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It's hard to imagine that there will be a more exciting matchup than the headliner for this weekend's card in San Jose, as noted knockout artist Robbie Lawler takes on Matt Brown, who is currently riding a seven-fight win streak, with six of those coming by way of knockout. These are two of the most devastating finishers in the UFC, not to mention that the winner earns a title shot at welterweight champion Johny Hendricks, so there's plenty at stake in this one.
The main event isn't the only outstanding bout on this main card from San Jose, as Anthony Johnson makes his second appearance in the UFC light heavyweight division against veteran competitor Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, while Clay Guida looks to pick up his second win in a row when he faces streaking featherweight contender Dennis Bermudez.
The four fights on this main card might be some of the best of the entire year and they also happen to be extremely close matchups, so when it comes to the UFC Pick Em game, the margin between victory and defeat is as narrow as a thread. Read on as we examine those bouts and see who does have the upper hand come Saturday night in San Jose.
ROBBIE LAWLER (-350 FAVORITE) VS. MATT BROWN (+290 UNDERDOG)
It's no joke to say that Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown might just be the two best finishers in the UFC, considering the high rate with which they put their opponents away. Lawler has an 87-percent finish rate during his career with 19 out of his 23 career wins coming by way of knockout. When the phrase “one punch knockout power” was coined, there's a good chance Lawler was exactly the kind of fighter in mind. He's got the fifth highest striking rate among welterweights, and he's dangerous with his feet as much as he is with his punches.
On the other side of the cage stands Matt Brown - he has nine Octagon knockouts, which accounts for the most in UFC welterweight history, and while he may not possess the same kind of one punch knockout power as Lawler, what he has on his side is an uncanny ability to hit an opponent with everything he throws. Brown lands strikes with 59.1 percent accuracy - the highest average in welterweight history. He's also more than proficient on his back, where he's attempted the third most submissions in welterweight history, and with his long frame he's built for armbars and triangle chokes, so Brown is deadly anywhere this fight may go.
The two factors that may play a big part in the outcome of this one come far away from the striking prowess these top-ranked welterweights possess. First is Brown's improved wrestling and willingness to go to his grappling if he ever gets in trouble. Brown works out on a weekly basis with the wrestling team at The Ohio State University and when he's in that room he's just another body getting thrown around on the mats - no one cares much that he's a top ranked welterweight. He also spent time this camp working with 2008 Olympian Ben Askren, so Brown has put in some extra time on his wrestling for this fight.
The second factor and maybe the most important one of all, is that this serves as Lawler's fourth fight inside of an eight-month period of time. Of those four fights, all of them went into the third round or later (he had a five-round fight with Johny Hendricks in March) and he's essentially been in a non-stop training camp for the last nine or ten months. Now, there's no denying Lawler is a true veteran so he knows his body better than anybody else, but it's hard to believe the rigors of that kind of fight schedule couldn't wear on him by this point. It's a similar situation to what happened to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in 2012 when he dedicated himself to fighting six times in a year, but by the point where he got to the biggest matchup of them all with a title shot on the line, he simply had nothing left in the tank.
With that said, Brown loves to fight close, and if he can put Lawler against the cage or inside a phone booth where the former Miletich fighter can't escape and put some distance between the two of them, he could be in trouble. Lawler has had problems in the past with fighters who can keep him close and open up a barrage of strikes. He does have some deadly body kicks, which Brown has struggled with before, but if the Ohioan can get in Lawler's face early and never back away to allow him to get distance, by the time the third round rolls around he should have accumulated enough damage to find a way to finish the fight. Don't discount Lawler because he only needs one punch, kick or knee to slip through and the fight is over, but given his arduous schedule of late, Brown might be worth a pick in the upset.
ANTHONY JOHNSON (-450 FAVORITE) VS. ANTONIO ROGERIO NOGUEIRA (+360 UNDERDOG)
Anthony Johnson returned to the UFC earlier this year as a light heavyweight after spending his early career in the Octagon as a welterweight. Now that he's not cutting such massive amounts of weight, Johnson has looked better than ever. He dismantled former top five ranked fighter Phil Davis in his last fight, and now he looks to inch even closer to title contention taking on veteran fighter Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Johnson has a body built for the 205-pound division - he's an athletic freak with speed and power for a fighter his size not to mention huge knockout power and a rapidly improving striking game developed with his coaches at the Blackzilians camp in Florida. He also has a wrestling background at his disposal where he blocks 85 percent of the takedowns attempted against him while he hits his own with nearly 58 percent accuracy. He's also the biggest favorite on the main card, and with good reason, considering how he's looked since making the move to the 205-pound division.
