By Jaime C. Feal
The UFC returns to Canada, where they always receive overwhelming fan support, as the interim bantamweight championship is up for grabs Saturday night in Calgary at UFC 149. Urijah Faber and Renan Barao headline the show, but the co-main event features an intriguing matchup, as physical specimen Hector Lombard makes his UFC debut against Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch. That middleweight matchup figures to be key in who challenges Anderson Silva next for the title, as Lombard could earn a shot with an impressive performance.
Heavyweight Division: (265 lbs.):
Cheick Kongo (17-7-2, 10-5-1 UFC) vs. Shawn “The Savage” Jordan (13-3, 1-0 UFC)
Time to find out how good Shawn Jordan really is. The former LSU fullback has looked impressive thus far in his MMA career, recently knocking out Oli Thompson in his UFC debut. Now Jordan steps up to face his biggest test yet in Cheick Kongo, who has very solid experience within the promotion with 16 UFC fights. Jordan trains with Jackson MMA and is still improving as a mixed martial artist. Obviously a tremendous athlete, his sheer power and athleticism will give Kongo problems. Kongo has very crisp kickboxing, and it will be extremely interesting to see if he can utilize that to keep Jordan at bay. Kongo has the height and reach advantage, and the technical striking advantage, so he should be able to do so. But anything can happen with the five ounce gloves and an aggressive powerhouse like Shawn Jordan. Expect fireworks and lots of early action in this one.
Prediction: Cheick Kongo wins by unanimous decision.
Middleweight Division (185 lbs.):
Hector Lombard (31-2-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch (15-4, 6-3 UFC)
Lombard makes his UFC debut amid much fanfare and hype, having gone on a crazy tear in Australia and then Bellator. Unbeaten in his last 25 fights, a streak that dates back to 2007, Lombard is the heavy betting favorite against the underdog Boetsch. Almost a 3:1 favorite, Vegas expects Lombard to destroy Boetsch, as do many fans. Lombard, a former Olympic Judoka and BJJ black belt, also possesses insane power and quickness in his hands. With his base he is near impossible to take down and he almost always controls the fight.
Nevertheless, Boetsch, the UFC veteran, could be poised to give Lombard a much tougher fight than people expect. Boetsch is a true grinder, who showed his durability and heart in an incredible comeback victory over Yushin Okami. Boetsch was picked apart for the better part of 3 rounds, until devastating Okami with clinch uppercuts and knocking him out bad late in the fight. Boetsch withstood an incredible amount of punishment and then correctly went for broke, looking to finish the fight after dropping the first two rounds.
Against Lombard, however, it will likely be a different story. Hector simply has too much power in his hands, much more so than Okami, so when he lands it’s going to hurt Boetsch a lot worse. Expect a close first round while Lombard shakes off the UFC jitters, then a clinic in the second as Boetsch succumbs to the ferocious speed and power of Lombard.
Prediction: Hector Lombard wins by TKO, Round 2.
Interim Bantamweight Championship Bout (135 lbs.):
Urijah “The California Kid” Faber (26-5, 2-1 UFC) vs. Renan Barao (28-1, 3-0 UFC)
Urijah Faber, the former poster boy of the WEC, once again finds himself in a familiar position: A 5 round championship fight to headline a pay-per-view against a red hot Brazilian. Last time, Faber lost to Jose Aldo in the WEC’s first ever PPV, although he did manage to last the full five rounds with Aldo, which is no small feat. Saturday night on PPV, this time for UFC 149, Faber takes on the ultra-dangerous Renan Barao, who is poised to breakthrough as the new face of a division, as Jose Aldo did once before him.
Barao may not be as skilled a striker as Aldo, but otherwise the similarities are uncanny: A high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with excellent stand-up, takedown defense, and full of confidence while being on an excellent winning streak. Barao has been called “The Jose Aldo of 135 pounds.” They are training partners as they both come out of the excellent Nova Uniao camp, and as the saying goes: Iron sharpens iron. This also gives Barao a training partner who has fought and defeated his current opponent Urijah Faber.
“The California Kid” will no doubt want to utilize his wrestling and aggressive takedowns to put Barao on his back. While Barao is a BJJ black belt, Faber’s athleticism and top control, should he be able to take Barao down, would likely stifle any offense Barao could muster off his back. Faber brings a special level of intensity and cardio to his attack, and his best hope is to gas Barao by constantly making him work and scramble to his feet.
Barao needs to circle on the outside and pick Faber apart, much like Dominic Cruz did a year ago en route to a unanimous decision victory. Barao has more power and diversity in his striking, but is not as rangy, so how this fight plays out is anyone’s guess. Barao’s submission game is definitely superior, so if he gets a Faber hurt on the ground, a tap out would not be unexpected. MMA is a game of many variables, and both these fighters are extremely well rounded. In his last fight Barao proved he has the cardio and skillset to defeat a top level wrestler by decisioning Scott “Young Guns” Jorgenson. I give a slight edge to Barao at UFC 149, and expect him to deliver in his biggest fight to date.
Prediction: Renan Barao wins by submission (rear-naked choke) in Round 3.