We have a new light heavyweight champion, so the challengers are beginning to line up. Phil Davis and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira are certainly in that line, but on Saturday night one of them will move forward while the other returns to the back of the line.
The two light heavyweight contenders will headline the UFC’s latest offering, Fight Night 24, on Spike TV. The event also features a battle between welterweight contenders Anthony Johnson and Dan Hardy, as well as a rematch of between Leonard Garcia and the “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung.
The event, which takes place in Seattle, Wash., will air live on Spike at 10 p.m. ET, but fans can also tune into a live internet stream on the UFC’s Facebook page at 7:30 p.m. ET to catch an amazing total of five fights from the preliminary card.
The MMA DieHards panel of writers – Cameron Chow, Conner Cordova, Jason Kelly, Aidan O’Connor and Pete Sumulong – gathered to make their picks for the main card.
Four fighters earned unanimous nods from our panel as favorites in their fights.
The panel likes lightweight Nik Lentz (20-3-2) over Waylon Lowe (10-3) in a battle of former NCAA wrestlers. While Lowe earned multiple NCAA Division II championships, he hasn’t put together as impressive of an Octagon resume as former NCAA Division I counterpart Lentz. Both men tend to fight for points, with seven of their combined eight UFC bouts ending in decisions. There’s certainly a high chance that there will be another reading of the scorecards when this scrap concludes, and Lentz should find his hand raised.
Mike Pyle might have handed welterweight John Hathaway (14-1) his first career loss, but that setback has not discouraged our fine group of prognosticators from putting their confidence in “The Hitman” over opponent Kris McCray (5-2). McCray might have had a decent showing during his time on The Ultimate Fighter 11, but he has yet to notch a win inside the Octagon at a live event. He won’t be able to change that on Saturday, as he lacks the skills and experience to defeat Hathaway. Look for Hathaway to pick up a submission win.
Heavyweight Mike Russow (13-1) might have knocked out Todd Duffee, but that doesn’t mean the panel likes him against TUF 10 alum Jon Madsen (7-0). Madsen is still undefeated and has demonstrated his skills against increasingly tougher competition. While Russow isn’t a step backwards for Madsen, he isn’t really a move up the ladder either. Russow was being dominated by Duffee before landing the knockout blow, but Russow’s real specialty is his submission game. Madsen will have to be careful in utilizing his wrestling against someone with such a skill set, but he’ll stay smart and play it conservative on his way to a decision win.
Light heavyweight Phil Davis (8-0) is known for his wrestling. That’s bad news for his opponent in the evening’s headlining contest, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-4). Lil Nog has not had much luck against wrestling, barely getting past Jason Brilz and then dropping a unanimous decision to Ryan Bader. Davis’ ability to bring his foe to the mat might be even more impressive than that of either of those previous opponents. Once there, Davis has also shown a growing submission game that allows him to do more than just lay-and-pray or look for sloppy submissions. Nogueira might currently be a top-ten light heavyweight, while Davis is just top-twenty, but by the end of the night Davis will prove that their spots in the rankings should be reversed. Look for Davis’ wrestling to be too much for Minotoro, but Nogueira has never been submitted and won’t be here. This one ends in a decision victory for “Mr. Wonderful.”
The panel was divided on the other eight contests, which brings us to the “Counterpunch,” where one of the writers in the minority defends his reason for going against the popular opinion.
MW: Aaron Simpson (7-2) vs. Mario Miranda (10-2)
Picking Simpson: 4 (Chow, Cordova, O’Connor, Sumulong)
Picking Miranda: 1 (Kelly)
Kelly: Miranda faces “A-Train” in a bout which I think Miranda will win.
Simpson is part of that strong Arizona wrestling crew with C.B. Dollaway and Ryan Bader that all train at Power MMA, but his Muay Thai skills are not on par with Miranda’s and Simpson’s ground game will be nullified by Miranda’s jiu-jitsu, similar to how Miranda gave Demian Maia fits on the mat. I do not see any advantages for “A-Train” in this fight that will be effective.
Miranda will prove victorious with a second-round knockout.
WW: Johny Hendricks (9-1) vs. T.J. Waldburger (13-5)
Picking Hendricks: 4 (Chow, Cordova, Kelly, O’Connor)
Picking Waldburger: 1 (Sumulong)
Sumulong: I have been a long time admirer of Hendricks’ work – from his multiple NCAA championship wins to his nine-fight winning streak to start his MMA career. Though his wrestling pedigree is impeccable, I noticed some holes in his game that were glaringly apparent in his loss to Rick Story. Hendricks at times acts way too overconfident in the Octagon, often showing disdain for opponents who he is dominating. He also fights with no sense of urgency, which came back to haunt him as Story, on paper not even close to the wrestler Hendricks is, took him down and out-worked him in their fight last December.
Waldburger is a hungry contender who battered David Mitchell in his UFC debut last September. He is an explosive athlete with heavy hands who can do damage standing and on the ground. I also noticed that Waldburger never takes his foot off the gas pedal and fights for every position, including working his way out of some precarious positions on the ground in the Mitchell fight.
If Hendricks can put the pressure on Waldburger for fifteen minutes straight, then logic would dictate that Hendricks would win the fight easily. I believe Waldburger’s never-say-die attitude will give Hendricks fits and his strikes will make the difference on the way to a decision victory.
HW: Sean McCorkle (10-1) vs. Christian Morecraft (6-1)
Picking McCorkle: 3 (Kelly, O’Connor, Sumulong)
Picking Morecraft: 2 (Chow, Cordova)
Cordova: Both of these guys are very game, and are consistent finishers. This one is going to be a war, but I don’t see it going to the judges’ score cards. Both of these guys have only ever lost once, and oddly enough, for both it was Stefan Struve that shattered their unbeaten streaks. Looking back on those fights, I see Morecraft coming out on top against McCorkle. I think Christian is very underrated in the division, and before he got caught by a nice combo, he was well on his way to beating Stefan that night. McCorkle is good, but Morecraft is better. TKO, second round, for Morecraft.
