Jake Shields will search to ease the memory of his first loss in six years. | Photo: J. Sherwood
Sherdog.com staff and contributors put their reputations on the line with bold predictions for UFC Fight Night 25, which airs live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Saturday from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The undercard will stream live on Facebook at approximately 5:15 p.m. ET.
Jake Shields vs. Jake Ellenberger
Tristen Critchfield: Depending on what happens with Georges St. Pierre, this could be Shields’ role for a while: taking on rising prospects so that they can prove themselves worthy of contender status. One needs to look no further than Shields’ bout with Dan Henderson to see that the Cesar Gracie product can handle himself against an accomplished wrestler. In turn, Ellenberger will be tested by Shields’ jiu-jitsu skills. This fight could be difficult to score if Ellenberger gets takedowns but hesitates to work for fear of submissions. Upright, the Nebraskan has the greater power, but Shields has been pretty durable over the course of his career. It has been a rough month for the former Strikeforce champion, and it will be hard not to root for him. It will be close, but Shields holds on for a decision.
Freddie DeFreitas: The heavy-handed Ellenberger can easily end fights with one punch, as we saw in his bout with Sean Pierson in Toronto. However, Shields has tasted power shots before, and if a renowned knockout artist like Henderson couldn’t put him to sleep, then I can’t see Ellenberger fairing any better. Shields will take his lumps, but, at the end of the day, the former Strikeforce middleweight king’s grappling pedigree will be far too much for the Omaha, Neb., native and will likely force him to fight off his back for the vast majority of the bout. Though I doubt Shields will end the fight by submission -- Ellenberger has only been submitted once in his career -- I do believe he’ll do enough to earn the win by split decision.
Todd Martin: Shields has a few things working against him in this fight. First, this is a classic letdown fight. He is coming off the biggest fight of his career in which he was unable to capture the UFC welterweight title. Now he’s taking on a tough fighter with a low profile, a practical lose-lose proposition. Second, Ellenberger is a bad style matchup for Shields. He’s an excellent wrestler with natural power whose career is peaking. I think he’ll get the better of the wrestling, beat up Shields and pick up an upset win via decision.
Rob King: I can’t imagine going into this fight having recently lost your father and manager. It’s impossible to predict how it will weigh on Shields’ psyche. Some fighters would use it as inspiration; others would not be able to overcome the burden. Shields’ striking is always improving, but he is still a grappler first, and Ellenberger has the edge standing with his knockout power. Shields has perfected American jiu-jitsu, and that’s what he needs to use to win this fight. Ellenberger has to avoid the takedowns, which he has the ability to do, and sprawl to stay away from Shields’ ground advantage. Neither guy is going to succumb to the other’s advantage, Shields to Ellenberger’s power or Ellenberger to Shields’ submissions, so this fight is going to go the distance. I never go against the guy with the advantage in American jiu-jitsu. Shields takes the decision.
Dongi Yang vs. Court McGee
Critchfield: McGee is riding a two-fight winning streak in the UFC, including a submission win over veteran middleweight Ryan Jensen at UFC 121. Yang has been a master of finishing thus far in his career, but the Korean will have his work cut out for him against McGee. While “The Ox” could certainly land something significant and drop McGee, it is more likely that the Utah resident will be able to take the fight where he wants it to go; McGee by decision.
DeFreitas: As he showed in his most recent outing against Jensen, McGee has a tendency to start slow, so you can expect a fast start from the Korean Top Team fighter, as he’ll look to take the fight to McGee early and pressure “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 winner. McGee’s key to victory is to weather that proverbial storm and utilize his superior grapping advantage to take Yang out of his element. While Yang might be the better overall mixed martial artist, I firmly believe McGee’s resilience carries him through the opening rough patches en route to a tough decision win.
Lutfi Sariahmed: I see “The Ultimate Fighter” winners getting fights and feel the need to immediately pick them to lose. Is that wrong? My immediate reflex is to assume that they’re not any good, overrated or both. McGee’s biggest asset here is his toughness. He can persevere through any storm without succumbing. What does that mean for him against Yang? He’ll be able to hear the judges announce Yang win a decision.
Erik Koch vs. Jonathan Brookins
Tomasz Marciniak: Brookins is tough but a bit too vulnerable in the standup to survive against a cutthroat striker like Koch. Unless “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 12 winner significantly improved his striking defense or takedowns, I see Koch putting powerful shots on him that will lead to a stoppage.
Tony Loiseleur: After a few false starts and injuries, we’ll finally get to see “The Ultimate Fighter” winner Brookins in regular UFC competition. However, it will be against Koch, who is a far more proficient and aggressive striker. I see Koch pushing around Brookins on the feet with rangy kicks and big punches for most of this fight. So long as he’s successful in staying off the ground, I see the Roufusport product getting the decision or even a finish here.
King: The UFC is usually so good at matching its “Ultimate Fighter” winners well in their first matches, giving them something to ease them into the UFC. Brookins is not getting that luxury here. Koch has looked outstanding in his last couple of fights and should be able to best Brookins here. Koch came up as a submission fighter, but in his last couple of bouts, he has really improved his striking and shown it off. I think he has a choice of how he wants to finish Brookins.
Critchfield: Koch makes for a rude return to the featherweight division for Brookins, who is back in action for the first time since “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale. Koch has highlight-reel finishes in his last two appearances and will no doubt be looking to do the same against Brookins. The Roufusport representative has lethal strikes and great reach, making it difficult for Brookins to fight at close range. If Brookins does get a takedown, Koch’s ground game is more than adequate. Eventually, Koch hurts Brookins as he attempts to shoot, and from there, the WEC import pounces for a technical knockout or submission finish.
