Were you to face death by torture … would you choose the tediously protracted asphyxiation of the dunking stool or, rather, opt for the quicker and more direct route of parting with a random limb by being drawn and quartered?
Somehow, those metaphors relate to the welterweight bout between Mike Pierce (17-5) and Rousimar Palhares (17-5) at UFC Fight Night 29: Shields vs. Maia from Brazil. At least, I think they might. Let’s put it this way, using more realistic certainties (kind of): two devices of sinister design will enter the Octagon on Wednesday night. The first — a modern day Cro-Magnon who’s genetically programmed to scoop mortal beings into his malevolent embrace, as if they were wee babes, and club them senseless for some unfathomably drawn out period of time. The second — a perplexing instrument of chaos who sprang from the womb with a natural affinity for contorting appendages beyond their capacity, like some sadistic clown shaping balloon animals out of fully matured athletes with the sincere intention of amusing onlookers.
Though starkly divergent in style and intent, both, being nearly as wide as they are tall, are exceptionally strong and talented athletes, and represent a perilous challenge for any 170-pound mammal on terra firma.
Team Quest’s Mike Pierce cemented his top-level prowess in razor-thin and contentious losses to perennial contenders Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck. Yet, for some odd reason, despite admirably engaging the division’s elite to decisions that could’ve gone either way, Pierce doesn’t seem to be unanimously recognized as elite himself. Which, I guess, is just one of those weird phenomena in life that you don’t understand but just inevitably accept the reality of, like the stock market or those expanding and contracting garden hoses you see on infomercials.
Pierce, if nothing else, is heartily consistent and durable. “Toquinho,” on the other hand, has undergone two significant changes: after back-to-back TKO defeats (Alan Belcher, Hector Lombard), the 33-year-old has moved on from the middleweight division and his longtime association with Brazilian Top Team in order set up shop with Team Nogueira and assail the welterweight class.
Palhares unfurls a wild assembly of offense. In general terms, he endeavors to impose his scathing submission acumen by closing the gap and seeking out takedowns. Not uncommonly, however, his violent outbursts involve an acrobatic dive toward the closest available limb as a means to implement his grappling. This highly unorthodox and balls-out approach has rendered both his most memorable wins and disappointing losses.
The Brazilian marauder has also rolled out some surprises in his career, such as the shockingly effective high kick he uncorked on Dan Miller at UFC 134, the worthiness of which was drowned out by the WTF-ness that ensued shortly after. After folding Miller with the kick and flurrying with punches, Palhares disengaged and straddled the fence to celebrate even though the fight hadn’t been stopped … which is somewhat of an important detail to overlook.
That unusual calamity epitomizes the unpredictable aura of Palhares. You can never be sure what you’re going to get with a Rousimar Palhares fight, but it’s all the more reason to tune in.
That, in itself, is the perma-X-factor. New unknowns include the potential of adverse effects from his virgin run at 170-pounds, especially considering that Palhares didn’t appear to be carrying any excess weight at 185. And it’s yet to be seen if the move to Team Nogueira will foster any dramatic alterations to his typical conduct.
There’s no reason to assume we’ll see a different Mike Pierce. He’ll take the center of the cage and work his hands from outside until the opportunity to shrink the gap arises, then barge into contact range and assume bash-and-maul mode. Pierce is a complex animal in the clinch, having the ability to cycle between a battle for wrist control, steering his opponent onto the cage, dropping levels for takedowns or mashing his foe up with short elbows and knees. And this ever-changing pressure and stifling control will be drenched on his opponent relentlessly from bell to bell.
This clash of styles could unfold in different ways: it could mean Pierce is tailor-made to keep Palhares out of position and altogether unable from threatening with submissions, as he did against submission specialist Carlos Eduardo Rocha, or it could mean that Pierce will solve the one issue Palhares always struggles with, which is getting into contact range. Pierce’s constant forward movement and willingness to connect may play out as an advantage for Palhares, who won’t have to somersault across the cage in pursuit of leg locks with such a large target barreling at him.
Overall, the chess match of distance and range should dictate the encounter. Palhares, who’s not a terrible striker, will still be hard-pressed to out-duel Pierce on the feet, and the likelihood of putting such a beefy wrestler on his back is unlikely. That leaves something unorthodox and dramatic, be it another head kick out of nowhere or a classic go-for-broke performance from Palhares consisting of something we’ll all be buzzing about the day after.
This is the type of match that can end in one electric scramble or with one teeny-tiny mistake from Pierce. The betting odds seem in tune with this, as Pierce’s suffocating control, clinch warfare and submission defense pose a horrendous match up for Palhares. Of course, Palhares and his voracious submission grappling have overcome similar odds in the past ….
My Prediction: Mike Pierce by TKO.
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