January 11, 2010 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia
Fight Night 20 offers a solid card that doesn’t have any really big names, but a lot of fights that should be exciting and versatile MMA bouts.
Gray Maynard (8-0) vs. Nate Diaz (11-4): even though there’s no mark on the guys’ professional mma record of them fighting before, this is actually a rematch. Maynard and Diaz fought against each other on the Ultimate Fighter season 5. In their first encounter Diaz choked Maynard out with a tight guillotine.
The Bully Maynard is a powerful wrestler with rapidly improving boxing skills. Gray has faced quality fighters in his last five fights. First three (Siver, Edgar, Clementi) of those were pretty boring decision wins, where Maynard controlled the fight with his excellent wrestling and brute force. In his last two fights however Maynard has showed that his striking is dramatically improving and especially his footwork in on another level now. First Gray dominated very tough Jim Miller with crisp boxing. In his last fight he did the same to Roger Huerta, who didn’t have the answer for Maynard’s boxing and takedowns.
Nate Diaz is one of the very good fighters out of Cesar Gracie’s camp. The long limbed young man has very dangerous guard game and like his big brother, a chin that can take a shot or two. While Nate is a very good submission artist, he doesn’t have great positional grappling, which is the main reason he has lost to guys like Guida and Stevenson. Nate has decent boxing, but his striking is one dimensional , predictable and doesn’t have much power behind the punches.
Prediction: Maynard has been sprawling and boxing his last two fights against quality opponents in Jim Miller and Roger Huerta. I don't see any reason why he should change a game plan for this fight. Nate was in trouble on the feet in his last fight with Melvin Guillard until Melvin made another moronic mistake and decided to shoot. Gray's boxing and especially footwork is lightyears ahead of Nate's, who isn't as effective striker as his big brother. Because Maynard seems to lack the killer instinct, my pick is Maynard by dominant decision victory.
Efrain Escudero (12-0) vs. Evan Dunham (9-0): I was impressed with Dunham when he managed to beat Maximus Aurelio at UFC 102. Dunham showed very good takedown defense and ground game in that fight. I still think Efrain, who is one incredible wrestler, will be able to take him down repeatedly, punish him with GnP and eventually choke him out. Escudero by RNC R2
Aaron Simpson (6-0) vs. Tom Lawlor (6-1): Simpson is one of those freakishly athletic guys, that can do just about any sport in the world and success in it. Even though Simpson is already 35 years old, he is one the most explosive, durable and strongest guys in the 185 division. Lawlor, a ADCC competitor, is a solid wrestler and grappler, who showcased his submission skills in his last fight. At UFC 100 Lawlor snatched CB Dollaway’s head from a takedown attempt and applied a fight ending guillotine, which earned him a 100k usd submission of the night bonus. I believe Simpson is well aware of Lawlor’s submission skills and keep this one on the feet. Look for Simpson to revenge for his team mate Dollaway and put Lawlor to sleep in the second round. Simpson by KO R2.
Amir Sadollah (2-1) vs. Brad Blackburn (15-9-1): This looks like a stand up war between a muay thai fighter in Sadollah and a boxer in Blackburn. Blackburn has very good boxing and solid wrestling, which he showed in his fight against Edgar Garcia. He’s got heavy hands and especially his jab is effective. Amir's muay thai looked much improved and technically really nice in the Baroni fight. Knees, low kicks, roundhouse kicks, elbows from the clinch - Amir showed them all. This fight stays on the feet. Blackburn tries to hurt Amir with boxing while Amir probably looks to keep his distance and attack with kicks. I think it's either Blackburn by early KO or Amir by UD. Amir has had some trouble early in the fights with heavyhanded guys like Hendricks and Baroni, so I'm going with Blackburn by KO R1
Chris Leben (18-7) vs. Jay Silva (5-2): Someone is getting blasted to pieces in this fight between two strikers. There’s no way around it: Leben looked absolutely horrible in his last fight. The fight against Rosholt was the first one after a long layoff due to Leben getting caught from roids in his fight with Bisping. Jay Silva is an excellent striker, who was blanketed in his last fight by Dollaway. Now this is a much favorable match up for Silva, who gets a chance to show his slick striking skills. I have hard time believing Leben, with all personal problems he’s had, will return to his old form any time soon. Which is why Jay Silva is a obvious pick here. Silva by TKO strikes R2.
Jesse Lennox (11-1) vs. Rick Story (8-3): Very good match up and one of the fights that I'm most looking forward to. Both guys are among the best prospects in the UFC WW division. Young, strong, athletic guys with complete skill sets. Story has beaten very tough guys like Brian Foster and Jake Ellenberger. Lennox has earned his stripes by beating guys like Ryan Thomas and Danillo Villefort, who Lennox beat by UD in his UFC debut. I feel that Story is the better wrestler of the two, which is why my pick is Story by UD
Nik Lentz (17-3-1) vs. Thiago Tavares (14-3): Looks to be a grappling fest between Minnesota MAA’s Lentz and the brazilian Tavares. Lentz, who is a high quality wrestler, has a good chance to ride out a decision here. Tavares got an UD win from undersized Gamburyan in his last fight, but he has been mostly a disappointment in the UFC. His high point was when he subbed Jason Black, who was really hurt from the weight cut. Lentz by UD.
Mike Guymon (10-2-1) vs. Rory MacDonald (9-0): Mike the Joker Guymon is a tough vet, but I don't think he can deal with the sheer talent of the young Canadian. This MacDonald kid is for real. Don’t blink. MacDonald by KO R2.
Kyle Bradley (14-6) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (12-4): Bradley has dynamite in his hands, but he doesn’t have the grappling skills to deal with Dos Anjos. Dos Anjos is a very legit BJJ black belt, who has put excellent grapplers like Tyson Griffin in dangerous situations. Joe Lauzon dominated Bradley on the ground and so will Dos Anjos. Dos Anjos by RNC R1.
Gerald Harris (13-2) vs. John Salter (4-0): Massenzio, who was the original opponent for Harris, is out due some mysterious reason, so John Salter gets a last minute chance to show skills at the Fight Night. Harris is another wrestler from Arizona and a former TUF season 7 competitor. He was eliminated from the show by Sadollah, who eventually won the whole thing. Since TUF Harris has improved a ton and his most recent win over Nissen Osterneck serves as a proof of his improvement. There isn’t much footage on Salter around, so it’s a bit difficult to form an opinion about his chances in this fight. Based on the fights that I’ve seen, it’s safe to say that Salter is an athletic guy with legit wrestling and GnP. Salter, who comes from a wrestling background, beat Jeremiah Riggs, another TUF s7 competitor, in his last fight by TKO. Salter has potential, but he’s going to get smashed here by Harris. Harris by TKO strikes R1.
Nick Catone (6-2) vs. Jesse Forbes (11-3): This is a bout between two wrestlers that will end up on the ground for sure. Both are great wrestlers, but I think Catone, a Almeida brown belt, has the advantage on the submission department. In his last fight Catone lost a close split decision to Munoz, who is an outstanding wrestler. Forbes makes a comeback to the UFC after winning some fights in the local circuit. Forbes has had cardio problems in some of his fight and now that he’s taking this fight on short notice, I believe he can’t hang with Catone for three rounds. I’m thinking Catone by TKO strikes R2.