by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the U.K. on Saturday night where Joe Stevenson and B.J. Penn headline UFC 80 in Newcastle-Upon-Tynes. Ricardo Mendoza takes a look at the headliner and the rest of the card…
UFC LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT:
B.J. PENN VS. JOE STEVENSON
Former UFC welterweight champion B.J. Penn takes on The Ultimate Fighter season two winner Joe Stevenson for the vacant UFC lightweight championship. Penn has an 11-4-1 record and trains out of B.J. Penn MMA with Renato “Charuto” Verissimo. Stevenson has a 28-7 record and trains out of Cobra Kai with Marc Laimon.
Penn comes off a submission victory over Jens Pulver at The Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale, while Stevenson won a decision over Kurt Pellegrino at UFC 74.
These two are meeting for the vacant UFC lightweight title, which was stripped from former champion Sean Sherk after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs after his fight with Hermes Franca at UFC 73.
Penn is one of the most talented fighters to ever step into the Octagon, but that hasn’t always translated into victory as a lack of focus during training has hindered him from reaching his full potential. It now seems that he is taking his career seriously and looks to be focused during training in preparation for this fight.
Stevenson has gone 4-0 since moving down to lightweight, finishing three of his opponents within the distance and looking impressive in his last fight against Kurt Pellegrino.
Stevenson will want to keep the fight on the feet, seeing that he has the more polished striking of the two fighters. Although he is primarily a ground fighter, he doesn’t want go to the ground with Penn, being that he is one of more gifted ground fighters in the world.
Both seem to be in excellent shape leading up to the fight, so neither should have any problems with conditioning. Look for Stevenson to set the pace of the fight with crisp striking, while Penn will look to take the fight to the ground. It’s going to be a struggle for Penn to get it on the ground, but he will eventually do it and that’s where the fight will come to end.
Penn will use his superior technique and catch Stevenson midway through the fight with a submission after tiring him out on the ground.
Prediction: B.J. Penn by submission in the third round.
GABRIEL GONZAGA VS. FABRICIO WERDUM
In a rematch of a fight that happened five years ago, Team Link heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga faces off with Pride veteran Fabricio Werdum. Gonzaga has an 8-2 record and trains out of Team Link with Paulo Filho. Werdum has a 9-3 record and trains out of Spain.
Gonzaga comes off a stoppage loss to Randy Couture at UFC 74, while Werdum dropped a decision to former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski at UFC 70.
In their first meeting, Werdum defeated an inexperienced Gonzaga, but things have changed since they last met. Gonzaga has become one of the better heavyweights in the world, while it seems that Werdum has kind of stalled out.
Werdum is a very talented heavyweight fighter, but it seems he is no longer improving as a fighter. Even though all three of his losses have come by decision against top competition, they have used the same blueprint in defeating him by outstriking him and keeping it off the ground.
Gonzaga has the better stand-up of the two fighters and that’s surprising being that Werdum used to train with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. On the ground, both fighters are former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champions, so it’s evenly matched there.
The deciding factor on the fight is whether or not Werdum has improved his takedowns because if he can’t take the fight to the ground, he isn’t going to have a good night.
Look for Gonzaga to control the fight with crisp and hard striking, while defending all of Werdum’s attempts to get the fight to the ground en route to a decision victory.
Prediction: Gabriel Gonzaga by decision.
MARCUS DAVIS VS. JESS LIAUDIN
Former Golden Gloves boxing champion Marcus Davis takes on French submission specialist Jess Liaudin. Davis has a 13-3 record and trains out of Team Gurgel with Jorge Gurgel. Liaudin has 12-8 record and trains out of Team Quest with Heath Sims.
Davis comes off a submission victory over Paul Taylor at UFC 75, while Liaudin stopped Anthony Torres with strikes at the same show.
Davis has really improved as a complete MMA fighter since his time on The Ultimate Fighter 2. Liaudin battled with inconsistency early in his career, but as of late has been solid, putting together some impressive victories.
Besides having excellent striking, Davis has added a competent ground game and has become a versatile fighter. Liaudin is now taking his career seriously and has begun to train at Team Quest to improve himself as a fighter.
This should be a fun fight. Look for Davis to control the fight with striking and when they hit the ground both guys will be trading positions back and forth. Liaudin will be improved, but Davis should be able to end the fight with strikes within the distance.
Prediction: Marcus Davis by TKO in the third round.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT:
JASON LAMBERT VS. WILSON GOUVEIA
Californian light heavyweight Jason Lambert takes on American Top Team fighter Wilson Gouveia. Lambert has a 23-6 record and trains out of the North County Fight Club with Eddie Sanchez. Gouveia has a 9-4 record and trains out of American Top Team with Alessio Sakara.
Lambert comes off a stoppage victory over Renato Sobral at UFC 68, while Gouveia submitted wrestler Carmelo Marrero at UFC 71.
These two were originally scheduled to meet at UFC 76, but the fight was scrapped after Gouveia suffered a broken nose during training. Now they face off in an important fight.
This is an even match-up as both fighters have shown flashes of brilliance in the Octagon. Gouveia is a better ground fighter, but Lambert has the edge in the wrestling department and that can play a big factor in the fight.
