The team of analysts for the UFC on Fox Sports 1 and Fox broadcasts has been providing the most in-depth coverage that mixed martial arts has seen in its 20 years of existence.
With a collection of seasoned fight veterans and a handful of well-versed hosts at the helm, the people who work the pre- and post-fight shows for the UFC have consistently raised the bar.
The Dropping Knowledge series has been under way for several months now, and there have definitely been some standout performances along the way. The rotating cast from the team at Fox Sports 1 has brought the proverbial noise on a consistent basis, breaking down fight cards from Brazil to China and back to the United States.
While it is easy to praise the entire squad working the desk, the front-runner for MVP has been Brian Stann. The former WEC light heavyweight champion has brought high science to face-punching, and his work as analyst has been top-notch...perhaps even more so when he swings by this column to mix it up.
At least that's the story I'm going with because it's my column.
That said, the race for desk supremacy at Fox Sports 1 becomes all the more heated when Jon Anik comes into the equation. The former host of ESPN Live's schedule on the world scene has kept him out of the Los Angeles studios, but his work on the Fox Network cards have made him a respected voice in the fight game. The Boston native has been a bright spot in the realm of UFC commentary and continues to impress against the backdrop of a hectic schedule.
Where this series typically spotlights one of the analysts working the upcoming card, we decided to switch things up for this installment. With both Stann and Anik gunning for the top spot in the "Dropping Knowledge" rankings, the only way to figure things out was to put them side-by-side.
But rather than square off against each other, the "All-American" and Anik teamed up to lay claim to the tag team title of the Bleacher Report MMA universe.
It is also worth noting that both men were willing to test their professional mettle sans notes for this go-around.
Anik—having worked a plethora of past cards in Brazil—performed like a master of the Rosetta Stone as he cruised through the list of Brazilian fighter's names, while Stann broke down technical aspects like a Jedi Master.
This is what they had to say about UFC Fight Night 38 on Sunday.
With two heavy hitters from the analyst world, it's only fitting we kick things off with the main event, where two of the top knockout artists in the history of the light heavyweight division will step in to throw them things again. Former champions Dan Henderson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua will square off on Sunday at Fight Night 38 in a rematch of their epic battle at UFC 139 in 2011. With the first go-around being an instant classic, is there any way this fight can live up to expectations?
Jon Anik: I don't think you could possibly live up to the first fight, but what I find interesting is the stakes in this fight because I don't know if they are any lower than they were the first time. In terms of the relative levels of motivation and the hunger going in, they might be higher.
Dan Henderson is experiencing adversity like he's never seen. He's never been on a three-fight losing streak, and he's never been finished due to strikes like he was in his last fight.
This is unprecedented territory for him—and the silver lining for me—is that two of the losses on that three-fight skid were via split decision. An argument can be made that he beat Lyoto Machida in their fight, but the common threat for Henderson is that he's forever fighting the elite of the sport.
I expect a very hungry Dan Henderson, and I believe he still has the aspirations of trying to make at least one final run at that elusive Jon Jones fight that he had at one point in time.
I definitely think you are going to see a finish from one side or the other. I highly doubt this one is going to be the epic 25-minute back-and-forth we saw in their first fight. It's also worth pointing out where each man was coming into that fight in 2011. They had both been busy that year, and their fight at UFC 139 was the third for both of them. That being said, I think in terms of health and maximum output, we may see a better version of both guys on Sunday.
Brian Stann: The reason why it's going to be tough to live up to that first fight is because normally people don't take that amount of damage. They just don't. I think there was a little bit of luck and a ton of heart displayed in that first fight, and heart isn't something that has ever been in question when you are talking about Henderson and Shogun. But there is just some luck that neither of them went unconscious with the bombs they were hit with in that fight.
Simply put, they are a little bit older with a little bit more mileage on them for this fight coming up Sunday. We've finally seen Dan Henderson get knocked out. We've seen Shogun finished before as well, and it would be difficult to wager this will be five rounds the same as before.
That said, I think it's going to be absolutely brutal for as long as it lasts because these two guys just don't know how to fight any differently.
