UFC 118 Punch Drunk Preview

Put on your Red Sox or Patriots hat, turn up the Dropkick Murphys and start answering every question with a quote from Good Will Hunting because we’re heading to Boston for UFC 118.

How d’ya like them apples?!

Enough with the clichés; we’re bound to get an overdose on the “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” over the next couple days and people talking with fake accents is one of the greatest annoyances of my life. Seriously – why do you think you sound cool talking like an idiot? Stop it.

This event doesn’t need any over-the-top promotion or selling on anything other than its own merits; a lightweight title rematch, the boxing vs. MMA debut being settled in the cage, and a trio of local boys finally get the chance to do their thing in front of their friends and family.

Mike Pierce (11-3-0) vs. Amilcar Alves (11-1-0)

With three quality performances in three trips to the Octagon, you’d think Mike Pierce would get a little more love than being stuck in the opening bout of the evening against a debuting fighter no one has heard of before.

Such is life for the Brave Legion fighter who holds wins over Brock Larson and Julio Paulino, as well as being the last man to stagger Jon Fitch inside the cage. This is actually a blessing in disguise for the former collegiate wrestler though, as Pierce is able to keep working on his stand-up and improving without the concerns of climbing the welterweight ladder being too much of a distraction.

Alves is a Nova Unaio product which means muay thai and Brazilian jiu jitsu should be his foundations. He has never competed outside of his native Brazil, and while he brings an impressive record and some noteworthy training partners, there is no telling how he’ll react to his first fight on foreign soil.

Nick Osipczak (5-1-0) vs. Greg Soto (7-1-0)

Soto, a student of Kurt Pellegrino, gets his requisite “thanks for helping us out” second bout after filling in on short notice against Matthew Riddle at UFC 111. While the official result was a disqualification for an illegal upkick, the New Jersey native was well on his way to his first professional loss before the kick occurred, as the TUF 7 alum control the action the entire fight.

Now he faces another TUF alum, Season 9’s Nick Osipczak, who is looking to rebound from the first loss of his career. The Brit dropped a split decision to Rick Story at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, and has looked good both during his time on TUF 9 and since stepping out from in front of the camera.

For the MMA mathletes out there, Osipczak stopped Riddle prior to his handling of Soto.

Dan Miller (11-4-0, 1 NC) vs. John Salter (5-1-0)

Salter manages his third UFC appearance despite not having done much of anything in his first two appearances.

Gerald Harris got the better of him in his debut as a late replacement for an injured Mike Massenzio, and Jason McDonald’s horrific broken ankle ended their contest at UFC 114 in Montreal in May. It is pretty safe to consider this a do-over on Salter’s “thanks for helping us out” bout.

Words do not describe how much Dan Miller needs to win this fight and do it impressively. He’s a tough kid and has lost to some equally tough competition, but it’s rare for a fighter to get a reprieve after losing three-in-a-row, so four straight is not an option. Ask Keith Jardine.

Yes, two of the three men to beat Miller have competed for the middleweight title in the last year (Chael Sonnen and Demian Maia) and the other (Michael Bisping) is set to headline UFC 120 in England later this year. But when two of the three guys you’ve beaten in the Octagon are no longer fighting for the company, you don’t need me to tell you how crucial a victory is this time around.

Andre Winner (11-3-1) vs. Nik Lentz (18-3-2)

Hands down, Nik Lentz has both the best and most appropriate nickname in the sport today: The Carny. Google him and tell me it’s not the most apt handle going…

Awesome name aside, the kid is a quality lightweight coming out of the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, home of Sean Sherk, Jacob Volkmann and the UFC Heavyweight Champion. Lentz has looked good thus far in earning a pair of wins and a majority draw in three tries.

Winner lost to teammate Ross Pearson in the finals of TUF 9, but has bounced back with consecutive victories in the cage since. He dropped Rolando Delgado like a bad habit in his post-TUF debut and scored a unanimous decision win over Rafaello Oliveira last time out.

This will be a typical cross-Atlantic clash with Winner needing to stuff the takedown to have a chance at scoring a third straight victory. If he can, he’s got the far-superior striking and will be able to pick Lentz apart with this speed. If he can’t, Lentz will dump him on his ass over-and-over-and-over under the final bell sounds and he takes home another win.

Joe Lauzon (18-5-0) vs. Gabe Ruediger (17-5-0)

Expect a much better version of Joe Lauzon than the one we saw against Sam Stout. Back in January, the older of the fighting Lauzon brothers was making his return from knee surgery and facing a tough, technical kickboxer who has been a tough out for everyone.

Almost nine months later, Lauzon gets a chance to step into the cage in his home state and with fifteen minutes of cage time already logged on his surgically-repaired knee. The ring rust that existed the first time around should be gone, and the switch from Terry Etim to Gabe Ruediger is a favourable one.

A fellow TUF 5 cast member with Lauzon, Ruediger has rattled of six-straight wins over the last two years, never seeing the third round. The Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist has done well competing in regional events in California, and outside of a two-year stretch where he picked up four of his five career losses, Ruediger has done well.

Taking a fight on short notice with the biggest company in the business will be a test, but one that he should be at least partially ready for thanks to his experience around the cameras on TUF 5.

Whether he’s ready for a healthy and determined Joe Lauzon is another question altogether.

