Nate Diaz (15-7) and “The Mongoose” Jim Miller (21-3) will square off in a high octane lightweight showdown to headline the UFC on FOX 3 card this Saturday, but before they do, the UFC has built a strong card for the viewing public. “Kos” Josh Koscheck (17-5) and Johny Hendricks (12-1) will play second fiddle to the main event in a welterweight showdown and “Big” Lavar Johnson (16-5) will open the card in his second UFC bout against the always dangerous “HD” Pat Barry (7-4). In one of the night’s most interesting bouts, “Toquinho” Rousimar Palhares (14-3) will square off with “The Talent” Alan Belcher (17-6). The 28-year-old Belcher has built quite a resume as a mixed martial artist over his career with ten first-round finishes and seven submissions and eight KO/TKOs in 17 victories, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and establishing himself as a dangerous striker under the tutelage of Duke Roufus. However, his opponent has earned a reputation as one of the most gifted grapplers in the world and has ten submissions in 14 wins, as well as a second place finish in his only ADCC appearance, to back it up.
At First Glance: While this has the overtones of a “Striker vs. Grappler” match-up, the bout between Belcher and Palhares goes much deeper. This is a fight that has very significant implications for the title worthiness of either man. For Belcher, the fight will test his BJJ black belt’s ability to stop a superior grappler from taking the fight to the mat, a critical skill against elite-level middleweight grapplers like Demian Maia (15-4), “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Mark Munoz (12-2), or “Thunder” Yushin Okami (26-7), a man who has already beaten “The Talent”. For Palhares, the bout will test his mettle against a deadly striker who has a strong enough ground acumen that he won’t be able to simply steamroll them on the mat. To find a deadly striker against whom the mat is no safe haven, the submission prodigy need look no further than the middleweight king “The Spider” Anderson Silva (31-4). This fight should be an entertaining showdown, but the questions it will answer for each fighter will tell the tale of how ready they are to hit the upper echelons of the UFC 185lbs. division.
In Depth: This is a contest of moderation. Everyone knows that Belcher is a definitively better striker and that Palhares is infinitely superior on the mat. The outcome of this bout, though, lies in a much more convoluted area. If Belcher is a better grappler than Palhares is a striker, “The Talent” will take the victory. If Palhares can out-punch Belcher’s grappling, he has the fight won from the first bell. Belcher will certainly win the striking exchanges just as Palhares will undoubtedly control the grappling battle. The name of the game for each man is not to carry their own strength but to minimize the victories the other wins in his chosen arena. If Belcher’s own very credible ground game can limit “Toquinho” to scoring a few dominant positions prior to forcing scrambles back to the feet, his dominance on the feet will carry him. Unfortunately for Palhares, he has yet to display a striking aptitude that will allow him to compete with Belcher on any level. Unless he has improved his footwork and boxing by leaps and bounds, he will have to force Belcher back to the mat and focus more on controlling position than on ending the fight with a submission.
Wild Card: The most telling statistic is the comparison between Belcher’s percentage of takedowns defended against Palhares’ rate of success. “Toquinho” has averaged just under five takedown attempts per 15 minutes he spends in the ring and succeeds in around 45% of them. Belcher by contrast has stuffed 53% of the takedowns attempted against him and lands almost double the number of significant strikes as Palhares in any given minute of fight time. These numbers are troubling for “Toquinho”. If he can’t get “The Talent” to the canvas, he will be at a gross disadvantage and unless his pedestrian takedown abilities can overcome Belcher’s ability to stop them, he will absorb too much punishment to catch back up on the scorecards from positional control alone.
The Verdict: At the end of the night, this fight is Belcher’s to lose. All he has to do is keep Palhares from dragging him to the mat from the clinch and he should be able to cruise to an easy decision victory. Both men are finishers first, which could work against Belcher in that should he get overzealous on the feet, he will leave himself open to a Palhares takedown that could easily result in a damaged limb. That aside, the numbers favor “The Talent”. Belcher via Unanimous Decision