It’s finally time to unify the Welterweight titles again, as GSP returns from his long hiatus to defend his belt at UFC 154. His opponent is a familiar face in the gym as interim champion Carlos Condit will welcome his partner back to the cage. While the fighters may be friends outside the cage, make no mistake as these two are coming for blood in the main event.
We’ll also set up our next WW championship match as Martin Kampmann faces Johny Hendricks as they both work towards their first major title bid. All this and more await us, so let’s dig into a solid night of fights and see how these epic bouts turn out. Now, onto the fights!
Georges St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit:
Ever since recapturing the strap from Matt Serra, GSP has been the pinnacle of the Welterweight division. With some of the best takedowns in the business, a jab from hell and Olympic-level endurance, the man from Canada has been an impossible task to deal with for years. However, a major injury to his knee put him on the shelf for over a year and may hint at a weak point in GSP’s game here-on out. It’s his ability to bounce back from injury and adversity that will be key to his continued reign as the 170lb champ.
The man looking to dethrone GSP is former WEC champion Carlos Condit, whom masterfully defeated Nick Diaz for the interim title via decision. One of the most well-rounded fighters in the game, Condit uses expert traditional muay thai and a fast and furious bottom game that allows him to attack from every angle. Having honed these skills to a razor edge over the last several years, he comes into this fight with one of the best standing offensive games you’ll see in the sport and makes for a truly dangerous opponent.
If you were going to make a foe to dispatch GSP, that foe would be Condit. The one thing GSP has never been able to handle is aggressive and accurate striking, as he’s thrown completely off his game if he’s not dictating a fight. Condit has a fantastic sense of timing with his attacks and isn’t afraid to go for the kill here when he sees an opening. Considering his reach and use of long-range attacks puts him outside of GSP’s jabbing range, he also adds distance to GSP’s shot to make this a ground fight where he can control Condit. With Condit being mentally ready for this leap, I expect him to go out and starch GSP in short order using relentless combination striking before the champ can get his head into the fight.
Martin Kampmann vs. Johny Hendricks:
An amazingly talented fighter that many fans (myself included) count out of his fights before they ever happen, Martin Kampmann is finally one fight away from a title bid. The former Danish kickboxing champion has been at the grind for years and fleshed out a remarkable MMA skill set for him, using clinch wrestling learned from The Natural himself and a fast-paced submission game that’s ensnared more than a few fighters.
Hendricks has been quietly moving his way up the ranks as well. While his NCAA wrestling is what got him into the UFC, it’s his tremendous punching power that’s kept him afloat these years, having famously crushed Jon Fitch with a single blow. Using his simple yet fierce boxing style and elite-level wrestling, Hendricks is a tough draw, especially if his opponents aren’t prepared for a grueling fight.
You might think this is Kampmann’s striking vs. Hendrick’s wrestling, but I feel it is exactly the opposite of that. Kampmann doesn’t have the firepower to damage Hendrick’s beard here, but a well-timed shot from Hendricks could certainly put Kampmann to sleep early. Yet I feel this fight plays out almost entirely against the fence and not in favor of the NCAA wrestling champion. One thing I’ve noticed about Hendrick is that he’s never adjusted to wrestling in a cage and tends to be taken down in clinch situations against the fence. Rick Story used this to out point him in their fight, Charlie Brenneman won the first round of their bout in the same way, and Josh Koscheck scored his only takedown of their fight with a cage assist. For the clinch wrestling minded Kampmann, this is something that won’t be lost and can be used to put Hendricks into territory where he’s entirely non-threatening. Hendricks is dangerous any time this fight is standing, but Kampmann has the fight smarts and skills to take a hard-won decision here.
Mark Hominick vs. Pablo Garza:
Two men trying to arrest major backslides in their record, former title challenger Mark Hominick faces Pablo Garza. Hominick is a complete stand-up fighter with a lifetime of skill, using a hybrid karate and boxing style that emphasizes combination striking and range control, while keeping him safe with smart glove defense and head movement. Hominick is one of the original strikes to forego years of wrestling and instead adopt a poisonous bottom game that’s tapped more than a few wrestlers. This is a training regiment adopted by several fighters in the last several years, including none other than Pablo Garza.
Garza has largely been used as a stepping stone in his career thus far, showcasing Tiequan Zhang on short notice, dropping an elimination bout to Michael Johnson on TUF 13, and being the return fight for TUF 15′s Dennis Bermudez. While Garza’s wiry frame has been less than useful against wrestlers in his career, he’s truly built for long-range kickboxing attacks and uses them well, flashing out a variety of kicks and leaping knee strikes. A fast finisher rather than a defensive fighter, Garza employs his bottom game to pull guard and hit submissions rather than methodically break down opponents on the mat. It’s kill or be killed all the way.
