Last week we took a look at how the main event between Jon Jones and Vladimir Matyushenko breaks down. Now let's break down the other three fights on the main card for UFC on Versus 2.
Yushin Okami (24-5) -215 vs. Mark Munoz (8-1) +175
Yushin Okami has an 8-2 record since joining the UFC, with his only losses coming to Rich Franklin and Chael Sonnen. Okami is known for his wrestling ability and his ground and pound game, but recent fights have shown an improving kickboxing game as well. His most recent fight was a battering of Lucio Linhares, where Okami dominated on the feet as well as with ground and pound. Okami has a reputation as a grinder, a fighter who wears down opponents and is not afraid to win ugly fights. He can be outstruck (Rich Franklin), and he can be outwrestled (Chael Sonnen), but both of those losses were to elite fighters in the top five of the division. BloodyElbow's consensus rankings currently have Okami as the #8 middleweight in the world.
Mark Munoz is a former two-time All American wrestler and NCAA champion at Oklahoma State. After moving from the WEC to the UFC, Munoz was knocked out by a Matt Hamill head kick in his first UFC bout. After that fight, Munoz dropped from the light heavyweight division to the middleweight division and has rebounded to win 3 consecutive fights. Munoz utilizes a ground and pound game based off his amateur wrestling ability, and he has finished his last two fights via powerful ground strikes. He's got major power on the ground, but he has had trouble keeping his opponent down at times. His stand up is not terrible, but it can be exploited by good strikers.
The central question of this fight is which fighter can impose their wrestling onto the other. Munoz is more decorated as a wrestler, but Okami seems to be every bit the MMA wrestler that Munoz is. Munoz seems to have at least a bit more powerful ground and pound than Okami does, but he doesn't seem to be able to completely smother and grind out opponents like Okami can. If Munoz wins this fight, it will likely be because he was able to get Okami down and finish him quickly with a flurry of strikes. Okami has more paths to victory: he's a more well-rounded fighter, and should have an advantage standing. Okami may look to take down the Filipino wrestler, or he may simply use his wrestling to neutralize Munoz's takedowns in order to win the fight standing. It's hard to say which fighter will be able to dictate the wrestling game, but Okami is a more well-rounded fighter and is rightfully the favorite. Watch for Okami use his wrestling to keep the fight standing and wear down Munoz en route to a decision victory.
Yushin Okami over Mark Munoz via decision
Jake Ellenberger vs John Howard and Tyson Griffin vs Takanori Gomi after the jump.
Jake Ellenberger (22-5) -165 vs. John Howard (14-4) +140
Jake Ellenberger's primary weapon is his wrestling. Although he packs decent power in his hands, both of his UFC fights to date have showcased his wrestling ability. Despite losing a split decision to former WEC champ Carlos Condit in his UFC debut, Ellenberger impressed by landing a number of powerful shots on the feet and frequently taking Condit down. Against Mike Pyle, he utilized his wrestling to control Pyle, ultimately injuring Pyle's ribs with ground and pound which led to a 2nd round TKO.
John Howard is 4-0 in the UFC, although his 4-0 record is not quite as impressive as it may seem. His first two victories were split decisions over Chris Wilson and Tamdan McCrory. In his third fight, Howard was largely dominated by veteran Dennis Hallman before landing a stunning knockout blow with less than 30 seconds remaining in the fight. Most recently, Howard scored a TKO victory in the first round against Daniel Roberts. Howard is a good wrestler, a good grappler, and has shown good power in his hands. He's also proven very difficult to finish. But despite these strengths, he is not dominant in any area and has shown moments of weakness in all areas as well. Howard's UFC bouts have almost universally been back and forth battles in which he mixes moments of brilliance with flashes of weakness.
Ellenberger is listed as a favorite in this fight, but not a large favorite, which is appropriate in my opinion. Howard, despite his 4-0 record in the UFC, is somewhat of an enigma. He's inconsistent: McCrory and Wilson were able to exploit holes in his game despite losing split decisions and Hallman largely dominated their fight. But he's also capable of stunning moments, as evidenced by his 11th hour knockout of Hallman and his single strike TKO win over Daniel Roberts. I expect this bout to be a barn-burner, with both fighters attempting to dictate the pace with takedowns and aggressive striking. Both fighters prefer use their wrestling skills to take their opponents to the mat, so the takedown battle should be interesting. Ellenberger is more consistent in his overall MMA game, but no matter which fighter dictates the takedowns, expect to see plenty of submission attempts, reversals, and escapes between fighters with similar skill sets. Anything could happen, but Ellenberger's consistency has to make him a small favorite.
Jake Ellenberger over John Howard via decision.
Tyson Griffin (14-3) -300 vs. Takanori Gomi (31-6) +240
UFC vet Tyson Griffin may be the UFC fighter most disposed to decisions. In his 7 professional bouts before joining the UFC, Griffin scored 7 straight wins via TKO or submission. Since joining the UFC, Griffin is 7-3, with 8 out of 10 fights going to decision (all 3 losses and 5 of 7 wins). The only fighters he has finished in the UFC are a bloated, uninterested Hermes Franca and English can David Lee. Despite a penchant for decisions, don't be turned off by Griffin's style: He's won fight of the night an astonishing 5 times, a UFC record. Griffin comes from a wrestling background but often prefers to stand and strike with his opponents. He often lacks finishing power against UFC-level opponents. Instead, Griffin relies on his sterling cardio and his relentless, high energy style.
Takanori Gomi is a legend of the sport and one of the best lightweight fighters of all time. At one point the best lightweight fighter in the world, he compiled a gaudy record competing first in Shooto and then in PRIDE. Although Gomi is a four time All Japan Combat (submission) Wrestling champion, he almost always prefers to stand and bang with his opponents, and is known for his knockout ability. Unfortunately, Gomi has lost his aura and many believe he is far past his prime. Gomi is only 2-3 in his last five fights, with the two wins coming against fairly soft competition. He hasn't had a significant win since March 2008, when he defeated Duane Ludwing in the first round.
This fight turns on Gomi's current ability level. Tyson Griffin is mostly a known commodity, and we know what to expect from him. He'll attempt to pressure Gomi with a high energy, fast paced striking attack, perhaps occasionally mixing in a takedown attempt. With Gomi, we can't be sure. No one can deny that Gomi had vicious striking and knockout power, but many doubt that he still has those attributes. In his first UFC bout against Kenny Florian, Gomi looked slow and was unable to deal with Florian's striking, most notably the jab. Ultimately he was worn down, and Florian eventually took Gomi down and finished him with a rear naked choke. I believe that we will continue to Gomi backslide in this fight. Once veteran fighters begin to drop off, they rarely return to their previous abilities. Griffin will be too fast for Gomi, and once he establishes his comfort zone, his quick pace and excellent cardio make it unlikely he'll be defeated.
Tyson Griffin over Takanori Gomi via decision