Martin Kampmann (right) takes on Diego Sanchez at "UFC on Versus 3"

Moving right ahead from the mixed bag that was UFC 127, Versus and UFC bring another live televised event, the first of what will be several in 2011.

The year-old UFC-Versus partnership is one of the results of UFC’s contract extension with Spike TV. In late-2006, Spike TV had exclusive rights to air UFC programming on cable television. With the then-fledgling-now-defunct International Fight League close to signing a TV deal with the then-fledgling Versus network, UFC parent company Zuffa bought World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and offered it to Versus, thus cockblocking the IFL deal. Versus took the bait, and in the years since then, WEC has had a televised home for their smaller weight divisions.

With the UFC and Spike extending their previous agreement, which was scheduled to expire this year, Zuffa was able to get cable non-exclusivity, thus allowing them to air UFC programming on Versus. This gave way to UFC Live on Versus events and, less than a year later, WEC’s complete merger into the UFC.

UFC Live on Versus shows have been an extension to Spike TV’s quarterly / tri-annual UFC Ultimate Fight Night series. The last event, UFC Live on Versus 2, headlined by Jon Jones vs. Vladimir Matyushenko in August 2010, drew an 0.86 rating and 991,000 viewers. This was a drop from the first event, UFC Live on Versus, headlined by Jones vs. Brandon Vera and featuring Junior dos Santos vs. Gabriel Gonzaga, in March 2010. That event drew a 1.1 rating and 1.24 million viewers, peaking at 1.4 million viewers for the Jones-Vera match.

For this third show, perennial headliner Jon Jones has now vaulted to pay-per-view headliner status, in his challenge to Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua for the UFC light heavyweight title. The UFC Live on Versus series, hitting its first anniversary, gets Diego Sanchez, the very first Ultimate Fighter winner, versus Martin Kampmann, a Danish kickboxer who is undefeated in his four Spike TV appearances. A few familiar faces are also returning to Versus programming, like middleweight / light heavyweight Alessio Sakara and WEC alums Mark Munoz, Brian Bowles, and Damacio Page.

Rounding out the card are also fighters who’ve appeared on the untelevised portions of Versus events, including Igor Pokrajac, Rob Kimmons, Takeya Mizugaki, Shane Roller, and Steve Cantwell.

UFC will be broadcasting two undercard matches, Cyrille Diabate vs. Steve Cantwell and Danny Castillo vs. Joe Stevenson, on their Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/ufc). To see this stream, users must first ‘like’ the page.

265 lbs. – Todd Brown x Igor Pokrajac: Pokrajac has several UFC fights under his belt, and went the distance with Stephan Bonnar and Vladimir Matyushenko. ‘Bulldog’ Brown has made a name for himself in the Midwest, finishing four opponents in a five-fight win streak before debuting in the UFC last August (losing via decision to Tim Boetsch). He is reportedly a Brazilian jiu jitsu brown belt and Muay Thai Kru (trainer), though the Indiana Muay Thai scene is not particularly high-profile. Brown will have his hands full with the big Croatian.

Prediction: Pokrajac via TKO (round one)

170 lbs. – Dave Branch x Rousimar Palhares: Branch was on the receiving end of the infamous Gerald Harris KO slam at UFC 116 in July last year, but since then, he’s bounced back with unanimous decision wins over Tomasz Drwal and Rich Attonito. Palhares beat Drwal earlier last year with a heel hook in round one before being overwhelmed with punches from Nate Marquardt in September. He can hang with veterans like Henderson and Jeremy Horn, but will have a significant reach disadvantage. If Branch can use his jiu-jitsu to his full potential, this could prove to be an interesting grappling chess match.

Prediction: Branch via decision

185 lbs. – Dongi Yang x Rob Kimmons: It’s Yang the striker vs. Kimmons the grappler here. Eight of Yang’s nine victories are by TKO, while Kimmons owns 14 submissions out of 23 wins. That said, Kimmons himself was submitted by chokes by Dan Miller (a brown belt at the time) and, in his last fight, Kyle Noke. Chris Camozzi was the first three-round war Yang went through, and he likely learned a lot from it, but he hasn’t faced a ground practitioner of Kimmons’ pedigree.

Prediction: Kimmons by submission (round two)

135 lbs. – Takeya Mizugaki x Reuben Duran: Replacing Francisco Rivera, Duran makes his UFC debut after a series of recent wins over local fighters with moderate records. Mizugaki has gone the distance with the likes of Miguel Angel Torres, Scott Jorgensen, Jeff Curren, and Rani Yahya, albeit with mixed results. Urijah Faber put him to sleep in Faber’s 135 lb. debut. Mizugaki has the experience edge to grind out a decision.

Prediction: Mizugaki via unanimous decision.

155 lbs. – Shane Roller x Thiago Tavares: Roller is an Oklahoma wrestler who has five choke-out victories in his eight WEC matches, and his only two losses during that same tenure are to Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis. Tavares went 12-0 before dropping a decision to Tyson Griffin. Since then, he’s had mixed success, but went to a draw with Nik Lentz (then 17-3) and submitted Pat Audinwood in 2010. On paper, one would think that Roller would go for the choke, but not having faced a jiu-jitsu practitioner like Tavares, I wouldn’t be surprised if Roller kept it on the feet or event went for standing chokes.

