Mere days before I had planned to inquire about putting the faces of Paul Sass and Terry Etim on milk cartons, they have not only been found, but they have been given fights. Etim will face Edward Faaloloto at UFC 138, and Sass will face Michael Johnson at UFC on Versus 6. Sass may be considered by many to be a gimmicky fighter: his style is very unique to the UFC, as he likes to pull guard and aggressively attempt heel hooks and triangle chokes. His game worked very well against Mark Holst last October at UFC 120, as he was able to lock up a triangle choke after a number of submission attempts.
Despite the success that Sass has enjoyed with his submission game (he enters this fight 11-0), I expect the majority of opinion to be on the side of Michael Johnson winning this fight. Johnson has a very traditional MMA skill set, with power striking and wrestling. It’s very possible that, when the fight takes place, Sass is neither able to strike with Johnson, nor able to drag him to the ground. I’m already seeing comparisons to the April 2010 Strikeforce match between Shinya Aoki and Gilbert Melendez.
Despite the unorthodox game of Sass (unorthodox is a word used far too often in MMA, but it absolutely applies here), SILVA thinks Sass is an elite fighter in the UFC lightweight division. Here are the current elite lightweights as measured by SILVA:
- Gray Maynard, 54.05
- Gilbert Melendez, 52.69
- Frank Edgar, 50.23
- Jim Miller, 48.82
- Eddie Alvarez, 48.03
- Edson Barboza, 46.54
- Shinya Aoki, 46.47
- Paul Sass, 44.64
- Takanori Gomi, 43.46
If Sass really is going to be an elite fighter in the UFC, it will be by being the Aoki of the promotion. Sass will need to be the best fighter in the division at tangling himself up with his opponents, and attempting submissions such as the heel hook from any position, in any situation. It’s a very tough task, but if anybody is up to it, Sass is.
The problem with comparing Melendez-Aoki to Sass-Johnson is that Michael Johnson isn’t anywhere near as good as Gilbert Melendez is. Melendez is 19-2, and has a 12-2 record against people I consider to be “UFC-quality opponents.” Johnson, on the other hand, is 9-5, with just a 1-4 record against “UFC-quality opponents.” Melendez boasts a SILVA score of 52.69, whereas Johnson’s SILVA score is just 27.01.
Still, SILVA is being put to the test here. Paul Sass may be 11-0, but because his best career win is against Mark Holst, whether or not his aggressive submission game can work against true UFC-level opponents is an open question. It’s quite possible that Johnson represents a blend of power and wrestling that will serve as the perfect counter to Sass’s game. If that is indeed the case, then Sass’s SILVA score will decline a mile, to 25.10. On the other hand, if Sass wins (especially if he wins by submission early), then that will be a signal that his game can work against top athletes, and that perhaps he can be the Shinya Aoki of the UFC. This is a career-defining fight for Sass, and I’ll be very much looking forward to it on October 1st.