This evening the UFC will return to the Garden State with its third venture to “Brick City” as UFC 128 will hail live from the Prudential Center. I am particularly excited for this event, as it will be my fourth time attending a live UFC event, the second of which from the Prudential Center.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (c) vs Jon “Bones” Jones
The main event of the evening will be for the UFC Light-heavyweight championship as Shogun Rua looks to make his first ever successful title defense against the rapidly ascending Jon Jones.
Shogun Rua enters this fight as perhaps the most talented and successful light-heavyweight of the past five years. Bursting onto the scene with an incredible performance at the Pride 2005 Grand Prix in which he defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona, Shogun, at the age of 23, became the most feared man in the 205 lb division. Coming from the vaunted Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba, Brazil, Shogun truly epitomizes what it is to be a mixed martial artist. Though his strengths are in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Shogun, perhaps more than any other fighter demonstrates tremendous fluidity in his techniques as he embarks on each battle unafraid of where the fight might go. Whether standing, in the clinch, on his back, or with top control, Shogun effortlessly displays brilliant technique at all times during his fights. In his most recent match, Shogun handed Lyoto Machida his first ever loss with a convincing knockout in the first round.
The old adage is that one main’s loss in another man’s opportunity. Such has been the case with Jon Jones. Having easily dismantled previously unbeaten Ryan Bader via 2nd round submission, the UFC offered Jones a chance to compete for the light-heavyweight championship as a result of Jones’ teammate, Rashad Evans, sustaining a knee injury in preparation for his upcoming fight against Shogun for this very event. Jones quickly jumped at the chance and will not face the toughest test of his career. Blessed with great size, Jones has displayed a top-notch wrestling game to go along with incredible creative striking.
Shogun clearly has the experience and perhaps the toughness edge in this fight. In order for Shogun to bring the belt back to Brazil, I believe he will need to take it to the younger opponent, as Jones has never experienced the pressure that Shogun is quite capable of putting on him. Further, we have yet to see how Jones reacts when he is in a true dog fight and is smacked in the mouth. Irrespective of how the fight plays out, I have no doubt that Shogun will be able to connect with eat least one shot that will test Jones’ intestinal fortitude and ability to withstand punishment.
Ultimately however, I believe the key to this fight will be Jones wrestling. In MMA, similar to many sports, the fighter/competitor that is able to dictate the terms of the contest, more often than not, will be victorious. As can be seen in Shogun’s most recent fights against the likes of Forrest Griffin, Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell and Lyoto Machida, Shogun does not possess the greatest takedown defense. As such, I have no doubt that Jones will be able to easily secure the takedowns. As the rounds continue to pile up for Jones, I believe he will wear down Shogun, who is coming off major knee surgery, en route to a late round stoppage.
Fight Prediction: Jon Jones via 3rd round TKO.
Urijah Faber vs. Eddie Wineland
The co-main event of the evening features a top-contender bout in the UFC’s bantamweight division. In a matchup between two former WEC Champions, former WEC Featherweight Champion Urijah Faber takes on former WEC Bantamweight Champion Eddie Wineland.
Urijah Faber, perhaps the most famous and popular fighter from the now defunct WEC promotion, makes his promotional debut hoping to further cement his status as one of the top fighters in the bantamweight division. Making a name for himself both at lightweight and more recently at featherweight, Faber came to dominate his competition as he showed off his ultra-athletic repertoire of wrestling, striking, and jiu jitsu. Having only been defeated by the likes of Tyson Griffin (early on in his career), Mike Thomas Brown, and current UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo, Faber is one of the top lighter-weight fighters in the sport. In his last match in the WEC, Faber made a successful debut in the Bantamweight division with a first round submission victory over the always-game Takeya Mizugaki. As a bantamweight, Faber will undoubtedly have a strength advantage over practically every fighter he faces, and with a submission victory over the current UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz, a win over Wineland should put Faber in title contention.
Eddie Wineland has enjoyed a bit of resurgence after watching his career plateau. Much of this resurgence can be attributed to his willingness to finally embrace a full training camp, whereas before Wineland would attempt to get by based solely on his talent and aggressiveness. Wineland is a powerful striker who possesses knockout power in either hand. Furthermore, as can be seen in his most recent fight, Wineland is becoming more adept in the ground game.
Ultimately, though Wineland is a dangerous opponent that can end the fight at any moment, I believe Faber is simply too talented and in particularly as a bantamweight, too powerful to lose. Wineland’s only hope is to catch Faber as Faber attempts to please the crowd with some dangerous and unorthodox move. However, I would think that after his knockout loss to Mike Thomas Brown, Faber would know better and avoid such situations. Ultimately, look for Faber to employ his world class grappling to work for a submission in the first or second round.
Fight Prediction: Urijah Faber via 2nd round submission.
