The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Air Canada Centre in Toronto for UFC 152: Jones Vs Belfort on Saturday, September 22. UFC President Dana White will be looking to restore the organizations reputation after the highly publicized fiasco that caused UFC 151’s cancellation earlier this month.
In brief, Jon Jones’ refusal to fight Chael Sonnen following an eleventh hour injury sustained by his original opponent, Dan Henderson, led to a series of confusing match up changes that eventually did not come to fruition and doomed UFC 151. While the cancellation undoubtedly cost the organization millions of dollars and irritated the mixed martial arts world, one of the few beneficiaries of this disaster was the fans who purchased tickets to UFC 152 in Toronto. The once lackluster card now includes a light heavyweight title headliner between Jon ‘Bones’ Jones and UFC legend Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort. The original main event between Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson and Joseph Benavidez for the first ever UFC flyweight championship will now be pushed to the co-main event position. The main card will also feature an intriguing middleweight top contender match between Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping and Brian Stann.
Although Vitor Belfort is a huge underdog, has not fought in the light heavyweight division for over four years, and is most definitely an odd pick to place against the reigning divisional champion, it would be a massive mistake to count him out against Jones. Belfort may be part of the sport’s old guard but he still possesses incredible quickness and packs impressive power in both his hands. If Jon Jones has gotten too caught up with restoring his image after the events of UFC 151 or takes Belfort too lightly due to the circumstances he may find himself laying on the canvas and waking up to a flashlight being blasted into his eyes. However, if ‘Johnny Bones’ comes prepared, like many believe he will, then Vitor Belfort will mark the champ’s fifth straight victory over a former 205-pound champion, which would be an unprecedented achievement in the sport.
The co-main event will also provide fans with some live action history as Joseph Benavidez and Demitrious Johnson bang it out for the first ever UFC flyweight strap. Both men are extremely fast and both have a well rounded game that should make for an exciting entry of a new champion into the UFC. The presence of a stronger main event will undoubtedly help to provide the 125-pound division with the exposure it needs.
The main card also features a middleweight match between hard-hitting Brian Stann and, possibly the most underrated fighter on the UFC roster, Micheal Bisping. The later has been on the verge of title shot against Anderson Silva for several years and is hopeful that an impressive victory over Stann will thrust him up the divisional ladder and on the doorstep of a championship bout. Likewise, Stann has been consistently improving his skills since his entry into the UFC and will look to prove his worth by making quick work of a respected perennial 185-pound contender.
The first two bouts of the main card will feature Matt ‘The Hammer’ Hamill coming out of retirement to face Roger Hollett in a light heavyweight match and Charles Oliveira looking to restart his hype train against resurgent Cub Swanson in the featherweight division.
The preliminary card, which will be airing live on FX Channel in Canada and the U.S., will be highlighted by a light heavyweight match between Vinny Magalhaes and Igor Pokrajac to determine who will break into the contender ranks in the division. Here are the remaining fights that will round up the prelims:
155 lbs.: Evan Dunham vs. T.J. Grant
170 lbs.: Sean Pierson vs. Lance Benoist
145 lbs.: Marcus Brimage vs. Jim Hettes
170 lbs.: Seth Baczynski vs. Simeon Thoresen
135 lbs.: Mitch Gagnon vs. Walel Watson
170 lbs.: Charlie Brenneman vs. Kyle Noke
Will Jon Jones and the UFC be able to erase the embarrassment of UFC 151? Can an aging Vitor Belfort still compete against an elite fighter like Jones? Will Jon Jones crumble under the pressure of saving face and see his throne reclaimed by a veteran of the sport? The organization will undoubtedly face similar challenges in the future and UFC 152 will be significant in determining how successfully they can respond to these types of situations.