Gouveia is a more technical striker, while Lambert has more power in his hands. Lambert will want to keep the fight on the feet and try to finish off Gouveia off with strikes, while Gouveia wants it on the ground in order to lock on a submission.
I see Lambert controlling the fight early on with power shots, while Gouveia will work the low kicks in order to weaken Lambert for a takedown. Gouveia will finally get it to the ground midway through the fight and will outwork Lambert en route to a decision.
Prediction: Wilson Gouveia by decision.
KENDALL GROVE VS. JORGE RIVERA
Ultimate Fighter 3 winner Kendall Grove faces off with seasoned striker Jorge Rivera. Grove has an 8-4 record and trains out of Cobra Kai with Joe Stevenson. Rivera has a 14-6 record and trains out of Team Elite in Massachusetts.
Grove comes off a stoppage loss to Patrick Cote at UFC 74, while Terry Martin stopped Rivera with strikes at UFC 71.
Grove will look to get back on track after losing for the first time in the UFC by beating a respected veteran in Rivera. Rivera needs to win this fight if he wants to remain in the UFC, seeing that two losses in a row could mean his exit.
Grove needs to use his significant reach advantage over Rivera on the feet and stay away from clinching, where Rivera will want to use his dirty boxing to score points. Rivera has a slight advantage on the feet, but it won’t matter if he can’t get inside to utilize his strikes.
On the ground, Grove has the advantage and that’s what is going to make the big difference in the fight. Grove will waste no time and get it on the ground quickly, locking on a submission to get back on the winning track.
Prediction: Kendall Grove by submission in the first round.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT:
ALESSIO SAKARA VS. JAMES LEE
Italian striker Alessio Sakara takes on King of the Cage light heavyweight champion James Lee. Sakara has an 11-6 record and trains out of American Top Team with Jorge Santiago. James Lee has a 13-2 record and trains out Team MASH in Michigan.
Sakara comes off a stoppage loss to Houston Alexander at UFC 75, while Lee submitted Danny Bessant at King of the Cage: Bad Boys.
This will be Lee’s UFC debut after fighting the majority of his career in King of the Cage and making a lone appearance in Pride. Sakara has lost three out of his last four fights in the UFC and will be making a drop to middleweight after this bout.
Sakara has the advantage on the feet with crisp boxing, while Lee seems to have the edge on the ground, but Sakara isn’t a slouch on the ground either. Sakara will look to keep the fight on the feet and finish off Lee with strikes, while Lee wants in on the ground.
Sakara will use his experience in the Octagon and keep the fight on the feet, ending the fight with strikes and giving Lee his first loss in several years.
Prediction: Alessio Sakara by TKO in the first round.
SAM STOUT VS. PER EKLUND
TKO lightweight champion Sam Stout returns to the Octagon as he takes on Swedish fighter Per Eklund. Stout has a 12-3-1 record and trains out of Team Tompkins with Mark Hominick. Eklund has a 12-2 record and trains out of Hilti NHB in Sweden.
Stout comes off a stoppage victory over Martin Grandmont at TKO 30, while Eklund won a decision over Rafael Dias at Bodog Fight: Vancouver.
This could end up being one of the better fights of the night seeing that both fighters like to push the pace.
Stout has the Octagon experience and is the better striker of the two, while Eklund has the edge on the ground. Stout will look to finish the fight on the feet and stay off the ground where he is at a disadvantage.
Eklund needs to get the fight on the ground and control Stout throughout in order to come away with a victory. Stout will basically sprawl and brawl for the entire fight and batter Eklund en route to a decision.
Prediction: Sam Stout by decision.
PAUL TAYLOR VS. PAUL KELLY
British slugger Paul Taylor faces off with the Octagon debuting striker Paul Kelly. Taylor has an 8-2-1 record and trains out of England. Kelly has a 6-0 record and trains out of the Wolfslair Academy with Michael Bisping.
Taylor comes off a submission loss to Marcus Davis at UFC 75, while Kelly stopped Jordan James with strikes at Cage Gladiators 4.
This fight is going to be an absolute slugfest between two exciting fighters. Taylor fought a valiant fight against Davis, dropping him with strikes and that’s impressive seeing that Davis is primarily a striker.
Kelly seems to be primarily a brawler and this will be his first big test. This fight won’t go to the ground, as both fighters will look for the knockout.
Taylor will use his Octagon experience and crisper striking to frustrate an inexperienced Kelly, who will leave himself open for Taylor to land the big knockout blow.
Prediction: Paul Taylor by KO in the first round.
ANTONI HARDONK VS. COLIN ROBINSON
Dutch kickboxer Antoni Hardonk takes on Irish brawler Colin Robinson. Hardonk has a 5-4 record and trains out Vos Gym with Ernesto Hoost. Robinson has a 9-3 record and trains out of Northern Ireland.
Hardonk comes off a submission loss to Frank Mir at UFC 74, while Robinson knocked out Colin Sexton at Goshin Ryu 22.
This is another fight that will end up being a total slugfest and won’t last very long. Hardonk is a more technical striker, while Robinson is a straight brawler.
This fight won’t get to the ground; Robinson will come in and throw bombs looking to finish the fight quickly. That will play into Hardonk’s strategy, as he will just pick Robinson apart with crisp technical striking, ending the fight late in the first round.
Prediction: Antoni Hardonk by KO in the first round.