UFC 226: Miocic or Cormier?

By: S. Davis

Since this is the second iteration of this piece I wanted to wait until the event actually began before I posted it. Get well soon, Max Holloway. There isn’t much time to waste here so let’s take a look at the main event.

The ideal of what a superfight truly is seems to be superfluous depending on the marketing demands. This is a contest between two of the elite martial artists of their time with no clear contenders, currently, in either of their divisions. They both traveled a treacherous path leading to one another for the biggest prize in mixed martial arts; this is the one.

Photo: UFC

I’m not diving into GOAT discussions as I find them abhorrent in a sport currently in its infancy but it’s clear the winner at the end of the night will have a substantial imprint on the sport – even as they both are cemented as greats before a single punch is thrown. It’s exciting and will be fascinating to see how it unfolds.

Stipe Miocic wins if he can stay on his feet. I’m not making it out to be as simple as that since he’s facing Daniel Cormier. Don’t you have the feeling that if it’s a five-round grinder, there’s a good chance that Cormier walks away with another championship? That’s the way it seems. Miocic is a balanced athlete no matter if he’s a heavyweight or a middleweight. He moves crisply, stepping off, resetting and firing from all angles. His boxing and footwork – which I find to be equally, if not more impressive than his hands – are masterful. His best advantage is to deploy those tools along with his accuracy, range and power.

He’s no slouch as a wrestler either but it’s something he uses more when a change of pace is needed – and it’s a main factor why he turned away the promotion’s new crush in Francis Ngannou; Miocic just has a deep variety of tools of which to mine. I like him to retain if he dictates the fight whether in close, or at distance. If he elects to fire from range and keep Cormier trying to fight inside his reach, I feel strongly that Cormier will fall due to the volume that Miocic can turn on.

He could also go the opposite route and try to overpower the smaller, in height, at least, challenger. That would be a twist though. Imagine Miocic going to the grappling and using his physical advantages to (probably) confuse the challenger by meeting him on his terms. If the reigning heavyweight champion can keep Cormier at the end of his attacks and stuff the takedown he should have a successful evening.

Cormier wins if he dictates the terms. While being a small heavyweight sounds oxymoronic, it’s apt when referencing the challenger. During his career at heavyweight he’s had to outlast Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Antonio Silva based on speed, precision and skill. The size advantage can’t be as wide as it was when he shared the cage with the aforementioned staples of the division. Miocic is lean for such a big man. According to the scale, Cormier is 246 lbs to Miocic’s 242.5. They’re three-and-a-half pounds away from one another. It’s close to being equal.

Also it can’t be overlooked that the light heavyweight champion has been fighting Cain Velasquez for years, for training. Yeah. His heavyweight run is a clean 13-0. He’s a true heavyweight and just manages as a light heavyweight.

I see the people picking Cormier are leaning highly on his wrestling as the key to victory. It is. However there’s a path to DC earning a knockout. He’s a good striker, he isn’t out of his element on his feet. There’s an avenue for an overhand shot that can stagger the defending champion. Every competitor that opposes Cormier has to worry about the takedown so he can fake a shot, have Miocic drop his hands and…

I also noted the two, nearly identical, ways he turned back Anthony Johnson with the takedown as a precursor to the rear-naked choke. Small nugget: Cormier has a tendency to duck his head to the right without protecting himself which was all the opening Jon Jones needed to close their last bout. Miocic doesn’t use head kicks often so I wonder if it’s a surprise he’s holding in case of emergency.

Lastly, I can’t help but mention the Jones and Brock Lesnar carrots that are dangling for the UFC executives to salivate over. The winner will have a slew of options after the event closes.

The rest of the card…

I wonder if Anthony Pettis will truly be labeled as a gatekeeper with a loss. While it’s been affixed to him for a while now I think this challenge from Michael Chiesa could alter his present and future. His weaknesses are evident: A great striker with bad defensive wrestling. He’s not unlike a large portion of the roster but his flaws are so evident that his opponents know if they can avoid the knockout or submission early in the fight they have a way to win in the later rounds. Derrick Lewis and Ngannou square off in a battle that could obviously stamp the next challenger for the heavyweight title-holder at the conclusion of the event. Don’t step away from the television for that one.

Picks: Gokhan Saki, Chiesa, Paul Felder, Lewis and Cormier.

