in the second. Dustin Pague via Submission in Round Two
Preliminary Card (FX): Bantamweight Bout: Ken Stone vs. Erik Perez
Ken Stone is an American fighter from Holliston, Massachusetts. He is a member of the American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Stone is a former NCAA wrestler from Bridgewater State University. Stone is a very well rounded fighter but has had a rough go in his Zuffa career. His ability to fight at a distance could prove to be a huge edge in this fight. He holds a career record of 11-3. Erik “Goyito” Perez is a 22-year-old fighter from Monterrey, Mexico. He is a member of Greg Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Perez is a high-octane grappler who excels in fast-paced grapple-heavy bouts where he can take advantage of quick scrambles and latch onto submissions. He holds a career record of 11-4, with 7 wins coming by way of tap out.
Analysis and Prediction: Stone is definitely the more well rounded of these two fighters. Perez looked very impressive in his UFC debut against John Albert in a one-round bout that took place almost exclusively on the mat. Stone however has shown a solid ability to sprawl in some of his more recent fights. That ability will be integral to this bout as his strategy will surely be to use a steady diet of kicks and sprawl-and-brawl, while Perez will surely be looking to drag the fight to the mat. If Stone can keep the bout upright, he wins, if not expect Perez to turn him into a pretzel. Ken Stone via Unanimous Decision
Preliminary Card (FX): Middleweight Bout: Jared Hamman vs. Michael Kuiper
Jared “The Messenger” Hamman is an American fighter from Atascadero, California. Hamman is a former Light Heavyweight fighter who didn’t have much success at the weight class and has since dropped to Middleweight. Hamman actually played college football at the University of Redlands before becoming a fighter. He is a member of the VMAT Gym training under the tutelage of MMA pioneer Vladimir Matyushenko. Hamman holds a career record of 13-4. Michael “Judo” Kuiper is a Dutch fighter from Riel, Netherlands. The 23-year-old is a member of the Gracie Barra Gym in Tiburg, Netherlands. Like his nickname suggests he has a background in Judo and holds a black belt in the sport. Kuiper is also an excellent striker in addition to his Judo black belt and grappling skills. He holds a career record of 11-1, with ten stoppage victories, with the lone loss being his UFC debut.
Analysis and Prediction: Kuiper actually was fairly impressive in his UFC debut but began to tire at the end of the bout, mostly because he was outmuscled and leaned on by a larger fighter. Hamman has had some success but he hasn’t been able to do much against UFC competition except get beat up until his opponent gasses and then take advantage on the ground. I expect Kuiper will be more acclimated to fighting in the US and for the UFC in this bout and his cardio won’t be an issue. He is a more talented striker than Hamman and throws with enough power to stop anyone in their tracks. Hamman will have a wrestling advantage, but Kuiper’s judo may be the ace in the hole that helps him avoid the ground game. If Kuiper can keep a solid pace I think his striking will get earn him a stoppage, if he punches himself out or the thin Denver air gets to him, Hamman will be right there ready to take advantage. Still, I’ll stick with the Dutchman. Michael Kuiper via TKO in Round Two
Preliminary Card (FX): Featherweight Bout: Dennis Bermudez vs. Tommy Hayden
Dennis “The Menace” Bermudez is an American fighter from Saugerties, New York. He is a 25-year-old fighter from the Long Island MMA Gym. He is a former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. Bermudez was a finalist on the fourteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter. He holds a professional record of 8-3. Tommy “Wildcard” Hayden is an American fighter from Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a member of the Jorge Gurgel MMA and Fitness Academy in his hometown. Hayden is a talented grappler, but looked completely out of sorts in his UFC debut against Fabricio Camoes who absolutely worked him on the ground. Still Hayden holds a career record of 8-1, with his lone loss being the aforementioned UFC debut loss to Camoes.
Analysis and Prediction: Hayden is a grappler with a knack for searching out submissions. Bermudez has struggled in the past against talented submission artists, but seems to have plugged those holes in his game. In his last bout against Pablo Garza (a talented grappler in his own right) Bermudez simply smothered him on the ground, using ground and pound to keep Garza at bay and on the wrong-end of a beating on the mat. If Bermudez gets sloppy on the mat Hayden definitely has the tools to make him pay for it. But I expect to see a lot of takedowns and a lot of smothering top control from Bermudez en-route to a decision victory. Dennis Bermudez via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (PPV): Featherweight Bout: Justin Lawrence vs. Max Holloway
Justin “The Hammer” Lawrence is an American fighter from Pacific, Missouri. The 22-year-old is a member of the Blackhouse MMA Gym in Los Angeles, California. As a member of the Black House he trains with some of Brazil’s top fighters including Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and the Nogueira brothers. Lawrence is a talented striker with international credentials including Pan-American Kickboxing Champion (twice) and being the St. Louis Golden Gloves champion twice. Lawrence is undefeated as a professional fighter, holding a career record of 4-0.
