Last weekend was loaded with action from Strikeforce, Bellator, Dream and the headliner, UFC 135 with Jon ‘Bones’ Jones successfully defending his UFC Light Heavyweight Title against Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson.
In order to follow up on the momentum of that card that also saw Josh Koscheck defeat Matt Hughes in the co-main event, UFC will do something this weekend that they’ve never done before: put on a world title fight on live, free television. This Saturday night on Versus (soon to be rebranded NBC Sports), bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz will defend his belt against top contender Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. The event is “UFC Live: Cruz vs Johnson,” and the main televised card begins at 9:00pm Eastern Time.
Joining me once again is MMA Insider Alex Donno, host of “Fighter’s Fury: Inside the Heart of a Champion” on 790 The Ticket in Miami, Florida. The show airs Sunday’s at 10 a.m. and is available online at 790TheTicket.com who broke down the card for us, along with a preview of Bellator 52.
You can follow Alex on Twitter @AlexDonno790 for updates throughout the week.
What can you tell about the two guys who will be fighting it out for the Bantamweight Championship on Saturday Night?
Dominick Cruz’ stock is riding especially high, after his victory over fan favorite Urijah Faber back at UFC 132. That win avenged his only career loss. Even though some fans felt Faber was the rightful victor of the close decision that went Cruz’ way, you couldn’t help but walk away from that fight feeling that Cruz is the real deal. So far in his career, his speed has gone unmatched. That will change on Saturday. Demetrius Johnson fights at a Tasmanian devil-like pace, and will easily be Cruz’ speediest opponent to date. “Mighty Mouse” brings endless cardio and intensity, while effectively mixing takedowns and transitions on the ground, with effective combinations of punches and kicks in the standup. It’s hard to imagine anything other than a crowd pleasing affair in this five round title fight. Rarely does cardio ever come in to question during a bantamweight fight, and it especially will not be an issue among two of the division’s elite. If the fight does go the full five rounds, you can expect the speed and intensity of round five to be virtually identical to that of round one.
What do you think will be the difference in the fight?
The difference in this fight might lie in the awkward movement and angles of Dominick Cruz. His head, hips, and legs move in such a way that they appear unattached to the rest of his body. And he throws strikes from every angle. Accurate strikes. According to Fightmetric.com, Cruz out landed Urijah Faber 98 to 57 in total strikes in their five round fight last July. The speedy Johnson will need to be more effective in matching Cruz’ activity if he has any chance here. Standing around and waiting to counter, like Faber often did, will not be the answer. Cruz’ movement can become mesmerizing, as it seems impossible to figure out his timing. Johnson will need to put on the pressure, come forward, and make Cruz uncomfortable. As illogical as Cruz’ movement appears to be, taking him out of his rhythm and creating chaos might fluster him. At 5’3”, Johnson will be at a height and reach disadvantage against the 5’8” Cruz. “Mighty Mouse” will need to dart in and out of the pocket quickly to negate Cruz’ reach advantage. You can expect to see Johnson attempt more takedowns than Cruz. Takedowns and top control will go a long way towards negating Cruz’ advantages, but they’ll be hard to come by. Excellent wrestler Urijah Faber was successful on just one of his five takedown attempts against Cruz.
The fact that the UFC is offering a title fight on free television is a surprise to many, as title fights usually take top billing on pay per view shows. Since the bantamweight division is new to the UFC and not seen as a glamorous weight class to the average fan, offering this fight for free will be an effort to show the skeptics just how exciting the 135 pounders can be.
What else is on the card?
The Co-main event of UFC Live will feature the biggest height disparity in UFC history. The tallest member of the heavyweight division, 6’11” Steven Struve, will meet the UFC’s shortest heavyweight, 5’11” Pat Barry. Both men are in great need of a victory. Struve comes off a first round knockout loss by “superman punch” to Travis Browne, while Barry was KO’d in the first round of an epic comeback performance by Cheick Kongo.
As a skilled kick boxer, Barry’s challenge in this fight is obvious: how will he navigate inside the monstrous reach of Struve? In closing the distance, kicks will be more effective than punches, and Barry possesses some of the most dangerous leg kicks in the sport. In both MMA and kick boxing, he’s TKO’d numerous opponents by battering their legs with low kicks. Expect Barry to attack the legs of Struve early and often. We must also consider the fact that Barry has been training at Team Death Clutch (home of Brock Lesnar), a camp full of wrestlers. Thus far, we have not seen Barry utilize any sort of offensive wrestling in a UFC fight, but one can assume that those skills have been improving. If Barry finds himself clearly losing the striking battle, might he attempt to take the fight to the floor? Even if he manages to put Struve on his back, Struve has proven dangerous from that position time and time again by using his long limbs to threaten with submissions.
