The UFC is back again this weekend and back in a big way. The MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada will play host to UFC 160 this Memorial Day weekend where we will see Cain Velasquez defend his UFC Heavyweight title against Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva in the rematch no one was clamouring for. Elsewhere on the card in the co-main event slot is former UFC Heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos who will be taking on everyone’s favourite comeback kid, Mark Hunt in a potential slugfest that has whetted every MMA fans appetite. UFC 160 will also see a #1 contender decided in the lightweight division as Gray Maynard and TJ Grant duke it out for a shot at current champ Benson Henderson. The stream of quality on this card manages to trickle down all the way to the undercard as well, as there are several contests that require your attention. See below for my take on the fights you should be looking to tune in a little early for.
Mike ‘Quicksand’ Pyle (24-8-1) vs. Rick ‘The Horror’ Story (15-6-0) -
Former WEC welterweight champion, Mike Pyle has managed to string together a three-fight win streak heading in to this bout with Story and will be looking to get another crack at a top ten opponent with a victory. Pyle’s career has seemed to follow a distinct pattern of building a commendable winning run over those outside the top ten/fifteen of the division but then being halted in his progress when the competition he faces becomes a little stiffer. Pyle’s most notable victories came against the now retired Ricardo Almeida and British prospect John Hathaway and his notable defeats were at the hands of Rory MacDonald, Jake Ellenberger and Jake Shields. In essence, Mike Pyle has become a gatekeeper reaffirming the position of those in the welterweight division. Originally scheduled to face Gunnar Nelson before injury ruled the Icelander out, Pyle will now take on Rick Story instead.
Story was last seen scoring a TKO victory over Quinn Mulhern back at UFC 158 and with that he likely saved his job having hit a particularly rough patch of form having stormed through the early part of his UFC career. Story is a durable fighter, with a suffocating style and will look to recapture his former glories with a win over Pyle which should position him for a shot at a bigger name opponent next time around. If Story was to lose it is highly unlikely that he would find himself without a job due to the good faith normally accrued from the UFC by helping them out and taking a short notice fight.
Both competitors tend to approach fights with a grappling-based offence with Pyle keen to hunt for submissions and Story likely to employ a power-wrestling game designed to overwhelm and outwork his opponents. The deciding factor in the outcome of this fight will be Story’s ability to press Pyle against the fence and keep him there, negating Pyle’s submission skills and forcing ‘Quicksand’ to carry his weight whilst roughing him up in the process. Story will hold a strength advantage over Pyle which, on paper, should allow him to carry out his game plan to a tee however fights aren’t fought on paper and in the recent past Story has found it difficult to enforce his strategy on a consistent basis. If Story is unable to pressure Pyle he could well leave openings that allow Pyle to take the fight to the ground where he will feel far more comfortable.
Dennis ‘The Menace’ Bermudez (10-3-0) vs. Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway (7-1-0) -
Since losing out to Diego Brandao in the TUF 14 Finale, Bermudez has gone 3-0 and will look to secure a top ten calibre fighter with a victory this Saturday. Bermudez is a prospect I am pretty sold on, maybe not as a future title threat but definitely as an exciting mainstay in the UFC featherweight division. Bermudez has huge power for a 145lber, a strong wrestling base that enables him to dictate the direction of a fight, an indomitable spirit and an evolving striking game that had Matt Grice out on his feet on numerous occasions last time out in a Fight of the Year contender back at UFC 157. Granted these qualities in a fighter would usually lead to title contention with the right amount of dedication, of which I am not doubting that Bermudez has, but ‘The Menace’ has been caught and dropped a few times in his short time with the UFC and by less-than-stellar strikers. In order to reach the top this is a trait that Bermudez needs shoring up if he is to make a serious run at the gold in the future.
The youngest fighter on the UFC’s books right now, Max Holloway has, like Bermudez, managed to compile a 3-0 run since losing his promotional debut. Holloway is a very talented striker who has doled out some steady beatings when he faced off with Pat Schilling and Justin Lawrence. However, ‘Blessed’ did struggle to assert himself in his most recent performance against the now cut Leonard Garcia at UFC 155, although Holloway was a late replacement for an injured Cody McKenzie.
