A month after having their biggest event in history (UFC 129 in Toronto), the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns home to Las Vegas with a “down” card, a rare event without a title fight or marquee showdown between big names. UFC 130 was at one point going to host the third match between Gray Maynard and lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, but injuries to both forced them off the card. A semi-main event of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Matt Hamill has been bumped up to the main event, with a heavyweight contender eliminator between Frank Mir and Roy Nelson filling out the second slot.
The UFC, Hamill and Jackson have done their best to sell this fight as a big one, but it’s notably lacking pizazz, mostly because Hamill hasn’t headlined a non-Fight Night event before. With his recently-released movie helping add to his profile, this has become an interesting matchup of movie subject vs. movie star. Rampage’s Hollywood aspirations have been the subject of great speculation ever since last year’s “The A-Team” release. In theory, Jackson is not as dedicated to the game, but he’s made his motivations clear: he wants to make his money fighting so he can retire in two years. Losing to Matt Hamill takes away his ability to earn.
Now that we’re firmly entrenched in our new home, it’s time to bring back the UFC predictions, so let’s get it on, c’mon!
Matt Hamill v. Rampage Jackson
BRUCE: Its hard not to like Hamill's story. He's had a respectable UFC career despite being deaf since birth. This is his “promised” fight against a top 10 fighter. Can he take advantage? The Lifetime Channel would say yes. Unfortunately for Hamill, this isn't Lifetime. This is the UFC. Jackson isn't called Rampage for nothing. I look for him to make an example of Hamill. JACKSON BY KO IN 2nd
MATT: I have to tread lightly here. Rampage is my all-time favorite fighter and one of my favorite people in the world, meanwhile I think Hamill is an average-at-best fighter who gets extra consideration because he can’t hear. I have a habit of making predictions with absolute certainty that couldn’t prove more wrong (see Lesnar over Velasquez). So I can’t say Rampage should just destroy Hamill, even though I want it to happen. Like I said in my review of his biopic, I think Hamill has one quality win in his life: the KO of Mark Munoz two years ago, before Munoz dropped a weight class and became a threat. Hamill’s only other top-flight opponents - Rich Franklin and Jon Jones (and Michael Bisping, if you are like me and believe The Count won their UFC 75 match outright) - all beat him...even though the Jones match goes down as a DQ “win” for Hamill. Jackson’s only two losses since 2005 have gone the distance against championship-level fighters, and I don’t think he’s fallen off so much to make this an even fight. It’s a matter of whether or not Hamill can raise his game to beat an elite guy at 205, and right now I say no. Rampage is one of the most technical strikers in the division and he has the takedown defense to stay out of Hamill’s wheelhouse. Either this match is a launching pad for Matt Hamill to become a contender or it’s just another win bonus for Rampage. I’m betting on the latter. JACKSON BY TKO IN 3rd
Frank Mir v. Roy Nelson
BRUCE: Never bet against the Fat Man. Nelson has been discounted his entire career because of his, um, girth. Even after he destroyed the entire field, including Kimbo Slice, on The Ultimate Fighter he wasn't expected to last long in the UFC. Despite a decision loss and some contractual issues, Nelson is still there. Mir is .500 in his last four fights. He needs a decisive victory in this. I don't see it happening. Nelson will take the victory and move another step closer to a title shot. NELSON BY UNANIMOUS DECISION
MATT: This is the toughest call of the night. Nelson has a pretty good UFC resume - two knockouts of young gun heavyweights and a gutsy decision loss to Junior Dos Santos, the on-again, off-again #1 contender to the heavyweight title. On the other hand, the only other “upper level” names on his record - Ben Rothwell, Jeff Monson, Andrei Arlovski - were all losses. Meanwhile, Mir is great at beating up old guys (Cro Cop, Big Nog) or mediocre guys (Cheick Kongo, Brock Lesnar v.1) but struggles against true heavyweight contenders. So is Nelson a True Heavyweight Contender? I can’t tell until after this fight; however, he’s got better striking than Mir (who fancies himself a ‘complete’ fighter now and seems to like standing and banging despite being the best heavyweight submission guy going) and takedown defense to avoid going to the mat. NELSON BY KO IN 3rd
