UFC 127 Predictions

With talk of Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix and Fedor Emelianenko’s second loss cooling down for a moment, focus shifts back again to the House of Zuffa, as UFC 127 takes place on Saturday, February 27th, from Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia.

This event doesn’t feature any title fights, but with BJ Penn (returning to the welterweight division) vs. Jon Fitch in a #1 contender’s match, in addition to key bouts for lightweight George Sotiropoulos and middleweight Michael Bisping, UFC 127 is more about establishing potential title challengers for events later down the road. None of these men have bombastic personalities, so a solid finish (as opposed to a decision) from Fitch, Sotiropoulos, and Bisping would do wonders for breaking them into that upper echelon of fighters who register on the casual fan’s radar.

In Fitch’s 2008 challenge for Georges St-Pierre’s UFC welterweight title, he was portrayed as an up-from-bootstraps fighter whose Spartan training and lifestyle was enough to push GSP to the limit. Legend was that Fitch, in order to save money for training, would forego buying napkins and wipe his hands on his dog (which I always found ironic, since it theoretically would be more expensive to own a dog than napkins). To be sure, Fitch is relentless in the cage, but few see him at the same level as Penn, a multi-time former world champion who, when motivated, can blow through competition.

Jon Fitch Interview:

BJ Penn Interview:

As an Aussie fighting in his homeland, George Sotiropoulos is positioned to get over big with TV audiences. His win streak dates back to late-2006, and though his matches over Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino went to decision, both were back-and-forth ground scraps in which Sotiropoulos surprised critics and fans with his grappling control. A strong performance in front of his countrymen could give Zuffa prime highlight reel footage to help build Sotiropoulos for a lightweight title shot later this year.

The only semblance of a grudge match on this show is Michael Bisping vs. Jorge Rivera. Bisping is a heel in many fans eyes due to his fan-unfriendly jab-and-evade fighting style as well as his unapologetic confidence (which, to be fair every fighter should have). And that British accent doesn’t help his attempts at humility.

Rivera, himself a veteran journeyman fighter (until securing a UFC contract in the wake of season four of TUF), teamed up with his sponsor Ranger Up and produced a series of silly videos to help build up the fight, of course at Bisping’s expense. Indeed, though the bout itself is a dark horse for anticipation, the videos are entertaining enough to make people sit up and pay attention to how Bisping will respond in the cage to them.

Jorge Rivera and Ranger Up having some fun hyping the match:

A Tale of Count Bisping:

Michael Bisping’s Power Punch Record:

The first two prelim fights (Reinhardt vs. Zhang and Perosh vs. Blackledge) will be broadcast on UFC’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/UFC)

Here’s a breakdown of this weekend’s card:

145 lbs. – Jason Reinhardt vs. Tiequan Zhang: Zhang is Zuffa’s Great Chinese Hope for company expansion into that part of the world. He was undefeated until facing Danny Downes at WEC 53, who took him to decision. A lack of cardio on Zhang’s part played a big factor in that match. Reinhardt is a 10-year, 21-match veteran, with his single loss, a submission to Joe Lauzon, as his only time on the big stage. This will be Reinhardt’s first match back in over three years. Assuming Zhang has fixed his conditioning issues, ring rust will likely play a significant factor here.

Prediction: Zhang via submission (round one)

265 lbs. – Anthony Perosh vs. Tom Blackledge: After a career as a heavyweight, Wolfslair’s Tom Blackledge makes his delayed debut in the UFC and at light heavyweight. This will likewise be Perosh’s first fight at 205, though he fought in the Octagon twice in 2006, going 0-2 for his efforts. Blackledge hasn’t fought since mid-2009, whereas Perosh fought four times in 2009 and once in 2010 as a last minute replacement against Mirko Cro Cop, of all people, before undergoing knee surgery. Since his previous UFC stint, Perrosh is 4-3, mostly KO / TKO finishes. Blackledge has never gone the distance, and in fact hasn’t been out of the first round since 2003. Given that, expect this to be a swift and sloppy slobberknocker.

