his column highlights five past bouts from fighters competing on this weekend’s UFC 188. These fights represent some of the highest moments in the careers of their respective participants, and should serve to pique your interest heading into the event. 1. Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – UFC 110 Upcoming Bout: Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum
It was difficult to pick a Cain Velasquez fight that would approximate the bout he’s about to have with Fabricio Werdum, because he really hasn’t faced anyone like Werdum. Nogueira wound up being the closest, but even though he was just 33 when this fight took place, he had already looked rather shopworn for years prior to this fight. Still, the former PRIDE and UFC champion possessed solid boxing and a slick ground game that he showed even after Velasquez liquified him in Australia. This was also the first fight where Velasquez showed the ability to really strike from distance, as his previous fights were all about him getting inside, taking opponents down, and beating them up. It will be interesting how much Velasquez chooses to strike from the outside against the new-and-improved Werdum, but we know that he has the tools to do some damage if he stays out there and manages to navigate that Brazilian’s kicking arsenal.
2. Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko – Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum Upcoming Bout: Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez
This is a weird one, because while it is by far Werdum’s greatest accomplishment in MMA, it really doesn’t represent the fighter that he has become. If you’ll recall, Werdum followed this performance up by boot scooting his way to a loss in a very winnable fight against Alistair Overeem. This fight will truly determine if that version of Werdum is gone forever, because if there’s any fighter and style who will make an opponent want to flop to the mat, it’s Cain Velasquez and his relentless pressure.
At the same time, this fight shows exactly why Werdum has confidence when he did resort to that sort of tactic (and if he does it again). From the time his ass hit the mat, it took him 15 seconds to lock up a triangle that forced the previously unsubmittable Fedor to tap, and that was in the midst of a flurry of ground-and-pound from that man who was seen at that point to be the most vicious ground striker in the history of MMA. I know that people have the perception that Cain is unsubmittable as well, but he needs to mind his P’s and Q’s when looking to deal damage on the mat.
This fight doesn’t allow us to get into the vast improvements Werdum has made on the feet, but between his kicking game and clinch striking, he’s a different challenge than Velasquez has seen standing up to this point as well. It all adds up to a heavyweight title bout that is far more intriguing to me than a +400 underdog would indicate.
3. Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler 1 – Bellator 58 Upcoming Bout: Eddie Alvarez vs. Gilbert Melendez
It still amazes me that MMA fans somehow ended up getting Alvarez/Chandler 1 and Henderson/Shogun 1 on the same night back in November 2011. Two of the all-time great fights in MMA history happened just hours apart, and if you know more than a handful of MMA fans, you know that we probably don’t deserve things that amazing to happen.
I wanted to do something a bit different with this week’s column, by putting Alvarez’ bouts with Hansen and Kawajiri in addition to this Chandler fight, and rounding out the article with Melendez’ fights against Thomson (the second one) and Diego Sanchez, but then I figured that if Alvarez/Melendez somehow ended up being boring I’d have some egg on my face, so I went the traditional route.
This is a somewhat atypical Eddie Alvarez bout. He lands offense and his opponent lands offense. In a very, very basic sense, the victor is decided by who can stand up to more punishment, and in this case it was Michael Chandler (but we’ve seen that already start to take a toll on his career). A similar script could be in store for the Melendez fight, and that’s what has everyone so excited by this bout.
4. Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez – UFC 166 Upcoming Bout: Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvarez
A case could be made that Melendez should be 1-3 in his last four fights, with the lone win featuring a round where he was hurt badly by Diego Sanchez. That’s not the most impressive streak, but at the same time he’s been highly competitive with three top 10 lightweights outside of the Sanchez fight, so it’s hard to say he’s slipping as a fighter. Even in the first two rounds against Sanchez, Melendez was outlanding his opponent nearly 3-to-1, so he was doing what he was supposed to do.
The fun part comes in when you take this fight (or various other Melendez performances) and couple them with Alvarez’ usual style. We already saw a far more dangerous fighter than Sanchez capitalize on some of Melendez’ defensive deficiencies (Anthony Pettis), and now he’s facing another dangerous fighter. Does Alvarez have the firepower to put Melendez away where Sanchez couldn’t, or will Melendez get his opportunities to land copious amounts of offense on Alvarez? I can’t wait to find out.
5. Clay Collard vs. Justin Buchholz – Showdown Fights 8 Upcoming Bout: Clay Collard vs. Gabriel Benitez
Last week I wrote that I was almost positive I’d used the Anthony Birchak/Ryan Benoit fight before in one of these articles, and I’m even more certain I’ve used this one, but if you’ve already seen it you know exactly why it makes this list again. If you haven’t seen it, watch it and find out why.
Clay Collard is quite simply one of the most entertaining young fighters in MMA to watch. While his skills aren’t up with the likes of Max Holloway and Charles Oliveira in the featherweight division, the watchability of his fights certainly ranks up there. Since starting his career 4-3 (where all seven fights were taken within 7 months of his 18th birthday), Collard has now gone 10-2 with 1 no contest, and it’s not difficult to see why. Most human beings don’t like being hit constantly for 15 minutes, so Collard’s style simply drowns them. In this fight, Justin Buchholz had the experience to hang on and pull out the win against a still 19-year-old Collard, but the only other fighter to defeat the youngster since that early stretch has been the UFC’s fifth-ranken featherweight, Max Holloway.