UFC Fight Night 24 Predictions

The original poster for UFC Fight Night 24, before Phil Davis replaced Tito Ortiz due to injury.

The storyline of Ultimate Fight Night 24 is that a young, talented, undefeated, fast-rising African-American wrestler with impressive striking and creative grappling skills replaces a former UFC champion and to battle a Brazilian legend who made his name in the heyday of Japan’s PRIDE Fighting Championships.

Wait, didn’t this just happen last weekend?

Indeed, the coincidences are uncanny, albeit coincidental. The UFC’s first foray into the Seattle market was originally headlined by Tito Ortiz vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (aka ‘Little Nog’), but when Ortiz was cut during training and forced to withdraw, the former Penn State wrestling champion Phil ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Davis took his place. Admittedly, the main event loses quite a bit of mainstream luster, but that’s as much due to Ortiz’ immense star power as it is the general public’s unawareness of the man they call ‘Mr. Wonderful.’

However, Nogueira-Davis is likely to make for a more entertaining fight, as Davis is an exciting prospect who’s largely flown under casual fans’ radar due to fighting in dark matches and prelims. His wrestling is far better than Ortiz’s, and he has a rep for catching opponents in very unconventional submission holds. He won his June 2009 match at Rumble on the Rivers using a rear naked choke that most, including Joe Rogan, described as a camel clutch. In Nogueira’s last two matches, he squeaked out a controversial split decision against Jason Brilz at UFC 114, then lost a unanimous decision to Ryan Bader at UFC 119. Davis is going to be an important gauge for Little Nog, as another bad performance will have people questioning how much gas the Brazilian twin has left in his MMA career tank.

Gimmick Infringement: Mr. Wonderful hits the camel clutch:

Seattle fans are serious about their MMA, and given that this is the city’s first UFC event, the crowd should be particularly hot, which will enhance the event’s TV broadcast. Seattle fans are serious about MMA. I once covered an amateur event in nearby Shoreline, and the only thing fans booed was the announcement for an intermission. No joke.

Additionally, fans will be treated to a rematch of Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung, aka ‘The Korean Zombie.’ The two had a match of the year candidate in mid-2010 at WEC 48, the prelims of which, including Garcia-Jung, aired on Spike TV. Garcia won by split decision. The two fighters are very aware of the legacy fans will expect them to live up to, if not exceed. Rematches don’t usually live up to the magic of the original fight, but I’d expect this to be entertaining and competitive regardless. If nothing else, we’re likely to see ‘Zombie’ come out of his shell a bit, as evidenced by this English tutorial lesson with the California Kid, Urijah Faber:

155 lbs. – Nik Lentz x Waylon Lowe: Both men are accomplished wrestlers with Lentz having NCAA Division I credentials at University of Minnesota. Lowe wrestled for the lesser-known University of Finley (Ohio), but won Division II championship honors in 2004 and 2006. Lendz is 4-0-1 in the UFC, with all matches, including the controversial split decision with Tyson Griffin, go to the judges. Lentz is surely looking to put that match, labeled as one of the most boring bouts in UFC history, behind him. Lowe, 2-1 in the UFC, has his fair share of decision wins, and will need to prove himself here. In a battle of two wrestlers from the Midwest, I’d expect this to be a battle of ground control. That said, here’s hoping both teams second-guess each other and make it a nice stand-up slobberknocker.

Prediction: Lowe by TKO (round one)

185 lbs. – Aaron Simpson x Mario Miranda: Simpson is an NCAA All-American wrestler from Arizona State University who ran a string of six TKO / KO wins. He’s part of the Power MMA team, with fellow wrestlers Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway. Miranda is a BJJ black belt who spends his time between Anderson Silva’s Black House clique and Matt Hume’s AMC in Kirkland, WA, so he’ll have the hometown advantage. Miranda went the distance with Maia, but was taken down regularly throughout the match. Miranda will need some clever defenses against Simpson’s takedowns. That said, Hume-coached fighters always come with a smart strategy. Simpson suffered back-to-back losses against Chris Leben and Mark Munoz in the last half of 2010, so this match is a gut-check for the ASU wrestler.

Prediction: Miranda via (surprising, out-of-nowhere) submission (round two)

170 lbs. – Johny Hendricks x Anthony “TJ” Waldburger: Hendricks, of the wrestling-based Team Takedown, replaces Dennis Hallman, who was injured three weeks. Waldburger has an impressive win four-fight win streak, starting mid-2009, and marred David Mitchell’s undefeated record when both debuted in the UFC in September. Despite Waldburger’s experience advantage over Hendricks, I would expect the Oklahoma wrestler to push the action and grind him down until Hendricks can catch him with punches.

