After Ian McCall and Demetrious Johnson were deprived of a fourth round in their flyweight tournament semifinal this past March, the two aspiring 125-pound title contenders will finally take off where they left off in the main event of the UFC’s third event on FX Friday night in Sunrise, Fla.
Rounding out the main card is a pair of compelling welterweight matchups and a bantamweight bash between two top fighters on the rebound trail.
Here’s a closer look:
Main Card Bouts (on FX):
-Ian McCall (11-2-1) vs. Demetrious Johnson (14-2-1)
In an exciting rematch between two of the world’s top flyweight hopefuls, both McCall and Johnson are eyeing a breakthrough performance to advance to the finals of the UFC’s inaugural 125-pound championship tournament.
McCall, 27, entered his bout with Johnson this past March as a significant underdog. After a 1-2 run in the WEC’s bantamweight division, which included a loss to current champion Dominick Cruz, McCall has reinvented himself at 125 pounds, earning marquee wins over Jussier da Silva, Dustin Ortiz and Darrell Montague.
The Team Oyama product delivered a strong showing in his UFC debut, nearly outworking the heavily favored Johnson to win a decision. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, McCall is a sensational wrestler with savvy submission skills.
McCall’s size and strength were significant tools utilized in his first bout with Johnson. The former Tachi Palace Fights torchbearer will need to replicate his first performance, while also mixing in effective striking to overwhelm his significantly smaller foe.
Johnson, 25, a former UFC bantamweight title challenger, was initially declared the victor against McCall in March before a scoring error led to the bout being overturned to a draw.
A student of AMC Pankration under Matt Hume, Johnson is one of the quickest fighters in the organization. Standing just 5-foot-3, he’s also one of the smallest. A burgeoning star in the now-defunct WEC promotion, Johnson rattled off wins over Nick Pace, Damacio Page, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and Miguel Torres to emerge as one of the top-ranked bantamweights on the planet.
At a more fitting weight of 125 pounds, Johnson is poised to remain an elite fighter in the newly formed weight class, where his size is less of a detrimental factor.
A durable competitor with a solid foundation in amateur wrestling, Johnson’s cat-like speed is the catalyst to his dynamic offense as he dashes in and out of range, while scoring with swift takedowns.
This strategy makes for a compelling clash with McCall, whose wrestling is some of the best Johnson has had to overcome.
This flyweight headliner will ultimately come down to McCall’s strength and Johnson’s speed. The fighter who utilizes his advantage more effectively will emerge triumphant.
With more big league experience, Johnson could possess a slight edge as his critical combinations and energetic takedowns will score valuable points with the judges.
Verdict: Johnson via decision
-Erick Silva (13-2) vs. Charlie Brenneman (15-3)
An intriguing welterweight war will serve as the co-feature when the Brazilian wrecking machine Silva meets the American wrestling standout Brenneman.
Silva, 27, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belt, was disqualified in his most recent outing for punches to the back of the head, though Carlo Prater was on the verge of defeat. The controversial call can be likened to Jon Jones’ disqualification setback against Matt Hamill, a fight few think he legitimately lost.
Silva debuted at UFC 134 last August, dismantling compatriot Luis Ramos in just 40 seconds. Armed with a well-rounded skillset and devastating finishing power, the Team Nogueira prodigy is one of the best prospects in the promotion.
Stylistically, he’s in for his toughest test to date against Brenneman, a grinding wrestler who nullifies his opponents’ strengths by smothering them with top control.
Brenneman, 31, earned a hard-fought decision over Daniel Roberts this past January. The Pennsylvania native is 4-2 since joining the UFC, earning key wins over Jason High and Rick Story, while dropping fights to Johny Hendricks and Anthony Johnson.
The AMA Fight Club product under Mike Constantino played the role of a spoiler last June, earning a decision over the highly touted Story after accepting the fight on just a day’s notice.
Brenneman’s wrestling credentials are vast, but his striking will be no match for the hard-hitting Silva. On the mat, Silva will also threaten with a slick submission game as he’s won seven of his 16 career bouts by form of tapout.
The American will find success early by pursuing key takedowns, but a furious flurry from Silva will put an end to his night once the Brazilian finds his range and connects with a combination.
