World Extreme Cagefighting tonight not enough MMA action for you? The UFC is here to help, presenting Ultimate Fight Night 20 Monday on SPIKE. The main event is a fight with title implications at lightweight, as a Gray Maynard win may propel him into a fight with BJ Penn for the championship at 155 pounds. The rest of the card is rounded out with some great competitive matchups. Heavy.com is here to help you remember who is who and to predict the carnage that is sure to ensue tomorrow night.
Lightweight bout: Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz
Spencer Kyte: When they met during TUF 5, Maynard was still super-green and got caught by the more experienced Diaz. Now, Joe Stevenson delivered a great blueprint for how to use wrestling to frustrate Diaz and come away with a win, and Maynard will follow it to the letter. He'll probably get called a bitch a time or two in the process, but that's old hat when facing Nick's kid brother. Maynard by UD.
Brett Jones: An impressive victory here will ensure a title shot for Maynard, barring an injury, though to Maynard's credit, he's focused solely on Diaz. That focus, along with Maynard being more or less a bigger, stronger, and all-around better version of Clay Guida, one of two men to beat Diaz in the UFC, should lead the way for Maynard to win the match. On some level, it's strange to pick against Diaz in this fight. Not only did Diaz beat Maynard, he dismantled him. However, that dismantling occurred more than two years ago. Since then, Maynard has improved himself to the tune of an undefeated official record. The real question is: will his performance earn him the title shot? I predict it will not. Maynard via unanimous decision.
Jonathan Snowden: Maynard will be able to take Diaz down-we know that. What happens then is what makes this fight interesting. Sure, Joe Stevenson was able to hold Diaz down and avoid submissions on his way to a big win. But Maynard is no Stevenson. Joe Daddy has been around the block and has years of experience. Despite massive improvement, Maynard is still getting his feet wet in MMA. I see Diaz finding a way to secure a submission. Diaz, submission, Round 2.
Heavy.com Pick: Gray Maynard
Lightweight bout: Efrain Escudero vs. Evan Dunham
Spencer Kyte: Every time I think of this fight, I can't get Escudero's fight with Cole Miller out of my head. Probably because I see it going the same way. Dunham has solid power (ask Per Eklund) and did a good job of picking his spots against Marcus Aurelio, but Escudero will be pushing forward the whole time, looking for takedowns and throwing hands. The TUF 8 winner has the makings of a future champion, and he shows it here. Escudero by TKO, Round 1.
Brett Jones: I was impressed with the way in which Dunham defeated Per Eklund, and I was further impressed that he was able to step up and earn a victory over a quality veteran like Marcus Aurelio. It's hard for me to get past Escudero's impressive performance against Cole Miller, who Escudero knocked out in the first round. These are two particularly evenly matched undefeated fighters; a rare occurrence in the UFC. Despite having key victories in the UFC via knockout, both fighters have won the majority of their fights via submission. I don't foresee either catching the other in a choke, as both appear to be a little too savvy on the ground. The deciding factor for me is Escudero's knock out over Cole Miller. I think Dunham will avoid the big punch, but I think Escudero is a bit more explosive and relentless, and I think that will swing the judges' score in his favor. Escudero via unanimous decision.
Jonathan Snowden: The difference here will be Efrains wrestling. The smart play is for him to not spend a single second thinking about being exciting or looking for a knockout. Pure ground and pound is the way to go and if Escudero sets his mind to that kind of fight, I dont see how Dunham can stop him. Dunham has a solid game on the ground and is a fairly good wrestler himself, but I think Efrain is on another level. Escudero, Decision.
Heavy.com Pick: Efrain Escudero
Middleweight bout:Tom Lawlor vs. Aaron Simpson
Spencer Kyte: There are lots of people riding "The A-Train" right now, as the 35-year-old sports six TKOs in six fights and has tremendous athleticism. Personally, I don't see where all the adoration comes from. Sure, he dominated Ed Herman, but that's no huge chore. Other than that, he's beaten journeyman, and probably got by on athleticism alone. For all Tom Lawlor's odd and entertaining tendencies, he's won three straight in the UFC and looked tremendous in putting Simpson's teammate C.B. Dollaway to sleep in under a minute at UFC 100. Lawlor by submission, Round 2.
Brett Jones: It is easy to pick Simpson on credentials alone, but as with most fights, it's not that simple. In this case, Aaron Simpson happens to be a training partner of C.B. Dollaway. Lawlor's last opponent was Dollaway, who he defeated by submission in the first round. While both Simpson and Dollaway offer similar fighting styles and have great NCAA wrestling credentials, Simpson doesn't seem to make the absent-minded mistakes of his training partner. Simpson also possesses a far more feared striking game than his training partner, having won each of his six MMA bouts via KO or TKO. That may be telling, as another Simpson training partner, Ryan Bader, knocked Lawlor out during season eight of The Ultimate Fighter. Lawlor has since dropped a weight class and won both of his fights in the UFC, but I think he will be unable to deal with Simpson's wrestling and ground and pound. Simpson via TKO, round one.
Jonathan Snowden: When I first met Tom Lawlor it was on a message board talking about the glorious sport of professional wrestling. To see him make it big, to see him entertain me and about 15 other people who recognized the Just Bleed guy without having to have it explained to them-makes me feel good. But Aaron Simpson? The guy is a monster, one of the best wrestlers in the entire sport, and the proud owner of hands of stone. Lawlor is about to get knocked out. Aaron Simpson, KO, Round 1.
Heavy.com Pick: Aaron Simpson
Welterweight bout: Amir Sadollah vs. Brad Blackburn
Spencer Kyte: Beating an old and energy-deficient Phil Baroni is one thing. Sadollah looked good in a 15 minute showcase against "The New York Bad Ass," but Blackburn isn't going to tire after two minutes and play the role of a punching bag like Baroni did. In fact, "Bad Brad" will be more Johny Hendricks than Phil Baroni. It won't be as quick, but it will be as powerful, and Blackburn will hand the former TUF winner his second loss in three fights. Blackburn by TKO Round 2.
Brett Jones: I think this fight will prove a lot about Sadollah. Blackburn, while not well known, has some solid wins under his belt both during his time in the IFL and the UFC. It's difficult to gauge Sadollah, who only has three official bouts on his record, especially against a veteran like Blackburn. Sadollah showed off his muay thai skills against Phil Baroni, but he lacked the power to put Baroni away, even when Baroni was running on fumes. The difference between Blackburn and Baroni is that Blackburn will be the better conditioned of the two. Blackburn could very well catch Sadollah early the way Hendricks did, or he could grind his way to a decision victory. Blackburn has only one loss via submission, and that occurred nearly five years ago, so it seems unlikely that Sadollah will catch him with something. I think he will be able to withstand enough of Sadollah's muay thai to eek out decision victory. Blackburn via Split Decision.
Jonathan Snowden: If you were impressed with Amir Sadollahs lackluster performance against the man who used to be Phil Baroni, you may be in for a rude awakening. What I saw was a fighter with no power and next to no cardio. Sadollah seems like a nice guy and the sport needs an ironic hipster or two. Its just that his skills dont seem to have grown like you would have expected since winning The Ultimate Fighter. Blackburn is nothing more than a journeyman, but that should be good enough to dispatch with Amir. Blackburn, KO, Round 2.
Heavy.com Pick: Brad Blackburn