UFC on FOX 2 Preview & Predictions

Fight Network Staff / January 26, 2012 - 5:55pm

The UFC's sophomore event on FOX takes place Saturday in Chicago as Rashad Evans and Phil Davis clash in a compelling light heavyweight battle, while Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping vie for a shot at the UFC middleweight championship.

The three-fight main card will also feature a middleweight meeting between Demian Maia and late replacement Chris Weidman. The preliminary action will be broadcast live on Fuel TV with several intriguing fights on tap.

Here's a closer look at all the action:

Main Bouts (on Fox):

-Rashad Evans (16-1-1) vs. Phil Davis (9-0)

After injuries forced Evans out of two title shots, the former UFC light heavyweight champion gets another chance to cement his No. 1 contender status against Davis, an undefeated prospect coming off the biggest win of his career.

Evans, 32, was initially slated to challenge then-champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128, but a knee injury forced him to give up his opportunity to Jon Jones, who made the most of it by trouncing Rua to capture UFC gold.

The turn of events ultimately severed the relationship between Evans and Jones, former teammates, and led Evans to leave Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico. He then joined Imperial Athletics in Florida, where he now trains alongside Jorge Santiago, Anthony Johnson and Melvin Guillard.

Evans returned last August, dismantling Tito Ortiz in a stellar performance to prove he still belonged in the title mix.

The brewing rivalry between Evans and Jones was set to culminate with a title clash at UFC 140 this past December, but a lingering thumb injury forced Evans out yet again.

With injuries behind him and his sights set squarely on the seemingly invincible champion, Evans needs a resounding victory to jump ahead of Dan Henderson, another potential upcoming title challenger.

Evans has evolved into one of the preeminent light heavyweight fighters since winning the second season of "The Ultimate Fighter" as a heavyweight. Wins over Michael Bisping and Chuck Liddell earned him a title shot against Forrest Griffin, which turned out to be a career highlight as he captured the 205-pound title before losing it in his first title defense against Lyoto Machida in May 2009. The New York native has fought only three times since that setback, but he's 3-0 against quality opposition, including unanimous decisions over Thiago Silva and longtime nemesis Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

Transitioning from NCAA wrestling to mixed martial arts like so many great fighters before him, Evans absorbed knowledge like a sponge and developed a slick grappling game and dangerous hands. Evans' speed and footwork coupled with explosive takedowns and devastating punching power makes him one of the division's most complete fighters.

Evans has repeatedly been criticized for ducking fights and faking injuries, but he remains focused on the task at hand without letting the simple distractions get to him. If he can put the first blemish on Davis' perfect record, he will finally find himself challenging for the title.

Davis, 27, a former NCAA champion and four-time Division I All-American, dominated Brian Stann in his February 2010 UFC debut. He has since submitted both Alexander Gustafsson and Tim Boetsch, putting his improved Brazilian jiu-jitsu game on display. Most recently, Davis outpointed Pride legend Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the toughest fight of his career.

The Alliance MMA standout has taken the same path as Evans, transitioning from a traditional college wrestling background. His potential is limitless, but he still comes across as awkward and uncomfortable trading strikes on his feet. Relying heavily on his wrestling pedigree to dictate fights has worked well for him so far, but taking Evans down is not a simple proposition.

Evans is certainly the most dynamic fighter to cross Davis' path and his speed could be a difference maker. Davis is a physical beast and he will possess a noticeable height advantage, but Evans' ability to move in and out of range while stuffing takedowns and initiating the clinch will be a hefty task for "Mr. Wonderful" to overcome.

Evans will utilize his superior striking to punish Davis throughout the contest, while anticipating his attempts to close the distance or shoot in for takedowns. After three hard-fought rounds, Evans should have his hand raised before the champion Jones greets him in the octagon to set up a potential grudge match for the coveted light heavyweight crown.

Verdict: Evans via decision

-Chael Sonnen (26-11-1) vs. Michael Bisping (22-3)

In a middleweight title eliminator bout, the outspoken wrestler Sonnen meets short notice replacement Bisping after Mark Munoz withdrew from the card due to an injury.

The winner of this contest has already been guaranteed a title shot against Anderson Silva. For Sonnen, it's a chance at redemption after nearly beating Silva in their first meeting, while Bisping would finally get his crack at the title after half a decade competing under the UFC banner.

Sonnen, 34, a former NCAA Division I wrestler and Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling, is arguably the best catch wrestler in mixed martial arts. The longtime product of Team Quest has endured his fair share of ups and downs since making his mixed martial arts debut in May 1997.

