Previewing UFC 139: The Prelims

Ryan Bader. Photo property of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The UFC will visit San Jose, California for the first time in the promotion’s history this Saturday for UFC 139, which takes place at the HP Pavilion, the former unofficial home base for Scott Coker and Strikeforce.

UFC 139 is headlined by a light heavyweight battle between Strikeforce title holder Dan Henderson and recently dethroned UFC champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, with the winner likely in line to face either Jon Jones or Lyoto Machida for the UFC title early next year.

Here’s a look at the event’s preliminary bout, which features a total of seven bouts that sport a former WEC champion, a one-time “TUF” winner, undefeated prospects and much more.

Ryan Bader vs. Jason Brilz

The fight: Both Bader and Brilz enter this fight with their backs up against the proverbial wall. Bader has suffered back-to-back defeats, the first two losses of his career at that, while Brilz has dropped three out of his last four UFC bouts and will most certainly be cut from the promotion with another under his belt. Bader will likely stick around no matter what, but stranger things have happened. Just ask Efrain Escudero.

What to look for: A clash between two men with excellent wrestling chops usually translates into a battle on the feet. That bolds very badly for Brilz, who relies on top control and superior grappling skills to grind out decisions. Bader should be able to take the fight anywhere he wants, even the ground. However, after his performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, it’s hard to count Brilz out.

Michael McDonald vs. Alex Soto

The fight: One of the brightest prospects in MMA today, McDonald looks to continue his quick rise up the UFC bantamweight ranks against Soto, who enters the UFC with a young but undefeated record after enjoying success in the Mexican and Japanese circuits.

What to look for: McDonaldo and Soto are both well-rounded fighters, so expect this one to take place in all areas of the cage. The question is whether or not Soto will have enough experience to match McDonald, who despite only being 20 years of age, has already competed under the Zuffa banner three times and has defeated Cole Escovedo and Manny Tapia outside of the promotion. History says he probably won’t, and McDonald should overwhelm a star-struck Soto.

Chris Weidman vs. Tom Lawlor

The fight: Weidman, widely considered the top middleweight prospect in the sport, will take on the toughest test of his short career in Lawlor, a scrappy “TUF” product who is coming off of a long injury layoff, but also his own biggest win – a unanimous decision over former title contender Patrick Cote at UFC 121 in October 2010.

What to look for: Lawlor has surprised opponents with his slick grappling in the past, and he may even be able to hang with Weidman for the most part. However, Weidman and his All-American wrestling skills may eventually be too much. Couple that with a savvy submission game honed under Matt Serra and Ray Longo and Weidman could give Lawlor fits. Lawlor does hold a significant edge on the feet as Weidman’s striking is still rudimentary to a degree.

Miguel Torres vs. Nick Pace

The fight: Once again derailed in a quest to regain bantamweight gold, Torres will start another attempt up the ladder against Pace, who sports a sub .500 under the Zuffa banner and is best known for his pillory choke submission of Will Campuzano last December.

What to look for: The fight is Torres to lose. Pace isn’t even close to being at the same level in terms of talent and this fight should show it. Torres is the better fighter in all aspects. Pace will have a chance if he can catch a submission from the bottom, but that will prove to hard to do against a grappler of Torres’ stature. One thing is for sure in this one, as a loss for either fighter could prove mighty costly to their respective careers.

Gleison Tibau vs. Rafael dos Anjos

The fight: Two of the lightweight division’s more underrated competitors will face each other as dos Anjos looks to ride the momentum of a surprising KO of George Sotiropoulos against Tibau, who shockingly will actually be going for his 11th UFC win in this one.

What to look for: Tibau and dos Anjos are mirror images of each other. Both fighters are very good grapplers on the ground yet wild and undisciplined on the feet, albeit each with his fair share of power in his hands. This fight could be a close one to call on the judges’ scorecards. The two are seasoned and experienced enough that may prove very difficult to finish each other. Dos Anjos has performed better in his last five fights, but Tibau’s experience advantage is priceless.

Danny Castillo vs. Shamar Bailey

The fight: Castillo tries to bounce back from a smothering unanimous decision loss to Jacob Volkmann in August against Bailey, a product of season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter” who suffered his first UFC loss at the hands of Evan Dunham in September.

What to look for: This fight presents a clear contrast of styles. Castillo is known for his explosive striking on the feet while Bailey has grinded out many an opponent with his aggressive wrestling. In most circumstances, a wrestler would be able to easily handle a striker. However, Bailey has also been known to participate in his fair share of slugfests, especially when goaded into them. It’s a habit that could cost him against Castillo.

Matt Brown vs. Seth Baczynski

The fight: In what should an extremely exciting fight, Matt Hume-trained Brown will face Baczynski, a “TUF” alumnus getting another chance in the UFC after successfully filling in a last-minute replacement opponent and defeated Clay Harvison via second-round submission at UFC Fight Night 25.

What to look for: A barnburner. Despite the two of them, Brown and Baczynski have 42 career fights and only five bout that have gone the distance. The rest have either had Brown or Baczynski finishing or getting finished. Brown sports a potent striking game that has damaged many an opponent. Baczynski features an all-around aggressive style that focus primarily on constant submission threats once on the mat. Brown will likely look to maintain things on the feet while Baczynski will hold an advantage if things hit the ground.

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