By Jaime C. Feal
If you’re even just a casual fan of MMA and are not taking advantage of these free shows on Fox you are truly missing out. The UFC has been stacking these network TV cards as they would a pay-per-view. In fact, an argument can easily be made that Saturday’s card is BETTER than a pay-per-view card, with a title fight and two more explosive big name fights right before the main event. Besides, with college football now on hiatus until bowl season, what else do you have to watch this Saturday night? Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez shouldn’t start till about 11:30. Make sure to tune in to Fox at 8 pm Saturday to catch all the explosive and free action. And if you’re really hardcore, don’t forget the live prelims start on FX at 5 pm EST.
Welterweight Division (170 lbs.):
Rory “Ares” MacDonald (13-1, 4-1 UFC) vs. B.J. “The Prodgy” Penn (16-8-2, 12-7-2 UFC)
There has been tons of smack talk between the two competitors over twitter, with the 23 year old Canadian Rory MacDonald calling Penn old and washed up. Penn has essentially been inspired to come out of retirement for this fight to try to put the brass smack-talking MacDonald in his place.
Unfortunately for Penn, this is a nightmare matchup for him in his traditionally weaker weight class. As we all know, Penn is possibly the greatest UFC lightweight of all time, but his results at welterweight have been mixed at best. This is because when he fights at welterweight or larger, he is not cutting much weight, and is physically smaller than his opponents on the night of the fight.
Giving up size, strength, and athleticism to a wrestler like MacDonald is a recipe for disaster. Rory is going to look to take down Penn constantly, grind him out with ground and pound, and sap his cardio. MacDonald, who trains alongside GSP at the Tristar Gym in Montreal, can use that similar wrestling-based strategy that St. Pierre used to defeat Penn in the UFC 94 Superfight.
Penn has always had good takedown defense in the lightweight division, but MacDonald appears to be too young, strong, and big to stop. Penn then essentially has two options to win the fight: Catch MacDonald with one of his nasty power punches, or pull off a submission from his back by utilizing his world-class jiu jitsu. Both are completely feasible, but become less likely as the fight goes on. Penn’s best chance is therefore in the first round, when his cardio and explosiveness are at their full powers. Expect MacDonald to survive Penn’s initial aggression and slowly wear him down over the course of the three round fight.
Prediction: Rory “Ares” MacDonald wins by unanimous decision.
Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs.):
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (21-6, 5-4 UFC) vs. Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson (14-1, 6-1 UFC)
UFC Matchmaker Joe Silva did a fantastic job with this fight, because it features two big names who love to stand up and exchange strikes. In Gustafsson we have one of if not the best prospects in the UFC light heavyweight division. The 25 year old Swede has been pegged by many as future challenger to Jon Jones’ reign as Light Heavyweight King.
Standing in his way is the always dangerous Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The former Chute Boxe product and Brazilian banger utilizes classic Muay Thai striking and aggression in his fights. These standup skills have earned him impressive knockout wins over the likes of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. At 31 years old, however, Shogun is clearly slowing down. His best days are behind him, as shown in the Brandon Vera and Dan Henderson fights of late. While he still performed very admirably in both, gamily fighting and engaging in absolute wars, a younger Shogun would simply beat the brakes off his opponent in the first round.
In this fight fans can expect to see a changing of the guard and a power shift in the UFC Light Heavyweight Division. Gustafsson will flash his superior speed, footwork, and timing to control and frustrate Rua en route to an easy victory. Shogun will be game and always try to fire back, but his age will show against the youth and exuberance of the Mauler.
Prediction: Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson wins by TKO, Round 3.
UFC Lightweight Championship (155 lbs.):
Benson “Smooth” Henderson (17-2, 5-0 UFC) vs. Nate Diaz (16-7, 11-5 UFC)
Henderson finally gets a chance to distance himself from Frankie Edgar as he takes on a fresh face in Nate Diaz. Initially there was talk of Edgar-Henderson III, but thankfully Nate Diaz was given the nod, as Edgar had dropped two straight decisions to Ben Henderson.
This matchup is extremely intriguing due to the style clash. They say styles make fights, well in this one the two combatants have completely opposite styles. Diaz constantly comes forward, throws TONS of punches, and looks to implement his superior boxing and cardio. Henderson, on the other hand, is a Tae-Kwon-Do fighter who prefers to throw kicks, something Diaz barely ever does. Furthermore, Henderson wants to counter, and step in and out of range; his forward pressure is nowhere near the level of Diaz, although no one’s is, save his brother Nick Diaz.
On the ground there is an insane style clash as well. Henderson is an athletic wrestler with excellent submission defense. He has never been submitted despite being caught very deep in chokes by high level black belts. He just always finds a way to escape. Diaz is the antithesis of a wrestler; he welcomes getting taken down. Diaz, a Cesar Gracie black belt, is supremely confident off his back, once infamously locking up a triangle choke on his opponent while giving the “middle finger” with both his hands.
What will play out in this fight is anyone’s guess. Vegas has the odds extremely close, with the champion Henderson being a slight favorite. On the feet, Diaz should hold an advantage with his boxing. The grappling advantage clearly goes to Ben Henderson. If it turns into a grappling match, Diaz could be in trouble. Then again, despite Henderson’s incredible submission defense, he hasn’t been in the choke hold of Nate Diaz, and it remains to be seen what happens when and if that takes place.
The fight is going to be an absolute war, going at least 2 full rounds, most likely extending into the championship 4th and 5th rounds. Expect tons of back-and-forth action. Diaz will come forward and throw punches while talking smack. Henderson will leg kick, counter, take Diaz down, and try to avoid submissions. Diaz and Henderson both have incredible cardio, and it’s a title fight where motivation and desire are at their highest. That’s why fans can expect an action-packed bout where the pace never slows down. This match has “Fight of the Year” written all over it.
Prediction: Nate Diaz wins by Submission (Guillotine Choke), Round 4.
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