Jonathan Brookins wants to build his name at 145 pounds. | Photo: Sherdog.com
It is a question that deserves asking: where does Jonathan Brookins fit in at featherweight?
Talented and only 26 years old, Brookins appears to possess the tools required to do some damage in the UFC’s 145-pound ranks, provided “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 12 winner stays healthy and plays to his strengths -- namely, his ground game. Normally a featherweight, the prospect showed great determination as a 155-pounder in his UFC debut at “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale, weathering an early storm from heavy-handed wrestler Michael Johnson to earn a three-round decision.
Since winning the competition, however, the Floridian has competed just once, falling in a hard-fought decision to Erik Koch in his return to featherweight in September. At UFC on Fuel TV “Ellenberger vs. Sanchez” on Wednesday, Brookins will lock up with fellow grappler Vagner Rocha on the Facebook-streamed preliminary card at the Omaha Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Neb.
Can Brookins break into the win column as a UFC featherweight, or will his grappling pedigree prove insufficient against a jiu-jitsu player as skilled as Rocha? With only one loss to his credit and a wealth of potential at his fingertips, Brookins’ upcoming fight could prove pivotal in deciding where he eventually lands in a budding division of hungry challengers. He is just one reason why observers should care about the UFC on Fuel TV “Ellenberger vs. Sanchez” prelims. Here are four more:
Speaking of Brookins’ foe, featherweight could be where Rocha finds his groove.
As a grappler, the Brazilian looked strained in his two lightweight appearances; he failed to do anything of consequence against Donald Cerrone at UFC 131 and had his hands full with Cody McKenzie before the Alaskan’s guillotine-heavy submission attack granted Rocha top position and led to a rear-naked choke finish at UFC Fight Night 25.
Theoretically, dropping 10 pounds should make the game easier for Rocha in the areas he needs: wrestling opponents to the mat and absorbing punishment. While it is by no means a guarantee, if Rocha has a good weight cut and comes out to fight, his submission skills could make for an interesting addition to the UFC’s 145-pound flock.
Fans may not know their names, but Sean Loeffler and Buddy Roberts could surprise as Octagon rookies. There is something exciting about sitting down to watch two guys who have stopped 33 of their combined 36 defeated opponents.
If that 92-percent kill rate does not pique your interest, consider that both men are 29 and could be receiving their first and last shot at making an impression on the big stage. Can you sense violence on the horizon?
As a recent signee, Anton Kuivanen holds the distinction of being the only Finnish fighter in the UFC. Entering the ultra-deep waters of the lightweight pool, the 27-year old is just a part of what will likely become a steady influx of Nordic talent into the Octagon.
Joining the likes of Martin Kampmann, Alexander Gustafsson and John-Olav Einemo, Kuivanen could prove himself a valuable commodity in nurturing one of the UFC’s growing fan bases, if he can get by Justin Salas. That is no easy task. With wins in his last two outings over UFC veteran Robert Emerson and the previously unbeaten Joe Ellenberger, one can bet that Salas will come to win.
This meeting of well-rounded UFC newcomers should prove to be both an entertaining endeavor for observers and a telling barometer for Kuivanen’s current skill level and potential.
‘Dirty Bird,’ Meet ‘Trekko’
Tim Means’ lightweight contest with Bernardo Magalhaes will also likely provide for an interesting clash of styles.
The lightweight champion of Australia’s Cage Fighting Championship, Magalhaes has used his Brazilian jiu-jitsu base to out-position his opponents, earning nine of his 11 career wins by decision. By contrast, Means has finished 15 of his 16 victims, going the distance just once in nearly eight years as a professional.
Means was originally slated to face undefeated prospect Yoislandy Izquierdo, but Magalhaes stepped in on short notice after Izquierdo’s debut was delayed. Will Magalhaes be able to neutralize and control “The Dirty Bird,” or will the American run through his replacement opponent and carve another notch in his belt?