FightLine.com owner Raj Giri and head writer Mark Wayne preview the top fights of tonight’s UFC 128 event and offer their predictions for the show. You can also enter your picks in our “Comments” section below this article. Also, don’t forget to check back at FightLine.com this evenint for our live, ongoing coverage of UFC 127.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Jon Jones
Tonight’s main event between UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and challenger Jon Jones carries with it as much intrigue and excitement as any UFC bout in recent memory, largely due to Jonny “Bones” Jones’ rising star. The young upstart has been the focus of a UFC-produced special on Spike TV, has drawn much of the attention leading up to the bout and even opened up as a betting favorite over the veteran Rua. Oddsmakers tend to capitalize on hype and Jones has a wealth of it surrounding him, which is likely one of the determining factors in his being deemed the favorite. But how do Jones and the odds stack up from a technical standpoint?
“Shogun” Rua won the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix in 2005 at the age of 23 by taking out the likes of Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona and he earned a bevy of other quality wins while competing in the promotion before moving to the UFC. Due mostly to injuries and long layoffs, Rua didn’t find his stride in the Octagon until he took out Chuck Liddell at UFC 97, eventually going on to win the belt from Lyoto Machida one year later. Rua is an expert, powerful and creative Muay Thai striker, having earned sixteen of his nineteen career victories by KO or TKO.
Jon Jones is now 23 years old and is mirroring “Shogun’s” early career, continuously meeting and surpassing the expectations laid upon him and exploiting his virtuosic abilities seemingly to their fullest. “Bones” has carved a path through the light heavyweight division on his fast rise to the top and has done so in exceedingly impressive fashion. The praise often heaped upon Jones is clearly deserved and now we get to see where he stacks up against one of the best and most well-established fighters in the sport.
On paper, things seem to lean against “Shogun.” He will be coming off of another long, knee injury-induced layoff for this fight, having been inactive since capturing the belt from Machida in May of last year. “Shogun” is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu but has only earned one career victory by submission, opting usually to keep his guard offensive enough to create openings to get back to his feet, though he has shown a preference for attacking his opponent’s legs. Rua has also not shown the aptitude to be able to readily stop takedowns, which are a key aspect of Jones’ game.
Jones, on the other hand, has fought many top wrestlers/grapplers and has been able to nullify their grappling offense with ease. Though his striking may not always be the cleanest, Jones’ fearlessness, reach and creativity make for a hard puzzle to solve and he often forces his opponents to hesitate as a result. In addition to displaying some of the most impressive clinch takedowns we’ve seen, “Bones” continuously demonstrates positional competence on the ground, though he tends to favor a brutal ground and pound assault to submissions.
Unless Rua can put Jones where we haven’t seen him – on his back – his key to victory lies in the striking game and in using his brutally effective leg kicks to set up his powerful punches. Jones, on the other hand, seems to possess the ability to find victory through several avenues in this fight, and that does not bode well for Rua.
Mark Wayne: On paper, it looks like this should be Jones’ coming out party, but the younger fighter has not faced a striker as accomplished as Rua and has not had his chin tested by the like either. Add to the that the fact that Rua is fired up by his being overlooked and you’ve got yourself a genuine X factor. Rua by fourth round TKO.
Raj Giri: I’ve got to disagree with Mark on this one. Jones has been a beast and his evolution in the sport over the years has been scary. Not to mention that Shogun has never looked good when he’s returning from an injury, leaving me to go with the oddsmakers on this one. Jones by third round TKO.
Urijah Faber Vs. Eddie Wineland
Former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber takes on former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland in his second bout at 135lbs. Following his defeat against current 145lbs. kingpin Jose Aldo, Faber dropped to perhaps a more suitable weight for his frame and found victory – he defeated Takeya Mizugaki via submission – in his first outing as an even smaller fighter. While Faber has gotten the accolades and attention, Wineland has built up steam, compiling an impressive four-fight winning streak in the WEC. Both men will be making their UFC debuts tonight.
