Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

UFC 139 Preview: Preliminary Fights

This is a special event for me, because believe it or not, it’s going to be the very first UFC event I’ll have the privilege of attending. While I’m a little disappointed that it no longer features the UFC heavyweight championship fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos as the main event, I can’t for a moment complain about the replacement main event of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Dan Henderson. In fact, Rua and Henderson are two of the very first fighters I was ever a fan of in the sport. On top of that, the fight card for UFC 139 looks particularly strong, with fighters like Miguel Torres competing on the preliminaries.

Here’s what I think about the fights to be aired on Facebook and Spike TV:

155 lbs: Shamar Bailey vs. Danny Castillo

After a successful, but dull, UFC debut against Ryan McGillivray, Shamar Bailey dropped to lightweight to take on Evan Dunham in his last fight. My belief is that Dunham was chosen to beat Bailey and give the UFC a reason to cut him, because Bailey’s performances on The Ultimate Fighter and on the TUF 13 Finale were not particularly fun to watch. Dunham ended up winning in lopsided fashion, but I think Bailey saved his job via his willingness to stand and bang, and provide an exciting fight against Dunham.

Regardless, Bailey is still much more a wrestler than he is anything else. He’ll need to be on point on Saturday against Danny Castillo, because Castillo is a pretty strong wrestler himself. Yes, Castillo was out-wrestled by Jacob Volkmann in his last fight, but Volkmann is a very good wrestler as well, and Castillo has won the takedown game against the vast majority of his opponents. On top of that, Castillo has shown that he doesn’t get hit often, avoiding damage against Volkmann, Joe Stevenson, and Dustin Poirier in the WEC.

SILVA PREDICTION: DANNY CASTILLO (46.48) OVER SHAMAR BAILEY (36.27)

As far as UFC fighters go, Castillo isn’t remarkable offensively, but his defensive skills are very good. Bailey is not a good striker, so he’ll probably need to get this fight to the ground and control position in order to win. Against an opponent weak in wrestling, this might be a successful approach, but I think Castillo will be too tough to take down consistently, and when the fight is standing, Castillo should have a clear advantage.

170 lbs: Seth Baczynski vs. Matt Brown

After enjoying some success on the regional circuit following his UFC debut loss to Brad Tavares, Seth Baczynski was brought back to take on Clay Harvison on relatively short notice. It was a very successful return for Baczynski, who used his height, reach, and aggression to crush Harvison and finish him off by submission. At middleweight, Baczynski is tall but not freakishly so; at 170 pounds, Baczynski’s 6’3″ frame can be quite a bit daunting. Baczynski’s aggressive style is evidenced by his record: despite competing in professional MMA 20 times, Baczynski has only gone to decision twice.

He’ll be facing a similarly aggressive opponent in Matt Brown, who has gone to decision three times in 22 professional fights. One of the reasons I’m very glad to have moved on to SILVA 1.1 is the rating of Brown; SILVA 1.0 considered him one of the very worst welterweights in the UFC, but SILVA 1.1 has given him a much more reasonable rating. The reason is because Brown was just 7-6 prior to his UFC debut, and SILVA 1.0 held those losses against him. SILVA 1.1 only looks at a fighter’s last ten fights, and Brown has enjoyed mild success in those fights.

SILVA PREDICTION: SETH BACZYNSKI (38.83) OVER MATT BROWN (32.53)

It’s still not enough to favor Brown to win this fight, because his UFC wins are not against the most impressive list of opponents: John Howard, Ryan Thomas, Pete Sell, James Wilks, and Matt Arroyo. However, given the aggressive nature of both fighters, and the fact that their difference in SILVA is relatively small, I think this is a tough fight to predict. If it stays standing, I’ll give a slight advantage to Brown, and if it goes to the ground, I’ll give a slight advantage to Baczynski. Overall, SILVA thinks Baczynski is the better fighter, so I’ll pick him to win.

135 lbs: Nick Pace vs. Miguel Torres

Miguel Torres can’t be blamed if he’s a very frustrated fighter right now. In his UFC debut, Torres took on Demetrious Johnson, and lost a decision that could be attributed to Johnson successfully holding top position more than anything. Now, despite being the former WEC bantamweight champion, and a very exciting fighter, Torres is buried on the preliminary fights, taking on Nick Pace. Torres is still a very good striker, and still has very good grappling, but his wrestling is virtually non-existent, as opponents who try to take him down almost always succeed.

I’ve seen Nick Pace described as a bantamweight prospect, and while that may be true, given how thin the bantamweight division is, I haven’t seen a lot that recommends Pace as a fighter to watch out for in the future. In the limited fight footage I’ve seen, Pace hasn’t blown me away in the striking and wrestling departments, although he does appear to be a very good grappler. Still, Pace clearly lost to Ivan Menjivar in his last fight, and while Menjivar is a tough veteran fighter, I can’t say that Menjivar is in the same class as Torres.

SILVA PREDICTION: MIGUEL TORRES (63.36) OVER NICK PACE (23.61)

Pace does have a chance, but only because Torres is an example of the 9-year rule at work so far, even though his recent losses were all to very tough opponents. If Pace stands with Torres, he’s likely to get thoroughly out-struck, and if he goes for the takedown, he’ll get the fight to the ground but have to deal with a very active, slick guard game. In short, Torres has many more ways to win, and is much more likely to get the win.

155 lbs: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Gleison Tibau

This is a very interesting match. Gleison Tibau, perhaps the biggest fighter in the UFC lightweight division, will be taking on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 139. The reason I find it interesting is that it forces Gleison Tibau to fight an opponent at his area of strength. Let me explain: Tibau is not a very good striker. He doesn’t throw a high volume of punches, and the strikes that he does throw are generally ineffective. Tibau often relies on his size and strength to win fights, forcing opponents to the floor and overpowering them on the ground.

