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UFC 127 Preview

UFC 127 is a card with some great fights, though the quality isn’t overwhelming.  The marquee fight pits welterweights B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch with the winner being one step closer to title contention.  Michael Bisping is the only other real big name at this event, though Jorge Rivera and Chris Lytle have been around forever.  George Sotiropoulous and Dennis Siver are also carving out names for themselves in the lightweight division.

The top three fights are potentially relevant and could produce title contenders, while the remaining card features some interesting names.  Nick Ring, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and Kyle Noke are all rising in the UFC ranks.  This is a fairly typical event for an international event.  There is potential for some really good fights, even if the names aren’t the biggest.

UFC 127 will air live on pay-per-view tonight, while preliminary fights will air on Facebook (8:00 PM EST/7:00 PM CST) and Ion Television (9:00 PM EST/8:00 PM CST)

Welterweight: B.J. Penn (16-7-1, No. 5 WW) vs. Jon Fitch (23-3, 1 NC, No. 2 WW)

We’ll get a much better look at B.J. as a welterweight in this fight, since it only took him 21 seconds to knockout Matt Hughes in his return to 170 lbs.  Fitch, meanwhile, has been on a roll since his loss to Georges St-Pierre.  He’s won five in a row stretching back to January 2009, all of the wins coming by unanimous decision.

This will be a really interesting style match-up, given Fitch’s wrestling.  Penn has faced great wrestlers before, notably Frankie Edgar, GSP, and Matt Hughes, and hasn’t always fared well.  He’s capable of ending the fight from anywhere in the cage, but that won’t mean anything if Fitch has Penn pinned to the mat for fifteen minutes.  Penn’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is dangerous, so even if Fitch keeps this fight on the mat, there’s no guarantee that he can grind out a win.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Dana White slipped some brass knuckles or plaster into Penn’s gloves before this fight.  He absolutely does not want Jon Fitch to win here, I can promise you that.  Fitch has two big things going against him: he’s boring and he trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy.  The AKA team has had their share of spats with the UFC brass, with welterweights Fitch, Josh Koscheck, and Mike Swick not willing to fight one another.  AKA also had some issues signing their likenesses over to the UFC for the Undisputed video game.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Penn look dominant for an entire fight.  The last Hughes fight is pretty interesting.  Does that win say more about B.J. Penn or Matt Hughes?  Penn did look really hungry out there – he looked determined to end that fight and did so with little problems.  Penn’s 50 minutes against Frankie Edgar are concerning, but Jon Fitch is an entirely different fighter.

I think Penn has enough left in him for the victory tonight.  Fitch will look for his takedowns early and often, but I think B.J. will have some tricks up his sleeve.  Then again, his gameplan was so poor in the second Edgar fight.  Training with Hughes seems like a move in the right direction, since few MMA fighters have been as dominant with their wrestling as Hughes.  It will be a tough fight, but I look for B.J. to come out victorious.  A Fitch victory wouldn’t surprise me, but it might just put me to sleep.

Middleweight: Michael Bisping (20-3, No. 9 MW) vs. Jorge Rivera (18-7, No. 22 MW)

Michael Bisping, a UFC favorite back to his Ultimate Fighter days, has won three of his last four since being decapitated by Dan Henderson.  Bisping used efficient striking to take decisions over Dan Miller and Yoshihiro Akiyama.  Rivera has dealt with injuries and cancelled fights over the last year and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.  Rivera won his third fight in a row last March with an impressive victory over Nate Quarry.  Rivera has amassed a 8-5 record in the UFC dating back to 2003.

Both of these men are strikers, but have very different skill sets.  Bisping likes to pick opponents apart with precision, opting to be more efficient with his striking.  Rivera has very good power and can definitely end fights.  He’s not as technical as Bisping, but he puts on exciting fights – and that will sometimes work against Rivera.

This isn’t much of a fight for Bisping, since a win over Rivera doesn’t mean a whole lot in the big picture.  After defeating Akiyama, Bisping has definitely taken a step down in competition.  Defeating Rivera won’t show us anything about Bisping that his victories over Denis Kang or Dan Miller have shown.