Max “Blessed” Holloway is an American fighter from Waianae, Hawaii. The 20-year-old made his UFC debut as a late replacement fighter against Dustin Poirier and put up a hell of a fight before succumbing to the grappling skills of Poirier. Holloway like his opponent is a talented striker who incorporates a number of flashy kicks and knees into his striking. Holloway is a competent boxer who has an excellent jab and seems to be from the Nick Diaz school of MMA striking as he happily throws punches to the body often. Holloway holds a professional MMA record of 5-1, with his lone loss coming on short-notice to Dustin Poirier.
Analysis and Prediction: Despite the relative inexperience of these two fighters, they are both extremely talented strikers with a wealth of kickboxing experience. Lawrence is probably the more technically precise striker and throws a more textbook kickboxing style at you. Holloway on the other hand incorporates a number of kicks, knees and elbows in his game and fights very well from the inside. I’ll put it out there, that this is my dark horse pick for Fight of the Night as it should be a mostly stand up affair. I think Holloway’s flashy style wins over the judges as he takes a very close decision. Max Holloway via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (PPV): Middleweight Bout: Yushin Okami vs. Buddy Roberts
Yushin “Thunder” Okami is a Japanese fighter from Kanagawa, Japan. He is a former title challenger in the UFC’s Middleweight division and is one of the top fighters in the division. He is looking to right the ship after a recent loss to Tim Boetsch where he dominated the first two rounds of the fight, before succumbing to strikes in the third round in a Comeback of the Year performance. Okami is a member of the Team Quest Gym when training in the USA and is a member of the Wajyutsu Keisyukai Dojo in Japan. Okami is a talented wrestler who has excellent top control and is also a black belt in Judo. Okami has shown improvements in his striking in his more recent bouts, but he still does his best work by pressing forward in search of takedowns and using ground and pound to smother his opponents. Okami is also one of the biggest and strongest Middleweights in the UFC. He holds a professional record of 26-7.
Buddy Roberts is a 29-year-old fighter from Fort Worth, Texas. He is a member of Greg Jackson’s Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Roberts is actually a late-replacement to fight Okami, but was in training to fight Chris Camozzi on this card before Camozzi was forced to withdraw. Roberts is a talented striker who showed excellent takedown defense in his UFC debut against Caio Magalhaes. Despite his success against Magalhaes he will not want to give Okami many chances to engage in clinches or get close enough to shoot for takedowns as Okami has some of the best wrestling in the Middleweight division. Roberts will need to fight at a range, using leg kicks and a strong jab to maintain distance while avoiding the excellent jab that Okami has begun throwing in recent bouts. Roberts holds a career record of 12-2.
Analysis and Prediction: Although he showed excellent abilities to shrug off takedowns in his UFC debut, Roberts will have a much tougher time shrugging Okami off of him. Once Okami gets his hands on an opponent, it’s rare that they are able to shake him off. Okami is coming off back-to-back knockout losses so he may be slightly gun-shy in close, if that happens, Roberts must be ready to take advantage of even the slightest openings and strike quickly. I like Okami a lot in this bout and I think he’ll come out with the right game plan to close the distance, pummel Roberts in the clinch and work the fight to the ground. From there he should be able to batter Roberts and either take a lopsided decision or pound out a late stoppage. Yushin Okami via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (PPV): Middleweight Bout: Jake Shields vs. Ed Herman
Jake Shields is finally making his return to his more natural weight of 185-pounds. Despite challenging for a title at 170-pounds, Shields often looked tired and gassed easily, at 185-pounds he shouldn’t struggle so much with the cut and should actually improve his strength and stamina. Shields is a member of the Cesar Gracie Fight Team fighting out of San Francisco, California. Shields is a former NCAA Division 2 Wrestler from Cuesta College and is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Shields’ striking game remains relatively weak, as he uses it solely to close the distance to a spot where he can shoot for takedowns effectively. However, his wrestling and top control is excellent and he is very dangerous from the top. Instead of simply grinding on his opponents, Shields is very active from top control, constantly using ground and pound and passing guard to more advantageous positions while searching out submission opportunities. Shields is a former Strikeforce and Elite XC Middleweight Champion with a professional record of 27-6-1.
