Picking & Grinning: UFC 128 Prelims

By Jeff Sherwood Mar 18, 2011
Joseph Benavidez (bottom) in his pre-Zuffa days. | Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com



From the Spike TV lineup to the Facebook fights and beyond, UFC 128’s preliminary card is examined by Sherdog.com staff:

Luis Artur Cane Jr. vs. Eliot Marshall

Tomasz Marciniak: It's obvious that to succeed against Cane you have to attack from the left side, but both of recent Banha conquerors, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Cyrille Diabate, were proven KO threats. Marshall has only one TKO on his ledger, from 2007. Plus, I think he's going to be under big pressure to fight in an exciting fashion and will get into brawls with Cane. Therefore, striking with a guy who lacks power, but wants to engage on the feet makes it the Brazilian’s fight to lose. I favor Cane to end his losing streak at two.

Todd Martin: Cane appeared to be a future contender until everything fell apart for him. His striking proved not to be as good as once advertised and his ground game was never his top strength. Marshall isn’t a crowd-pleasing fighter but he has been effective at controlling opponents and winning decisions. He’ll take this one and send Cane out of UFC.

Lutfi Sariahmed: Cane’s striking had people wondering how he’d fare against the upper echelon of the 205-pound division, and then we found he has no clue what a southpaw is. I find it hard to believe the talent we saw from him early in his career is no longer there, but that may in fact be the case. Until Cane reverts to his earlier form you can't pick him -- even in a fight like this. Marshall will outhustle Cane to a decision win.

Brian Knapp: Cane is overdue for a good performance, and I think he poses a number of style problems for Marshall, who will need to keep the fight in the clinch or on the ground in order to be successful. My guess is Cane catches him coming in, racks him with punches and either scores a late TKO or earns a decision.

Anthony Njokuani vs. Edson Barboza Jr.

Jordan Breen: We know both Njokuani and Barboza are great strikers. However, Barboza is by far the superior puncher, which is a massive asset. We saw against Maciej Jewtuszko that Njokuani can be felled, and not necessarily by a great striker, either. However, the most pressing interest is the ground game. Njokuani has worked to get better on the floor, but Barboza is the more skilled fighter on the ground. Barboza's issue has been his defensive wrestling, but it would be a mistake for Njokuani to look for a takedown in the fight, mollifying the impact of Barboza's biggest deficit. "The Novo Friburgo Phenomenon" can get it done standing against Njokuani, but his best strategy is to put "The Assassin" on the floor and try to hustle him as Ben Henderson and Shane Roller have done previously.

Knapp: You could not have put together a more difficult matchup for Njokuani. Barboza is on the fast track to becoming a contender at 155 pounds, and his standup skills have been nothing short of dazzling to this point. I cannot see this one reaching the judges. Barboza by first-round TKO.

Marciniak: I lean towards Barboza in this fight. Of the two strikers, he stands out as the one with the crisper techniques and I still have images of Njokuani getting knocked over by Jewtuszko's spinning elbow. Barboza by TKO.

Martin: The buzz about Barbosa’s game continues to grow, and this is a great test of his standup skills against a more experienced muay Thai expert with big-time power. I see Barboza trading with Njokuani, and that’s a dangerous game for both men. Ultimately, Barboza’s speed is one of his biggest assets and will make the difference in an eventual TKO win.

Ricardo Almeida vs. Mike Pyle

Rob King: Pyle is one of the more inconsistent fighters on the UFC’s roster.  He can look like a million bucks like he did in the Hathaway fight, or he can look down right average as he did against Ellenberger. Pyle’s biggest strength is his submissions, but Almeida is much better in that department and shouldn't have to many problems fighting off Pyle’s ground offense.  Almeida will win via decision.

Tristen Critchfield: Almeida has only lost two fights since 2003, but one of those was a shocking technical submission to Matt Hughes. Meanwhile, Pyle was a decided underdog against up-and-comer John Hathaway, yet managed to dominate the Brit in all aspects of their fight at UFC 120. Sometimes when two fighters with similar skill sets are matched both tend to stray from what made them successful. Don't expect that here. This one should be an entertaining battle on the ground featuring high-level transitions and submission attempts from two accomplished jiu-jitsu players. It's hard to see either man getting a finish, but Almeida is a little bit better overall, so give him the decision.

Martin: This is a very evenly matched bout between crafty veterans with excellent ground games. I see the fight more likely coming down to wrestling than jiu jitsu because neither man will want to be reckless with offensive submissions. That’s a game Pyle is good at but Almeida is better and will pick up the win.

Breen: It's a great fight for Pyle to show that he's improbably progressed past being a high-level gatekeeper. He's a better striker than Almeida, and his jiu-jitsu is definitely slick enough to catch "The Big Dog," even with Almeida's grappling prowess. The question is Pyle's defensive wrestling and scrambling ability: if he's taken down repeatedly, can he avoid playing guard for the duration of a round, and either sweep and get back to his feet? After a technical and workmanlike showing against T.J. Grant in December, Almeida deserves to be the slight favorite and could replicate that style of fight again. Look for Almeida on points, but Pyle is a live dog in this make-or-break fight for him.