For me, that’s a positive thing.  I want Michael Bisping nowhere near the Middleweight title picture.  I think he’s an utterly boring and obnoxious fighter, and Jorge Rivera might be the guy to put him down.  Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, but I’d really like to see that happen.

Rivera has ramped up the trash talk for this fight trying to stir up some interest.  I’m not sure that many fans would care about a 38 year old journeyman fighter otherwise.  A win over Bisping would generate some significant buzz, so it would behoove Rivera to back his words up.

I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Rivera to win.  Bisping will try to jab Rivera to death, but that might give Rivera a chance to land a knockout blow.  Bisping could very well take this fight to a decision, but sometimes it just takes one shot to put a guy down.

Lightweight: George Sotiropoulos (14-2, No. 5 LW) vs. Dennis Siver (17-7)

I’m very excited to see Sotiropoulos back in action, as he’s looked phenomenal in the UFC.  He’s gone 7-0 with four submission victories, showing off his world class BJJ in fights with Joe Stevenson and Joe Lauzon.  After struggling in his early UFC fights, Siver has settled in with a 5-1 record in his last six fights.  He took Submission of the Night honors against Andre Winner back in November.

It’s hard to find a fight where George Sotiropoulos isn’t the best grappler and that continues here.  Siver has good Jiu-Jitsu, but it will need to be better than good if you want to match Sotiropoulos.  He’s going to take every opportunity to bring this fight to the mat, especially with Siver’s explosive kickboxing.  Sotiropoulos was in a little bit of trouble against Lauzon, so Siver will likely take some hope from that.

Still, Sotiropoulos can take some punishment and there’s no guarantee that Siver will even have a chance to go for the knockout.  Sotiropoulos is a different kind of grappler, as he’s remarkably active.  He always looks for a way to finish fights, and given how skilled he is, he generally finds a way to win.  Siver will at least be able to capably defend himself on the ground, but if Sotiropoulos was able to submit Joe Lauzon, then there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to submit Siver.

If Siver gets to display any of his kickboxing, then there’s a chance for us to see some fireworks.  You can bet that Sotiropoulos will be looking to take Siver down and keep him down.  I don’t see Siver presenting enough of a challenge to stop this from happening.  Sotiropoulos will display his awesome BJJ yet again en route to his eighth UFC win.

Welterweight: Chris Lytle (30-17-5, No. 17 WW) vs. Brian Ebersole (46-14-1, 1 NC)

Chris Lytle will be making a remarkable 19th appearance in the UFC against Brian Ebersole, who is making his UFC debut.  Lytle is on a four fight winning streak, having last dismantled Matt Serra.  Ebersole has fought pretty much everywhere over the last decade, competing for Strikeforce, King of the Cage, the IFL, and Cage Rage.  Ebersole doesn’t have a lot of impressive wins to his name.  A year 2010 win over Carlos Newton doesn’t mean as much as a year 2000 win over Newton, but a win is still a win.

This fight will definitely feature two experienced fighters, as Lytle and Ebersole have fought a combined 114 professional fights.  Lytle is one of the more experienced UFC fighters, having made his first appearance for the promotion at UFC 28.  Lytle is a very well-rounded fighter and has shown he can win fights wherever they might end up.  Ebersole, who replaced the injured Carlos Condit, has a strong ground game and has 20 submission wins to his name.  His boxing doesn’t compare to Lytle’s, and frankly, neither does his wrestling.

Ebersole seems completely outmatched on this card.  This fight will be especially tough for Ebersole, who accepted the challenge on short notice.  Ebersole has the experience to potentially pull off the upset win, but I don’t see that happening.  Lytle should take this fight via knockout.

Middleweight: Chris Camozzi (14-3) vs. Kyle Noke (18-4-1)

Kyle Noke has looked impressive since the end of TUF season 11, winning his first two officially sanctioned UFC matches.  Noke also has some impressive pre-UFC wins over George Sotiropoulos and Katsuya Inoue, along with a fight against Hector Lombard that ended in a draw.  Camozzi, who withdrew from the same TUF season with an injury, last defeated Dongi Yang in October 2010.

