UFC 125: Punch Drunk Preview

Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard

Check out our complete breakdown of all the UFC 125 fights

With Christmas (and Boxing Day shopping) over with and the extended family members back sleeping in their own beds, the time is right to tackle the breakdown of the UFC’s first event of 2011, UFC 125: Resolution.

A couple of compelling match-ups that were each slated in the co-main event slot at one point or another were scuttled by injuries, but the event is still high on entertaining pairings and features a main event with all the intrigue you need to start a new year of fistic fireworks off with a bang.

Jacob Volkmann (11-2-0) vs. Antonio McKee (25-3-2)

Having a guy whose nickname is “Christmas” kick off this card just seems right, as Volkmann makes his third appearance in the lightweight division, and welcomes newcomer Antonio McKee to the UFC.

After losing a pair of tough contests to start his UFC career, Volkmann dropped to the 155-pound ranks and has had reasonable success, earning a pair of decision wins in his two fights. The move to the deepest division in the organization also gave the Minnesota Martial Arts product an opportunity to compete against less daunting competition than he faced as a welterweight; Ronnys Torres and Paul Kelly are both tough, but pale in comparison to Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann.

McKee will tell you that he can beat all of those guys, and Volkmann, and B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, probably all in the same night. To his credit, the 41-year-old former MFC lightweight champion is riding a 15-fight unbeaten streak into his debut. That being said, the best competition he’s faced in that stretch is a toss-up between Marcus Aurelio, Delson Heleno and Carlo Prater…

The veteran is a tremendous wrestler who has used his suffocating top game to control his opposition in the process of amassing his impressive unbeaten streak. While he lived up to his word and finished Luiciano Azevedo in his last outing, McKee has made no promises to retire heading into this one, so expect his wrestling game to be on full display.

Daniel Roberts (11-1-0) vs. Greg Soto (8-1-0)

This one could be a lot more interesting than people think.

Roberts was welcomed to the UFC by a big left hand from John Howard that knocked him out cold back in March, but since then, “Ninja” has not only put together back-to-back wins, he’s shown the grappling skills that have earned him numerous regional and national accolades along the way. In his last outing, Roberts made short work of Mike Guymon, catching “The Joker” in a quick anaconda choke and earning Submission of the Night honors for under a minute of work.

A student of Kurt Pellegrino, Soto has also bounced back from a rough start to his UFC career. Filling in on short notice against Matthew Riddle at UFC 111, the New Jersey native was dominated in the opening two rounds before an illegal upkick earned him a disqualification in the third. The BJJ brown belt bounced back with a win over TUF 9 veteran Nick Osipczak at UFC 118, and looks to keep building on that success here.

Soto has a strong grappling game of his own, which means this one could go one of two ways; either we get a solid mat-based struggle between two grapplers looking for dominant position and possible submissions, or their grappling cancels each other out and they fling haymakers until one man falls or the fifteen minutes elapses. Both sound good to me.

Mike Brown (24-6-0) vs. Diego Nunes (15-1-0)

I want to start a “Remember Mike Brown” campaign, as the former featherweight champion has became the forgotten man in the WEC and remains relegated to preliminary card action now that he’s back in the UFC.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the American Top Team product was the top 145-pound fighter in the world, but two high-profile, one-sided loses in three fights sent Brown tumbling down the divisional ladder. He started his climb back up the rankings with a first-round win over Cole Province at WEC 51 and looks to continue his return to contender status against Nunes here.

A member of Team Nogueira, Nunes is a decision machine with what my wife likes to call “Little Boy hair,” a heavy part on one side swept across the forehead. His record is very impressive and he’s beaten some quality opposition in the process of amassing his 15 wins, but for all his success, Nunes hasn’t been able to get beyond mid-card status.

The reason he has stayed planted on the preliminary portion of the card is that there is nothing overwhelming about Nunes’ approach in the cage; he doesn’t have great grappling or big power, just solid skills in both areas and the cardio to grind on you for 15 minutes if necessary. Truthfully, with the brighter spotlights and bigger paydays in the UFC, something tells me that a loss might make Nunes expendable.