On paper, Hominick should be able to walk Garza down and put punches on his chin, but in reality I’m not so sure. While Hominick is the more polished fighter here, he’s also giving up five inches of height and reach, making closing the distance a monumental task. Hominick was able to work his way inside on a similarly built George Roop in the past, but conversely Garza was able to inflict harm on the rapid-fire Yves Jabouin before putting him away in their fight. The one factor that sways this for me is Hominick’s deteriorating chin. Having been dropped in every fight he’s had in the last two years, Hominick can’t afford to be hit by Garza’s power shots, but with the amount of range he needs to make up for, I don’t think he has a choice. Mix that with Garza’s superior attack phase on his back and we have a recipe for a short fight as Hominick is taken out early.
Francis Carmont vs. Tom Lawlor:
A fighter riding a wave of hype, Francis Carmont has gone undefeated thus far in the UFC, but faces a difficult task in Tom Lawlor. Lawlor brings a boxer/wrestler skill set into this fight with superb timing and accuracy on his punches, and the fight smarts to know when he can’t win standing. For all Carmont’s fandom, he strikes me as a sloppy grappler and his chin has proven to be faulty in the past, making Lawlor a firm favorite for me. Look for Lawlor to put fist to face and put Carmont on the ropes early before taking it to the mat to secure the submission win.
Nick Ring vs. Costa Philippou:
In a battle to determine the real winner of TUF 12, both having defeated Court McGee in their UFC careers, Nick Ring will take on Costa Philippou. This is a great bout as Ring has a meticulous muay thai game and uses his reach to the fullest, while Philippou is known for crushing opponents in the pocket. This is a razor-close fight, but Ring doesn’t have the power needed to phase a gritty fighter like Philippou, allowing him to move forward and impose his will against Ring as long as his foot work is there. A tight fight, but one Philippou can pull off by late TKO or decision.
Patrick Cote vs. Alessio Sakara:
Fan favorite Patrick Cote is thrown a bone in a must-win fight, taking on the seriously fragile Alessio Sakara. This comes down to a boxing match with Cote having a seemingly invulnerable chin while Sakara’s is anything but at this point. I’d say Sakara is actually the better striker of the two but I don’t feel he can put together enough punches to keep Cote from catching him eventually. A possible close fight, but one I think Cote wins with a stunning KO midway through the bout.
Cyrille Diabate vs. Chad Griggs:
A fight that has action written all over it, Cyrille Diabate will welcome Chad Griggs to the LHW division. No one would ever argue that Diabate isn’t the better striker of the two, but Diabate’s age has started to catch up with him in his last several fights. Griggs is no spring chicken himself, but with a track record for great cardio, an ability to absorb horrendous punishment and now fighting men that are actually his own size, I see this fight playing out well for him. It might not look like he’ll win this one early, but Griggs should be able to hang with Diabate and slowly grind the older fighter apart, winning via ground and pound late in the fight.
Sam Stout vs. John Makdessi:
Having fought almost every striker in his division, Sam Stout will check off another name on the list as he faces TKD specialist John Makdessi. It’s tough to pick against Stout in these kind of fights as he understands the points game of MMA better than most; hitting token takedowns in close rounds to sway the judges. While Makdessi is probably the more powerful striker of the two, he gives up some size and won’t necessarily be able to stop a driving double leg from Stout. A potentially close fight, but one that Stout edges on the score cards.
Mark Bocek vs. Rafael Dos Anjos:
A bout between two BJJ aces could turn out to be anything but a grappling match. These are two of the most underrated fighters in the division with Bocek having a simple but effective wrestling game and some of the best fundamental BJJ out there. RDA has a bit of a flashier style and has shown a great deal of growth in his last several fights, making his grappling the least of opponent’s worries. This fight is almost a wash on the mat, but on the feet RDA has a major advantage with his muay thai arsenal that Bocek isn’t equipped to match. While Bocek could win this on positioning if he gets his takedowns off, he’s going to take punishment doing it, and I don’t think he survives to see the judge’s score cards for this one, getting TKO’d late in the fight.
Steven Siler vs. Darren Elkins:
A quick fan favorite, Steven Siler is simply a killer; attacking from every conceivable angle in a fight. Having put together three wins against stiff competition, he’ll face another surprisingly talented foe in Darren Elkins. This is my pick for FOTN, as Elkins will have to weather a storm on the feet to make this a fight at all. Once this hits the mat, Siler has a gauntlet of submissions Elkins will need to navigate while working his own grappling game from top. An extremely tight fight, but Siler’s rapid offense could hurt Elkins early before he can get himself firing on all cylinders, giving him an early edge to win.
Matt Riddle vs. John Maguire:
A quick turnaround for Maguire puts him in a fun fight with Matt Riddle as both men look to keep afloat in a shark tank division. Maguire had a poor showing against John Hathaway in his last fight, but Riddle presents few of the same problems that kept the gypsy jiu-jitsu star from working his game plan. Riddle is a solid competitor all around but Maguire is just a cut above him in terms of strength and grappling skills, leading to a convincing decision win for the UK fighter.
UFC 154 takes place from the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.