John Makdessi has a flair for the spectacular. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Poor Dominick Cruz.
The former Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight boss would probably slap me upside the head for throwing him a pity party like that, but I just cannot help myself. I hope that guy catches a break and is able to get back in the cage soon.
With “The Dominator” absent from UFC 169, Renan Barao will defend his now-undisputed bantamweight championship against ex-title challenger Urijah Faber in a rematch of their 2012 encounter. The pay-per-view event on Saturday will also see Barao’s Nova Uniao teammate, Jose Aldo, defend his featherweight crown against Ricardo Lamas live from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Prior to the pay-per-view festivities, the undercard airs live on Fox Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass, highlighted by the return of striker John Makdessi, who collides with undefeated Brazilian Alan Patrick Silva Alves.
Makdessi’s kickboxing is some of the finest in the UFC’s lightweight division, as evidenced by his dominant early performances against Pat Audinwood and Kyle Watson. Though losses to Dennis Hallman and Anthony Njokuani would follow for the Quebecer, Makdessi has since righted his ship and posted three consecutive victories, capping that stretch with arguably the finest outing of his UFC tenure in September. Squaring off with Renee Forte at UFC 165, Makdessi put in an efficient two minutes of work, trading kicks with the Brazilian and measuring distance beautifully before flooring the 26-year-old with a pair of grazing right hands.
In Patrick, Makdessi now faces a man unbeaten in 11 pro outings. “Nuguette” will no doubt ride a solid wave of confidence into his clash with “The Bull,” as Patrick made an excellent impression with his first-round knockout of Garett Whiteley in his Octagon debut in October. Can Makdessi extend his winning streak to four fights and make a case to be matched against higher-profile foes in 2014 or will Patrick throw his name into the mix with an upset?
Makdessi’s clash with Patrick is just one reason to check out the UFC 169 undercard. Here are four more:
Chris Cariaso may have gone 1-2 in his last three bouts, but I still regard the 20-fight pro as a real contender in the flyweight division.
Let us not forget that prior to suffering back-to-back defeats to top-10 talents John Moraga and Jussier da Silva, Cariaso had gone 4-1 as a UFC bantamweight, earning victories over the likes of Takeya Mizugaki, Will Campuzano and Vaughan Lee. It also bears mentioning that his lone loss in that span came to future title challenger Michael McDonald -- hardly the type of defeat you can hold against an undersized 135-pounder.
Following his wins over Lee and Mizugaki, Cariaso made a successful flyweight debut opposite “The Ultimate Fighter 14” alum Josh Ferguson. Though his aforementioned 0-2 stretch would follow, the 32-year-old again came back strong with a second-round stoppage of Iliarde Santos in October at UFC Fight Night 29.
Now paired with fellow 20-fight pro Danny Martinez, Cariaso will look to start another winning streak. Can “Kamikaze” kick off 2014 on the right foot or will Martinez knock him back down the ladder?
Tom Watson may not own the best UFC record, but I have to admire his fighting style and willingness to climb in that cage with any middleweight in the world.
Though I believe “Kong” is ultimately limited by a lack of elite athleticism and a mediocre ground game, Watson is nevertheless fun to watch if his fights stay standing. Watson’s kickboxing skills have earned him eight knockouts in his seven-year career, including his lone UFC win over Stanislav Nedkov last year.
Watson will now do battle with Nick Catone, a former NCAA wrestler coming off back-to-back defeats. Catone’s second cut to 170 pounds in April proved troublesome, as the New Jersey native missed weight and was hospitalized for dehydration, resulting in the cancellation of his planned UFC 159 meeting with James Head.
Now back at 185 pounds, Catone will surely have his mind set on a takedown when he squares off with the Brit. Can Watson keep the American at distance or will “The Jersey Devil” have his way from close quarters?
I think we are in for quite a lightweight barnburner when Al Iaquinta welcomes unbeaten prospect Kevin Lee to the Octagon.
Though Iaquinta may currently sit miles from the UFC title picture, there is no denying “The Ultimate Fighter 15” finalist can flat-out punch and kick. Still just 26 years old, Iaquinta responded nicely to his one-sided submission loss to Michael Chiesa by posting back-to-back wins over Ryan Couture and Piotr Hallmann.
Lee may serve as Iaquinta’s most dangerous opponent to date, despite only holding seven pro fights to his credit. The Michigan native has ended his last four of bouts by way of submission, most recently choking out Eric Moon in November to win the Total Warrior Combat lightweight belt.
Much like Watson’s aforementioned clash with Catone, this fight should be dictated by where it takes place. Can Iaquinta can keep his dynamic opponent on the end of his striking range or will the 21-year-old close the gap and continue his string of submissions?
Hester’s Hurtin’ Bombs
Just as Iaquinta’s fists are forces to be reckoned with at lightweight, so too are Clint Hester’s at 185 pounds.
Although Hester was eliminated from “The Ultimate Fighter 17,” he has not lost a professional bout since 2010. The former boxer has created some lovely violence during his two-fight Octagon stint, knocking out Bristol Marunde at “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale before scoring a second-round finish of Dylan Andrews last month at UFC Fight Night 33. Yes, the bout was stopped after Andrews accidentally dislocated his shoulder, but Hester appeared well on his way to winning that fight anyway. I was quite high on Andrews coming out of the reality show, which made Hester’s victory all the more impressive in my mind.
Can Hester keep his winning streak alive when he meets “The Ultimate Fighter 17” castaway Andy Enz or will “Tank Mode” keep his perfect pro record intact?