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UFC 135: Head to Head Preview

Tomorrow night the UFC returns to its birthplace of Denver, CO for UFC 135. The card will be headlined by a light heavyweight title fight between UFC champion Jon Jones and former champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. UFC 135 will kick off with a three fight card broadcast live on Facebook, followed by a one-hour card on Spike TV, with the main card starting at 9PM ET on pay-per-view.

MMAFrenzy kicks off our coverage of UFC 135 with a head to head preview of Satuday’s PPV main card. These are not picks, but analysis of what each fighter needs to do to come out on top of their respective fight.

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones versus Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

Jon Jones-(CL) To this point in his career, most of Jones detractors have typically relied on “what-if” analysis that always reminds me of the great philosopher Yogi Berra saying “You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.” We have heard the “not tested” line in regards to every facet of Jones game and in this fight the focus has been on his mentality and his chin. Sure, we have not seen him “tested,” but in reality that has a lot to do with his level of skill, game planning, natural gifts, and just simply not allowing his opponents to get going.

In Rampage, Jones faces a fighter who has gradually shifted away from his wrestling background to the point that I am pretty sure Rampage could fight with Mike Tyson and we would never have to wonder about Tyson’s ground game being able to stop a more powerful bomb than the Hangover 2. Rampage is, for better or worse, a boxer now. He fights smarter than he used to, and looks to counter more so than turn into the destroyer that made him famous in Japan. In this fight, Rampage will have to get inside the pocket with Jones in order cause the damage needed to drop him.

If there is a parallel for this fight-wise, it is the Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis fight. While some argue that reach does not matter in MMA, when one of the fighters is a boxer it does. Like Tyson, Rampage has to get inside the ridiculous 84.5” reach (6’11” Stefan Struve’s reach is 83” by comparison) in order to cause damage to Jones. In the Lewis fight, Tyson’s best work came in the first, where he was able to get inside and batter Lewis’s ribs and land power shots to Lewis’s jaw. If Rampage gets in the pocket and is able to fire shots on Jones, Jones is in trouble. Lewis adjusted for this by clinching with Tyson when he got in tight, utilizing his reach, and working a vicious jab with long strikes. While this is boxing, there are applications to MMA.

The advantage that Jones has is that he can not only clinch but since this is MMA, he can use his wrestling too. Jones can keep Rampage at length with his kicks and long strikes but if Rampage can get inside, Jones can unleash his nasty arsenal of elbows and wrestling. So by mixing the martial arts and keeping up his controlled aggression, Jones should pick up the win.

Rampage-(Bryan Robison) If it weren’t for that darn spygate, I would have suspected Rampage was working on his submission offense. There is no way Jones would have suspected a flying armbar. But alas, since Rampage suspected a spy from Jones’ camp was there, that idea had to be shut down. Oh well, I guess Rampage can fall back on his backup, his boxing.

With that boxing, Rampage holds his most distinct advantage. He is at a reach disadvantage, so he’ll have to be more creative than simple ‘1-2′ combos to take out Jones.

He has no choice but to get inside the pocket of Jones in order to put glove to face. He will do that, not only because he has to, but because he wants to. Rampage is too stubborn to sit back against Jones and let Jones go Michael Jordan in Space Jam on him and reach around from the other side of the cage in order to punch him.

Rampage will look for chances to test the untested chin of Jones. That is not an easy feat, and something Rampage will have to be patient with.

 Josh Koschek versus Matt Hughes

Koschek-(CL) Kos loves taking fights on short notice, though in this case he has at least had a long layoff since losing to GSP. Kos’s style is in many ways Hughes 2.0. While most fighters would love to enjoy the success Hughes had, Hughes career is in its twilight. The reality of the situation is that Rashad Evans pointed out what many analysts and fighters have picked up on when he said (via twitter) a year ago: “[Hughes] changes his stance based on how he plans [to] fight.. That’s not high level. I think Hughes is a legend & a great fighter but I still think he regressed as a fighter. He gives away his game plan at the start of every fight. If he wants [to] wrestle he goes southpaw if he wants [to] stand up he goes conventional stance, when [you] do that [you] limit what [you] can do & your opponent knows how [you] plan on attacking. The name of the game is deception, but Hughes is a legend if I do half of what he has accomplished I will be happy, but he is not above being analyzed sorry Hughes fans it’s part of the game.”

I have to agree with everything Evans said, and if you do not believe me check out old fights.

