UFC: Four light-heavyweights in the title frame
This week we preview UFC on Fox 4 main and predict which of Messrs Machida, Bader, Rua and Vera will book a date with light heavyweight champ Jon Jones. We also cast our eye over the recent ructions at AKA and find out who is jetting off to finish their training camp for next month’s Nottingham bill…
This Saturday’s UFC on Fox 4 card is solid fare with intriguing match-ups peppering the promotion’s latest network television offering. Sound bites emanating from the UFC’s halls of power in recent days have however further elevated the card in terms of fan interest. At a conference call this past Monday UFC impresario Dana White initially indicated that the winner of the evening’s main event between “Shogun” Rua and Brandon Vera would be next in line for a title shot at current incumbent Jon Jones. Many observers struggled to comprehend why Vera could be next up for a tilt at the light heavyweight strap after a less than stellar one and three run in his last four fights. Fans flocked to twitter in their droves to echo these sentiments and White reacted accordingly. Following the backlash a broader more appealing proviso was put in place, where the fighter who performs best inside the Staples Centre out of the four main protagonists will emerge with the dubious honour of being next to challenge the seemingly unassailable Jones for his belt.
Rua versus Vera is a worthy main event. The action should unfold primarily on the feet and the striking should be crisp and thunderous on both sides. Whilst the talent of Brandon Vera is irrefutable I simply cannot look past the now veteran Brazilian banger in this one. Vera will doubtlessly pose Rua issues, as when he is on form he can throw down with the best of them. Rua should weather any Vera storm and gradually wear on him, winning by knock out in the third stanza. The meeting of Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader will also prove to be an intriguing battle. It will be very interesting to note whether Machida has tweaked his armoury in any way following his December title fight loss. Regardless of whoever impresses UFC brass the most in Los Angeles, out of the four challengers it’s fair to say that the paying public would like to see Machida given another title shot. This is simply by virtue of the fact that he has given Jones his toughest test to date. I for one cannot envision how either Vera or Bader would fair any better now than they did against the Jon Jones who was still learning his trade prior to becoming champion of the world. Shogun was rumoured to have been carrying injuries entering his March 2011 face-off against “Bones” and has since participated in possibly the best bout in the promotions history against Dan Henderson. There may be some desire to see a Jones versus Rua rematch if the former defeats Henderson next month at UFC 151. I predict that both Rua and Machida will secure solid victories on Saturday night. I believe that Shogun may labour somewhat longer against Vera. This could grant the Japanese/Brazilian the opportunity to book a date with the light heavyweight champion via a typical Machida counter-striking clinic.
Swick makes anticipated Octagon return
Elsewhere on the card Mike Swick makes his return to the Octagon after a two and a half year absence this weekend. He locks horns with the tricky DaMarques Johnson. I interviewed Swick a few years ago and found him to be one of MMA’s true gentlemen. Affable and jovial outside the cage, on his night he is an absolute assassin inside it. Whilst I expect Swick to inevitably suffer from ring rust this weekend I think he will have prepared adequately for his highly anticipated return and should come away with a decision victory.
Lauzon to scupper Varner’s momentum
Another bout which should prove entertaining is the meeting of Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner. Lauzon has said that he is going to steal the thunder Varner created with his first round disposal of the highly rated Edson Barboza in his last outing. I must concur, as I believe Lauzon to be one of the lightweight division’s most underrated competitors. Varner looked good against Barboza though and I expect Lauzon to have to really perform at the top of his game to grind out a submission win in the latter stages of the second round.
“One Punch” jets off for next stage of training camp
Brad “One Punch” Pickett has jetted off to the states this week to embark upon the next stage of his training camp for UFC Nottingham. The English fan favourite’s destination is the tough environs of American Top Team. With a scintillating submission win over Damacio Page secured at UFC Sweden in April, Pickett is leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to thrill his compatriots with a win over the highly touted Yves Jabouin next month.
Mendez responds to Koscheck’s caustic criticism
Josh Koscheck has this week sounded off against former mentor Javier Mendes. Mendes is of course the owner of AKA (American Kickboxing Academy) and one of the foremost trainers in the world of mixed martial arts. Whatever the reason for the disagreement between them Koscheck’s statement that “I hope the gym burns down… maybe with one person in it” really does illustrate the absolute breakdown in the relationship between the AKA coach and one of his former star pupils. Always an abrasive character who says what he thinks Koscheck isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. As mixed martial arts becomes bigger, so too do the stakes for fighters, teams and trainers. In a still embryonic sport with ever increasing finances involved acrimonious public splits are perhaps inevitable. Whilst the details on this one remain vague, it must surely take both a good team and trainer to take a formerly one dimensional wrestler to becoming one of the UFC’s most high profile title challengers.
Check out my preview of this weekend’s return of “The Dragon” and much more in this week’s Asahi Shimbun by clicking here.
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