(“You know the deal, guys. Whoever puts on the most impressive performance tonight gets the title shot.” [*unzips*] / Photo courtesy of CombatLifestyle.com. For more photos from this set, click here.)
By Ryan Sarr
Who is going to win the “Jon Jones Sweepstakes?” That is the big question heading into the UFC’s fourth venture onto network television tonight. Dana White was so pissed about the boring, lackluster abomination that was the UFC 149 main card, that he decided to award a light-heavyweight title shot to the man who wins the “most impressively“ among the four main and co-main event participants. (Yes, even Brandon Vera) The only problem with this scenario is that all four men — Shogun, Vera, Machida, and Bader — have each been decisively destroyed by Jon Jones in previous fights.
Nonetheless, this fight card is still very intriguing and offers many reasons to tune in. First of all: It’s free on Fox. Second, all four main card bouts are likely to be exciting, fast-paced battles. It also marks the return of the very talented Mike Swick to the Octagon, who hasn’t fought in over two years. Finally, we have a chance to see a true Cinderella story play out once again as Jamie Varner gets a chance to take another huge step up in his comeback by fighting on a main card on network television. So, join me as I break down the main card for UFC on Fox 4 and offer my predictions as to who will emerge victorious.
Mike Swick (14-4, 9-3 UFC) vs. DaMarques Johnson (15-10, 4-4 UFC)
DaMarques Johnson said in the fight promo, “There’s a 50% chance I’m gonna win this fight, there’s a 100% chance that somebody’s taking a nap,” and Johnson has the track record to back it up: None of his fights in the UFC have gone the distance. The Jeremy Horn protégé has slick submission skills to go along with his heavy hands. We know Johnson will bring a fast-paced, exciting style into the Octagon, and his opponent Mike Swick will almost certainly do the same.
Swick hasn’t fought in over two years due to esophageal spasms, a condition which his doctors told him would never allow him to fight again. Well, he proved them wrong and now his comeback fight will be in front of a national television audience. Swick is a UFC veteran, with over 10 fights in the Octagon, but his last two outings have been losses. Like Johnson, Swick loves to stand and trade, and possesses knockout power in both hands. Look for this fight to stay on the feet, with each man exchanging heavy blows in the pocket. The question is: How much ring rust will Swick have? Johnson hasn’t beat anyone of Swick’s stature, but Johnson has fought six times since Swick last fought.
Prediction: The chances of this fight making it out of the first round are slim. Johnson will definitely come with the thunder, but Swick will be too much on the feet. Swick wins by counter-punching his way to a first round TKO.
Jamie Varner (20-6-1, 2-1 UFC) vs. Joe Lauzon (21-7, 8-4 UFC)
10 months ago, Jamie Varner had just lost to our favorite gay for pay Ultimate Fighter Dakota Cochrane, and it was looking like he would never fight under the Zuffa banner again. But, after winning two fights in smaller shows, the UFC called in May and gave Varner a short-notice fight against the undefeated Edson Barboza at UFC 146. Barboza was coming off his Sportscenter-worthy spinning wheel kick KO of Terry Etim, and it seemed Varner was being fed to the beast. Varner had other plans however, and knocked out Barboza in the first round. So, now Varner gets another huge opportunity in Joe Lauzon, who is a consistent contender in the lightweight division.
The jiu-jitsu specialist Lauzon has 21 victories, with 17 coming by way of submission. This does not bode well for Varner, who has never been knocked out, but has proven susceptible to submissions in the past, losing in this manner to Shane Roller, Hermes Franca, and Ben Henderson. Lauzon is coming off a first round KO loss to Anthony Pettis, and will no doubt be looking to avoid Varner’s heavy hands and drag this fight to the ground. If Lauzon can take Varner down, a choke or armbar will be soon to follow, but if Varner can keep this fight standing, he could pull the upset and put himself “in the mix” in the UFC’s 155lb division.
Prediction: While the Cinderella story of Jamie Varner is enticing, look for that story to have a sour ending Saturday night. Lauzon will not give Varner the chance to knock him out, and Lauzon will win by first-round armbar.
Of all the men to fight Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida seemed to have to most success, frustrating Jones in the first round of their fight with his unorthodox striking and exceptional defensive skills. But, that success was short-lived as Jones choked Machida unconscious and dropped his lifeless body on the mat in the second round. Now Machida gets a chance to rematch Jones if he can impressively defeat Ryan Bader. Bader, on the other hand, is riding a two-fight win streak following his shocking loss to Tito Ortiz last summer. In his last fight, Bader defeated perennial contender Rampage Jackson, though Jackson came in overweight and undermotivated.
In this fight with Machida, Bader needs to use his excellent wrestling skills to put Machida on his back where he is more vulnerable to attack, but as many fighters have found out, that can be very difficult to do. Machida’s unorthodox striking and karate skills are difficult to defend standing up, and with Sensei Seagal in your corner, you never know when a front kick might be unleashed. Bader does have an outside chance of landing a big punch ala Shogun Rua, but the longer the fight stays on the feet, the more it favors the Dragon. The wrinkle in this fight, though, is the fact that both men are vying for that title shot, so we may see Machida be much more aggressive than usual, which could play into Bader’s favor if Machida was to open himself up to counter-strikes. Either way, this should be a very exciting fight between two contrasting styles.
Prediction: Bader will quickly realize he is unable to take Machida down, and will be looking to end it with big punches. This will leave Machida many openings to counter, which he will not miss. Machida floors Bader with punches and finishes the job with a second round choke.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (20-6, 4-4 UFC) vs. Brandon Vera (12-5, 8-5 UFC)
If you find it quite odd that Brandon Vera is headlining a network television UFC card with a chance for a title shot if he wins, you are not alone. Once considered the future of the UFC heavyweight division, Vera’s career has been consistently mediocre since 2007. After stunning Frank Mir at UFC 65 in 2006, Vera lost his next two fights, dropped to light heavyweight, and then lost to Keith Jardine. Vera got his chance against Jones two years ago, but Jon Jones broke his face (literally) with a devastating elbow that was tough to even watch. Now after being released and subsequently re-signed by the UFC, Vera gets to face Mauricio Rua, who many consider the number three light-heavyweight in the world.
Shogun, who is coming off his fight of the year loss to Dan Henderson, is itching for another crack at Jon Jones. Shogun claims he wasn’t 100% in the Jones fight, and wants another shot at the champ. But first, he has to deal with Vera. Even though Vera’s record is pretty terrible as of late, he does possess the skills of an elite fighter. Unfortunately, the things Vera does well, like leg kicks and clinch striking, Shogun seems to do a little better. Also, Shogun has proven very difficult to finish when 100%, and his penchant for violence can lead to an early night for his opponents. Look for Shogun to be very aggressive early in this fight, doing all he can to punish Vera with leg kicks and big punches. If Vera can survive the early onslaught, his chances of winning improve significantly, as Shogun’s cardio has been suspect in the past, and you never know how conditioned he will be for a fight. Nonetheless, this should be an exciting stand-up war as both men want that title shot and rematch with Jon Jones.
Prediction: Shogun has proven he’s an elite light-heavyweight, Vera has not. Shogun will simply out-class Vera early, leaving “The Truth” scrambling and searching for answers. Shogun wins by second round TKO, leaving Vera’s face a bloody mess.
Extra prediction: With Machida and Shogun both winning “impressively,” Dana decides to have these two fight to determine who will face Jonny Bones for the title.