Verdict: Silva via KO, Round 2
-Mike Pyle (22-8) vs. Josh Neer (33-10)
In another fan-friendly welterweight affair, two well-travelled veterans will lock horns in attempt to carve out their niche in the increasingly deep 170-pound category.
The 36-year-old Pyle, a longtime representative of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, has won four of his last five bouts, including decisions over John Hathaway and Ricardo Almeida. Most recently, Pyle made short work of Ricardo Funch at UFC 142 in January.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, the Tennessee native is in the prime of his career. Pyle is finally putting all the elements of his repertoire together, utilizing wrestling, vastly improved muay thai and an always dangerous arsenal of submissions.
The 29-year-old Neer is undefeated since moving to the welterweight division. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt himself, Neer showcased his submission wizardry this past January, choking out muay thai specialist Duane Ludwig.
The Iowa-based Miletich Fighting Systems product put on an electrifying elbow clinic in his UFC return last October, dissecting Keith Wisniewski with a vicious barrage of sharp standing elbows.
With 44 professional fights under his belt, Neer has faced some of the most seasoned fighters in the sport, including both Diaz brothers, Bellator standout Eddie Alvarez and UFC contenders Melvin Guillard, Mac Danzig and Gleison Tibau.
If this fight remains upright, we should be treated to an evenly matched display of striking between two hungry veterans. Once the fight spills to the canvas, however, Pyle’s superior submission skills should stand out.
Neer is as durable as they come, but Pyle’s ability to isolate limbs and sink in submissions is second to none. If he can patiently pick his spots, he could find an opening for a fight-ending choke late in the fray.
Verdict: Pyle via Submission, Round 3
-Scott Jorgensen (13-5) vs. Eddie Wineland (18-8-1)
Bantamweight contenders round out the main card as two top talents look to rebound from disappointing setbacks.
Jorgensen, 29, was no match for Brazilian No. 1 contender Renan Barao this past February, losing a largely one-sided unanimous decision. The loss erased back-to-back victories over Jeff Curran and Ken Stone under the UFC banner.
A three-time Pac-10 champion and NCAA Division I wrestler, Jorgensen has adapted well to mixed martial arts, earning a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and developing an improving striking game.
The Combat Fitness product will need to rely on his wrestling fundamentals to dictate the pace against the first-ever WEC bantamweight champion.
Wineland, 27, dropped his last two fights against Team Alpha Male standouts Joseph Benavidez and Urijah Faber. The losses snapped his four-fight winning streak in the WEC, which included knockouts of Ken Stone and Will Campuzano and decisions over George Roop and Manny Tapia.
One of the pioneering figures at 135 pounds, Wineland is desperately hoping to resurrect his career in the UFC after going 0-2.
The New Breed Academy pupil has earned half of his career wins by form of knockout, a testament to his deceptive power and striking prowess.
However, Wineland’s wrestling was his fundamental downfall in his last two setbacks, a key element that Jorgensen will be looking to exploit.
Wineland is always one combination away from ending a fight in emphatic fashion and Jorgensen’s standup has its fair share of holes. But Jorgensen’s suffocating control should be the difference maker as he scores takedown after takedown, grinding on his adversary to notch a decision.
Verdict: Jorgensen via decision
Preliminary Bouts (on Fuel TV):
-Mike Pierce (13-5) vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha (9-1)
Eager to erase the memory of contentious decision losses to Josh Koscheck and Johny Hendricks in two of his last three Octagon appearances, the unheralded contender Pierce takes on the Brazilian submission stylist Rocha.
Pierce, 31, a former NCAA Division I wrestler at Portland State University, has gone 5-3 since joining the UFC, dropping fights only against some of the top welterweights in the game.
The Sports Lab Fight Team product relies primarily on his wrestling base and tough chin as he has yet to be stopped in his career.
Rocha, 30, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, has been inactive since February 2011 after turning in an admirable effort against Jake Ellenberger, losing by split decision. Prior to suffering the first setback of his career, Rocha finished all nine of his opponents, eight by submission.
Although Pierce usually falls back on his wrestling, he may opt to keep the fight standing against Rocha, whose submission skills are a major threat.
If Pierce shoots in for any lazy takedown attempts, Rocha will likely make him pay. However, Pierce should find success if he tactically picks his shots and scores takedowns at key points in the contest, winning a razor-thin decision after three back-and-fourth rounds.
