UFC on Fox Sports 1 “Shogun vs. Sonnen” Main Card Breakdown

August 17, 2013

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UFC on Fox Sports 1 “Shogun vs. Sonnen” Main Card Breakdown



UFC on Fox Sports 1: Shogun vs. Sonnen (also known as UFC Fight Night 26) takes place on August 17, 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

UFC on Fox Sports 1 airs live on Sportsnet 360, Saturday, August 17, 2013 beginning at 8 PM (EST).  Preliminary action begins on Facebook starting at 4 PM (EST), with coverage continuing on Sportsnet 360 at 5 PM (EST).*

(*all times according to UFC.com)

After eight shows on Fox that featured such luminaries as Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, Ben Henderson, Demetrious Johnson and Gilbert Melendez in their main events, the UFC makes the move to the dedicated “Fox Sports 1” (formerly “Speed”) channel.  Covering a wide range of live sports, the channel (along with sister channel “Fox Sports 2”) is counting on the UFC to help bolster its opening lineup as it launches on Saturday.

Which fighters will claim victory on this historic show?

*****


Lightweight Bout: Joe Lauzon (9-5 UFC, 22-8) v. Michael Johnson (4-4 UFC, 12-8)

You want to make sure that the people tuning in stay tuned in?  Lauzon is your man.

Lauzon has said multiple times that he’d sacrifice his Fight Night bonuses in favour of an easy win any day.  Don’t expect Johnson to accommodate.  The Blackzilian is exactly the kind of athletic and durable opponent that is likely to provide a high octane confrontation.  From a pure skill standpoint, it’s tempting to view Lauzon as the clear favourite.  The challenge depends on what version of Michael Johnson shows up.

If it’s the Johnson that outwrestled college standout Shane Roller, handed Tony Ferguson his first UFC loss and punched out Danny Castillo, then Lauzon and his camp should be worried.  If it’s the Johnson that was swept on the scorecards by Myles Jury and who faded late against Reza Madadi in a submission loss, then this fight could be a foregone conclusion.

Two major advantages for Lauzon: fighting in his home state and his ground game.  The gangly Lauzon has been giving fighters nightmares for years on the ground with his hyperactive guard and nose for submissions.  Johnson has shown the ability to defend against takedowns and dictate where the action goes, but if his cardio is lacking at all then it’s only a matter of time until Lauzon drags him into his world.  Expect a competitive match and, whether Lauzon likes it or not, another shot at a Fight of the Night award.

 

Middleweight Bout: Uriah Hall (0-1 UFC, 7-3) v. John Howard (4-3 UFC, 20-8)

Since being released by the UFC and returning to a more comfortable weight at 185, Howard has gone 6-1 with five victories coming via KO/TKO.  With injuries taking out Hall’s two previously booked opponents, the fates have clearly conspired in Howard’s favour.  Not only is he back with the organization, but he’s coming home to Boston, Massachusetts.  He sounds eager to rebuild his promising career, boasting that he’s not afraid of Hall’s vaunted kicking game.

Perhaps someone should send him this blog post that stops just short of detailing how Hall clips his toenails.  If you don’t have the time to read that, I’ll summarize: Uriah Hall is really good at kicking people.  Anyone who saw his internet incinerating spin kick KO of Adam Cella in the TUF 16 quarterfinals could tell you that.  But don’t assume that he’s just a homerun hitter.  The key to his success so far is how his deceptive body movements and footwork make it almost impossible to tell what kind of kick he’s going to throw and where it’s going to come from.  Just for good measure, he also infamously broke Bubba McDaniel’s face with a counter right and he out-struck Dylan Andrews from his back before pounding him out in the TUF semi-finals.

Hall will have an opponent willing to engage him and if he fights with patience and precision (unlike his clumsy effort against Kelvin Gastelum that cost him the TUF championship), this should be a showcase fight for him.

 

Welterweight Bout: Matt Brown (10-5 UFC, 17-11) v. Mike Pyle (8-3 UFC, 25-8-1)

It doesn’t get much hotter than Brown and Pyle, two welterweights riding serious win streaks and making a strong case for a title shot.  A win here could put one of them over the top.

