WEC 53 Preview And Predictions

photo by James Law

Punch Drunk Preview: WEC 53

There is an element of sadness to putting together this edition of the Punch Drunk Previews, as it will be the last time I write about the WEC.

Over the last few years, World Extreme Cagefighting has become the most exciting brand of mixed martial arts around, and while the fighter that have made it such will continue on in the UFC, knowing this is the last time we’ll see the blue canvas and cage of the other organization owned by Zuffa is a little bittersweet.

Ricardo Lamas (9-1-0) vs. Yuri Alcantara (20-3-0)

Alcantara is one of those Brazilian fighters that are hard to gauge.

He’s represented by Wallid Ismail and has competed mostly in his manager’s Jungle Fight promotion, and comes in with a ten-fight winning streak intact. He looks to be a finishing machine, as just one of wins has come via the scorecards, but correctly calculating the level of competition he’s faced and that he’ll offer Lamas is a difficult task. He could be wildly impressive or he could fall way short of expectations.

Lamas was viewed as a solid prospect after beating Bart Palaszewski in his organizational debut, but a knockout loss to Danny Castillo stopped that hype train dead on the tracks. Interestingly – perhaps only to me – Lamas has rebounded with three-straight wins since then, but the hype and intrigue hasn’t returned. He has fast hands and being under-the-radar might be the best thing for the Windy City native.

Chris Cariaso (10-1-0) vs. Renan Barao (23-1-0)

This time next year, you’ll be well aware of who Renan Barao is. Mark my words.

The Nova Uniao product is a training partner of UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, and “The Brazilian Buzzsaw” predicts big things for his friend, and so do I. He scored a third-round submission in his WEC debut back in June, forcing Anthony Leone to tap to an armbar. Barao hasn’t been beaten since his first professional fight, and he has the all-around skills to climb the divisional ladder in the New Year.

Cariaso debuted on the same WEC 49 card as Barao in Edmonton, defeating Rafaello Rebello by unanimous decision to push his winning streak to four. His lone loss to date came against Mark Oshiro on a ShoXC card in 2008, and while he’s shown some promise and ability, his vagabond journey from organization-to-organization makes me wonder if he’s already peaked.

Danny Castillo (9-3-0) vs. Will Kerr (9-2-0)

Beating Ricardo Lamas put Castillo on the fast-track to success in the lightweight division, but the climb up the ladder left him exposed. Shane Roller proved to be a superior wrestler and Anthony Pettis knocked him to next Tuesday with a big head kick back in March. He’s since bounced back with a decision win over Dustin Poirier, but for now, he’s stuck in the middle of the pack and that’s a dangerous place to be heading into the post-merger UFC.

Kerr got slapped around in his WEC debut against Kamal Shalorus, but bounced back to submit Kaen Darabedyan in his “thanks for helping out” fight, earning him a third appearance here. He has no real discernable dominant style, and considering Castillo is like a scale-back version of Shalorus (solid wrestling, wings his heavy hands), things don’t look good for Kerr.

Eddie Wineland (17-6-1) vs. Ken Stone (9-1-0)

The first bantamweight champ in WEC history, Wineland has been resurgent so far in 2010, a pair of solid wins on the board and looking to add a third here. Overall, he’s won three-straight and forced his way back into the conversation at 135.

Stone trains out of American Top Team and comes from a collegiate wrestling background. He’s pounded out nine wins since turning pro in 2007, and gets a chance to make a statement against the once-again-relevant Wineland. Beating a former champion, especially one who is still commanding some attention, is always a good way to impress the new bosses.

Ivan Menjivar (21-7-0) vs. Brad Pickett (19-5-0)

With the arrival of Urijah Faber and the return of Miguel Torres to the win column in the bantamweight division, Pickett has been somewhat lost in the shuffle. His only loss came in his last outing against title challenger Scott Jorgensen, and he’d put up two impressive performance before that. But now he’s back on the preliminary portion of the card and facing an interesting challenge in the returning Menjivar.

The Canadian has been a solid competitor throughout his career, fighting tough opponents in a number of organizations, but Menjivar only recently returned to competition after a four-year hiatus, making trying to figure out what he’s got left a little difficult. He’s beaten Jeff Curran, Joe Lauzon and Hideo Tokoro, as well as been in there with Caol Uno, Urijah Faber and Georges St-Pierre, so if he’s fit and focused, “The Pride of El Salvador” could be primed for an upset.

Tiequan Zhang (12-0-0) vs. Danny Downes (6-1-0)

Downes, a product of the impressive Duke Roufus outfit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is in a “Good news, bad news” scenario here. The good news is that stepping in on ridiculously short notice to face Chris Horodecki in June has earned him a second chance with the WEC. The bad news is that he’s facing a fighter who is getting a serious push and sports an unblemished record, “The Mongolian Wolf,” Tiequan Zhang.

Debuting against Pablo Garza at WEC 51, Zhang lived up to his advanced billing by submitting the TUF 12 washout in the first round, keeping his unbeaten record intact and increasing the chances that he becomes the focal point of the UFC’s expansion into China. Downes will have a height and reach advantage on Zhang, but the edge in experience is with Brazilian jiu jitsu purple belt from China Top Team.

Jamie Varner (16-4-1) vs. Shane Roller (8-3-0)

Here’s the very real truth about this match: the winner will most likely make the move to the UFC, while the loser will be relegated to winning their way back to the big show by way of the regional circuit. Considering they’ve been two of the steadier competitors in the WEC over last two-plus years, that is crazy…but also true.

Roller has strong wrestling and improving jiu jitsu, honed under the guidance of Marc Laimon at Cobra Kai. Unfortunately, every time he’s had the chance to put himself into the upper echelon of the division, he’s come up short. He lost to Ben Henderson early in their WEC careers when only one could get pushed to the next level, and he was knocked out by Anthony Pettis in a title eliminator tilt last time out.

Former lightweight champion Varner is in an even more precarious position, being without a win for close to two years now. While he shoulda-woulda-coulda beat Kamal Shalorus in Edmonton, he was no match for Donald Cerrone in their rematch after that bout. He’s 0-2-1 in his last three, and in serious need of an impressive performance that doesn’t come with any excuses or complaints.

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