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205lbs- Igor Pokrajac (25-8-0) vs Vinny Magalhaes (9-5-1)
Ultimate Fighter 8 Finalist Vinny Magalhaes returns to the UFC after a 7-1 run that included capturing and successfully defending the M-1 Global Light Heavyweight Championship. Magalhaes will be welcomed back to the Octagon by streaking Croatian Igor Pokrajac who has currently won 3 in a row and 4 of his last 5. Magalhaes is a decorated 2nd Degree BJJ Black Belt with 7 of his 9 wins coming by way of submission. While Magalhaes is known for his grappling skills, Pokrajac is developing a reputation as a dangerous striker. Igor is coming off an entertaining decision victory against striking specialist Fabio Maldonado, which was preceded by back to back wins via knockout including a stunning 35 second finish of Krzysztof Soszynski. This fight could be categorized as a striker versus grappler battle, but Igor has shown himself to be proficient on the ground as well earning 8 wins by tapout. Magalhaes would be more than willing to engage his opponent on the mat, which is why Igor would be best served to keep this fight vertical at all costs. Pokrajac’s last defeat came against Stephan Bonnar largely on the basis of Bonnar’s ability to get the fight to the ground and win the grappling exchanges, which is something that Magalhaes will be looking to replicate. This could be easier said than done. Magalhaes, although a talented grappler has struggled at times to completing his takedowns, relying more on his opponents to get the fight to ground before going to work. In spite of his recent success, Magalhaes has shown vulnerability. His striking is still a work in progress and he was enduring a great deal of damage against Viktor Nemkov over the course of their fight. Additionally, Magalhaes’s conditioning is suspect with the Brazilian appearing to gas hard part of the way through that fight. There is no doubting Vinny’s skills on the ground, but I think Igor should be able to defend his takedown attempts and be able to get back to his feet if the fight does go to the mat. On the feet Igor will have a sizeable advantage in all areas and as Vinny begins to tire from his pursuit of the takedown he will become more vulnerable during the exchanges. Magalhaes has improved significantly since his last UFC appearance but he is still relatively on dimensional so my prediction is Igor Pokrajac to defeat Vinny Magalhaes by knockout.
155lbs- TJ Grant (18-5-0) vs Evan Dunham (13-2-0)
The winner of this fight could move them self to the brink of joining the UFC’s top ten Lightweight contenders. TJ Grant appears to have found a home himself a nice home at Lightweight with a pair of dominant victories over Shane Roller and Carlo Prater. Evan Dunham won four straight to start his UFC career before a contentious decision lose to Sean Sherk and a far more definitive first round KO defeat against Melvin Guillard. Since dropping those two fights Dunham has got back on track with a pair of wins and is looking to make it 3 in a row before returning to face the elite of the division. Physically, Grant will have a slight advantage in height along with a 2.5” reach advantage and considering Grant is a former Welterweight he should be the physically larger man at bell time. Both Grant and Dunham are gritty competitors, who have been working to develop a well rounded skill set. Dunham is a BJJ Black belt winning 6 of his 13 fights by submission and he earned decision victory over Tyson Griffin on the basis of his grappling skills. Additionally, Dunham has developed formidable striking skills earning a stoppage victory of Nik Lentz in his last fight. Grant ranks in as BJJ Brown Belt with 13 of his 18 wins coming by way of submission and over his 8 fight UFC career he has shown himself to be quite skilled on the ground. One of the more impressive aspects is Grant’s defensive grappling, especially off his back. Against Johnny Hendricks, TJ was able to get up several times from underneath of the talented wrestler and had a great deal of success in the grappling department against another former NCAA competitor in Shane Roller, eventually chaining a pair of submission together for the win. In an effort to bring his striking up to par Grant has spent time training his Muay Thai in Thai land which has really shown in his recent bouts. Dunham has a tendency to start slowly and as we saw against Sean Sherk and the first round of the Nik Lentz fight he can have trouble defending against an aggressive grappler. If the fight goes to the ground Grant’s size could pay significant dividends and give him he edge on the judge’s scorecards. Additionally, I really like Grant’s slight reach give him during the striking exchanges and we saw Dunham start to slow down in the Lentz fight do to the grueling pace that was being set something I expect Grant to try and emulate. This bout is a difficult one to call, but I like what I have seen from TJ Grant and feel he has the tools to make noise in the division so my prediction is TJ Grant to defeat Evan Dunham by decision.