Travis Browne v. Stefan Struve
BRUCE: I like the way this one shapes up. A couple of heavyweights on hot streaks? Yes, please. Struve lost to Roy Nelson. See my comments above. No shame in that. Browne went to a draw with Cheick Kongo. Shame in that. I like what I've seen of Struve. He's got a LOT of upside potential and he's my pick here. STRUVE BY KO IN 3rd
MATT: What Bruce said. Travis Browne fails the “Kongo Test”: he got sucked into a boring fight with the French kickboxer. That means he can’t be that good. Struve should smash him. STRUVE BY TKO IN 1st
Jorge Santiago v. Brian Stann
BRUCE: Confession time. I haven't kept up with MMA as much as I should have in the last few months. Other commitments have taken me away. As a result, I'm not very well educated on these two fighters. Santiago hasn't fought in the UFC since 2006. Stann fought last in January. He's also a veteran. Its Memorial Day Weekend. I'm picking the veteran. STANN BY TKO IN 3rd
MATT: Since dropping to middleweight and joining Greg Jackson’s camp, Stann has finished two straight opponents, including a dominant stoppage of Chris Leben. Santiago has been building up a resume outside the organization but I think momentum and motivation are on Stann’s side here. STANN BY UNANIMOUS DECISION
Thiago Alves v. Rick Story
BRUCE: Alves desperately needs a win here. He's got a pair of high profile losses in his recent record. We all know how the UFC feels about 3's. Meanwhile, Story has won five straight. Granted, the competition wasn't of the same caliber, but still. I'm going with Story. STORY BY SPLIT DECISION
MATT: Alves already has one victory under his belt by making weight for this fight. He’s training with Mike Dolce, the ex-Ultimate Fighter scrub who has become a diet and nutrition guru for the MMA world. On top of that, he’s coming off a dominant win over a previous rising welterweight star, John Howard. Rick Story has quietly been smashing people, but none of the pelts on his wall are worth much. This is a huge step up in competition; coupled with Alves’ new training regime I actually I’m just gonna stop right here before I make a bad pun playing off the name Story. ALVES BY TKO IN 3rd
Kendall Grove v. Tim Boetsch
BRUCE: The last time Boetsch fought on a card headlined by Jackson he lost. Grove lost his last fight to Damian Maia. Both of these fighters need a win here. Boetsch is the hotter hand, so I'm going with him. BOETSCH BY SUBMISSION IN 2nd
MATT: Both guys qualify as journeymen at this point (Boetsch is 3-3 in the UFC; Grove is 7-5). They win when they should win and lose when they should lose. Somehow, Grove feels like a higher-profile guy to me; it’s probably because he’s never been cut from the UFC (not all former Ultimate Fighter winners can say that) whereas Boetsch only seems to surface as a fill-in guy. It’s possible we see a whole new Tim Boetsch since it’s his middleweight debut, but Grove still has the reach advantage. GROVE BY SUBMISSION IN 2nd
Demetrious Johnson vs. Miguel Torres
BRUCE: Both of these fighters were acquired by the UFC when they bought WEC. This one is to show that the smaller fighters from the WEC have a place in the UFC. Of course they do. I don't need convincing. Dana White does. I look for this one to be a good fight with Johnson coming out on top. JOHNSON BY SUBMISSION IN 2nd
MATT: This is a big fight for the bantamweight division. Johnson made his UFC debut in a barnburning upset of Kid Yamamoto. Torres, the former WEC champ, looked decidedly mortal up until his UFC debut against Antonio Banuelos. In that fight, he debuted some refined striking skills that he picked up under the tutelage of Firas Zahabi - aka Georges St. Pierre’s head trainer. That polished standup game and his six-inch height advantage keep him out of Johnson’s range, I think. TORRES BY UNANIMOUS DECISION