UFC 117 Punch Drunk Preview

UFC 117: Punch Drunk Preview

After waiting more than a month between Punch Drunk Preview appearances, we’re back in quick order as only six days separate last weekend’s second show on Versus and this outstanding card in Oakland.

Not only does the main card offer five intriguing fights including the championship headliner and the heavyweight eliminator match, but the undercard is laced with emerging talents and matchups that could surprise.

Rodney Wallace (9-2-0) vs. Phil Davis (6-0-0)

When Rodney Wallace entered the UFC, he was an unbeaten light heavyweight prospect fresh off a three-win evening in Aruba that included a victory over Strikeforce 205-pounder Antwain Britt. Since then, things have gone south, and they`re only going to get worse on Saturday.

Wallace was supposed to face Stanislav Nedkov, but an injury delayed the Bulgarian’s debut. In his place comes Phil Davis, one of the top young prospects in the sport. An All-American wrestler at Penn State, Davis has underrated jiu jitsu under Master Lloyd Irvin, and has been very impressive in his two Octagon appearances to date.

Two weeks ago, Wallace was looking at a winnable fight that could get him back on track in the UFC. Now he’s staring unemployment in the face.

Ben Saunders (8-2-2) vs. Dennis Hallman (42-13-2, 1 NC)

Hallman looked great up until the last five seconds of his fight with John Howard back in December. After dominating much of the match, Howard landed a knockout blow that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and left Hallman looking up at the lights.

American Top Team’s Saunders stepped up in place of his injured teammate Thiago Alves to face Jon Fitch in New Jersey this past March and got fitched in the process.

fitch (noun):  to repeatedly take an opponent down and maintain dominant position for the duration of a fight.

Hallman will have to avoid the clinch game with Saunders, who has massacred smaller welterweights Marcus Davis and Brandon Wolff with knees inside. If he can keep top position on the ground and avoid a knee to the grill in the clinch, Hallman has the talents to hand Saunders a second straight loss.

If not, “Superman” might be flying off to another organization when this one is done.

Johny Hendricks (8-0-0) vs. Charlie Brenneman (12-1-0)

Johny Hendricks is becoming the undercard version of Jon Fitch.

Some people will certainly take that as a bad thing, having a serious dislike for all things wrestling-based and guys who earn not-so-exciting decision victories each time out. Others, like myself, can appreciate the handy work of Hendricks, an All-American from Oklahoma State who has ridden his wrestling to three wins in three tries inside the Octagon and eight-straight overall.

Until he does something crazy impressive, Brenneman is going to remain the guy who won Pros vs. Joes. I know he’s been pretty solid in his thirteen career fights, and works with the Miller brothers and the rest of the AMA crew out in Jersey, but I just can’t shake the funny from a guy who was better than someone else at being worse than a bunch of washed up athletes is fighting in the UFC.

This has all the makings of a clench battle, so don’t expect to see these two on the broadcast unless something unexpected happens.

Stefan Struve (19-4-0) vs. Christian Morecraft (6-0-0)

Things were going so well for young Stefan Struve before he stepped in with Roy Nelson.

He was enjoying a three-fight winning streak and looked to be making some waves as a middle-level up-and-comer; not quite a future champion, but a tough out for just about anyone. Then “Big Country” hit him with a big right, causing Struve to fold up into himself on the floor. Now we’re not sure of what to make of the freakishly tall Dutchman’s prospects.

This time around, he gets Christian Morecraft. Representing the inexplicably comical sounding Cape Cod Fighting Alliance, the Plymouth, Massachusetts native has racked up six consecutive first round finishes on the East Coast regional scene. His longest encounter lasted 2:40 last time out, and there have been three finishes in the time it took Nick Cage and Angelina Jolie to steal a bunch of cars.

I’m betting this one makes an appearance on the broadcast portion of the event, as it doesn’t look like it will make it through the first five minutes.

Tim Boetsch (11-3-0) vs. Todd Brown (11-1-0)

These fights are always tough.

Brown jumps in to make his UFC debut as an 11th hour replacement for the injured Thiago Silva. “The Bulldog” hasn’t lost in the last three years, though that defeat came against the only somewhat recognizable name he’s faced, one-time UFC competitor Josh Hendricks. Beating Duke Roufus’ brother Rick “The Jet” Roufus doesn’t count.

The late switch could be challenging for Boetsch, as Silva certainly offers a different style than Brown will on Saturday night. It is also the New England native’s return to the Octagon, having split four fights in his first stint with the UFC and earned three-straight wins after being released.

In all honesty, Boetsch now has all the pressure to perform, as he goes from underdog to favorite with the change. That kind of reversal can either motivate you to perform at your send you to a violent demise.

Dustin Hazelett (12-5-0) vs. Rick Story (10-3-0)

Even though it’s an undercard contest, this is a huge fight, not in terms of the names competing but the ramifications that will accompany the outcome.

A win for Story gives him four-in-a-row and the biggest name-brand victory of his career. He’s coming in off back-to-back split decision wins after an impressive arm triangle submission of Brian Foster at UFC 103, so getting an unquestionable ending has got to be on the mind of the Brave Legion representative.

