Is it me or has it been a while since we have forked over some hard-earned cash to watch a little Ultimate Fighting Championship -created violence? With the return of the pay-per-view comes a light heavyweight title collision over a year in the making, as Jon Jones defends his 205-pound title against former teammate and friend Rashad Evans at UFC 145, taking place on Saturday at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
While it is admittedly tough to beat the theatrics and in-cage skill that will surely be on display when the UFC’s version of the “Mega Powers” finally explodes, the UFC 145 undercard is also definitely worth checking out, if only to whet your appetite for the main course. Here are five reasons to care about the UFC 145 prelims, airing live on Facebook and the FX network.
Return of ‘Wonderboy’
I know it is against the unified rules and everything, but is there any way we can bribe somebody so that Stephen Thompson can wear a pair of bright red gi pants and his black belt into the cage?
I have said it before, and I will say it again: the UFC has a unique commodity under contract in Thompson. Do you guys remember what used to happen when somebody said his style was kenpo? In almost all cases, he got buried.
If Lyoto Machida is the man who brought back karate as a viable option in the cage, “Wonderboy” could prove to be his successor in fully resurrecting the art as a fan-friendly and effective form of combat. Thompson passed his first Octagon test with flying colors, totally outclassing Dan Stittgen at UFC 143 before knocking his fellow Octagon newcomer silly with a silky-smooth roundhouse kick to the jaw.
Up next for the prospect is Matt Brown, a seasoned veteran coming fresh off a knockout win of his own at the same event. Will Thompson respond to the bump up in competition, or can Brown derail the South Carolinian’s hype train just as it appears to be gathering steam?
‘The Bull’ vs. ‘The Assassin’
If I were a betting man, I would bank that either John Makdessi or Anthony Njokuani is going to sleep in the Deep South.
Two of the lightweight division’s most gifted strikers, “The Bull” and “The Assassin” seem tailor-made to hurt each other. Both are gifted kickers, and neither man holds any fondness for the ground game. While I give Njokuani the edge due to his superior skills from the Thai plum, Makdessi likely will not go down without a fight.
The Canadian often throws unorthodox shots and combinations that leave opponents either off balance or trying to regain their whereabouts. Previously unbeaten through nine professional bouts, Makdessi submitted to a Dennis Hallman choke in December. Can the Canadian weave his way inside the long limbs of Njokuani, or will he become just another name on WEC import’s list of victims?
If you were unaware, Chad Griggs is on a roll. “The Grave Digger” popped up in Strikeforce two years ago after a two-fight stint with the defunct International Fight League in 2007.
Brought in essentially as prospect-chow for former World Wrestling Entertainment star Bobby Lashley, Griggs was apparently unaware that he was supposed to get steamrolled at Strikeforce “Houston.” The rugged heavyweight weathered the expected early storm from his muscular foe and wisely used a standup advantage and Lashley’s substantial fatigue to end the second round with a flurry that left the former collegiate wrestler unable to answer the bell for the final frame. Griggs followed that victory by busting another up-and-comer in Gian Villante and capped his year with a dominant win over veteran Valentijn Overeem.
Now, Griggs faces likely the toughest test of his career in Travis Browne, an unbeaten prospect with solid power and excellent movement. Can Griggs deliver the usual gutsy goods, or will Browne take care of his business and continue to climb the UFC heavyweight ladder?
‘Maxi’ and Marcus
Maximo Blanco’s featherweight clash with Marcus Brimage probably will not be the technical striking battle that Njokuani-Makdessi should be, but it could easily be wilder.
It is a simple concept: when “Maxi” lets his hands and feet fly, be somewhere else. Though he has been markedly less aggressive in his last two bouts, the Venezuela native is capable of unleashing hell virtually at will. Watch his Sengoku career if you doubt me.
As for Brimage, the man from Alabama has shown early in his career that his fists still serve as his primary means of inflicting punishment. With just five professional outings to his credit, Brimage still lacks an elite ground game once the fight hits the floor. The good news for “The Bama Beast” is that he likely does not have to worry about a technical grappling match with his hard-swinging foe. Regardless of who walks away with the win in this one, my money is on the loser suffering some head trauma.
Last Chance Lightweights?
Two veteran 155-pound talents will have their backs against the wall in Atlanta. Both former “The Ultimate Fighter” winners, Mac Danzig and Efrain Escudero will square off live on FX with a potential pink slip on the line.
Danzig, 32, has lost two of his last three and five of his last seven bouts. A respected veteran, he makes his 10th Octagon appearance against Escudero. Possessing well-rounded skills, the former King of the Cage titlist showed off his hands in his most recent triumph -- a December 2010 victory over Joe Stevenson that netted him “Knockout of the Night” honors. Later plauged by a chest injury, Danzig competed just once last year, falling to Matt Wiman in a “Fight of the Night” loss at UFC Live 6 in October.
Meanwhile, Escudero won Season 8 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” only to be bounced from the UFC after failing to make weight for his UFC Fight Night 22 defeat to Charles Oliveira in September 2010. The 26-year-old responded by winning five of his next six outings on the local circuit before returning to the Octagon in December as a late injury replacement for T.J. Grant. Though Escudero fought gamely, he was thoroughly outwrestled by Minnesotan Jacob Volkmann at UFC 141.
Which of these men will prove he still deserves to swim in the deep waters of the UFC’s lightweight division?