Derek Brunson vs. Lorenz Larkin
Brunson is a talented wrestler who has developed a nice striking game to go along with his ability to land takedowns. I’ve been giving Brunson some hype as a potential middleweight title contender. Unfortunately, Brunson’s talent has been undone by serious issues with gassing out later in fights. Gassing out nearly got him in trouble against Chris Leben in his UFC debut, and it turned what would have been a win against Yoel Romero into a loss. Like I said when Tony Martin lost to Beneil Dariush on Saturday, Brunson is a talented fighter whose conditioning is ruining him.
I fully expect that Lorenz Larkin will be the more polished and effective striker against Brunson, but I don’t think it will be a dominant performance standing – just enough to win rounds. Larkin also has good takedown defense at 79% and will make Brunson work for his takedowns. Brunson is a good enough wrestler that I think he’ll land at least a takedown or two at some point, but I don’t see him being able to consistently put Larkin on his back.
Under normal circumstances, I would describe this fight as a battle between striking and takedowns likely to go to a close/tough to score decision. However, with Brunson’s history of gassing out, I have to almost give the third round to Larkin by default. That gives Larkin an edge in fights going the distance, and that’s enough for me to favor him overall.
Pick: Lorenz Larkin by decision
Henry Cejudo vs. Scott Jorgensen
Cejudo enters the UFC with a tremendous amount of hype as a gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Olympics. If his early career is any indication, Cejudo’s wrestling has adapted extremely well to mixed martial arts and he will have little trouble landing takedowns against most UFC opponents. It’s not difficult to envision Cejudo as the fighter who will eventually dethrone Demetrious Johnson – a fighter who can beat Johnson in the takedown game and potentially grind out a decision against him.
However, there are some serious concerns that could derail Cejudo in the UFC. Those are:
-Cejudo has fought six times and has just 17 months of professional MMA experience. It’s very early for him to be fighting at the sport’s highest level, especially against a veteran like Scott Jorgensen.
-Cejudo’s work ethic has been called into question in both MMA and wrestling, as he took multiple years off of wrestling and was left off the 2012 Olympic team because of it. Cejudo has missed weight for his last two MMA fights.
-Cejudo’s striking is a work in progress and his ground game is far from polished – Cejudo still needs to work on infusing his wrestling skills with some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prowess. Losses by knockout or submission are very much in play at this point.
I would be pretty confident in Cejudo beating a lower-level UFC flyweight, but Jorgensen could be a tough opponent for him. Jorgensen has a wrestling background himself and should be the better volume striker. At the same time, Jorgensen has been taken down 23 times in the UFC/WEC and isn’t particularly hard to hit. I think Cejudo can put together enough strikes and takedowns to win on the judges’ scorecards, but until he shows a more polished/developed game, I can’t favor him too strongly.
Pick: Henry Cejudo by decision
Anthony Hamilton vs. Ruan Potts
Hamilton is a big heavyweight fighting out of the Jackson-Winklejohn team. He has fight-ending knockout power and likes to go for takedowns, establish dominant top position, and land strikes on the ground, with potential to knock out his opponent with these strikes. A few problems: a horrible gas tank (Hamilton has gassed out in the first round), an unpolished ground game, and a lack of precision at standing distance.
While Ruan Potts has to be considered a threat to knock out or submit Hamilton, what stood out to me about Potts before he made his UFC debut was just how easy it was to take him down. Potts sometimes would just fall down during his fights. While Potts has some submission skills off his back, he gets put on his back very easily. It was no surprise that Soa Palelei was able to take Potts down quickly and knock him out with ground and pound.
I think the most likely outcome in this fight is something similar. Hamilton likes to shoot for takedowns and shouldn’t have trouble getting Potts on his back. Once that happens, Hamilton hits hard enough that Potts could easily find himself unconscious again. At the same time, it’s possible that Potts could reverse position on Hamilton and then do the same thing himself. In a battle of very flawed heavyweights, neither should be favored too heavily.
Pick: Anthony Hamilton by KO
Anthony Birchak vs. Joe Soto
This is a battle between the MFC bantamweight champion (Birchak) and the Tachi Palace bantamweight champion (Soto). Birchak is a very aggressive fighter who makes up for a lack of sound striking technique with pressure, volume, and a diversity of strikes. He’s also a solid wrestler who has developed a functional submission game. While I feel that Birchak’s tendency to be wild standing will hurt him eventually, I see him as a fighter who can be a quality UFC bantamweight, if not a title contender.
Soto is a veteran of the MMA game, an early Bellator champion and a fighter who enters at 15-2, with losses to Joe Warren and Eddie Yagin. Like Birchak, Soto is a fighter who is at his best when he’s landing takedowns and threatening submissions on his opponent. Soto has good transitions on the ground. However, Soto does not have Birchak’s aggression standing, and often struggles to land standing strikes, instead maintaining a defensive shell while looking for openings to take the fight to the ground.
Soto probably has the more polished submission game, so it’s certainly possible that he could catch Birchak in a scramble and win by tapout. However, I think Birchak is the more talented and well-rounded fighter, and should be favored to win due to superior pressure and striking ability.
Pick: Anthony Birchak by decision
Cain Carrizosa vs. Chris Wade
Wade is a wrestler/grinder type who enters the UFC at 7-1, with seven wins in Ring of Combat and one loss in World Series of Fighting. It’s a little tricky for me to develop an accurate opinion of Wade’s skills, because one of the two fights of his I watched was his WSOF loss to Ozzy Dugulubgov… and it was ugly. Dugulubgov hit Wade with a series of hard counter strikes standing, took him down multiple times and basically dominated the fight. It seems like Wade has decent takedowns and a good ground and pound game, but struggles with takedown defense and striking in general.
Carrizosa is a tall and lanky lightweight who knows how to use that length to threaten submissions from a variety of positions. He’s the kind of fighter whose grappling is somewhat undisciplined and would probably have a poor showing in a submission wrestling tournament, but whose aggression adapts well to the rule set of mixed martial arts. Carrizosa also has decent movement standing and enters the UFC with two wins by knockout.
I think Carrizosa should prove to be the more effective striker, and his attacking guard and submission game could give Wade trouble on the ground as well. It’s very possible that Wade could repeatedly take Carrizosa down and grind out a decision with top control and strikes while defending Carrizosa’s submissions. However, I think Carrizosa is the much better threat to finish and will make things tough for Wade regardless of whether or not he goes for the takedown.
Pick: Cain Carrizosa by decision