Newark, New Jersey will play host to the Ultimate Fighting Championship this Saturday night as UFC 128 roars into the Garden State with a Light Heavyweight Championship match between “Bones” Jon Jones (12-1) and the reigning 205lbs. champ “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (19-4) headlining a card packed with talent from all walks of MMA life. The old guard of PRIDE faces the new breed from The Ultimate Fighter to kick things off as “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-9-2) takes on the well rounded blue chip fighter “The Hybrid” Brendan Schaub (6-1). The always dangerous Dan Miller (13-4) then replaces “Sexyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-4), who pulled out of his UFC 128 match due to the massive earthquake hitting his native Japan last week, as he puts his submission skills to the test against the former King of Pancrase “The Great” Nate Marquardt (30-10-2) and “The Prince of Persia” Kamal Shalorus (7-0-2) pits his WEC built undefeated record against the man who some say should be at the top of the contenders list in the lightweight division, “The Mongoose” Jim Miller (19-2). Serving in the capacity of co-main event for the card is a battle of WEC ground-and-pounders as the former featherweight king “The California Kid” Urijah Faber (24-4) continues his bantamweight crusade against the inaugural WEC 135lbs. champion Eddie Wineland (17-6-1).At First Glance: The styles of “The California Kid” and his opponent are flip sides of the same coin. Both men have power in their strikes and a dangerous set of takedowns to back those strikes up. The key difference comes in the use of those takedowns. Faber has recently begun to use his striking more but has historically used his striking to keep his opponent off-balance while he picks his opportunity to shoot and gain optimum position. Wineland on the other hand, is a mobile and precise kickboxer who typically uses his takedown abilities to distract his opponent from his combination striking when he isn’t coming away from the exchanges on the feet as well as he’d like. The result of the pairing should be an interesting game of cat and mouse as Faber deals with the deadly hands and lightning quick kicks of Wineland while he seeks the opportunity to take the battle to the floor.
In Depth: Wineland holds a key advantage in this fight and that advantage revolves around Urijah Faber’s classic wrestler’s game plan. Urijah likes to upset his opponent with big, reaching punches while looking for the low double. The flaw is that Wineland has a relaxed and mobile striking style that allows him to minimize those opportunities while landing precision punches and kicks of his own. Wineland also has laser fast leg kicks, a weapon that has given Faber trouble in the past. Where “The Kid’s” salvation lies in this bout is in his athleticism and obvious size advantage. His power double-leg shoot is also a real danger for Wineland who has solid takedowns, but lacks both the technical wrestling needed to stop a deep, brute force takedown and the weight to make the move physically taxing for Faber with a basic sprawl. Faber has proven unstoppable in his career as a bantamweight and that has largely been due to his considerable size and strength advantages that allow him to bully his opponents around the cage and that will prove a major problem for Wineland should he allow Faber to outsmart his footwork and corner him against the cage.
Wild Card: Faber’s bread and butter over the years has been his ability to change levels and shoot deep at will and without warning. It won him two King of the Cage (KOTC) titles and a WEC belt to boot. However, over the past several years Faber has seemed set on making the world recognize him as a complete mixed martial artist and not just a wrestler. He has done this by standing and boxing with his opponents even when it was a very bad idea. Wineland is the kind of opponent against whom standing on principle would be a bad idea. Should “The California Kid” attempt to stand and trade leather with Eddie Wineland, he will very likely suffer his first defeat at 135lbs. as the superior striker easily evades his telegraphed, over extended punches and blasts him repeatedly for the effort.
The Verdict: In this match, it all comes down to Faber’s gameplan. If he stands with Wineland for any considerable length of time without pressing the takedown, he will go to sleep in a big way. Faber likely knows this and has suffered three losses in his past six fights to hammer the lesson home. Look for Wineland to be a game opponent as Urijah mercilessly presses the pace with heavy clinch work and driving shoots until the smaller man is completely exhausted and beaten at the end of a three round grind. Faber via Unanimous Decision.