Frank Mir (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC Fight Night 71 Preview and Predictions

Right around this time of year, MMA fans around the world are typically suffering from a UFC hangover. International Fight Week comes with a flurry of events, and, 2012 aside, the recent history has been for the UFC to take a long layoff following this week. However, this year is different. Not only did fans get back-to-back-to-back promotions, with Invicta and UFC putting on three total cards in just a few days, but there are no breaks going forward with five events scheduled over the next four weeks. Kicking off the grinding 27-day run is UFC Fight Night 71 on Wednesday night.

Making a short jaunt from Las Vegas to San Diego in just a few days, the Octagon will be reassembled so Frank Mir and Todd Duffee can headline a stacked card that could easily be dubbed “Relevancy.” To the casual fan, a lot of the names on the card could be considered unknown. To the hardcore fan, this card, even with no title implications and few ranked fighters, carries a lot of meaning.

Mir and Duffee are both fighters with very impressive, yet extremely different, backgrounds in the sport. Duffee has been largely on the sidelines in the last few years and Mir has a ton of miles on his chassis, so it will be interesting to see who makes the impact and where that puts him in the mix. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that neither of these two puts on a boring fight, which is fantastic news for the fans.


Other fights on the main card include Josh Thomson and Tony Ferguson vying for positions in the lightweight top 10, Marion Reneau attempting to slow down the Holly Holm hype train, and Manny Gamburyan facing Scott Jorgensen in a bantamweight showdown of former WEC vets.

This card will get started at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego at 7 p.m. ET. The action kicks off on UFC Fight Pass with two fights before moving to Fox Sports 1 for the remaining preliminary fights at 8 p.m. ET and the main card at 10 p.m. ET.

Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Dan Kuhl break down the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Heavyweights Frank Mir and Todd Duffee take the top billing on this card. One of these men has been urged to retire and the other has only fought once in the last two and a half years. Can either man emerge from this contest as a relevant member of the UFC’s heavyweight roster?

Huntemann: It’s an interesting time in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Fabricio Werdum emerged as the new king last month after he dethroned Cain Velasquez, who seemed to be a forgotten champion after a lengthy stretch of inactivity. There is no clear-cut, dominant contender to Werdum’s title at the moment.

Andrei Arlovski and Stipe Miocic are widely considered next in line. While both guys are quality fighters and put on extremely entertaining performances recently, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that if either Mir or Duffee win in emphatic fashion (as in a first-round knockout or submission), they can creep into the conversation as well.

Kuhl: The short answer? Yes.

Duffee is still only 29 years old, is still a knockout machine who has only had fights end in lights-out fashion, and he has only been out of the first round twice. Nobody really knows a lot about his ground game, but he trains at American Top Team, which houses a ton of high-level grapplers. If Duffee scores a knockout over Mir, it would open a lot of eyes. While Duffee’s layoff was a long one, he just fought in December, so ring rust will not be a factor.

With Mir ranked 10th in a division that suddenly looks wide open — and one in which nobody is ever that far away from a title shot — if this Jackson camp move proves to have long-term benefits and Mir stays emotionally committed, a couple wins could have him at least in line for a contender shot. He’s proven that he has knockout power, and he still has some of the best jiu-jitsu skills in the division. So a win over Duffee and another highly ranked guy could keep Mir relevant.

At the end of the day, Mir’s got the skills and experience and Duffee has the upside potential and a lot of time. Come Wednesday night, I’m going with Mir. Duffee’s going to throw leather, but Mir, in his second outing against Brock Lesnar, proved he can eat a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mir get this one to the ground and bring out another highlight-reel sub.

The co-headliner features borderline lightweight contenders Tony Ferguson and Josh Thomson. Ferguson has a pretty impressive 8-1 mark in the UFC and carries a five-fight winning streak into this fight. Where does a win over Thomson put Ferguson in the lightweight title mix? Can Ferguson pick up that win?

