Commentary

UFC Fight Night 24 main card preview

Updated: March 23, 2011, 1:28 PM ET
By Jason Probst | Sherdog.com

Phil DavisDave Mandel/Sherdog.comPhil Davis' wrestling is beyond reproach, but can his improving stand-up carry him to another level?

UFC Fight Night 24 unfolds Saturday at Key Arena in Seattle, with Phil Davis and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira meeting in a compelling main event.

Davis, a one-time NCAA wrestling champion, will take on savvy veteran Nogueira in a bout that has added relevance in the 205-pound division, given Jon Jones' title-winning performance at UFC 128. Like Jones, Davis has exceptional talents wrapped around a great wrestling base. Nogueira poses a tough test, though, and doesn't figure to be taken easily.

In the co-headliner, sluggers Anthony Johnson and Dan Hardy will square off in what promises to be an exciting fight at 170 pounds.

Phil Davis versus Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

The matchup: This bout may be another litmus test to determine whether a new breed of fighters is indeed taking over MMA. Nogueira has been a top light heavyweight for years, and the emergence of Davis (8-0) has been equal parts compelling and impressive. Davis' grappling prowess has carried him to success, but he is clearly adding elements to his game by showing steady improvement in his stand-up and submissions.

Nogueira is a battle-tested veteran with a solid chin and an iron will. His submission game, particularly from the guard, is dangerous. The Brazilian also has clever counters and punches from a southpaw stance, through which he will try to make the unpredictable Davis pay for mistakes. Davis probably will want to test out his stand-up before taking it to the mat, and it's on the feet where he will win or lose the fight. If Davis' stand-up has evolved to the point he can land effectively and stay even, it will open up clinches and explosive takedown shots.

On the ground, Davis will have to strike a balance between scoring points and opening himself up to Nogueira's slick sweeps and submission attempts. Nog is used to being outwrestled. Like his twin brother, Antonio Rodrigo, he has made a career out of using great jiu-jitsu and patience to pick apart foes. Still, Davis, a rising talent with huge upside, is a tough match for him.

The advantage for Davis is that he can kill time to pace himself, because Nogueira isn't likely to take him down and generally likes to play a counter game on the feet.

The pick: Davis may need to escape some bad positions and could get his chin checked a time or two, but his conditioning should hold up in a tense, back-and-forth bout. He holds off Nogueira down the stretch for a close decision win.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
Dave Mandel for Sherdog.comAnthony Johnson's size and power at welterweight are huge advantages against slugger Dan Hardy.

Anthony Johnson versus Dan Hardy

The matchup: There are matches that promise anything but fireworks, and then there are fights like this one, for which the violence quotient figures to jump off the charts.

Johnson is a ridiculously outsized welterweight who walks around well-muscled at 210 or more pounds. He is larger and usually stronger than his opponents, but the weight cut can be hazardous. Johnson is vulnerable to being gassed by those who can outwrestle him, as Josh Koscheck did at UFC 106.

Johnson's size and numbing power make him a handful for anyone crazy enough to take him on standing, and Hardy is exactly the kind of guy who will try to do so. The Brit loves to trade shots and doesn't have the wrestling chops to reliably take down Johnson.

Johnson's range and ability to drive home powerful shots, particularly in combinations, mean Hardy will have to close the distance to land his punches. That's a tough task. Johnson's days as a welterweight are numbered because he's simply too big to keep making 170 pounds for long, but this matchup is perfect for him. Hardy will come right at him, which is pretty much the equivalent of throwing fastballs at a cleanup hitter.

The pick: Look for Johnson to set the tone early with big 1-2s and for Hardy to fire back. Johnson has a strong chin and will simply keep pressing, dropping bombs en route to a savage second-round knockout.

Amir Sadollah versus DaMarques Johnson

The matchup: Sadollah is difficult to beat for those who can't outmuscle him, and Johnson isn't the type to do so. Sadollah's smooth stand-up and thinking man's approach are a stylistic departure from most fighters. He doesn't exhibit a lot of menace or swagger; he just gets the job done with clean technique and good decisions.

[+] EnlargeAmir Sadollah
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comThere isn't much hype or bluster to Amir Sadollah, but he's almost clinically calculating and efficient.

Johnson figures to try to keep the fight standing, as Sadollah's two submission wins over C.B. Dollaway showed how dangerous he can be from his back. Johnson has decent stand-up, but it can't match that of Sadollah, who delivers good kicks and crisp Muay Thai combinations straight out of a textbook. Sadollah is also strong in the clinch and should be able to operate effectively from there.

The pick: Look for a good stand-up battle, as Sadollah wears down Johnson en route to a second-round knockout.

Leonard Garcia versus Chan Sung Jung

The matchup: Can the rematch live up to the expectations of their epic first bout at WEC 48, a 15-minute, wall-to-wall brawl? Given Garcia's style, he will certainly do his best to ensure that it does.

Jung, a replacement for Nam Phan, who lost a controversial decision to Garcia in their first bout, relocated to train with Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male for a month, which can only help his overall game. The key question is whether he decides to stand and bomb with the lively Garcia or force a ground fight, in which he can win rounds and a decision.

Garcia has made a name for himself in epic wars, despite often abandoning his technique and heaving wild shots at times when straight ones would be more effective. He fights on heart and pluck, with great conditioning to boot. There is also the accompanying perception that he has taken decisions he didn't deserve; the win over Phan at "The Ultimate Fighter 12" finale in December stirred serious controversy among fans, and his nod on the judges' cards in the first Jung bout was a close one, too.

Look for a good back-and-forth fight, but it remains to be seen whether Garcia can be controlled on the ground. He is tough to keep down at featherweight. Jung has an exciting style and is too much of a brawler to change it. He can't help but fire back when he gets tagged.

The pick: Garcia by close decision -- again.

Jason Probst is a contributor to Sherdog.com.