It’s Super Bowl weekend, and that means another UFC card that hardcore fans will watch, but some more mainstream “fans” could easily miss. Two years ago, it was a juiced-up Anderson Silva against a juiced-up, albeit in a different way, Nick Diaz. Last year, it was a little more meaningful, as Stephen Thompson knocked out Johny Hendricks. This year is a little bit different. While the names might not be as big, the show actually takes place in Houston, which happens to be the home of Super Bowl 51.
This year’s event, UFC Fight Night 104, will be headlined by Dennis Bermudez, who sits at No. 9 in the featherweight division. Bermudez will face the infamous “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, who is making a much-anticipated return after a three and a half year layoff that started as a result of a shoulder injury, followed by some mandatory military service. Bermudez is looking to keep climbing the featherweight ladder, while Jung is ready to step right back into the rankings with a win over a top-10 guy.
The remainder of the main card includes a couple of strawweight battles. Alexa Grasso looks to stay undefeated over veteran Felice Herrig, and Angela Hill returns to the Octagon against Jessica Andrade, who is sitting at No. 5 in the division with two dominant strawweight performances after dropping down from bantamweight.
Before lightweights Abel Trujillo and James Vick collide after both having eight-plus months on the bench, the big men round out the main card when light heavyweight Ovince St. Preux welcomes Switzerland’s Volkan Oezdemir to the UFC, and heavyweight Anthony Hamilton takes on Marcel Fortuna after his short stint on the 23rd installment of The Ultimate Fighter.
UFC Fight Night 104 kicks off from the Toyota Center on UFC Fight Pass at 7 p.m. ET for the early prelims, followed by the remainder of the preliminary and main cards, which will air on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET and 10 p.m. ET, respectively. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Dan Kuhl are here to get you ready for the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Chan Sung Jung is returning for his first fight since 2013, when he challenged José Aldo for the featherweight crown. Will he return to contender form against opponent Dennis Bermudez?
Huntemann: Oh, “The Korean Zombie.” How we have missed thee. His fight against Dustin Poirier in 2012 is still a personal favorite of mine, and I’m sure of many other fans as well. While this will be his first fight in three and a half years, the layoff won’t affect him that much. True, the UFC’s featherweight division is among the deepest in all of MMA and it’s possible that Jung has been leapfrogged by many a fighter, but he’ll be fully rehabbed from his shoulder injury that he sustained against Aldo and his time off will have him rested and hungry to prove that he is still among the best 145-pounders in the world.
Jung has 11 finishes among his 13 total victories, and all of Bermudez’s losses have come via a finish, particularly submissions. Of Jung’s 11 finishes, eight have been submissions. Jung will likely try to take Bermudez down and end the fight early. However, we also know that Jung, like many fighters, enjoys a good slugfest. Bermudez seems like just the type of fellow to indulge such a desire.
So, who knows? We may see a good ol’ fashioned brawl that will remind us of Jung’s bout with Poirier, or we could see Jung capitalize on one of Bermudez’s weaknesses. Either way, “The Korean Zombie” will return from the dead, in a manner of speaking, and defeat Bermudez to begin his trek back to featherweight title contention.
Kuhl: If I put myself into the shoes of Bermudez, I would not be looking to “The Korean Zombie” to keep my two-decision winning streak intact, long layoff or not. Bermudez is a super game fighter who is deserving of his his top-10 ranking. However, a couple decisions over Rony Jason and Tatsuya Kawajiri, after getting dominated twice in a row, is not exactly a streak that signals title run. Furthermore, the Korean fighter was not exactly nursing an injury for the entire layoff. He was actually serving a mandatory two-year stint in his country’s military. One can likely bet he was training the entire time.
Jung has a whopping six-inch reach advantage, a history of dominance in the UFC, and a ton of pent-up aggression, which is laser-focused on revitalizing his career. Not to mention, he is only 29 years old, meaning the best is likely yet to come. Bermudez has obviously been much busier in his career, but sometimes staying busy in the fight game can actually lead to a more stale training program than a guy who has already proven his talent, but had three years to improve upon and fine-tune his craft. It’s only icing on the cake that he is still young and has a scary-good chin.
Jung takes this one by early stoppage, knocking Bermudez out of the top 10.
