Two down, two to go in this month-long festival of fighting courtesy of the UFC.
This isn’t your ordinary, run of the mill Versus card either. The headlining act is a UFC bantamweight title fight between Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson, the first UFC title fight to take place on television in over four years.
Here’s the rundown on what to expect Saturday night.
Walel Watson (8-2) vs. Joseph Sandoval (6-0)
I love the idea of having two UFC neophytes kick off a card, especially when they’re 135 pound newbies.
Watson trains with Liz Carmouche and the group at Team Hurricane Awesome in San Diego. Most of his wins have come by submission, as his superior height and long limbs give him an advantage on the ground.
On the other side of the cage, Sandoval is a scrappy kid from Texas who has put together a six fighting winning streak in the span of 17 months to make it to the big leagues. He’s split his victories between stoppages due to strikes and going the distance, so conditioning shouldn’t be a question mark.
Josh Neer (31-10-4) vs. Keith Wisniewski (28-12-1)
“The Dentist” returns to the Octagon for the first time in almost two years, and does so riding a four-fight winning streak.
Neer has put together a 6-1 record since departing the UFC following a loss to Gleison Tibau, the only loss coming to Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez. He looks to have found a bit more of a killer instinct since we last saw him in the UFC as well, stopping two of his last three opponents with strikes.
Wisniewski, one half of “The Polish Connection” with his brother James, has rattled off six straight wins over the last three-plus years to get a second trip into the Octagon; he lost to Nick “The Goat” Thompson at UFC 56 in November 2005. That loss started a five fight skid for the 29-year-old, but he’s been perfect since, collecting wins over fellow UFC vets Pete Spratt an Chris Wilson in the process.
Both guys are veterans getting a second chance in the deepest division in the company, so it stands to reason that the winner stays and the loser returns to the regional circuit.
Shane Roller (10-4) vs. TJ Grant (16-5)
This fight shows just how deep and dangerous the UFC lightweight division is these days.
Grant makes his debut at ’55 after posting a 3-3 record in the Octagon as a welterweight. After battling injuries and rebuilding himself as a lightweight for the last nine months, he gets a tough task in his return against the well-rounded former All-American from Oklahoma State.
Melvin Guillard crushed Roller last time out, but “The Young Assassin” was a huge step up in class. You’ll remember — or you should — that prior to that, Roller starched Thiago Tavares with a straight right at UFC on Versus 3 in March. His hands keep improving, as does his submission game, and his wrestling is on par with the division’s best.
Despite losing to one of the division’s best (Guillard), second consecutive loss could be costly for Roller, while Grant needs a win in the worst way too. Such is life in the shark-infested waters of the 155 pound division.
Mike Easton (10-1) vs. Byron Bloodworth (6-1)
Bloodworth got the call to replace Jeff Hougland on Monday. It’s great to get into the UFC and you don’t turn them down when they call, but at the same time, you’re coming in on five days notice and facing a tough fight with Mike Easton.
Local fans in the D.C. area will remember Easton from his success in the UWC, including his highly controversial victory over Chase Beebe in his last fight. That bout was two years ago, and Easton has dealt with an elbow injury — including surgery — since then, so conditioning is obviously a concern.
Easton is one to keep an eye on in the 135 pound ranks, boasting wins over TUF 14 cast members Josh Ferguson and John Dodson, as well as being a long-time training partner of bantamweight champ/headliner Dominick Cruz.
Michael Johnson (9-5) vs. Paul Sass (11-0)
This will be the first fight outside of England for the 23-year-old Sass, who scored a submission win over Mark Holst in his UFC debut last October. He’s got a slick ground game and has a couple other solid wins on his resume, but crossing the Atlantic for the first time will be a test, and so will Johnson.
Johnson was a finalist on Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, and looked very impressive in his first post-TUF performance back in June. He’s made a commitment to his conditioning, and it shows in his physique; he’s leaner than before and without losing any of the power and explosiveness that made him an early favorite during his time on TUF.
Whoever emerges victorious here will become someone to keep an eye on heading into 2012.
Yves Edwards (40-17-1) vs. Rafaello Oliveira (14-4)
Edwards is a shining example of the axiom that you’re only as good as your last fight. Despite being 3-1 in his latest tour of duty with the UFC, all people remember is his crushing knockout loss to Sam Stout at UFC 131. The savvy veteran needs to get back into the win column here or else he could be sent packing once again.
Oliveira is in the same predicament, earning this bout as a thank you for stepping in late against Gleison Tibau back in May. He’s 1-3 in the UFC, and has never shown anything north of average inside the Octagon. This is pretty much a “now or never” fight for the 29-year-old.