UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen – Preview and Predictions

Saturday, August 17th.
Facebook prelims: 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT
Fox Sports 1 prelims: 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT
Main Fox Sports 1 card: 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT


Following a mutually fruitful partnership spanning nearly two years, the UFC and Fox are moving forward in unison to debut the network’s newest venture, a sports-exclusive channel whose nomenclature leaves much to be desired on the creativity front: Fox Sports 1. To kick off this channel that, frankly, nobody asked for is a card that is stacked from bottom to top with some of the most entertaining fighters currently employed by the world’s biggest fight promotion. Call it UFC Fight Night 26, or call it UFC Fight Night on Fox Sports 1, whatever you wind up choosing, UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen is sure to deliver.

All confusion over namesake aside, this card is full-on titty sprinkles when it comes to its participating combatants, so much so that even the Facebook undercard has a number of recognizable names including former TUF contestants Ramsey Nijem, Manny Gamburyan, Cole Miller and James Vick.

To keep things simple, Fox and the UFC have wisely put both the televised prelims and the main event on the same channel for the first time on a network not named Fuel. The promotional service it will provide some lesser-known fighters as a result will no doubt be great, as it features compelling matchups between knockout brute Michael McDonald and Brad Pickett, TUF winner Diego Brandao and Daniel Pineda, former WEC featherweight champ Mike Thomas Brown and hardnosed brawler Steven Siler, and what will surely be an eye-opening scrap, whichever way it ends, between the much-hyped Conor McGregor and the super-technical Max Holloway.

I’ll be watching all of those bouts with tremendous interest, however I will only be focusing my analyses and predictions on the main card. Featuring some of the most interesting matchups of the year, not one of the six fights below are in the same weight class as another, possibly making it the most varied main card this year. Here we go!

 

Lightweight (155 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon [22-8] (-265)
vs.
Michael “The Menace” Johnson [12-8] (+185)
 

Lauzon-Johnson

Kicking off the main card is a rather interesting matchup between perennial fight bonus kingpin and nine-year-veteran Joe Lauzon and Michael Johnson, who always seems to falter at big steps up in competition. Both are coming off of losses – Johnson by submission to Reza Madadi and Lauzon by bloody decision to Jim Miller – however it’s important to note that, while they both have eight losses on their records, Lauzon’s, almost as a rule, came against top-tier opponents such as Ivan Menjivar, Kenny Florian, Sam Stout and Anthony Pettis, while Johnson has been beaten in the UFC by the likes of Paul Sass, Jonathan Brookins and the undefeated Myles Jury, which is the only truly understandable loss, considering his potential.

Though recently Lauzon has been going hot and cold, alternating wins and losses for the last two years, Johnson has hit his first two-fight skid since his loss to Joe Brammer back in March 2009. Three loses in a row usually spell dismissal from the UFC, however a loss on Saturday in Lauzon’s hometown of Boston may not be the end for Johnson, who has been improving his striking and whose takedown threats may serve to open up more things on the feet for him. A standup exchange will benefit him in this bout, as it’s been shown time and again that Dana White and the Fertittas value an entertaining loss over a boring victory.

Regardless of how much Johnson has improved, I expect the savvy and experienced “J-Lau” (ugh) to take advantage of sloppy positioning following a hasty takedown attempt by “The Menace” once Lauzon applies pressure on the feet. Lauzon has never gone the distance in a fight he’s won, and I expect him to win Saturday.

Lauzon via submission.

Middleweight (185 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
“Prime Time” Uriah Hall [7-3] (-530)
vs.
John “Doomsday” Howard [20-8] (+350)
 

Hall-Howard

Undoubtedly the breakout star of the last season of The Ultimate Fighter, nobody expected Uriah Hall to lose against the considerably less experienced (albeit still undefeated) Kelvin Gastelum, but that is exactly what happened. Gastelum constantly applied pressure, smothering Hall and preventing him from connecting with any of the unbelievably destructive strikes that had made him a water cooler topic among even the least attentive of fans. How deflating it must have felt once the judges turned in their decision. All that momentum and attention and then… fizzle.

More than anything, this is an opportunity for Hall to show that he can perform under the big lights of a major UFC event as well as he’s shown he can in a recorded fight at a private gym. Though he lost to Gastelum in his only previous official UFC fight, the only other losses were to the super-talented Costa Philippou and current middleweight kingpin and spider-squasher Chris Weidman. He’ll be taking on John Howard, who has been called back to the big show after being banished to small circuit promotions following a losing streak that saw him come up short against a trio of bruisers in Jake Ellenberger, Thiago Alves and Matt Brown. He’s also filling in on short notice.

