Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez | USA TODAY Sports
We’re approaching the end of January — which has turned out to be a brisk start to 2015 for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Last weekend, the UFC on FOX event in Stockholm, Sweden scored the promotion’s second-largest live audience in history. Almost 30,000 fans watched Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, a +325 underdog, score an upset TKO in round one over Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson in the main event.
I picked the favorite in Gustafsson, and was proven wrong.
Here’s what I wrote:
…watching Gustafsson in recent bouts, I see a man who appears “hittable,” and Johnson hits hard.
Gustafsson dominated a 2012 bout against Johnson’s current teammate Thiago Silva in his last trip to Sweden, eventually earning a unanimous decision victory. In an odd bit of foreshadowing, cageside announcers compared his style to that of Jones. But “The Mauler” was hit by an alarming number of overhand rights as that bout wore on — and one judge scored the third stanza to Silva. Gustafsson was clipped by a similar overhand in his bout against the faded Mauricio “Shogun” Rua later that year.
Johnson hits much harder, and he will have five rounds, not three, to catch Gustafsson.
But will he?
My prediction? No. I’m… 51% sure.
Well, looks like I was 2% off. I anticipated Gustafsson to continue his improvement and correct the issue, eventually earning a decision victory — but as we know now, that didn’t happen. A Johnson overhand right clipped Gustafsson early in the bout, eventually leading to a stoppage loss.
But there will be another day for him… and, maybe, my ability to predict fights, too.
Maybe that day is this weekend, when the UFC returns to pay-per-view, with Anderson Silva against Nick Diaz in the main event of UFC 183.
On the undercard, Miesha Tate will meet Sara McMann in one of only two matches between two top-ten ranked fighters.
It’s a tougher call than the mismatched main event, and I like the challenge, so that’s what I’m previewing this week.
Former Strikeforce champion Tate has been a women’s MMA mainstay for years, setting herself apart from the pack against everyone but Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano.
Her skills, and athletic ability, doesn’t seem to excel in any one attribute, though. She’s not a knockout puncher, but she’s no slouch — giving as good as she got against Rousey in standup. She’s not a jiu-jitsu ace, but has earned almost half her wins via submission, including an armbar against an elite fighter in Merloes Coenan. She didn’t wrestle beyond high school level in Washington State, but has recorded a takedown in her every UFC/Strikeforce bout.
In contrast, McMann boasts the best wrestling pedigree in women’s MMA, but has, somehow, failed to really set herself apart. Watch McMann bouts, and sadly, it seems all the big highlights belong to her opponents — which is a marked contrast to Tate.
For example, Shayna Baszler (who has proven to not be competitive with today’s MMA talent) and McMann combined for somewhat slow, mostly standup bout back in 2012 in Invicta. The so-so action was interrupted by a nice ground sequence from Baszler in round two, where she almost caught a kneebar, toehold, and heel hook — and a good punching combo which staggered McMann late in the third. But it wasn’t enough.
A year later, McMann hit a nice throw and tied up Sheila Gaff for a stoppage win. But then, Tate’s ground game is on a different level than Gaff’s. I think it’s better than Lauren Murphy, who gave McMann a more difficult fight than expected.
McMann is clearly talented — the grinding win that many expect wouldn’t surprise me a bit here — but somehow I question if her heart’s really in this game.
In contrast, she’s had her struggles but I’ve never questioned Tate’s resolve or commitment to MMA.
In the end, I think it will be tough night for Tate, who is about a two-to-one underdog. But, I think she has shown a little more standing, and will find a way in the grappling exchanges — getting an escape here, a reversal there, and even coming close with a submission attempt — to earn an upset decision victory.
Enjoy the fights!