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UFC 220 + Bellator 192 = Supercard

By: S. Davis

Can you hear that? You should be able to if you’re on this planet. The world has been entranced with the power of Francis Ngannou and it’s no longer a secret that the soft-spoken, jovial, survivor from Cameroon is on a swift track to stardom. We’ve seen improvement in his footwork since his debut even though he hasn’t spent much time in the cage – other than having his hand raised.

The UFC hasn’t ignored his rise in popularity and are primed to push him with the entire promotional machine. The official trailer/teaser highlights both men in the main event but there’s a certain angle they’re portraying – or, at the very least, attempting to. The production value is stellar and it’s driving a point home: Ngannou stock is being purchased in droves and they’re in the market for him as a face of the company…deeply.

The flavor-of-the-month cliché has been in full bloom. That’s not a slight to the challenger at all. In events such as these, when all the attention is devoted to the shiny new toy on Christmas morning it’s easy to overlook the action figures that were there when you were bedridden with the measles, the weekend at grandma’s when her wi-fi was down because she switched providers hours before you arrived and the time your little brother threw a fit because his favorite toy broke so you handed him yours. Remember that? Reliability. Consistency.

Miocic is the man actually in possession of the championship, just in case anyone forgot. He’s the one over there garbling his words, hanging up the phone on his wife while piling up an impressive list of finishes as well. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge his skill and technical acumen in the cage.

The champion seeks a successful defense to set the heavyweight record at three while the challenger looks to stamp his rise by winning one of the few, shiny, gold titles that actually mean something within the company. The problem with predictions in the heavyweight division is the fact that the weakest heavyweight can end the night with an accurate strike. These two both launch missiles to end fights but Ngannou has the kind of sudden power that’s both impressive and chilling. When his uppercut found Alistair Overeem’s chin, I was concerned that he might not walk again.

As for the bout itself, I want to see if Miocic pulls the fight into the later rounds as Ngannou has yet to enter the third frame in his entire career. There could be an opportunity to frustrate the challenger and test those lungs should the fight last longer than ten minutes. As a boxer, I give the champion the edge in terms of foot placement and movement. I also add a plus in the champion’s column as it pertains to cardio.

Defense is going to be paramount here. Miocic has been hit – and has survived in most cases but it only takes one to land for that belt to be wrapped around the challenger. As of yet Ngannou hasn’t been frustrated in a fight nor has he been tasked with fighting from a deficit. How will he respond if the champion remains poised, active and outside of his reach while scoring points? What’s the strategy if he finds himself pinned against the cage when he gets in punching range and can’t turn out the lights quickly? Will he use raw strength to escape a bad position over a technically sound option that leaves him vulnerable to being added to Miocic’s highlight reel?

I wonder.

I appreciate the fact that Bellator 192 – I wish they would change the name – is holding their event on the same evening as I’m melding both cards together. I’m not going to pay much attention to UFC 220 outside of the two title fights. The best fight of the night could be Douglas Lima defending his welterweight crown against Rory MacDonald. I’ll change that: It will be the best fight between both cards.

By the time Chael Sonnen vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson begins, I’m hoping that Daniel Cormier is walking to the cage so I can shift focus from my laptop to my television. I don’t have high hopes for that tilt and I’m concerned about the viewing experience for the customers when Sonnen does what he does. I think Michael Chandler is going to put on a show and Aaron Pico returns to kick off their main card.

A brief aside to discuss the circus around the UFC Lightweight Championship, if I may…

I think stripping Conor McGregor is too…clean. It’s easy and it would be the lazy course of action. Simply remove the “Interim” tag from Tony Ferguson’s portion of the title and name him the “Co-Lightweight” champion while also affixing the same label to McGregor. (It seems like they’ve done this at 7:49 of this video for what it’s worth.) Transfer the lineage of the 155 pound title to both men. Eventually McGregor will have no choice but to defend his half of the title – that would be split in this scenario – because he chose to sit on the bench. He’s healthy and therefore there’s no reason why he can’t compete. UFC brass capitulated and allowed him to box instead of draining his bank account in court proceedings when that was their standard modus operandi when they wanted to flex their power; at least in the Fertitta-era.