Prediction: Roller via split decision.

185 lbs. – Cyrille Diabate x Steve Cantwell: After some mixed success under the Zuffa banner (including being the last WEC light heavyweight champion before Zuffa amassed the 205ers into the UFC), Cantwell makes a twice-delayed return to the octagon. His three losses were two to Brian Stann (closing out their trilogy) and a unanimous decision to Luis Artur Cane, Jr., the latter of whom Diabate later punched out last year at UFC 114. Two different medical conditions prevented Cantwell from competing in 2010, so expect ring rust to be either a motivator or (more likely) a factor. Diabate has far more experience and, more importantly, stayed busier, going 3-1 during Cantwell’s hiatus. A loss for Cantwell could mean a contract release. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, as it would allow him to rack up some wins elsewhere before trying again in the UFC.

Prediction: Diabate via submission (round two)

155 lbs. – Danny Castillo x Joe Stevenson: I can see ‘Joe Daddy’ taking this to the ground as much as I can see this wrestler vs. wrestler match staying on the feet. Castillo, who trains with Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male, should keep it on the feet, with the height advantage, momentum off a KO win, and with Stevenson coming off a KO loss. Stevenson joined Greg Jackson’s MMA team mid-2009, resulting in a 2-2 record, though his two most recent matches were a KO loss to Mac Danzig and a decision loss to George Sotiropoulos. He can be hit-or-miss in his performances, and with a potential third loss in the most stacked division in the UFC, he needs the win to continue to be taken seriously.

UFC on Versus: Castillo Stevenson Preview

Prediction: Castillo via TKO (round one) or Stevenson via decision

185 lbs. – Alessio Sakara x Chris Weidman: Representing the Serra-Longo Fight Team in New York, Weidman (4-0) is an NCAA All-American wrestler who finished his first three opponents in the first round. Between his credentials and team association, Weidman is getting fast-tracked to the big leagues, but he’s getting no warm welcome in that UFC debut. Sakara has fought sparingly of late – one match in 2009 and 2010, but those matches were a split decision win over Thales Leites and a TKO win over James Irvin, respectively. His only losses since 2007 were TKOs to Houston Alexander and Chris Leben. The experience differential will be a lot to overcome. With his NCAA wrestling and submission credentials, Weidman’s grappling abilities aren’t to be underestimated, but are Sakara’s, whose last submission loss was to BJJ black belt Dean Lister in 2006.

Prediction: Sakara via TKO (round one)

145 lbs. – Brian Bowles x Damacio Page: This is a rematch from their August 2008 bout, where Bowles submitted Page in a guillotine choke in round one. Demetrious Johnson caught Page with the same choke in Page’s last match, but it’s not likely for lightning to strike again for Bowles, who is returning for the first time in a year, after suffering a broken foot in the fall. Coming off a loss and gunning for revenge from years back, Page has the right motivation.

Prediction: Page via unanimous decision

185 lbs. – CB Dolloway x Mark Munoz: As a D-1 NCAA champion out of Oklahoma, Munoz has the better wrestling credentials. Dolloway has five TKO wins under his belt, but four of those date back to 2007 and prior. Both have great teams behind them: Dolloway from the Arizona-based Power MMA Team that includes Ryan Bader and Aaron Simpson, whom Munoz beat by decision in November, while Munoz works often with Team Black House, which includes the Nogueira Brothers, Lyoto Machida, and the Chairman of the Board – Anderson Silva. Munoz should be able to direct the match wherever he wants it.

Prediction: Munoz via TKO or unanimous decision.

170 lbs. – Diego Sanchez x Martin Kampmann: Sanchez is no stranger to lightweight or welterweight. He’s back at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque and living sequestered in the mountains, so notwithstanding losing the ‘Nightmare’ moniker, Sanchez is clearly focused on reviving the fighter who took the UFC by storm in 2006 and 2007. Kampmann, on the other hand, is incredibly well-rounded to begin with, and went the distance with Jake Shields in a split decision. Kampmann is susceptible to fast strikers, such as Paul Daley and Nate Marquardt (who came down from 185 to 170 lbs.). Given that, Sanchez has a great advantage with his speed, but Kampmann is a survivor, no matter how close he is to the edge.

UFC on Versus: Kampmann vs. Sanchez Preview.

Prediction: Sanchez via TKO (round three)

The Finish

In the past, MMA ratings on Versus have not held their own compared to Spike programming. The last two UFC Live on Versus shows have drawn an average of 1.1 million viewers, the lower end of Ultimate Fight Night programming. To be fair, WEC programming also declined from its debut, aside from high-level fights involving Urijah Faber.

That said, Sanchez vs. Kampmann is a strong headlining match, as both have been showcased on “free TV” UFC events. The undercard doesn’t necessarily boast many indelible personalities, and in pitting two wrestlers against each other in Mark Munoz vs. C.B. Dollaway, this could prove to be either a surprising slugfest or a challenging clash for control. The show is booked with some exciting scrappy matches which hopefully will outperform and add eyeballs to what should be a thrilling TV main event.


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