Ed “Short Fuse” Herman is an American fighter who is in the middle of a career resurgence. The 31-year-old from Vancouver, Washington suffered an awful knee injury in a 2009 bout against Aaron Simpson and was sidelined for nearly two years. Since returning to the cage Herman is 3-0 with three stoppage victories. Herman is a former cast-member of The Ultimate Fighter 3 and actually made it to the finals before losing to the show-winner Kendall Grove. Herman is a member of the Team Quest Gym in Fort Collins, Colorado and is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Like his opponent Herman isn’t going to be winning any boxing titles, but uses his striking to close the distance. Herman holds a career record of 20-8.
Analysis and Prediction: Herman has looked good since returning to action after nearly a two-year layoff, however, Shields is his toughest test to date. Both fighters are talented wrestlers and excellent grapplers, but both of them due their best work from top position. While Herman prefers aggressive ground and pound, Shields is constantly looking to pass guard and advance his position on the search for submissions. In the past Shields has struggled against strikers who can keep him from taking them down. Herman’s striking doesn’t pose much of a threat and I think Shields will look significantly more impressive physically at 185-pounds than he did at 170. I expect Shields uses constant takedowns and smothering top control to take a Unanimous Decision, although a late submission isn’t impossible either. Jake Shields via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (PPV): Lightweight Bout: Donald Cerrone vs. Melvin Guillard
Donald “The Cowboy” Cerrone is a 29-year-old fighter from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Cerrone is a member of Greg Jackson’s Submission Fighting Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cerrone is a former professional Muay Thai kick boxer and has translated his striking skills well into his octagon career. Under the training of Greg Jackson though Cerrone has also put together impressive grappling credentials and has submitted 13 of his career opponents. At 6’0” tall and with a 73-inch reach he will be at a slight advantage in the range department and will likely look to keep Guillard from getting inside against him. Cerrone’s best bet in this bout would be to work this fight to the ground and search for a submission against the submissionally challenged Guillard, but Cerrone usually isn’t one to back down from a stand up brawl. Cerrone holds a career record of 18-4.
Melvin “The Young Assassin” Guillard is an American fighter from New Orleans, Louisiana. He was a cast-member on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter. Guillard is a former teammate of Cerrone’s from the Jackson’s MMA camp but has since relocated to join the Blackzillians in Boca Raton, Florida. Despite a somewhat spotty record inside the UFC, Guillard remains one of the most dangerous strikers in the division. He is also one of the most athletically gifted fighters in all of the UFC and certainly in the entire Lightweight division. Guillard has quick hands and excellent footwork and has the knockout power to end anyone’s night in one shot. Guillard has a career record of 30-10-2 with 1 No Contest, including 19 wins by KO or TKO.
Analysis and Prediction: This one could be a Fight of the Night earning brawl or it could be an extremely short fight, it likely depends on what kind of game plan Cerrone brings to the table. Guillard’s grappling is a huge liability, submissions have accounted for nine of his ten career losses and at times he looks completely helpless on the mat. Cerrone is a talented grappler with excellent submissions, so really he should be looking to shoot for a takedown and drag this fight to the mat as early as possible. The problem is, I don’t think he will. Cerrone is never one to back down from a striking match, even if it isn’t to his advantage, something he proved in his one-sided loss to Nate Diaz. Cerrone has an incredible chin and has never been finished in a kickboxing bout or MMA bout in his career, which spans over 50 bouts. However, he also relies on his chin a lot, as he is extremely hittable at times (again using the Diaz fight as an example he was tagged by a record 260 strikes throughout the course of the bout.) Frankly, the longer Cerrone keeps this fight standing the longer he puts himself in harms way. Despite his strong chin, I think he’s playing with fire to just keep giving Guillard free chances to land the kill shot. The smart money says that Cerrone works the bout to the mat and taps Guillard easily. I think the more likely outcome is that Cerrone comes to brawl and ends up paying for it. Melvin Guillard via TKO in Round Three
Main Card (PPV): Lightweight Championship Bout: Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson
Frankie “The Answer” Edgar is an American fighter from Toms River, New Jersey. He is a former UFC Lightweight Champion and is re-matching the man who took that title from him. It’s his third straight title rematch and it’s notable that he’s currently 2-0 in rematches for the Lightweight title. Edgar is a former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. However, in his bouts he employs a more boxing heavy style as of late. This style has worked well for him, as he employs great footwork and head movement to keep himself out of range of his opponents and ducks in and out against his opponents. He is a technically sound boxer with a good jab and strong 1-2 combinations. Edgar is a member of the Renzo Gracie Combat Team training under noted BJJ stars Ricardo Almeida and Renzo Gracie. Edgar holds a professional MMA record of 14-2-1, with his only losses coming to Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson.
