UFC 128 Predictions

A minor point, but Santino Marella, eat your heart out:

Fast-rising star Jon 'Bones' Jones challenges Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua for the UFC light heavyweight title.

One thing that always helps pay-per-view buys is a nice long build-up. Under normal circumstances, a title challenger has been around for awhile, boasts a hot streak on top of some early wins. He’s already given us classic matches, and we’ve seen him lose and bounce back from adversity, only to go farther than many expected.

We didn’t really have that with Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones and his light heavyweight shot at UFC 128.

In early February, exactly six weeks out from his March 19th title match, Jon Jones faced his biggest challenge to date, the undefeated wrestler and season eight Ultimate Fighter winner Ryan Bader. Unknown to almost everyone in the arena, #1 light heavyweight contender (and Jones’ teammate) Rashad Evans sprained a knee ligament and was forced to pull out of his title match, scheduled for this weekend, against champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. With Jones dominant finish over Bader, UFC brass decided to put the young wrestler from Upstate New York in the challenger’s seat. And before anybody could react, including Jones, shit got real.

The ironic thing about this freak turn of events is that in the following weeks, Zuffa trumped its own headlines by announcing that it was buying their sole real competitor, Strikeforce.  And shit got realer.

Since the monumental announcement, UFC 128 has been overshadowed in the media. Not that it should. Jones-Rua is a great fight whose only downfall is that there wasn’t more time for fans and experts to debate about it. Assuming both fighters show up as close to 100% as possible, this has the makings to be a fantastic scrap on the feet and on the ground. Rua’s jiu-jitsu is there, but so is Jones’ wrestling. Rua did the then-unthinkable in KO’ing Lyoto Machida, but Jones also has power, speed, and accuracy in his hands.

On the undercard, we continue to see the introduction of former WEC fighters as official UFC talent. One of the biggest labelings in the making is that of the ‘California Kid,’ Urijah Faber, who carried WEC as its marquee guy for four years. Now officially ‘in the big leagues,’ Faber’s career realizes the mainstream recognition to compliment the namesake recognition he received when ad execs cast him in K-Swiss Tubes commercials opposite funnyman Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down).

UFC 128 Extended Preview

UFC 128 Press Conference at Radio City

And for you greedy fight fans, the UFC is broadcasting two undercard fights (Ricardo Alameda vs. Mike Pyle and Kurt Pelligrino vs Gleison Tibau) on their Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/ufc) and two more matches (Edson Barboza vs. Anthony Njokuani and Luiz Cane vs. Elliot Marshall) on Spike TV.

Fighter comments for the UFC 128: Facebook Fights (8pm EST / 5pm PST)

Fighter comments for the UFC 128: Spike Prelims (9pm EST / 6pm PST)

185 lbs. – Constantinos Philippou x Nick Catone: Replacing Dan Miller, this is Philippou’s second attempt to get into the UFC, as he tried unsuccessfully to fight his way into the TUF house on season 11 (Liddell vs. Ortiz) of The Ultimate Fighter. He’s a Serra-Longo fighter with over half of his seven wins by TKO / KO against unseasoned fighters. This is his UFC debut, which can affect fighters, but tell that to Serra-Longo teammate Chris Weidman, who dominated veteran Alessio Sakara just a few weeks ago. However, I don’t believe Philippou has Weidman’s wrestling credentials. Catone is a brown belt under Ricardo Almeida and a three-time Division 1 national qualifier with over 100 wins at that level. I expected Miller x Cantone to stay on the feet, and with fewer ground credentials than Miller, I’d expect Philippou to keep it standing as well. That said, I don’t see it making a difference.

Prediction: Catone via TKO (round one)

145 lbs. – Raphael Assuncao x Erik Koch: Assuncao was originally scheduled to fight the 5’5” judo expert Manvel Gamburyan, but after Gamburyan pulled out due to injury, he now faces Koch, a 5’10” kickboxer. Change in strategy there. Assuncao himself is 5’5”, but he’s also is proven against taller opponents. Koch, a product of Milwaukee’s Roufusport kickboxing gym (thought it does have plenty of MMA fighters), actually has more submission wins than KOs or TKOs. I’d expect Koch to put his striking to the test, but for Assuncao, who has gone to decision in the last four out of five matches (aside from his Urijah Faber loss) to ultimately win the match on the ground.

Prediction: Assuncao via decision

135 lbs. – Joseph Benavidez x Ian Loveland: Loveland moves down in weight to Benavidez’ neighborhood. He’ll have the reach advantage, but no telling how the weight change will affect Loveland’s stamina. Likewise, Benavidez has a mixed bag with taller fighters. He submitted the 5’0” Miguel Angel Torres, but also lost twice by decision to the 5’8” champion Dominick Cruz. Joe B should have the wrestling advantage, and though Loveland’s record indicates he’s susceptible to submission, the last of those losses were in 2007. The question will be whether Loveland has developed a takedown and submission defense strong enough to withstand Benavidez’ grappling control.

Prediction: Benavidez via submission (round two)

155 lbs. – Kurt Pellegrino x Gleison Tibau: Two of the larger lightweights in the division, both jiu-jitsu blackbelts will look to turn things around after respectable losses in their previous bouts. Over the past few years, Pellegrino has finished notable ground experts like Nate Diaz, Alberto Crane, and more recently, Fabricio Camoes.

Prediction: Pellegrino via unanimous decision.