Don't count out Antonio Rogerio Nogueira just yet though. He's been around the sport for more than a decade and he's spent a lot of time during that stretch as one of the best fighters in the division. He's faced a who's who of fighters, including Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem and Tito Ortiz. Nogueira's biggest enemy hasn't been competition - it's been injuries and inactivity. He's only fought twice in the past two years, but his last win happened to be over Rashad Evans, who has only been defeated three times in his career and the other two were in world title fights. Nogueira has slick boxing with a stiff jab that he uses well with his 74-inch reach, and on the ground he's a world-class submission specialist.
Still, Johnson is going to be a tough out for anyone at 205 pounds given his tremendous power and ability to control where this fight takes place. Conditioning isn't nearly the concern for Johnson now that it was when he was fighting at welterweight either.
Look for Johnson to set the pace early with his kickboxing, mixing up punches and kicks to keep Nogueira off balance. While he could very easily end this fight in the first round if he stays aggressive enough to test just how ready Nogueira is after a year away, the safe bet is looking at this one as a decision win for Johnson. He's smart enough to know an old dog still knows a few tricks and he won't underestimate Nogueira in this fight.
DENNIS BERMUDEZ (-165 FAVORITE) VS. CLAY GUIDA (+125 UNDERDOG)
Following six wins in a row in the featherweight division, Dennis Bermudez finally lands a fight against a top 10 opponent, but it's not an easy matchup as he faces veteran contender Clay Guida in San Jose.
During his streak, Bermudez has finished two opponents - one via TKO and the other via submission - while the other four decisions have showcased some great toughness from the former Ultimate Fighter finalist. Bermudez, much like his opponent, isn't afraid to get into some crazy scrambles during his fights, whether that's on the feet or on the ground. He's a wrestling machine, taking down opponents nearly five times per 15 minutes, while also countering with 91.3 percent takedown defense. His striking is also very active, as he lands just over four and a half strikes per minute. He'll need that kind of busy work to keep up with Guida, who has possibly the most intense pace of any fighter in UFC history.
Guida won't blow you away with anything on his record statistically. He's an average striker (2.13 landed per minute with only 31 percent accuracy) and according to the numbers, his wrestling is even pretty pedestrian (3.63 takedowns per fight with 39 percent accuracy). But the numbers can't tell you how Guida fights and that's with a kind of tenacity that is rarely matched by any fighter on the UFC roster. Guida is an in your face, attack-style fighter and his last bout against Tatsuya Kawajiri was proof positive that he still has the ability to go out and put an opponent on the mat and put them into impossibly bad positions over and over again for 15 minutes. His conditioning is off the charts and he uses that as a weapon to wear opponents down, round after round after round.
For Bermudez to win he has to stay technical and essentially out power, out wrestle and out box Guida without allowing himself to get into any big exchanges, whether it's on the feet or on the ground. It's nearly impossible to do that over the course of 15 minutes, and based on Guida's last fight in the Octagon he's going back to the style that got him to the dance in the first place. Watch Guida shoot early and often to try for the takedown, and even if he doesn't land it, he'll be right back on the legs against the cage within seconds trying for it again. As the rounds move forward, Bermudez's massive size could start to backfire and that's like a fire smelling gasoline just around the corner. Guida should be able to get a decision win here when it's all said and done.
JOSH THOMSON (-230 FAVORITE) VS. BOBBY GREEN (+170 UNDERDOG)
Josh Thomson gets a late replacement for this fight when he takes on fellow Strikeforce veteran Bobby Green in the kickoff fight for the card on FOX. Thomson lost a narrow and controversial decision to former lightweight champion Benson Henderson in his last bout, and this is a massively important fight for him as he looks to climb back into the title hunt with a win. For Green, this is the biggest opportunity of his career while walking into the fight on a seven-fight win streak.
Green is a dynamic striker who loves to mix things up on the feet. He doesn't fall in love with one combination or one strike during a fight, and at any moment he could unleash a quick barrage of punches or put it together with a series of kicks. Green lands nearly five strikes per minute, so he's very active, and when you combine that with 78 percent takedown defense it's clear he likes to keep his fights standing.
Thomson is no slouch on the feet despite his tendency to take opponents down or work on them from the clinch. He's got a head kick knockout over Nate Diaz, which is no small feat, and he strikes with 49 percent accuracy, so while he's not as active as Green, he definitely picks and chooses his shots and lands when he throws.
Green may be the prospect on the rise, but Thomson is a crafty veteran and there's no way he's going to lose this one in his hometown of San Jose. Thomson is a big fight performer, and this is a huge stage for him on Saturday night. Thomson will dazzle with some stand-up early, but once he makes Green think he's ready for a striking battle, he can swoop in, snatch a takedown and finish the fight with a submission before the third round begins. Thomson is a legit contender in the division and this is his chance to prove it.