The UFC returns this weekend with another double header. We start on Saturday with a return to Sydney, Australia followed by another show from Brazil; this time from Uberlandia.
As it’s a double header I’ll be focusing on the co-main and main events for each as this is where the main action is.
Pearson v Iaquinta:
Although hailing from Sunderland, England Ross Pearson spends a fair amount of time in Australia so it was only natural that when the UFC announced a return down under that the fan favourite was called upon to compete. Fighting for a third time in what has been a mixed year to date Pearson gets the opportunity to finish 2014 with a flourish and really cement his status as one of the most improved fighters at 155lbs. Technically he sits at 1-1 for the year but the loss to Diego Sanchez was so contentious that it has all but been expunged from the record books. In the eyes of top brass he goes for a third consecutive win against a young and dangerous opponent.
Al Iaquinta makes his fourth octagon appearance of the year hoping to end on a high. In May he was handed his first non-TUF loss in the UFC when tapping out to Mitch Clarke at UFC 173. A swift and violent, albeit bizarre, response followed when he finished Rodrigo Damm late into the third round of their bout in September.
When Pearson faced Sanchez he coasted his way to a comfortable win only to be stunned by some questionable judging, against Iaquinta he won’t get the chance to coast. Iaquinta will look to push the pace and keep Pearson busy for 15 minutes as he looks to take a decision of his own which for the New Yorker is his modus operandi. Neither fighter has much in the way of submissions so it would be a surprise if either tapped out. The possibility of a knockout exists but I don’t think that Iaquinta has the power to finish Pearson and Iaquinta never gets finished. I am taking the patriotic vote and going with Pearson to win via decision. Little would surprise me to see this called a draw as there usually is one called on every Australian card.
Recommendation: Pearson wins by 3 round decision +120 (6/5) @ 5Dimes
Rockhold v Bisping:
It’s a shame that ‘grudgier’ isn’t a legitimate word because grudge matches don’t come much grudgier than this. Two fighters who genuinely have a dislike for each other as we have seen over the past few years played out on Social Media. Fighting out of Manchester, England by way of Orange County, USA is Michael Bisping. For so long Bisping has flirted and skirted with challenging for the belt falling short at the final hurdle. With alternate wins and losses since the back end of 2011 he has been unable to gain any serious traction in the division. Michael is highly self-assured and will convince all around him that the one-sided beat down of Cung Le was his corner turning moment but it may well end up being the last hurrah for a potential future Hall of Famer.
Unlike Bisping his opponent is a fighter who is very much on the rise. Although he dropped his debut to Vitor Belfort in the UFC Luke Rockhold has been a major player at 185lbs for a few years now. The former Strikeforce Middleweight champion he left his belt behind when that promotion folded and started the long climb up the mountain that Chris Weidman sits atop. A veteran of 14 fights it is remarkable that he has been out of the first round just twice as he demonstrates his ability to knock out or submit his opponent at will.
As much as I want to go for the British fighter I really cannot see beyond Rockhold here. He is younger, faster, hungrier and more well-rounded than his opponent and has so many more paths to victory. Bisping is as tough as old boots but he can be stopped and has been taken the distance a few times. The win over Cung Le was a win over a part time fighter and should be taken with a pinch of salt. I am not sure that Bisping can live with Rockhold for 25 minutes so I’ll be taking Rockhold inside the distance with Bisping’s record to continue as WLWLWLWL.
Recommendation: Rockhold wins inside the distance -135 (4/5) @ 5Dimes
McCall v Lineker:
John Linker has been highly impressive during his short tenure in the UFC. Although his debut resulted in a loss he managed to string together four in a row to put himself into a number one contenders match with Ali Bagautinov. The Dagestani fighter almost ragdolled Lineker en route to a title shot against Demetrious Johnson. Lineker rebounded with a very, very late knockout of Alptekin Ozkilic to once again put himself within touching distance of a title shot. As a large Flyweight it is not just the skill of his opponents that will test Lineker but his own ability to cut weight. Missing weight is a huge failing in fight sports and is something that has threatened to derail Lineker on three occasions. Arguably, without those issues he may have already been granted his shot but another weight issue this weekend, even if it is followed by a win may just see the Brazilian sit as a perennial contender rather than challenger.
Ian McCall looks to continue his upturn in fortune and get the title shot he was denied in Australia in 2012. At the end of the fight McCall had clearly thought he won only to be let down by failures in scoring as firstly the match was adjudged to be a win for Johnson, later overturned to a split draw and finally a majority draw. If the original score had been read correctly he would have gotten another round to make his case. He lost the rematch conclusively, not winning again until August 2013.
Although McCall opens as a clear favourite I lean towards Lineker due to his physical assets. If he can make weight without issue then he should have the cardio to go three rounds with a McCall who we know has cardio to burn. McCall laboured to a win over Brad Pickett, a fighter with far less power than Lineker. If the Brazilian connects early then he could comfortably control McCall for the remainder of the fight. McCall has never been stopped by strikes in 18 fights but he has been soundly beaten on more than one occasion. No messing with props here, straight up on Lineker.
Recommendation: To Win the Fight – John Lineker – +145 (29/20) @ 5Dimes
Rua v St. Preux:
When you hear the words ‘Hall of Famer’ and ‘MMA Legend’ banded around you don’t necessarily think of a fighter who sits at a record of 6-7 in the sports number one promotion. Where Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua is concerned I think it’s fair to say that we haven’t seen the best of him in the UFC. Similar to cohorts Wanderlei Silva and the Nogueira brothers his best days were left in Pride. Perhaps that’s a little unfair; he has won the Light Heavyweight belt in his 7 years here but hasn’t achieved consecutive wins since 2009. The original booking against Jimi Manuwa made for a far better stylistic match up for Shogun as Manuwa has limited ground skills and poor cardio. Manuwa would have tested his chin for 5-10 minutes but little outside of that.
Making a quick octagon return, stepping in at two weeks’ notice, is Ovince St Preux, also known as OSP. Handed his first loss in almost 3 years against Ryan Bader he now has the opportunity to get back on the horse against a highly respected and durable opponent in his own backyard. Against Bader OSP was very poor, outclassed by a superior wrestler and bested in virtually every aspect of his game he disappointed many, including me who tipped him for the win. On reflection his record in the UFC looks a little padded as his wins are over fighters who won’t be troubling the upper echelons anytime soon, although he would have been expected to win them and win well. A spectacular win over Shogun and it will be like the loss to Bader never happened.
From an athletic point of view the edge goes to OSP every time. For experience, guile, skill, durability etc. it goes to Rua. Sadly, Rua is extremely battle worn, despite being only 32 years of age and it has shown in recent fights. If OSP is able to stick and move then Shogun is in trouble and in for a long night. However, if Shogun is able to get up close and tee off with the sort of shots that almost finished Dan Henderson then it will be a quick night for OSP, it just depends on which version of Shogun turns up. I thought Shogun was unlucky to lose the fight to Hendo and I am banking on that version to show and take care of business inside the distance.
Recommendation: To Win the Fight – Mauricio Rua – -195 (1/2) @ 5Dimes