Rampage on the pads (Tracy Lee photo/See full album at www.CombatLifestyle.com)
UFC 135 is here and the crack staffers at MMADieHards.com has made their picks.
UFC 135 offers a light-heavyweight title match between champion Jon Jones and former belt-holder Quinton Jackson at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The co-main event offers a showdown between Josh Koscheck and former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes. The rest of the card is littered with intriguing matchups.
MMADieHards.com put together a team of our finest writers to bring you Counterpunch for the event. The group independently makes its selections for each fight. Minority picks will be defended by one of the panelists making that selection.
Joining us this week are Joe Rizzo, Mark Daniels, Robert G. Reynolds, Bob Badders and me, Jason Kelly.
Travis Browne, Nate Diaz, Ben Rothwell and Ricardo Romero were unanimously selected and, therefore, not defended.
Below we list the match, the fighter being defended and the author of the defense.
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Cole Escovedo
Defending Mizugaki: Joe Rizzo
My colleagues are asleep at the wheel. Mizugaki is actually a significant betting favorite. He has alternated losses with wins in each of his seven fights in Zuffa. By that measure, he is on pattern for a win, since he is coming off a defeat to Brian Bowles at UFC 132. There is no shame in losing to Bowles, who is the fourth champion or former champion to hand Mizugaki a defeat in Zuffa.
While Escovedo is also a former champion — he held the featherweight belt in the WEC from 2002 to 2006, when he lost it to Urijah Faber, he has not been the same fighter since climbing the ranks again following a staph infection that led him to spinal surgery. Escovedo has lost three of his last four, including his UFC debut, and Mizugaki will make it four out of five in earning a hard-fought decision.
Junior Assunção vs. Eddie Yagin
Defending Yagin: Joe Rizzo
What’s in a name? My colleagues apparently think there is an awful lot, because that’s the best reason to pick Assuncaso over Yagin. I cannot find another reason, so Yagin’s my selection.
Yagin has been through the wars, and the Hawaiian’s recent win over former Bellator featherweight champ Joe Soto by guillotine shows he’s at the top of his game right now, following a two-year layoff. Assuncaso has made it back to the UFC after a 1-2 stint got him his walking papers from the promotion as a lightweight in 2007. It’s a feel-good story for both featherweight veterans, each of whom have reached their 30s.
While Assuncao has run off six straight wins, Yagin’s body of work is more impressive. Plus, he’s from BJ Penn’s hometown of Hilo, and that ought to mean something. It’s not just me that thinks highly of Yagin, it’s the Las Vegas oddsmakers, too. Once again, my colleagues have decided to take the gambling underdog unanimously, so my voice of reason is here to set them straight — and collect the pretzel sticks I might lay down in a wager.
Nick Ring vs. Tim Boetsch
Defending Ring: Mark Daniels
Yes, Tim Boetsch is big and strong. Yes, he has knockout power.
But no, he’s not going to beat Nick Ring.
In fact, the only thing to ever beat Ring (12-0) has been injuries. If you remember, the 32-year-old Iowa native beat the eventual Ultimate Fighter 11th season winner Court McGee during his time on TUF before bowing out of the competition with a knee injury.
Ring is former professional kick boxer and boxing. His striking is much more technical than that of Boetsch. And get this, half of his wins have come via submission. Boetsch’s only hope is to ride out a decision, but he won’t get that chance as Ring, who now trains with Georges St-Pierre at TriStar, has the advantage on the ground, as well.
Tony Ferguson vs. Aaron Riley
Defending Riley: Jason Kelly
These is a classic match between a newcomer and an veteran. I am siding with Riley in this bout for a couple of reasons.
First, Riley has an enormous amount of experience in multiple promotions. He will not be fazed by anything Ferguson brings to the cage. His preparations at Greg Jackson’s MMA have taken place alongside Jon Jones and Brian Stann, not to mention that Riley admitted to MMA DieHards.com that coaches Jackson and Mike Winkeljon have constructed an outstanding game plan for this bout.
With all the high-level training the Indiana native has done for this fight, I don’t see how a developing fighter like Ferguson can stop a crafty veteran like Riley. In my eyes this is Riley’s match to lose. If he follows the strategy his coaches have laid out for him the only things I believe that can defeat Riley are himself or getting caught.
I am going with Riley via unanimous decision.
Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck
Defending Hughes: Jason Kelly
In the famous word of Roy Jones Jr., “Y’all must have forgot.”
As the lone sole that selected Hughes to be victorious in this bout I have to wonder if everybody forgot who the former champ is and what Koscheck is returning from.
Hughes is an outstanding wrestler and so is Koscheck, but the former H.I.T. Squad owner is a decorated veteran who will couple his intelligence with his grappling to control the fight. While Koscheck is known for dropping people with his right hand, Hughes has been displaying much improved boxing in recent outings. I believe Hughes will use technical boxing skills and nullify take downs to stand up and beat up Koscheck.
Another factor I see playing into this fight is that of Koscheck’s injury sustained from Georges St-Pierre. A lot of fighters are hesitant to engage after a knockout, and even though Koscheck was not knocked out, his face was broken. The thought of how durable that reconstructed orbital socket is will be prominent is Koscheck’s mind and may hinder his performance.
Hughes will pick apart Koscheck on the feet and secure a takedown which will lead to a ground and pound, referee stoppage in the third round of this welterweight feature.
Jon Jones vs. Quinton Jackson
Defending Jackson: Robert G. Reynolds
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is a name that resonates throughout the MMA world and beyond.
At the ripe age of 33, Jackson has spent one-third of his life fighting professionally, with the last four years being a part of the UFC organization.
Coming into the UFC, Rampage made a statement by taking the light heavyweight belt from Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell, coincidentally beating Liddell for the second time in his second appearance in the octagon. Not only did Rampage successfully defend his strap against Dan Henderson in his next bout, but he also unified both the UFC light heavyweight and Pride middleweight titles, making history.
Compiling a record of 32-8 over 12 years, Jackson has a wealth of experience that Jones lacks. Jones is comparatively new to the sport and is running off a media high of being the next great hype. Mind you, Jones is a very talented fighter, but what makes his talented recognized is his unorthodox style of fighting.
While that style may work on most, the counterattack of Rampage will power through charade and make Jones realize what he is up against.
Jones has what Rampage wants, and Rampage will get what he wants in Denver.