Turtles, Worms, Oliver Stone Highlight WEC 35

Normally, Sunday nights are reserved for recovering from the previous night’s debauchery or preparing for a fresh round of the same.

All that goes out the window this Sunday thanks to WEC 35 on the Versus network, as the event will feature a trio of title bouts and a pair of contenders matches sure to keep the starved mixed martial arts fan sated. So read on, and discover how heavy-duty construction, the Marine Corps and the Angel of Death all fit together.

WEC Welterweight Championship
Carlos Condit (Pictures) (22-4) vs. Hiromitsu Miura (Pictures) (9-4)

Well, we’re just a short while away from seeing Condit defend his welterweight title against Japanese journeyman Miura, which means Condit is currently in front of a mirror practicing the glare that will burn a hole through his opponent’s soul.

While having MMA’s premier mean face is quite a feather in the cap, Condit has made his name under the WEC banner with an offensive arsenal that would have the folks at Blackwater blushing. Combining his well-known kickboxing background with surprising submission savvy, “The Natural Born Killer” has won all four of his WEC bouts via submission; only John Alessio (Pictures) lasted into the second round.

With whispers of a potential UFC run growing louder as Condit continues to mean mug the WEC contenders pool, we may see the 24 year-old New Mexico native taking his Oliver Stone-inspired show to the big leagues sooner rather than later.

If you were to pick anyone to put those dreams to bed, Miura would not be at the top of most anyone’s list, but the upset-laden MMA world has proven time and again that the bookmaker’s odds stop mattering once the opening bell rings. More importantly, Miura seems to have found new life as a welterweight after dropping a competitive middleweight bout to cult leader extraordinaire Jason “Mayhem” Miller.

Appearing more aggressive and dynamic at his new weight, Miura started out by knocking off fellow journeyman Fernando Gonzalez (Pictures) with an instant classic flying knee that eventually led to a fight-ending barrage of ground-and-pound at WEC 29 last August. More of the same followed when Miura took on blue-chip prospect Blas Avena (Pictures), who saw how bright the arena lights were after Miura pulled out of a triangle choke and landed an overhand haymaker that left Avena’s synapses scrambled in March.

That sort of ground-and-pound is a boon against Condit, whose lacking takedown defense remains his Achilles’ heel. The complication, of course, is Condit’s supremely aggressive submission game and his willingness to operate out of the guard when forced to do so.

While Miura may be willing to test out his suddenly slick striking, doing so against Condit would be quite the risk, considering the champion’s superior reach and vastly underrated fundamental skills. Plenty of fighters show the ability to put fist to chin, but Condit uses knees and kicks with equal aplomb and, unlike Miura, he is not the type to simply stand in the pocket with reckless abandon.

Things could get dicey for Condit if Miura can find a home for his ground-and-pound, but the proposition is equally risky for Miura, since he favors the sort of looping punches that leave him open for submission attempts.

The tune appears the same as always for Condit, who simply has too many offensive options for Miura to overcome. Bank on Miura getting a bit too brave on his feet and paying for his courage with a knockout loss courtesy of a highlight-reel high kick.

With Oliver Stone’s George W. Bush biopic already wrapped, it’s time for the MMA masses to rally for Condit to get the Stone treatment.

WEC Lightweight Championship
Jamie Varner (Pictures) (14-2) vs. Marcus Hicks (8-0)

While all the talk involving 155-pound fighters has centered on the UFC’s resurgent lightweight division and the recent Dream grand prix, the WEC lightweight class continues its steady upswing with a title bout between Varner, the incumbent champion, and Hicks, the undefeated demolition implement.

In a sport littered with misleading nicknames, Hicks makes good on his noms de guerre -- “The Wrecking Ball” -- with a style that consists of him throwing his stout frame into opponents with the intention of causing maximum damage in minimal time. Do not confuse Hicks with some backyard brawler, though; his strikes are shockingly accurate, given his short reach and hooking style, while his explosive takedowns mesh with his vice-grip submissions to create a truly well-rounded fighter.

