UFC on Versus 3 Preview

Diego "The Dream" Sanchez

Taking a look at tonight’s UFC on Versus card

Just five days after UFC 127 ends in Australia, the company is back in business with their third event on the Versus network, and the first of three cards slated for March.

Taking place at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, this event has been marred by injuries since the original line-up was announced. Alexandre Ferreira pulled out due to the flooding in Brazil, both Matt Brown and Matt Riddle withdrew from fighting Mark Scanlon, who ended up getting pulled entirely, Francisco Rivera was replaced by newcomer Reuben Duran opposite Takeya Mizugaki and a bout between Johny Hendricks and Paulo Thiago was taken off the card entirely when the Brazilian was forced from the fight.

Maiquel Falcao was also forced from his fight with Alessio Sakara due to an unspecified injury, at which point the UFC inked talented Matt Serra pupil Chris Weidman. The New Yorker will not only make his debut in Louisville, but he’ll also be featured on the broadcast portion of the card.

Aside from the ridiculous number of injuries that reshuffled the lineup, and the ridiculous name of the venue itself, UFC on Versus 3 actually looks like an event that has the potential to deliver an exciting night of fights.

Todd Brown (15-2-0) vs. Igor Pokrajac (22-8-0)

Nothing like kicking off an event with the traditional “Loser Leaves Town” bout of the evening.

Pokrajac has dropped three of four since joining the UFC back in September ’09, his lone win coming over the departed James Irvin on the last Versus broadcast last August. A long-time training partner of Mirko Cro Cop, Pokrajac was dominated by Stephan Bonnar in his last appearance, and needs an impressive victory to have any hope of remaining on the UFC roster.

Across the cage from him, Brown gets his “thanks for helping us out” fight after stepping in on short notice for Thiago Silva at UFC 117. Tim Boetsch earned a unanimous decision in that bout, handing Brown just the second loss of his career. He’ll need to bounce back in a big way in this one, as he’s yet to put up a win against a noteworthy opponent in his career.

I’m honestly surprised that Pokrajac survived getting thumped by Bonnar, but another loss here will surely be the end, and the same goes for Brown. That should spur the two of them into a spirited affair, but who knows?

Rousimar Palhares (11-3-0) vs. David Branch

Last time we saw “Toquinho,” he was headlining Fight Night 23 opposite Nate Marquardt, looking for a pause in the middle of the first round before getting punched in the face repeatedly. The Brazilian submission star thought Marquardt was greased, but it turns out he wasn’t. The moral of the story is that if you stop fighting, you’re going to get punched in the face.

Returning in the second bout of the evening should be a wake-up call to Palhares that it’s time to string together some quality performances or remain a preliminary card fighter for the foreseeable future. He acknowledged that he made a mistake in the Marquardt fight, which is good to hear, but the key is showing that he’s learned from his error in judgment.

Renzo Gracie pupil Branch steps in for the aforementioned Alexandre Ferreira, and brings a solid jiu jitsu game of his own to the cage. He’s earned back-to-back wins since Gerald Harris slammed him onto SportCenter back in July, although his last fight was an absolute snoozer.

Stepping in and stepping up against Palhares is a big test for the 29-year-old black belt. This could be one of the bouts where we see the difference between a very good ground game and an elite ground game, as Palhares appears to be on a different level than most grapplers. That being said, Branch has the potential to surprise, especially is “Toquinho” gets lazy or asks for timeout again.

Rob Kimmons (23-6-0) vs. Dongi Yang (9-1-0)

If you’re into patterns, Kimmons is your man.

Since debuting with a win over Rob Yundt, “The Rosedale Reaper” has alternated wins and losses, and he’s coming into this one off a loss. There is reason to be concerned, however, besides the fact that patterns in MMA are about as reliable as consulting your Magic 8-ball.

The American jiu jitsu black belt was submitted by Kyle Noke last time out. That in itself isn’t all that concerning as Noke is a solid middleweight; the trouble is that when jiu jitsu is the strongest part of your game and a non-jiu jitsu fighter taps you out, that sets off the bells and whistles.

At least for me it does.

Yang makes his second appearance after dropping his debut to TUF 11 alum Chris Camozzi. He started strong in that bout, winning the first round on all three scorecards, but could adjust after Camozzi changed up his approach between rounds.

Like many of the fighters coming over from the crumbling Japanese MMA scene, it’s difficult to get an accurate measure of where he fits in on the UFC roster; his record was an impressive 8-0 coming into the organization, but he couldn’t get by a mid-level middleweight the first time out. Failing to get passed Kimmons will be a clear indication that he’s not cut out for life in the bigger organization in the sport, but we’ll be back to square one if Yang collects his first UFC victory.

Takeya Mizugaki (13-5-2) vs. Reuben Duran (7-2-1)

Mizugaki is a long way removed from pushing Miguel Torres for the bantamweight title in his WEC debut.

Last time out, Urijah Faber debuted in the 135-pound division and choked the Japanese fighter unconscious, leaving him creepily rigid in the cage when the referee rolled him over.

Thankfully he wasn’t, and he returns here hoping to continue his pattern of performances. Like Kimmons, Mizugaki operates on a “win one, lose one” basis, and he’s in line for a win; of course, the pattern theory gets thrown out the window if you believe, like I do, that Jeff Curran should have taken home the decision in their fight at WEC 42.

