UFC 123: Rampage vs. Machida Preview

Matt Brown (11-9-0) vs. Brian Foster (14-5-0)

Brown is an amalgamation of two MMA media members, sharing the name of this site’s Editor-in-Chief while barring a striking resemblance to Bloody Elbow chief Luke Thomas. None of that has anything to do with how he may perform in the cage, but it’s the first thing that pops into my head every time I see he’s fighting, and I thought I would share it with you.

You’re welcome.

In terms of the stuff that matters, this is undoubtedly a must-win fight for Brown, who was originally schedule to face Rory MacDonald before the young Canadian was sidelined by a knee injury. “The Immortal” has dropped back-to-back bouts, being submitted in the second round of each oddly enough, and while some fighters avoid the axe after three straight losses, Brown probably would not be so fortunate.

He needs to get back to the style that endeared him to fans following his appearance Season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter, attacking and pushing the pace, instead of the more measured and cautious approach we’ve seen of late. Perhaps that was in part due to being outclassed by his last two opponents, but either way, Brown needs a win here to stick around.

Like Brown, Foster’s last loss came to Chris Lytle; the 26-year-old tapped to a kneebar at UFC 110 in Australia last February, than spent a number of months rehab the injury he sustained in the process. Unlike Brown, Foster has rebounded since losing to Lytle, stopping Forrest Petz in impressive fashion just over two months ago.

Despite a .500 record through four fights with the company, Foster has impressed the UFC and the fans with his consistently spirited efforts, and his last outing shows that he’s developing some power to go along with his strong wrestling base.

Much like the first contest scheduled for Spike, this one too should be a feisty affair and serve as an energetic introduction to the main events of the evening.

George Sotiropoulos (13-2-0) vs. Joe Lauzon (18-5-0)

The Aussie’s climb up the competitive ladder continues with a bout that should result in the winner entering the Top 5 of the lightweight division.

Sotiropoulos was an outside pick of many to earn a title shot in 2010, especially after looking so impressive beating Joe Stevenson in his native land last February, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn contested the title twice, with Sotiropoulos scoring another strong victory over Kurt Pellegrino in the meantime. Unbeaten in six appearances inside the UFC cage, if the Australian jiu jitsu player can continue to rack up victories, it’s only a matter of time before an opportunity to compete for the championship belt is before him.

The same applies to Lauzon as well, though the Massachusetts native has never managed to string together the same number of wins as his opponent to this point in his UFC career. That won’t matter if he’s able to build off the performance he delivered at UFC 118 in Boston, a first-round submission mauling of Gabe Ruediger that was the best version of Lauzon we’ve seen in quite some time.

Both men enjoy the grappling game, so we’re either going to get a high-level jiu jitsu match that causes some of the audience to boo like idiots, or a bad kickboxing match between two guys with limited stand-up arsenals that will irritate most. Yet another reason why the ground game isn’t nearly as bad as its critics would lead you to believe.

Phil Davis (7-0-0) vs. Tim Boetsch (12-3-0)

Davis is one of the best prospects in the sport, if you can call a guy riding a three-fight winning streak in the UFC a prospect. A four-time All-American and former National champion wrestler at Penn State, Davis isn’t your typical collegiate wrestling crossover; he has impressive jiu jitsu and an attacking style once the fight goes to the ground.

Boestch earned a win last time out in his return to the organization; he split four fights during his first pass through the UFC, and is eager to ensure that he doesn’t feel the pain of being released for a second time. Though not nearly as decorated as Davis, Boetsch was also a collegiate wrestler and has been working with Matt Hume to further develop and tweak his overall MMA skills.

This bout is a litmus test for Davis, a chance to see where his ceiling sits or know for sure that he’s ready to step up to the next tier of competition during his sophomore year in the organization.

Gerald Harris (17-2-0) vs. Maiquel Falcao (25-3-0)

When Season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter got underway, Harris was the early favorite to take home the six-figure contract. Of course, no one told Amir Sadollah, and the affable medical technician dispatched Harris on the way to winning the entire thing.

Almost two years went by before Harris would get his opportunity to fight in the Octagon, and he hasn’t looked back since, winning three straight. With a lack of new and entertaining talents in the middleweight division, the explosive 30-year-old could make a charge up the rankings in 2011.
For his fourth appearance in the Octagon, Harris will welcome Falcao to the organization and the middleweight division.

A Chute Boxe student, Falcao has spent his entire career competing as a light heavyweight. He’s racked up 25 wins, 21 of which have come by TKO, in the process, but there is no way of knowing what the cut to 185 will do to Falcao. What can be said with some certainty is that the Brazilian will come out aggressively and ready to exchange; while they may not be producing the assassins they turned out during their glory days, Chute Boxe still produces dangerous strikers, Falcao included.

Matt Hughes (45-7-0) vs. B.J. Penn (15-7-1)

This is a trilogy fight that I never thought I would see; Hughes looked like he was on his way down, while Penn seemed focused on dominating the lightweight division.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this series staying even: Hughes got hot and started looking like he was having fun again, while Penn dropped the lightweight title and rematch to Frankie Edgar, looking thoroughly uninspired during the performance. Now we’re at Auburn Hills and these two historic champions are going to settle the score.

Seeing Hughes beat Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie in back-to-back bouts was neither unexpected nor overly entertaining; the former was a slow affair fought on the ground, while the latter was a really bad kickboxing match that took place in the desert.

Those efforts were erased and forgiven when Hughes choked out Ricardo Almeida in August. The greatest welterweight champion in UFC history (for now people, relax) looked like the guy who marched to that championship in the first place, putting the former middleweight to sleep with a serious front-headlock chokehold. While a winter of rest and hunting was originally scheduled, a chance to resolve things with Penn couldn’t be missed, and I for one and thankful for that decision.

As for Penn, the former two division champ not only needs a win, but a statement win. He has looked lethargic in his last two outings, being beaten to the punch over-and-over against Edgar, and since he seems to have outgrown the lightweight division, moving to welterweight with a loss – to a resurgent, but non-contending Hughes – would leave Penn with very few options moving forward.

To put it bluntly, this might be Penn’s last chance to start following through on the years of wasted promise and talent we have endured. If he shows up unready or unwilling to push himself to his limits, a loss and a place as the greatest “what could have been” fighter in the sport’s history awaits him. Should he win, “The Prodigy” will buy himself another chance, though few, if any, believe he will ever reach his full potential.

We should know early on which Penn we’re dealing with, and while watching a well-conditioned Penn go toe-to-toe with Hughes would be the best case scenario, seeing an out of shape and sluggish Hawaiian get a beatdown from a crotchety old farm boy wouldn’t be all that bad either.

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