Benson “Smooth” Henderson is the reigning and defending UFC Lightweight Champion. Henderson is a 28-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colorado and is a complete package when it comes to MMA. He is an aggressive striker who constantly presses forward while dictating a high-tempo fight pace on his opponents. Henderson has excellent Muay Thai kick boxing skills and is a talented grappler as well, with a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Henderson also owns a black belt in Tae Kwan Do and is a former NAIA Wrestler from Dana College. Henderson is a member of the MMA Lab fighting out of Glendale, Arizona. Henderson is a very large Lightweight fighter and the size differential between himself and Edgar (who cuts very little weight to make 155 pounds) was visibly noticeable in their first bout, he’ll likely be looking to use his size and strength advantage in this bout once again by working from in close. Henderson holds a professional record of 16-2.
Analysis and Prediction: The first bout between these two men was extremely close with many MMA publications and website who were scoring the fight admitting that they had no clue where the scores would end up. With that said, I am somewhat surprised to see how uneven this betting line has become. In the opening bout I think a couple of things hurt Edgar. Number one was the up kick that crumpled him in the second round, which I think he could have won had it not been for the kick that floored him, as well he never seemed to fully regain his composure after that shot. The second thing that went against him was how badly beat up his face looked, despite landing similar numbers of strikes in the bout Edgar’s face was badly damaged while Henderson looked relatively fresh. This can most likely be chalked up to the size advantage that Henderson enjoys against Edgar.
I’ll start by breaking down what I think Edgar needs to do to win his championship back before moving onto Henderson’s keys to victories. Firstly, Edgar needs to stop catching Henderson’s kicks and doing nothing with it. I believe that the judges didn’t appreciate the amount of kicks he was catching and blocking because of how little he did with it afterwards. Henderson didn’t stop throwing those kicks across the whole five round fight the first time, despite many of them being caught, so it’s unlikely he’ll abandon that strategy again in this fight. Edgar should look to kick Henderson’s legs out from under him, or deliver power shots when he catches those kicks in this bout. Secondly, Edgar needs to do more with his takedowns in this fight. Despite soring 5 takedowns to Henderson’s 1, he rarely could corral Henderson on the mat and mount any significant offense. Edgar needs to stop rushing things on the mat, once he scores a takedown off a single leg or with a power double, he needs to relax, take control and then work on advancing his position and using light ground and pound until he can get comfortable. In the first bout, he simply started swinging away at times, instead of focusing on keeping Henderson under control. Lastly, more striking volume and more movement. He definitely had Henderson flustered at times with his movement, but instead of rushing in, he needs to choose his shots better. And when Edgar steps in to range, he knows he’s going to get hit, but he needs to be willing to take a shot to give off 3 or 4 of his own.
Now let’s take a look at Henderson’s keys to victory. Henderson did a lot of things right in the first bout and he’s probably going to want to keep up with many of those things. Let’s start with the body kicks from the first round. Like I wrote for Edgar, if he isn’t going to capitalize on catching the kicks, the judges will likely count it as effective aggression for Henderson, so he should be looking to throw those kicks until Edgar gives him a reason not to. In the first bout Henderson only landed one takedown, I think he should be shooting more often in this bout. Edgar doesn’t throw a lot of knees, so it’s tough to think that Edgar is going to land a big knee as Henderson shoots, the only problem is tracking Edgar’s movement enough that you can corner him into a spot where you can actually land the takedown. In the first bout Henderson did everything right when Edgar took him to the ground. He grabbed hold of a submission or scrambled almost immediately back to his feet, that’s the perfect way to negate the wrestling of Edgar, Henderson will want to repeat that if he gets taken down in this bout. Finally one of Henderson’s biggest advantages will be his size and strength advantage. Henderson should look to engage in more clinches where he can overpower Edgar and control him.
Prediction time. Both men have ways to win this bout and the first bout was extremely close and I actually scored it 48-47 for Edgar. One thing that has always impressed me about Edgar was his ability to adapt for rematches and he always looks significantly better in rematches than he did in the first bout. I think that’s probably what’s going to happen in this bout. Still, anything less than Edgar’s best isn’t going to be enough and the bout is still going to be back and forth and will likely be an extremely close, high-octane bout. It’s definitely another strong contender for Fight of the Night. But I think Edgar makes the right adjustments and takes another close decision 48-47 across the board. Frankie Edgar via Unanimous Decision