Of course if he’s truly stripped, he’ll rally his followers to dismiss Tony, Khabib Nurmagomedov or whoever reigns over the weight class. He’ll accuse them of being fake. MMA drones will agree and if he were to come back to capture the title a second time, he’ll boast about becoming a two-time champion, casually ignoring his refusal to defend. If he’s stripped, he dances around the responsibility of defending – and losing the title. It’s a hurdle that every combat athlete must clear. He’s not exempt from the same standard that every title holder in the history of sport is mandated to meet by virtue of becoming a champion. He’s a legitimate champion because he won the belt – and that can’t be dismissed. However he hasn’t defined his reign with a single defense. If McGregor were chasing after a champion that conveniently refused to defend, denying him the opportunity to share the cage in a title bout, fans of mixed martial arts would riot. It’s time to make the walk; put down the phone or become an asterisk in the history books.

Picks: Miocic, Cormier, Sonnen, Lima, Chandler, Font, Karakhanyan and Pico.

UFC 211

By: S. Davis

UFC Heavyweight Championship: Stipe Miocic (C) vs. Junior dos Santos

Did you see their first encounter? If not, please do yourself a favor and satiate the fight connoisseur inside and take in that 25 minute classic. It sells the rematch on its own. While they were both impressive in regards to the amount of punishment each could inflict – and receive – it would be wise for both men to avoid rounds 6-10 of that grinder. Since that fight, dos Santos has gone 1-1 while Miocic has risen to the top of the sport. So their paths cross now…

Miocic wins if he’s better defensively. Large, strong athletes winging small gloves at one another usually lends itself to knockouts. While both have proven track records of durability, the ability to “weather the storm” and absorb punishment isn’t a reward, and it isn’t everlasting. Interestingly, Miocic implemented his wrestling during their first dance but was only 1/18 on takedown attempts. While it didn’t set the world ablaze it added an additional element to his attack that dos Anjos had to prepare for. As this bout moves into the later stages – if it makes past the first three rounds – I feel he will mix in some grappling but I find myself increasingly convinced that he’ll want to make this a striking affair.

JDS wins if his footwork reverts to its previous form. One of his early trademarks was his ability to glide around the cage as if he were a light heavyweight or middleweight even. He possessed agility, he was precise and swift on his feet yet rather recently he’s been plodding which has made him stationary – and easier to hit. I’m wary of the damage he took in the latter two battles with Cain Velasquez.

One could argue that all the time off (with surgeries included) could serve to replenish him physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s possible. A counter argument exists that states he left too much of himself in the Octagon after battling Velasquez and this is the diminished model; dos Santos 2.0…with 150,000 hard miles and frequent stops to the mechanic just to get on the road.

I’ll be looking closely at the number he hits on the scale. Personally I think he could do himself a tremendous favor by fighting closer to 240 than 250. The reigning champion is lean for such a massive athlete and I feel JDS should replicate that formula and get to a weight that doesn’t compromise his punching power and stamina.

UFC Strawweight Championship: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (C) vs. Jessica Andrade

Jedrzejczyk wins if she remains aggressive and accurate in her striking, primarily her kickboxing base. Her volume and speed set her apart from many of her contemporaries in the entire sport. I’m interested in whether she’ll move forward or backward because her opponent likes to walk her opponents down. Kicking is going to prove monumental to keep Andrade at safe distance here. If Andrade can bully her way into close quarters, I want to see the champion’s clinch work at display. The stout Brazilian will walk into shots in order to brawl but wading into a dangerous clinch could end her evening.

While Jedrzejczyk has been stellar as the champion, over her last two fights, she has been hurt. That’s no slight to her as she should be pushed – especially since the UFC touts itself as the pinnacle of mixed martial arts – but it’s noteworthy to mention. I was asked recently by someone who knows I write about MMA, if she’s peaked already. I don’t think so. Competition comes her way and she meets the challenge, she fights, she overcomes tough moments…and makes successful title defenses. Even though defending belts is pure nonsense at this point, right?

Andrade wins if she muscles her way into grappling range while also initiating great defense to mitigate Jedrzejczyk’s punching power and accuracy. She reminds me of Claudia Gadelha but she seems to be more powerful. One thing that’s paramount will be her cardio. She has never competed in a five round fight; not once. I want to see how fresh she’ll be in a fight that I think will go the distance. If she’s taking too much damage on the feet will she opt to engage in a grappling match?

Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal

Maia wins if he can stay glued to his opponent. The human boa constrictor sucks the air out of his opponents’ attacks – and their bodies – as long as he can grab an appendage. He has great defense – only absorbing 13 strikes in his last FOUR fights – so the damage he’s taken is minimal. It’s funny considering Maia’s plan of attack because the world knows his playbook. He’s deliberately marching forward, calculating the possibilities depending on cage placement, and luring his opponents into inevitable doom. He will put out a jab or a low kick, more as a defensive technique just to begin the assault on his opponent’s consciousness. The more time the fight’s in the clinch, or grappling where Masvidal can’t put together fluid combinations…it’s only a matter of time before Maia’s hand is raised.

Masvidal wins if he can survive the clinching exchanges and not by simply resorting to hand fighting. Against the cage, his wizard has to be quick and he must shift his base to get his back free of the cage in order to make his way safely to the center of the Octagon. He has the skill to stop Maia and/or win on points but he has to stay clear of the cage. Jabs, uppercuts and knees, especially the latter, could create a massive opportunity for him.

It’s a pure battle of two opposing styles. The striker facing off against the grappler with clear advantages for both respectively. Masvidal’s level of aggression will be a fantastic subplot. Will he chain combinations together? Will he play it safe and throw one strike at a time? His discipline will directly tied to how successful he will – or won’t – be in the crucial middleweight bout.

Picks: Miocic, Jedrzejczyk, Maia, Edgar, Branch and…Alvarez?

UFC 203

By: S. Davis

203

The sport of MMA has been populated with some fantastic strikers throughout its short history and while some are severely overrated there are others that are deserving of the label. Alistair Overeem is an anomaly as far as accomplished strikers go and his resume is stellar. The UFC title is the one crown he wants to add to the K-1, Strikeforce and DREAM titles that he’s held (on top of an ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship). He’s in a whole different atmosphere when you talk of strikers in mixed martial arts.

Stipe Miocic enters the cage after a tremendous backpedaling right hook landed on Fabricio Werdum’s chin. What was he doing by the way? Was he trying to give the belt away? With that flailing rush at Miocic it’s almost like he was subconsciously handing the belt over with a “Punch Me Here!” sign.

I like the style mix in this heavyweight battle. The prior version of Overeem was akin to an 18-wheeler in tight space. He wasn’t reckless but you knew he was coming forward, measuring with body kicks, and then once he closed distance he would pull his opponent into the clinch and the hurt was on the horizon. At that point the body crunching knees would follow with timely hooks and left overhand missiles. His plan was to march forward, with precise footwork, and break his opponents down by going to the body, first and foremost.

The Jackson-Wink model still dominates by working the body but he’s now more calculated. He’s always moved well for a heavyweight which is remarkable when you consider that he fought at light heavyweight in the past. He has the speed of a middleweight or welterweight. He’s light on his feet and that makes his striking all the more unpredictable. He circles away defensively and hides his chin in his chest and behind his outside shoulders. His chin has been the most glaring weakness as evidenced by the 12 combined kickboxing/MMA knockout losses in his career. By the way I don’t think his chin is as suspect as his critics suggest. Heavyweights sling heat and with four-ounce gloves all it takes is one punch to activate an off switch. Roy Nelson connected a few times yet Overeem won that fight comfortably. However when a clean shot lands he has this look of horror on his face that informs his opponent that it’s finishing time. He needs a better poker face when receiving a hard strike but I’m not the one getting hit by monsters inside of a locked cage.

Miocic utilizes good footwork and he pairs that with power in both hands. His cardio is also a major plus and he’s able to weather the storm when he’s taking punishment, i.e., the fight against Junior dos Santos. He doesn’t panic which is something that could benefit him on Saturday. The times when he’s swarmed he remains calm and doesn’t try to escape a bad position by abandoning technique; he relies on head movement and footwork to reset and clear danger. He uses a stiff jab in order to win points and hide the hooks and uppercuts that are sure to follow once he finds his rhythm. He also has a wrestling foundation but for MMA purposes he uses that skill defensively to ensure he keeps the action standing. If there’s one heavyweight that I think will go for a takedown it may be Overeem just to keep the champion guessing.