The sarcastic southpaw has been submitted by the likes of Trevor Prangley, Jeremy Horn, Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Paulo Filho, Demian Maia and the champion Silva, while earning notable wins over Nate Marquardt, Yushin Okami, Dan Miller, Prangley and Filho.

Sonnen tested positive for high levels of testosterone in his system in the aftermath of his loss against Silva. He returned after over a year of inactivity against Brian Stann this past October, simply outmuscling and overwhelming Stann from the onset before sinking in an arm-triangle choke for the second-round victory.

The simplest way to describe Sonnen's fighting style is the stark contrast in his strengths and weaknesses. Sonnen is an incredible wrestler, if not the best, but his ability to defend submissions is incredibly questionable.

Trash talk and brash interviews have become a big part of Sonnen's pre-fight hype and it arguably made him into the star he is today. Interestingly, however, he has not had too many negative things to say about his equally outspoken British adversary, even complimenting Bisping's ability to get his hand raised time and time again against top-level middleweights.

Bisping, 32, a product of Wolfslair Academy, decimated Jason Miller in impressive fashion this past December. The Cyprus native won the third season of "The Ultimate Fighter" before going on to amass quality wins over Eric Schafer, Matt Hamill, Chris Leben, Denis Kang, Dan Miller, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jorge Rivera and Miller.

Bisping is a very well-rounded fighter with few holes in his game. Wanderlei Silva, Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson, the only men to ever defeat him, are all former champions with world-class credentials. Furthermore, Bisping's fights with Silva and Evans came down to the wire and he can make his case for deserving the decision in either outing.

Bisping's boxing is arguably his sharpest weapon, but his Brazilian jiu-jitsu game is too often overlooked. With the ground game being Sonnen's primary weakness, Bisping has what it takes to surprise him off his back. The Brit will try to anticipate Sonnen shooting in and he will likely throw up some triangle and armbar attempts from the mat, but the American's suffocating control should spoil Bisping's shot at challenging for the title.

Sonnen has been caught many times before and he will likely be extra cautious as his relentless pressure will be the deciding factor in this fight. The Oregon native will close the distance and pummel Bisping with ground-and-pound throughout 15 minutes, setting up one of the most anticipated rematches in UFC history.

Verdict: Sonnen via decision

-Demian Maia (15-3) vs. Chris Weidman (7-0)

In an intriguing middleweight pairing, the former title challenger Maia is looking to spoil the coming out party of Weidman, one of the division's hottest prospects.

Maia, 34, is widely regarded as the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner at 185 pounds and one of the best in the entire sport. A 3rd degree black belt, the former ADCC submission wrestling world champion is coming off a decision win over Jorge Santiago.

Entering the UFC with a perfect professional record, Maia made a statement by submitting Ryan Jensen, Ed Herman, Jason MacDonald, Nate Quarry and Chael Sonnen in his first five appearances. Losses to Nate Marquardt, Anderson Silva and Mark Munoz have sent the Brazilian southpaw back to the drawing board as he hopes to regain some of the momentum he possessed in 2008.

Weidman, 27, has looked sensational in his three fights since joining the UFC, outpointing Alessio Sakara in his debut before submitting Jesse Bongfeldt and Tom Lawlor.

The former two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler has made the Serra-Longo Fight Team his home, learning the intricacies of striking and submissions from former welterweight champion Matt Serra and Ray Longo. Weidman has climbed to purple belt rank in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, looking increasingly comfortable transitioning between positions on the canvas.

The New Yorker accepted this fight on short notice after Maia's initial opponent Michael Bisping was promoted to co-main event status. Sensing that he could seize the opportunity and catapult himself into the top 10 of the division with a clear-cut win over Maia, Weidman didn't hesitate when he got the call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.

Weidman's biggest weakness is probably his striking game. Maia is unlikely to pose much of a threat standing, which makes this a great matchup for Weidman on paper.

The American wrestler will use his bread and butter to put Maia on his back. His improving submission skills will be critical tools to keep him out of danger against Maia's slick locks. If he can avoid getting tangled into the Brazilian's web, his athleticism and wrestling base should allow him to control key positions and emerge triumphant in the biggest fight of his young career.

Verdict: Weidman via decision

Preliminary Bouts (on Fuel TV):

-Evan Dunham (12-2) vs. Nik Lentz (21-4-2)

Headlining the "UFC Prelims" special on Fuel TV is a lightweight clash of styles pitting a dangerous submission stylist against a rugged wrestler.

