Aaron Simpson (top): Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Bookmakers do not offer betting lines on predicting “Fight of the Night,” but if they did, the UFC 123 “Rampage vs. Machida” prelims would have some alluring choices on Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Brian Foster-Matt Brown is a lock to be exciting; ditto for Tyson Griffin-Nik Lentz. Meanwhile, Karo Parisyan-Dennis Hallman pits two talented veterans against one another in a must-win crossroads match. Throw in two newcomers in Edson Mendes Barboza Jr. and Mike Lullo, and you have a set of fights that would make Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn proud.
Let us get to the picks.
Aaron Simpson vs. Mark Munoz
The Matchup: With two elite college wrestlers colliding, fans know this one figures to provide stirring theater. The psychological aspect in a wrestler-versus-wrestler match brings with it all sorts of subplots -- namely, answering the question as to who is the better wrestler. Think Mark Coleman-Dan Severn, Randy Couture-Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes-Frank Trigg.
Simpson has looked like a solid UFC-caliber middleweight, despite the fact that he only has eight professional fights under his belt. In a close decision win against Tom Lawlor, Simpson showed the kind of resilience and striking ability rarely seen in most former collegiate wrestling standouts at this phase in their careers. Against Chris Leben at “The Ultimate Fighter 11” Finale, he did well early on, only to fall prey to “The Crippler” and his trademark hailstorm of blows, which usually fly when he looks to be dead on his feet.
Munoz has rebounded from a brutal promotional debut against Matt Hamill at UFC 96, soldiering his way down to the 185-pound division. He put together a streak of three consecutive wins until he ran into the human roadblock that goes by the name of Yushin Okami. Munoz’s striking is developing, and his ground-and-pound is top-notch. Ask Ryan Jensen and Kendall Grove. However, Munoz still has issues on his feet and has been quite hittable throughout his career.
The key for Munoz against Simpson will be using his hands to set up the takedown. He will occasionally try for follow-up shots when opponents stuff his first one simply because he is such an accomplished wrestler that he can get away with it. Check his first fight in the WEC with Chuck Grigsby in which Munoz simply willed himself to a takedown after failing on his first try. Munoz will probably not go this route out of respect for Simpson’s skills, at least not early.
Simpson has a stout right hand and decent footwork, so it becomes even more critical that Munoz set up a solid shot. Munoz tends to switch back and forth between southpaw and conventional stances, which could be a clue to his tactics. Takedowns are easier from the southpaw position, as the opponent’s leg rests half a step closer, but it works both ways.
The Pick: Simpson and Munoz should provide an exciting fight, and I believe Munoz answers some questions and grinds out a third-round stoppage via ground-and-pound. It will not be pretty or easy, but it has always been fun to watch two great wrestlers go at it.