In featherweight action on FX ahead of the UFC 146 pay-per-view card, the young Brazilian prospect Brandao seeks his fifth consecutive victory, facing Elkins, who has won five of his last six.
Brandao, 24, a member of Greg Jackson’s team in New Mexico, submitted Dennis Bermudez at “The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale” this past December.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Brandao is an experienced veteran who earned both “Submission of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” bonuses, a total of $80,000, for his spectacular win over Bermudez.
Elkins, 28, a Duneland Vale Tudo product, is a solid wrestler coming off decision wins over international stars Tiequan Zhang and Michihiro Omigawa.
The Indiana-born grinder also owns wins over Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran and UFC veterans Gideon Ray and Duane Ludwig.
Some weaknesses in Elkins’ submission defense were exposed when he succumbed to an armbar at the hands of Charles Oliveira in August 2010. Brandao will seek a similar outcome as he overcomes Elkins’ early pressure by sinking in a fight-ending submission in the second round.
Verdict: Brandao via Submission, Round 2
Edson Barboza (10-0) vs. Jamie Varner (19-6)
One of the most dynamic prospects in the lightweight division returns to the Octagon against the returning former WEC lightweight champion Varner.
The 26-year-old Brazilian Barboza is coming off arguably the most dazzling finish of 2012, knocking Terry Etim out cold with a stunning spinning heel kick.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, the former Ring of Combat lightweight champion is one of the best muay thai specialists in the organization, battering the legs of opponents with an onslaught of painful kicks.
The 27-year-old Varner was on the verge of retirement after a decision loss to “The Ultimate Fighter” contestant Dakota Cochrane last September. However, Varner decided to give the sport another go and he went on to record finishes of Nate Jolly and Drew Fickett.
The former WEC titleholder holds a controversial win over Donald Cerrone, in addition to victories over Rob McCullough and Marcus Hicks. Additionally, Varner actually did quite well in his fight with Ben Henderson at WEC 46, utilizing his wrestling base to control the action before succumbing to a third-round guillotine choke against the current UFC champion.
The AMA Fight Club product is a well-rounded fighter with great wrestling fundamentals, but he’s completely out of his element against a striker the caliber of Barboza.
The Brazilian will carefully pick his shots, battering the legs of Varner until he finds an opening for one of his trademark strikes, which will inevitably put the former WEC champ out of his misery.
Verdict: Barboza via KO, Round 2
Jason Miller (23-8) vs. C.B. Dollaway (11-4)
After an incredibly disappointing UFC return against Michael Bisping this past December, Miller gets one more chance to live up to his expectations when he takes on “The Ultimate Fighter 7” finalist Dollaway.
A former Icon Sport and SuperBrawl champion, the 31-year-old Miller was completely outclassed by Bisping in his long awaited UFC return.
After the fight, UFC president Dana White called the performance one of the worst he has ever seen.
A member of Kings MMA and Reign Training Center, the well-travelled Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt holds notable wins over Kazushi Sakuraba, Kala Hose, Tim Kennedy, Hiromitsu Miura, Robbie Lawler, Falaniko Vitale and Denis Kang.
Miller nearly dethroned Jake Shields to win the Strikeforce middleweight title in November 2009, but he ultimately lost a decision after failing to finish a tight guillotine choke as the bell sounded in the third round.
The 28-year-old Dollaway also is in desperate need of a win as he’s coming off back-to-back stoppage setbacks against Jared Hamman and Mark Munoz.
A standout NCAA Division I wrestler based at Power MMA and Fitness, Dollaway has amassed UFC wins over Jesse Taylor, Mike Massenzio, Jay Silva, Goran Reljic and Joe Doerksen.
Both fighters are rudimentary strikers, so the fight could come down to Miller’s submission base and Dollaway’s wrestling background.
With significantly more experience and more tools at his disposal, Miller should enjoy a breakthrough performance in this fight if he can avoid fighting off his back for 15 minutes.
Dollaway will need to rely on takedowns as his primary offensive weapon and Miller’s sprawling, scrambling and counterpunching will be the order of the day. After three rounds of back-and-forth action, Miller should have his hand raised as he records his first UFC victory in a career that dates back to 2001.
Verdict: Miller via decision
Dan Hardy (23-10) vs. Duane Ludwig (21-12)
In a stylistic pairing that promises fireworks, Hardy gets another chance to erase the memory of a recent four-fight losing skid when he tangles with fellow banger Ludwig.
Hardy, 30, was thrown to the wolves after a four-fight UFC winning streak that included Akihiro Gono, Rory Markham, Marcus Davis and Mike Swick.
In a title shot against welterweight king Georges St. Pierre, Hardy was clearly outclassed by the superior wrestler over five one-sided rounds. In his subsequent appearance, Hardy was knocked out by interim titlist Carlos Condit. Losses to Anthony Johnson and Chris Lytle followed, which led to many questioning Hardy’s future on the UFC roster.
Sure enough, the British striker is back for one more fight as “The Outlaw” is matched up against the 51-fight veteran Ludwig, who also prefers to stand and trade.
Ludwig, 33, a veteran since 2000, holds the unofficial record for fastest knockout in UFC history as he finished Jonathan Goulet in just six seconds in January 2006.
The Grudge Training Center product, a former muay thai champion, is coming off a submission loss to Josh Neer this past January.