Camozzi and Noke, both undefeated in the UFC, should absolutely not be on this main card.  They probably wouldn’t be if not for Noke being Australian, but what’s done is done.  Camozzi is a striker, but an awkward one at that.  His Muay Thai really needs some polishing if he wants to compete in the UFC.  Noke is fairly balanced and has most recently spent time training with Greg Jackson.

Noke is very experienced and has been fighting better opponents for years.  His time on the Ultimate Fighter doesn’t mean he’s some kind of prospect.  Camozzi is still very young and developing and he has some potential, especially as a 6’3” middleweight.  That said, Noke is a better fighter and should get the win in his home country.

Lightweight: Ross Pearson (11-4) vs. Spencer Fisher (24-6)

UFC veteran Spencer Fisher has slowed down as of late, losing two of his last three fights.  He bounced back from losses to Joe Stevenson and Dennis Siver with a win over Curt Warburton.  Ross Pearson seemed to be on track after becoming the TUF season nine champion, but a loss to Cole Miller in his last fight was a big disappointment.  Pearson has still done fairly well for himself with a 3-1 UFC record.

Despite the loss to Cole Miller, Pearson has a clear upward trajectory in the UFC.  It will be hard for him, given the logjam at lightweight, but Pearson will be given every chance to succeed.  He’s a TUF winner and he’s English, so those are two things that seem to be in his favor.  Pearson is a young, versatile fighter who will generally look to submit his opponent.  Fisher has slowed down in recent years, but he’s still a dangerous fighter.  His striking is good, but he’s also comfortable enough if a fight goes to the mat.

These fighters aren’t completely dissimilar, though Pearson being ten years younger will likely be a factor.  I don’t know that Fisher will be able to keep up with an athletic opponent like Pearson.  This should be a pretty close fight, but I feel like this is Pearson’s fight to win.  I see Pearson pushing a pace that will begin to tire Fisher as the fight goes on.  A decision win for Pearson would spell trouble for Fisher in a very tight lightweight division.

Light Heavyweight: Alexander Gustafsson (10-1, No. 18 LHW) vs. James Te-Huna (12-4)

Alexander Gustafsson is one of the fast rising prospects in the UFC at 10-1, with the only loss coming from Phil Davis.  Gustafsson responded with a solid win over Cyrille Diabate, another great light heavyweight in his own right.  Te-Huna defeated Igor Pokrajac in his UFC debut last February.  Te-Huna has dealt with injury over the past year, notably a broken arm he suffered in his fight with Pokrajac.

Gustafsson and Te-Huna are both very skilled strikers, though Gustafsson flashed some submission skills in his fight with Diabate.  I guess that’s what happens when you start training at Alliance with Phil Davis, which is a very smart move.  Te-Huna has won his last five fights by either KO or TKO, with notable wins over Anthony Perosh and Anthony Rea.  His kickboxing is very explosive, but Gustafsson will be his best test yet.

I think Gustafsson will use a three inch height advantage and his improving ground game to control this fight.  Gustafsson is growing to be a very well-rounded prospect in the UFC, but Australia’s Te-Huna will look to derail the Swede’s ascendancy.  Gustafsson should be able to pull off a TKO victory here and continue his rise in the UFC.

Middleweight: Nick Ring (10-0) vs. Riki Fukuda (17-4)

Nick Ring will make his long awaited UFC debut after knee surgery detailed his chances of winning TUF season 11.  Ring has spent time fighting in smaller Canadian promotions, but has also made appearances for Bellator and DEEP.  Riki Fukuda, also making his UFC debut, is the reigning DEEP Middleweight Champion.  He’s currently on a seven fight win streak.

Fukuda is a very strong wrestler, but seems to shirk his wrestling in favor of standing and throwing with opponents.  That may not be a good idea against a decent kickboxer like Ring, who will likely look to keep this fight standing.  Fukuda is more experienced and is fairly accomplished, while Ring’s knee injury is a real question mark here.

I think Fukuda will keep his win streak going and he has the potential to put a run together in the UFC.  He’s a very good wrestler and has proven to be able to end fights with his striking.  Ring was a favorite on TUF, given his colorful antics, but that won’t be enough to carry him here against Fukuda.  I look for a decision win from the DEEP veteran.

