Anyone who knows my writing knows I like to open my articles with a joke, or a pun, or some clever turn of phrase. Whether or not anyone actually laughs at them is another story.
But as I try to write this article, I just cannot bring myself to open the show with a chuckle or an eye roll. That’s because history will be made tonight at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California – not just for the UFC, but for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts itself.
For the first time, the UFC is promoting not just a women’s fight (something Dana White once said would probably never happen) but a women’s world title fight. This is an absolute watershed moment for the sport of MMA – so it seems the least I can do is not sully the moment with a bad joke.
Without having stepped foot into the Octagon, UFC women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey has become one of the biggest stars in the sport. Dana White has said she’s already a bigger deal than Brock Lesnar, and that’s not just the usual promoter hyperbole. The gal is literally everywhere: on magazine covers, on sports shows, on CNN specials and ESPN roundtables and all points in between. She’s the top trending name on Google and Yahoo. She’s “made it”, and has yet to even step into the cage.
What happens when she does step into the cage – against the extremely tough, ex-U.S. Marine Liz Carmouche – is the question we’re all tuning in to see answered tonight.
But Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche is only one part of an excellent UFC 157 card that’s loaded with big fights. As always, I take you through each main card bout, give my seasoned analysis (there’s the eye-rolling again), and offer my expert predictions (which, for the good of your bank account, you should ignore at all costs).
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Josh Koscheck vs. Robbie Lawler
UFC 157 opens with a bang, and features two guys who both have the power to end a fight with a single punch.
And on paper, these two guys stack up pretty well. Josh Koscheck is a former NCAA Division-1 national wrestling champion who has increasingly evolved into a power striker over the years. And Robbie Lawler is a hard-hitting striker who has, thanks to years of training alongside MMA legend Matt Hughes, become a very solid grappler as well.
Where this fight gets interesting (or not interesting, as the case may be) is the weight it’s being contested at. Robbie Lawler hasn’t made 170 pounds since 2004, where he was KO’ed by some young kid named Nick Diaz. For the past few years, Lawler was a staple of the Strikeforce middleweight division, so it will be interesting to see how the weight cut effects his performance.
In addition, Lawler has struggled to find consistency the last couple of years. Sometimes he gives us absolutely amazing, jaw-dropping KO victories, like his wins over Matt Lindland and Melvin Manhoef. Then he would follow them up with disappointing losses to the likes of Jake Shields, Ronaldo Souza, and most recently Lorenz Larkin. In fact, “Ruthless” hasn’t strung two wins together since 2007.
You take all that into account, and you start to see why most oddsmakers favour Koscheck in this one. He has the dominant grappling and gas tank to give Lawler problems all night. If he wanted to, I have little doubt he could avoid the striking entirely and ground Lawler for 3 straight rounds, like to did with Paul Daley (another dangerous striker) back in 2010.
But I don’t think he’ll do that. Kos has become increasingly enamoured of his striking, and I see him looking to mix it up with Lawler in this one. Every moment Kos stays standing with Lawler is a dangerous one for him, but I still see him taking this fight once it’s all said and done. The weight cut will likely slow Lawler down as the fight drags on, and if Kos can stay out of danger early, I see his more complete MMA game leading him to victory.
Josh Koscheck via (T)KO
Court McGee vs. Josh Neer
The only real “head-scratcher” fight of the night could end up being the most fun fight on the card.
The reason this fight’s a bit puzzling is because both men are coming off decisive, back-to-back losses. Josh Neer is a true veteran of the sport, with a whopping 46 professional fights on his resume. This is all the more surprising when you remember that he’s only 29 years old.
Still, the mileage has obviously started to add up for Neer, who looked like a shadow of himself in his last fight, a 45 second submission loss to Justin Edwards. Before that, it was a first round KO loss to fellow seasoned vet Mike Pyle. Those two losses seriously hurt Neer’s stock, which had been rising following 6 straight victories (including 2 in the UFC). Neer is a very well-rounded fighter with the sort of skills you’d expect from a former MFS Elite fighter: nasty dirty boxing, good offensive and defensive wrestling, and the ability to be offensive from top or bottom position on the mat.