Undefeated strawweight Alexa Grasso is back for her sophomore outing in the Octagon. After defeating Heather Jo Clark in November, the Mexican up-and-comer has drawn Felice Herrig for this next fight. Will Herrig hand Grasso her first setback?
Kuhl: Grasso may only be in her second UFC fight, but she entered the UFC after a four-fight run in Invicta, where she put on one of the greatest performances ever against Mizuki Inoue. At only 23 years old, she has a ton of momentum and nothing to lose. Her opponent is a much different story.
I am always torn when the subject of Herrig pops up. She has a ton of experience and some nice wins on her record, but she can’t string any impressive victories together, especially when they matter. In fact, her last couple wins were pretty flat in terms of the odds, and she was able to pull off submissions over women who haven’t won very much lately. In the past, she had decision wins over women she was heavily favored to beat, and her losses were in fights where the odds were nearly even. I don’t make very many, if any, picks based on betting odds, but it’s hard to ignore her position as a +230 underdog here.
Herrig has a lot of experience, but she doesn’t have any momentum, because she’s only been fighting once per year. Sure, she tapped out Kailin Curran in her last outing, but that was in July. She hasn’t seen any cage time since. Grasso, on the other hand, had a layoff of her own with a couple injuries, but she came back, beat Jodie Esquibel by decision at Invicta FC 18, and followed that up with the win over Clark a couple months ago. She is back in the cage again, still without a ding on her record, and I really don’t think Herrig is going to slow this train down. Herrig always has the ability to pull off a submission, but she won’t out-strike the Mexican fighter in a distance battle, and it’s highly unlikely she gets a knockout.
Grasso by decision.
Huntemann: Man, my colleague takes such a bleak view of Herrig’s chances in this fight. Granted, I think Grasso wins by decision as well. However, I also think this fight will go much like Grasso’s debut fight against Clark.
Both Clark and Herrig are tough, scrappy fighters. Grasso clearly outclassed Clark in their fight, but Clark took every punch Grasso could throw and kept coming. Herrig’s last two victories have come via submission, and as we saw in her most recent submission victory over Curran, it appears that Herrig’s sabbatical away from the Octagon did her a world of good. She looked refreshed, hungry and aggressive. Herrig will press the action and try to get Grasso to the mat. Grasso has yet to win a fight by submission, so we haven’t really seen too much yet of what she can do if she gets taken down.
All that said, Grasso should still win this fight. However, don’t be surprised if Herrig makes her really earn it.
The opening fight of the main card pairs Invicta strawweight champ Angela Hill, in her return to the UFC, against Jessica Andrade, who is undefeated through her first two strawweight fights inside the Octagon. Should this be the real headliner of UFC Fight Night 104? Is the winner of this bout at (or near) the front of the line for a shot against UFC strawweight titleholder Joanna Jędrzejczyk?
Huntemann: This fight definitely merits higher placement on the main card. However, the UFC’s use of it to kick things off isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. It can be a good way to reintroduce Hill to the UFC audience, and both ladies bring an exciting style and a tendency to finish. This may just be the perfect fight to grab the fans’ interest and keep it.
This fight should serve as a de facto title eliminator. The UFC strawweight division is still among the deepest in terms of talent, but it also has probably the most dominant champion in the UFC right now. She defeated the top two contenders at strawweight — Claudia Gadelha twice, even, and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Carla Esparza is still rounding into form following shoulder surgery and fights Randa Markos later this year. Rose Namajunas lost a chance for a title shot when she was defeated by Kowalkiewicz last year. So even though there’s no shortage of strawweight talent, there is currently a dearth of viable strawweight contenders.
The winner of this fight between Hill and Andrade should be considered as a title contender, given both Hill’s rank as the reigning Invicta FC strawweight champion and Andrade’s undefeated streak since dropping to 115 pounds.
Hill benefited greatly from her time in Invicta after perhaps being pushed too hard, too soon during her initial UFC run. She faced some of the toughest fighters around in Invicta, including Livia Renata Souza and Kaline Medeiros. Both Hill and Andrade are tough, physical, aggressive fighters who want the finish. Andrade has the slight edge in both experience and in the striking game. She lands more than six significant strikes per minute and has five knockouts on her resume, including one of Jessica Penne, whom Andrade finished even quicker than Jędrzejczyk did.
This fight will go all three rounds and can definitely steal the show, but Andrade seems to have found her permanent home at strawweight and will stake her claim to a title shot with a win.