Kuhl: Honestly, I’m not sure if this match-up is a tune-up for Ferguson to gain some footing in the rankings or a hail mary to keep Thomson relevant. At the time of the Strikeforce merger, there were a handful of guys whose potential success in the UFC was in question, and Thomson was one of them. While his last two fights, both losses, ended in split decisions, he has only really put a stamp on one opponent in the last five years, which was in his UFC debut against Nate Diaz. Ferguson is a wood chipper, unlike most of Thomson’s most recent opponents who have primarily been guys who go the distance.

Ferguson was an absolute machine on his season of The Ultimate Fighter, and that momentum has carried forward through his nine-fight UFC career. He was a college wrestling champ, has three UFC “of the Night” awards, and has only been to decision five times in his pro career. Ferguson is mean as hell in the cage, and he has just as many finishes in the upper echelon of the sport as he does in the lower circuits, which is something Thomson cannot say.

Both of these guys are well-rounded fighters, but Ferguson has translated the successes of his early career into three knockouts and three submissions in the Octagon. Thomson comes from a great camp at the American Kickboxing Academy and has more experience than Ferguson, but the TUF winner is a difficult draw for a guy who has been on the bench for a year and hasn’t been very successful at finishing opponents in the last half decade. Ferguson takes this one by TKO somewhere near the midpoint of the fight.

Huntemann: I see this fight as a step down for Ferguson, frankly.

I also think it’s ludicrous that Ferguson is ranked below Thomson in the UFC’s lightweight rankings as of late last month. Thomson is as tough as they come — his fights against Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce are still talked about — but Ferguson is on an impressive streak, including back-to-back submission victories. He should definitely be ranked higher than Thomson and should be fighting a guy ranked in the lower portion of the top 10. Thomson has lost two in a row, so it boggles the mind that he’s ranked ahead of Ferguson.

If “El Cucuy” wins this fight (and I expect he will), he definitely should receive a highly ranked opponent in his next fight, with a possible title shot at stake. He should also jump Thomson in the rankings.

Marion Reneau has quickly, yet subtly, been climbing the bantamweight ladder, and yet very few people even know who she is. Only a year ago, she was making her Resurrection Fighting Alliance debut. By February, she was tapping out Jessica Andrade in her second UFC outing. Is she the one to put the first ding on Holly Holm’s record? Who wins this fight?

Huntemann: I’ll expound a little on this when responding to a question below and making my fight picks (how’s that for a teaser?). But Holm needs to step up her game big time in this fight.

I was not impressed with Holm’s UFC debut, and if she performs the same way against a savvy veteran like Reneau, Holm will quickly become an afterthought in the women’s bantamweight division.

Kuhl: My colleague is quick to jump the Reneau train, and while I like Reneau as a fighter, Holm is a world-class striker who also trains with Jackson’s MMA alongside a lot of high-level, well-rounded grapplers. On Sunday, Holm’s teammate Michelle Waterson showed what a Jackson-trained striker can do with the proper grappling technique. Holm is a far superior striker than anyone in the division. If she can lay the leather and keep the grappling defensive, she can neutralize Reneau’s attack and earn a decision.

But that’s only half the story.

Reneau is a dominant force. Her lowest-level opponent while under any kind of spotlight was Maureen Riordon a year ago, and Reneau finished the fight quickly. Her highest-level opponents have been Andrade, who she finished, and Alexis Dufresne, who she dominated. Reneau is on a roll. Those are important wins, and Holm’s wins have not really been comparable.

I know the UFC wants to see Holm do well. The company thinks it backs the best options, but Reneau is legit. This girl is not some soft, one-dimensional fighter who’s gonna fold to Holm. She’s a badass and a grinder, and I expect Reneau to pull off a crazy upset by pushing the grappling and getting Holm out of her element.

Scott Jorgensen and Manny Gamburyan clash in a bantamweight bout on the main card? Is this the last stand for Jorgensen or Gamburyan

Kuhl: Jorgensen and Gamburyan are longtime veterans of the sport, but ones who have been largely displaced in their recent careers. With the UFC’s featherweight division, which has traditionally been Manny’s home, getting more and more stacked, he wisely made the move to bantamweight, which brought him back into the win column with a submission of Cody Gibson last fall. He will have a significant size and power advantage over Jorgensen.

