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UFC 188 Preview: Main Card

Yair Rodriguez

Coming to Mexico for the second time, the UFC is bringing an onslaught of MMA action with UFC 188. Topping it all off of course is the first Mexican UFC champion, Cain Velasquez, putting his heavyweight gold on the line against the surging Brazilian and UFC Heavyweight Interim Champion, Fabricio Werdum. It’s champion versus champion, but there can only be one. Prior to the heavyweight clash, we have a potential fight of the year match-up as two top-ranked lightweights look to out-slug one another for a stake among the top of the 155 lb pound division. It’s all this and more at MMAFrenzy – stay tuned for more UFC 188 coverage! Here is what you can expect out of the main card for UFC 188:

Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill

To start the action off in Mexico City, we get an interesting pairing of two women strawweight fighters; both of whom were contestants on The Ultimate Fighter. Getting home crowd advantage will be Tecia Torres, a stout wrestler who has improved her striking game a lot since her start. “Tiny Tornado” struggled a bit in the house, losing twice, but rebounded a crushing victory in the Ultimate Fighter finale. Torres is a very athletic fighter with a strong wrestling base. She likes to close the distance quickly with punches, and then over-power her opponent in the clinch. She has a variety of takedowns in her arsenal, and maintains top position fairly well. On the feet, she throws some surprisingly technical kicks, and will mix up side kicks, spinning techniques, and other various unorthodox strikes. But make no mistake about it, top position on the mat is where she will want to be against her opponent, Angela Hill.

Hill is a crafty fighter who, like Torres, is also athletically gifted. Hill brings a Muay Thai base into this fight, and is exceptionally dangerous in the clinch. She throws venomous knees and elbows with fight-ending intentions in close quarters, but is also dangerous at range too. Look for Hill to throw long punch-kick combinations. It’ll be important for her not to over-extend on anything and leave her susceptible to a takedown though. In the clinch, Torres will be looking to suffocate and pressure Hill; leaving no space to throw any knees to elbows. Ultimately, look for Hill to do some damage throughout the course of the fight, but Torres is a tough and gritty fighter. She will fight through Hill’s striking game, put her on the mat, and dominate the fight from there en-route to a decision victory for “Tiny Tornado”.

Yair Rodriguez vs. Charles Rosa

This 145lb. pairing between Rodriguez and Rosa is a very interesting contest; if we didn’t have fireworks in the lightweight division coming up, I would pick this one to be potential fight of the night. With that said, Rodriguez and Rosa both have the inclination to also pick up a violent finish. Rodriguez comes to us after winning TUF: Latin America, and was by far the most skilled competitor on the show. Yair is an athletically gifted fighter with a background in formal martial arts, and this shows in his fighting style. He throws technical strikes, but is usually one strike at a time. He is still very green in terms of overall MMA goes though, and this shows in his lack of wrestling and ground awareness. He has the power and arsenal to do some serious damage on the feet, but his opponent offers a little bit more of a well-rounded and fully-developed game.

Charles Rosa blew onto the scene in his UFC debut after he gave Dennis Siver a tough 3 rounds. Since then, Rosa tore through Sean Soriano and looks to be a serious prospect. Coming out of American Top Team, Charles Rosa presents a wide variety of dangers for his Rodriguez. On the feet, Rosa too throws good techniques, but is much more inclined to follow up with combinations and not just one strike at a time. Rosa mixes in good angles too as he constantly looks to “open up” his opponent. However, Rosa’s real bread-and-butter comes on the ground. Rosa has great drive on his takedowns, and is extremely aggressive on the mat. He works at a quick pace and is constantly in search of the submission. Look for Rosa and Rodriguez to be fairly matched on the feet, but Rosa’s volume and pressure will eventually overwhelm the Mexican and lead to the ground game. Once there, it’ll be all Rosa as he should be able to lock up the submission in round one or two.

Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nate Marquardt

Returning to the middleweight division once again is Kelvin Gastelum, who lost for the first time in the UFC to Tyron Woodley at welterweight, and missed weight as well. Now, Gastelum is forced back to 185lbs for a fight before he can return to 170lbs. Nevertheless, Gastelum is a serious force to be reckon with. Without looking at his technical skills in the Octagon, you’re still left with a young, coachable, level-headed, hard-working fighter. Those elements are what makes champions. But potential isn’t anything if it gets extinguished, and that’s exactly what Marquardt will be looking to do. Nate is a real veteran of the game, and be will stepping into the Octagon for his 19th time. With that said, Marquardt is on the tail end of his career after losing four of his last five. Most recently, Marquardt dropped an uninspiring decision to Brad Tavares in January of this year back at UFC 182.

Marquardt still presents some good tools wherever the fight goes. On the feet, Marquardt is a creative striker who throws a little bit of everything, and he does it very well. He’s great at leading his opponents to think one thing, and then use that opening to land big strikes. Marquardt’s high kicks come in full force with fight-ending power, and his hands are crisp too. Marquardt also prefers to throw with great volume in the clinch; knees, elbows, and uppercuts are on the menu. On the ground, Marquardt is strong with a good wrestling base and a good knack for submissions too. If the opening is there, Marquardt will take it. Overall, Marquardt is a sound fighter who has done very well in the world of MMA. However, his body has taken a lot of punishment, and he looks to be slowing down. This makes him hittable, and he definitely can’t take bombs like he used to.

In Gastelum, you still a stout wrestler who is still learning the striking game, but he is learning very quickly. Gastelum throws smooth combinations, and likes to get into the pocket and engage with big punches. He packs some serious power, and has shown a chin of granite. He got dropped hard against Rick Story, but, because he is young, his recovery is stellar. Gastelum’s takedowns are powerful and there are few men who can stop them. Once on top, Gastelum suffocates his opponents with volume and pressure. Every chance he gets he will hit you and do it for days. This is very difficult to deal with if you can’t stop the takedown. Against Marquardt, the takedowns will be there as Marquardt isn’t quite as sharp as he used to be, but I also like Gastelum’s chances exchanging with Marquardt. It’ll either be a knockout for Gastelum as he overpowers Nate on the feet, or he takes him down and overwhelms him with punches en-route to a TKO.

Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvarez

Standing as the co-main event, we have a potential fight of the year. Seriously, on paper, this fight is bound to be constant fireworks, but MMA is unpredictable and you can’t always rely on the general consensus. Gilbert Melendez comes into this fight after losing his second UFC title shot in just three UFC showings. We haven’t seen a whole lot of Melendez in the UFC, but what we have seen is a guy unafraid to move forward. Against Benson Henderson, he looked to be the better boxer as he tagged Bendo with several long right hands, but lost the fight as it went on. Then we had the ridiculous demonstration of durability against Diego Sanchez, one of the most durable of them all. Melendez displayed how good his chin is, and threw cautious out the window. Then against Pettis, we saw him attempt to implement his wrestling skills, but ultimately fail and get sucked into a striking contest. Even though Melendez is a skilled grappler with some very good ground skills, he seems more likely to stand and brawl it out rather than take the fight to the ground which is where he has the advantage here.

Across the Octagon will be Eddie Alvarez, who looks to finally make the UFC his home. He made his debut last year against Donald Cerrone; while he looked promising in round one, the much larger and rangier Cerrone chopped Alvarez down in rounds two and three to pick up the decision. Luckily for Alvarez, he won’t have the same reach disadvantage against Melendez as he did against Cerrone. Alvarez throws tight, crisp boxing combinations, and throws a mean left hook to the body as well. Even in the clinch, Alvarez finds space to throw uppercuts and do damage. He has a good wrestling base and stellar defense. He can hit the occasional takedown and do great work from top control mixing in strikes and looking to take the back for a potential rear-naked choke. Alvarez’s chin still stands strong, but it has definitely been cracked several times throughout his career.

