Following on from a very impressive TUF card we return to Fox for a real spectacle. We don’t really get the same coverage as the States but it is easy to forget that this is a highly polished main card from a non-numbered event. These types of card are normally reserved for non-title fights, and cards broadcast from overseas. To get a champion v champion match is a real bonus, without even considering some of the other talent on show. Back in the day this may have been given some cool subtitle like UFC – Bad Intentions, meaning that they should have just called this UFC v Strikeforce!
Some excellent betting opportunities present themselves this week, although as normal we do have a few hot favourites to work around. It’s not often that the bookies release Fight of the Night betting so early in the week and I fully intend to capitalise on that. Take a walk through the main card with me and see if you agree.
Brown v Mein:
Jordan Mein steps into this fight as a late replacement for Dan Hardy, and faces his second UFC fight in just over a month. After becoming the first man to stop Dan Miller, despite it being a suspiciously early stoppage, his attention turns to the ever durable Matt Brown. Brown enters on a four fight win streak, and seems to have rescued a career that was doing nowhere fast with four losses in five. Against Mein, he will face one of his most exciting opponents to date; although he has a little form for upsetting the odds when he took a unanimous decision against the Wonderboy, Stephen Thompson at UFC 145. This is potential Fight of the Night material and could go either way. A veteran of 35 fights it is easy to forget that Mein is still only 23, starting a professional career in 2006 with a loss against none other than Rory MacDonald. Recent fight history suggests that this could be an early finish, with both fighters looking to make these three stoppages in a row. This is a very tough fight to call, Matt Brown has never been knocked out and Mein is a bit of a knockout artist. If it finishes early then I would make Brown the slight favourite, but if it goes to the judges’ cards then Mein edges it. There is a little value in backing Brown at odds of around 11/4, but a little peek at the Fight of the Night market presents the real opportunity. Quite rightly, Melendez v Henderson is the favourite at 7/4 but as that could be a barnstormer or a complete snooze fest. I’ll stick my neck out and take a little punt on this fight taking the honours.
Recommendation: Fight of the Night: Jordan Mein v Matt Brown – 7/1 @ Paddy Power
Diaz v Thompson:
After sheer domination by Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz steps back into the octagon looking to re-establish relevance in the Lightweight division. His opponent is another Strikeforce import looking to make a solid first impression. Josh Thompson makes his debut as very much the outsider, with three losses in his last six fights not necessarily telling the full story. The Diaz brothers have, on numerous occasions, announced Gil Melendez as the best Lightweight in the world. Two of Thompson’s aforementioned losses have come at the hands of Melendez, the last being a split decision that could have gone either way with Melendez twice avenging his earlier loss to Thompson. Diaz and Thompson share a combined 13 defeats, with 11 of them being by decision, so one thing that seems certain is the finish. Nate and Nick seem to be in a position of uncertainty at present as to whether they have, or have not left the Gracie camp and a change this late can’t help in any way. Although I think this fight will end in a decision win, I am going to play it relatively safe and hedge on the outright win. My pick will be for Thompson to continue a fine run for the Strikeforce upstarts.
Recommendation: To Win the Fight: Josh Thompson – 17/10 @ bet365
Mir v Cormier:
Ever since the postponed Strikeforce bout there has been a degree of animosity between these fighters. Mir believes that Cormier is a bloated Light Heavyweight, and Cormier believes that Mir is running scared of him. What is clear is that, despite age, Cormier is on an upward trajectory whereas Mir will soon become irrelevant in the title picture. I appreciate the enormity of that last statement given that Mir is coming back off a loss in a title fight. Let’s be truthful though, if Overeem hadn’t failed the test then Mir would have been nowhere near Dos Santos. Taking that a step further, he would have been destroyed by Cain Velasquez, so the title shot was very much a bonus in the career of Frank Mir. Daniel Cormier makes his UFC debut as the Strikeforce Grand Prix Champion, an accolade that he was a rank outsider to win but win he did in impressive fashion over Josh Barnett. The bookies are all over Cormier in this one making him a 1/4 favourite to win outright, with a very skinny 4/7 to win by KO. Historically, if Cormier is to win then it must be by KO, as Mir has never dropped a decision or been submitted in his extensive career and all six of his losses have been due to a knockout, technical or actual. If leaning toward Mir then you would have to say that a decision would be his best option as not only does Cormier present a perfect record, but he has never actually been taken down to date making a submission difficult. Mir couldn’t take down Dos Santos, no matter how hard he tried. Cormier is a cut above with his wrestling and Mir won’t be taking him down anytime soon. Cormier will win this by KO or TKO, but I’ll give Mir the opportunity to survive the opening five minutes before the inevitable.
Recommendation: Round Betting: Daniel Cormier in Round 2 – 4/1 @ Paddy Power
Henderson v Melendez:
If there was ever a fight destined to go the full five rounds then this is it. Henderson has been the full quota on his last seven outings, with Melendez in four of his last five. Clearly both fighters like to do things the hard way. That being said, when you are at the top of the pile no fight is easy, and closing out the decision is the mark of a true champion. Since dropping his belt in the last ever WEC card to ‘that’ kick, Henderson has done very little wrong. His rematch against Edgar was open to debate, but I watched that fight and could only be conclusive about two rounds so the remainder were up for offers. Beating those six straight is Melendez with seven straight, so it’s pretty obvious that something has to give. When comparing, you must consider that UFC is the better promotion and in it Henderson has fought the better opponents. While not looking to dismiss Melendez’s achievements in Strikeforce, he has yet to bring it to the big show. I mention earlier in the column that Strikeforce has seen a pretty decent entry to the UFC with many of its top stars picking up the win over the more established names. The bookies have this as favourite for Fight of the Night, but it could just as easily turn into a chess match with both effectively cancelling each other out.
Melendez has an excellent ground game and is more than happy to keep the fight standing while Henderson is probably the most rounded Mixed Martial Artist not-named Anderson Silva and should have enough skills to see off the challenge. Despite being from the same camp as the Diaz brothers do not expect the same level of gamesmanship here as Melendez prefers to let his skills take centre stage. That being said, I fully expect 2012’s Fighter of the Year to take a unanimous decision and retain his belt comfortably. Melendez could spring a massive upset, and a champion v champion fight where one fighter can be backed at 12/5 is pretty huge, but Henderson should be able to utilise his better all-round skills to retain his belt.
Recommendation: Decision Victories: Benson Henderson by Unanimous Decision – 20/23 @ Ladbrokes