Jorgensen fought alongside Gamburyan back in the heyday of the WEC, but as a bantamweight. He made the move to the UFC at 135 pounds, but after a 3-3 stint, he tried his hand with the flyweights. However, after going 1-3 with the smaller guys and missing weight in his last outing, he’s going back to his old division against Gamburyan.

These guys are well-rounded, game fighters with long histories in the sport. They both have had fights end in every possible fashion, both have “of the Night” accolades, and both had unsuccessful title shots in the WEC. And, unfortunately, either one could be looking at potential walking papers with another loss. On the flip side, both are company men and exciting fighters, and the UFC tends to keep around the good entertainers even when they aren’t having much success.

Gamburyan will take this one by points, utilizing his power striking to keep Jorgensen moving back. However, I don’t believe either will get immediate walking papers with a loss.

Huntemann: It’s hard to believe that Jorgensen has been fighting with the WEC/UFC since 2008. He’s not one of the guys that comes to mind in terms of tenure in the organization. He actually went the distance with former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in a title fight when the belt was still under the WEC banner. Since that loss, Jorgensen has struggled to find himself while going 4-5.

His opponent hasn’t fared much better lately. Gamburyan has gone 3-4 since a loss to featherweight champion José Aldo when Aldo’s belt was still a WEC title. Both of these guys are entertaining fighters who like to push the pace and can put on performances that entertain the fans, but the loser of this fight could find themselves with a pink slip.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Huntemann: I’m going to go with the match-up between Holly Holm and Marion Reneau. It’s not necessarily because I think it could be the most exciting fight on the card (though it very well could be), but because I want to see if Holm will finally live up to the hype that preceded her debut.

As I said earlier, I was not impressed with Holm in her debut fight against Raquel Pennington. Holm seemed to battle nerves walking to the cage and during her fight, as she was tentative throughout and unwilling to engage with Pennington. I thought Holm lost that fight on points.

However, a convincing win over a crafty veteran like Reneau could lend more credence to the belief that Holm is a future contender within the women’s bantamweight division.

Kuhl: Sean Strickland and Igor Araujo, for sure.

These two guys are dominating forces. Both are coming off a rare loss, but they have the opportunity to rebound here. Strickland is a striker and Araujo is a grappler, which is always an interesting show. Do not miss this fight.

Pair this card with…

Kuhl: A mute button on the TV, a heavy bag and Metallica’s “…And Justice For All.” This card is all about tough-ass fighters with no titles on the line, no fancy venues and no “face of the promotion” names. It is a card full of people trying to get or stay relevant.

Huntemann: A nice glass of wine. I know, I know — wine is not the usual alcoholic beverage of choice for most MMA fans. But it’s a weeknight, and the work week still beckons for many of us the next day. So put up your feet up, relax, enjoy a nice chianti or pinot grigio (which shows you the extent of my wine knowledge) and enjoy a night of solid, if not potentially spectacular, fights. You can always DVR The Bachelorette.

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick Kuhl’s Pick
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
HW: Todd Duffee vs. Frank Mir Mir Mir
LW: Tony Ferguson vs. Josh Thomson Ferguson Ferguson
Women’s BW: Holly Holm vs. Marion Reneau Reneau Reneau
BW: Manny Gamburyan vs. Scott Jorgensen Gamburyan Gamburyan
LW: Kevin Lee vs. James Moontasri Lee Moontasri
WW: Matt Dwyer vs. Alan Jouban Jouban Jouban
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
FW: Yaotzin Meza vs. Sam Sicilia Sicilia Sicilia
Women’s BW: Jessica Andrade vs. Sarah Moras Andrade Andrade
BW: Masanori Kanehara vs. Rani Yahya Yahya Kanehara
WW: Igor Araujo vs. Sean Strickland Araujo Strickland
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
MW: Ildemar Alcantara vs. Kevin Casey Casey Alcantara
WW: Andrew Craig vs. Lyman Good Craig Craig