Kuhl: If Andrade was fighting a top-10 strawweight, I would definitely admit this fight should be further up the card. However, I’m still not sold Hill. She is tough. She’s still relatively young, too, and her knockouts of Alida Gray and Stephanie Eggink were definitely a nice spark after getting bounced from the UFC. She picked up a split decision by handing Souza her first loss, which was sweet, but when you look at the UFC’s top 15 strawweights, it’s tough to see where she fits in.
Andrade, on the other hand, owns her top-five spot. The Brazilian is an absolute killer, and her only losses in the last three and a half years were at bantamweight to Marion Reneau and Raquel Pennington, the latter of whom is now in title contention in a division that is 20 pounds above the strawweight division. At 115 pounds, Andrade is undefeated with two stoppages of veteran fighters with impressive records.
Hill had a great run in Invicta, but that comes to an end on Saturday night when she steps back into the UFC arena. Andrade is going to be too big of a step up, and she’ll take this fight by submission.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Huntemann: Keep an eye on the preliminary bout between Tecia Torres and Bec Rawlings.
It’s encouraging that the UFC seems to be giving the women more of a spotlight to begin 2017. This is the first fight for Torres since a tough loss to Namajunas last year, and Rawlings was unfortunately on the receiving end of a highlight-reel knockout from Paige VanZant last year.
Both ladies are particularly eager to prove themselves, and especially in the case of Torres. She’s still considered a top-10 strawweight and needs a win here to keep herself in the title mix. Rawlings is tough, gritty, and has improved her striking. You could argue that she won the first round in her fight against VanZant before receiving that devastating flying-kick knockout.
The speed and precise striking of Torres will be the key here, but all it might take from Rawlings is one punch to secure redemption.
Kuhl: I’m really looking forward to the preliminary showdown between Chas Skelly and Chris Gruetzemacher.
Both guys are vets who can win just about anywhere, and they are not afraid to stand and bang. Skelly has been with Team Takedown and, more recently, Henri Hooft’s new Combat Club, and Gruetzemacher is an old-school MMA Lab guy, so you know their both bringing in solid camps and a ton of fire to earn a spot in a stacked featherweight division.
I doubt this one goes the distance, and, despite fairly lopsided odds, I have no idea who to go with, but I’ll take Skelly using his length advantage to secure a submission — assuming he can outwrestle Gruetzemacher, which is no small order. Either way, fans will not want to miss this one.
Pair this card with…
Kuhl: I’m going to suggest taking it easy for this one. It’s Super Bowl weekend. When the Super Bowl rolls around, people get crazy, and it’s a typical amateur move to get all hyped up on Friday and Saturday night, eat terribly, get schnockered, and have a terrible Sunday morning, until biting the hair of the dog. I’m thinking more of a wine, cured meats and cheese type of evening is in store for Saturday. There are 12 fights on the card, a little bit of international flair, a good mix of men and women, and lots of commercial downtime, because it’s almost entirely on FS1. So, kick back, chill and enjoy the evening. You will feel a lot better about your decisions come Super Bowl kickoff.
Huntemann: Welp, why don’t you just steal my thunder, dude? Sigh. Since this card is in the great state of Texas, I’m going to piggyback on my colleague’s suggestion (pun intended) and do you one better. Why not enjoy some tasty Texas BBQ? It’s a pretty solid card, as far as FS1 cards go. There are names on this card that fans recognize. You probably already have some tasty snacks at the ready for the big game, right? Why not add some Texas brisket to that and watch some fights while you’re at it?
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
FW: Chan Sung Jung vs. Dennis Bermudez
Women’s StrawW: Alexa Grasso vs. Felice Herrig
LW: Abel Trujillo vs. James Vick
LHW: Ovince St. Preux vs. Volkan Oezdemir
HW: Anthony Hamilton vs. Marcel Fortuna
Women’s StrawW: Jessica Andrade vs. Angela Hill
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Adam Milstead vs. Curtis Blaydes
FW: Chas Skelly vs. Chris Gruetzemacher
BW: Ricardo Ramos vs. Michinori Tanaka
Women’s StrawW: Tecia Torres vs. Bec Rawlings
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
WW: Alex Morono vs. Niko Price
LHW: Khalil Rountree vs. Daniel Jolly
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