Light Heavyweight: Anthony Perosh (10-6) vs. Tom Blackledge (10-6)

Perosh hasn’t appeared in the UFC since knee surgery toward the beginning of 2010.  He lost to Mirko Cro Cop due to a nasty cut in his UFC return at UFC 110.  Blackledge will be making his UFC debut after a nearly two year layoff from fighting.  Blackledge spent some time in M-1, but was signed to the UFC after appearing as a coach under Rampage Jackson on the Ultimate Fighter.

I’m very confused by some of the fighters on this card.  Blackledge has approximately zero impressive MMA wins and hasn’t fought since 2009, while Perosh even having a contract is beyond me.  Regarding Blackledge, I guess Dana White is giving the Wolfslair guys the same benefits as those training with Greg Jackson’s camp.  Perhaps Perosh’s association with Elvis Sinosic has some benefits?

That said, I feel like Perosh is at a distinct advantage here.  His BJJ is outstanding and he proved to be a tough guy in his fight with Cro Cop.  Blackledge has okay striking and submissions, but nothing in his game stands out.  I’m not a huge fan of what they do in the Wolfslair Academy so I don’t have high hopes for Blackledge in this fight.  I think we’ll see Perosh pull off a submission victory.

Featherweight: Tie Quan Zhang (12-1) vs. Jason Reinhardt (20-1)

Upon his debut, Tie Quan Zhang will become the first ever Chinese fighter in the UFC.  Zhang has a strong 12-1 record, but lost his last fight in the WEC to Danny Downes.  Jason Reinhardt has a 20-1 record, but hasn’t fought in more than three years.  Reinhardt’s record is inflated by a seemingly endless string of tomato can opponents: only three of his 20 wins come against fighters with winning records.

How Reinhardt has a job in the UFC is beyond me.  I’m sure he’s a good guy and it’s a feel-good story having an insurance salesman back to fighting in the UFC, but give me a break.  The only notable guy he’s ever fought was Joe Lauzon in his initial UFC run, where he was promptly submitted.  This guy should have never reached the UFC in the first place.  A 20-1 record doesn’t mean jack if you’ve never beaten anyone.

I see this being a very lopsided fight with Zhang pulling off a submission victory.  His BJJ is very strong and was able to fairly quickly submit Pablo Garza at WEC 51.  The loss to Downes was a bit of a setback, which explains why he’s fighting a guy like Jason Reinhardt.  Zhang has a bright future in the UFC, if only for the fact that his Chinese/Mongolian heritage adds another layer of marketability.

I’ll be glad to eat my words if Reinhardt is able to pull off a win here, but that would absolutely floor me if he did.  Look for Zhang to score an impressive victory at this event.

Heavyweight: Mark Hunt (5-7) vs. Chris Tuchscherer (18-3, 1 NC)

Chris Tuchscherer is in the midst of a tough stretch with losses to Gabe Gonzaga and Brendan Schaub, but that’s nothing compared to Mark Hunt’s record.  Hunt hasn’t won an MMA fight since May 2006 and likely wouldn’t have a job if not for the UFC’s acquisition of PRIDE.

Similar to the Zhang/Reinhardt fight, I really see this fight going one way.  Given Tuchscherer’s strong wrestling background, he should be able to take Hunt down and stay active enough to stop the fight.  I think Mark Hunt is clearly outmatched here and I’ll be stunned if he gets close to winning this fight.

Lightweight: Maciej Jewtuszko (8-0) vs. Curt Warburton (6-2)

Jewtuszko, the undefeated Pole, will be making his UFC debut after defeating Anthony Njokuani under the WEC banner.  Warburton is still looking for his first UFC win after losing to Spencer Fisher at UFC 120.

Warburton, a Wolfslair product, is a strong fighter with decent boxing.  He’s proven to be capable on the ground, though he’ll likely look to keep this fight on the feet..  Jewtuszko, meanwhile, is a taller lightweight at 6’0” and has good BJJ and Muay Thai.  Jewtuszko’s length and unpredictable striking should keep Warburton uncomfortable throughout the fight and Warburton won’t have much more luck on the ground.

I expect Jewtuszko to stop this fight and I’d be surprised if it went to a decision.  Warburton is a good fighter, but I think Jewtuszko might be a bit too big and dangerous for the Brit.

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