Working against them is the fact that neither man has a win over a top 10 opponent.  Brown’s biggest win is Mike Swick; Pyle’s is Rick Story.  Swick and Story have dwelled in the top 10 in the past, but not recently.  What you have here are two hard-working, no-nonsense guys that are going to have to climb over each other to get what they deserve.  Neither fighter is the prototypical star athlete.

At 37 years old, Pyle should be preparing for a life outside of the octagon not doing his best work inside of it.  He’s currently 7-1 in his last eight appearances, with the one loss coming courtesy of welterweight wunderkind Rory MacDonald.  Don’t let the mullet fool you, Pyle is an educated and well versed competitor…he’s just not against having a little fun.  Once viewed as a grappling specialist, Pyle has shown an almost reckless willingness to throw hands with anyone as evidenced by three straight knockouts of Ricardo Funch, Josh Neer and James Head.  It should be noted that Brown has never been finished by strikes.

Brown shouldn’t even be here.  A loss to Seth Baczynski in November of 2011 was his fourth submission defeat in five fights and it dropped him to a 5-5 record in the UFC.  He beat Chris Cope and was then lined up to be a glorified sparring partner for kickboxing sensation Stephen Thompson.  Brown, never one to stick to the script, made the fight a down and dirty affair.  Thompson couldn’t hang with him.  Three more wins followed including a nationally televised knockout of Swick and a comeback win against Canadian star Jordan Mein.  “The Immortal” takes his nickname seriously.

The bad news is that even with a win here, Brown or Pyle will still need another big victory to sniff a title shot.  The good news is that they will be first in line should other contenders prove unfit to compete for whatever reason (something that is all too common in MMA these days).  This is a match-up that would be entertaining under any circumstances.  The way these two have been winning lately, it now promises to be important as well.

 

Bantamweight Bout: Urijah Faber (4-2 UFC, 8-3 WEC, 28-6) v. Yuri Alcantara (3-1 [1 NC] UFC, 1-0 WEC, 28-4 [1 NC])

I respect Faber and you should too.  Snarky fans love to point out how he seems to get handed title shots willy-nilly, but he’s battled to stay in the top 3 of whatever division he competes in and he’s popular.  The demand for fresh challengers is understandable, there just hasn’t been a single person who can beat him in a non-title fight to take his spot.  In fact, Faber has never lost a non-title fight in his entire career.

Alcantara has as good a chance as anyone to change that.  Looking at his record, one might assume that he’s yet another Brazilian with inflated statistics.  Think again.  Pre-Zuffa, he was on a ten fight win streak against opponents that had a combined record of 124-41 (including current UFC fighters Viscardi Andrade and Francisco Trinaldo).  In his only appearance in the WEC, he knocked out current top featherweight Ricardo Lamas in the first round.  Alcantara might not be a household name, but you better believe he fights like one.

Faber has made a career out of outhustling his foes, but Alcantara has said that nobody gets the better of him in a scramble.  24 of his 28 career victories have come by way of KO or submission (12 of each as a matter of fact), showing that there isn’t an aspect of combat that he isn’t comfortable with.  That diversity suggests that this could be a much tougher fight for Faber than people expect.

This is a risky match for Faber, particularly from a casual perspective.  He’s either beating some guy your mom’s never heard of or losing to a guy your mom’s never heard of.  For the more attentive viewers, a win here further cements Faber as one of the all-time greats and (*yawn*) keeps him in the hunt for one more shot at UFC gold.

 

Heavyweight Bout: Alistair Overeem (1-1 UFC, 36-12 [1 NC]) v. Travis Browne (5-1-1 UFC, 14-1-1)

The words “style” and “clash” come to mind.

Overeem, one of the most accomplished kickboxers in MMA history, would like nothing more than for Browne to step right up and take his best shot at out-striking the K-1 2010 World Grand Prix champion.  Browne, on the other hand, will do everything in his power to avoid that scenario.

Don’t get me wrong, Browne is an accomplished striker in his own right.  He made his name slaughtering overmatched competition on the regional circuit before joining the UFC in June of 2010.  It’s just that Browne is also an athletic and smart fighter.  At 6’7”, it would behoove him to use his range and agility to pick Overeem apart.  Expect coach Greg Jackson to come up with a plan to frustrate the Dutchman.  A frustrated fighter is a losing fighter.

