Developing knockout power strengthens Tyron Woodley’s repertoire. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
UFC 161 “Evans vs. Henderson” has seen its share of difficulties in the last couple of weeks, losing two of its top three fights due to injury. As a result, Renan Barao will not defend his interim bantamweight strap, nor will Mauricio “Shogun” Rua lock horns with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a rematch nearly eight years in the making.
While the undercard has also been struck by a few injuries, the free bill nevertheless remains enticing. The six-fight preliminary draw airs live on Facebook and FX ahead of the main card pay-per-view broadcast and takes place on Saturday at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Here are five reasons to catch the prelims:
For the longest time, I thought Tyron Woodley would be defined as an underachiever when his career came to a close. Now, I am not so sure.
The two-time NCAA All-American wrestler has always possessed the potential to become an elite mixed martial artist, but for a while, it seemed as though he would never put together the total package. Lukewarm performances against Paul Daley and Jordan Mein only strengthened that feeling, despite both of those fights ending in wins for the Missourian. Then came the Nate Marquardt fight, which resulted in both an unconscious Woodley and a Sherdog.com “Knockout of the Year” nomination. At that point, little suggested that Woodley could hang anywhere near the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s top welterweight talents.
Then Woodley almost knocked Jay Hieron’s head off his shoulders -- a result that served as a sharp reminder of the 31-year-old’s explosive power and technique when he applies himself aggressively. Based on all of Woodley’s pre-fight statements and his general demeanor, I have to believe that a similar fighter will make his way to the cage in Canada.
If his positive outlook and boosted confidence are any indication, Woodley could find himself a serious contender at 170 pounds, provided he can first get by veteran Jake Shields.
It was not so long ago that Shields was the UFC’s hottest new signee, a prize plucked from Strikeforce riding a near five-year winning streak.
However, the reigning Strikeforce middleweight titlist did not dominate in his return to 170 pounds, instead sneaking by Martin Kampmann and giving longtime UFC king Georges St. Pierre a fairly competitive fight en route to a unanimous decision defeat. Following a brutal knockout loss to Jake Ellenberger, the grappler returned to 185 pounds last year, outpointing Yoshihiro Akiyama before doing the same to Ed Herman -- only to see that win changed to a no-contest in the wake of a failed drug test.
Now returning to the welterweight division after serving a six-month suspension, Shields looks to reverse his momentum and prove he is still an elite talent at 170 pounds. I think his clash with Woodley should tell us much about whether that prospect is a realistic one.
Sam Stout will probably never find himself in a UFC title fight, but that guy consistently brings it about as hard as anybody on the Zuffa payroll.
A 15-time UFC veteran, “Hands of Stone” made his promotional debut back in 2004, edging Spencer Fisher in a back-and-forth bout that still sticks in my mind years later. The exciting performance would prove a sign of things to come for the Canadian, who has won “Fight of the Night” honors five times over the last seven years.
Just 29, Stout seems much older because of his decade-long career and the unforgiving nature of his line of work. Consistency has been an issue for the striker for most of his UFC run, and his recent performances have followed that same arc.
Now reentering the Octagon after a narrow victory over Caros Fodor in February, Stout is opposed by ex-World Extreme Cagefighting talent James Krause. Can Stout collect consecutive wins for the first time in two years?
If watching Edwin Figueroa fight does not get you excited, you may want to have your head examined.
I place Figueroa in the same category as guys like Hugo Viana and recent opponent Francisco Rivera -- men who swing their arms like baseball bats and who have no fear of death. As exhibited in his February clash with Rivera, “El Feroz” can hurt his opponent at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately for Figueroa’s brain cell count, his style also happens to leave him wide open for counters -- a weakness Rivera exploited in the second round of their contest.
Figueroa now takes on “The Ultimate Fighter 14” veteran Roland Delorme, a man looking to erase the memory of his performance against Rivera last summer. “El Feroz” may not be the most technical or well-rounded fighter in the UFC, but he is undoubtedly an explosive talent who is worth a watch.
There are a couple of reasons you should care about John Maguire, the first of which has to do with a top-shelf YouTube video of the gypsy jiu-jitsu practitioner donning a pair of jean shorts to lead his gym in an impromptu “Flashdance” routine. The second reason is fully evident during the calisthenics described in the aforementioned video: Maguire finally appears to be fighting at his proper weight.
The Brit began his career at 185 pounds and then made the cut to welterweight in 2010 after a knockout loss to Tom Watson. Though Maguire found success in the category, it became crystal clear in his last two fights that a slightly pudgy 170 pounds just would not do the trick if he planned on competing against some of the UFC’s bigger and better welterweights.
Now making his first appearance as a lightweight, I expect the well-rounded Maguire to become a serious talent at 155 pounds, though he will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him given the depth of the division. Maguire’s journey down that road begins in Winnipeg against Canadian Mitch Clarke. Will “The One” take a positive first step in his 155-pound debut?