Dunham, 30, was billed as the future of the lightweight division after winning his first three UFC fights and arguably deserving the nod against former longtime lightweight champion Sean Sherk in a fight he lost by razor-thin split decision.

However, Dunham's momentum came to a screeching halt when he suffered a first-round knockout loss to Melvin Guillard in January 2011. He has since rattled off a decision win over Shamar Bailey, but he's no longer getting the praise and hype he earned in 2010.

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt based at Throwdown Training Center and Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Dunham is a rangy southpaw who also threatens foes with dynamic kickboxing.

Lentz, 27, is coming off a decision loss to Mark Bocek at UFC 140 in December, the first legitimate loss of his UFC career. The former NCAA Division I wrestler has recorded wins over the likes of Waylon Lowe, Tyson Griffin, Andre Winner, Rob Emerson and Rafaello Oliveira.

The Minnesota Martial Arts product showcased his unheralded submission game by nearly sinking in a guillotine choke on Bocek, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but he ended up losing a decision after being taken down in every round.

Lentz excels when he's fighting one-dimensional opponents with weak bases in wrestling. However, Dunham is dangerous anywhere and his striking and submissions should give him a substantial edge. Stylistically, Lentz is similar to Bailey, Dunham's latest victim, and Dunham should capitalize by scoring with an array of strikes and controlling the tempo of the fight over three closely contested rounds.

Verdict: Dunham via decision

-Mike Russow (14-1) vs. Jon Olav Einemo (6-2)

In a heavyweight showdown, Russow will look to extend his winning streak to four against one of the most accomplished submission specialists in the weight class.

Russow, 35, a former NCAA Division I wrestler, recently relocated to Team DeathClutch where he now trains alongside Pat Barry and Bellator king Cole Konrad. Coming off back-to-back knockouts of Todd Duffee and Jon Madsen, Russow is inching closer to the title picture in the increasingly stacked heavyweight category.

The Chicago native often uses his wrestling to set up submissions, but he would be well-advised to stand and trade with Einemo, a former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and one of the only men to defeat submission ace Roger Gracie in a grappling match.

Einemo, 36, left the sport in 2006 after submitting James Thompson. However, he returned this past June under the UFC banner, losing to Dave Herman in an exciting battle that earned both men a "Fight of the Night" bonus.

The Norwegian "Viking" is based at Team Golden Glory in the Netherlands, which means the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is surrounded by world-class kickboxers on a daily basis.

But Einemo is still too predictable and he relies heavily on his submissions. A wrestler of Russow's caliber should be an especially difficult test as he will stuff Einemo's desperate attempts to pull guard or take him down. Einemo's toughness will keep him in the fight until a late flurry puts the exhausted Norwegian out cold.

Verdict: Russow via TKO, Round 3

-Cub Swanson (15-5) vs. George Roop (12-8-1)

Featherweights Swanson and Roop are on the rebound trail as they look to bounce back from losses in a 145-pound tilt.

Swanson, 28, suffered a second-round submission loss to Ricardo Lamas this past November. The WEC veteran holds notable wins over Shannon Gugerty, Charlie Valencia, Micah Miller, Donny Walker, Hiroyuki Takaya and Mackens Semerzier, along with losses against recent title challenger Chad Mendes, featherweight torchbearer Jose Aldo and then-champion Jens Pulver.

A student of Greg Jackson in New Mexico, Swanson is a scrappy fighter who poses a threat anywhere, but he's not a specialist in any one particular discipline.

Roop, 30, has been adjusting to changes in his camp after the death of his coach Shawn Tompkins. The Arizona native gave Japanese sensation Hatsu Hioki his toughest fight in recent memory despite coming out on the losing end of a tight split decision at UFC 137 this past October.

Since dropping to featherweight, Roop has knocked out Josh Grispi and Chan Sung Jung in spectacular fashion, though training partner Mark Hominick handled him with relative ease when they crossed paths last January.

Roop is a solid kickboxer with excellent submission defense and a size advantage over most fighters in the weight class.

The former Rage in the Cage featherweight champion is well aware of how close he came to upsetting Hioki and he's eager to return to the win column. He will find openings against Swanson, battering the durable California native with strikes en route to a convincing decision win.

Verdict: Roop via decision

-Charles Oliveira (14-2) vs. Eric Wisely (19-6)

In a featherweight bout that could prove to be a mismatch, a highly touted Brazilian up-and-comer faces off against a durable UFC newcomer.

