UFC 197 is filled to the brim with intriguing match-ups and converging storylines.
Most notably, the redemption story of the challenger Jon “Bones” Jones who looks to reclaim his title from champion Daniel “DC’ Cormier (some would argue that challenger and champion should be in quotation marks).
Then there is the underappreciated and arguably pound-for-pound best, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson who will attempt to maintain his absolute dominance at Flyweight against the Olympic Gold Medalist (free-style wrestling) Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo.
Also on the main card, two highly lauded featherweight prospects meet when Andre “Touchy” Fili fights Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez for the possibility of a future “red panty night”.
What many have dubbed “the sleeper fight” on this card undoubtedly has the potential for fight of the night. Moreover, it is a fight with nearly as many story lines as the entire card as a whole. Both Edson “Junior” Barboza and Anthony “Showtime” Pettis are coming off fights in which they were finished and controlled on the ground respectively.
The obvious story to watch will be the manner in which these two bounce back from tough losses. Aside from this, it’s important to keep in mind that these fighters are representing two of the best coaches and camps in the world. The Brazilian Barbosa – now living in New Jersey – is training with the longtime coach of Frankie Edgar, the esteemed Mark Henry.
Then there is Pettis and his mentor and former pro kick boxer Duke Roufus of Roufus sport: one of the best gyms period. There is something for the patriots/nationalists too, in that this is a clash between two unrivaled MMA powerhouses: the U.S and Brazil. Though bouts between exceptional strikers often turn into grappling contests, one can safely assume that these two have a preference to keep this fight standing (in light of their recent setbacks).
Now, if you had to compile a list of the top kickers in MMA today, you would be remiss if you did not mention Edson Barboza and Anthony Pettis. Coming from Muay Thai and Taekwondo backgrounds, these two have some of the fastest, most technical and flashiest kicking techniques in the sport. However, this extreme prowess has a few drawbacks. Let me preface this by stating that by no means are these two weak grapplers. You need only to look at Pettis’ arm bar of Benson Henderson or Barboza’s ties to Ricardo Almeida. Regardless, they truly excel on the feet and especially with their legs. Although, Muay Thai does preach using all eight weapons, traditional practitioners place more value on kicks and knees. Similarly, Taekwondo is also heavily kick based/biased. While both fighters do have excellent hands and elbows, they have historically favored attacks emanating from the feet.
This to me is key in a matchup of highly-credentialed kickers. In my estimation, the extreme knowledge between the two, in regards to kicks, may lead to a bout that is fought and won in boxing range or on the mat. Both combatants will want to keep their distance, but with their experience and skill at kicking range, it is unlikely that either will be surprised or caught cleanly.
It isn’t difficult to envision Barboza landing his brutal leg-kicks and switch-kicks on route to a decision. Nor is it improbable that Pettis’ brutal rear-leg kick to the head or body will make an appearance. What does seem apparent, however, is the spectacular kicking techniques of the two may not be as effective when thrown by such credentialed opposition.
This somewhat “level” playing field, as it pertains to kicks, may simply favor the man with the crispest boxing, strongest clinch, and most effective grappling. And though, we expect to see is a fast-paced Muay Thai fight with MMA gloves; only “Junior” and “Showtime” can determine if this “sleeper” will in fact be one you don’t want to miss.