The Rear Naked Column 07.15.11: UFC Upset Watch (Part 2)
Posted by Samer Kadi on 07.15.2011
Can Junior Dos Santos beat Cain Velasquez? Does Kenny Florian stand a chance against Jose Aldo? Will Gray Maynard beat Frankie Edgar in their rubber match? 411’s Samer Kadi takes a look in the second part of his UFC Upset Watch!
Last week, "The Rear Naked Column" examined the upset potential in the upcoming title fights in the welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight division. This week, we dive into the featherweight, lightweight and heavyweight division, as Jose Aldo takes on Kenny Florian, Frankie Edgar squares off against Gray Maynard for the third time, and Cain Velasquez returns to defend his belt against Junior Dos Santos.
Jose Aldo vs. Kenny Florian
After his destruction of Manny Gamburyan last year, then WEC featherweight champion Jose Aldo expressed his desire to challenge himself in the UFC lightweight division. The UFC decided to grant Aldo his wish and offered him a fight with perennial lightweight contender Kenny Florian, but a change of heart for the Brazilian ultimately prevented the fight from materializing. One year later, and the bout is scheduled to take place, but under different circumstances. Aldo wisely opted to stay put at featherweight for the time being in order to defend his title, while Florian saw fit to drop down in weight and try his luck in yet another division.
It is tough to figure out what to make of Florian's showing against Diego Nunes, as first time cuts tend to take their tolls on a fighter and his performance could have suffered as a result. Nevertheless, "Ken-Flo" was not overly impressive in his outing, as he narrowly edged out his Brazilian counterpart. Florian looked a little sluggish with his striking, and it was in fact his wrestling that won him the fight.
Against Aldo, Florian will need to be sharper with his striking, as his takedowns will not be enough to plant the Brazilian on his back. It is a misconception that Mark Hominick was able to take Aldo down. In truth, Aldo dropped for a sloppy guillotine and his opponent capitalized. Throughout his career, Aldo has shown great takedown defense, and Florian's offensive wrestling – while underrated – will not be enough to trouble the champion for twenty-five minutes.
Aldo did seem to tire against Mark Hominick, but by all accounts, that was due to sickness. Florian on the other hand, tends to be a slow starter, and it takes him time to settle into the fight and find his rhythm. He will need to establish his jab, throw a lot of feints, utilize his movement, and slip out of Aldo's range after engaging. Hominick had some success when he faked going to Aldo's head and instead went to the liver. Florian would be wise to do the same, while also putting his body kick to good use.
On paper, this is a pretty tough match-up for Florian. Aldo's defensive wrestling should be enough to keep the fight standing, and he possesses the faster, more powerful, and more versatile striking. One of Kenny's flaws is that despite having good head movement in general, he is prone to counters. BJ Penn had a field day doing just that, and Aldo should be able to do the same. He is one of the best at controlling distance, dissecting his opponent's offense, and attack accordingly. Additionally, Aldo excels at striking from distance as well as from close-quarters. Lately, he has been able to combine his dynamism with patience and strategic awareness, and it has paid dividends. Florian's lack of one-punch knockout threat means Aldo can afford to get aggressive without risking much, and that is bad news for Kenny. While Florian's movement means he is unlikely to be sent home limping due to leg kicks, Aldo's superior boxing and power should see him through to yet another successful title defense.
Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard
Speculating as to when this bout is going to take place is a more difficult task than predicting its outcome. Their early fight of the year candidate set the standard for the remainder of the year, and it turned the rubber-match into quite the anticipated contest.
While Maynard came closest to winning their January 1st encounter due to his furious first round onslaught, the manner in which the rest of the fight unfolded makes Edgar the slight favorite in my book. Edgar made sure he circled away from Maynard's power right hand, but "The Bully" surprised him with a much-improved lead left hook that did plenty of damage in the opening frame. Frankie's adjustments in the subsequent rounds paid off, and Maynard may have gotten a tad overzealous with his attempts to throw power shots. Edgar was able to outwork his opponent as the fight progressed, and amazingly, looked to be the fresher man in the final stages.