The 22-year-old Oliveira, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, was crushed in the first round of his bout against Donald Cerrone this past August. After submitting Darren Elkins and Efrain Escudero in his first two UFC bouts, Oliveira's eyes were opened when he took a significant leap in competition against Jim Miller, a bout he lost by first-round kneebar.

The Sao Paulo native has wisely dropped to 145 pounds, a weight more suitable for his frame. A well-versed muay thai striker and submission specialist, Oliveira will be looking to reclaim some of the success he enjoyed early in his UFC tenure, but his relatively unknown opponent could prove to be a stiffer test than some are expecting.

The 27-year-old Wisely, a product of Team Conquest, received his first taste of mainstream exposure in a unanimous decision loss to Pat Healy at Strikeforce Challengers 18 last August. Despite failing to come out on top, Wisely performed well against a tough lightweight and he also holds notable wins over Hermes Franca and Matt Veach.

This fight also marks Wisely's first foray at featherweight. Wisely should possess a size advantage and his wrestling will be his main key to victory.

But Oliveira is a more diverse fighter with superior speed and striking. If he can avoid fighting off his back, he should outpoint the UFC first-timer over three back-and-forth rounds.

Verdict: Oliveira via decision

-Michael Johnson (9-6) vs. Shane Roller (10-5)

In a lightweight scrap, "The Ultimate Fighter" finalist Johnson will try to improve his UFC record to 2-2 against the Team Takedown standout Roller.

Johnson, 25, who now resides with the Imperial Athletics camp in Florida, was overwhelmed in a first-round submission loss against Paul Sass in October. The Missouri native is armed with heavy hands and strong wrestling, but he's struggled with submission players throughout his career.

Roller, 32, a former NCAA Division I wrestler, is now 1-2 in his UFC career as he desperately needs a win after back-to-back losses against T.J. Grant and Melvin Guillard. Roller has beaten his fair share of solid fighters, including Danny Castillo, Anthony Njokuani and Jamie Varner.

Roller's wrestling is his specialty, but he also threatens opponents with sublime submissions and heavy punches, evidenced by his second-round thrashing of Thiago Tavares last March.

Roller may have lost two straight, but he remains a highly dangerous lightweight with skills in all area and he could be the toughest opponent of Johnson's career.

Roller should swarm Johnson with pressure, and, after two rounds of exhausting offense, Roller should conquer his foe by sinking in his hooks for a rear-naked choke.

Verdict: Roller via Submission, Round 3

-Joey Beltran (13-6) vs. Lavar Johnson (15-5)

Two hard-punching heavyweights are on a collision course as Beltran tries to rebound from a disappointing loss against the Strikeforce veteran Johnson, who makes his promotional debut after the UFC absorbed the Strikeforce heavyweight roster.

Beltran, 30, dropped a unanimous decision to Stipe Miocic in October. The Alliance MMA pupil implements a familiar game plan in every fight with a willingness to trade heavy shots standing. "The Mexicutioner" has yet to be stopped in his UFC career.

Johnson, 34, is coming off successive submission setbacks against Shawn Jordan and Shane del Rosario. The American Kickboxing Academy product could get only one opportunity in the UFC and he will need to make the most of it. Johnson's story is one of resilience as he was shot in the abdomen during a family reunion in 2009, having to fight his way back to competitive form.

Both fighters like to trade and the fans will benefit as the big men engage in a frantic brawl. Beltran has fought a higher level of competition with greater consistency, and, as such, he will likely be the one dishing out the decisive blow that puts an end to this crowd-pleasing encounter.

Verdict: Beltran via TKO, Round 1

Preliminary Bout (on Facebook):

-Chris Camozzi (15-5) vs. Dustin Jacoby (6-1)

Welterweights Camozzi and Jacoby are both trying to rebound from losses at UFC 137 with the loser facing a possible pink slip.

The 25-year-old Camozzi was outpointed by debuting Canadian Francis Carmont in his UFC return. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt was released from the UFC after an October 2010 submission loss to Kyle Noke, but a decision win over Joey Villasenor last May earned him another shot in the big league.

The 23-year-old Jacoby was unsuccessful in his first UFC outing, losing a decision to fellow newcomer Clifford Starks. The Colorado native is in a must-win situation if he hopes to remain in the UFC.

This is a fairly even matching on paper that could come down to better conditioning. They should mix it up over three rounds, but Camozzi's ability to initiate the clinch will score him points with the judges as he prevails in a competitive decision.

Verdict: Camozzi via decision

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