That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for the second of three straight Downes Sides! Don’t be sad, two out of three ain’t bad.
As the meatloaf is cooking for Friday night dinner, the UFC will be putting on the latest edition of the Ultimate Fighter Finale. Live from Las Vegas, Nevada, former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar continues his quest for a 145-pound title as he battles Chad Mendes. In the co-main event of the evening, Ryan Hall and Artem Lobov determine the next TUF champion. It’s not a lemon, it’s fight time!
JASON KNIGHT VS. TATSUYA KAWAJIRI
We start the main card at featherweight for Jason Knight and Tatsuya Kawajiri. Stepping in for an injured Mirsad Bektic, Knight will be making his UFC debut. Based out of Mississippi, 14 of his 16 career wins have been stoppages. A veteran of Shooto, PRIDE, Dream and Strikeforce, the 37-year-old Kawajiri has experience and 22 career finishes. He responded to his decision loss to Clay Guida with a win over Dennis Siver back in June.
Knight has a lot of potential, but he’s overmatched here. Kawajiri may be in the twilight of his career, but he hasn’t shown many signs of regression. He keeps up a strong pace and keeps opponents off balance with his unorthodox striking. Knight is serviceable on his feet, but his greatest strength is his jiu-jitsu. This means he’ll be more likely to go to his back and look for the submission. You don’t want Kawajiri on top of you. Knight concedes takedowns and “The Crusher” wrestles his way to the unanimous decision.
JOE LAUZON VS. EVAN DUNHAM
We move up to lightweight for Joe Lauzon and Evan Dunham. Always entertaining, Lauzon tries to keep the momentum going after his first-round TKO win over Takanori Gomi. Tactical, tough and gritty, he has no problem standing in the pocket and trading. Dunham has been a UFC mainstay since win over Per Eklund at UFC 95 in 2009. Another jiu-jitsu black belt who’s willing to engage anywhere, he’s won his last two fights over Ross Pearson and Rodrigo Damm.
Lauzon may not be a natural, but his fight IQ and toughness have given him great success in the UFC. His biggest difficulties come against fighters with greater athleticism (e.g. Anthony Pettis, Michael Johnson and Al Iaquinta). Lauzon does damage via accumulation, and that’s hard when you’re consistently getting beaten to the punch. Dunham may not have a clear cut athletic advantage, but I worry about how Lauzon deals with his power and crisp straight punches. Both are high level grapplers with adequate wrestling, so this fight will probably be a slobber knocker. Dunham has better technique, but Lauzon has a tenacity that won’t stop. He wins by determination (and unanimous decision).
EDSON BARBOZA VS. TONY FERGUSON
We remain at lightweight for Edson Barboza and Tony Ferguson. An explosive Muay Thai fighter with 10 career KOs, Barboza showcased his striking skills with a win over the “Irish Dragon” Paul Felder back in July. Winner of Season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter, “El Cucuy” Ferguson has amassed a 9-1 record inside the Octagon.
The fact that these two fighters are ranked No. 6 and No. 7 shows how deep the lightweight division is. I think that Tony Ferguson is a potential title contender and he’ll show that in this fight. Barboza has a ton of talent, but he relies on leg kicks as a primary weapon. That leaves him particularly susceptible to takedowns. He’ll fight off the first few, but Ferguson will eventually figure out the timing and put Barboza on his back. From there he’ll ground and pound, find an opening and lock up the second-round submission.
TUF LIGHTWEIGHT FINAL
RYAN HALL VS. ARTEM LOBOV
That takes us to the TUF finale between Ryan Hall and Artem Lobov. A world BJJ champion, Hall especially favors heel hooks. He’ll have a tough matchup against Artem Lobov, though. “The Russian Hammer” not only trains alongside Conor McGregor, he’s also developed an interest in talking trash like his Irish counterpart. Don’t let his professional record fool you, Lobov hammered through the competition with his heavy hands to earn a spot in the finals.
This is a classic grappler vs. striker fight. Lobov may not be the most refined, but he can knock opponents out. Hall has incredible jiu-jitsu, but his hands are average and he doesn’t have the best wrestling offense. Lobov can be safe and play a game of “keep away.” He’ll slowly, but surely chop down at Hall as the American chases him around the cage. Hall will get desperate to bring the fight to the ground, and that’ll be when Lobov lands and uppercut and takes the second-round TKO.
FRANKIE EDGAR VS. CHAD MENDES
Time for the main event! Winner of four straight, Frankie Edgar can get one step closer to another shot at the featherweight title with a victory on Friday. Chad Mendes is on a similar mission. He returns to the Octagon for the first time since his TKO loss to Conor McGregor for the interim featherweight championship. A powerful wrestler, he’s developed his hands to become one of the most feared punchers in the division.
We all know that Mendes suffered from a lack of cardio in his last fight. Even with a full training camp under him, he’ll still need to worry about cardio. Edgar maintains a fierce pace and never stands still long enough for his opponents to catch him. He defends strikes at an incredible 71.1 percent rate. Unfortunately, he also suffers from a lack of accuracy in both his strikes and takedowns. Edgar has the quantity, but Mendes has the quality. It’s always hard to bet against Edgar, but “Money” finds the answer. He wins by decision.
That wraps up the penultimate Downes Side this week. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to leave your own predictions, thoughts, insights and preferred massage therapist. I’m starting to cramp up.