Faber looked as impressive as ever in making short work of Takeya Mizugaki at WEC 52. “The California Kid” was once regarded as the top featherweight in the world, establishing a championship run in the WEC that Aldo is currently trying to match. Coming from a wrestling background, Faber tends to favor grappling exchanges, where he can force openings and grab submissions, but he has shown prowess and inventiveness as a striker and is no slouch in that area by any means. He has earned seventeen of his career victories by submission, seven by KO or TKO and the rest via decision (one via DQ).
Wineland is a well-round fighter but shows a clear proclivity for the stand up game. Wineland’s resume does not read quite as impressively as Faber’s, though his current four-fight victory stint is certainly notable and has an exclamation point on it in the form of Wineland’s recent slam knockout over Ken Stone. Wineland became the first WEC bantamweight champ by taking out Antonio Banuelos in 2006, but he lost the belt in his first defense to Chase Beebe. He holds nine victories by KO or TKO, five by submission and the rest via decision.
Wineland pledges to outpace Faber and maintains that he is a more solid overall fighter than people give him credit for, while Faber believes that his proven ability in all areas will be enough to overcome his opponent. Wineland predicts a knockout over Faber, but only two men have been able to beat “The California Kid” with punches: Tyson Griffin and Mike Thomas Brown. It isn’t impossible for Wineland to catch Faber by any means, but it seems like that is his clearest – and perhaps only – way to secure victory and that is never the optimal prospect.
Mark Wayne: I’m going to go with the oddsmakers on this one. Faber looked great in his last fight and I think his ability to push the pace and dictate where the fight goes will carry him to victory. Faber via second round submission.
Raj Giri: I’ve got to disagree once again with Mark on this fight. I agree that Faber has more tools and is the better all around fighter, but I’m smelling an upset. Wineland via first round knockout.
Brendan Schaub Vs. Mirko Filipovic
Rising prospect Brendan Schaub looks to continue his ascension of the heavyweight ranks and add a big feather to his cap when he takes on Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic tonight on the main card. A few years ago and the talk would have been of whether or not Schaub is prepared to take on a fighter of “Cro Cop’s” caliber; now, it’s about “Cro Cop’s” slow and steady decline from the top and of whether or not the Croatian can force himself to pull the trigger and engage, thereby at least giving him a shot in the fight.
Filipovic’s stint in the octagon has been unimpressive at least, with his most high-profile win having come over Pat Barry. His last appearance in the cage was dismal, getting knocked out by Frank Mir after three rounds of basically non-offense from both men. Though he certainly deserves to be respected and revered as a competitor, “Cro Cop” must win impressively in this fight to prove that he should even be sticking around at all.
Since his stint on the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Schaub has racked up three wins in the UFC’s heavyweight division, capping that streak so far with an impressive decision win over Gabriel Gonzaga. The former pro footballer continues to improve and has displayed an impressive athletic ability in building his 7-1 record.
As always, “Cro Cop’s” best chance to win is on the feet, if he can find the ability to get loose and implement his once-feared striking assault. Schaub looks to have more ways to win here, though he has shown a clear disposition for the striking game having earned six of his seven career wins via KO/TKO.
Mark Wayne: I’ve got to go with Schaub here based on what “Cro Cop” has shown since defeating Josh Barnett in 2006. Fans keep waiting on the “old” “Cro Cop” to show up, but that fighter seems to have died with Pride. Schaub via second round TKO.
Raj Giri: I’ve got to agree with Mark here, Cro Cop just hasn’t been Cro Cop since signing with the UFC. Schaub via second round TKO.
Jim Miller vs. Kamal Shalorus
Mark Wayne: Look for Miller to continue establishing himself as one of the most solid and underrated fighters in the UFC’s lightweight division by taking out a crafty and respectable fighter in Shalorus. Miller via unanimous decision.
Raj Giri: Once again, I agree with Mark’s assessment. I see Miller getting the win here and facing a top 5 fighter in his next bout. Miller via unanimous decision.
Nate Marquardt vs. Dan Miller
Mark Wayne: Miller is as tough as they come and should give Marquardt fits, especially if “The Great” shows up flat like he did against Yushin Okami. Still, Marquardt is the bigger, stronger fighter with a better striking game and grappling to match Miller’s. Marquardt via unanimous decision.
Raj Giri: Once again, I’m agreeing with Mark. I think we’ll see Marquardt at his best tonight after his slip-up with Okami. Marquardt via unanimous decision.