Diego Sanchez (photo courtesy of Sherdog)
The Yum! Center. It’s a name that will more than likely conjure thoughts of dinner, rather than fights. That’s probably what KFC intended, but for Joe Rogan and UFC fans it’s provided a bit of amusement leading up to a night of free fights.
The oddly-named arena is located in Louisville, Ky., and plays host to Thursday evening’s UFC on Versus 3 event, also known as “UFC Live: Kampmann vs. Sanchez.” The main card of the show will air live on the Versus network at 9 p.m. ET, but the UFC will also stream two preliminary card fights, Joe Stevenson against Danny Castillo and Cyrille Diabate versus Steve Cantwell, on its Facebook page at 8 p.m. ET.
The MMA DieHards panel of writers – Cameron Chow, Bryan Henderson, Jason Kelly, Joe Rizzo and Rob Tatum – gathered to make their picks for the entire card.
Two fighters earned a unanimous nod from our panel as favorites in their fights.
Our panel sees bantamweight Takeya Mizugaki (13-5-2) as a clear favorite over Reuben Duran (7-2-1). Mizugaki is a WEC veteran who gave Miguel Torres a stiff challenge back when Torres was at the top of the 135-pound mountain. While Mizugaki couldn’t defeat Torres, he has gone on to face some of the best the WEC had to offer. Though he had mixed results, it’s the experience that counts as he battles Duran, who has never been to such a big stage. Duran’s biggest wins have come under the King of the Cage banner and he has never faced anyone at the same level as Mizugaki. Mizugaki will welcome Duran to the UFC by handing him a loss in his Octagon debut.
Middleweight Mark Munoz (9-2) is the panel’s pick over C.B. Dollaway (11-2). Munoz’s weakness seems to be his chin, but Dollaway isn’t exactly a powerhouse on his feet. Munoz is coming off a victory over Dollaway’s traing partner, Aaron Simpson, and should march through Dollaway with only slightly more difficulty, as long as he can avoid Dollaway’s submissions.
The panel was divided on the other nine contests, which brings us to the “Counterpunch,” where one of the writers in the minority defends his reason for going against the popular opinion.
LHW: Igor Pokrajac (22-8) vs. Todd Brown (15-2)
Picking Pokrajac: 3 (Kelly, Rizzo, Tatum)
Picking Brown: 2 (Chow, Henderson)
Chow: How could you bet against someone nicknamed “The Bulldog?” Todd Brown is facing Igor Pokrajac in a fight that could determine whether or not the loser gets their walking papers. It reminds me of a WWE match where the loser has to leave town and never show their face again. I’m sure the consequences won’t be quite so dramatic, but the fact that these are two fighters desperate for a win should make it exciting. Brown, who only has one UFC fight, has been in the fight game for a long time. While Pokrajac has more fights than Brown on paper, Brown knows the ins and outs of business.
Both men are game fighters, but sometimes you just have to follow your gut. My gut says that Brown is going to pull out a victory to save his job in the UFC. He can finish fights standing or on the ground and is going to use his well-rounded game to finish Pokrajac before the fight ends.
MW: Rousimar Palhares (11-3) vs. Dave Branch (8-1)
Picking Palhares: 4 (Chow, Henderson, Kelly, Tatum)
Picking Branch: 1 (Rizzo)
Rizzo: Palhares’ biggest strengths are his Brazilian jiu-jitsu takedowns and submissions, especially lower-body locks. Parts of Branch’s style bear some resemblance to Nate Marquardt, who disposed of Palhares at UFC Fight Night 22 in September, in that Branch is willing to use his ground prowess defensively in order to keep a fight standing. While Branch is good enough to defend Palhares’ aggressive ground game should he find himself on the mat, he has a big advantage in striking. A steady diet of jabs and takedown defense from Branch will leave Palhares open to eating one or more of the Renzo Gracie product’s big lefts, leading to a TKO.
MW: Dongi Yang (9-1) vs. Rob Kimmons (23-6)
Picking Yang: 4 (Chow, Kelly, Rizzo, Tatum)
Picking Kimmons: 1 (Henderson)
Henderson: Dongi Yang might be the big striker and attractive pick, given his prospect’s record, but I like the submission game and larger resume of Kimmons in this matchup.
Yang built his record destroying opponents across the Pacific that carried less than stellar records into the ring. He’s been great in knocking those opponents out, but once he stepped into the Octagon against Chris Camozzi, Yang finally suffered defeat.
Besides a large number of submission victories to his credit, the other interesting part of Kimmons’ resume is his ability to avoid the knockout. He suffered a TKO at the hands of Jorge Rivera and submitted to strikes early in his career versus Joe Riggs, but otherwise tends to be more prone to submissions than knockouts.
Yang has finally reached a level of competition that might just be too much for him, and I think Kimmons will demonstrate that when he forces Yang to tap on Thursday night.
LW: Shane Roller (9-3) vs. Thiago Tavares (15-3-1)
Picking Roller: 3 (Henderson, Rizzo, Tatum)
Picking Tavares: 2 (Chow, Kelly)
Kelly: Thiago Tavares versus Shane Roller is a fight that I see becoming a back and forth scrap – not in the fashion of a Griffin/Bonner ordeal, but I believe both guys will hold their own against each other for the better part of the fight.