Hall’s original opponent, Nick Ring, had to pull out, and Josh Samman, the man whom almost every viewer of TUF’s last season wanted to fight Hall, was called in. Samman had to pull out as well. Now we have Howard – who normally fights at 170 lbs. – most likely taking the fight with the hope that it earns him a follow-up bout with the promotion, as there has been nothing on his resume thus far that would lead me to believe he has any chance outside of a crazy Charlie Brenneman vs. Rick Story moment. Hall by murder.

Uriah Hall via (T)KO.

 

Welterweight (170 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
Matt “The Immortal” Brown [17-11] (-165)
vs.
Mike “Quicksand” Pyle [25-8, 1 NC] (+125)

Brown-Pyle 

Mark my words, this fight will be a barn burner. Unrelenting “technical brawler” Matt Brown’s career has experienced a resurgence after being in a very tentative place, employment-wise. He is currently riding a career-high five fight win streak with only one of those not ending early by means of striking-related stoppage. Conversely, his opponent, 14-year vet Mike Pyle – who is filling in for an injured Thiago Alves – is on a four fight win streak including his most recent win over Rick Story, his only fight of the four not coming by way of (T)KO.

Pyle will want to get this fight to the ground, and fast. Nine of Brown’s 11 losses have come by way of submission and he’s never been knocked out. As relevant as a 37-year-old fighter can be, “Quicksand” has had his chin fail him on three occasions, though his comparative four submission losses show that, regardless of where the fight takes place, he is willing to fight fire with fire.

There are three big questions going into this particular bout:
1. How well will Pyle’s chin stand up to Brown’s fists, because it’s not a matter of “if” he will get his, it’s a matter of “how many times”?
2. Will Brown demonstrate the proper sense of urgency to get back to his feet if the fight goes to the mat, and if not, how will Pyle submit him, via rear-naked choke or by triangle?
3. Who in their right mind would bet on this fight?!

I’m very reluctant to pick either way because I think this will be such a close contest, but since I have to, expect Pyle to eventually wilt under the refined sprawl-and-brawl berserker pressure Brown puts forth.

Brown by (T)KO.

 

Bantamweight (135 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
#2 “The California Kid” Urijah Faber [28-6] (-280)
vs.
Iuri “Marajo” Alcantara [28-4] (+240)

Faber-Alcantara 

While reading the info on this matchup you may have found yourself asking, “Why is the #2 bantamweight fighter, the super-popular Urijah Faber, fighting an unranked no-name like Iuri Alcantara?” The short answer: he shouldn’t be; He’s coming off of wins against #9 ranked Ivan Menjivar, and #7 ranked Scott Jorgenson, both by submission. His only losses since the UFC’s absorption of the WEC came at the hands of the two men atop his division: champ Dominick Cruz and interim champ Renan Barao.

Considering #3 ranked Michael McDonald – that’s right, the man right below Faber in the rankings – is competing on the prelims of the same exact card, I find it rather curious that they instead chose Alcantara, whose biggest victory came almost three years ago against top featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas, as his opponent. Either Faber’s doing some ducking or UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is doing it for him.

Alcantara is far from pedestrian, and I expect him to put forth a valiant effort, but the betting odds should be far more disparate. It’s not a matter of whether or not Faber will pick up the win, it’s how. I’ll go out on a limb and say he proves once again why he’s among the best non-champions in any division and hands “Marajo” only his second submission loss in 33 fights, just because he can.

When McDonald earns a victory over Pickett in the undercard, here’s to hoping the UFC doesn’t make the same inexplicable error and matches these two guys up to see who really deserves that #2 spot.

Faber via submission.

 

Heavyweight (206-265 lbs.) Fight. 3 Rounds:
#8 Travis “Hapa” Browne [14-1, 1 NC] (+165)
vs.
#5 “The Demolition Man” Alistair “The Reem” Overeem [36-12] (-190)

Browne-Overeem

Both of these enormous dudes’ lengthy win streaks came to screeching halts as a result of the lunchbox-sized bludgeoners that Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva calls hands. In Browne’s case, he looked to be controlling the action and distance deftly until an awkward landing caused one of his knees to simply go out. Bigfoot swarmed and collected the victory which earned him a number one contender fight with “The Reem,” who hadn’t lost in almost six years and was expected to make mincemeat of the giant. For more than two rounds, that seemed to be exactly what was happening until Overeem’s cocky disregard for Silva’s ability betrayed him and he ate a punch that sent him to the cage in a daze. Ever the opportunist, Silva put his lights out in a brutal flurry that will forever be on his highlight reel.

What’s the point of running over that history?
Aside from a brief but mildly amusing lesson in recent history, not much.

Browne has looked quite good during his run in the UFC, beating the likes of James McSweeny, Stefan Struve and, most recently, Gabriel Gonzaga. His sole blunder before his loss to Silva was against the middle-of-the-road talent that is Cheick Kongo, whom he was being beaten by before referee Marc Goddard deducted points from Kongo for repeatedly grabbing Browne’s shorts during their fight, resulting in a draw.