Nate Diaz (12-5-0) vs. Marcus Davis (17-6-0)

This is a really interesting pairing, and we should learn a lot about what the future holds for each fighter by the time the winner is announced.

Diaz was a middling lightweight for the longest time, teasing with talent, but never putting it together to go on a real run. He kept losing to wrestlers, getting mad when they wanted to wrestle and not stand and trade punches. His “pinned to the canvas” trash talk of Joe Stevenson was great. But a funny thing happened in his welterweight debut – he dumped Rory Markham in a heartbeat and looked like a better fighter.

Part of that had to do with Markham (1) being horribly out of shape, missing weight by something like seven pounds, and (2) standing at the end of Diaz’s long arms the entire time. Still, it was as impressive a performance as we have seen from Diaz in some time.

“The Irish Hand Grenade” is a fan favorite and a Massachusetts native, so expect a monstrous ovation. He earned a second-round TKO of Jonathan Goulet last time out, but his resume shows a telling pattern: anyone remotely considered a contender seems to get the best of Davis, while he has his way with lower tier talent.

Three losses in four tries is a tough sell, but that is what Davis is looking at if he doesn’t get by Diaz here. At 36 and on the wrong side of too many bouts against the good-but-not-great talent, maybe Davis decides to hang’em up in front of the hometown crowd. Just a hunch.

Kenny Florian (14-4-0) vs. Gray Maynard (9-0-0)

This is such an interesting matchup.

Florian is – for my money – a Top 5 lightweight in the world who has come up short both time he’s fought for the UFC lightweight title. He has shown tremendous improvement since losing to BJ Penn and joining forces with Firas Zahabi, and his work with the Montreal Wrestling Club will come in handy here, as Maynard is the best wrestler in a wrestling-heavy division.

He’s also unbeaten and could have made a case for being more deserving of a title shot back in April, seeing as he holds a win over the current UFC lightweight champ, Frankie Edgar. The problem – for those that see a problem – is that Maynard has a whole lot of Jon Fitch in him; he’s a tremendous wrestler with suffocating control, solid-but-unspectacular stand-up and a willingness to grind you into the ground and win a decision.

That said, he tried like the Dickens (always wanted to use that phrase) to finish Roger Huerta last time out and couldn’t because “The Savior of Sucker-Punched Women” is all bendy like Gumby.

The winner most likely moves into the #1 contender position, so expect both guys to be battling hard. Florian gets the extra boost by fighting at home for the first time too.

Demian Maia (12-2-0) vs. Mario Miranda (12-1-0)

A late addition to the card after Alan Belcher’s detached retna left Maia without an opponent.

Miranda steps in and makes for an intriguing pairing. He thoroughly dominated David Loiseau at UFC 115 in Vancouver, splitting him open with elbows and winning every second of the contest. The fight before, however, he got freight-trained by Gerald Harris. He’s got solid ground skills – which he’ll need – and is the better of the two standing.

This is Maia’s first fight since UFC 112, and chances are he is eager to erase that memory. Not that he did anything wrong, but he was thoroughly outclassed and managed very little in the way of offense, so you forget what he’s capable of a little.

His lone win in his last three fights was the horribly boring kickboxing match with Dan Miller at UFC 109. While his stand-up is improving, his nasty ground game is still his bread-and-butter, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Maia take a more aggressive and physical approach to dictating the terms of the fight.

Randy Couture (18-10-0) vs. James Toney (0-0-0)

Honestly, I don’t know how this fight gets approved by the athletic commission. Bobby Lashley at 4-0 couldn’t fight Yohann Banks and his 1-2 record, but inexperienced and over-the-hill boxer James Toney gets the green light to face a UFC Hall of Famer? Who needs legitimacy when you can have freak show fights like this…?

My annoyance with this bout aside, it should be interesting. Toney could really end things with one well-placed punch; he’s that powerful and he does still have enough quickness to catch Couture coming in. That said, he has zero experience being put on his back, and there is no way to prepare for a legitimate legend in the sport in nine months.

The trouble with this fight is the “what if” scenario – what if Toney does happen to catch Couture? Then what? James Toney becomes a legitimate part of the UFC light heavyweight division? Couture would be ruined as a contender, and the spectacle of James Toney’s first MMA fight has passed. Then what?

That said, don’t hold your breath; Couture is too savvy and too experienced to get clipped by Toney.

Frankie Edgar (12-1-0) vs. BJ Penn (15-6-1)

This might be the fight I’ve been most excited about seeing all summer. No disrespect to the UFC 116 or 117 mains, but this one was so unexpected the first time around that I really want to see if (a) Frankie can do it again and (b) BJ comes with a different level of ferocity than we saw in Abu Dhabi.

Edgar rightfully earned the title in my books the first time around; his executed perfectly, darting in and out, scoring points, and avoiding damage, and he most certainly could do it again. He also scored a takedown, and could turn to his wrestling a little more this time.

That night in Abu Dhabi, Penn looked lethargic to me. I don’t know if anything was wrong – illness, injury, bad cut, whatever – but he didn’t look like the guy who had dismantled Diego Sanchez just four months earlier. If that same guy shows up, he’s losing two-in-a-row for the first time in four years.
I expect a better BJ to show up in Boston, but Edgar will be better too; now that he has the belt around his waist, there is no way he wants to give it up. These are two of the best lightweights in the world and it should be another exciting contest.

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