BW: Michael McDonald (11-1) vs. Edwin Figueroa (7-0)
Picking McDonald: 4 (Cordova, Kelly, O’Connor, Sumulong)
Picking Figueroa: 1 (Chow)
Chow: Picking fights is not an exact science for me. In fact, it’s not even a science at all. Case in point, Figueroa vs. “Mayday” McDonald. Two great names. Since I’m not a Doobie Brothers’ fan I have to take Figueroa in this fight. Plus, being an L.A. native and USC alum, I couldn’t pass up the chance to cheer for a guy named after the street where the L.A. riots reached a boiling point and where the University of Southern California is nestled in the heart of South Central.
Both fighters come into the Octagon as relative newcomers in the UFC. McDonald is 11-1 and comes into the fight on a 4-fight win streak. Figueroa has yet to taste defeat in his pro career at 7-0, although he’s fought in mostly smaller shows. Figueroa and McDonald can both finish fights standing or on the ground. While my method for picking winners may not be sound, my love of a good brawl is pretty solid. This fight should be a good one. I look for Figueroa to win in a fight that will be considered for “Fight of the Night” honors.
FW: Mackens Semerzier (5-3) vs. Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres (4-2)
Picking Semerzier: 4 (Chow, Cordova, Kelly, O’Connor)
Picking Caceres: 1 (Sumulong)
Sumulong: Welcome back Caceres! The arrogant, brash, and often irritating cast member known as “Bruce Leroy” from the twelfth season of The Ultimate Fighter is all set to make his UFC featherweight debut against WEC veteran Semerzier. Let’s get to the good about Bruce Leroy – he’s a dynamic striker with submissions skills who tapped out Jeff Lentz in his first fight on TUF 12. Caceres then lost a tough decision to house rival Michael Johnson, a much bigger fighter. Caceres showed great heart and fighting spirit in the fight against Johnson, and gave Johnson fits in their two-round battle. Since the end of the reality show, Caceres has spent time training with Georges St-Pierre and I have no doubt that will make a difference in this fight.
Semerzier has lost three straight fights since a surprising submission victory over BJJ ace Wagnney Fabiano. His methodical style will be overwhelmed by Caceres’ dynamic, wide-open attack, and Caceres and his afro should cruise to a TKO victory.
FW: Leonard Garcia (15-6-1) vs. Chan Sung Jung (10-3)
Picking Garcia: 3 (Cordova, Kelly, O’Connor)
Picking Jung: 2 (Chow, Sumulong)
Chow: In the interest of full disclosure, I am writing this while wearing a “Korean Zombie” t-shirt. I fully expect the second go-around of Jung versus Garcia to be a war. I don’t know if it can be as exciting, or technically unsound, as the first fight, but if it even comes close it will be a joy to watch. I believe that the “Korean Zombie” was robbed in their first fight and that he will win in this one.
Garcia always brings it, but karma is telling me to go with Jung, who fully deserved to win the first fight. I’m glad that these two will rematch and that we’ll get to watch what I believe will be a replay of one of the more exciting fights from last year. Neither guy is too technical, but both love a good old-fashioned slobber knocker. If you get that reference, extra points for you.
Extra points are what Garcia is going to need if he thinks he’s going to beat Jung this time around. Jung will outwork Garcia in fight that will be entertaining as hell, but end up in the hands of the judges once again. Let’s hope they get it right.
WW: Amir Sadollah (4-2) vs. DaMarques Johnson (12-8)
Picking Sadollah: 4 (Cordova, Kelly, O’Connor, Sumulong)
Picking Johnson: 1 (Chow)
Chow: Sadollah has had a good run. He really has, but Johnson may send him packing from the organization that made him famous. Sadollah has been the consummate company man since winning The Ultimate Fighter. He’s done TV spots and made countless appearances. While he’s proven he’s a likable personality, one thing he hasn’t proven is that he’s a consistent fighter.
Johnson will prove that he is ready to take the next step in his career by beating the well-liked Sadollah in what is sure to be an exciting fight. Johnson’s energy and athleticism will be too much for Sadollah as this fight won’t go the distance.
WW: Anthony Johnson (8-3) vs. Dan Hardy (23-8)
Picking Johnson: 3 (Cordova, Kelly, Sumulong)
Picking Hardy: 2 (Chow, O’Connor)
O’Connor: Assuming Hardy’s opponent can make weight for the evening’s co-main event after a lengthy lay-off, there are a number of factors that work in “The Outlaw’s” favor when breaking down this contest. Johnson’s 16-month absence since a submission defeat to Josh Koscheck is bound to raise questions about the man’s conditioning and any potential ring-rust. Already notable for letting himself go in the first five minutes, when Johnson is matched up against Hardy, who has survived five rounds of grappling with GSP and who is more than prepared for an onslaught in the initial round, I would imagine the longer this fight goes the more it becomes Hardy’s to lose.
In addition, despite a wrestling pedigree Johnson prefers to trade strikes with his opponents. This is an environment where Hardy is all too comfortable. Whilst a combination of over-enthusiasm and fractional mistiming cost Hardy a knockout defeat to Carlos Condit, “The Outlaw” has proven on multiple occasions prior that his movement, combinations and chin strength are all admirable qualities in an arsenal designed to stand and bang. Should Johnson attempt to take the bout to the floor if he tires, one would assume Hardy has worked extensively on takedown defense since UFC 111 and would stand a good chance of neutralizing the massive welterweight.
Hardy outlasts “Rumble” via TKO or decision.