Melvin Guillard (29-9-2, 10-5 UFC) vs. Jim Miller (20-3, 9-2 UFC)
The Lowdown: It’s main event time and you can bet that the crowd in Nashville will be roaring for fellow deep-fried Southerner, Melvin ‘The Young Assassin’ Guillard as he tries to break back into the lightweight title picture by ousting the ever-game Jim Miller. The knockout artist from New Orleans was one win away from a title shot just a few months ago having strode to a 5-0 run stretching back to February 2010.
Guillard took out solid opposition like Jeremy Stephens, Evan Dunham and Shane Roller – tempering his wild, powerful striking with a new-found maturity as he screamed to Joe Silva to give him a shot at the title. But at UFC 136, ‘The Young Assassin’ danced his way to the Octagon, seemingly oblivious to the threat posed by Joe Lauzon. 47-seconds later, Lauzon had dropped Guillard and tapped him out with an airtight rear-naked choke.
Grappling has always been Guillard’s Achilles heel and Jim Miller could be the latest man to shoot the arrow that downs ‘The Young Assassin’. The gruff New Jersey native was riding an even more impressive streak not so long ago – winning seven straight fights stretching back to 2009, a run that saw Miller take dominant decisions over immovable grapplers Gleison Tibau and Mark Bocek, among others.
The real meat of Miller’s run came at the end, when a first round submission of Charles Oliveira and third round stoppage of wrestling phenom Kamal Shalorus earned the well-rounded lightweight a title eliminator fight in August. Miller was unfortunate to face an unstoppable Ben Henderson who completely dominated him to snatch the title shot from his grasp, but a victory over another top lightweight like Guillard would put Miller right back in contention.
The Verdict: This is a solid main event and an emphatic win for either man would probably earn them a title shot, something both feel adamant they deserve. While Guillard’s stand-up is much better, Miller’s is not bad at all – he might lack the kill-shot of Guillard but he has some power and puts his combos together nicely. However, if Miller is to win this fight he needs to take Guillard down and while Melvin’s submission defence isn’t great, his takedown defence has improved immensely over the years. Guillard’s a very powerful lightweight to try and ground, but Miller’s relentless approach and strong cardio could be the key here, especially if he tires out the striker with constant takedown attempts in the early stages. We’ve seen how Guillard reacts under pressure, and his opponent in Nashville excels at applying just that. Miller might get rocked early, but he’s hard-nosed enough to keep plugging away and don’t be surprised to see him tap out Guillard with a standing rear-naked choke if he can’t get it to the ground. Miller, submission, 2nd round.
Duane Ludwig (21-11, 4-2 UFC) vs. Josh Neer (32-10-1, 5-6 UFC)
The Lowdown: After years of campaigning to get his quick knockout of Jonathan Goulet in 2006 officially recognised as the UFC’s quickest finish, Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig recently got his wish – undoubtedly as a way for the promotion to market an otherwise low-key co-main event in Nashville. The kickboxer from Denver, Colorado has been doing his own marketing work inside the Octagon though and for the first time in years is on the verge of putting together a three-fight streak.
The Grudge Training Center welterweight has struggled with injuries in his latest stint with the promotion but has won back-to-back decisions over inexperienced duo Nick Osipczak and Amir Sadollah. ‘Bang’s formidable striking game proved to be the undoing of both rookies who were unable to get close to the lightning-fast knockout artist.
Ludwig will be the less experienced man in Nashville though as veteran Iowan Josh ‘The Dentist’ Neer looks to put together successive victories of his own following his return to the big stage in October. The Miletich Martial Arts stalwart had been trimmed from the roster a few years prior following back to back losses to grappling demons Kurt Pellegrino and Gleison Tibau.
‘The Dentist’ took on fellow veteran Keith Wisniewski at ‘UFC on Versus 6’ in a bizarre stop-start fight that saw Wisniewski simply clinch with his guard down and allow Neer to carve up his face with short elbows for two rounds. The doctor eventually called time and Neer took the TKO victory at the end of the second.