Let's stay on that topic for a moment and talk about that particular brand of fighting. Throughout their careers, both Henderson and Rua have stepped into fights looking to get after it and finish the job. This made fans excited to see them fight, and that style of action is rare to see these days. Nothing can be taken away from working a game plan to get the win, but there is something rare or special about guys who come in looking to sling leather. Of this group, you were certainly a member throughout your time inside the cage, and what is that thing within you guys that makes the fight so different?
BS: It's just something that is in our DNA. We come in there looking to get the job done, and we aren't afraid to stand in the pocket to do it. Naturally, this isn't the way every fighter handles the situations they are faced with, but there are those who just want to get in there and mix it up.
Henderson and Shogun are both fighters who are looking to finish their opponents in whatever fashion they can. Both have developed their own styles of doing this and have been very successful at it for a very long time.
One thing I find interesting about Shogun is the changes he made in his last fight against James Te Huna. He actually looked more fresh in the fight and was moving around and using a lot of footwork, which we don't usually see from him. He's usually more of a flat-footed, stand-in-front-of-you type of guy, which is one of the biggest mistakes he made in his first fight with Henderson.
If he can utilize that same footwork and a good effective jab, it could be something that completely refreshes Shogun. Guys at this level and when they are this good—so much of it is mental. When you've been doing it this long, it becomes a grind and the motivation is low. But at other times, you feel rejuvenated, and that could be the trick for Shogun.
Jon, you mentioned the stakes at play in your response, and I want to get into that a bit more. Shogun is a former UFC champion, and Henderson has racked up his share of belts in other organizations as well. Both men have been major players in the elite level of the light heavyweight fold for some time, but things have shifted, and they are on the verge of being bumped out of the upper tier for good. "Must win" is an overused term in MMA, but is there any other way to describe this situation for Henderson and Rua?
JA: The loser of this fight is going to be out of the title picture for the long term. I don't think either guy would get back to a UFC title fight with a loss in this fight on Sunday. To me, I don't know if the stakes could be any higher for these guys where winning and losing is concerned.
Shogun is a guy who has been enigmatic, and obviously his health has been an issue. He's not a guy who is going to bark from the rooftops if he's injured. We certainly admire that quality in him. But that Chael Sonnen fight for Shogun was such a low point for him, and then he comes back and looks amazing against James Te Huna. I don't know if I've ever seen a human being crumple the way Te Huna went down.
Shogun's power is still there.
I spoke to Lyoto Machida last week, and he said of everyone he's fought in the UFC, the most powerful guy who has hit him the hardest is Shogun Rua. I think that power is going to be a factor. It will be interesting to see how Henderson handles it, having just been finished due to strikes in his last outing.
Is he more susceptible to the knockout now? He will certainly have someone in the cage with him who is willing to dish it out in Shogun Rua.
I understand why Shogun is a 2-1 favorite going into this bout. I think he deserves that designation, and all signs point to him being in this spot because he asked for the fight in order to continue building his momentum he established against Te Huna.
One quick thing to add is that it's interesting having a guy who lost his last fight face someone who is coming off a win. I think it really speaks to how great their first fight was and how much sense this fight makes right now for both men as they are trying to get back into that mix at 205.
The main event is getting the lion's share of attention for this card, but the co-main event between Cezar Ferreira and C.B. Dollaway has some exciting potential in my opinion. "Mutante" has received a lot of acclaim for winning The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil and his performances since inside the Octagon, but Dollaway is a savvy veteran in his own right. With so much buzz surrounding Ferreira, do you both feel people are sleeping on Dollaway's chances in this fight?
BS: People are absolutely sleeping on him. When you break down his performance against Tim Boetsch, you see some interesting things from Dollaway. He may have lost the fight on the cards, but there was some real improvement there on his behalf.
He's made some really large steps in his striking game. The next progression from fighters with his skill set is typically a better integration of all of his tools. He's always been a good grappler and a great wrestler, but now he's become an effective striker as well.
