By Jaime C. Feal
Tomorrow night, live from Las Vegas and on Pay-Per-View, the UFC puts on an increasingly rare “super-card” with two title fights. With so many shows being held every month, there have been many complaints from fans and critics that the cards have become watered-down, with less big names. It is nice to see recognizable stars like Weidman and Ronda Rousey headline tomorrow’s show, but as it is the 4th of July Pay-Per-View, it also doesn’t come as much of a surprise. As another indication of how strong tomorrow’s main card is: Urijah Faber is actually fighting as the main event of the free Prelims on Fox Sports 1.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve (25-6) vs. Matt Mitrione (7-3)
The towering Dutchman makes his return to the UFC after a lengthy layoff due to health concerns. Standing in his way is TUF veteran Matt Mitrione, a Duke Roufus trained striker with exceptional speed for a heavyweight. Obviously, a 6’11, Struve has a massive reach advantage in this fight. Struve will want to keep Mitrione on the outside with the jab. Should he allow Mitrione to get inside, he could be in trouble, as Mitrione has flashed serious power in previous bouts.
The X Factor in this fight is Struve’s submission game. Mitrione, a purple belt at best in jiu-jitsu, will be in way over his head if he winds up on his back. Struve is very powerful, and his long limbs help him lock up submissions from awkward angles. Even on his back, he could triangle choke Mitrione relatively easily, so Mitrione should try to keep the fight standing at all costs. Even there, he may not be experienced enough to overcome the reach disadvantage he faces in this contest.
Prediction: Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve wins by unanimous decision.
UFC Woman’s Bantamweight Championship (135 lbs.):
“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey (9-0) vs. Alexis Davis (16-5)
The baddest woman on the planet returns to the Octagon, and love her or hate her, you have to acknowledge her greatness. The former Olympic Judoka is constantly evolving her MMA game, and is no longer just an armbar specialist. Rousey has diligently worked on developing both her stand-up striking and clinch-game, and she is lethal from any position. Her latest opponent, Alexis Davis, is a legitimate black belt in jiu jitsu, and poses an interesting matchup.
At this point, everyone knows Rousey’s most dominant position is the armbar. Using her superior judo to toss her female competitors around (she can toss Heavyweight men around too), she effortlessly gets them down to the ground to establish her best position. Against Davis, however, she might not be able to finish the armbar. No matter how good you are at something in a game, if you keep doing it over and over, eventually your opponents will figure out how to stop it. Add to that the fact Alexis Davis has great experience and skill in submissions, and one would think she can avoid being tapped by Rousey’s armbar.
Instead, expect the fight to be a huge stand-up war the first round, as Rousey looks to prove again she is well-rounded and can win any way she wants. Rousey will hammer Davis in the clinch with knees, ultimately getting the stoppage after Davis is already hurt. Whether Rousey gets the TKO, or locks up a submission that catches Davis by surprise, such as a rear-naked choke or non-armbar technique, remains to be seen. Rousey is too big and powerful, however, to be threatened by this jiu-jitsu specialist. Realistically speaking, it would take a world-class striker with KO power and great takedown defense to beat Rousey. Alexis Davis is not that opponent. Rousey is too good everywhere, and that’s why Las Vegas has her as an 11:1 favorite in this fight.
Prediction: Ronda Rousey wins by TKO, Round 1.
UFC Middleweight Championship (185 lbs.):
Chris “All-American” Weidman (11-0) vs. Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida (21-4 UFC)
Fans finally get to see the beast that is Chris Weidman in a big-name title fight with an opponent that isn’t Anderson Silva. Unfortunately, Lyoto Machida, a Brazilian karate fighter, is very similar to Silva, a Brazilian Muay Thai striker. Nevertheless, it will be extremely fun to see how the ever-evolving superstar Weidman handles this new challenge from Machida. A former champion at 205 lbs., Machida is experienced and has a very complex and unique striking style that may be challenging for Weidman to get past. While Weidman did solve the Anderson Silva puzzle, and every other test thrown his way, Anderson clowned way too much in both of his fights with Weidman. One thing fans can count on is that Lyoto Machida will not be disrespecting his opponent’s power in the Octagon on Saturday night.
Weidman’s strategy in this fight will be very interesting. If he can take Machida down, he should do so, and beat him up on the ground. The last thing Weidman wants is to get in a striking match for the belt with Machida. A master of the distance and timing game, Machida is always dangerous on the feet, as he showed when he knocked Ryan Bader out clean with one straight left hand, or the highlight-reel crane kick that finished Randy Couture’s storied career. While Machida’s chin may be somewhat susceptible, as shown in his fight with Shogun, engaging in a stand up war is not necessarily a risk Weidman should be willing to take, as Machida has the ability to completely alter the course of the fight with one strike. No fighter has been able to stop Weidman from taking them down, and once Weidman gets top position, he is an even more dangerous fighter. Weidman can finish the fight with ground and pound, or his very underrated submission game. Tomorrow night, look for Weidman to employ a ground-and-pound strategy as he overpowers Machida to retain the belt.
Prediction: Chris Weidman wins by TKO, Round 3.