Verdict: Pierce via decision
-Seth Baczynski (15-7) vs. Lance Benoist (6-0)
Riding a wave of momentum since returning to the UFC last September, Baczynski seeks a hat trick against the unbeaten Benoist.
The 30-year-old Baczynski was called back to the UFC after finishing highly regarded prospects Alex Garcia and Tim McKenzie on regional shows. He’s since rattled off a pair of second-round submissions over Clay Harvison and Matt Brown.
The Power MMA and Fitness pupil may be best remembered for his stint on the 11th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, where he was outmuscled by middleweights Brad Tavares and Court McGee. At 170 pounds, Baczynski poses a much bigger threat, particularly with his sublime submissions and killer instinct.
The 23-year-old Benoist made a successful UFC debut this past September by outpointing Matt Riddle. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, Benoist is looking to keep his unblemished record intact in his sophomore UFC outing.
Benoist is no slouch on the mat, so Baczynski will likely have a harder time than usual sinking in a choke. However, Baczynski’s striking has come a long way since his reality show stint. Look for “The Polish Pistola” to employ a game plan that relies heavily on kickboxing to outpoint Benoist over three hard-fought rounds.
Verdict: Baczynski via decision
-Leonard Garcia (15-8-1) vs. Matt Grice (14-4)
In what could very well be his last opportunity to earn a convincing win in the UFC, the crowd favorite Garcia takes on the four-time Oklahoma State wrestling champion Grice.
Garcia, 32, has not won a fight convincingly since his knockouts of Jens Pulver and Hiroyuki Takaya in 2008. His record may indicate otherwise, but Garcia has largely benefited from being handed gifts by judges. The scorecards are often very bizarre, including his split decision wins over Nam Phan and Chan Sung Jung. In fact, a judge even had him beating Mark Hominick when they faced off in September 2010, a fight in which he clearly lost all three rounds.
Garcia’s style is likely the reason behind the scoring as he always engages the action, winging forward with wild looping punches. The Texan should not be completely discredited as he trains under Greg Jackson’s watchful eye in New Mexico with world-class training partners, while also holding a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
A third straight loss could have grave consequences for Garcia, so he will need to mix his aggression with patience in hopes of finally prevailing in decisive fashion.
Grice, 30, was knocked out by Ricardo Lamas in his UFC return last June. The Oklahoma native is primarily a wrestler, though he’s capable of holding his own both standing and on the mat.
This is a winnable fight for Garcia, who has no other choice if he plans to remain on the active UFC roster. He should have an edge with his striking, but an inability to thwart pivotal takedowns will likely be his Achilles’ heel as Grice narrowly edges him on the judges’ scorecards after three closely contested rounds.
Verdict: Grice via decision
-Dustin Pague (10-5) vs. Jared Papazian (14-7)
In bantamweight action, a pair of 24-year-old prospects seek their first-ever UFC win.
The Disciple MMA product Pague debuted this past December, losing to John Albert by first-round TKO. The New Mexico native was a contestant on the 14th instalment of “The Ultimate Fighter” as he won a $25,000 bonus for “Fight of the Season” for his second-round submission of Louis Gaudinot.
The Legacy MMA Academy member Papazian earned a trifecta of wins under the King of the Cage promotional banner to earn his shot in the UFC, but he dropped a majority decision to Mike Easton this past January. Papazian had only two weeks to prepare for his inaugural UFC outing, so expect him to be better-equipped his second time around.
This battle of young prospects could come down to who wants it more. With experience on the UFC’s staple reality show, the Ring of Combat 135-pound champion Pague knows what it’s like to nearly earn the six-figure contract and he’s not about to lose his shot of competing on the world’s biggest stage.
After three fast-paced rounds primarily contested on the feet, Pague should eke out the decision.
Verdict: Pague via decision
-Tim Means (17-3) vs. Justin Salas (10-3)
After successful UFC debuts earlier this year, two aspiring lightweight prospects look to make it two in a row.
The 28-year-old Means, a Fit NHB product based in New Mexico, dominated Bernardo Magalhaes in his UFC debut this past February. Riding an eight-fight winning streak, the two-division King of the Cage titleholder will need to bring his aggressive style into the Octagon in hopes of dispatching his equally hungry adversary.