For a large portion of that fight he outstruck Tim Boetsch. Some eye pokes factored into the scorecards and the judges' decision, but I think that's a fight he looks back on and personally feels he won. It's also a fight he looks back on and realizes how much he's grown.
He's had a lot of time in the UFC, and if you watch that fight, you will see there is a guy who is getting better. When you get to fight a guy like Cezar who has a lot of hype behind him and is legitimate, it's a huge opportunity.
If C.B. goes down to Brazil and gets a win, he immediately throws his name into a Top 10 fight with someone in his next outing. He's in a co-main event slot because he's coming off a great fight in his last showing, and these are the types of fights you want to be in.
You want to be a guy Joe Silva knows is going to deliver if he puts you on the main card. You want those fights that are going to move you up the ladder, and C.B. knows that is what he's facing here.
JA: I think people are overlooking Dollaway in this fight, and I think he's had one of the more underrated careers in the UFC. He's had a lot of decisions not go his way and look no further than his last fight against Tim Boetsch.
Here he is making his 13th appearance inside the Octagon in this fight. Dollaway is a guy who makes for a tough evening no matter who he is facing. He makes good adjustments as the fight goes on. I also think he's a very prepared. He knows who he is and fights within his skill set. More often than not he sticks to a game plan and uses the skills he has the advantage in. I think he'll lean on his wrestling in this fight or at least try to against Ferreira.
While I think Dollaway's hands have come a long way, I don't think he wants to get into any elongated exchanges with a guy as powerful and talented as Cezar "Mutante" Ferreira. Obviously, Ferreira has had expectation upon expectation placed on him since he won that inaugural season of TUF: Brazil.
It's interesting we talk about Dollaway having success and being excited about traveling to Brazil because the Brazilian fighters are eager to do the same and make it to the United States.
You always hear about guys who don't want to fight in Brazil because of the taxes or the judges, and things are the opposite for the Brazilian fighters. They are jonesing to get on an American card, and the best way for a guy like Ferreira to make that happen is to make the most of a co-main event showcase like the one he has on Sunday.
There are a few fights on the card that have potential to be good, old-fashioned dustups, and it's hard to ignore Fabio Maldonado vs. Gian Villante in that regard. The Team Nogueira fighter has built a solid reputation for coming out to swat and has the rare ability to remain dangerous despite being on the receiving end of a thorough beating. Villante is still very much in the show-and-prove phase, and how do you gentlemen see this fight going down?
JA: I don't expect either guy to be mixing in takedowns with regularity, except for maybe Villante in a defensive mode might go for a leg here and there. Villante has really impressed me. I haven't had a chance to call one of his fights yet, but he brings good volume and power and is a heavy hitter.
On the other side, there is Fabio Maldonado. So many of these guys in Brazil are fan favorites, but I don't know if any of them on this card are as universally appreciated across all the Brazilian states as Maldonado. Everywhere we go, there seems to be a huge pop from the crowd for him every time he gets in the cage.
He's one of those fighters who are more than willing to get knocked out in order to go for his, and that has resulted in a nice wave of post-fight bonuses for him. He has a very appealing style, and he really attacks that body.
You have to think Gian Villante is going to be mindful of those body shots coming. It's a huge fight, and there is a reason it is on the main card, and I think it's pretty bulletproof as far as being exciting goes. It's a big fight at 205 pounds, and we'll see which guy comes through.
BS: Training with the champ Chris Weidman and looking at Fabio's fights, it would be really difficult for me to imagine a scenario where Gian Villante sits in the gym and his coaches are telling him they want him to strike with this guy. I can't fathom a world like that where he's going to go down to Brazil and put on a slugfest when he doesn't have a ton to gain from that at this stage of his career.
I have to think at one point or another, he's going to shoot in for the takedown and attempt to exploit some of Fabio's weaknesses there. Specifically, when you are training with a guy like Weidman who is so good at mixing in his striking with his takedowns.
But I see your thought process on this is as well. Not only is Gian a good striker, but he's a striker who likes to stand right in front of you...almost to his detriment.