Though Browne fared much better against his subsequent opponents, Kongo is a decent template for Overeem’s physique and strength, and if he thought he had trouble against Kongo, he’s going to be given fits in this fight, as Overeem is better in than Kongo in every single facet of the game and has more overall experience to boot. He also has, without a doubt, the most punishing knee strikes in UFC heavyweight history, something which may come in very handy against the 6’7” Browne. A former Dream, Strikeforce and K-1 kickboxing champion, once holding all concurrently, he is among the most decorated competitors to ever fight in either a ring or a cage. Questions about his chin’s durability persist, but suffice it to say that, at this level of the sport, being hit cleanly by any heavyweight’s punch is enough to put almost anyone human not named Roy Nelson down for the count.

The Jackson’s MMA-trained Browne is an excellent athlete. He’s quick, explosive and has displayed a varied arsenal of attacks. He also likes to keep the fight on the feet, which is exactly where he doesn’t want to be with the 14-year veteran Overeem. That he stands even less of a chance on the ground with “The Demolition Man” – who, despite his impressive kickboxing credentials, owns more submission wins (19) than knockouts (15) – should spell his downfall wherever the fight takes place.

My guess is Overeem uses this fight to announce he’s back and in the title hunt once more.

Overeem via (T)KO.

 

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) Main Event Nontitle Fight. 5 Rounds:
#8 Mauricio “Shogun” Rua [21-7]
vs.
(#9 Middleweight) “The American Gangster” Chael Sonnen [27-13, 1 NC]

Shogun-Sonnen

In the buildup leading into this fight, Chael Sonnen has stated that, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s bout, he will be departing from the light heavyweight division, returning to his natural weight class of 185 lbs. That’s a wise move, considering how his undeserved title fight with LHW champ Jon “Bones” Jones went and how I think this fight is going to go as well.

I’ll put aside using Jones, a mutual opponent of the two men, as a point of comparison – both lost via TKO, however one fared considerably better than the other, at least for a while. Though active for almost 11 years as a professional fighter, Shogun (no quotation marks necessary, really, considering more people know him by his nickname than his actual name) Rua is still only 31 years old. Considering the wars he’s been in, however – with two knee surgeries and God knows how many broken bones – his fight age is most likely far beyond even Sonnen’s, who is 5 years Rua’s senior and whose career began way back in 1997. It’s just attributable to a difference of styles.

Fortunately for Rua, Sonnen possesses none of the power necessary to hurt him during their scheduled 25 minute tilt. Sonnen’s technical acumen and strategy are no secret: he will move forward, throwing right jabs and left straights, keeping his hands up while working to close the distance for a takedown, where he will go to work for the remainder of the round inside his opponent’s guard, staying busy throughout so as to not have the fight brought back to the feet by the referee. Quintessential grinding, if you will.

And he’ll earn a takedown or two, that’s for sure, as 66 percent of all takedown attempts on Shogun have lead to him having his ass planted on the mat. Now, Rua has submissions in his arsenal, he just prefers to use his knockout ability which has led to 18 of his 21 wins. If he does go for submissions, look for them to function as threats from the bottom position to allow him to return to his feet, such as omoplatas or closed-guard kimuras. Don’t be surprised to see him employ butterfly guard to set up sweeps, though he’ll likely be unsuccessful at executing them against the very top-control heavy Sonnen.

This is a five round fight, and Sonnen has the advantage here, considering he’s been in back-to-back title fights. Shogun hasn’t fought since his disappointing decision loss to the man vying for the LHW title at UFC 165: Jones vs. Gustafsson next month on September 21st. Here’s to hoping he’s remained busy, because the last thing an opponent of Sonnen wants is a shallow gas tank.

What may wind up happening for Sonnen is what occurred against Jones – that he finds he is undersized and overpowered. Shogun, though far from the largest man in his division, made a name for himself destroying much larger men such as the aforementioned Alistair Overeem (twice, by TKO and KO), Cyrille Diabate (TKO – stomps), Kevin Randleman (submission), Mark Coleman (TKO), Forrest Griffin (KO) and Brandon Vera (TKO). He’s a strong as an ox, and on his best day is still among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Sonnen will make it a fight – he always does – but as long as Shogun’s knees stay sturdy beneath him, he’s going to throw everything he has at “The American Gangster” from West Linn, Oregon and, given five rounds to work at it, will find the finish within the distance.

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua via TKO.

 

(Photos courtesy of Zuffa LLC. and Cagewall, video courtesy of Zuffa LLC.)

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Jesse Scheckner

A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He is TuffGnarl.com's editor-in-chief, a feature staff writer for MMASucka.com and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.

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