All in all, the deck appears stacked in Struve’s favor. His technical striking is underrated, and he uses his size and reach well. For Barry to find victory, he’ll likely need to execute an effective game plan to perfection. To be fair, the pure knockout power advantage lies with Barry. Between Barry and Struve, Barry is the one more likely to end a fight with a single knockout strike
The remainder of the televised under card will feature a welterweight bout between Anthony Johnson and Charlie Brenneman, and a lightweight tilt between Matt Wiman and Mac Danzig. Brenneman is riding high off a surprise victory over the highly touted Rick Story, a fight he took on 24 hours’ notice. Brenneman feels pressure to prove that win wasn’t a fluke. In Johnson, he meets a truly massive welterweight, one who cuts from 210 lbs down to 170 before every fight. Both come from a wrestling background, but Johnson will hold the clear striking advantage with powerful punches and lethal high kicks. The key for Brenneman will be quick takedowns and constant activity on the ground, to out work Johnson for a decision. It’s hard to imagine Brenneman finishing this fight, so power and control will be the key. But if Johnson can keep the fight vertical, his long limbs and powerful strikes offer him numerous options to finish Brenneman within three rounds.
Matt Wiman vs Mac Danzig is a much warranted rematch from their controversial fight in June of 2010. The controversy was not the fault of either fighter. Wiman had Danzig in a guillotine choke, and the referee, thinking that Danzig was unconscious, stopped the fight and awarded Wiman a victory by technical submission. The only problem was, Danzig was not unconscious, nor did he tap out. Even Wiman, the victor, was upset by the stoppage and offered a restart. His plea was denied by the referee. Hopefully their rematch will play out in a more conventional fashion.
Although the Versus televised fights start at 9 o clock, the UFC will again offer every single preliminary fight on the internet. Six live prelim bouts will stream on Facebook. You just have to “like” the UFC’s fan page.
What is on deck for Bellator 52?
Season 5 of Bellator continues on Saturday, with the opening quarterfinal round of their heavyweight tournament. There are some heavy hitters in this field of 8, but the challenge for Bellator will be proving that it’s possible to assemble a serviceable group of heavyweights outside of Zuffa’s (UFC and Strikeforce) roster. The heavyweight division has long lacked depth in combat sports. It will be interesting to see which of Bellator’s group of grizzled veterans and promising newcomers rise to the occasion.
Bellator’s current heavyweight champion is Cole Konrad, a former two time national champion collegiate wrestler. Konrad is undefeated at 8-0 as an MMA fighter, but is yet to face a true challenge in the cage. Konrad awaits the winner of the season 5 tournament, against whom he will make his first title defense. Konrad won the title in October of 2010, defeating Neil Grove in the Season 3 tournament final.
Grove will be among the competitors in the season 5 tournament, and appears to be the early favorite. He’s well rounded with notable wins over UFC veteran Eddie Sanchez. Ultimate Fighter alumnus Zak Jensen, and Ukrainian veteran Alexey Oleinik.
In the Bellator 52 main event, Grove will take on hard hitter Mike “300” Hayes. The remaining matchups include Blagoi Ivanov vs Thiago Santos, Eric Prindle vs Abe Wagner, and Mark Holata vs Ron Sparks. We can expect a handful of quick, powerful knockouts, especially with the presence of heavy hitters like Eric Prindle and Ron Sparks. Both Prindle and Sparks have scored five of their seven victories by knockout.
In recent shows, Bellator has taken a page out of the UFC’s playbook, and begun airing preliminary fights on the internet. Prior to the 9pm television start time on MTV 2 and EPIX HD, the Bellator 52 prelims will stream live on Spike.com. During the prelims, pay close attention to the MMA debut of Brazilian kick boxing dynamo Cosmo Alexandre. Alexandre is an accomplished and dangerous Muay Thai striker, training in the Netherlands at the famed “Mike’s Gym,” the home of K-1 bad boy Badr Hari. Alexandre’s MMA opponent will be virtual unknown Josh Quayhagen.