Back in May, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua earned an ovation for taking the light heavyweight title from Lyoto Machida in convincing fashion. This weekend, if hometown superstar Georges St-Pierre is able to retain his welterweight belt by beating public enemy #1 Josh Koscheck, they’re going to be putting a new roof on the home of Les Canadiens.
The biggest crowd in UFC history is expected, and they’re going to be in for an incredible night of fights.
Pat Audinwood (9-1-1) vs. John Makdessi (7-0-0)
The undercard is essentially the “Canadian content” portion of the event, and it starts with the debut of unbeaten Laval native Makdessi.
To this point in his career, Makdessi has been solid, earning victories in all seven of his bouts. He finished the first six of those fights without reaching the third round, then went the distance with his toughest opponent to date, Bendy Casimir, in August. A kickboxer, Makdessi will be looking to start the night off with a bang and begin the raucous cheering that will ring-out all through the night.
This will be the second appearance inside the Octagon for Audinwood, and he’ll be looking to bounce back from the first loss of his career. He was completely overmatched in his debut, a first round submission loss to Thiago Tavares in September, and needs to have a strong showing here to remain a part of the freakishly deep lightweight division.
T.J. Grant (16-4-0) vs. Ricardo Almeida (12-4-0)
Normally, if you were a UFC fighter from a small Nova Scotia town, there is no way you wouldn’t be the most popular and most successful athlete the town has produced. But when you’re T.J. Grant and you grew up in Cole Harbour, you’re a distant second to some hockey player named Crosby. He’s a bit of a big deal.
Regardless of where he sits on the Nova Scotia Sports Stars totem pole, Grant is a hard-working, well-respected member of the UFC welterweight division. Starting with his outstanding beard and extending through his five Octagon appearances to date, everything about Grant screams grinder, and I mean that with the utmost respect. His two UFC losses have come by decision against quality opponents, and two of his three wins have come through the cards as well. While he has solid hands and an underrated submission game, Grant is more likely to wear you out than finish the fight with any other kind of “out.”
After getting put to sleep by Matt Hughes and his nasty, old man strength, front-headlock choke at UFC 117 in August, Almeida needs a serious performance to remind everyone why his was considered a dark horse contender following his move from middleweight.
The former King of Pancrase holds a pair of wins over Nate Marquardt, and victories over Matt Brown and Kendall Grove inside the Octagon, so you know the skills are there. After the demoralizing loss last time out, Almeida might just need to get in the cage and prove to himself that he belongs. He has the high-end grappling and overall strength and size to out-grind the grinder, but it might be mental strength that dictates who wins this one.
Joe Doerksen (46-13-0) vs. Dan Miller (12-4-0)
I don’t care who you are, you have to love “El Dirte.”
Doerksen is a weird looking dude who will be stepping into the Octagon for his 60th professional fight on Saturday. He had his six-fight winning streak snapped last time out in what was one of the most exciting and entertaining two-minute fights in some time. Though he’s been seriously entertaining in his last two UFC fights, the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt will need to get back into the win column or risk getting his walking papers.
The Canadian will has a tough task ahead of him, as he takes on the older half of the New Jersey chapter of The Fighting Miller Brothers. After being given one last chance despite riding a three-fight losing streak, Miller made the most of his opportunity by submitting John Salter with a move he called a “ninja choke.” While his win at UFC 118 might have bought him some time, the AMA Fight Club member needs to keep the wins coming, because going 1-4 in your last five isn’t going to cut it.
Matt Riddle (5-1-0) vs. Sean Pierson (10-4-0)
Former Ultimate Fighter contestant Riddle has never fought outside of the UFC. I’ve been hesitant to get behind the 24-year-old to this point, but it’s hard to argue with his track record. After suffering his only loss to date against Nick Osipczak at UFC 105, the grappler from Allentown, Pennsylvania bounced back by dominating Greg Soto and pounding out DaMarques Johnson. Now he’ll welcome “Showdown” Joe Ferrarro’s pal Sean Pierson to the UFC.
A talented wrestler who was slated to compete in the Bellator welterweight tournament for Season 2, Pierson had to pull out due to injury, and earns a bit of karmic payback by replacing T.J. Waldburger here. The Toronto native enters on a five-fight winning streak, but the stakes – and pressure – are infinitely higher competing on the biggest stage of them all. How he responds will play a major factor in determining if Pierson can keep his winning streak intact.
Rafael “Sapo” Natal (12-3-0) vs. Jesse Bongfeldt (21-7-0)
A newcomer many were anxious to see inside the Octagon for the first time back at Fight Night 22, Natal came up short in his debut, losing to TUF 11 alum Rich Attonito by unanimous decision. The Gracie Fusion fighter who serves as an instructor at Renzo Gracie’s New York academy was all set to welcome Jason MacDonald back to the cage, but the oft-injured Edmonton-based fighter was forced to withdraw. Instead, “Sapo” is scheduled to welcome newcomer Bongfeldt back to the cage for the first time in 15 months.
The Kenora, Ontario native will take the short trip across the Quebec border to compete for the first time since beating Nolan Clark in August 2009. One of the top welterweight competitors in the country, Bongfeldt holds wins over fellow UFC 124 competitors T.J. Grant and Sean Pierson, and while he’s shown diversity in his ability to finish fights, asking the Canadian to shake off the ring rust while making his UFC debut might be asking a bit too much.
Mark Bocek (8-3-0) vs. Dustin Hazelett (12-6-0)
This will be a great time for those who dislike grappling / ground battles to take a bathroom break and get some snacks before the main card starts. For grappling fiends like me, this is awesome!
Bocek is a criminally underrated lightweight competitor, in part because he doesn’t compete as frequently as some of his 155-pound counterparts. This will be the first time the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt will enter the Octagon since dropping a close – and perhaps controversial – decision to Jim Miller at UFC 111. Normally, his premium pedigree on the ground would give Bocek an edge against his competition, but this time, he’s facing a fellow grappling machine.
After suffering back-to-back technical knockout losses in the dangerous welterweight division, Hazelett decided to drop down to ’55, and it is a move that could pay dividends. “McLovin’” will have a solid height and reach advantage over many of his opponents – including in this meeting with Bocek – and showed some of the most dynamic submission skills in the sport during his time as a welterweight.
The increased depth in the division adds to the intrigue. While both are solid competitors, neither is near contention and with a bevy of viable options at the 155-pound limit, both Bocek and Hazelett run the risk of losing their place at the table if they lose this bout.