By Jaime C. Feal
The UFC traditionally saves a big fight for their New Year’s card, and Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem is literally as big as it gets. With Lesnar standing 6 foot 3 inches tall and having to cut weight to make the 265 pound heavyweight limit, and Overeem an equally enormous 6 foot 5, 256 pounds, this is truly a clash of the titans. Add to that the draw of a former WWE superstar in Lesnar, the UFC debut of a current top 3 heavyweight in Overeem, and things really start to get interesting. Give the winner of the fight a shot for the heavyweight title against Junior Dos Santos, and now you have a truly sensational main event. It all goes down from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV, this Friday, December 30th at 10 p.m. EST.
Featherweight Division (145 lbs.):
Nam Phan (17-9, 1-2 UFC) vs. Jim “The Kid” Hettes (9-0, 1-0 UFC)
Phan, the Ultimate Fighter season 12 alumnus, could be fighting for his UFC career here, as a 1-3 mark within the promotion often signals a cut from the roster. He will face Jim Hettes, who won his UFC debut by rear naked choke against another TUF 12 alum, Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres. Hettes is an upcoming 24 year old undefeated prospect that started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at sixteen years old, and is now the lead trainer at Northeast Jiu-Jitsu in Swoyersville, PA. Hettes also is a two-time Keystone State Games Judo gold medalist. With a BJJ and Judo background, “The Kid” needs to get this fight to the ground. Phan displayed very crisp and lethal boxing during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter. Often working digging hooks to the body, Phan showed a skill at finding his opponent with the perfect liver or kidney shot. Since being called up to the UFC, Phan has split a pair of fights with Leonard Garcia, and dropped a decision to Mike Thomas Brown. Phan is also a professional boxer, with a 3-1 record. He clearly has the better hands, and the fight will be determined by how often he is able to utilize them. Phan does have a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so should the fight go to the ground he will be make it awfully tough for Hettes to finish him.
Prediction: Nam Phan wins by unanimous decision.
Light heavyweight Division (205 lbs.):
Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko (26-5, 7-3 UFC) vs. Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson (12-1, 4-1 UFC)
This match is a battle of old versus new. Matyushenko, who is 40 years old, has been around forever, once challenging for Tito Ortiz’s UFC light heavyweight belt all the way back at UFC 33. Gustafsson, in comparison, is a baby at only 24 years old. Still, “The Mauler” has shown tons of potential, finishing Matt Hamill, James Te Huna, and Cyrill Diabete in his last three fights. Gustafsson’s only loss as a professional is to the undefeated Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis, who will soon take on Rashad Evans in a light heavyweight title eliminator. The 6 foot 5 Gustafsson needs to impose his will on the feet before Matyushenko can get it to the ground. “The Janitor” will find success if he can get inside and take down Gustafsson or use his strength in the clinch. Otherwise, Gustafsson’s reach and superior striking will be too much.
Prediction: Alexander Gustafsson wins by KO, Round 2.
Welterweight Division (170 lbs.):
Jon Fitch (23-3-1, 13-1-1 UFC) vs. Johny Hendricks (11-1, 6-1 UFC)
Hendricks’ only career loss was to welterweight contender Rick “The Horror” Story. Hendricks has shown exciting stand up and knockout power in his bouts. Fitch, the perennial #2 ranked welterweight, has also lost only once inside the Octagon, when he dropped a decision to title holder Georges St. Pierre. The primary difference between the two fighters is the way in which they have won their fights. Hendricks has generally finished his opponents, whereas Fitch has a tendency to grind out decision wins. In fact, Fitch’s last nine bouts have gone to the judges’ scorecards, and this is losing him fan support. The grinder from American Kickboxing Academy last competed at UFC 127 where he earned a controversial draw in a bout with BJ Penn. Fitch has really not shown much evolution in the UFC. He is content to out-muscle and wrestle his opponents en route to decision victories. Hendricks has serious wrestling credentials as a four-time All-American and two-time national champion at Oklahoma State. So in theory Hendricks matches up well with Fitch. But the problem is Hendricks is simply a much smaller welterweight than Fitch, who cuts weight masterfully to get his big frame down to 170 pounds. Hendricks has to keep this fight standing by defending the takedown and looking to hurt Fitch on the feet. Despite all Hendricks’ skill, energy, and talent, he faces a bigger and stronger opponent who is adept at using his size advantage.
Prediction: Jon Fitch wins by unanimous decision.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (17-3, 4-0 UFC) vs. Nate Diaz (14-7, 9-5 UFC)
Two fan favorites with highly entertaining styles clash in the frontrunner for “fight of the night.” Both these fighters are completely offensive minded. Cerrone has an advantage on the feet with his powerful, technical, and ferocious kickboxing. The way “Cowboy” always comes forward like a robot is extremely impressive. He will face a game Nate Diaz, the Ultimate Fighter Season 5 winner, and younger brother of welterweight star Nick Diaz. A brown belt in jiu jitsu under the legendary Cesar Gracie, Nate Diaz will likely look to make it a submission game on the ground with Cerrone. “Cowboy” is no slouch with his jiu jitsu though, training with Jackson MMA and having finished several noteworthy opponents on the ground in the last year alone. Still, one has to think Diaz’s best chance is to exchange submission attempts with Cerrone and hope to catch him in something deep. Cerrone will obviously look to keep the fight standing and leg kick Diaz to death. Diaz, the native of Stockton, CA, has tons of heart, a good chin, and will give Cerrone a stern test. However, he doesn’t have the wrestling pedigree to get the fight to the ground as much as he needs to, and ultimately he lacks the firepower to compete with Cerrone on the feet. Diaz has never been stopped on strikes, and has lost only once by submission in his career: an armbar to Hermes Franca in 2006. While the ultra-tough Diaz is unlikely to pull out a win, he is even more unlikely to be stopped or finished by Cerrone.
Prediction: Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone wins by unanimous decision.
Heavyweight Title Eliminator (265 lbs.):
Brock Lesnar (5-2, 4-2 UFC) vs. Alistair “The Demolition Man” Overeem (35-11, 0-0 UFC)
Alistair Overeem, the giant Dutch kickboxer, makes his UFC debut with an immediate chance to secure a shot at the heavyweight title. Standing in his way is the equally mammoth Brock Lesnar, who has the edge in power and athleticism, but faces a serious disadvantage in experience. To his credit, all Brock’s fights have been huge fights, two of which were title fights. There is no secret as to what either man will want to do. Lesnar is a ground and pound beast, who will look to slam Overeem on his back and hammer fist his face into oblivion. “The Demolition Man,” conversely, is a K-1 champion kickboxer who stands up and knocks people out for a living. Who wins the bout comes down to who can dictate the terms of the fight.
Lesnar must not be reckless in his takedown attempts. When he rushed in against Cain Velasquez looking for the quick takedown, he got thwarted and quickly knocked out. In his fight versus Shane Carwin, Lesnar also shot early and fast, and Carwin stopped him with a whizzer and almost finished him with strikes in round 1. Overeem is easily a better striker than both Carwin and Velasquez, so if he can keep the fight standing, one has to think he will knock Lesnar out. However, Overeem’s takedown defense isn’t nearly as good as Carwin or Velasquez, two wrestling-based fighters. So one also has to wonder how long he can keep the fight standing against Lesnar, who will always be looking to take him to the ground. This fight is very intriguing, and will be fast paced. Do not expect the bout to go the distance, and much like the Junior Dos Santos versus Cain Velasquez fight: Don’t blink.
Prediction: “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem wins by TKO, Round 1.