Of course, that’s all easier said than done when you’re dealing with a striker of Overeem’s calibre.  All the controversy over his, er, “inflation” makes it easy to overlook that he is an esteemed kickboxer and an underrated grappler.  Before losing focus in the final round and being knocked unconscious, Overeem was controlling Bigfoot Silva on the feet and on the mat.  He can’t make the same mistake against Browne unless he wants the same result.

It’s unclear what lies ahead for either man in the withering heavyweight division.  In theory, Overeem is never too far from a UFC title shot.  Amongst the giants, he still stands out as an attraction.  Browne, on the other hand, would need to defeat Overeem in spectacular fashion to have a chance at the gold.  I’m talking bicycle kick off of the top of the cage spectacular.  Even with a loss, this could be a huge opportunity for Browne to see where he stands in the rankings.

 

Light Heavyweight Bout: Shogun Rua (5-5 UFC, 21-7) v. Chael Sonnen (6-6 UFC, 27-13-1)

It might seem strange to see two fighters with .500 records in the UFC being given a main event slot, but that has more to do with the nature of MMA booking than any failures on the part of Shogun or Sonnen.  In this business, top guys aren’t protected and these two have been fighting the best of the best for the majority of their careers.  This is one of the most marketable fights the UFC could put on in terms of star power without sacrificing potential PPV revenue.

Shogun: one of the last PRIDE warriors, arguably the greatest light heavyweight of all time.

Sonnen: the man with the golden tongue, able to go twenty-five minutes in the cage and then get cleaned up to talk about it in the studio the next day.

Neither fighter has set the world ablaze with their recent outings and nobody has any illusions about this meeting having meaningful implications for the light heavyweight division (Sonnen has even said he’s likely to return to middleweight regardless of the result).  In a sense, it is simply a match-up of employees who are in the same pay grade.  Which is not to say that it is devoid of intrigue?

It’s hard to believe that Shogun is just 31 years old, younger than welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre.  In MMA years, he might as well be 50.  Bloody wars in PRIDE will take their toll on even the hardiest fighter, even if it was usually Shogun’s foes doing the bleeding.  From 2003 to 2007, he was a hurricane that obliterated the likes of Rampage Jackson, Alistair Overeem (twice), Ricardo Arona and Kevin Randleman.  None of them made it out of the first round against Shogun.  Injuries hampered his UFC career, though he’s still hit every major career milestone one could aim to achieve.  He was victorious in a dream match against Chuck Liddell.  He took the title from Lyoto Machida.  He was one half of one of the greatest fights of all time with Dan Henderson.  That run that could only be considered disappointing in the eyes of the most ambitious overachievers.

In the first half of Sonnen’s career he was struggling to be noticed.  It wasn’t until he beat Nate Marquardt that he turned into Sonnen the money maker.  Prior to that fight, he had gone on a tirade against then champion Anderson Silva.  He was treating Marquardt as an afterthought, making it even more amazing when Sonnen actually won the right to face Silva.  He was minutes away from being the man to unseat “The Spider”.  Even in defeat, Sonnen was a made man.

Almost overnight, every Sonnen fight became must-see TV.  His comments ranged from amusing to outlandish to utterly insane, but no matter what he said everyone was listening.  That’s how a man gets a light heavyweight title shot coming off of a loss and after having not fought at 205 in years.  That’s how a man gets to main event in that weight class for a second straight time.

Expect Sonnen to do what he always does and try to pressure Shogun right out of the gate.  Shogun won’t back down, likely resulting in a meteoric clash in the middle of the octagon.  Sonnen’s experience in five round fights could help him here, but just clinching against the cage and the occasional burst of ground and pound isn’t going to be enough to tire Shogun out.  The former PRIDE champion has faced elite wrestlers before and few of them have been able to discourage him with wrestling alone.  If Sonnen thinks he’s going to bully his way to another victory, he has another thing coming.

It’s best not to think about the reasons for this fight; rather, enjoy what should be a unique pairing of two individuals who have taken vastly different paths to get here.  One is a living legend; the other, at the very least, a legend in his own mind.

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