The Verdict: Ludwig may have looked good against rookies, but Neer is going to turn the tables on him this weekend. ‘Bang’ should be a far better grappler than he is at this stage in his long career and Neer won’t waste too much time trading kicks with the striker – instead, ‘The Dentist’ will use the clinch to trip Ludwig and control him on the ground. Some elbows will cut Ludwig open, but the pivotal moment will come in the final round as Neer chokes out a tired Ludwig. Neer, submission, 3rd round.
Mike Easton (11-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Jared Papazian (14-6, 0-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: There’s a bantamweight tussle on the televised card as fast-rising prospect Mike ‘The Hulk’ Easton looks to build upon a successful UFC debut last year by taking out a highly-rated newcomer. The well-rounded Alliance MMA fighter made his promotion debut in October and barely broke a sweat as he out-worked inexperienced fellow newcomer Byron Bloodworth, stopping him in round two with knees and punches.
A close friend of division champion, Dominick Cruz, Easton will be shoved uncomfortably close to a title shot with a few more wins but first has to take care of Jared ‘The Jackhammer’ Papazian. The Californian, of Armenian descent, trains with his countrymen at Team Hayastan and is a KOTC veteran, winning his last three bouts by decision including one over respected veteran Abel Cullum.
The Verdict: Papazian supposedly wants to fight in the UFC’s new flyweight division but took this fight as an injury replacement to get one foot in the door. He’s picked the wrong guy to dally with at 135lbs though and Easton holds many of the ace cards going into this fight which is his to lose. The one danger ‘The Hulk’ must avoid is blowing his load too early and allowing Papazian to edge him out as the fight advances – ‘The Jackhammer’ has gone five rounds on several occasions with tough opposition. Papazian might cause problems for Easton but ‘The Hulk’ will do enough damage in the first two rounds with legkicks and combos to take the decision. Easton, decision.
Pat Barry (6-4, 3-4 UFC) vs. Christian Morecraft (7-2, 1-2 UFC)
The Lowdown: Being a firm fan favourite will not be enough to save exciting kickboxer Pat ‘HD’ Barry if he falls short again in Nashville and the likeable heavyweight knows that a third successive loss will simply not cut it. The knockout artist started 2011 well enough, out-classing Joey Beltran to a lopsided decision in January but Barry has lost two on the bounce since, both decisively.
The world-class striker had Cheick Kongo falling over the cage in June, coming achingly close to being the first man to knock out the Frenchman until Kongo threw a last-ditch uppercut that left Barry starched in round one. That incredible fight was followed by another typically exciting Pat Barry affair in October – this time, the Louisiana native succumbed to a second round triangle choke dished out by Dutch ‘Skyscraper’, Stefan Struve.
Now training with Brock Lesnar’s Death Clutch camp, ‘HD’s wrestling will be tested by 6ft 6in heavyweight prospect, Christian Morecraft in Nashville. The burly all-rounder from Massachusetts is still just 25-years old but is also on the chopping block. Morecraft’s lone victory in the UFC – a technical submission of Sean McCorkle at UFN 24 last March – is sandwiched between debilitating losses. The big man has been knocked out twice inside the Octagon, by Stefan Struve and in June, Matt Mitrione.
The Verdict: The inexperienced Barry really needs to raise his game as a third straight loss would be the final straw and Morecraft is well-equipped to expose the striker’s weaknesses. Morecraft may not be a great wrestler, but his massive frame and power mean he can bully Barry to the mat and quite feasibly tap him out, or unleash his thunderous ground and pound. However, to complete the task, the bigger man will need to get close to ‘HD’ and this will mean navigating through the wall of kicks and punches coming his way – Morecraft’s chin has already been checked twice and Barry holds arguably more power than anyone he’s faced. If the fight hits the mat, Morecraft wins – if it doesn’t, Barry gets another ‘Knockout of the Night’ bonus. Expect the latter. Barry, (T)KO, 1st round.
That’s the main card done and dusted, our readers in the U.K can settle into the live televised card of ‘UFC on FX 1: Guillard vs. Miller’ at 2am on ESPN UK. Will ‘The Young Assassin’ add another scalp to his growing collection or will it be the gritty Jim Miller who gazumps another contender to earn himself a title shot? We’ll find out on Friday night….
By Steve Davies