Kurt Pellegrino vs. Gleison Tibau

Freddie DeFreitas: I believe Pellegrino has more in the tank and will overcome an atrocious opening round to eventually outlast Tibau and take a close decision.

Guilherme Pinheiro: This is a very even matchup in my opinion. Tibau is a guy that frustrates a lot of people because of his poor showing every now and then. He is capable of looking fantastic in one fight, then completely clueless in the next. That being said, I think his size is going to be a little bit too much for Pellegrino. I see Tibau using his size advantage to handle Pellegrino both on the ground and standing up on his way to a decision.

Breen: This is one of those tricky fights where judging might play in prominently. Tibau absolutely excels at one thing: slamming guys on the mat over and over and over. The problem is that his ground control can't keep guys there, so it's an endless cycle of slam, scramble, slam, scramble. It's likely Pellegrino will land cleaner strikes standing and will be a more active grappler. Will they be in sufficient quantity to sway the judges? I expect Pellegrino, a fairly slow starter, to give up too much of the first portion of the fight and lose a decision.

Sariahmed: I worry about Pellegrino if the bout stays standing for too long. Tibau is a big fighter that could stay out of Pellegrino's range and score at will on the feet. If Pellegrino can get the fight to the ground though, Tibau has shown to have a difficult time with stronger wrestlers. Give me Pellegrino by decision.

Joseph Benavidez vs. Ian Loveland

King: Benavidez had one hell of a run in the WEC, only losing to champion Dominick Cruz.  Loveland looked great in his UFC debut against Tyler Toner, but Benavidez is a step too far for him.  Look for Benavidez to use his wrestling to take a one-sided decision over the Barn Owl.

Critchfield: Outside of bantamweight king Cruz, Benavidez has been able to handle every challenge he's faced. The Team Alpha Male representative's energy level is tremendous, and it's scary to think what he might be able to accomplish should the UFC institute a 125-pound division. But for now, Benavidez is just fine where he is. Loveland brings a seven-fight winning streak into the Octagon, but six of his seven career defeats have come via submission. Eventually Benavidez imposes his will and makes him tap for a seventh time.

Breen: Loveland has quietly turned into a very quality fighter, besting some solid mid-level fighters like Douglas Evans and Toner. However, Benavidez, in spite of his inability to best Cruz, is simply a higher-level fighter. Takedowns might be tough against Loveland, but Benavidez can thrive in the scramble and get a submission. If he does get top position, it'll be oodles of elbows. It'll be a feather in the cap of Loveland to make it the full 15 with one of the three best 135-pounders alive.

Raphael Assuncao vs. Erik Koch

Tony Loiseleur: With three wins and just one loss in his stint in the WEC -- to the stellar Chad Mendes, no less -- Koch is looking pretty good coming into his UFC debut. He's got long limbs, throws with evil intent, and is aggressive whereas his opponent, Assuncao, has power but tends to throw punches only a few at a time and slows in later rounds. Even if Assuncao stalks from the center and gets for takedowns between exchanges, I see Koch scrambling out to either reverse or bring the fight back up. We could see a similar fight to Diego Nunes-Assuncao here, with Koch outpointing the Brazilian on the feet over three rounds.

Marciniak: Coming from Roufusport, it's no wonder that Koch employs a kick-heavy offense in the striking department. Assuncao had some problems with Nunes' kicks and eventually lost a very close decision to “The Gun.” While the Brazilian is a proficient boxer and did an alright job of checking, I think Koch's aggressiveness will be the key here as the American is a much more proactive fighter than Nunes. If Koch can stay off the ground he should outstrike Assuncao in clear fashion.

Sariahmed: Assuncao has fallen off the map since the loss to Faber in Sacramento, Calif. His game was exposed as far too much on his BJJ to generate offense and not being sound enough on the feet. The key to this bout for me is how effective Koch can be standing up. I see Koch as the better striker working with RoufuSport, and his wrestling serves as a failsafe to prevent the bout from going to the ground. I'll take Koch by decision.

Knapp: As long as Koch stays off his back, he’s in the clear. His standup is vastly superior to Assuncao’s. I see him piling up the points on the feet en route to a unanimous decision.

Constantinos Philippou vs. Nick Catone

Critchfield: Dan Miller's move to the main card gives Ring of Combat veteran Philippou his first chance at UFC glory. Catone has been up and down in his tenure with the promotion, and a loss to the Serra-Longo representative could put his future with the promotion into question. When Catone hasn't been plagued by injuries, he has proven capable of putting on a good show, as he did in a loss to Mark Munoz. The New Jersey native controls the fight with his wrestling and lives to fight another day in the UFC. Catone by decision.

Pinheiro: I’m not sure of what to think about this fight because I have seen very little of Philippou. However, I liked what I saw and I’m going to pick him to win via decision.

2011 Standings:
Tomasz Marciniak 31-17
Brian Knapp 30-18
Guilherme Pinheiro 29-19
Tristen Critchfield 29-19
Tony Loiseleur 29-19
Todd Martin 29-19
Rob King 28-20
Jordan Breen 28-20
Lutfi Sariahmed 27-21
Freddie DeFreitas 24-24


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