170lbs- Sean Pierson (12-6-0) vs Lance Benoist (6-1-0)
Sean Pierson will no doubt have the crowd behind him as he fights for the second time in his career in his hometown of Toronto, Ontario. In his first appearance back at UFC 129 he suffered a first round knockout against Jake Ellenberger who had taken the fight after Pierson original opponent, Brian Foster was forced to withdraw. Once again Pierson will be facing a replacement opponent after Dan Miller was forced to withdraw and Lance Benoist step up to take his place. Benoist is looking to rebound from his first career lose via split decision against fellow UFC 152 competitor Seth Baczynski. Looking at the numbers; Pierson has a large experience advantage with 18 total fights to Benoist’s 7 and is considerably older than his opponent at 36 years of age to Lance’s 12. That being said, Benoist showed incredible poise and confidence far beyond his years in his UFC debut against Matt Riddle. Even in the face of a badly broken nose the American was able to perceiver and garner the victory with his efforts. In his last fight against Seth Baczynski he held his own against the much larger opponent, but was on the wrong end of a contestable split decision. Pierson is coming off a win against Jake Hecht that saw Sean endure his opponent’s early pressure, put together just enough offense to win the early rounds and then survive the final round. Pearson’s striking is alright, but it was evident that when Hecht stopped hesitating and started throwing combination he was landing with success. Benoist is far more diverse striker than the Toronto native, incorporating an interesting arsenal of kicks along with a boxing background. Pierson is a decorated Canadian wrestler, but it really hasn’t translated to the UFC where he completes only 29% of his takedown attempts averaging less than takedown per fight. For Benoist on the mat, he impressed me with his aggressive grappling style in his last appearance, he is a BJJ Purple Belt, and 4 of his wins have come via submission. The most significant advantage in this fight should be with Benoit’s striking and Pierson age and questionable cardio concerns me should this fight turn into a grueling 3 round war. Benoist is a talented fighter with a lot to prove and will be motivated to rebound from the first defeat of his career so I will take Lance Benoist to defeat Sean Pierson by TKO.
145lbs- Jimy Hettes (10-0-0) vs Marcus Brimage (5-1-0)
Jimy Hettes is coming off the first non-submission win of his career, although it could arguably be considered his most dominant performance ever. Against Nam Phan, Hettes put on a grappling clinic demonstrating the full merit of his Judo Brown Belt and BJJ Purple Belt completing 11 takedowns along with an incredible 221 of his 275 strike attempts successfully landing, almost all from the top position. Hettes dominate Phan, a BJJ Black Belt, on route to a pair of 30-25 and one 30-26 decision on the judges’ scorecards. Marcus Brimage has gotten off to a decent 2-0 start to his UFC career after being eliminated from the Ultimate Fighter via a Bryan Caraway submission. Brimage is quite young in his MMA career with only 6 fights, with his loan defeat also coming via submission. Brimage has dangerous power in his hands, but it is understood by his opponents that the ground game is his weakness. On the positive side Brimage has successfully defended all 9 takedown attempts thrown his way inside the Octagon, on the negative side Jimy Hettes is a far better grappler then either man he has faced to date. If Brimage is going to emerge victorious he will need to keep this fight standing and land with both power and consistency. Remaining vertical against Hettes will be easier said than done for Marcus and if the fight does hit the mat he may not get a second chance. Hettes has been dominant against better competition so my prediction is Jimy Hettes to defeat Marcus Brimage by submission.
170lbs-Seth Baczynski (16-6-0) vs Simeon Thoresen (17-2-1)
Two of the tallest UFC Welterweights collide as 6’3” Seth Baczynski tangles with the Norwegian born Simeon Thoresen. Thoresen debuted with a submission victory, which has been the norm throughout his career earning 15 of his 17 wins by tapout. Thoresen is the possessor of an abnormally long reach for a Welterweight at 79 inches which gives him some added control when looking to set up his submission game. In his debut he completed only 1 of 4 takedown attempts, but utilized a nice quick jab to drop his opponent eventually leading to the submission finish. Baczynski has been on a decent roll of late winning 3 consecutive fights including a submission win over veteran Matt Brown and a narrow split decision over Lance Benoist. Baczynski has a more well rounded resume then his counterpart, with 5 wins by knockout but he too has won the majority of his fight by submission with 10 in total. Baczynski’s takedown defense currently sits at 50%, which should be his biggest area of concern here. Seth has been tapped out 3 times in his career, the last coming back in mid 2008, but his greatest advantage should be with his striking. He has an excellent clinch game using the extra leverage made available by his height to control his opponent while doing some serious damage especially with his knees. Thoresen has skills on the mat, whether he will have an advantage if the fight hits the ground here is yet to be seen. A pair of wildcards heading into this bout; Thoresen will be fighting a taller opponent then himself which is something he won’t be use to and secondly this will be his first bout in North American having spent his entire career in Europe with a few trips to Asia. If one or both of these factors plays a roll, combined with the step up in competition that Baczynski represents it will be too much for the Norwegian. This is Baczynski’s fight to lose, but his advantages will pull through so my prediction is Seth Baczynski to defeat Simeon Thoresen by TKO.
