November 12 will mark the biggest day in MMA history since the first UFC event in Denver, Colorado. This Saturday, the UFC will step entirely out from the shadows and into the light on the biggest stage in the world: FOX primetime television. Going against top-rated TV shows and sporting events watched by millions every week, the world’s premier MMA organization will offer up a bout for its most prestigious title, the UFC Heavyweight Championship currently held by Cain Velasquez (9-0). Across the cage from the champ will be brutal knockout artist “Cigano” Junior Dos Santos (13-1). It is the only bout slated to be televised. Supporting the bout via live internet stream, lightweight stand-outs “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (29-11) will face former WEC champion “Smooth” Ben Henderson (13-2) and WEC fan favorite Cub Swanson (15-4) will make his UFC debut against “The Bully” Ricardo Lamas (10-2). Also appearing on the card, WEC and now UFC journeyman Dustin Poirier (10-1) will square off against Pablo Garza (11-1) who has made the most of his opportunities following his disappointment on The Ultimate Fighter.
At First Glance: This fight appears for all intents and purposes to be a weeding fight. On one hand is Poirier, a hard-nosed freestyle fighter with a BJJ purple belt who earned his stripes at featherweight by upsetting title contender “The Fluke” Josh Grispi (14-3). On the other is TUF never was Pablo Garza who never made it to the house on the reality show but made a mark in the UFC anyway with back-to-back high-flying, bonus-winning finishes. With recorded success in the UFC, it is very hard to dismiss either fighter from the ranks but then, Poirier beat Grispi, a number one contender deserving or not, in unimpressive fashion and Garza beat two unimpressive fighters in very impressive fashion. It has yet to be seen if either can truly compete on the higher levels and the UFC schedules bouts like this one to find out.
In Depth: The key factor in this bout is not the overall skill of either man but the drive to perform. Poirier is the superior fighter on paper with his purple belt in BJJ matched to Garza’s blue, his multiple TKO and KO victories, and his resiliency proven by his 11 fights in just under two years; but neither man is truly a top-notch fighter in any particular area. They are, however, both more than intelligent enough to understand exactly what kind of fight this is and what it means to their careers. They have to put on an impressive performance for the fans and the UFC brass win, lose, or draw in order to avoid a UFC stint in undercard obscurity. Garza, though technically the more lackluster of the two, seems to have that drive in spades. He has been anything but cautious in the UFC and his risks have paid off so far to the tune of $159,000 in bonus money. While this may backfire on him when a Flying Armbar turns into a flying get-mounted-and-beaten-into-the-mat, it does ensure that he will stick out in the fans’ minds as a fighter they want to see again and again. Poirier has been more reserved with two fairly one-sided decisions, but his lower key, safer style means he will have to win very convincingly to further his career beyond middle-of-the-card filler fights.
Wild Card: Though the wild card is typically an intangible asset as opposed to a more technical, tangible advantage, this fight’s biggest variable is Poirier’s abilities standing. He broke Grispi’s jaw and has recorded three KOs and two TKOs in his career, but none of his wins have been against particularly skilled opponents. This leaves questions about whether or not he has the technical abilities to deal with the craziness that Garza has thrown at past opponents in the terms of flying knees, flying submissions, leaping punches, and other flashy high risk attacks. If he does have the solid skill set to deal with it, Garza will be brought crashing back to earth in a heap as Poirier coolly counters him. If not, Poirier may find himself overwhelmed by an assault he doesn’t know how to handle.
The Verdict: Garza has defeated slightly better opponents in much more impressive fashion, but it is very hard to write off eight finishes and ten wins in 11 fights as Poirier’s opponents simply being so poor they make him look good. The bout should be very entertaining as each man brings all of his tricks out of his hat in order to win impressively, but a combination of size, superior skill set, and a more tried and true fighting style should give Poirier what he needs to notch another UFC win. Poirier via KO (Punch), Round 2