Prediction: Hendricks via TKO (round one)

265 lbs. – Christian Morecraft x Sean McCorkle: Both fighters are looking to redeem themselves from being finished by Stefan Struve. Morecraft gave Struve a run for his money in round one of their fight, but was caught at the beginning of round two. Two thousand ten was a rebirth for the entertaining and outspoken McCorkle, who was 6-0 through 2007 before taking a two-and-a-half year hiatus from fighting. In 2010, he beat several local opponents before meeting, and finishing) PRIDE FC veteran Mark Hunt in both men’s UFC debuts. Using Struve as a gauge, Morecraft showed more craft (pun intended) than McCorkle, whose pre-UFC opponents weren’t exactly top competition. I expect both men to be at their sharpest for their first fight in 2011, though I’d expect Morecraft’s grappling to be the difference-maker here.

Prediction: Morecraft by TKO (round two)

135 lbs. – Michael McDonald vs. Edwin Figueroa: This match should be a fistfest, as both men are making their UFC debut and neither has gone to the halfway mark of a 3 x 5 min match. Figueroa replaces Nick Pace, making this a debut UFC match for both Figueroa and McDonald. Also in common is McDonald is a Central California product with fast, heavy hands. He’s never gone to the third round, and has seven TKO / KO finishes out of his 11 victories. His last three matches were victories over legit names like Manny Tapia, Cole Escovedo, and Clint Godfrey. Figueroa is undefeated, with his last match a TKO victory over respectable journeyman Johnny Bedford. McDonald has faced tougher competition of late, which I think will make the difference in performance here.

Prediction: McDonald via TKO or submission (round one)

170 lbs. – John Hathaway x Kris McCray: McCray came into MMA on a hot streak and went to the finals of the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), but was submitted by Court McCray in the TUF finals and Carlos Eduardo Rocha, a jiu-jitsu black belt import from Fortaleza, Brazil. Hathaway has the experience factor on his side, undefeated through his previous match, against Mike Pyle, who used takedowns to secure a unanimous decision. McCray would best be served recreating Pyle’s strategy, if possible, but Hathaway proved what his ability to control a match when he faced Diego Sanchez.

Prediction: Hathaway via TKO (round two)

265 lbs. – Mike Russow x Jon Madsen: On paper, this match is ironically even – two heavyweight wrestlers who are also (at least) part-time members of Brock Lesnar’s Deathclutch team. Undefeated in seven bouts, Madsen also trains at Matt Hughes H.I.T. Squad. Russow is a Division 1 wrestler and Chicago police officer. Madsen TKO’ed Dutch kickboxer Gilbert Yvel last October, something Josh Barnett couldn’t do in 2009, and used takedowns to grind out decisions against Karlos Vemola and Mostapha Al-Turk prior to that. Russow has the distinction of unexpectedly KO’ing company pariah Todd Duffee in a one-sided match that Duffee had all but closed. Russow will hopefully be tighter and in better shape than his Duffee match.

Prediction: Madsen via submission (round three)

145 lbs. – Alex Caceres x Mackens Semerzier: The man they call ‘Bruce Leeroy’ was the flashy and polarizing youngbuck from season 11 of TUF. Semerzier was on a four-match first-round submission streak when he entered WEC, and extended that streak to five, choking out Wagnney Fabiano, before dropping three in a row in 2010. Caceres has flashy kicks, but also four submissions, including his TUF matches. In this battle of submission artists, this match could take place on the feet.

Prediction: Caceres via TKO (round one)

145 lbs. – Leonard Garcia x Chan Sung Jung: One rematch gets replaced with another, as Jung (aka “The Korean Zombie”) fills in for Garcia’s original opponent the injured Nam Phan. Garcia-Phan II was made after Garcia was given a split decision win that everybody except the judges themselves though Phan won. The first Garcia-Jung bout was one of the best bouts of 2010, a slugfest for the ages that Garcia also won by split decision. I personally thought Jung won with his aggression and damage, but calls for a rematch faded when George Roop knocked Jung out cleanly with a head kick. With this upcoming rematch, obviously Jung will be hungry for revenge, though many say a fighter is never the same after a knockout like the Korean Zombie fared. That said, Garcia will likely need to fight at a stronger, fiercer pace than he has in the past three bouts to really secure a convincing win.