Overeem wins if he sticks to the Jackson-Wink playbook that he’s employed during his recent resurgence. His feints are going to be vital to confusing Miocic. Those same feints created chaos in the mind of dos Santos which led to the hook that found his jaw. His cardio seems to be much better now that he’s entering the cage 15-20 pounds lighter than he was during his first handful of heavyweight bouts. That used to be a way to counter Overeem; after pushing the pace and surviving his initial onslaught he would slow down and serve himself up to be finished. The front leg kicks – and oblique kicks – which are staples of fighters from his team are a place to focus. He can win this in a highlight reel finish or in a calculated point-fighting performance. He has a deeper chest of options of which to select from.

Miocic wins if he gets comfortable in the clinch. Now it’s playing with a forest fire when you consider Overeem’s arsenal of weapons but the champion likes to stay in boxing range which is at arm’s length of the clinch. He also has to be judicious on how he reacts to the feints that the challenger will employ to read his attacks in order to set up his own. Miocic does get hit, and for a trained boxer, his head movement should be crisper at this point in his development. He’s not terrible but there are times he’ll take a shot in order to fire one or three of his own. He has to make sure that he isn’t flat-footed when stalking or retreating as a brief technical lapse could foreshadow the gold being wrapped around the Dutchman’s waist. He can’t get discouraged if he can’t end things early. It wouldn’t be surprising if he drops the first two rounds, remains focused and keeps the pressure on while Overeem gets overextended on a counter and Miocic ends the fight with a crushing hook or uppercut.

Either way I doubt the main event makes it to the championship rounds. Everything else…

CM PUNK! CM PUNK! CM PUNK! CM PUNK!

I’m not going to avoid that I like both WWE and MMA. Who even knew that was possible? I won’t deny that I stopped paying any real attention to WWE once Punk’s career came to an end. I have gone back because of Brock Lesnar, A.J Styles, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, New Day, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and even Roman Reigns (among others). Relax, I’m getting back to martial arts but I respect professional wrestling and wrestlers. There’s no need to bash them because EVERY mixed martial artist watches and imitates sports entertainers. Some have used their blueprint to talk themselves into main events and create their personas.

They’ve been marketing themselves for decades, holding court in packed stadiums and promoting in such a way to garner some level of emotion from the masses. MMA athletes bemoan professional wrestlers but secretly wish for their personality and confidence when the cameras and microphones are around.  I also seem to be in the minority in thinking that just because the outcomes are scripted that the wrestlers on the roster can’t fight under legit circumstances.

Movies, video games, sitcoms, dramas, plays and other works of fiction are scripted and yet they’re not the subject of blatant mockery just for their existence. Get over it, wrestling is exciting. If you don’t like it, great, but there’s no need to mock anyone that does or participates in the field.

Punk is one of my favorite wrestlers, but yes, the outcome of this weekend will not be decided by Vince McMahon. Unless…..imagine McMahon coming out with a steel chair. Just me?

I saw Mickey Gall’s UFC debut and he’s a slick fighter. He’s quick, athletic and seems very comfortable when the fight hits the mat. He gets his rear naked choke in swiftly, slides his hooks in with minimal effort and applies pressure like someone that’s trained jiu-jitsu for years. A major plus is that he’s young and his body is fresh, without the wear and tear his opponent has to deal with. As for fight analysis I don’t have much here. There’s one guy with no combat or amateur wrestling background and another with two professional fights in his career. Of course Gall should win, that’s not exactly ace reporting.

As for the co-main event: Travis Browne is going to make the rematch with Werdum different, how? I love the idea of an upset, especially in the heavyweight division, but it’s hard to see Werdum failing to put himself at the front of the line for the next title shot along with Cain Velasquez.

Urijah Faber isn’t washed up but he’s just under the elite fighters at 135 and 145. From his time in the WEC through his current UFC run, he hasn’t ducked a single challenge and he’s enjoyed a great career while only losing to current or former champions in the UFC. He’s no longer a threat to any gold for the rest of his time entering the cage but stranger things have happened in the UFC. Oh wait, he can angle for a fight with Dennis Siver because a win over him secures a title shot somewhere right? I think he has a lot left in the tank but I guess the outcome of this weekend will decide where he goes next.

Picks: Overeem, Werdum, Punk, Faber, Andrade and Correia. Relax, I don’t really think Punk’s going to win but everyone’s picking Gall – as they should – and since I’m terrible at predictions why change now?

“I’m the cult of personality, the cult of personality, the cult of personaaaaaaliiiityyyy!”