Former “Ultimate Fighter” winner Court McGee may have a quarter of Neer’s MMA experience, but he brings several advavtages that could see him through in this fight. For one, McGee will have a slight reach advantage over Neer, meaning he may be able to keep him from effectively closing the distance. As well, McGee is a solid wrestler who brings an underrated submission game to the table.
Like Neer, McGee is coming off back-to-back losses. As well, “The Crusher” is making his welterweight debut in this fight, so the change of weight class could pose a problem for McGee in this one.
The oddsmakers favour McGee in this one, but I’m going to go against their wisdom and pick Neer. In order to win, Neer will have to fight a smart fight (which he hasn’t always been able to do effectively), and not allow McGee to dictate the pace of the fight. Court has the length, boxing, and wrestling to keep Neer at bay, picking him apart at range before shooting in for a takedown. Neer needs to draw Court into a close quarters slugging match, and if he does get taken down, he absolutely MUST find a way to be effective offensively off his back.
If he can do that here, I see him getting his hand raised.
Josh Neer via Decision
Urijah Faber vs. Ivan Menjivar
There’s a segment of MMA fandom that hates to see Faber’s name on a UFC card. He’s recieved too many opportunities, too many title fights, too many headlining bouts for a guy who’s lost his last 5 UFC/WEC world title fights.
Luckily, I am not one of those people. That’s because to me, the name Urijah Faber on a card means I’m probably getting one hell of a fight. Throw in the fact that he’s facing fellow veteran Ivan Menjivar, and I’m sold.
Most of the time, Faber fights at 120% speed and intensity for the entire fight. Quickness, versatility, and pressure are his greatest assets as a fighter, and are the ones that placed him firmly atop the featherweight mountain for years and years. Once he fell off that mountain, however, he’s had a hard time climbing back on top.
Sometimes, this was due to nothing more than bad luck – like when he broke BOTH of his hands in the Mike Brown rematch (and fought to a decision regardless), or lost a narrow decision to UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz. Other times, he was simply outclassed against a versatile, leg-kick happy Brazillian (Jose Aldo and Renan Barao, repectively).
Still, his performances outside world title fights clearly shows that he’s still one of the top fighters in the game. In fact, since losing his WEC featherweight title, Faber is a perfect 5-0 in non-title fights, with only one victory coming via decision. His pace, quickness, wrestling game and outstanding ability to catch guys in scrambles are problems that no bantamweight fighter can ignore.
Ivan Menjivar is the perfect fighter to test Faber’s skillset and experience. The Tristar MMA product actually has 2 more fights to his credit than Faber does, as well as much more consistency in recent years. Now Menjivar wasn’t fighting the multitude of world champions that Faber was, I grant you, but he has a respectable resume nonetheless. He’s fought the likes of Matt Serra, Joe Lauzon, Vitor Ribeiro, and oh yeah – some guy named Georges St. Pierre.
These two also have a bit of history, having fought over 6 years ago in the old TKO promotion in Quebec. Faber got the win that night, but it was via a DQ when Menjivar kicked to the head of a downed opponent. You know neither guy is happy with that outcome, and will likely be looking for a definitive answer this time around.
I’m mostly excited to see how Team Alpha Male stacks up against Tristar MMA. It’s high-octane, in and out boxing vs. flashy, wide open (but very dangerous) kickboxing. It’s constant pace, aggression, and intensity vs. a carefully constructed gameplan. It’s a master of one submission (the Guillotine) vs. a jack-of-all-trades. And most of all, it’s two guys who are excellent in the scramble (“scramble” could very well describe this whole fight.
I want to pick my (adopted) Canadian homeboy Menjivar in this one. And I’ll be rooting for him. But the smart money’s on Faber to take this one.
Urijah Faber via Submission
Lyoto Machida vs. Dan Henderson
When Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida are on a card and aren’t in the main event, you know you’re dealing with a stacked card.
This is a classic battle of two “old school”-style fighters who have no problem dominating the “new school” on a regular basis. Dan Henderson is one of the rare MMA fighters that quite literally needs no introduction. If you’ve ever watched MMA – even casually – chances are you know who he is. At 41 years of age with 37 profesional fights, Dan Henderson is the kind of guy you call a “living legend” without batting an eyelash. He won the middleweight tourney way back at UFC 17 (17!). He won the RINGS King of Kings tournament in 1999 (beating Gilbert Yvel, “Minotauro” Nogueira, and “Babalu” Sobral to do so). When the PRIDE promotion closed it’s doors, Dan held two of their world title belts.