This is a very hard to predict, but one thing is for sure – you can expect a war. Both Alvarez and Melendez are known for not breaking, and giving it their absolute all. Melendez will have the crowd cheering for him, but Alvarez is one of the most experienced lightweights out there and won’t be phased. One thing that stands out between the two is that Melendez is likely to abandon his ground game and strike, which may leave the opening for Alvarez to get the fight to the ground. Despite Melendez being the more durable of the two, I’m going to pick Alvarez in this fight. I think he throws a little cleaner in the pocket – Melendez is good there, but his accuracy isn’t the greatest, while Alvarez is might tighter. As long as Alvarez can avoid going punch for punch with Melendez, and fight with some intelligence, I think he out-slugs Melendez.

Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum

And now for the main event. For the heavyweight crown, we have the champion, Cain Velasquez, taking on the interim champion, Fabricio Werdum. Velasquez will be returning to the Octagon for the first time in nearly two years after injuries have forced to be sidelined. We can only speculate the type of shape Cain is in, or the amount of ring rust that Velasquez will have. However, conditioning is one thing Velasquez has essentially re-wrote the book on as a heavyweight. Werdum has been busy; he returned to the UFC in 2012, and is 5-0 since doing so. Recently, he scored an eye-opening decision win over Travis Browne where he showed just how much his striking as improved. Then, for the interim belt, he knocked Mark Hunt out with a flying knee in Mexico City in November of last year when Werdum and Velasquez were originally supposed to fight. Now, we the wait is over.

Let’s start with Werdum first. At his core, he is one of the most spectacular ground specialists in MMA. He has submitted Minitauro Nogueira, and Fedor Emelianenko, and nearly every fighter he faces is scared to go to the ground with him. His guard is suicide to enter, and you’re also in big trouble if he gets on top. However, he has turned his striking into a dangerous aspect of his game as well. Through his work with Rafael Cordeiro, Werdum has added several elements to his striking game – most noticeably his kicking game. He throws powerful kicks to the legs, body, and head, and he does it without the fear of being taken down. His knees are also dangerous, he will leap forward with them like he did against Hunt, or look for them in the clinch. Werdum’s hands are still a little undeveloped as he leaves himself a little too exposed when throwing, but he has good range, and overall solid mechanics. One key note about Werdum is that he prefers to fight at a slow pace. He fought a chess-match against Travis Browne and won that easily, then again versus Mark Hunt. Werdum is an extremely intelligent fighter in the Octagon, and will even bait his opponents into thinking they have him hurt, just to surprise them with a submission attempt. Werdum clearly has several weapons in his arsenal to use, but will they be enough to take out Velasquez?

Cain, at his core, is a wrestler. He has that wrestler mentality that never breaks, and he constantly drives forward. He blasts singles and doubles, and effortlessly chains them together so that you are never totally in balance. Once you defend one, he is hitting another on you. Once Cain gets you down, he is non-stop aggression. He likes to hover over his opponents and tag them with relentless ground and pound. This works for him because he is never totally committed to the guard. He keeps a certain amount of space there, but once his opponent tries to use that space to get up, he’s right on them again. It’s a very suffocating approach, and he will completely siphon his opponent’s gas tank by doing this. On the feet, Cain has some solid boxing mechanics. He throws a potent right cross, and closes distance incredibly fast. However, like Werdum, his defense could use some work. Junior dos Santos was able to tag him coming in several times as he leaves holes in his defense when he’s pressuring his opponent. However, Velasquez’s chin remains sturdy as he has only been finished once.

This is a very intriguing match-up between two very different styles. There are also loads of x-factors. How will Werdum’s cardio hold up fighting a fast-paced fight? Will ring rust be an issue for Velasquez? All of these questions will be answers Saturday night in Mexico City in the headlining attraction for UFC 188. Even though Velasquez is a very smart pick in this “wrestler vs. grappler” type of style match-up, I’m going to pick the underdog, Fabricio Werdum. I can definitely see Velasquez just completely overwhelming Werdum with his pressure, and constantly wrestle past Werdum’s legs to avoid his dangerous guard, but I like Werdum for the upset because that is what he has done throughout his entire career. With nearly two years away from the Octagon, and a new opponent for the first time since May of 2012, I think Velasquez will be hesitant and that hesitation will give Werdum the window to capture the crown.

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