Ludwig has fought and beaten some big names in the sport, including Amir Sadollah, Yves Edwards, Genki Sudo and Jens Pulver. Meanwhile, Ludwig has dropped bouts to Jim Miller, Lyle Beerbohm, Takanori Gomi, Paul Daley, Josh Thomson, Tyson Griffin and B.J. Penn.
Ludwig’s Achilles’ heel, his submission game, has hindered his record over the years. However, his fight with Hardy will likely be a striking encounter, in which his chances of winning are substantially higher.
In terms of technical striking abilities, Ludwig has an edge over Hardy, who may be the heavier hitter of the pair.
If Ludwig can avoid a brawl and utilize his technical expertise to pick Hardy apart, he could replicate his performance against Sadollah, in which he outstruck a savvy striker.
Hardy will always threaten with his power hooks, but Ludwig’s experience and technique will come in handy as he dodges most of Hardy’s big shots, while scoring with a higher volume of strikes of his own en route to a tooth-and-nail decision win that will surely have fans on the edge of their seats.
Verdict: Ludwig via decision
Preliminary Bouts (online):
Jacob Volkmann (14-2) vs. Paul Sass (12-0)
A lightweight clash of styles highlights the Facebook broadcast of UFC 146 as the world-class wrestler Volkmann battles the submission magician Sass.
Volkmann, 31, a three-time NCAA All-American, is perfect since dropping to 155 pounds, earning five straight decisions against Ronys Torres, Paul Kelly, Antonio McKee, Danny Castillo and Efrain Escudero.
The Minnesota Martial Arts Academy representative is one of the best wrestlers in the lightweight division and he relies largely on his wrestling background to control opponents with a suffocating style.
Sass, 23, is one of the lightweight division’s brightest young prospects. Still undefeated in 12 professional fights, Sass has submitted 11 of 12 foes with his trademark triangle choke and heel hook.
The native of Liverpool, U.K., seeks his third UFC victory on Saturday night, but Volkmann will give him his toughest test to date.
Both fighters are primitive strikers who rely on their respective disciplines to emerge victorious.
Volkmann’s wrestling is truly overwhelming, while Sass’ submission prowess has set him apart from the rest of the division.
Volkmann was nearly submitted by Escudero late in their meeting this past December. Meanwhile, Sass submitted fast-rising lightweight Michael Johnson with a heel hook in three minutes last October.
With Volkmann trying to put Sass on his back, he could wind up in a heap of trouble. A single mistake is all it takes against a submission specialist. As such, look for Sass to capitalize by securing a tight submission as an exhausted Volkmann shoots in for a desperation takedown midway through the contest.
Verdict: Sass via Submission, Round 2
Kyle Kingsbury (11-3) vs. Glover Teixeira (17-2)
An exciting light heavyweight tilt is on tap as Kingsbury tries to return to his winning ways against the debuting Brazilian wrecking machine Teixeira.
The 30-year-old Kingsbury saw his four-fight winning streak snapped this past November as he dropped a decision to fan favorite Stephan Bonnar.
Anchored at the American Kickboxing Academy, Kingsbury is surrounded by world-class competitors in training, which is starting to show in his Octagon performances.
After dropping successive fights against Tony Lopez and Tom Lawlor, the San Jose native earned wins over Razak Al-Hassan, Jared Hamman, Ricardo Romero and Fabio Maldonado.
The 32-year-old Teixeira, a longtime training partner of UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell at The Pit, is coming off wins over UFC veterans Ricco Rodriguez, Marvin Eastman, Antonio Mendes and Marcio Cruz, all by way of stoppage.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is a dangerous striker, evidenced by his October 2006 knockout of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou at WEC 24, but he also threatens with an array of submissions.
Kingsbury is a skilled fighter, but Teixeira should have his number wherever the fight goes as he looks to make a statement in his long awaited UFC debut.
After failing on several takedown attempts, Kingsbury will fall victim to a heavy offensive assault from the Brazilian UFC first-timer, falling victim to a brutal knockout in the very first round.
Verdict: Teixeira via KO, Round 1
Mike Brown (25-8) vs. Daniel Pineda (17-7)
Kicking off the UFC 146 festivities is a featherweight encounter pitting the former WEC champion Brown against red-hot prospect Pineda, who seeks his third consecutive UFC victory.
Brown, 36, was widely acknowledged as the world’s premier featherweight between 2008 and 2009, that is, until he crossed paths with current torchbearer Jose Aldo, who obliterated him in the second round to claim the title.
Brown was never really the same as he was subsequently knocked out by Manny Gamburyan before dropping decisions against Diego Nunes and Rani Yahya.
The American Top Team member, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, finally rebounded last August, winning a decision against Nam Phan at UFC 133.
Brown is a seasoned wrestler with excellent submissions and top control. He will have his hands full against Pineda, who excels in similar areas.
Pineda, 26, a product of 4oz Fight Club in Houston, submitted Pat Schilling and Mackens Semerzier in the first round.
The well-rounded Texan has been on a roll since joining the UFC this past January and he seeks a trifecta against a former champion on Saturday night.
However, Brown’s wrestling and top game will be overwhelming. He will repeatedly take Pineda down and fluster him with relentless control, cruising to a hard-fought, yet one-sided decision victory.