While the two match-up well, I believe Tavares has the ability to submit Roller given the right opportunity, and if the fight consumes the fifteen-minute time frame I think Tavares will have done enough to warrant a unanimous decision
I would like to say that Tavares will submit Roller in the second round, but something tells me Roller will make it through all three rounds and lose a decision to Tavares.
LHW: Steve Cantwell (7-3) vs. Cyrille Diabate (16-7-1)
Picking Cantwell: 4 (Chow, Henderson, Kelly, Rizzo)
Picking Diabate: 1 (Tatum)
Tatum: In what is likely a do-or-die contest in the light heavyweight division, former WEC champ Steve Cantwell returns from an 18-month layoff to face French striker Cyrille Diabate. Both fighters are coming off losses, as Cantwell dropped two straight to Luis Cane and Brian Stann in 2009, and Diabate succumbed to Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 120 in October.
The first thing that catches my eye in this bout is the experience factor. Diabate has 24 fights, while Cantwell only has 10. And while neither fighter has had much success against top-level competition, it’s who they have faced that points me in the direction of the Frenchman. Cantwell can stake claim as a former champion, but he has also dropped two fights to Brian Stann, the man who he took the belt from in the first place. Additionally, he lost a decision to Luis Cane, a formidable opponent that Diabate needed only one round to dispose of at UFC 114. Also of note, Diabate has been in the cage with the likes of “Shogun” Rua and “Babalu” Sobral, a level of competition that Cantwell has not encountered.
Aside from who they’ve faced, it will come down to where the fight takes place. The veteran Diabate will have a significant reach advantage with his 6-foot-6 frame. Cantwell, meanwhile, is by far the better grappler, but has a tendency and willingness to stand and bang with his opponents. This is a recipe for disaster against a lethal striker of Diabate’s caliber. Look for the “Snake” to take home a second-round TKO victory over the young American.
LW: Joe Stevenson (31-12) vs. Danny Castillo (10-3)
Picking Stevenson: 4 (Chow, Kelly, Rizzo, Tatum)
Picking Castillo: 1 (Henderson)
Henderson: Has anyone else noticed Joe Stevenson’s recent downward trend lately? The guy might have been a lightweight contender a few years ago, but he’s managed just a 2-4 record over his last six fights with losses in his last two outings. Joe “Daddy” even lost to Mac Danzig, one of the least successful TUF champions still employed by the UFC.
Danny Castillo isn’t exactly a contender, but he trains with the elite Team Alpha Male camp and has suffered his only career losses against Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone and Shane Roller.
Castillo has the skills to succeed here, though in all honesty it’s more that I’m counting on Stevenson’s continued fall rather than an overly impressive showing from Castillo.
BW: Brian Bowles (8-1) vs. Damacio Page (15-5)
Picking Bowles: 4 (Chow, Henderson, Rizzo, Tatum)
Picking Page: 1 (Kelly)
Kelly: I can’t argue too much about Damacio Page’s talents compared to Brian Bowles, but I had to go with Page on this one simply because Bowles quit during his last fight due to a hand injury.
Bowles gave up his undefeated streak and his title because of a broken hand, and that shows a serious lack in heart and toughness to me. Page, on the other hand, could walk on to any range in any jail across America and not be intimidated; the man embodies toughness to the point of border-line craziness, and I love that in a fighter.
I can’t give a prediction on how this one is going to go down, but I am sticking with Page’s grit until Bowles shows me that he has heart again. A broken hand? C’mon son, Urijah did it for five rounds.
MW: Alessio Sakara (15-7) vs. Chris Weidman (4-0)
Picking Sakara: 3 (Henderson, Kelly, Tatum)
Picking Weidman: 2 (Chow, Rizzo)
Chow: In every sport there is turn over. Out with the old and in with the new. This week’s UFC on Versus card will usher in the beginning of undefeated prospect Chris Weidman’s career inside the Octagon. His opponent, Alessio Sakara, is a seasoned veteran who is on a win streak, but Weidman will get the win due to his wrestling credentials.
Weidman is a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler out of Hofstra. He has finished fights with punches and with submissions and he is hyped for the opportunity to fight in the UFC. Sakara has had a long cage layoff and a number of personal problems that have hampered his career over the last two years. These personal problems, coupled with Weidman’s superior wrestling, will be too much for Sakara to overcome. As the immortal Pete Sumulong always says, “when in doubt, go with the superior wrestler.” The superior wrestler in this fight is Chris Weidman.
WW: Martin Kampmann (17-4) vs. Diego Sanchez (22-4)
Picking Kampmann: 3 (Chow, Henderson, Tatum)
Picking Sanchez: 2 (Kelly, Rizzo)
Rizzo: How soon we forget. The perception of Sanchez’s career is that it dipped down a lot further than it actually did. Sanchez is firmly back in the welterweight division, and we received a preview of what is to come when he got back in the win column against Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 in October. Sanchez and Thiago received Fight of the Night that evening, and he could be in line for the same honor when he headlines this card against Kampmann.
Kampmann, from Denmark, is 4-2 since he moved down to welterweight, with losses to Paul Daley and Jake Shields. Shields won a split decision after gassing badly, and Kampmann could neither finish him nor take the fight by points. Sanchez’s gas tank is never in question, and “YES!” Diego will ride it to victory.