It was a lesson learned by urban karateka Ed Ratcliff (Pictures), who entered his WEC 33 bout with Hicks as one of the WEC’s premier prospects. Ratcliff left the bout with a sore jaw and wrenched neck thanks to Hicks, who ran right through Ratcliff en route to a first-round win via guillotine choke. The standard guillotine choke has served Hicks well thus far, as all three of his wins in the WEC have come courtesy of the old-school classic.

With that in mind, Varner would be best served heeding the words of the Wu-Tang Clan classic “Protect Ya Neck” and keeping Hicks’ hands as far from his throat as possible. Normally, you would not bank on a former collegiate wrestler having that sort of submission acumen, but Varner has made a career out of breaking the mold.

Never has Varner’s affinity for exceeding expectations been as apparent as the night “The Worm” wrested the WEC lightweight title from Rob McCullough (Pictures) at WEC 32. After spending two rounds struggling to score takedowns on McCullough, Varner reversed course and gave the knockout artist a taste of his own medicine with a fistic blitz that marked the beginning of his reign.

If that reign is to continue, Varner will have to find a way to stymie the relentless rush of Hicks, who simply overwhelms his opponents from bell to bell. Varner’s best bet in that regard will be a back-to-basics approach and reliance on his wrestling to control and wear down Hicks. Whether or not Varner has the discipline or wrestling ability for such an approach is another matter entirely, since he does keep a Maradona-level pace and his bout with McCullough showed his wrestling is hardly dominant.

With that in mind, Hicks enters this bout knowing his own wrestling is good enough to plant Varner on his back, which is where “The Worm” has yet to prove himself.

Watch for some early fireworks on the feet to segue into a massive slam by Hicks and a surprising back-and-forth affair on the ground that ends with Varner making the critical mistake of exposing his neck. From there, Hicks will have Varner doing his best tap routine with another patent-pending guillotine choke. If only more fighters would heed the words of the Wu.

WEC Light Heavyweight Championship
Brian Stann (Pictures) (6-0) vs. Steve Cantwell (Pictures) (5-1)

As the list of contenders in the WEC light heavyweight division thins out, the word is that it’s only a matter of time before the division is annexed by the UFC.

Of course, the UFC’s light heavyweight ranks are already stacked, and we may only see a select few make the trek to the self-described “Super Bowl of MMA.” Throw those stakes into the mix of the title tilt between Stann, the current champion, and his challenger, Steve Cantwell (Pictures), and you have the biggest fight of either man’s career.

While a potential trip to the UFC and a title belt are more than enough incentive for most, Cantwell also has a chance to avenge an earlier loss to Stann, who bested him in his WEC debut back in March 2007.

Opening your run to the title with a short-order TKO loss is never a good idea, but Cantwell has rebounded with a pair of first-round wins of his own, including a surprising submission over Tim McKenzie (Pictures), a man who was brought in specifically to challenge Stann.

Throwing the WEC’s best laid plans for a loop has netted Cantwell a chance for redemption against everyone’s favorite Silver Star recipient.

As if being a war hero was not enough, Stann was a standout collegiate linebacker, married a former NFL cheerleader and happens to be one of the WEC’s biggest stars. You’d almost hate the guy if he wasn’t so likable and fully capable of crushing the average human’s head with his bare hands. That aspect of the “All American’s” game has been on full display of late thanks to a string of first-round stoppage wins inside the WEC cage.

The most recent of those wins was his title-winning performance against former champion Doug Marshall (Pictures). “The Rhino” was thought to be the biggest challenge of Stann’s young career, but the end result was another dominant performance for the “All-American,” who handed Marshall his first KO loss in three years.

Stann hopes for more of the same against Cantwell, with the potential prize of their second tilt being of the career-changing variety.

Truthfully, not much has changed since the first encounter between these two. Both are strikers who tend to avoid any action on the mat and are generally at their best when an opponent stands in the pocket with them.

Keeping that in mind, Stann holds a considerable advantage in both power and versatility, given his newfound affinity for kicks and knees. If Stann was able to put away Cantwell relying on punches alone the first time around, the rematch will be more one-sided than a conversation with a deaf mute.