Prediction: Perrosh via TKO / KO (round one)

155 lbs. – Curt Warburton vs. Maciej Jewtuszko: Jewtuszko will make his UFC debut with this match, but is undefeated with a first round TKO win over Anthony Njokuani, who many thought was the Second Coming, at WEC 50. He’s highly-ranked in his home country of Poland, with Dutch Muay Thai experience and a purple belt in jiu-jitsu. Warburton hails from London’s Wolfslair team, home to fellow UFC fighters Ross Pearson and Tom Blackledge (who, not ironically, are also on this card).

Prediction: Jewtuszko via TKO (round two)

265 lbs. – Mark Hunt vs. Chris Tuchscherer: Hunt is a former kickboxing star best known in MMA for beating Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop in back-to-back decision wins. He won the K-1 Grand Prix in 2001, and was once known for having a granite chin. However, he’s lost his last six matches, all by first round submission, except one KO loss to Melvin Manhoef at K-1’s Dynamite 2008 show. Tuchscherer has been around the sport since the mid-2000’s and boasts an impressive 21-3 record, but two of those losses are recent TKOs that came at the hands of Gabriel Gonzaga and Brendan Schaub. ‘Crowbar,’ as he’s known to friends and fans, is also one of Brock Lesnar’s training partners, which gives him the advantage in training for takedowns and ground work, a key to defeating Hunt.

Prediction: Tuchscherer by submission (round one)

185 lbs. – Nick Ring vs. Riki Fukuda: Ring is an undefeated kickboxer-turned-MMA-fighter from Canada. He was the blue chip prospect in season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, but was forced to withdraw early due to a nagging knee injury. For this fight, he’s reportedly training with Firas Zahabi’s Tristar Gym in Montreal with Georges St-Pierre. Fukuda is a journeyman wrestler and fighter who will be making his UFC debut, but he has wins in EliteXC, DREAM, and a longstanding tenure in the Japanese DEEP promotion, where he is the reigning middleweight champion. This will be Ring’s toughest challenge to date. Given the talent in his training camp, as long as his knee doesn’t cause problems, I expect Ring to rise to the occasion.

Prediction: Ring via submission (round two or three) or decision

205 lbs. – Alexander Gustafsson x James Te-Huna: Gustafsson is a striker with an underrated ground game that he developed with Phil Davis and Alliance MMA in San Diego. Te-Huna, the first New Zealander to enter the modern-era UFC, finished his last five opponents with strikes, including a first-round KO of Anthony Perosh. Gustafsson will have the reach to stand and bang with Te-Huna, or, like with Cyrille Diabate, he could take the Maori out of his element by grounding the fight and going for the submission. Look for Te-Huna to focus on avoiding that latter part.

Prediction: Gustafsson via submission (round two) or decision

155 lbs. – Spencer Fisher vs. Ross Pearson: Pearson is the lightweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom (season nine). Since winning the tournament and show, Pearson is 2-1, with a TKO over Aaron Riley, a decision over Dennis Siver, and a submission loss to respected brown belt Cole Miller. Fisher is eight years older and a UFC veteran, going back to a submission win over Thiago Alves in 2005. He’s 10-5 in the UFC, with a decision loss to Siver and decision win over Curt Warburton (who, as Pearson’s teammate, is surely offering firsthand insight). Both have some hard-fought grind-out victories, as I expect this one to end up.

Prediction: Fisher by decision

185 lbs. – Chris Camozzi vs. Kyle Noke: This match will revisit season 11 (Koscheck vs. GSP) of The Ultimate Fighter, as Camozzi and Noke were on opposing teams then. Camozzi had to withdraw from the house due to a broken jaw, but since then, he’s earned decision wins over James Hammortree and Dongyi Yang. Though Noke is six years older and four years the senior to Camozzi in MMA years, their fight records are quite comparable (Noke’s 18-4-1 to Camozzi’s 14-3). Of their UFC tenures, Noke has faced more experienced competition, and has two wins by finish to show for it. With the fight based in Australia, Noke will have the hometown advantage. It’s not the biggest factor in an MMA fight, but for as much as fighters love to perform in their hometowns, for a non-US fighter, it can be that much more a motivator.

