The Super Bowl weekend event is finally here. As usual, the UFC has stacked the card for their Super Bowl weekend event. For the hardcore fans, there seems to be plenty of buzz. For the casual fans, it seems to be more of an afterthought which is disappointing. You would think that the inclusion of Urijah Faber replacing Dominick Cruz would generate more buzz. Sadly there are people that still can’t appreciate the lighter weight classes. How about the story of Faber fighting for the fifth time in 11 months? Where is the appreciation for that?
Anyway this is still a very good card featuring two title fights, a heavyweight battle featuring two men that need a win, and two heavy handed flyweights. There is already speculation that Jose Aldo may fight Anthony Pettis in July, if he defeats Ricardo Lamas. That puts even more pressure on Aldo to continue his dominant reign, because fans have been clamoring to see that fight since it was announced last year.
Lightweight: Jamie Varner vs. Abel Trujillo
This is a huge opportunity for Trujillo to be on the main card, while Varner could essentially be fighting for his job. It will be the classic “striker versus grappler” matchup, where the fight could literally end in fifteen seconds or last for 15 minutes. Trujillo has scary power for a lightweight, along with being unpredictable. He knows how to utilize his knees, along with short elbows that could be beneficial against someone like Varner. I’m expecting Varner to close the distance at will, so Trujillo doesn’t get comfortable.
We saw that Trujillo can get frustrated and his takedown defense is a flaw. Obviously Khabib Nurmagomedov is a tremendous grappler, who has proven to be unstoppable so far in his career. Still to be taken down 22 times in a fight is unacceptable. Varner has to look at that and be confident that he should be able to take this fight to the ground. That is where he can control Trujillo and look for the finish. He has gotten slower over the years though, while Trujillo is explosive and knows what Varner’s game plan will be. I’m expecting the first round to see most of the fight against the cage and full of clinching. Eventually Trujillo will start to land a few combinations, before finishing the fight with the knee. Varner just isn’t good enough to fight at the top level anymore.
Winner via second round KO: Abel Trujillo
Flyweight: John Lineker vs. Ali Bagautinov
Another flyweight fight that I can get amped up for. The division is starting to pick up some steam with new contenders coming up. Lineker has knocked out his last three opponents in devastating fashion. Bagautinov is coming off an impressive victory over Tim Elliot, where he made him look silly at times with his speed and striking. Besides John Dodson, no flyweights hit harder than these two men. That’s what makes this fight so unique since not many flyweights have knockout power.
The difference in the fight will come down to Lineker’s conditioning. He’s been fatigued in past losses, which could be because of not cutting weight properly. It’s well documented that he’s missed weight in recent fights. While he’s capable of ending a fight with one punch, Bagautinov has proven to be very elusive and intelligent in his fights. He’s not over aggressive and has had success with counter striking. That’s how he knocked out Marcos Vinicius in his UFC debut. Not to mention, he is a gold medalist in Sambo. Bagautinov has far more ways to win this fight than Lineker. He won’t engage in any of Lineker’s flurry of punches and eventually wear him down in the third round. This is my pick for fight of the night with Bagautinov getting the better of the standup and ground control.
Winner via unanimous decision: Ali Bagautinov
Heavyweight: Alistair Overeem vs. Frank Mir
I’m still struggling to digest why this fight is happening. While talking to a few casual MMA fans, they were more excited for this fight than either of the title fights. Both fighters still have strong followings, which is why it’s silly to cut the loser of the fight. As for the fight itself, this is a horrific matchup for Mir. We’ve seen how he struggles in the clinch against the cage in losses to Daniel Cormier, Josh Barnett, and Shane Carwin. That’s what Overeem specializes in. He has the most devastating knees in the UFC.
You could never count out Mir though. We’ve seen him come back from adversity before in highlight reel fashion submitting Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. If Overeem decides to take the fight to the ground and gets comfortable, he’ll be asking for his walking papers by doing that. I’m expecting him to be focused and kick-box with Mir for a bit. Eventually he’ll find the right angle and overpower Mir forcing him against the cage. That’s where he’ll go to work and finish the job. Overeem still has a lot of upside as a heavyweight, despite coming off of two losses. He’ll show that here, as long as he stays focused and doesn’t gas out early. It’s a shame that Mir will likely be cut from losing to three former world champions and a stud (Cormier) who would be fighting for the title if his training partner wasn’t champion.
Winner via first round TKO: Alistair Overeem
Featherweight Title: Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas
Even though he’s a heavy underdog, Lamas isn’t getting enough appreciation. It’s well known that he doesn’t talk much and lets his performances speak for itself. He’s got the right combination in beating Aldo by being so aggressive and well-rounded. When I spoke to him last November, he had the right mindset of not being overwhelmed by the mystique of Aldo. He’s similar to Chad Mendes in a lot of ways minus the wrestling background, which will pose some problems. One thing that hasn’t changed is that Aldo is still so dynamic and tough to take down. He knows how to gain leverage in an instant, when someone shoots for a takedown on him.
If Lamas struggles to close the distance, we will start to see Aldo let loose. Nobody has more vicious leg kicks than him, as well as being unpredictable. You never know when he’s going to go for a flying knee or superman punch. He truly is the lighter version of Anderson Silva, when you watch him fight. If there is one flaw, it would be that he tends to slow down if the fight goes into the championship rounds. While Lamas has knockout power, his best bet is wearing Aldo down early on to pull off the monumental upset in the latter rounds. I can’t see the fight going to the championship rounds though. Eventually Lamas will be overzealous and Aldo will catch him to add to his highlight reel of spectacular knockouts.
Winner via second round KO: Jose Aldo
Bantamweight Title: Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber
This will be the fifth time Faber has fought in a one-year span. That is beyond incredible and you have to applaud him for keeping himself in top shape. Is three weeks enough time to prepare for someone like Barao? As great as Duane Ludwig is as a head coach, it doesn’t seem like enough time. Barao has become this enigma, who can explode at any time. While he tends to start off slow, he gets better as the fight goes on. Once you force him to start running or even tag him a few times like Michael McDonald did, you’ll see him start using more leg kicks and looking to control the octagon more.
Faber can’t keep getting stuck against the cage because that’s where Barao begins to do his damage. The most fascinating part of this fight will be when Faber shoots for a takedown. Can he take Barao down, who has a 95 percent takedown defense? If he can mix up his strikes like he’s been doing in recent fights that should give him an opening to shoot for one. Barao knows how to use his reach advantage, along with his great hips to avoid being put on his back. As strong as Faber is, it will be a daunting task to take Barao down followed by controlling him or setting up a submission.
Usually you want to ride a fighter’s momentum coming off such a hot streak. When Jon Jones was coming up, people were becoming believers and it paid off for those who picked him. The fight was on short notice, so that’s why I compare it to Faber’s situation. The difference here is that Barao isn’t coming off a knee injury and doesn’t have cardio issues. He’s a more precise striker compared to Faber, who can be wild at times. Faber hasn’t faced someone with a ground game quite like this before. Even though he has evolved since the last time they fought, I can’t see Faber finishing this fight. He’s already at a disadvantage since the judges are so fixated with the silly phrase that “to be the champion, you have to truly beat the champion”. Barao’s athleticism, reach advantage, and grappling will be too much to overcome. He’s going to be a champion for a long time.
Winner via unanimous decision: Renan Barao
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