MMA Insider Alex Donno Breaks Down UFC 136, Bellator 53 and Interviews Chael Sonnen
A whirlwind month of October continues for the UFC. They return to pay per view this Saturday night, for UFC 136 live from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
MMA Insider Alex Donno, host of “Fighter’s Fury: Inside the Heart of a Champion” on 790 The Ticket in Miami, Florida Joins us Once again to break down the fight action this weekend. “Fighter’ Fury” airs Sunday’s at 10 a.m. and is available online at 790TheTicket.com.
We had a great free card last week with Dominick Cruz defeating Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson on Versus. What can we expect from UFC 136 this weekend?
While most pay per view shows are anchored by a title fight, this one will feature two title fights! In the main event, lightweight champion Frankie Edgar defends his belt against top contender Gray Maynard. This is the third overall fight between the two, and the second for the title. Their title fight at UFC 125 on New Years Day was an epic five round battle, but one that ended in an unsettling draw. Edgar survived a brutal beating from Maynard in round one, before going on to finish strong during the majority of the remaining four rounds. Meanwhile, the co-main event will see long time featherweight champion Jose Aldo defending his belt against former lightweight title contender Kenny Florian. This will only be Florian’s second fight in the featherweight division, after earning a title shot with a decision victory over Diego Nunes.
What has changed with these two fighters since their first two battles?
It’s amazing how the perspective of fight fans can change. Leading up to their UFC 125 fight, few fans were excited by the idea of seeing Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard in a UFC main event. Since both fighters possess a wrestling heavy skill set, most MMA enthusiasts expected a relatively slow paced, “grind ‘em out” style grappling war. That was far from the case. Early in round one, Maynard connected with a left hook that had Edgar stunned and nearly finished. Maynard went on to knock him down several more times with punches, but Edgar was always able move around enough to convince the referee not to stop the fight for a TKO. It was a round that left Edgar dazed and disoriented, and it was seemingly only a matter of time before Maynard earned a knockout. But the knockout never came. In fact, Frankie recovered so well from his first round beating that he managed to win three out of the next four rounds on most score cards. In the latter rounds, Edgar used his elusive quickness to avoid punishment, while scoring with punches, kicks, and takedowns. Gray Maynard’s striking coach Gil Martinez acknowledged the possibility that Gray may have “punched himself out” in round 1. And between rounds, Randy Couture (while cornering for Maynard) scolded him for simply searching for a knockout punch, rather than pacing himself. It’s a concept known as “head hunting” in the fight game, and it may have cost Maynard the decision. All in all, when the fight was over, skeptics earned all new respect for both competitors. The expectations are far greater for their third meeting on Saturday night.
What does Maynard have to do to take the title?
The key for Maynard to dethrone the champion will likely lie with his strength and power. Those assets nearly earned him a stoppage victory last time around, but this time he needs to be smarter about harnessing that power. If Maynard exercises patience in the striking game, his cardio should hold up far better in the late rounds. With Gray’s power, it might only be a matter of time before Edgar gets caught with a knockout punch. And if he’s a bit more conservative with his energy, he’ll likely have more success with his wrestling than he did at UFC 125. Although both fighters were collegiate wrestlers in division 1 programs, Maynard has the superior wrestling pedigree, not to mention a considerable size advantage. Nicknamed “The Bully,” he’s a big lightweight who generally imposes his size effectively. Edgar, on the other hand, is among the smallest fighters in the UFC’s lightweight division. But despite his size disadvantage, he appeared more effective than Maynard as a wrestler the last time they fought (although the official stats show them both landing 3 takedowns, with all of Frankie’s coming from the outside, and all of Gray’s coming from the clinch.). Frankie’s advantages in the fight lie with his speedy footwork and high volume striking. There are many parallels that can be drawn between Edgar and bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. They use similar head and body movement in their fights, although Edgar’s striking is statistically more accurate.
What can we expect from the other title fight on the card?
In the co-main event, challenger Kenny Florian will try to capture UFC gold for the first time. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride, Kenny challenged for the lightweight title twice, but came up short both times. At lightweight, Kenny struggled against a handful of bigger, stronger opponents. Now he’s dropped down a weight class, and will enjoy a size advantage against most featherweight foes. Champion Jose Aldo will not fall into that particular category. Much like Florian, Aldo cuts over 20 lbs to reach the featherweight limit of 145. But Aldo has been making this weight cut for years. Florian is doing it for just the second time. A big x-factor in this fight could be how effectively Florian manages to cut the weight. A poor cut could leave him drawn out and gassed out early in the fight.
Aldo is a gifted Muay Thai striker, who attacks his opponents’ legs with surgical precision. If Florian is to enjoy any success here, he must find a way to either check Aldo’s leg kicks, or avoid them altogether. That’s easier said than done, however. When Urijah Faber fought Aldo in 2010, he knew full well that his opponent’s leg kicks were something to look out for. Nevertheless, his lead leg was nearly crippled by the champion’s kicks.