Prediction: Noke via submission (round three)

170 lbs. – Brian Ebersole vs. Chris Lytle: Lytle was originally scheduled to face Carlos Condit, until the Natural Born Killer was forced to withdraw due to injury. Like Lytle, Ebersole is a veteran journeyman of the sport, having fought for promotions of all sizes throughout the world and boasting 46 wins out of 61 matches. However, this will be Ebersole’s first time in a UFC cage, where Lytle has hung with the toughest since 2006. That said, Ebersole will be the default ‘hometown hero,’ as he made Australia home after his Shannon Ritch match in 2006 which the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) believed to be a work (fake match). Despite a win last year against Carlos Newton, Ebersole hasn’t seen the level of competition that Lytle has in the past few years, and that, moreso than any ‘UFC jitters’ could be the bigger factor in this match.

Prediction: Lytle by submission (round one)

155 lbs. – George Sotiropoulos vs. Dennis Siver: Sotiropoulos is on an eight-fight win streak since 2007, or an 11-fight streak since 2005 if you don’t include a DQ for groin strikes on Shinya Aoki between those years. He’s a 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu brown belt who outwrestled Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino (both former wrestlers with traditional jiu-jitsu black belts), then submitted Joe Lauzon. Siver is a German kickboxing champion who made his name known in the European MMA community before being invited to the UFC in 2007. He went 1-3 in his first run, and has gone 6-1 since his return in 2009. But Sotiropoulos has dispatched tougher competition during those years, and stands to win this contest.

Prediction: Sotiropoulos by submission (round two)

Jorge Rivera Interview:

Recent Michael Bisping video:

185 lbs. – Michael Bisping vs. Jorge Rivera: This match pits two guys who like to trade leather, which leads me to suspect that we might see a surprising ground strategy out of one of them, particularly Bisping. His circular stick-and-move style helped him outfox Chris Leben, Dan Miller, and Yoshihiro Akiyama, but at UFC 100, Dan Henderson proved that he can be caught. Moreover, at this point, his movement is so documented that reinvention or some new tricks are a must. To that end, Rivera, who is coming off TKO wins over Nate Quarry and Rob Kimmons, will have to have a game plan for catching the elusive Count. Should they stand and bang, however, both men will be thinking about Rivera’s right hand. Rights from Henderson and Wanderlei Silva, respectively, gave Bisping problems, and Rivera’s

Prediction: Rivera by (round three) TKO or Bisping by decision

170 lbs. – BJ Penn vs. Jon Fitch: Previously, I would have said that it’s almost impossible to tell which BJ Penn is going to show up (the guy that terrorized Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez or the guy that lost to Frankie Edgar). But in retrospect, Penn thrives on a challenge, one reason why fans love him, and though 170 isn’t unfamiliar territory for him, the bump up in weight is the hook behind this match, and I’d be hard-pressed to envision that he won’t come focused. That said, a win here would revitalize Fitch’s career past his previous highwater mark. BJ’s shown weakness against wrestlers who can keep him down (Edgar, St-Pierre), but he’s also reportedly brought Matt Hughes in to improve his takedown defense. This being public knowledge, does Fitch have a counter-counter strategy? Presuming the Prodigy shows up, I’d expect him to break Fitch’s decision streak. If he doesn’t, we’re in for a long, grinding night.

Prediction: Penn by submission (round two) or unanimous decision

The Finish

Aside from seeing whether Penn can return to his dominant ways, there isn’t much for casual American audiences. Most of these fighters hail from Europe or Down Under, but given that hungry, aspiring fighters often ‘bring it’ when given the opportunity, we could see some pretty entertaining performances. This is the time for Tiequan Zhang, Nick Ring, Kyle Noke, and Chris Tuchscherer to impress UFC brass. Expect fireworks from Perosh x Blackledge and impressive performances from Lytle, Sotiropoulos, and Penn, and a flash finish in Bisping vs. Rivera.

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