The UFC returns to Atlanta, Georgia this Saturday with perhaps the most hyped title fight of the year featuring training-partners-turned-bitter-rivals, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion “Bones” Jon Jones (15-1) and “Suga” Rashad Evans (17-1-1). Young prospect “Ares” Rory MacDonald (12-1) takes on English striker “Beautiful” Che Mills (14-4) in the UFC 145 co-main event. Returning to the Octagon searching for victory is IFL veteran “Big” Ben Rothwell (31-8) versus confident knockout artist “The Hybrid” Brendan Schaub (8-2) in a heavyweight scrap. Former UFC featherweight title challenger “The Machine” Mark Hominick (20-10) steps into the cage against “The Filipino Phenom” Eddie Yagin (15-5) with both men in a must-win situation. Starting up the Pay-Per-View action is Canadian submission expert Mark Bocek (10-5) welcoming fellow countryman and WEC, UFC, and MFC veteran “The Natural” John Alessio (34-14) back to the Octagon. Alessio, a long-time welterweight, has found a new home at lightweight and will look to show the fans, Dana White, and all of the 155lbs. division that he is here to stay, while Bocek looks to prove that his name belongs in the mix of top lightweight contenders. With both men having a lot to gain and a lot to lose from this fight, the main card opener is sure to entertain.
At First Glance: When a former Zuffa fighter returns to the big leaques after a considerable amount of time in the minors, per se, the question always arises, “Can they hang with the UFC breed of fighters?” John Alessio is looking to prove that he can and will do much more than hang with any opponent that is put in front of him. Mark Bocek is looking to add another seasoned veteran to his win column and ascend the ranks of one of the UFC’s most stacked divisions. The well-rounded former welterweight John Alessio undoubtedly will have a challenging welcome back to the UFC in the form of a very game fellow submission expert Mark Bocek.
In Depth: Throughout his 14-year-long professional career, John Alessio has become known for his fight-stopping abilities. With 25 total finishes including 15 submissions and 10 (T)KOs to his credit, it’s clear that Alessio looks to end the fight every time. Though much less experienced in the cage than his counterpart, Bocek also hasn’t become too familiar with the judges’ scorecards, evident by the 80 percent finishing rate he boasts in his ten victories. Both Alessio and Bocek have faced a who’s who list of fighters in the sport of MMA and at the top of the 155lbs. mountain, every name is big. Bocek may have a fraction of the fights that Alessio has, but he has lost to only top contenders and championship-caliber fighters, including top lightweight “The Mongoose” Jim Miller (21-3), newly-crowned champion “Smooth” Ben Henderson (16-2), and former champion “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-2-1). Alessio’s notable losses are to the likes of UFC Interim Welterweight Champion “Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit (28-5), former title contender “Pitbull” Thiago Alves (19-9), and top welterweight “The Dream” Diego Sanchez (23-5). Alessio certainly has faced a higher quantity of fighters in his storied career, however, whether or not he has consistently faced the same quality of fighters as the 10-fight UFC veteran Bocek is debatable.
“The Natural” will have a big size advantage and a slight reach advantage over Mark Bocek. A crisp kickboxer, Alessio’s key to victory over the Tristar MMA fighter will come in the stand-up, though he also is very versatile on the ground. It may prove particularly advantageous for Alessio to mimic the predator-stalking-prey style used by some of Bocek’s most challenging previous foes, Ben Henderson, Jim Miller, and Frankie Edgar. Knowing that he is the smaller fighter, Bocek’s key to victory will involve trapping Alessio against the cage and dragging him to the floor where he then may employ his black belt in BJJ to lock in a slick submission and elicit the tap from his adversary. Bocek will have his work cut out for him, though, as Alessio will likely be expecting this from his opponent and instead of playing into his game will buck Bocek away with his superior strength and keep the fight standing.
Wild Card: John Alessio is no stranger to big opportunities and big fights in his long career; unfortunately for him he also is no stranger to blowing those opportunities. Now five-a-half-years out from his last fight in the UFC and over four years since his last contracted fight with any Zuffa promotion, Saturday night’s bout against Mark Bocek is a big opportunity for Alessio to revive his career on the largest mixed martial arts stage in the world. If the Octagon jitters keep the Xtreme Couture fighter from being of sound mind and he allows Bocek to take him to the mat, his night will likely be over in short order.
The Verdict: The seasoned veteran Alessio has fought tooth and nail to get back to the UFC and the Zuffa brass brought him aboard with a solid test in Mark Bocek. Look for Alessio to use his crisp striking to pick apart Bocek and put on the pressure for the entire three rounds, also working his offense should the fight hit the mat, en route to the first win of his UFC career. Alessio via Unanimous Decision