Written By: Dennis Fratella
About a week ago I wrote an article on what encompassed the journey of the loser of this heavyweight battle that’s getting ready to go down tomorrow night. Rather than make a prediction then, I wanted to save it for now, because I really needed time to make up my mind not only for the headliner, but also the undercard as well. I think this card—at least these three fights I’m writing about, have to be some of the most well matched fights I’ve seen in some time.
I came to what will likely be—the bitter truths of these 3 fights I’m going to review in this article, and I found that we’re going to have a heavyweight brawl, a coin flip, and a wrestling match.
Johny Hendricks v. Jon Fitch
Let’s start with the wrestling match first. When you look at it, Fitch has done very well for himself in the welterweight division, running just about everyone over in his path sans GSP, in which GSP truly showed how just how much he’s head and shoulders above everybody at his weight class. His last fight was a draw with BJ Penn 10 months ago. Fitch has amassed nice unanimous decisions over Paulo Thiago, and Thiago “Pit Bull” Alves in the last few years. In watching these fights the past week, the low-profile and unassuming Fitch obviously lacks the knockout power in his fights. Dana White has previously echoed the thought that Fitch’s place in the division, is relatively unknown because he’s faced St. Pierre already and lost every round, but has handled most everything else thrown his way.
While Fitch’s style not the most aesthetically pleasing to watch, grinding his foes down on the ground, taxing them into exhaustion, he gets the job done. Period. He more often than not is able to dictate the pace of the fight, and he’s made a living letting the judges decide his fate (13 decisions out of 23 wins), and he seems fine with that. He’s a superb wrestler. What he lacks on the feet he makes up for on the ground, and he stays out of harm’s way with BJJ experts like Alves and Thiago, as he’s never been submitted in the Octagon.
Hendricks, an All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State, certainly had a better record as a collegiate wrestler, and comes highly decorated as a wrestler (2 time NCAA champ and runner-up in 2007), and there’s no question that he hails from one of the great wrestling colleges. In relishing the underdog role he’s playing coming into this fight, he has flown virtually under the radar in the division, going 11-1 overall and 6-1 inside the Octagon. I’d say his toughest opponent –arguably—has been Rick Story or Mike Pierce, and the only blemish on his record is the loss to Story.
While also winning on the ground, Hendricks holds his own in striking, winning by KO in 6 of his 11 victories. Hendricks is more than capable of trading punches. He reminds me a lot of Fitch 5 years ago, with a little more knockout power in his punches. Fitch, in perhaps his true style, wants to take this to the ground, and although Fitch has a 5 inch reach advantage, I don’t expect it to be utilized much. When pitting wrestler versus wrestler like this, it’s hard to say who’d fare better. I know that you don’t become a 2 time NCAA Champ overnight, and you don’t forget how to wrestle overnight either. This is MMA, not NCAA wrestling, however, and I’m well aware of that. But I think that Fitch’s strength is also his opponent’s strength in this match, the likes of which Fitch hasn’t seen in quite a while.
Although unproven on his back for the most part, I think Hendricks has the moxy to let this fight go anywhere and feel comfortable with it. Call me crazy, and I know I’m going out on a limb here, but for some reason, I see Hendricks pulling the upset of the night here. Fear the beard.
Prediction—Hendricks via decision
Nate Diaz v. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
This is probably going to be the most entertaining fight of the night. Next to Jon Jones, it’s hard to argue that anybody’s had a better year than Cerrone, as he climbs the ranks of the lightweight division. I like what Diaz brings to the table. He’s is truly someone who doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks about him, cherishing the bad boy image he’s brought upon himself, trash talking while he’s fighting, flipping the bird to people, etc. It’s probably safe to say that “works well with others” was likely not on his report card, and Diaz would love nothing more than to end Cerrone’s year with a loss.
Being 4-4 in his last 8 eight fights, it’s sometimes hard to tell which Diaz is going to show up. I think Diaz is smart enough that he’ll utilize his reach to keep Cerrone off balance when they’re standing up. But his fighting stance is susceptible to the kicks Cerrone will likely throw his way. I’d probably give a narrow edge to Cerrone in the wrestling category as well.
What I do know is that Diaz has a killer guard, and 10 of his 14 wins have come via submission. Even though Cerrone is the better wrestler, he’d better think twice about taking Diaz to the ground unless he’s got a well-thought out plan, because the Gracie pupil Diaz can submit opponents in the blink of an eye.
My feeling is that Diaz’ pride will be his own worst enemy, and be willing to trade with Cerrone, and Cerrone will enforce his gameplan a little better than Diaz and walk away with the victory, although I really don’t see one area where Cerrone or Diaz dominates each other, which makes this an intriguing fight.
Cerrone via decision
Alistair Overeem v. Brock Lesnar
Wrestler versus striker. Feet versus ground. I’m not going to wax intellectual about what one another’s game plan is here. It’s more than obvious. The only 2 questions remain are: 1) can “The Reem” stuff Lesnar’s takedowns and get to him on the feet first? and 2) can Brock withstand a punch from Alistair?
While I don’t think Lesnar has a suspect chin, he’s proven more than once that he doesn’t take a punch well, and Lesnar seems to get a little more frustrated when he gets hit. In watching more tape on Brock this week, he charged Velasquez with his stampeding bullrush within the first 5 seconds of that fight. He stood up with Carwin for a while, only because Carwin wasn’t a kickboxer, and was lucky enough to hang on until the bell sounded.
Overeem is a dangerous kickboxer, and even though it’s his first fight in the UFC, it’s a valid argument that he could be the best striker in MMA. It’s no secret if you’ve watched his fight against Verdum that he doesn’t like to go to the ground much, but he does have quite a few submission victories under his belt.
I honestly had a pretty good idea who I was going to take while writing this, but I kept asking myself one thing. The question I asked myself is “do you honestly think Brock is going to sit there and feel out Overeem like he did Carwin?” The answer was no. (Obviously Carwin wasn’t a kickboxer either). He’s going to want to get this over as quickly as possible because the longer this plays out, the better Overeem’s chances get. Sure, there are chances that Brock might catch a well timed knee, but I think he’s willing the take that chance in order to get the fight to the ground. I don’t see Brock going 15 seconds without his bullrush takedown. If it’s stuffed, I see him going for it again. It’s just so hard to fathom a guy stuffing a mountain of a man with that much speed behind him, but crazier things have happened.
Regardless, even if he doesn’t, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that a second round isn’t going to see the light of day in this fight.
Lesnar via TKO in Round 1
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