Nick Ring (12-0) vs. Tim Boetsch (13-4)
This bout got the Under the Radar treatment for this card, as it amazes me that few people are talking about this match-up.
A former light heavyweight, Boetsch made his middleweight debut at UFC 130 and tossed Kendall Grove around the cage. “The Barbarian” is one of those guys who doesn’t have any real dominant skill; he’s just a beast of a man with great power and size, especially for the 185-pound division.
The winner of this becomes a fighter to watch in the middleweight ranks heading into 2012, at least in my books.
Tony Ferguson (11-2) vs. Aaron Riley (30-12-1)
Despite being just 30-years-old, Riley is a grizzled veteran who has fought everywhere during his career. He’s unofficially the guy who welcomes TUF grads to the Octagon, as Ferguson is the third former cast member he’s fought over his last four opponents.
This is a solid test for the Season 13 winner, as Riley is good everywhere and comes into this fight well-prepared after spending the last three months training with Team Jackson.
Ferguson showed a good blend of wrestling and hands during the last season, and will need to continue developing in both areas to become a threat in the deep lightweight division, and beating Riley would be a good start.
Mark Hunt (6-7) vs. Ben Rothwell (31-7)
While this isn’t a fight with serious implications in the deepening heavyweight division, it should be entertaining, as both Hunt and Rothwell are true heavyweights, and they’re each in desperate need of a win.
Hunt broke his four-and-a-half year, six-fight losing streak last time out, knocking out Chris Tuchscherer in violent fashion at UFC 127. He’s riding out the end of his old Pride contract, and essentially needs to keep winning to keep fighting in the UFC.
This marks the first fight for Rothwell since decisioning Gilbert Yvel at UFC 115 in June 2010. He tore his ACL and suffered a deviated septum in the bout, and has been healing and rebuilding himself ever since.
Rothwell is the more well-rounded of the two, but the time away and Hunt’s one-punch power can’t be overlooked. Hunt will need to do everything in his power to keep this standing if he has any chance of winning.
Nate Diaz (13-7) vs. Takanori Gomi (32-7)
Check out The Face-Off: Diaz vs. Gomi for further analysis
This one is like the lightweight version of the Hunt-Rothwell fight, in that it has no real barring on the lightweight rankings, but it should still be pretty fun to watch.
The younger Diaz returns to lightweight after losing two straight at 170. I would be more excited about the move if he didn’t leave the division on a 1-3 skid. Fighting at ’55 saps him of much of his power, and while he has very good jiu-jitsu, he’s never found a way to really set it up well.
Once the best lightweight on the planet, Gomi is no longer “The Fireball Kid” of old. He still has knockout power—ask Tyson Griffin—but he’s too keen reliant on throwing big punches, which usually leaves him exhausted after the opening five minutes.
Still, this is a compelling contest, given the Diaz-Gomi history, and the fact tat Nate, like his brother Nick, will talk an inordinate amount of junk before, during, and after the fight.
Travis Browne (11-0-1) vs. Rob Broughton (15-5-1)
Broughton is unheralded and relatively unknown, but still very dangerous, which leaves Browne with much to lose and little to gain. For the record, he’s in no way overlooking the Briton and is prepared for a war on Saturday night.
The unbeaten Hawaiian did his training camp at Jackson’s in Albuquerque this time around, and raved about it when we spoke last week. He has excellent striking and an underrated ground game honed during his time working with Master Lloyd Irvin and the Alliance MMA team.
Broughton is a bear of a man who brings a five-fight winning streak into this one. He choked out Vinicius Queiroz in his UFC debut in October of last year, and has won eight of ten overall.
A win for Browne should mean a step up to face the bigger names next time out, while an upset for Broughton puts him on the map moving forward.
Matt Hughes (45-8) vs. Josh Koscheck (15-5)
Like Koscheck, I’ve wanted to see this fight for a long time. I don’t know why the AKA guys always called out Hughes—I’m sure there is some story behind it—but I’m happy to see it finally go down this weekend.
We’ve seen two very different version of Hughes in his last two fights. He got popped and put away quickly by BJ Penn last time out, but did the same to Ricardo Almeida the fight before that. While he’s always prepared and always in shape, it’s hard to know if Hughes has enough left in the tank to get by a top 10 welterweight.
On the other side of things, how much can we expect from Koscheck on 19 days notice? He’s the more athletic of the two and the more diverse striker, but getting back in shape and hard sparring in the gym is not the same as having Hughes standing across from you trying to dominate you.
Personally, I like this fight more than the original bout, and am looking forward to finally seeing it happen.
Jon Jones (13-1) vs. Quinton Jackson (32-8)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: every Jon Jones fight is a must-see fight. The fact that there is legit heat between these two only ups the ante.
The light heavyweight champion could become one of the best ever if he continues performing the way his has to date. He is one of the most well-rounded and talented fighters in the sport today, and he’s just 24-years-old. There really is no measurable ceiling for “Bones” at this point.
While everyone knows what to expect from Jackson, the wild card is his conditioning and focus. He says this is the hardest he’s trained for a fight in his career, and he seems intent on stopping Jones’ ascension, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the best “Rampage” we’ve seen in years on Saturday night.
But will that be enough?
That’s the question that will have us all tuning in tomorrow night.