The “All-American” continues adding to his improbable resume with another first-round KO win, while Cantwell gets to play a bit role all over again.

Brian Bowles (Pictures) (5-0) vs. Damacio Page (Pictures) (10-3)

Because you simply cannot have a WEC card without a quality bantamweight scuffle, the boys in charge deliver a critical contenders bout between the up-and-coming Bowles and the man with a nickname straight out of a Guillermo Del Toro flick.

If you’re going to beat people up for a living, it’s hard to go wrong with a nickname like “The Angel of Death,” and Damacio Page (Pictures) is looking to live up to that loaded pseudonym in his new weight class.

Formerly a featherweight and lightweight, Page found mixed success competing against physically superior opposition but, in his WEC debut, proved he is a force to be reckoned with in the 135-pound weight class. Slotted against Scott Jorgensen (Pictures) at WEC 32, Page showed off his well-rounded game with slick striking and solid grappling that netted him a one-sided unanimous decision.

With no clear number one contender for Miguel Torres (Pictures)’ WEC bantamweight strap, this bout could be the one that launches Page into full-fledged contention.

Contention may already be well in hand for Bowles, who is coming off an upset KO win over Shooto stalwart Marcos Galvao (Pictures). Knocking off Shooto converts will only get you so far, however, especially when you take into account the struggles that many Japanese imports have had in the WEC.

With questions lingering about just how significant Bowles’ career-making win really was, this is the fight the undefeated Georgian needs to pave his road to the title.

That is a tough proposition considering Bowles’ wrestling looked a bit lacking against Galvao, and he will not be able to match Page standing like he did against the one-dimensional “Louro.” Worse yet, Page is relentlessly aggressive in his search for takedowns, and, despite lacking takedown defense, he is quite adept at getting back to his feet and dictating position.

Perhaps Bowles’ best bet would be a lockdown top control special, but that is no sure bet against Page, who simply keeps too torrid a pace to be effectively corralled.

Watch for Bowles to score an early takedown after getting tagged on his feet, but he will not have the positioning needed to keep Page from reversing and ending matters with a reference-quality rear naked choke. Seriously, how could anyone pick against a guy nicknamed “The Angel of Death”?

Micah Miller (Pictures) (9-1) vs. Josh Grispi (8-1)

Rounding out the main card is a featherweight dustup between Miller, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle aficionado, and a man tragically nicknamed “The Fluke.”

Despite being tagged with the sort of pseudonym reserved for the likes of Buster Douglas and Chris Moneymaker, Grispi has burst onto the WEC scene as one of Boston’s top fistic exports in some time. Proof positive of that status came when he scored a stunning first-round rear naked choke submission win over veteran featherweight contender Mark Hominick (Pictures) thanks to Hominick’s notoriously suspect submission defense.

His exploits notwithstanding, Grispi still cannot legally buy a drink in a local Boston watering hole. If he can continue his current run of success, he may be challenging for the featherweight strap before he dives into that first pitcher of lukewarm beer.

While Miller can consume all the cheap booze he likes, the 21-year-old younger brother of UFC lightweight prospect Cole Miller (Pictures) has all the same youthful cache as his opponent and the game to match.

A slick and oftentimes unorthodox grappler, Miller has amassed a solid 2-1 mark in the WEC, his lone loss coming in a rugged scrap with Cub Swanson (Pictures). Since taking his first professional defeat, Miller has reeled off two wins in a row, his most recent victory coming by surprising KO against one-time title challenger Chance Farrar (Pictures).

If Miller is to keep the good mojo going against Grispi, he’ll have to show more of his skill set than just his funky grappling and the occasional big punch, given Grispi’s well-rounded style and aggressive mentality. That aggression may be a major liability, however, since Miller needs but a single opening to set off a chain reaction of submissions that would leave Grispi’s head spinning.

This is perhaps the most evenly matched bout on the card, but the smart money says Grispi does not have the submission defense to keep Miller at bay for any period of time. Since the gogoplata is en vogue, watch for Miller to go for a few of those before settling on a triangle choke late in the first round. Turtle Power.
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