Holloway will have too much on the feet for Bermudez to want to stick around and trade with the 21 year old but that is where Holloway’s advantages in this fight start and end. Bermudez is just too big and too good of a wrestler to not take this fight to the ground whenever he feels he needs to and Holloway’s sub-par takedown defence will likely be his undoing.
Colton Smith (3-1-0) vs. Robert Whittaker (10-2-0) -
This weekend will see two former TUF champions square off with each other in their first bouts since being crowned their season’s welterweight champ as TUF 16 victor Colton Smith takes on the inaugural TUF: The Smashes champion Robert Whittaker. While Colton Smith has a safety first wrestling-heavy style that does little in the way of building a fan base, it is a style of fighting that has brought the Iowan success in his short career. Smith was last seen besting Mike Ricci over three rounds to be crowned TUF 16 welterweight champ in a fight that many had thought Ricci would triumph, but come fight night the Tristar trained fighter had no answer for Smith’s grappling ability.
Whittaker on the other hand does display a far more fan-friendly approach and based on his recent exploits in the TUF: The Smashes series will carry in to this bout a very serious KO threat. While this bout is not as cut and dried as a rudimentary grappler versus striker contest, it does pretty much boil down to this as the outcome of this one is likely to be decided by which competitor can keep it in their comfort zone the longest.
If Smith is unable to secure the takedown and enforce his smothering ground game Whittaker should be able to win any striking battle that takes place, however if Smith can drag this to the mat, Whittaker, and the fans, could be in for a long, long night.
Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov (19-0-0) vs. Albert ‘Killa’ Trujillo (10-4-0) -
The undefeated Russian is perhaps only one victory away from a top-ten opponent in the unforgiving UFC lightweight division and this fight could well prove to be Nurmagomedov’s coming out party. Having started his UFC career with a 3-0 winning run, the sambo specialist Nurmagomedov has enjoyed the full spectrum of victories so far by tapping out Kamal Shalorus, besting Gleison Tibau via decision and KO’ing Thiago Tavares in his last outing in January. Nurmagomedov has looked every inch the prospect he is being touted as and is being brought along carefully by the UFC in order to gain the experience necessary to better position himself for an assault on the upper echelons of the division.
In Trujillo, Nurmagomedov will be up against an opponent who looked downright nasty in his last showing, his UFC debut, with a TKO victory over Marcus LeVesseur back in December. While it can be argued that the win over LeVesseur carries less weight due to the late change in opponent (Trujillo’s original opponent Tim Means slipped in the sauna days leading up to the fight, knocking himself out in the process), the pure aggression and brutality displayed by Trujillo in hunting down LeVesseur for the finish still carries significance and an indication of the man’s talent.
Trujillo will likely provide a stern test of Nurmagomedov’s credentials but to me this fight seems to have been arranged by the UFC to add another number to Nurmagomedov’s increasing win streak in preparation for the bigger challenges that lie ahead.
Brian Bowles (10-2-0) vs. George Roop (13-9-1) -
Former WEC bantamweight champion and #8 on the official UFC 135lbs rankings, Brian Bowles steps in to the Octagon this weekend having been absent since a submission loss in his last fight at the hands of Urijah Faber back in November 2011 at UFC 139. In his return fight, Bowles has been matched up with the grizzled veteran George Roop.
Having successfully managed to transition back to the bantamweight division and look painfully thin in the process, Roop will look to keep his career on the right track with a win over the favoured Bowles and look to secure back-to-back victories for the first time since ‘07/’08.
Bowles is a top level contender in the bantamweight division and has only lost out when he has come up against the very best that the division has to offer (Faber and current 135lbs champ, Dominick Cruz) and George Roop cannot be considered to be at this level. Expect Bowles to overwhelm with his come-forward style as Roop fails to better utilise his significant length advantage.