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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
The UFC's debut in Calgary finally comes this weekend, though it looks entirely different than when tickets went on sale. Much like UFC 146, the main card has seen every fight changed from what was originally scheduled; unlike UFC 146, only two of the originally scheduled fighters remain on the pay-per-view portion of the card. Here's what's on tap for the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night:
Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barao (UFC Interim Bantamweight Championship)
Urijah Faber has lost his last four title fights, making this a veritable "do or die" fight for his Championship hopes. For Barao, it's an opportunity brought about by chance, but one he hopes to take full advantage of in Calgary.
Faber's credentials and skills are well-known and documented. He's a very good striker, a good wrestler, and his submission game can be lethal. He's a well rounded package of a fighter who nonetheless has fallen short to excellent fighters in competitive title fights.
Barao brings with him a 28-fight unbeaten streak, dating back to his first career fight. His destruction of Brad Pickett opened eyes and revealed him to be a legitimate contender in this bantamweight division, but he was brought down to earth a bit in a much closer fight against Scott Jorgensen. It's easy to peg him as the favorite; he's eight years younger than Faber, and realistically he's faster at this stage in their respective careers. His striking game is solid, his grappling game is excellent, and if he can keep Faber at bay during the bout he could very well run away with things.
However, that's a lot easier said than done, and with Barao's style of fighting he's not likely to avoid a confrontation. Jose Aldo was able to brutalize Faber's legs with kicks, and Dominick Cruz was able to avoid him enough to score points and win enough of the rounds in their rematch to edge a razor-thin decision.
Faber has a tendency at times to get a little wild, but he's a lot more cautious ever since his TKO loss to Mike Brown. There's a reason he's remained amongst the top lighter weight fighters in the world for as long as he has, and this is type of fight is nothing new to him.
Barao is going to give Faber a fight on Saturday night. He's going to be looking for a finish, and he's going to press the action to do so. Faber's going to come back just as hard and just as fast, and it may come down to which fighter lands their big shot, but it also may come down to experience. Barao's never fought in a title fight, so he's never been in a five round fight. That edge goes big time in Faber's favor, and I lean towards the former Champion to regain gold once again.
PREDICTION: Faber via decision
Hector Lombard vs. Tim Boetsch (Middleweight)
Lombard's 25-fight unbeaten streak has been built on the back of lesser competition, though that's not all his fault. He was supposed to enter the UFC in 2007, but visa issues kept him from being able to make that debut. He's fought around the world, he's beaten a lot of different fighters, but the only thing he hasn't done is take out a truly top-level competitor in the division.
Boetsch represents just that following his third straight win in the division. Though he was losing to Yushin Okami for two rounds in his last bout, his violent third round comeback just proved that he can't be counted out at any point.
Lombard is a knockout artist, but he's got skills on the ground as well. Boetsch is in a similar boat, though his grappling is better served in tight and on top when he's raining down strikes. He's got serious strength in that department, though, and he's been known to toss around an opponent or two in his career.
We will find out for sure where Hector Lombard is in the middleweight division in this fight. If he comes in and blitzes a fighter of Boetsch's quality, it will be as big a statement as any fighter's made in their UFC debut. But his run could also come to an end at the hands of a hard-hitting fighter in Boetsch. I can't count Boetsch out, and he could very well keep Lombard out of the title picture right off the bat; I've gone back and forth on this pick, and the first two rounds of Boetsch's bout with Okami keep sticking in hy head. However, there's that third round to remember as well. If he can survive an early onslaught, this might be his shot at the upset.
PREDICTION: Boetsch via KO in the second round
Cheick Kongo vs. Shawn Jordan (Heavyweight)
This fight was supposed to be Kongo against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira; instead, Kongo will take on the Strikeforce import who made his debut back in March with a fun finish over Oli Thompson. Kongo himself needs to bounce back from a violent loss, a knockout at the hands of Mark Hunt at UFC 144 in February.
Kongo made his UFC debut three years before Jordan became a professional fighter. Suffice it to say, the experience edge is his in a big way. He's fought some fantastic competition in his MMA career, and he's a solid veteran with heavy hands. And though he did get knocked out in his last fight, historically he's an extremely tough fighter to finish.
Jordan's got a lot of promise, though, and this is a chance for him to get a breakout win in the heavyweight division. He's got the power to do just that, but he's going to have to find his spots and avoid getting knocked out himself. This is an interesting heavyweight matchup, and we'll find out whether Jordan's got more of an upside or not based on how he performs. I think the potential is there for something a little more, and he just may get that breakout win.
PREDICTION: Jordan via KO in the first round
Brian Ebersole vs. James Head (Welterweight)
Ebersole makes a quick turnaround, having just defeated T.J. Waldburger in a tough, closely contested fight last month at UFC on FX 4. Head was supposed to face Claude Patrick after a submission win over Papy Abedi in April, but an injury to Patrick brought about this fight.
Head's got a solid, though unspectacular skill set. He picked up a submission win over Abedi in what was his welterweight debut, and ten fights into his MMA career he has room for growth. However, Ebersole's very real experience edge, along with some disappointment in how he performed last month, don't necessarily bode well for Head in this fight.
Ebersole's the type of fighter who is really good at a lot of different aspects of the fight game, without being truly excellent in any area. He's absolutely well-rounded, and he's capable of surviving through bad spots as well. Though he's turning around quick and took the fight on short notice, I still favor him significantly in this matchup.
PREDICTION: Ebersole via decision
Chris Clements vs. Matt Riddle (Welterweight)
This spot on the main card initially started out as Thiago Alves vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama. Then Akiyama got hurt and it was Alves vs. Siyar Bahadurzada. Then Alves got hurt and it was Bahadurzada against Clements. Finally, Bahadurzada went down with an injury, bringing Matt Riddle into the frame. Clearly, this fight isn't anywhere near what could have been on this card.
Riddle should have lost a decision to Henry Martinez in his last fight, but he edged out a narrow split to snap a two-fight losing streak. He just doesn't have a ton of power, and he's more than willing to trade strikes with fighters who score more than he does.
Clements is coming off a split decision of his own, but he's also got a history of stopping fights, including a win over UFC vet Rich Clementi prior to his UFC debut. Riddle's not easy to stop, but Clements should be the better fighter here.
PREDICTION: Clements via unanimous decision
=====Preliminary Card Quick Picks=====
--Court McGee over Nick Ring via decision
--Roland Delorme over Francisco Rivera via submission in the second round
--Anthony Perosh over Ryan Jimmo via submission in the first
--Bryan Caraway over Mitch Gagnon via decision
--Daniel Pineda over Antonio Carvalho via TKO in the second round
--Mitch Clarke over Anton Kuivanen via decision
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
STAFF COLUMNISTS: Shawn Ennis - Jason Amadi
Frank Hyden - Rich Hansen
Chris Park - Matt Pelkey
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