Duran actually impresses me a lot more than your average last minute replacement.

He started his career with a loss to Scott “Einstein” Epstein, the 10th Planet jiu jitsu savant. Yeah, I said savant. After collecting a draw in his second fight, Duran has gone 7-1 over his last eight bouts, ending the last two with first round submissions. Of his seven wins, all but one of them has been by way of stoppage.

If the bantamweight division were deeper, Mizugaki would be in danger of getting cut. The continued movement of lighter-weight fighter from the Japanese MMA scene should motivate Mizugaki to put forth an impressive performance, while Duran will be fighting with the knowledge that a good showing here can set him up for a longer stay on the biggest stage of them all.

Thiago Tavares (15-3-1) vs. Shane Roller (9-3-0)

This is a fight that feels all kinds of bad for Roller.

A tremendous wrestler with a developing jiu jitsu game, the Marc Laimon student is most comfortable operating on the ground. The only problem is that his opponent looks to be a more talented grappler. Nerts!

The former All-American from Oklahoma State looked extremely impressive submitting Jamie Varner in the opening round of their WEC 53 bout, causing the former 155-pound champion to be left behind following the merger with the UFC. You could say the exact same for his performance against Anthony Njokuani, and the eventual tap he got from Danny Castillo too.

But Roller hasn’t faced a guy with the kind of grappling skills the fire hydrant standing across from him possesses. Submitting a kickboxer like Njokuani was expected, and Varner hasn’t been the same since he returned from his extended injury hiatus, but against the two best the WEC had to offer, Anthony Pettis and Ben Henderson, Roller came away with a tick in the loss column.

Tavares has been hampered by injuries over the last few years, fighting twice in 2010 and backing out of another fight with an elbow injury in between. When he’s been in the cage, he’s looked uneven, fighting to a majority draw with Nik Lentz in an uninspiring performance before dominating Pat Audinwood in his best outing in years.

He’s unbeaten in his last three after a 1-3 stretch a few years back, and when healthy, Tavares is a handful. He truly is built like a fire hydrant, thick through the midsection and legs, and is a formidable jiu jitsu player as well; 11 of his 15 career wins have come by submission. While it’s not his strong suit, Tavares’ stand-up isn’t as unbalanced as many high-level jiu jitsu fighters’ either.

This is a litmus test for Roller, the new kid in town who looks like the underdog on paper. If he has continued to improve and can control the pace and location of this fight, he could earn himself a solid win in his UFC debut. If he can’t, he’s going to get submitted.

Steve Cantwell (7-3-0) vs. Cyrille Diabate (16-7-1)

Even though I’m writing this just a couple days before this fight is set to take place, I’m not ruling out an injury to Cantwell.

The former WEC light heavyweight champion was forced to withdraw from his UFC 108 fight with Vladimir Matyushenko at the last minute for reasons still yet to be disclosed. He was supposed to return against Ricardo Romero this past summer, but was again replaced for undisclosed reasons. Three days before he was going to meet Stanislav Nedkov at UFC 120, Catnwell jacked up his knee during pre-fight workouts, leaving him sidelined once again.

All total, he’s been on the shelf since September 2009 and comes into this bout on a two-fight losing streak to boot. That kind of cage rust and the added pressure of a potential three-fight losing streak will be a lot to deal with leading up to this bout, and then he’s got to deal with the lanky kickboxing attack of Diabate as well.

Perhaps best known as Dan Henderson’s striking coach on Season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter, Diabate had a splash in his UFC debut, knocking out former Top 10 light heavyweight Luiz Cane in just over two minutes. Unfortunately, the sequel didn’t go as well, with Alexander Gustafsson submitting him at UFC 120 last October.

In addition to having the benefit of four fights in the time Cantwell has been sidelined, Diabate should be able to make good use of his height and reach; at 6’6″ with an 81.5-inch reach, the Frenchman is four-inches taller than his opponent and boasts a six-and-a-half-inch reach advantage.

Joe Stevenson (31-12-0) vs. Danny Castillo (10-3-0)

Am I the only one who thinks this fight is Stevenson fighting the younger version of himself? Ironic, seeing as Castillo is three years older than Stevenson.

How is Joe Stevenson only 28?

These two are extremely similar, almost to the point of being the UFC and WEC versions of one another.

They each like to stand-and-trade, but have solid wrestling in their back pockets when needed. Neither one has any real cardio issues to speak of and they each represent a tremendous team; Stevenson fighting out of Jackson’s in Albuquerque, while Castillo is a part of Team Alpha Male with Urijah Faber, Joe Benavidez and the rest of the cool kids from Sacto.

Where they differ is their momentum coming into this bout, as Stevenson is looking to break a two-fight losing streak after getting starched by Mac Danzig last time out. Castillo, on the other hand, aims to make it three-in-a-row, following up a unanimous decision win over prospect Dustin Poirier with a first-round knockout of Will Kerr in his latest.

Even though he’s on a slide right now, Stevenson is a big step up in competition for Castillo; solid wins in the WEC aren’t the same as facing a former title contender on the big stage, and Castillo will need to prove he belongs in this one.

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