The Revenge of UFC on Versus

August 8, 2010

Guest post by Rowan Carlsen

Say what you want about the matchmaking provided to young phenom Jon Jones: his opponent, the heavy underdog Vladimir Matyushenko, seems like more of a lateral move than a step up for the prospect. But the card “Bones” is headlining promises to answer some interesting questions for the more savvy UFC fan, and will no doubt contain enough frantic action for the casual viewer as well. The second in a series of “UFC on Versus” events takes place on August 1st, and looks to continue the trend of big fights with smaller names. It's a clever marketing angle, no doubt - the Versus audience is lesser in size, but is probably more familiar with Jones, as well as MMA veterans like Yushin Okami and Takanori Gomi. It's a chance for many MMA fighters who are on the cusp of popular recognition to garner some more hype and add to their highlight reels, and also an opportunity for some relative unknowns to get recognition among the dedicated fans. We may have been spoiled by the fireworks delivered by UFC 116, but don't overlook a solid MMA event like this one. Use the next few weeks to whet your appetite again; searching out Jon Jones' greatest hits on YouTube should get you excited enough, but if you must pull out the old Pride DVD's don't let me stop you.

Now most UFC fans are well aware of Jon Jones and his "meteoric rise" (Mike Goldberg's catchphrase seems oddly appropriate). Walking through the mid-level talent at Light Heavyweight is no joke, and he has earned plenty of style points along the way. But some of you may be wondering about Jones' opponent, the 39 year old Matyushenko. A very different type of fighter, "The Janitor" won't be throwing out the spinning elbows and overhook suplexes that the flashy Jones is so fond of. But that's not to say he isn't dangerous in his own right: his age is backed up by a wealth of cage experience, and a list of opponents that spans multiple generations of Light Heavyweight rankings. He's even tangled with dangerous heavyweights in Andrei Arlovski and Pedro Rizzo, beating the latter by decision back in 2003. Did I mention this guy was fighting for the UFC as far back as 2001, in the days before you could tune in to "The Ultimate Fighter" reruns any day of the week? He's 1-1 against the Jiu Jitsu ace Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, in bouts more than SEVEN years apart. He was the division champion for the ill fated IFL, an organization with surprisingly impressive talent that unfortunately paved the way for Elite XC and Affliction when it flopped in 2008. And before his MMA career, he earned his nickname wrestling at a world class a competition in the desolate, frigid wastes of Siberia. This is a man who has done it all, and his hard-nosed style does seem like a perfect counterpoint to a supremely talented newcomer. However, given his age and the level of competition he has faced (and struggled with) recently, he still may not represent the challenge fans were hoping to see for Jon Jones.

The next bout down on the card features one of the few survivors from the heavier divisions in the WEC. Having recently moved down to 185 lbs, Mark Munoz seems mostly recovered from a brutal head kick loss to Matt Hamill one year ago. A harrowing first round against Kendall Grove may have reflected poorly on his chin, but he showed the kind of never say die attitude that will be vital against Yushin Okami. He will need to use every tool in his arsenal to ward off the relentless and multifaceted assault of Okami, whose only recent loss is to current UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen. Munoz has excellent amateur wrestling skills to fall back on, attested to by his decorated college career; however, his striking is a mixed bag, and he may be lacking in any real area of advantage against a very versatile opponent. Veteran of the undercard Yushin Okami, on the other hand, seems to have all the tools necessary to grind out a decision victory. While lacking in popular appeal, he has the caliber of wrestling needed to neutralize Munoz, and also possesses the kind of smothering top game that can win fights even if it elicits yawns from the audience. Look for the early trades of punches to determine the direction of this bout, as both men can defend the takedown well enough to capitalize on an advantage on the feet. A possible X factor will be the guard skills of each fighter, which may turn the tide if we end up with a wrestling exhibition.

The last two matchups on the main card offer very different spectacles. A welterweight clash between John Howard and Jake Ellenberger, both of whom lay claim heavy hands and a number of KO victories, will likely produce a promising contender. Howard is riding a 7-fight win streak, and the back to back knockouts in his last two suggest he's spent a lot of time with his boxing coach recently. A glance at his record will show a proficiency with submissions as well though, and if he is downed during this fight we may get to see his Jiu Jitsu abilities at work. Jake Ellenberger comes in with strong wrestling and top control to match, and will certainly give Howard all he can handle on the ground. Fresh off a crushing victory over the formidable Mike Pyle, he has a long history of ground and pound wins to his name despite being only 25 years old. Both of these prospects have a lot to offer the welterweight division, and a bit more name recognition after a successful night on August 1st can't hurt.

Finally we come to the most unusual fight on the card, and one that may confuse some fans in the "he's fighting WHO??" kind of way. But after giving it some thought (many hours of head-scratching were involved), I've decided this meeting between cardio machine Tyson Griffin and "The Fireball Kid" Takanori Gomi actually makes sense. Griffin has found himself consistently on the fringe of being a contender in the Lightweight division, and Gomi's recent loss to Kenny Florian has tossed him down the ranks to roughly the same level. This will be a fight with some dire consequences for the loser, as falling behind in the ultra-competitive Lightweight rankings will mean a long and arduous climb back up. The winner, however, can only enjoy a brief reprieve before being thrown to the wolves against hungry contenders like Rafael Dos Anjos or Kurt Pellegrino. Not to mention the fact that the loser of the Edgar-Penn rematch will be out for blood among the upper ranks soon enough. But enough speculation about future matchmaking, let's look at the cold, hard facts. Since the reign as Pride champion that won him renown all the way across the ocean among American MMA diehards, Gomi has looked slower in every outing. No doubt he still packs a punch to live up to his name, but the UFC houses too many slick, technical strikers and ferocious wrestlers in his division. Any wins he earns stateside will require some changes in training and strategy, and a healthy dose of luck to boot. Pride fans, don't string me up for straight talk, but Tyson Griffin should have this one in the bag. Despite a disappointing (and exhausting) loss to Evan Dunham, Griffin is still just about the most dangerous gatekeeper you'll see in MMA, and can easily end Gomi's night early with grounded strikes or a rear naked choke.

Originally posted on the MMA Blog.