The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Fox’s flagship network on Saturday for another helping of primetime mixed martial arts.
Hosted by the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., the event is headlined by an anticipated lightweight collision between AMA Fight Club’s Jim Miller and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner Nate Diaz. Before the bright lights are turned on for the Fox broadcast, however, a wealth of potential entertainment awaits on the preliminary card on Fuel TV.
Here are five reasons to care about the UFC on Fox 3 “Diaz vs. Miller” undercard:
‘Last Call’ Meets Ivy League
Let me tell you straight out: if you miss the lightweight bout between John Cholish and Danny Castillo, it will be a mistake.
Schooled by Renzo Gracie, John Danaher and Firas Zahabi, Cholish has used a cerebral and strategic approach to combat that has yielded exceptional results thus far. After compiling a 5-1 record on the local circuit, the Cornell University alum made his Strikeforce debut last spring, submitting onetime “The Ultimate Fighter” contestant Marc Stevens with a rolling kneebar typically only seen in sambo instructional DVDs.
After finishing World Extreme Cagefighting and Bellator Fighting Championships veteran Jameel Massouh in June, Cholish answered the call to join the UFC lightweight ranks and methodically broke down fellow Octagon debutant Mitch Clarke, stopping the previously unbeaten Canadian via second-round technical knockout on Dec. 10 at UFC 140.
As for Castillo, little needs to be said that most fans familiar with the lightweight do not already know. A product of Team Alpha Male, Castillo is an eight-time WEC veteran noted for his hard-hitting style and solid wrestling base. The 32-year-old has been on a roll of late, winning five of his past six fights. His last in-cage appearances came within six weeks of each other, as “Last Call” put away Shamar Bailey on Nov. 19 before stepping in as an injury replacement to take a split decision from Anthony Njokuani on Dec. 30.
Is Cholish ready for such a significant step up in competition? Can he find the holes in Castillo’s armor and capitalize, or will the Californian prove too experienced for the Ivy League grad to handle?
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Karlos Vemola keeps getting smaller, but will he get better?
Undefeated in the first seven fights of his career, the Czech-born Vemola was controlled and outpointed in his UFC debut by bulky wrestler Jon Madsen in 2010. Dropping to light heavyweight, the London Shootfighters export showed off his considerable athleticism against Seth Petruzelli that November, planting “The Silverback” on his posterior and pounding away for a technical knockout victory. Vemola was expected to return at 205 pounds last year at UFC 128, but a nasty mouth infection nixed that appearance and sidelined him until August, when he was decisively outpointed by newcomer Ronny Markes.
Now cutting to 185 pounds for the first time, the 26-year-old should hold a clear size advantage over upcoming opponent Mike Massenzio. Can “The Terminator” use his physical tools to overwhelm the New Jersey native, or will Massenzio spoil Vemola’s middleweight debut?
You guys know the score. No need to tell you how entertaining flyweights are in MMA.
After wrecking people as a bantamweight on Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” John Dodson returns to 125 pounds to meet Timothy Elliott, an up-and-comer riding an eight-fight winning streak. Few doubt Dodson’s credentials as a former Top 10 flyweight, but Elliott has also been impressive in dispatching Jens Pulver and Josh Rave in his last two outings.
Meanwhile, a current Top 10 talent in Louis Gaudinot joins his “Ultimate Fighter” castmate in returning to his natural weight class against Brazilian John Lineker. The former Ring of Combat flyweight king will have no gimme against Lineker, himself a onetime Jungle Fight bantamweight champion. Known for his movement and excellent scrambling ability, Gaudinot should use both traits to avoid the heavy hands of his upcoming opponent.
Pace is the name of the game, folks. Support MMA’s most diminutive division, and give these guys a watch.
A battle of promising welterweight talents will also be contested in New Jersey, as Pascal Krauss faces John Hathaway. Originally supposed to meet in November at UFC 138, both men withdrew from that event due to injury and will likely need to shake off some ring rust as they reenter the Octagon.
One of Britain’s brightest prospects, Hathaway built a mountain of hype through his first four UFC appearances, culminating in a well-deserved unanimous decision victory over Diego Sanchez in May 2010. Hathaway would soon encounter an obstacle on his path to the top, however, as he was outworked by veteran Mike Pyle five months later at UFC 120. “The Hitman” rebounded from the defeat to take a hard-fought split decision over Kris McCray 13 months ago at UFC Fight Night 25, his most recent outing to date.
Just one year older than Hathaway, Krauss, 25, has yet to taste defeat as a professional. Though he has not faced the same quality of competition as his opponent, the German proved he could go the distance in his last in-cage appearance when he outpointed Marc Scanlon in a “Fight of the Night” performance nearly 18 months ago at UFC 122.
As both fighters have spent a considerable time on the shelf, the winner of this one might be the man who can find his rhythm first. Which prospect will make a statement?
Currently broadcasting in its 15th season, “The Ultimate Fighter” has produced many fine talents for the UFC since the show’s inception in 2005. Two of the series’ most recent standouts will collide at the Izod Center when Tony Ferguson takes on Michael Johnson.
Ferguson has looked sharp in his Octagon career thus far. After knocking out Ramsey Nijem to win Season 13 of the reality show as a welterweight, “El Cucuy” made the cut to 155 pounds and stopped Aaron Riley in one round in September. Most recently, Ferguson outpointed veteran Yves Edwards, taking a unanimous decision from the thug-jitsu inventor on Dec. 3.
Johnson, meanwhile, has taken his share of lumps as a UFC talent. “The Menace” had Jonathan Brookins hurt in the first round of their showdown at “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale, but Brookins managed to turn the tables and used superior grappling to claim the six-figure contract. Splitting his next two bouts, Johnson’s future appeared uncertain heading into his most recent outing on Jan. 28. The 25-year-old responded with an excellent performance, taking a unanimous nod from Shane Roller at UFC on Fox 2. Now stepping in as an injury replacement, can Johnson maintain his momentum and hand Ferguson his first Octagon defeat?
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