Kenny Florian is a skilled striker in his own right. He’s also a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and a meticulous game planner. Even so, he’s a heavy underdog. Although UFC President Dana White is not a fan of discussing hypothetical “pound for pound” MMA rankings, he’s admitted on several occasions that he would certainly rank Jose Aldo as a top 3 fighter in the world, along with middleweight champion Anderson Silva and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Like Florian, Aldo is a skilled grappler (a black belt in BJJ), but so far, he’s been so successful in striking and defending takedowns, that we rarely see him spend more than a few seconds on the ground at a time. It’s hard to imagine anyone, including Florian, finding much success against Aldo in the standup. Thus, you can expect Kenny to be more likely to look for takedowns.
With just the two title fights, the card is loaded. But the undercard has some great battles as well, including one of the best talkers in the business, Chael Sonnen.
The remainder of the fight card is deep with big names and high stakes. In a title eliminator in the middleweight division, former contender Chael Sonnen will take on Brian “The All American” Stann. Sonnen was once about 2 minutes away from a huge upset on the scorecards against middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva. In August of 2010, Sonnen managed to take Silva down repeatedly, and even rough him up in the standup. He was mere moments away from a dominant victory on the scorecards, when Silva lulled him into a triangle choke submission for a late tapout in the fifth and final round. It was a crushing defeat for Sonnen, who rather than winning the title, went down as just another victim in “Spider” Silva’s web of W’s. In Stann, Sonnen meets an ever improving mixed martial artist with all the potential in the world. Stann, a veteran of 14 MMA fights (11-3 record), seems to improve leaps and bounds between every bout. He was once an undersized light heavyweight who couldn’t defend submissions or deal with technical strikers. Now he’s a large middleweight who defends takedowns well and utilizes a tight, precise striking game. He may have the slight striking advantage over Sonnen, but defending Sonnen’s takedowns will be the biggest challenge of his career to date. Chael was an NCAA division 1 All American Wrestler at Oregon State University and a silver medalist at the 2000 Greco-Roman World University Championships in Tokyo. He’s also one of the most confident, outspoken, and sometimes off the wall personalities in the fight game. To get a better idea of Chael’s unique personality, check out this interview I did with him on Miami’s 790 The Ticket.
What about the rest of the card?
The remaining pay per view main card fights will feature Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia in a featherweight rematch, and Melvin Guillard vs Joe Lauzon in an explosive lightweight fight. Phan lost a controversial decision to Garcia back in December, so he’ll be looking for justice when the two meet for a second time. As for Guillard and Lauzon, a win on Saturday would be a major stepping stone for either of the two, especially Guillard. He’s overwhelmed and destroyed five straight opponents, and Dana White has acknowledged that with a win over Lauzon, he’ll be “in the mix” for a lightweight title shot. He could very well be the guy to challenge the Edgar/Maynard winner, but only if he gets by Lauzon first.
The pay per view main card begins at 9:00pm EST, but remember, you can watch a pair of preliminary fights live and free on Spike TV, starting at 8pm. And if you’re an all out fight junkie, you can watch the four earlier prelims streaming live on Facebook.
Bellator continues its fifth season on Saturday night with Bellator 53. Once again, they will run a show in direct competition with a big UFC pay per view. Of course, most fight fans will choose to watch UFC 136 live, but what can people who want to check out something different expect?
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If you have the DVR space, I recommend using it on Bellator 53. Saturday’s fight card will offer the semifinal round of the season 5 welterweight tournament. There’s some very exciting talent in Bellator’s welterweight division. Take, for example, Chris Lozano. He’s nicknamed “The Cleveland Assassin,” and that’s a pretty accurate description of the way he fights. He’s an active, powerful striker who employs a fast paced, crowd pleasing style. Lozano has never been involved in a boring fight, and his Saturday clash with Douglas Lima will likely be no exception. Lima is a veteran of the WEC, and a former MFC welterweight champion (a belt he never lost, but vacated.) On paper, he will hold the edge on the ground with superior jiu jitsu, but the striking matchup with Lozano should be fairly even. Both men bring a fast pace, so we can expect an entertaining fight.
In the other welterweight semifinal, the current tournament favorite, Ben Saunders, will face the extremely experienced Luis Santos. Santos is a veteran of 57 professional MMA fights, a wealth of experience compared to Saunders’ 16 pro fights. However, Saunders is the favorite, thanks to his size, strength, and incredibly dangerous knee strikes from the Thai clinch. Another weapon Saunders typically uses to his advantage are elbow strikes, but those are illegal during Bellator tournaments (elbows = cuts, and Bellator needs tournament combatants to avoid cuts in order to fight frequently.) But even without elbows in his arsenal, Saunders will likely be the more powerful and more effective striker.
The other two main card fights will be non tournament, special attraction bouts featuring Darryl Cobb vs. Giva Santana and Ronnie Mann vs Kenny Foster.
Bellator 53 starts at 9:00pm on MTV 2 and EPIX HD. Remember, set your DVR to record it while you watch UFC 136. It’s definitely a show worth watching, but not at the expense of such a deep UFC pay per view card.