As for Hazelett, the much-beloved “McLovin” needs a win in a big way. Thanks to a serious knee injury and Paul Daley’s vicious left hand, Hazelett hasn’t tasted victory inside the Octagon in close to two years. He’s still pretty young (24) and his vast experience advantage in the UFC should serve him well, but a major knee surgery and the starching he got from “Semtex” are two hurdles that he needs to clear quickly.

Junior Dos Santos (11-1-0) vs. Roy Nelson (15-4-0)

Good lord I’m excited for this fight!

Not only is Nelson incredibly amusing and entertaining in the build up to his bouts and with his entrance music selections – rocking “Weird” Al Yankovic’s “Fat” is still classic – but “Big Country” is a legit heavyweight contender as well. For all the hype Brendan Schaub is starting to amass, Nelson dropped “The Hybrid” something serious at the TUF 10 Finale.

Then you have “Cigano,” who in my books is as dangerous a heavyweight contender as there is in the UFC right now, and that includes Cain Velasquez. All he’s done since entering the UFC is beat on people. Five-straight smashing over respectable competition and we still haven’t got any idea what dos Santos’ ground game looks like, though we may find out this time around.

This will be awesome.

Matt Hughes (44-7-0) vs. Ricardo Almeida (12-3-0)

This welterweight matchup has a Karate Kid-feel to it for me, and not that ridiculous remake of The Karate Kid that just came out this year where Jackie Chan taught Will Smith’s kid kung-fu and not karate either.

I’m talking Daniel-son and Mr. Miyagi, Karate Kid Part 2 goodness, as Ricardo Almeida plays the part of Daniel LaRusso as he looks to avenge the loss of his personal Mr. Miyagi, Renzo Gracie, against Matt Hughes. Essentially, that makes Hughes Sato, the old Japanese guy who Daniel and Miyagi eventually save during the typhoon, leaving no one play the real antagonist, Sato’s nephew, but whatever.

Hughes chopped Gracie down with a plethora of leg kicks when they met in Abu Dhabi, but it won’t be anything like that against Almeida. “The Big Dog” looked good in his welterweight debut against Matt Brown, choking him out and showing improved stand-up too. The former welterweight champion will have his hands full, and a win would earn Hughes a lot of “I’m sorrys” from those who have considered him over-the-hill.

Clay Guida (26-11-0) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (14-4-0)

Welcome to your Gatekeeper Challenger, Rafael dos Anjos.

The talented Brazilian gets a serious step up in competition as he faces the beyond-hyper guardian of the upper reaches of the division, Clay Guida. Since suffering back-to-back losses to begin his UFC tenure, dos Anjos has looked strong in putting together a three-fight win streak. His armbar win over Terry Etim at UFC 112 was textbook and showed he is deserving of a crack at competing against the top talents ’55 has to offer.

For all the love bestowed upon “The Carpenter” and the highly-entertaining fights we remember him from, Guida is best served in this kind of roll; a tough out who helps separate the contenders from the pretenders and makes for enjoyable matches while sorting things out.

Jon Fitch (22-3-0) vs. Thiago Alves (16-6-0)

It`s been a long time coming, but this long-awaited rematch is finally taking place.

These two have beaten just about everyone the UFC welterweight division has to offer outside of Georges St-Pierre, and the winner could make a case for being the next title challenger, though Jake Shields might have something to say about that if he beats Martin Kampann later this fall.

Fitch takes a lot of heat for his fights, as his pattern of taking opponents down and maintaining top position has become so customary that I have made it a noun in my MMA vocabulary. Go back to the Ben Saunders – Dennis Hallman fight for the definition of fitch if you missed it. The thing is, all this dude does is win and that makes him alright in my books.

I’m super-glad to see Alves back in action after a scary MRI back in March put his career on hold. The American Top Team product has improved a great deal since he was beaten by Fitch the first time, bulking up and becoming a more well-conditioned fighter while maintaining his ferocious striking skills.

It’s very cliché, but whoever dictates the terms of this fight will get their hand raised. If Alves can’t stop the takedown, it’s Fitch all day. If it remains standing, “The Pitbull” will be attacking fast and furious.

Anderson Silva (26-4-0) vs. Chael Sonnen (24-10-1)

I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited for any fight in my entire life, and that is saying something.

A lot of people are going to bitch and complain about Anderson’s previous performances, but at the end of the day, “The Spider” is 11-0 in the UFC, has beaten the snot out of everyone he’s face to a certain degree and gets the chance to put a hurting on a dude who has been talking smack about him for the better part of the last year. Add to that the lingering warnings issued by Dana White post-UFC 112 and we could have a vintage Anderson Silva performance in the making.

That brings us to Chael Sonnen. I’ll say this for the Team Quest trainee – no one in recent history has sold a fight as well as Sonnen, and he is far-and-away the best trash talker in the business today, bar none. His admittance that he would give up everything to be champion for a night during the Countdown show gave me chills, which is what you want a countdown show to do.

Now he has to go out and back up his tough talk against the best fighter on the planet. Unlike many who talk all kinds of junk pre-fight, Sonnen certainly won’t back down. He’ll shoot for the double and give his every last ounce trying to beat Silva, I just don’t know if it’s possible.

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