Hughes-(BR) This fight is rather strange. Not because of the names or because Hughes has a third nipple or anything. But rather because it’s almost a “mirror fight”. Koshceck and Hughes are very similar; Strong collegiate wrestlers (although Koscheck had more success in college), limited standup, and an underrated submission game.

Hughes, at 37, is obviously not going to be around much longer, with this fight being the last on his current contract. His best hope is to use Koscheck’s layoff against him. While Hughes hasn’t fought since last November, he has at least known that he’ll be on this card for a few months. Koscheck was just notified of this fight less than 3 weeks ago. Plus, he was hoping to move up to middleweight for his next fight.

Hughes won’t necessarily outgrapple Koscheck, but he can drag out a 3 round fight in his favor, besting him on his feet when he has to, and taking two of the three rounds.

 Rob Broughton versus Travis Browne

Broughton-(CL) Rob Broughton made the best of an opportunity when he upset a former prospect at UFC 120 and now he gets another shot to prove his worth. This fight reminds me a lot of the old days before many of the UFC heavyweights learned how to wrestle and just brawled… so 2008… Broughton brings serviceable striking but often pins his opponents to the cage and wears them out. Expect Broughton to try to utilize this game plan against the taller Browne. I hope that Broughton has improved his takedown defense because it has been non-existent in every fight I have seen him in. Broughton is a long shot here, but his best bet to try to grind down the bigger, stronger, and more athletic Browne.

Browne-(BR) Travis Browne is tall. This seems obvious, but will become even more obvious when standing next to Rob Broughton, who is 6’3. Browne was not able to use his length against the taller Stefan Struve at UFC 130. Regardless, Browne was able to out power the Dutchman.

With Broughton, Browne will have to worry about being out-grappled by the Brit. That is why it is expected Browne will look to remain on his feet for as long as he can.

While Broughton has never been knocked out, he will still be at a significant disadvantage compared to Browne.

Nate Diaz versus Takanori Gomi

Diaz-(CL) The more compliant and smaller Diaz will take on an opponent his brother fought in one of the best fights I have ever seen. Sadly… this fight is but a shadow of that legendary battle but it does not mean the fight will not be a war. I expect a slugfest here with Diaz going for volume over power. Diaz, like his brother, uses this amateur boxing strategy to overwhelm opponents but it can get in him in trouble by over exposing his chin to a powerful striker. Diaz is also a strong grappler, like his brother, but he does not have the killer instinct his older brother does. The big issue is Diaz’s weight. Diaz is returning to 155 after an unsuccessful stint at 170 and 155 has always been a hard cut for him. If there was ever the case for a 165 class, Diaz would be it. The longer this fight goes, the less technical it will be.

Gomi- (BR) A Diaz vs. Gomi matchup. Seems like déjà vu, doesn’t it? This time around, Gomi is facing Nick’s brother, Nate. Gomi will be able to win the striking battle against the younger Diaz. While Nick can certainly hold his own with his boxing, Nate seems to be a few levels behind.

That is where Gomi will want to exploit Nate. If Gomi is taken to the ground, that’s where things will get dicey. Not only is Nate superior to Gomi in that department, Gomi has struggled with his submission defense, with his last 3 losses coming via submission.

Ben Rothwell versus Mark Hunt

Rothwell- (BR) This seems to be an obvious one, much like Gomi, but the opposite. Ben is going to want to get this one to the ground. He will be able to do that whenever he wants, given Hunt’s lack of takedown defense and even worse submission defense. Rothwell holds 10 submission victories during his career.

Hunt has a few big wins on his resume, but he has never beaten a true heavyweight. He does hold wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop, but he’s never defeated anyone taller than 6’2 (Cro Cop). Rothwell is 6’5 and will have a 6 inch reach advantage over Hunt. That will allow Rothwell to stay outside of the pocket and away from Hunt’s comfort zone.

He may not want to be too patient, though. Hunt has won every single match of his career that has lasted past the first round. With that come seven losses, all within the first round.

Mark Hunt- (CL) It is quite simple… DO NOT GO TO THE GROUND!!!! That is really it… and even if he does not, it is not a guarantee he will win. This is a fight to fulfill a previous deal, nothing more.

For complete pre-fight coverage of UFC 135 (including weigh-in results, staff picks, and a podcast) of Saturday’s main card stay tuned to MMAFrenzy.

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