Prediction: Jung via unanimous decision

170 lbs. – Amir Sadollah x Demarques Johnson: Johnson marks third opponent and second replacement opponent for Sadollah, who was originally scheduled to fight Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig. When Ludwig had to withdraw due to injury, James ‘Lightning’ Wilks, stepped in. And when Wilks had to withdraw due to injury, Johnson filled in the spot. Wilks-to-Johnson shouldn’t affect Sadollah’s strategy as much as Ludwig-to-Wilks did, as Ludwig’s striking pedigree is far above Wilks or Johnson, who have more submission wins that KO / TKO’s. Johnson fights to fight, and is equally dangerous (and susceptible) in striking and grappling, having won and lost both ways almost equal times. Sadollah’s last four matches have gone to decision. I’d expect Johnson to keep the pressure on Sadollah, but for Sadollah to catch him with punches.

Prediction: Sadollah by TKO (round two)

170 lbs. – Dan Hardy x Anthony Johnson: Johnson will be coming off a year-plus hiatus due to a meniscus injury, while Hardy looks to shake off a loss to GSP (bad strategy) and KO (got caught) from Carlos Condit. Ring rust could play a factor against Johnson, but then again, his six-inch reach advantage will be a benefit. That said, Hardy can take a shot (notwithstanding Condit hitting the button), and has competed more recently against tougher competition. Johnson will have the size advantage in height and surely weight, as he’s claimed he drops as much as 55 lbs. (starting from a fight announcement) to make 170. Hardy is one of those submission experts who loves to show off his striking skills, but in this case, even despite Johnson’s wrestling credentials (NJCAA champion in 2004), Hardy may be best suited in this match on the ground.

The calmer, real side of Dan Hardy:

Anthony Johnson’s thoughts on the fight:

Prediction: Hardy via submission (round two)

205 lbs. – Antonio Rogerio Nogueira x Phil Davis:

As mentioned before, Davis replacing Ortiz in many ways means a more dangerous opponent for Nogueira. Davis is an NCAA Division I national wrestling champion, and is undefeated not just in the UFC but in his MMA career. He’s not only slick with submissions, but inventive as well, being one of the few fighters on record to get a submission with what by all accounts looked like a modified camel clutch. His kimura-hammerlock combination on Tim Boetsch at UFC 123 had Joe Rogan popping like a Hulkamaniac. His Alliance MMA team includes Brandon Vera, UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, and heavy hitters like Travis Browne and Joey Beltran, so he also gets solid training in the striking department. All this said, ‘Lil’ Nog,’ as some call him is a BJJ black belt with impressive amateur boxing credentials in Brazil from 2006 and 2007. In MMA, Nogueira was a star in PRIDE FC from 2002 to 2007. He was more competitive several years ago, finishing four out of five matches between his PRIDE and UFC contracts, but that was against lesser competition. He’s 2-1 in the UFC, but one of those wins was an unpopular split decision against Jason Brilz. Nogueira has the skills and can be dangerous, but Davis is from a younger, fresher generation of fighters who’ve been weaned on the sport at a point when fighters don’t cross-train disciplines but simply all the elements of MMA at once. Nogueira of course has the experienced advantage, but in this case, Davis’ explosive speed and ability to adapt, improvise, and overcome may turn him into an overnight star with this match (like we haven’t seen that recently).

Phil Davis Video Blog:

Prediction: Davis via decision

The Finish

For the past three years, the spring UFC Fight Nights has showcased what for me was a very intriguing main event, usually moreso than throughout the rest of the year. At UFN 18 in 2009, Martin Kampmann bested Carlos Condit by split decision in a fantastic three-round war of dogged, skilled fighters. Last year, at UFN 21, top lightweight Kenny Florian welcomed PRIDE FC star Takanori Gomi to the octagon with a third-round rear naked choke. This year, we see another clash of veteran star against fast-rising prospect. And even though we just saw this dynamic a few days ago, I’m still intrigued by the possibilities.

Not to mention that fans get a sequel to one of the most popular matches from last year in Garcia-Jung, as well as appearances from the always-entertaining likes of Dan Hardy, Anthony Johnson,  the polarizing Alex ‘Bruce Leroy’ Caceres, and the irreverent Amir Sadollah.

Very often, these Fight Nights are generally forgettable affairs, but if there’s one time that you stay home and watch TV on a Saturday night, this would be the weekend for it.

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