I went to high school here in Fresno at Clovis West High School. Clovis West features a very good basketball team: it’s not some prep academy designed exclusively for basketball (there’s no way I would be a student if that was the case, my basketball skills are about as good as a blind man at sharpshooting), but it’s a team that has a lot of success anyway. In my junior year, Clovis West beat Bakersfield High School in the state playoffs, despite the presence of soon-to-be NBA lottery draft pick Robert Swift, a seven-foot center who got drafted by the Seattle Supersonics. This, despite the complete absence of a player on the team above 6’3″.
How did Clovis West do it? Well, besides great team play, Clovis West ran a full court press defense designed to trap the opponent and force turnovers instead of competing for rebounds. On the other end of the floor, there wasn’t any one superior offensive talent, but everybody played solid, fundamental basketball. In that same junior year, Clovis West lost in the state playoffs to Etiwanda High School, which only featured TWO future NBA players in Darren Collison and Jeff Pendergraph.
In my senior year, Clovis West took on Westchester High School, a team featuring not one, but TWO seven footers in its starting lineup, including current Toronto Raptor Amir Johnson. After losing by 20 points, I remember telling one of the basketball players “you didn’t have a chance.” At some point, there’s only so much a team can do to compete with teams bursting with future NBA talent.
The reason I spent 250+ words on my high school basketball team was to draw a comparison with UFC lightweight fighter Cody McKenzie. McKenzie started his professional career 12-0, which sounds terrific. The problem is that almost all of his victories came by guillotine choke. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a particularly nasty guillotine choke, and McKenzie goes for it ALL the time, but there’s only so far a fighter with otherwise unremarkable talent can go with a guillotine choke. Just as I would’ve told the Clovis West basketball team that they didn’t have a chance against teams with 7 foot tall NBA talent, I don’t think Cody McKenzie realistically has a chance to move up the ladder in the UFC lightweight division.
But can he at least beat Vagner Rocha? Rocha enters this fight at 6-2 as a professional, having lost his UFC debut on somewhat short notice to Donald Cerrone at UFC 131. The loss to Cerrone is barely relevant as far as this fight is concerned; Cerrone is just a much higher level fighter than Rocha is.
I’ll say this: I don’t think McKenzie will beat Rocha by guillotine choke. Rocha is actually a very good grappler, and a guy who should be fully aware of McKenzie’s guillotine choke history. It’s one thing to pull off the “McKenzietine” against the likes of Aaron Wilkinson and Marc Stevens, but doing it against somebody with an actual grappling background is another matter.
SILVA PREDICTION: CODY MCKENZIE (22.05) OVER VAGNER ROCHA (19.80)
Both men are very weak in the striking department, but as much as I may dismiss Cody McKenzie’s chances on a long term basis, he does actually land some strikes and he does actually land some takedowns. So does Vagner Rocha, of course, but what this means is that I think this is actually a very competitive fight, although I’m half expecting it to become a very sloppy, painful to watch striking “battle.” And to be realistic, neither of these guys belongs in the UFC. And while I really should pick Rocha to win here, based on just a better skill set… SILVA likes McKenzie, so what the hell? I’ll go with McKenzie for this one.