The 30-year-old Salas, a member of Denver’s Grudge Training Center under Trevor Wittman, is a powerful striker with sound submission skills. The University of Wyoming wrestling prospect joined the UFC in February after earning decisions over Rob Emerson and Joe Ellenberger. In his debut, Salas outpointed Anton Kuivanen.
This is yet another evenly matched encounter between two fighters in similar spots on the UFC’s ladder. Salas is the superior striker and trains with a higher level of top talent, which could be the difference maker after 15 minutes as he lands the key combinations to prevail on judges’ cards.
Verdict: Salas via decision
-Buddy Roberts (11-2) vs. Caio Magalhaes (5-0)
In a showcase of debuting light heavyweights, Roberts and Magalhaes will go toe to toe.
Roberts, a 29-year-old product of Greg Jackson’s school in New Mexico, is riding a five-fight winning streak. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt last saw action in July 2011, earning a unanimous decision over Tony Lopez. Roberts is eager to finally step foot in the Octagon after his debut against Sean Loeffler was scrapped on fight night due to Loeffler suffering an injury in the locker room.
Magalhaes, a 24-year-old member of Brazil’s acclaimed Nova Uniao camp, last saw action in December as he edged Ismael de Jesus by split decision at Shooto Brazil 27.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, the brother of UFC veteran Vinny Magalhaes is a highly dangerous submission practitioner, who will likely capitalize on Roberts’ first mistake on the mat to coax a tapout in his UFC debut.
Verdict: Magalhaes via Submission, Round 1
Preliminary Bouts (on Facebook):
-Henry Martinez (8-2) vs. Bernardo Magalhaes (11-2)
In the first of two matchups featured on Facebook ahead of the televised broadcast, lightweight hopefuls try to rebound from losses in their respective UFC debuts.
Martinez, 28, a natural lightweight, dropped a split decision to Matt Riddle in his 170-pound debut at UFC 143, which he accepted on short notice. It was a valiant performance for the UFC newcomer as he fought well despite a drastic size disparity. A student of Greg Jackson and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Renato Migliaccio, Martinez is a well-rounded fighter with tricky submissions.
Magalhaes, 30, fell short in a unanimous decision loss to Tim Means in his UFC debut this past February. The Brazilian-born Australian fighter holds notable wins over Gustavo Falciroli, Adrian Pang and Rob Hill. Magalhaes is comfortable mixing it up everywhere as he holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu to go along with an amateur boxing championship and two muay thai titles. In his promotional debut, however, Magalhaes was unable to close the distance as he was soundly outboxed by Means over three rounds.
Martinez is a strong proponent of the jab, which Magalhaes had trouble coping with in his last fight. Fighting at his natural weight, the New Mexico native should punish Magalhaes with his hands, winning a hard-fought decision in the process.
Verdict: Martinez via decision
-Jake Hecht (11-3) vs. Sean Pierson (11-6)
Welterweights Hecht and Pierson look to secure their spot in the division’s pecking order as they face off in the opening bout of the night.
Hecht, 28, a Fiore MMA product, succumbed to a first-round submission against T.J. Waldburger in his sophomore UFC appearance this past March. Hecht made a successful debut at UFC 140 in December, finishing off Rich Attonito with a violent flurry of elbows from the clinch. A standout wrestler in high school, Hecht has earned his Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt under Kiko France, while also winning the 2002 Missouri Golden Gloves title.
Pierson, 36, a pioneering figure on the Canadian mixed martial arts scene, is coming off successive setbacks against Dong Hyun Kim and Jake Ellenberger. Pierson was victorious in his UFC debut in December 2010, earning a unanimous decision over Matt Riddle in a “Fight of the Night” performance. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt who hones his boxing skills with Ryan Grant, Pierson also spends a portion of his camp with Montreal’s famed Tristar Gym, working alongside the likes of Georges St. Pierre and Rory MacDonald.
Both fighters are well-versed in every facet of the game, but Hecht’s youth and athleticism could be integral factors. But Pierson is no slouch and he’s superb when controlling fighters in the clinch. If he can turn this contest into a gritty fight in close quarters, Pierson’s experience should come in handy as he prevails in a close decision.
Verdict: Pierson via decision