In his last fight with Cody Donovan, he was getting outstruck. Cody was showing a lot more variety, level changes and mixing it up with his striking combinations. But over the course of the fight, Villante actually got his range and timing down and caught Donovan with that big overhand right when Cody threw that kick.
I think this is an opportunity for Villante to pick up another win and display a more diverse skill set while still going for a finish. I think it would be a mistake to engage in a slugfest just to appease the fans. While it would definitely get the fans excited, I don't know how much it does for his career and longevity if he comes out on the wrong side of it because that gives Fabio his best chance of winning.
We've been talking about the positive situations on the card for Fight Night 38, but let's switch gears and talk about a few fighters who are potentially facing difficult waters if things don't go their way in Natal. There was a lot of hype behind Scott Jorgensen's decision to drop down to flyweight, but he came out on the business end of his debut in the weight class against a very game Zach Makovsky back in December. He has another tough opponent in Jussier Formiga on Sunday, and what is "Young Guns" facing if he can't get the job done against the Brazilian?
BS: Maybe the term "must win" is used a lot, but we are in the fight business. In times like these where there are so many cards, it may seem like an easier road, but there are so many credible camps popping up in different countries now, those roster spots are more competitive than ever before.
If you are going to lose consecutive fights and not look good out there, you are going to be gone. Jorgensen looked a little off in that last fight. Zach is a good fighter, and I think people underestimated him coming in, and he definitely got the better of Jorgensen on that night. Like I said, he looked a little off, and that weight cut is pretty serious for Jorgensen.
It's going to be pretty interesting, but he has a fight here where I think he's supposed to shine. He's supposed to become another contender in that flyweight division, and hopefully he's ready for it. Hopefully he learned some things in that last fight and that last weight cut.
JA: With Jorgensen only having one fight so far at flyweight and having made the commitment, I think the most fair thing to do would be to give him a three-fight run at 125 pounds. But in the UFC nowadays, with the roster already swollen, we may do 49 or 50 shows, but it's still tough to get guys three fights a year.
He's in a thin division and could be in trouble if he lost this fight, but I think the best recipe is for him to just win and go from there. I also feel like there aren't a ton of big names at 125 pounds, and I still think Jorgensen's name recognition gives him an advantage in this division. He puts on exciting fights, but he has an interesting challenge ahead of him in Formiga.
He's trying to go into Brazil and defeat a guy like Jussier Formiga. I think he'll rely on that striking advantage, which he doesn't always have in fights, but he'll have it here. I think he has to resist the temptation to be takedown-heavy and put Formiga on the ground because that's his world and Jussier is one of the last guys you want anywhere near your back.
Another fighter on the card who is going to be under the spotlight is Diego Brandao. The former TUF winner was on a hot streak coming into his last fight and seemed to be finally getting a push from the UFC toward breaking through into the next level of the flyweight division. Nevertheless, he missed weight terribly for the fight and then was pounded out by Dustin Poirier in the first round of their heated showdown at UFC 168. How badly does Brandao need a win, but even more so, how impressive does he need to look in doing so to return to favor?
JA: The issue of a fighter missing weight is interesting. The UFC is tolerant of a lot of things, but they have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to missing weight. You just don't want that attached to you, and I think Diego Brandao got that message in his fight with Dustin Poirier.
This is a quick turnaround for him, and it could be just what the doctor ordered. There is without question a special quality about Brandao, and he's a guy a lot of people have forecast to be a future No. 1 contender, if not a champion, in the featherweight division. That weight class is so top-heavy right now that even at 26 years old, this guy has a long way to go and needs one or two things to break his way.
This is a little bit of a showcase bout for him. Rounding out the prelims on Fox Sports is internally referred to as the main event of the prelims, and it's a big spot to have. He's fighting a guy in Will Chope who is experienced and exciting in his own right. We saw him in Singapore in sort of a "welcome to the UFC" moment against Max Holloway. He has the length to make this fight interesting and will present a unique challenge for Brandao. But there is a huge discrepancy in speed and explosiveness here, and I really think this is a showcase for Diego Brandao.