I still believe Edgar is the overall better striker, and his speed and movement should make the difference; provided he doesn't commit a similar mistake and gets caught with a well-placed shot. He does a better job at mixing up his strikes, and unlike Maynard, avoids getting into a predictable pattern. Maynard's head movement is still somewhat lacking and he can be accused of being a little too flat-footed. This makes him hittable, and Edgar was able to capitalize throughout the fight.
The real eye-opener however, was the fact that Edgar got the better of the wrestling, albeit marginally. Unlike their first encounter a few years ago, Maynard had very little success taking Edgar down and controlling him. For his part, Edgar didn't exactly "outwrestle" Maynard, but he did surprise his opponent with a few well-timed takedowns. To each fighter's credit, they were both able to scramble up to their feet in little time.
The rubber-match is bound to be close and competitive, and I see its events barring resemblance to its predecessor, minus Maynard's first round flurry; which would make Edgar the winner in another closely contested – but more decisive – decision.
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos
In perhaps the most anticipated title fight of 2011, Cain Velasquez will return to action for the first time since defeating Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight title last October. Welcoming him back is number one contender Junior Dos Santos.
It will be tough to ignore the injury that forced Velasquez to sit on the sidelines for a year. With someone like Cain, the main factor after such a layoff will be ring rust rather than conditioning, as he is too much of a hard worker to step inside the cage in mediocre shape. And yet, any hesitation early on will see Dos Santos capitalizing, as the Brazilian's striking is dangerous enough as it is.
Dos Santos' boxing looked as sharp and as technical as ever against Shane Carwin, as he was able to dictate the fight with his jab and use it to set up his fearsome right hand. Dos Santos' right cross, right uppercut and left hook are a constant threat at any time, and Velasquez's head movement can be a bit iffy. No fighter in the division can put combinations together the way Dos Santos does, but if there is anyone who can give him a run for his money in that department, it's Velasquez.
The champion possesses the more diverse striking, and does a great job at putting combinations together and finishing with kicks. However, the real advantage that Velasquez has in this fight is that he possesses the speed to cut off the cage, push Dos Santos against the fence, and give him no room to utilize his boxing. "Cigano" was able to nullify Shane Carwin's attempts at clinching up against the cage, but Velasquez is a different animal altogether. He is faster, more explosive, and simply better in the clinch than Carwin, and happens to be a better wrestler to boot. For as improved as Dos Santos' takedown defense is, it is tough to envision him stopping Velasquez's takedown attempts for twenty-five minutes.
This means that Dos Santos would have to end the fight within the first two rounds, as in his past two fights, he did seem to tire in the third. Against Velasquez, who will undoubtedly look to pile up the pressure, push him against the fence and take him down, Dos Santos will wear out quicker. Velasquez's versatility in his wrestling is his main asset, but Dos Santos' hips will allow him to get back to his feet early. However, the deeper they go into the fight, the more difficult this becomes, and Velasquez's frantic ground and pound will eventually overwhelm his Brazilian foe.
Nevertheless, this remains the bout with the biggest upset potential simply due to the quality of the challenger, as Junior Dos Santos has proven to be one of the absolute elite heavyweights. That, coupled with Velasquez's layoff makes this a tricky fight to predict with any measure of confidence (though as mentioned, I still favor Velasquez). Maynard's record against Edgar can't be ignored, as he was seconds away from being 2-0 against the champion. That alone makes it foolish to write him off. On the other hand, Kenny Florian's chances against Jose Aldo are somewhat slim.
REMINDER: Be sure to check out the latest edition of the 411 Ground and Pound radio show. Mark Radulich was doing his usual hosting duties and was joined by Scott Kuczkowski, Jeffrey Harris and yours truly to discuss Chael Sonnen's wackiness.