Gather round, it’s time for the final Downes Side...of 2012. We’ve shared a lot over the past year, but I think we can all agree on one thing; your UFC fight nights were much richer for having me in it. I always knew I’d make a difference in this world, and, let's be honest, anyone can be a doctor.
The UFC looks to close 2012 the way it closes every year -- with a bang. The action will occur inside the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada with the main event deciding the heavyweight champion of the world, aka “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” as Junior Dos Santos defends his title against the man he took it from, Cain Velasquez. The co-main event features a much-sought-after lightweight contest as Joe Lauzon battles Jim Miller.
Chris Leben (22-8) vs. Derek Brunson (9-2)
The main card kicks off in the middleweight division as Chris Leben takes on Derek Brunson. Leben steps inside the Octagon for the first time since losing to Mark Munoz in November of 2011. After a career of highs and lows, the always-entertaining Leben looks for another comeback run. The Greg Jackson-trained Brunson steps in on short notice to prevent that comeback. A fast starter, 6 of his 9 wins have come in the first round.
You should never count out a Div. II All-American wrestler, but Leben possesses enough takedown defense to survive. Not only was he already training for a wrestler in Karlos Vemola, but he’s been in there with guys like Mark Munoz, Brian Stann, Akiyama and Aaron Simpson. Brunson will come out quick, swing big and fall victim to one of the world's classic blunders. The most famous is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less well-known is, “Never stand in the pocket against Chris Leben.” The Crippler will catch Brunson as he rushes in, clip him with his left cross and finish him via 1st-round TKO.
Yushin Okami (28-7) vs. Alan Belcher (17-5)
We stay in the middleweight division for the second meeting between Alan “The Talent” Belcher and Yushin “Thunder” Okami. The two first met in the Octagon deubts at UFC 62 in August of 2006, with Okami picking up the decision win. Since that time, both have had long and prosperous careers in the UFC and it’s no surprise that they are meeting again. After coming off two detached retina surgeries that almost cost him his career, Belcher has been on a roll with first-round stoppages against Jason MacDonald and Rousimar Palhares. A former number-one contender, Okami actually holds the middleweight title for most time spent inside the Octagon in the UFC.
Their first meeting really has no bearing on this fight. To put things in perspective, UFC 62 occurred the same month Mel Gibson was arrested for drunk driving, and we’ve all forgotten about that, right? Okami is one of the best grinders in the division, but Belcher is simply more dynamic and dangerous than him at the point. The Talent will use low kicks and straight punches to tag his opponent, then hurt him in the clinch when Okami looks for the takedown. This will gradually wear Okami down until the third round, when Belcher will drop him with a knee and secure the TKO.
Tim Boetsch (16-4) vs Costa Philippou (11-2)
We make it three in a row at 185 pounds as contenders Tim Boetsch and Costa Philippou square off. After losing his UFC debut, Philippou has rattled off four straight wins with his crisp boxing and an impressive takedown defense rate of over 85%. Undefeated at middleweight, “The Barbarian” Boetsch is riding high after derailing the Hector Lombard hype train in July.
This is one of those fights where the heart says one thing, but the mind says another. The logical side sees Philippou treating Boetsch the same way he treated Court McGee and Riki Fukuda-- putting together solid boxing combinations, strong footwork and controlling the clinch. My heart, though, can’t seem to count out Boetsch and his ability to end a fight reminiscent of what he did to Yushin Okami at UFC 144. I’m taking Boetsch in the third. Unfortunately, someone has already beaten me in writing The Barbarian Love Story book.
Jim Miller (21-4) vs Joe Lauzon (22-7)
We drop down to the lightweight division for a match people have been describing as “a fight of mirror images.” Miller looks to move back to the top of the crowded 155-lb. ladder after dropping two of his last three fights (to Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz, mind you). Lauzon, who’s only gone the distance once in his 29-fight career, believes he can make Jim Miller his 19th career submission victim.
Since the two have similar gameplans and abilities, you can learn a lot by analyzing common opponents. They’ve both submitted Melvin Guillard in the first round...so...well...that doesn’t help at all. The real question here is whether or not Lauzon’s aggressiveness will be a help or a hindrance. Nothing stifles an aggressive fighter better than a wrestler with Miller’s credentials. Having said that, Lauzon’s recent losses have come primarily against strikers more dangerous than Miller. This back-and-forth fight will surely win Fight of the Night and will likely boil down to which guy can weather the storm the longest. I think that Miller will be able to keep the pace, get the key takedown to steal the rounds and walk away with a UD victory.
Junior Dos Santos (15-1) vs Cain Velasquez (10-1)
Time for the main event of the evening! These two first met in November of 2011, where Junior Dos Santos took the heavyweight belt away from Cain Velasquez with 23:56 to spare in the fight. Since that time, JDS has defended his title only once, knocking out Frank Mir in the second round at UFC 146. That same night, Cain Velasquez earned his rematch by issuing a brutal beatdown to Bigfoot Silva.
Cain Velasquez is the number two heavyweight in the world. The problem with being number two, though, is that you’re not number one. The man who holds that honor is Junior Dos Santos. I see this fight playing out much like the first one: Cain will come out trying to put JDS on his back, but to no avail. Dos Santos will shrug him off and bring it back to the center of the cage. Once in the center, JDS will hit him with those big meathooks he calls hands and add another first-round TKO finish to his record. I wonder where Alistair Overeem will be Saturday night?
That wraps up another Year of the Dragon edition of the Downes Side. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes and leave your questions, comments, thoughts and hopes for 2013. To those that have disagreed with me over the year, I leave you with this:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
The Downes Side: UFC 155 Predictions
UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for UFC 155, taking place Saturday, December 29