Despite sporting only one legitimate star in the form of B.J. Penn, the UFC’s lightweight division is the brightest of the bunch. The weight class has accumulated an abundance of young, promising talented and exciting fighters. As the sport continues to grow, stars will begin to emerge from the division as the younger potentials hone their skills. At the upcoming Fight Night 15, four up-and- comers have the potential to become marquee names.
While the event lacks star power, the card is filled with fighters who deliver on exciting fights. Furthermore, the two lightweight matches will elevate their respective winners into contender status.
Josh Neer vs. Nate Diaz
I’ll admit it, I’m becoming a fan of the Diaz brothers. The controversial bad asses of mixed martial arts, have become notorious for their antics in an out of the cage. Nate Diaz, Nick’s younger brother, rose to prominence on the Ultimate Fighter. The kid has a swagger and oozes confidence that borders on arrogance. But, Diaz is able to translate that confidence into a tough, gritty mixed martial artist.
He has reeled off four consecutive victories and proved he can come back from behind to win (as he demonstrated in his last bout). At only 23-years-old, the skys the limit for Diaz and big things are ahead if he can beat Josh Neer.
Neer has had an inconsistent UFC career. His record stands at 3-3 in the UFC and he’s won some big fights where he was the underdog, but lost ones in which he was expected to win. Regardless, Neer is a skilled fighter. His striking has always been a weapon of destruction for him. While not always technical, he is still effective. Neer’s wrestling is also one of his strengths and another advantage he holds over Diaz. Training with the Miletich camp has no doubt improved on his already solid wrestling base.
In order to win, Neer must utilize both his advantages against Diaz. Striking is the one aspect of Diaz’s game, which he has yet to use optimally. In his last bout, Kurt Pelligrino tagged him with combos at will. By the end of the first round, Diaz was bloodied and battered. Neer must aggresively pressure Diaz. Getting inside will be essential, where he can land short crisp punches. Neer also must use his wrestling to stay off the ground.
Despite Neer’s best efforts, at some point, the bout will be forced to the ground. And once there, Neer will be as good as dead. Diaz has trained with the Gracies and is a slick jiu-jitsu fighter. He has a lanky frame with long legs and uses them perfectly. By using his flexibility and long legs, he is often able to keep fighters in rubber guard until securing a submission.
This fight should play out similarly to the Diaz/Pelligrino one, with Diaz taking shots, but eventually using a favorable position to win. Diaz will win this in dramatic fashion, continuing his ascension up the lightweight ladder.
Prediction: Nate Diaz by Submission, round two
Clay Guida vs. Mac Danzig
Mark my words, this fight could end up being a fight of the year candidate. Guida and Danzig have endless motors, seemingly never giving into fatigue or pain. Both fighters are on the cusp of being major players in the division and both want to achieve a significant win against the other.
Guida has become popular for his ability to consistently provide an exciting bout. He is known for his strong wrestling, insane cardio, stout chin and trademark wildly long hair.
Danzig has been around the block and revived his career en route to winning the Ultimate Fighter 6. He is a well rounded fighter with a variety of skills. His standup is solid, he has quality submissions, and he scrambles well. When fighting he is cerebral and calculating, making good decisions and avoiding mistakes for the most part.
This should be an interesting clash of styles. Guida is simply relentless with his takedown attempts. He is more than willing to get hit in order to bring his opponent down. That does not bode well for Danzig, whose takedown defense looked suspect against Mark Bocek. If he is unable to defend the takedowns that are sure to come, he will find himself in deep trouble.
Guida poses a legitimate threat to Danzig because he will attack his weaknesses. This fight will surely demonstrate whether or not Danzig can be an elite fighter. Danzig’s chances to win lie in his ability to fight off of his back (with submissions) and control the pace when striking. Guida will give a spirited effort and favoring him to win would not be a mistake. But, I believe Danzig will find a way to win.
Prediction: Mac Danzig by decision
Houston Alexander vs. Eric Schafer
This fight is not a difficult one to dissect. These two fighters have simple but different styles. Houston is a pure striker with very little ground game to speak of what so ever. In stark contrast, Schafer is not sharp on his feet, but is adept on the ground with submissions. The winner will be whoever can impose their will on the other.
After storming onto the UFC scene with devastating knockouts over Keith Jardine and Alessio Sakara, Alexander received major hype. But, he followed up those impressive performances by losing two straight and in the process, got exposed for being one dimensional.
This is a do or die situation for Alexander, who is a physical specimen of raw power. Although Schafer is better rounded, he has a history of losing to good strikers. Alexander manages to stay on his feet long enough to KO Schafer. But, if the fight does go to the ground, Alexander is done in the UFC.
Prediction: Houston Alexander by TKO, round one
Ed Herman vs. Alan Belcher
This bout has the Muay Thai specialist Alan Belcher squaring off against Ultimate Fighter 3 alum Ed Herman. Most recently, Belcher is coming back from a disappointing loss to Jason Day and Herman was submitted by Demian Maia.
Both men view this as a must win situation. Neither fighter could afford a second consecutive loss, which could spell their exit from the UFC.
Belcher is going to want to brawl and keep this fight standing. Herman is nowhere near as technical or polished on his feet. The winner will be determined by whether or not Belcher can defend Herman’s takedowns. Herman is going to attempt to take this to the ground and either submit, or pound Belcher out.
Despite an up and down UFC career, Herman always exhibits his massive heart. The fight should be an exciting one but I see Herman pulling out the victory.
Prediction: Ed Herman by submission, round three