I also think he'll be aiming to hit the mark dead on 145 pounds. Never mind that one-pound tolerance because I think he's on a mission to prove he can hit weight and that he has the cardio. Hopefully the scale in Natal reflects that.
BS: Diego is a guy I trained with for years and I saw his capabilities firsthand. This is a guy I saw take it to lightweights in the gym, not just featherweights who compete in his weight class.
He's fighting against Will Chope. I called Chope's last fight, and I think it's a very favorable style matchup for Diego. But what Diego's problems have not been in the gym, but the personal side of his life. He has to find a way to cure all that, and hopefully he has with the fight coming on this weekend. Both Jorgensen and Brandao are in situations where they must win and have good showings.
They have to give the UFC a reason to continue employing them even if they lose. There is plenty of this going on in the company right now where guys have had a couple of consecutive losses, but boy, did he look good doing it, so they give him another opportunity. It's also one of those points where we as analysts, fans of the sport and fighters forget to factor in how important balance is. If we are going to be successful at anything in our lives, we need to have balance.
It's not just about what your time in the gym is like. It's about what is going on in your professional life, personal life and spiritual life—and the spiritual side can be defined by a lot of things. But what is going on with your mentality and your mind is crucial, and those three things need to be in line.
In order for you to function at your highest productivity level in life, you need to have balance.
In Diego's case, I think he learned a lesson in that last fight. He's the type of guy who really takes his career seriously and he has to get that level.
We watch fights and can tell something looks off. Then fighters come out after and say it was something they ate, an injury or something going on in their personal lives that threw them off. A lot of times there is something going on in their lives that knocked them off course, then all of a sudden, they have this resurgence. They start doing really well and often times it's because they have everything in their life firing at the right level. They've achieved a good, even keel, and they have obtained the balance in every aspect of their life to be successful.
There are a lot of interesting scenarios and fighters we've covered thus far, but whom do you both feel fans need to keep an eye on at this event? I know you guys both do extensive research heading into your analyst duties, and which fighters have you come across that you believe fans need to pay some extra attention to on Sunday?
JA: Norman Parke is the first name that comes to mind. A lot of the U.S. audience didn't necessarily see The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes season, but Kenny Florian and I were doing that finale. We watched that entire season and just came away impressed with everything Parke did from a mental and physical standpoint.
I wasn't at all surprised that success carried over into the UFC when he began his official career and believe he's one of the elite strikers in the lightweight division. He has a great ability to stick and move. He has a judo background, and his takedowns have been very good. That has been somewhat of a weapon for him because everyone seems to want to take him down because they get picked apart on the feet.
I'm a huge fan of Norman Parke and excited to see his career progress. It's tough to see Luis Santos taking him down consistently, and I think Parke can have the type of performance that puts him on the radar at 155 pounds.
Steven Siler is another guy who always makes things interesting. He's still a very young guy but has a lot of experience and wins under his belt. He has a great opportunity against a big name in Brazil in Rony Jason, who is up against it after what happened to him against Jeremy Stephens.
I really can't wait to see what Siler does against Jason, but for me, all eyes are on Norman Parke here, and I expect Northern Ireland's finest to come through.
BS: I think Cezar Ferreira is definitely one of them. When I called his last fight, I got to see some things, and this young man has the potential to be a star. But he does not have an easy fight on his hands this weekend against C.B. That is going to be a fun fight to watch and a big test for both fighters.
I've always had my eye on Rony Markes, and I don't think he's lived up to his potential. He's had some things happen in his career, but he may be able to catch fire later on.
Mairbek Taisumov is another fighter to keep an eye on. He's not Brazilian, but he trains out of Thailand and he's going to get more comfortable with every step. He fought on a Fight Pass card in Singapore I did, and he's extremely well-rounded. He's tough and has all the makings of a guy who is willing to sacrifice and do what it takes to be an elite level fighter for the UFC.
He has the potential to be a stud in that weight class. Taisumov is only going to improve, but he also had a lot of experience behind him before he got to the UFC that he can draw from going forward in his career.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.