Phil Baroni (13-12-0) vs. Brad Tavares (6-0-0)

Speaking of guys who should be considered expendable…

The New York Bad Ass” returns in hopes of keeping his record from reaching the .500 mark for his career. Baroni is a great quote and entertaining guy before the cage door closes, but being a professional fighter is about what you do once you’re in the cage, and lately, Baroni just hasn’t performed. He’s moving back up to middleweight after a five-fight stint at welterweight, a move that will hopefully help his conditioning, as Baroni looked like a punching bag with legs last time out against Amir Sadollah.

If his cardio isn’t up to snuff, “The Best Evah” could once again be pulling the punching bag routine, as Tavares is an emerging talent. Fighting of the theTapouT Training Cente, Tavares is coached by Shawn Tompkins, and my fellow Canadian is pretty high on his charge. The young Hawaiian showed flashes of potential during his time on Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, advancing to the semifinals before losing to eventual winner Court McGee.

Tavares won his UFC debut at the TUF 11 Finale, earning an unquestioned win over Seth Baczynski in a rematch of their quarterfinal contest that ended in controversy during the season. The 23-year-old has shown good hands thus far in this career and will get the chance to put them on display again opposite Baroni.

Josh Grispi (14-1-0) vs. Dustin Poirier (8-1-0)

Honestly, you couldn’t blame Grispi if he’s a little ornery heading into this bout. Before Jose Aldo was forced to withdraw due to a neck / back injury, Grispi was all set to make his UFC debut in the co-main event slot, competing for the featherweight championship. Now he’s been relegated to the preliminary card, and a loss could cost him his shot at the gold.

Grispi has been on the featherweight radar for a while, but a couple of extended layoffs due to injuries slowed his progress. He’s beaten some of the best the featherweight division has to offer – Mark Hominick, L.C. Davis – and hasn’t lost in ten fights, yet he remains an underrated prospect and contender. Now that the featherweights are fighting under the UFC banner, that should change, and Grispi’s penchant for quick and impressive finishes should make him a household name in no time.

That is if he’s able to get by Poirier first.

After suffering his first professional setback in his WEC debut – a unanimous decision loss to Danny Castillo at WEC 50 – Poirier bounced back in November with a first-round knockout win over Zach Micklewright; the Louisiana native needed less than a minute to earn the victory.

While stepping in for a fallen champion could be considered big shoes to fill, the flipside is that Poirier enters the Octagon free of expectations or pressure. Grispi is the one who stands to lose a title shot if he comes up short, while Poirier gets the biggest fight of his career and a chance to insert himself into the title picture with a win.

Marcus Davis (17-7-0) vs. Jeremy Stephens (18-6-0)

I have really enjoyed watching Davis compete over the years, but at age 37 and sporting a 1-3 record over his last four fights, this move to lightweight smells a bad decision for a desperate veteran who can’t bring himself to walk away.

I would understand if Davis had been getting dominated by much bigger opposition as a welterweight, but that isn’t the case; save for the Ben Saunders bout, Davis lost to both Nate Diaz and Dan Hardy because they were younger, faster opponents and all-in-all better fighters. Shedding an additional 15 pounds doesn’t change the fact that “The Irish Hand Grenade” isn’t as dangerous or durable as he once was.

It is fitting that Davis is making his lightweight debut against Stephens, as I see a lot of the veteran in his younger opponent. Stephens likes to stand-and-bang, with extra emphasis on the bang; outside of Kamal Shalorus, I can’t think of anyone who throws more power shots than Stephens.

After a frustrating loss to Melvin Guilllard where he didn’t get to expend much of his punching power, Stephens asked to be the one to welcome Davis to his new division, knowing his elder would engage from the opening bell.

I just hope I’m completely wrong about Davis and his decision to drop down because if Diaz can leave him looking like someone repeatedly smashed him in the face with a steel chair, Stephens could do the same, if not worse.