170 lbs. – Mike Pyle x Ricardo Almeida: Both men are decade-long veterans who’ve seen varying degrees of success in just about every other major promotion. Almeida is a third-degree Renzo Gracie black belt and former middleweight King of Pancrase. He came out of a four-year retirement in 2008 went 3-1 before dropping to welterweight and last year. Aside from a shocking submission loss to Matt Hughes, he’s fared well. ‘Quicksand’ Pyle was the WEC welterweight champion in 2005-2006, but has yet to be a title contender in the IFL, EliteXC, Affliction, Strikeforce, or the UFC. He’s on a two-match win streak and has 16 submission wins of his own, but likely won’t have the same success as Hughes.

Prediction: Almeida via submission (round three)

155 lbs. – Anthony Njokuani x Edson Barboza, Jr.: A clash between a pair of long-limbed Muay Thai fighters. Barboza Jr. is undefeated, and demonstrated his dangerous leg kicks on Mike Lullo in his UFC debut late last year. But Njokuani , having trained with Muay Thai champion / coach Saekson Janjira, should have an answer for that challenge. He’s won Knockout of the Night honors thrice, though don’t look for Barboza to be #4.

Prediction: Barboza via KO (round two)

205 lbs. – Elliot Marshall x Luiz Cane: Cane, aka “Luiz Artur Cane, Jr.” suffered back-to-back TKO losses to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Cyrille Diabate. Marshall is a TUF season eight alum who’s being brought back to replace the injured Karlos Vemola. As a BJJ black belt, Marshall fared well on TUF and in his three subsequent matches, but was cut from the UFC roster early last year.  Since then, Marshall has gone on a three-fight win streak. Cane may be fighting to keep a grip on his UFC contract, while Marshall should come in smarter and sharper for his ventures in and out of the Zuffa ranks.

Prediction: Marshall via decision

265 lbs. – Brendan Schaub x Mirko Cro Cop: Cro Cop isn’t the Terminator that he used to be, but he can still be dangerous when he wants. Recently, Cro Cop finished Pat Barry and Anthony Perosh, but also has submission and KO losses to Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir, respectively. Schaub is on a three-fight win-streak, and feels he has something to prove. He won a decision over Gabriel Gonzaga, who owns the infamous head-kick win over Cro Cop. Schaub is part of the Grudge Training Center, home of Shane Carwin and Nate Marquardt. I’d expect Schaub to push the action on Cro Cop, whether striking or clinching.

Prediction: Schaub via TKO (round three)

185 lbs. – Nate Marquardt x Dan Miller: Miller gets shifted from the dark matches to TV, filling in for Yoshihiro Akiyama. Marquardt has built his striking bars up since 2008, finishing Martin Kampmann, Wilson Gouveia, Demian Maia, and Rousimar Palhares. And of those KO / TKOs, three of them were in the first round. I’d expect Miller’s team to prepare for Marquardt to come hard and fast in the first round, but if they’re able to control him, I think that will only stave off the finish.

UFC 128: Marquardt vs. Dan Miller preview

Prediction: Marquardt by TKO (round one)

155 lbs. – Kamal Shalorus x Jim Miller: Jim Miller’s submission resume includes a kneebar over formerly-touted prospect Charles Oliveira and veteran Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig. Shalorus is a decorated wrestler, having trained as a child in Turkey and Russia, but he’s more known for his fast and powerful hands, with four TKO wins compared to a single submission win. To this end, takedowns will be key, in Miller attempting them and Shalorus avoiding them.

UFC 128: Jim Miller vs. Kamal Shalorus preview

Prediction: Shalorus via unanimous decision

135 lbs. – Urijah ‘The California Kid’ Faber x Eddie Wineland: To be sure, Zuffa wants Faber to win this match, but to get him over with mainstream fans, they’ve decided to book him one more bantamweight match before pulling the trigger on a title match against Dominic Cruz. And Wineland is no tomato can. He KO’ed Antonio Banuelos in 2006 to become the first WEC champion, and more recently KO’ed Ken  Stone & Will Capuzano last year, and preceded those with back-to-back decision wins. Faber needs to come in and take Wineland to the ground.

Eddie Wineland Interview:

Urijah Faber Interview:

Prediction: Faber via submission (round one or two)

205 lbs. (UFC Light Heavyweight Title) – Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua x Jon ‘Bones’ Jones: I almost don’t even want to call this one, as it’s still very fresh and imaginative in people’s minds as I write this. With his KO of Lyoto Machida to win the UFC light heavyweight title, he proved that he still has punching power. But he’ll have been on the shelf for almost a year, and he never saw elbows of any kind, let alone ‘Bones’ Jones’ brand, in PRIDE. Not only will this be Jones’ toughest fight to date, but also a tougher challenge than any of his other previous ‘toughest fight to date.’ It’s hard to envision that Rua won’t be training for Jones’ elbows, but after the third period, I can see Jones going into overdrive and overwhelming the champ.

Prediction: Jones via TKO (round three or four)

The Finish

Although I’m very excited about the main event, I question how successful the pay-per-view buys will be for this show. The established stars on this show are a bit limiting: Jones as a challenger whose two main events on Versus didn’t draw, Faber as a star in a smaller universe (Versus), and Shogun Rua and the UFC title, neither of whom fans have really seen in almost a year. There aren’t any major glaring storylines that jump out on the undercard, although I can see Brendan Schaub jumping into the spotlight, should he finish Cro Cop early. It’s a show that, with the main event, would have me buzzing, but I don’t know that casual fans’ MMA memories go far back enough to remember “The Great Rua Quest.”

All this said, should this show prove to draw eyeballs, the UFC has a new crop of talent off which to grow some green. Names like Faber, Jones, Phil Davis, George Sotiropolous, Matt Mitrione, and Brendan Schaub will be the next Penn, Silva, Rampage, St-Pierre, and Griffin. This won’t be the big gangbuster UFC event that burns in people’s minds, but you could be seeing a few victories that, in retrospect, prove to be pivotal career moments for some stars of tomorrow.

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