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UFC 180 Preview – Mark Hunt is Wer-doomed

Spectators at UFC 180 in Mexico City were supposed to see an epic battle for the heavyweight title between champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Fabricio Werdum. But, with Velazquez sidelined by a knee injury, they will now be treated to a mismatch – at least on paper – between Werdum and Mark Hunt for the interim heavyweight title (Saturday, November 15).

Werdum, 18-5 career, is a two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion who can grapple with the best in the world. Of his 18 wins, half have come via submission. Hunt, on the other hand, is a former kickboxer who relies on his striking. He has a middling 10-8 career record with seven wins by knockout. Hunt’s 10-8 record is a bit deceiving, though, as he has only lost once in his last seven fights (a memorable KO loss to Junior dos Santos via spinning heel kick at UFC 160).

As in all his fights, Hunt cannot be written off against Werdum due to the sheer power he possesses. If he catches “Vai Cavalo” flush, it could be game over. If Werdum has his wits about him, he will look to take the fight to the ground as soon as possible. If and when he does, Hunt’s days – make that minutes – will be numbered. Werdum has an exceptional BJJ pedigree and has submitted the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (aka “Big Nog”), Fedor Emelianenko, and Alistair Overeem. While Hunt has piled up some wins lately, they have not come against eminent ground fighters like Werdum. Instead, he has been matched up with other strikers in the hopes of manufacturing crowd-pleasing fights and highlight-reel KOs.  To his credit, Hunt has done his job in these fights, (T)KOing the likes of Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve, and Cheick Kongo. Prior to a KO win over Chris Tuchscherer in February 2011, though, Hunt had a string of six straight losses. Five of those came by submission. While he has clearly worked hard to improve his submission defense, Werdum has made even BJJ savants like Nogueira tap. Werdum is currently a sizeable -450 favorite in the moneyline, while Hunt is at +325.  We see Werdum winning by submission late in the second round.

Elsewhere on the UFC 180 card, Jake Ellenberger will face Kelvin Gastelum in a welterweight bout. Ellenberger (29-8) is coming off two straight losses (Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald) while Gastelum holds a perfect 10-0 career record. Ellenberger, a powerful striker, will be looking to overwhelm the younger Gastelum. Ellenberger has said that his “gun-fight” days are behind him, but with the bigger, stronger Gastelum (who used to fight at middleweight) plodding ever forward, it’s likely that Ellenberger will have to rely on his power-punching to keep him at bay. Either way, though, we see Gastelum controlling the action and staying undefeated.

Before the welterweights take the ring, the small-folk will have a chance to shine, as featherweights Ricardo Lamas (14-3) and Dennis Bermudez (15-3) square off, with the winner inching ever closer to a title shot. Lamas recently had a title shot, but dropped a unanimous decision to incumbent Jose Also. The 32-year-old rebounded nicely with a victory over Hacran Dias, though, and is not far from another shot at the belt. Bermudez, on the other hand, is a younger fighter who is still on the rise. He has won seven straight over increasingly difficult competition and is starting to garner both attention and respect in the featherweight division. In his most recent fight, he submitted the incessant and tenacious Clay Guida. Bermudez’s last defeat was back in 2011 when he lost to Diego Brandao in the TUF 14 finale. All three of his career losses have come by submission. Lamas is a BJJ blackbelt, which will pose some problems for Bermudez, but only three of Lamas’ 14 career wins have come by submission. This should be an interesting and close tilt, but we like the elder statesman, Lamas, to come out on top. He has more experience, has faced better fighters in his career, and (at 32) knows that a loss could signal the end of this title hopes.

(Photo credit: Mike Dunn, Sunnyvale, USA (http://www.flickr.com/photos/acidhelm/4213897955/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped from its original.)

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