Over the years, fighters with top-notch skills at 125 pounds have been forced to go one of two routes: bulk up and fight at bantamweight to get a shot at the big show, or remain active at their preferred weight in various smaller promotions. That all changes Down Under, as the Ultimate Fighting Championship finally debuts its long-awaited flyweight division at UFC on FX 2 “Alves vs. Kampmann” on Friday from the Allphones Arena in Sydney, Australia.
The four-man tournament features a pair of fighters who experienced success at 135 pounds -- Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez -- against two others who stayed outside the Octagon to shine at 125 -- Yasuhiro Urushitani and Ian McCall. The semifinal winners will vie for the shiny new flyweight strap at an as-yet-to-be-determined date.
For those who are not quite ready to embrace the all-out action the little guys are sure to provide, there is the main event: a pivotal welterweight duel between Thiago Alves and Martin Kampmann. Here is a look at the UFC on FX 2 main card, with analysis and picks.
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Thiago Alves (19-8, 11-5 UFC) vs. Martin Kampmann (18-5, 9-4 UFC)
The Matchup: It was not all that long ago that Alves was regarded as one of the best welterweights in the sport not named Georges St. Pierre. Times have changed, as a new crop of 170-pound talent has emerged and losses to Jon Fitch and Rick Story robbed Alves of his perennial Top 10 status. The “Pitbull” was given a something of a reprieve at UFC 138, and he took advantage by submitting Octagon newcomer Papy Abedi inside of a round.
Abedi, who repeatedly dropped his hands and moved straight backward, was the perfect rebound fight for a dangerous striker like Alves. The Brazilian will return to his accustomed level of competition against Kampmann, who has a diverse kickboxing arsenal. After a pair of heartbreaking decision defeats to Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez, “The Hitman” righted his ship at UFC 139 in a split-decision triumph over Story. In addition to utilizing crisp, accurate striking, the Dane was able to handle Story in the clinch and return to his feet after being taken down.
Solid clinch work could prove to be key for Kampmann against Alves, who is good at controlling distance and is capable of landing with fight-ending power from most any range. It is better to move forward against Alves and pressure him, as Story did in their encounter. Alves is an alert counterstriker and mixes kicks and punches with seamless precision. It is no secret that the American Top Team representative endures a draining weight cut so that he can enter the cage in the neighborhood of 190 pounds on fight night. This has led to issues at weigh-ins in the past, and the result -- in addition to his missing weight -- is a fighter who tires as the fight progresses.
Kampmann often likes to rush his opponents and display his power in tight spaces. In tie-ups, he can wear down his opponent with knees, as well. Alves’ tremendous upper body strength often allows him to brush off clinch attempts, assuming he is not worn out.
Kampmann has underrated jiu-jitsu, but only dominant wrestlers like Fitch or St. Pierre have been able to have their way with Alves on the ground. Both Alves and Kampmann favor a standup affair, anyway, so it is likely that the man who is able to land more consistently will have the edge. If Kampmann hesitates to close the distance early on, Alves will make him pay with kicks. The Dane’s kickboxing will allow him to connect with solid combinations on the outside, but it is Alves who has the more dangerous power. The Brazilian can also explode with flying knee attacks once he gets a handle on Kampmann’s timing.
The Pick: All signs point to a predominantly standup affair, though if it does end up on the mat, Kampmann has a slight advantage, especially if “Pitbull” is fatigued. Upright, “The Hitman” will have to take some risks to get the fight in close, and Alves certainly has the tools to make him pay on his way there. There will be some high-octane exchanges between these two, but look for Alves to gradually get the better of it and win via decision.
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