UFC 133 Preview & Predictions

Previewing each fight from this weekend’s event in Philadelphia

Injuries have ravaged this card, but despite the setbacks, there are still some compelling and entertaining match-ups in the City of Brotherly Love this weekend.

Here’s our look at the line-up for UFC 133.

Rafael Natal (12-3-1) vs. Paul Bradley (18-2)

It’s win or go home for Natal in this one, and the fact that he’s facing a late replacement stepping up in weight to take the fight puts even more pressure on him. He was up two rounds in his last fight with Jesse Bongfeldt, but ended up getting dominated so badly in the third that it was scored 10-8, resulting in the fight being ruled a draw.

Bradley was a TUF 7 house guest before a skin condition got him evicted. He’s earned five straight wins, is built like a fire hydrant and really has nothing to lose in this fight.

UFC featherweight
Mike Brown (24-8) vs. Nam Phan (16-8)

Brown might need a win even more than Natal, just because he’s fallen from being the featherweight champ just two years ago to having one foot out the door today. When he’s right, Brown is a force at 145, but he’s been off his game physically and mentally lately. There is no way of knowing what to expect from him here.

TUF 12 alum Phan returns for the first time since being robbed by the judges at the show’s finale last December. Despite being a fan favorite and universal agreement that he won his last fight, he too needs to put a win on his resume in this one. He’s 2-4 in his previous six fights, and bad decision or not, 2-5 isn’t a good look for anyone.

Johny Hendricks (10-1) vs. Mike Pierce (12-3)

This is my pick for Fight of the Night and was my Under the Radar selection for UFC 133 as well.

Both these guys are fighting for a little more recognition in this one. They’ve each done some good things through their first few fights in the UFC, but main card opportunities have eluded them for the most part. They’ve seen former teammates and guys they’ve beaten ascend the rankings, and this is each of their chances to prove they belong there as well.

Hendricks is a two-time National champion wrestler who really likes throwing hands, while Pierce is a poor man’s Jon Fitch with an ability to finish. They’ve each got the potential to be players in the welterweight division, and this will be the coming out party for at least one of them.

Ivan Menjivar (22-8) vs. Nick Pace (6-1)

Menjivar, a Canadian by way of El Salvador, has been impressive in his two fights under the Zuffa banner since returning from a long layoff. He went toe-to-toe with Brad Pickett in an exciting loss at WEC 53 and smashed Charlie Valencia with a textbook short elbow in the clinch before pounding out a first-round finish at UFC 129 in Toronto. A ten-year vet of the sport, a win here puts him right back in the mix in the bantamweight division.

Last time out, Pace added his name to the MMA lexicon along Jason Von Flue by breaking out what is now known as the “Pace Choke.” Describing it won’t do it justice — YouTube it, trust me — but I think of it as a no-arm, one-legged guillotine choke. As crazy as it sounds, it looks even cooler.

This should be a high-energy, spirited affair. I just hope neither Goldie or Rogan feel the need to make a “push the pace” joke.

Chad Mendes (10-0) vs. Rani Yahya (16-6)

Instead of waiting around for Jose Aldo, Mendes decided to remain on the UFC 133 card and gets submission wizard Yahya in his place.

The unbeaten Team Alpha Male product is arguably the top prospect in the division and a win should secure him a shot at the winner of October’s Aldo-Kenny Florian championship fight. He’ll need to show continued development in his hands and be careful not to get caught in this one if he hopes to make that championship bout a reality.

Yahya is a throwback to me; a one-dimensional guy who is still able to beat you because he is just so damn good at that one thing. His submission game is the best in the division, bar none, and he’s capable of capitalizing on even the smallest mistake.

The trouble is that with someone like Mendes who has very good wrestling, Yahya could have a hard time bringing the fight to the floor, which leaves him out of his element.

Matt Hamill (10-3) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (11-1)

This is a real interesting fight to me because it will give us a clearer picture of the prospects Gustafsson has in the light heavyweight division.

The 24-year-old Swede has looked good in earning three wins through four trips to the cage, losing only to Phil Davis, but this is a big step up in competition for him. Beating James Te Huna and having your hand raised against Hamill are two very different things.

Hamill takes the fight on short notice after Vladimir Matyushenko withdrew and Rich Franklin passed on the opportunity to fight Gustafsson. He’s coming off a one-sided loss to Quinton Jackson in the main event of UFC 130, but maintains his standing as the gatekeeper in the division.

The winner gets someone in the top 10-15 next, a place Hamill has made a home over his career, while Gustafsson is eagerly looking forward to breaking into that neighborhood.