Alan Belcher vs. Jason MacDonald
Sariahmed: The focus here will be on Belcher -- and understandably so. You have to wonder about the layoff. Being away from the cage for more than a year is no small factor. How is he going to come back to the cage? He’s the better “talent” of the two, but if there are still any aspects of his game that need to be shored up, MacDonald is good enough take advantage of them. Assuming he wouldn’t have stepped back into the cage unless he felt 100 percent and assuming he didn’t rush his rehab, Belcher is the pick, thanks in large part to his diverse striking arsenal.
Brian Knapp: This fight should tell us a lot about Belcher and his future. The impact of eye injuries in combat sports should not be understated, as they can turn even the stoutest of hearts tentative. Belcher’s MMA career thus far has been defined by maddening inconsistency. If the 27-year-old wants to make something out of his considerable physical abilities, now is the time to make his move. MacDonald is no pushover, but unless he can get the fight to the ground or coax Belcher into his guard, he figures to find himself at a distinct disadvantage on the feet. Look for Belcher to establish his striking superiority early, perhaps with leg kicks, as he softens up the Canadian for a late finish.
Jordan Breen: I’m ready for just about anything in this fight. Belcher has been on the shelf for a good long while courtesy of his retina damage -- an injury that has far-ranging effects both physically and psychologically for fighters. Even prior to the injury, Belcher’s most notable trait was his consistent inconsistency. Against MacDonald, he’s a superior striker and could even play ground-and-pound if he was feeling frisky. However, this is a fighter who was stopped standing by Jason Day during his UFC tenure. Belcher deserves to be the favorite because of his striking game and well-roundedness, but never rule out a fascinating implosion in the cage leading to a MacDonald victory.
Loiseleur: Belcher-MacDonald will be interesting given their injury histories. On the one hand, we have a capable striker in Belcher returning from an almost career-ending eye injury a little more than a year since his last fight; on the other, we have MacDonald, who has suffered chronic injuries in training, as well as a horrific leg break at around the last time Belcher fought in 2010. If the layoff and recovery has no effect on Belcher, he could mash up MacDonald on the feet to net a stoppage. However, MacDonald could also just as easily tie up and possibly even submit his Roufusport foe. I’ll put faith in Belcher’s ability to scramble and stay off the ground here, if only because I think he’ll literally beat MacDonald to the punch, which should make his prospects of finishing the bout all the better.
Evan Dunham vs. Shamar Bailey
Martin: It has been a bad year for Dunham. His undefeated record came to an end with a questionable decision against Sean Sherk and a decisive technical knockout loss to Melvin Guillard. His biggest career wins, Efrain Escudero and Tyson Griffin, subsequently lost additional fights that made those victories seem less significant. Injuries then kept him out of action for eight months. It remains to be seen if Dunham can regain the momentum he had, but Bailey is a good first fight back. Dunham can match Bailey’s wrestling and should be well ahead of him in striking and submissions. Dunham will get the win and move back to higher-profile competition.
Knapp: Few lightweights matchup with Bailey as well as Dunham does. His wrestling is polished enough to at least keep the fight even in the department, and his striking and submission grappling figure to be superior. Bailey’s most likely route to victory involves tactical clinching, dirty boxing to avoid restarts and occasion takedowns, particularly late in the fight. It would not surprise me to see him ground Dunham, tire him with positional control and secure a decision. However, one has to think, with the firepower he brings to the table, Dunham has the edge and likely finds a weakness to exploit. He gets the nod from the judges.
Breen: Bailey can really wrestle. Unfortunately for him, Dunham can wrestle, too, in addition to having marked advantages as a striker and submission grappler. Dunham takes a while to get started, but once the Oregon native gets cooking, he will sprawl-and-brawl to a unanimous verdict or wind up dropping and stopping Bailey in the mid to late portion of the fight.
T.J. Waldburger vs. Mike Stumpf
Marciniak: Waldburger is no world-beater, but if he was able to somewhat recently beat Pat Healy and David Mitchell, he should be able to take out Stumpf, as long as he keeps his chin tucked.
Loiseleur: Getting pulled into the UFC on late notice for an injured Daniel Roberts, Stumpf may not be properly prepared for the Octagon just yet, but he has decent ground skills and size to his advantage. As for Waldburger, Stumpf is a lighter touch in terms of last-minute replacements -- not at all like having Johny Hendricks placed before him after Dennis Hallman pulled out of their last bout. Thus, Waldburger and Stumpf will probably battle it out on the canvas, possibly recreating the submissions showdown we saw between Waldburger and Mitchell. If that situation indeed plays out, I like Waldburger to eke by with the decision.
King: Looking over Stumpf’s record, nothing jumps out at me, and, for that reason, I have to go with the guy I know -- Waldburger. Waldburger is not the quickest starter in the world, but once he figures out someone, he turns it on, as he showed in his fight with Mitchell. Most of his losses have been inside the first two minutes of the fight. As long as Waldburger survives the initial exchanges, he should take this fight via submission.
Breen: In his UFC debut, Waldburger dealt with a superior version of Stumpf in Mitchell. Stumpf might be a moderately more skilled wrestler, but Mitchell is the slicker, more versatile grappler, in addition to his outstanding size at 170 pounds. Now, Waldburger is facing a fighter he can best on the feet and school from top position who is entering the bout on short notice. If Waldburger doesn’t earn the tap, he’ll earn a positionally dominant decision, a la the Mitchell fight, though the scorecards likely won’t be as lopsided.
2011 Picking & Grinning Standings:
Jordan Breen: 131-57
Tristen Critchfield: 129-59
Brian Knapp: 129-59
Todd Martin: 126-62
Tomasz Marciniak: 125-63
Freddie DeFreitas: 123-65
Guilherme Pinheiro: 123-65
Rob King: 122-66
Lutfi Sariahmed: 121-67
Tony Loiseleur: 118-70