135lbs- Mitch Gagnon (8-2-0) vs Walel Watson (9-4-0)
Walel Watson began his UFC career with a win, but has since dropped a pair of fights including a dominant decision defeat against T.J. Dillashaw. Mitch Gagnon’s debut fight was a spirited affair against Bryan Caraway that saw Gagnon win the opening frame, but fall victim to the infamous pressure of fighting inside the Octagon for the first time. Gagnon faded late in the first, struggled through the second, and was eventually finished in round 3 via rear naked choke. I anticipate that this bout could spend a great deal of time on the ground with 15 of Gagnon and Watson’s combined 17 wins coming by way of submission. Walel will have some significant physical advantages with 6 inches of height and 7 inches of reach separating the two combatants. If the fight remains standing and at distance this will benefit the American, but that is a big if. Watson has shown some difficulty defending his opponent’s takedowns, with Yves Jabouin landing a pair and Dillashaw completing 3 more. Watson’s long limbs make him a constant submission threat off his back, but Dillashaw demonstrated that an aggressive top game can nullify this hazard. Gagnon is a physically powerful athlete and had a lot of success on the mat early against another talent grappler in Bryan Caraway. I expect Gagnon to learn from his first fight, pace himself and this should result in his cardio holding up much better. On the feet Gagnon did some excellent work in close against Caraway blasting him with short punches, elbows, and knee strikes hurting him on a couple of occasions. Watson did earn a knockout victory in his UFC debut via, but I expect that Gagnon will try to close the distance quickly negating most of Watson’s length advantages, attack from the clinch and look for takedown opportunities. The threat of Gagnon getting caught in a submission is there, but it is outweighed by Gagnon’s powerful top game. Watson showed himself difficult to finish in the Dillashaw fight, but I like Gagnon’s power to create openings for a submission so I’ll take Mitch Gagnon to defeat Walel Watson by submission.
170lbs- Kyle Noke (19-6-1) vs Charlie Brenneman (15-4-0)
After dropping back to back fights, Kyle Noke will be making his UFC Welterweight division which brings an element of the unknown to this matchup. He will have a height advantage and 6” of extra reach to his credit, but whether this will come into play against Charlie Brenneman’s aggressive wrestling based attack is questionable. Charlie Brenneman has dropped 2 of his last 3 bouts, both against upper level competition in the division. Brenneman is the ultimate workman’s style fighter when it comes to MMA. He isn’t flashy, but he pushes the pace and will either overwhelm his opponent with his pressure as was the case against Rick Story or go down trying like we saw in his last bout against Erik Silva. Noke has won the majority of his fights via submission, but in order to continue this success he will need to either catch Brenneman off his back or use his size to defend Charlie’s wrestling and take an advantageous position. Noke/ Brenneman was originally scheduled to take place at the start of the September, which should give Noke extra time to work out any issues with the weight cut, but it could still be a factor. Another aspect of this fight is the health of Noke’s knee. He originally injured it against Ed Herman, but re-aggravated it in the opening round against Andrew Craig when the fight went hit the mat, which ultimately cost him the decision. If Noke has issues with conditioning or his knee doesn’t hold up Brenneman will outwork him on the ground. Even if these conditions don’t come into play Brenneman should still have speed and wrestling advantages and with the success he had early against the uber talented Erik Silva he should be able to replicate a similar performance against Noke. Anthony Johnson, Erik Silva, and Johny Hendricks are the three men that have beaten Brenneman in the UFC, I don’t see Noke in that category of talent so I’ll take Charlie Brenneman to defeat Kyle Noke decision.