Oh, and he once layed out Mike Bisping so badly that his great-grandchildren will likely have PTSD. I’m guessing that’s what most folks remember him for.
Hendo really should’t be as good in the modern MMA landscape as he is. He was once a world-class Greco-Roman wrestler, but that was over 15 years ago. And besides, many would argue that while his MMA wrestling is very good, it’s not his calling card. He’s undersized for the division, and has a ton of miles on him. His greatest strengths as a fighter are his indomidable will, his stone set of whiskers – and dynamite in his fists.
That’s he’s been so outstanding (especially this late in his career) is a testament to his gameplanning, his tenacity, his experience, and the fact that his hands are the MMA equivalent to WMD’s. Every single one of his opponents in the last couple of years knew exactly what Hendo’s gameplan was: keep the fight standing, and land an “H-Bomb”. Yet so many elite fighters – Wanderlei Silva, Rafael Cavalcante, Fedor Emelianenko, “Shogun” Rua – have been floored by the most feared weapon in the game.
Lyoto Machida, on the other hand, continues to be a character from a cartoon come to life. If Goku from Dragonball existed in the real world (and didn’t have a tail, or the ability to fly, or the inability to comb his hair) he’d be Lyoto Machida. Raised by his father in the art of Shotokan Karate since he was 5 years old, Machida also complements that skillset with Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Muay-Thai. He drinks a cup of his own urine every morning, before going to do kata’s on a floating canoe. He has a pet monkey. He is epic in a way no man should be allowed to be.
Karate is not the most popular style in MMA for a variety of reasons. But Machida makes it work like no one else. He is a master of using range, timing, and distance to land devastating strikes. His elusiveness gets plenty of praise (as it should), but don’t sleep on his power, either – Lyoto has the ability to shut the lights off with a single punch. And if it goes to the ground, he is an excellent grappler with fight-finishing submission ability.
I see these attributes giving him the edge against Henderson, who is just too slow to keep up with “The Dragon”. Machida knows the right hand is coming, and his style is tailor made to counter big, power punchers like Hendo. I don’t see Machida KO’ing Hendo, who has a cinder block where his chin should be. But he should have no problem picking him apart for three rounds en route to a decision.
Then again, how many guys have thought they had Dan figured out – only to end up staring up at the lights, wondering what happened.
Lyoto Machida via Decision
Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche – Women’s Bantamweight World Championship
If you asked most fans and media, all the analysis for this figh boils down to “Ronda by armbar, Round 1″.
And I get that, because Ms. Rousey is a special sort of talent who’s absolutely torn through the competition thus far in her short MMA career. 6 fights, 6 victories via first round armbar. Like the example of Dan Henderson above, all of Rousey’s opponents knew what she was going to do – but none were able to stop her. Her Olympic-level Judo has translated into a submission game so dominant, fans are already wondering if any woman can seriously challenge her.
And she has yet to even fight in the UFC. She’s just that good. Her looks or personality may get fans to tune in, but it’s her skillset (and propensity for taking opponent’s arms home with her) that will make her someone special.
So it’s understandable why so many fans are writing off Carmouche in this one. In pure MMA-math terms, she has a recent loss to Sarah Kaufman, who Rousey absolutely tore through in under a minute. She also has a submission loss to Marloes Coenen, who is nowhere near the submission grappler that Rousey is.
But don’t count Carmouche out just yet. She has more experience than Rousey, after all, as well as a more versatile skillset. While not a showstopping striker or a master grappler, she can do both well enough to potentially give Rousey problems. She’s a former U.S. Marine who did 3 tours in Iraq, so you know she’s double-tough. And don’t discount the advantage being the underdog gives her in this fight. All of the attention (not to mention expectations) will be on Rousey in this one – meaning Liz just has to go out there and do her thing.
So, after all that, my pick is…Ronda, armbar, in the first round. Yeah, sometimes the most likely scenario really is the most likely scenario. Welcome to the Rousey-era.
Ronda Rousey via Submission