Michihiro Omigawa will look for his first Octagon win at UFC 138. | Photo: Taro Irei
After several stout cards put forth by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC 138 “Leben vs. Munoz” on Saturday at the LG Arena in Birmingham, England, is a predictably thinner offering. While the main card provides some obvious intrigue in the form of a main event in which either Mark Munoz or Chris Leben could take a significant step toward legitimate contender status in the middleweight division, the undercard’s value is less blatant.
Truthfully, fans will need to dig a little deeper to find significance in the prelims. A smaller scale must be employed and expectations must be scaled back after the UFC 135, UFC 136 and UFC 137 blitzkrieg, not to mention a pleasantly entertaining UFC Live 6. Here are five reasons to care about the UFC 138 undercard.
Undoubtedly the most significant pairing on the undercard, Michihiro Omigawa-Jason Young was worthy of main-draw status.
Those privy to his hard-fought loss to fellow prospect Dustin Poirier at UFC 131 will recall that Young is a technical striker who can turn it loose when the time calls. His linear punching style should mesh perfectly with Omigawa’s unorthodox but effective bob, weave and hook routine.
Naturally, Omigawa’s best-case scenario sees him taking the fight to the floor and landing in top position, but fans just might see the judoka try to slug it out with the standup specialist. Coming off a controversial decision loss to Darren Elkins in June, the 2009 Sengoku Raiden Championship featherweight grand prix finalist must know that a third straight Octagon loss could mean curtains, even if the UFC is heading to Japan in 2012.
With both men trying to avoid consecutive defeats, the fear of loss could result in an aggressive but technical style clash capable of stealing the whole show. Watch it, or feel shame.
Free and Live
The good news is that the main card airs for free on Spike TV in the United States. The bad news is that -- in addition to the lack of star power inherent in most free shows when compared to pay-per-views -- UFC 138 will air via tape delay.
For some, this could involve employing a self-imposed media blackout in order to avoid the live results and maintain the suspense. Think of this like a game -- a stupid, frustrating, annoying game, but a game that needs not be played with the prelims, since they are expected to stream live on the UFC’s Facebook page.
Yeah, that’s right main card. Who’s your daddy now?
Punches in Bunches
Previously a virtual unknown, Justin Edwards has made the most of a fortuitous opportunity with the UFC. Called in on short notice to replace a homesick Keon Caldwell during Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter 13,” Edwards has mostly impressed in his UFC career thus far due to a no-nonsense approach and an up-tempo fighting style. And, yes, he looks like a miniature Randy Couture, which does not hurt.
At UFC 138, Edwards meets debuting Ultimate Challenge MMA welterweight titleholder John Maguire, a well-rounded southpaw with decent hands and an aggressive submission attack. The fight holds no significance in relation to divisional rankings, but it could prove to be a turning point for one of the two men putting it on the line.
The UFC’s welterweight ranks have long been regarded as one of the company’s most talent-rich pools, despite champion Georges St. Pierre’s dominance. Though Edwards seems to show improvement each time he appears on UFC television, all of that could be for naught if he falls short here.
Likewise, Maguire could be one-and-done if he jumps in and finds out the waters of the UFC are a little too deep. As both men employ an active style, Edwards-Maguire could provide some thrills and a little drama for fans looking for a violent afternoon snack.
After nearly eight years as a professional, Che Mills will compete in the Octagon for the first time in front of his countrymen.
Cage Rage’s last welterweight champion before the promotion closed its doors, the slender Brit holds a pair of knockout victories over reigning Dream titleholder Marius Zaromskis. He possesses an active guard and a dangerous standup arsenal but lacks superior wrestling skills; Mills was built to throw blows and attack off his back.
Welcoming him to the Octagon will be “The Ultimate Fighter 13” alum Chris Cope, who fought his way to the semifinals of the reality series before losing to Ramsey Nijem. Cope’s defensive wrestling is superior at this point, meaning he and Mills will likely keep the fight standing. If Cope comes in as game as he did against Chuck O’Neil at “The Ultimate Fighter 13” Finale, Mills could be treated to an exciting Octagon debut, one way or another.
Is De Fries for Real?
There is no doubt about it: the United Kingdom has injected some legitimate fighters into multiple UFC weight classes. However, a lack of heavyweight representatives is also undeniable.
Originally slated to face strongman and reigning Ultimate Challenge MMA heavyweight champion Oli Thompson, Philip De Fries will instead make his Octagon debut against a more experienced and arguably tougher countryman in Rob Broughton.
Undefeated in eight professional outings, De Fries is a slippery grappler coming off a one-sided victory over Stav Enonomou to win the Ultimate Warrior Challenge British championship. Though his standup remains slightly robotic, the 25-year-old fights comfortably off his back and moves agilely during scrambles.
As Economou was in July, Broughton will be the much thicker man when he steps into the cage with the 6-foot-4 De Fries. While “The Bear” will probably look to impress after a lackluster performance against Travis Browne at UFC 135, it is unlikely that he possesses enough of a standup advantage to flatten his younger foe on the feet.
If and when the fight goes to the floor, De Fries should have the opportunity to show off his agility and submission skills. Whether he will impress against his savvy opponent remains anybody’s guess, but it will be worth it to find out whether De Fries is ready for a stint in the big show.