How will Sergio Pettis respond to his first brush with adversity? | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The city of Albuquerque, N.M., has long been synonymous with mixed martial arts due to the work of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. Fighters come from all over the world to train at their renowned gym, which has produced some of the sport’s most outstanding talent.
It will finally host its first Ultimate Fighting Championship event on Saturday, when UFC Fight Night “Henderson vs. Khabilov” takes place at Tingley Coliseum and airs live on Fox Sports 1. Topping the lineup will be a pivotal lightweight duel between former champion Benson Henderson and Jackson-Wink MMA rep Rustam Khabilov.
Before those elite 155-pounders throw down, however, the preliminary card promises to impress with several intriguing matchups of its own. Here are five reasons to watch the UFC Fight Night “Henderson vs. Khabilov” prelims:
‘PHENOM’ ON THE REBOUND
I said before Sergio Pettis met Alex Caceres that people should not count out “Bruce Leeroy” in that matchup, and sure enough, Caceres came through late in the fight to pull off the upset.
While it is oftentimes a bummer to watch a young fighter experience his first lost, time has proven that defeat often prompts a competitor to come back with a vengeance. I feel quite confident that this will be the case with the younger of the Pettis brothers.
Pettis’ potential is massive, and he already possesses elite striking skills, though he has shown a tendency to take punishment from time to time. Some of this due to the prospect wearing contact lenses, which would apparently often pop out when he absorbed impact. Pettis reportedly used the “Fight of the Night” bonus money he received in defeat to undergo corrective eye surgery -- a measure that previously yielded excellent results for his older brother, UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
The 20-year-old is guided by Duke Roufus, one of the most respected coaches in the sport. Roufus and Pettis will no doubt look at the mistakes made in his clash with Caceres, and if the evolution of the UFC lightweight champ is any indication, the younger Pettis should be just fine moving forward. While I still think Pettis is a tad undersized to be competing with some of the bigger men at 135 pounds, I am also excited to see how the prospect will bounce back as a bantamweight before we start talking about a return to 125 pounds.
Currently standing in Pettis’ path is Yaotzin Meza, a 29-fight pro who dropped a unanimous decision to Pettis’ teammate, Chico Camus, in January. Can Pettis rebound from his first setback or will Meza even his record against the Roufusport camp?
‘YOUNG GUNS’ ON THE RUN
It feels weird to type those words, but the fact is that the last two years have not been particularly kind to the former World Extreme Cagefighting title contender. After all, Jorgensen has lost three straight fights and five of his last six.
Big things were expected of Jorgensen when he made the move to flyweight, but he is still looking for that first victory at 125 pounds. The 31-year-old first came up short against former Bellator MMA bantamweight king Zach Makovsky, and he was then submitted by ex-Tachi Palace Fights ruler Jussier da Silva. Both of those fighters are absolute world-class talents, as are the other men who have bested Jorgensen in this stretch: Urijah Faber, Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland. Even so, dropping four straight fights would not be a good look for Jorgensen or anyone else, regardless of the level of competition.
Jorgensen will now square off with Alliance MMA rep Danny Martinez, who looks to rebound from a decision loss to Chris Cariaso in his Octagon debut. Can Jorgensen halt his skid at “The Gremlin’s” expense?
BENOIST VS. BOBBY
Injuries have kept Lance Benoist sidelined since September 2012, but he will return to action against Strikeforce veteran Bobby Voelker.
Put simply, Benoist and Voelker are tailor-made to beat the tar out of each other, and both of these men can take a great licking. Benoist is well-rounded and aggressive, both with his hands and his submissions. Voelker is known primarily for his toughness but can also string together his punches nicely if his opponent gives him the opportunity. Benoist and Voelker own the vast majority of their wins by either knockout or submission, and neither is finished easily. Benoist has yet to be stopped in eight pro bouts, while Voelker has seen his night cut short just four times in 35 career outings.
Consecutive defeats will follow both fighters into the Octagon. Which of them will stop the bleeding?
CUMMINS’ SECOND STAB
Patrick Cummins is excited to have a full training camp at his back, and I am excited to see what he does with it.
With just four pro bouts to his credit, Cummins grabbed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in February, when he stepped up on short notice to face former wrestling partner and rival Daniel Cormier.
Cummins said all the right stuff and really promoted the heck out of that fight, even going so far as to reveal that he had once made Cormier cry during a U.S. national wrestling practice. Unfortunately for Cummins, he was no match for “DC” once they stepped into the cage, and the man with far more fight experience walked away with a 79-second technical knockout.
Now, “Durkin” will return to the Octagon against Legacy Fighting Championship alumnus Roger Narvaez, who replaces an injured Francimar Barroso. Cummins should be the far better athlete and wrestler on fight night. Will the former Penn State Nittany Lion make a statement and prove he belongs in the UFC light heavyweight division?
How will Jon Tuck respond to his first career defeat? That question will be answered when the Guam native collides with the unorthodox Yosdenis Cedeno.
Though Tuck was bounced from “The Ultimate Fighter 15” by Al Iaquinta in the elimination round, “Super Saiyan” eventually signed with the UFC anyway, scoring a unanimous decision victory over Tiequan Zhang in November 2012. Injuries then kept the UFC’s first Chamorro talent sidelined for nearly a year, and when Tuck returned to the Octagon, he was bested by Norman Parke in a competitive striking battle at UFC Fight Night “Machida vs. Munoz.” Tuck threatened the Northern Irishman with his punching power in that bout, but Parke ultimately proved to be the crisper kickboxer en route to earning a unanimous decision over his hard-swinging opponent.
Now, Tuck will step back into the cage to face Cedeno, who saw a six-fight winning streak snapped by Ernest Chavez in his UFC debut. Can “Super Saiyan” get back on track or will Cedeno hand him a second straight loss?