If Tibau does that against Rafael dos Anjos, he’s going to have to deal with an opponent who’s very well-versed in the ground game. dos Anjos has seven submission wins in his pro MMA career, including an armbar of Terry Etim at UFC 112, and is generally a fighter who welcomes fights on the ground. Of course, the difficulty for dos Anjos would be that, if the fight does go to the ground, it will likely be with Tibau in top position, and dos Anjos having to operate from bottom position.

SILVA PREDICTION: RAFAEL DOS ANJOS (52.46) OVER GLEISON TIBAU (51.09)

The result is a very competitive and interesting match, one that may end up a relatively bad striking battle (let’s hope not). Both fighters have enjoyed only moderate UFC success, but dos Anjos’s wins over George Sotiropoulos and Etim slightly trump Tibau’s wins over Kurt Pellegrino and Jeremy Stephens. It’s a tough one to call, and keep in mind that Tibau is no slouch on the ground, but I’ll go with SILVA and choose dos Anjos.

185 lbs: Tom Lawlor vs. Chris Weidman

The final Facebook preliminary fight will feature Ultimate Fighter veteran Tom Lawlor taking on five-star prospect Chris Weidman. Despite a professional MMA record of just 6-0, Chris Weidman already rates as the #15 middleweight in the world according to SILVA. This is because Weidman has already scored quality wins against Jesse Bongfeldt, Alessio Sakara, and Uriah Hall. Weidman is well ahead of the normal development curve in MMA, and with over two years of experience to go along with being 27 years old, it’s easy to envision Weidman making a rapid ascent towards title contention at middleweight.

He’ll first need to beat Tom Lawlor, and while nobody should ever be counted out in a UFC fight (although I did that with Alex Caceres last week and got burned), it’s hard to see Lawlor winning here. If the fight stays standing, Lawlor may have a slight striking advantage, but for the fight to stay standing, he’ll need to fend off Weidman’s takedown attempts. That’s easier said than done; Weidman already has six takedowns landed in his UFC career, and his opponents haven’t even attempted a takedown against him. And Weidman has shown good submission abilities as well, forcing Bongfeldt to tap out to a standing guillotine, and winning by kimura in his first professional MMA fight.

SILVA PREDICTION: CHRIS WEIDMAN (60.65) OVER TOM LAWLOR (45.05)

Basically, for Lawlor to win this fight, he’ll need to either score a quick KO, or consistently defend Weidman’s attempts to take him to the ground. Either of those things are possible, but from a purely probabilistic spirit, it seems much more likely that Weidman will be able to impose his game on Lawlor, and emerge with his seventh MMA win.

135 lbs: Michael McDonald vs. Alex Soto

It’s hard to know exactly where to place Michael McDonald on the hierarchy of UFC bantamweights. SILVA, which goes ONLY by wins and losses, and doesn’t take into account the way a fighter wins or loses, has McDonald as the #5 bantamweight in the world, behind only Dominick Cruz, Joseph Benavidez, Brian Bowles, and Renan Barao. Theoretically, the best way to evaluate a fighter (or a sports team, or an individual sportsman) would be to measure the underlying performances, going beyond just whether a fighter won or lost. Fight Metric has some great data available, but to the best of my knowledge, nobody has yet been able to use it for predictive purposes.

My point is that, in McDonald’s last two fights, he hasn’t looked particularly good. McDonald didn’t put away Edwin Figueroa as decisively as might have been expected, and he barely skated by Chris Cariaso, winning by split decision in a fight in which McDonald was out-struck. McDonald is just 20 years old, so improvement is probably on the way, but his recent performances have not been the stuff that inspires confidence in the future of a fighter.

SILVA PREDICTION: MICHAEL MCDONALD (63.62) OVER ALEX SOTO (31.70)

This is why, even though I know nothing about Alex Soto, I wouldn’t expect McDonald to just run over him. I certainly expect McDonald to win, but given his performances against Cariaso and Figueroa, there’s no guarantee of that either. Soto is 6-0-1, hasn’t fought anybody particularly noteworthy, and is taking this fight on very short notice, so the odds are certainly stacked against him, but I’m not for a moment going to dismiss the upset possibility.

205 lbs: Ryan Bader vs. Jason Brilz

Perhaps no UFC fighter has had a worse 2011 than Ryan Bader. Bader lost badly to Jon Jones at UFC 126; while Jones was not yet the champion, and he’s never looked vulnerable in a fight, it was still a disappointing performance. Still, it was nothing compared to being submitted by Tito Ortiz at UFC 132. In my mind, that loss took Bader from being an elite light-heavyweight to being merely good, but probably incapable of making a title run at any point. If Bader wants to prove me wrong, he’s going to have to take out Jason Brilz.

Brilz is a decent fighter, but right now, he’s most famous for the way he loses fights. Brilz had a very competitive fight against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira that he lost by split decision (and one of many examples of why the ten-point must system is terrible for MMA). Most recently, Brilz lost by 20-second KO to grizzled veteran Vladimir Matyushenko. Having lost three of his last four fights, it’s very important for Brilz to get back in the win column if he wants to save his UFC career.

SILVA PREDICTION: RYAN BADER (64.07) OVER JASON BRILZ (55.15)

This is a tough one for Brilz. Bader isn’t a great striker, and showed vulnerability against Ortiz, but Brilz isn’t the kind of fighter who’s well-suited to win via the striking game. Brilz’s best game is the wrestling/grappling game that he showed against Nogueira and Tim Boetsch, but Bader is probably the stronger wrestler. Ultimately, I feel that Bader wins from being able to shut Brilz down more than anything.

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