Jim Miller vs. Kamal Shalorus
In this lightweight battle, top contender Jim Miller will welcome the “Prince of Persia” Kamal Shalorus to the UFC after making a fairly successful run in the WEC.
Miller, having only tasted defeat twice in his career, decision losses to Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, is at the cusp of earning his first title shot. Miller first burst onto the scene displaying a very dangerous submission/grappling game. However, as of late, Miller has demonstrated that his striking is well above-average and can change the course of a fight.
Shalorus comes to the UFC sporting perhaps the most impressive wrestling background in the entire sport. A former Olympian, Shalorus has tremendous wrestling skills and possesses the ability to take anyone down at his pleasing and stuff any takedown he chooses to. For whatever reason, armed with this ability, Shalorus instead opts to try and end all his fights on the feet. Though quite powerful, Shalorus’ technique could be considered a hair above a typical “toughman” competitor. Further, this striking style appears to quickly deplete Shalorus’ gas tank as he has faded in the third rounds in his most recent fights.
If Shalorus ever decides to implement his world-class wrestling, he truly could become a top competitor in the lightweight division. However, assuming arguendo that he foolishly persists in his current strategy to invoke his inner Butterbean, I believe his lack of well-roundedness will be exposed by Jim Miller by virtue of a decision victory.
Fight Prediction: Jim Miller via unanimous decision.
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs Brendan Schaub
In this heavyweight affair legendary striker Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic takes on the rising newcomer and former NFL player, Brendan Schaub.
Cro Cop is among the legends of the sport, possessing one of the most impressive highlight reels of vicious knockouts. Explaining that his right leg will take someone to the hospital and his left leg will earn his opponent a trip to the cemetery, the Croatian superstar has enjoyed unbelievable success both in K-1 and in the sport of MMA. Cro Cop’s defining moment was in 2006 as he defeated Josh Barnet to become the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix Champion. However, since coming to the UFC, Cro Cop has displayed a bit of an indifference to acclimate himself to fighting in a cage. This along with his declining skills by virtue of his age has resulted in average results at best. Suffering brutal knockouts to Gabriel Gonzaga and Frank Mir, Cro Cop is not the fighter of old, and the question remains: what does he have left?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Brendan Schaub appears to be on his way to becoming one of the heavyweight division’s more dangerous strikers. After losing in the Ultimate Fighter, Schaub has enjoyed great success with three impressive victories, most recently defeating Gabriel Gonzaga via unanimous decision. Schaub, a former NFL player, possesses tremendous athleticism, and appears to be picking up the MMA game in rapid fashion.
In his time at the UFC, Cro Cop has had great difficulty with fighters that take the fight to him by muscling him around. The larger and more powerful Schaub will look to do that en route to a third round stoppage, and perhaps Cro Cop’s swan song in the sport of MMA.
Fight Prediction: Brendan Schaub via 3rd round TKO.
Nate Marquardt vs. Dan Miller
Originally scheduled to face Yoshihiro Akiyama, the tragic and catastrophic events in Japan, Nate Marquardt is now scheduled to take on tough middleweight Dan Miller as Akiyama was forced to withdraw.
Marquardt, a former title contender and seven-time King of Pancrase, is perhaps as well-rounded as any middleweight fighter in the UFC. Very powerful and technical, Marquardt looked as he if he would be granted another shot at the middleweight title until he was derailed by Chael Sonnen. Then, in another top contender match, Marquardt was soundly defeated yet again by a top grappler, Yushin Okami. Looking to right the ship, Marquardt in his camp have vowed that the Colorado fighter will return to his aggressive striking style that was noticeably absent in his two recent losses.
Miller, the older brother of Jim Miller, is of a similar mold to Marquardt in that he is a very well-rounded fighter. Unfortunately, his striking is not on the same level as his opponent. However, no one can question the heart of this New Jersey native who has taken on all-comers in spite of going through tremendous hardships in his personal life, suffering the loss of his young daughter.
Ultimately, with Miller being unable to dictate the terms of the fight, Marquardt should feel comfortable enough to let his hands go. With Miller not being on the same level in terms of his striking ability, look for this fight to be stopped by virtue of Marquardt’s superior striking.
Fight Prediction: Nate Marquardt via 3rd round TKO.
Rest of the Card
Luiz Cane vs. Elliot Marshall - Elliot Marshall via 3rd round submission.
Edson Barboza vs. Anthony Njokuani - Edson Barboza via 2nd round TKO.
Ricardo Almeida vs. Mike Pyle - Mike Pyle via unanimous decision.
Kurt Pellegrino vs. Gleison Tibau - Kurt Pellegrino via unanimous decision.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Ian Loveland - Joseph Benavidez via 2nd round submission.
Erik Koch vs. Raphael Assuncao - Erik Koch via unanimous decision.
Nick Catone vs. Constantinos Philippou - Nick Catone via 3rd round TKO.