If you have any sort of connection to American pop culture, you know that the biggest annual event on the entertainment calendar is going down this weekend. UFC 169: Barao v. Faber! Just kidding, I’m talking about the Super Bowl. While I will be rooting on the Broncos on Sunday, as any red-blooded American would, I will also be tuned into the fights on Saturday. The UFC has a ton of media competition and I’ll admit, it is quite ballsy for them to throw an event just yards away from where America’s biggest game will be played just 24 hours later. For the average MMA fan, this Pay Per View card is loaded. We get two title fights, a loser goes home tilt between two legendary Heavyweights, and two top contender bookings that could be easy candidates for Fight of the Night on paper.
With that said, the UFC will get their usual crew to tune into this card, but will they be able to swing any of the national media their way with a card that doesn’t feature the sports biggest stars? Urijah Faber is the most recognizable athlete in either of the title fights and let’s face it, he isn’t exactly a cultural icon outside of our odd little world. There is no Jon Jones on this card (which would have made perfect sense since he has TWO brothers in the NFL, the cross promotion could have been MASSIVE, but Bones needed some time off…) and megastars Anderson Silva and GSP have gone on to greener pastures for the time being. Therefore we are left with two title fights at 145 lbs. and below on one of the traditionally larger cards of the year. Will America watch? Who knows, but our crew will be tuned in! On to the preview!
Prelims on Fight Pass (Picks in BOLD)
Clint Hester (9-3) vs. Andy Enz (7-0)
Tony Martin (7-0) vs. Rashid Magomedov (15-1)
Neil Magny (8-3) vs. Gasan Umalatov (14-2-1)
Prelims on FOX Sports 1 (Picks in BOLD)
John Makdessi (12-2) vs. Alan Patrick (11-0)
Chris Cariaso (15-5) vs. Danny Martinez (16-4)
Nick Catone (9-4) vs. Tom Watson (16-6)
Al Iaquinta (7-2-1) vs. Kevin Lee (6-0)
Main Card on Pay Per View (Vegas favorite in Italics)
Jamie Varner v. Abel Trujillo
Prepare yourselves for a barnburner in this Pay Per View curtain jerker. I am happy to report neither of these cats suffer from Bendoism (Usually diagnosed as an aversion to excitement. Google it.) and should put on a show for the rowdy Jersey crowd. After his upset win over Edson Barboza, Jamie Varner has struggled to regain that same level of success in the Octagon. The 29 year old has gone 1-1 in his last two, both hair-thin split decisions. Opposing Varner will be the intimidating Abel Trujillo. Trujillo is a straight up scary dude and he has the ink to prove it! Trujillo is a relentless berzerker and a tank of a lightweight. Vegas has him as a slight underdog, but I would be pretty comfortable betting on the Blackzillian in this one. Dominant drubbing by Abel here. Trujillo by decision.
John Lineker v. Ali Bagautinov
The narrative in this one is: will Lineker make weight? (Editor’s Note: He barely did, it took two tries!) He has won his last 3 with impressive TKO’s, but has missed weight in two of those tilts. That is usually frowned upon by the UFC and habitual heavy guys are usually not rewarded with top contender bookings. Even so, Lineker’s talent is undeniable. Opposing Mr. Lineker will be the #7 Flyweight in the world, Ali Bagautinov. We haven’t seen a ton from Ali in the cage, but he made Tim Elliot look silly last time out. Ali has one of those mythical Russian Wikipedia pages that lists his combat prowess like a High School Senior lists activities on a college application. When your Wiki page has a ‘Hand to Hand Combat’ sub-section, you know you are a bad ass dude. Lineker is probably the most powerful Flyweight in the organization, but I like Ali to derail his weighty push and earn a decision win with pinpoint striking and top-notch cardio. Bagautinov by decision.
Alistair Overeem v. Frank Mir
This one is certainly flying under the radar, isn’t it? (Except for the recent news that Frank Mir was granted a TUE for Saturday’s card.) Mir has lost three fights in a row and hasn’t mounted any sort of legitimate offense in the three. In all reality, if he wasn’t a UFC lifer and former Champ, he would likely be at the back of the unemployment line right about now.
As for Overeem, he has gotten off to assaulting starts in his last two, but then had moments of extreme stupidity and gotten his horse-fed butt vicisiouly KO’d twice. He was beating the pants of Bigfoot before he dropped his hands (and cardiovascular level) like an overconfident nitwit. He nearly had Travis Browne finished against the cage in August but just couldn’t put Hapa away. When Browne recovered, Overeem decided to leave a gaping hole between his gloves that basically spotlighted his bulbous chin for Browne’s thunderous front kicks to find. Again leading to another vicious KO loss for the Dutch striker. I still think, at his best, Overeem is a better fighter than Bigfoot and Browne, but his record doesn’t reflect that. If you ask me, Mir is over the hill. He was a solid Champ for his day, but he should look into taking a desk next to Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, and Forrest Griffin. Thailand trained Overeem by TKO.
Featherweight Championship Fight
Champion Jose Aldo v. Ricardo Lamas
We are already talking about Jose Aldo’s next move (*cough*PETTIS*cough*) and completely neglecting the fact that he has to fight a game challenger on Saturday night. Do I think Ricardo Lamas has a shot against Aldo? I do. The same shot I have as getting Olivia Wilde to go out on a date with me… Lamas is a relative unknown to the casual fan and, sadly, he will probably stay that way after UFC 169. He is a powerful wrestler with black belt BJJ, but his skill set is nothing that Aldo hasn’t seen (and demolished) before.
With the absence of Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo is the most talented athlete that competes in the Octagon. He is a precision striker that can end a fight with at least 8 different murderous weapons attached to his person. Lamas has been knocked out twice before, both times by strikers that aren’t anywhere near Aldo’s level. I expect this one to end by vicious KO in the 3rd Round, with the challenger Lamas taking a nap. Aldo by 3rd round TKO.
Bantamweight Championship Fight
Champion Renan Barao v. Urijah Faber
By now, you are all well versed in the hoopla surrounding this one. Former Champion Dominick Cruz had to pull out (again…) due to a groin injury. The always game and always smiling Urijah Faber gladly took his spot with just four weeks notice. If you remember correctly, Faber was my choice for 2013 Fighter of the Year. He really turned back the clock in the last 12 months and put together some of the best performances of his already illustrious career. Coming into a title fight against Barao though, the narrative remains the same for Faber. He has never lost in a non-title fight, but when a belt is on the line, he comes up just short. On more than one occasion injuries may have hampered his chances, but still, he has no UFC gold on his resume.
Will Saturday be the day that Urijah Faber finally dons a UFC strap? The task wont be easy against the now undisputed Bantamweight Champion Barao. Barao hasn’t lost in 31 fights. Think about that. He has entered into combat 31 freakin’ times without defeat. That is almost unimaginable in today’s MMA landscape of screwy judging and freakish injuries. Barao is nearly a 3-1 favorite in this one, and I think he deserves every bit of it. Though, for some reason, I have an inkling that this is the time for Faber. He has looked better than ever as of late and knows this could be his last shot at true glory. The best fighter Barao has faced in the cage was a 2012 version of Urijah Faber that was hampered by an injured rib and distracted by issues at home. This fight is 100% and unequivocally Renan Barao’s toughest fight yet. A determined and belt hungry California Kid is not one to be trifled with.
How do I think it goes down? Faber is the more powerful fighter here, and I’ll look for him to stay active on the outside and shoot for the takedown when he sees opportunity. Much like Josh Thomson last week, Faber will use controlling pressure and constant submission attempts to work towards a decision win. Let’s just hope the judges see it that way as well… Faber by decision.