Every time a fighter steps into the Octagon, they face a test. Some of those tests are a breeze—an easy “A.” Some provide more of a challenge. And others prove to be the equivalent of the SAT’s, providing a true assessment of the fighter’s skill level.

For three fighters riding waves of success that include only a single loss between them, the Philips Arena in Atlanta will host their equivalent of an SAT exam.

Heavyweights Travis Browne and Chad Griggs will get a chance to prove that they’re ready to graduate to the next level when they square off on the preliminary card of UFC 145. Browne enters the contest undefeated through 13 fights, including a draw against Cheick Kongo. Griggs carries an 11-1 mark coming into his Octagon debut after playing the spoiler to Strikeforce’s Bobby Lashley, Gian Villante and Valentijn Overeem. Questions surround Browne’s stamina and finishing ability following a disappointing performance, even in victory, over Rob Broughton at UFC 135. And despite Griggs’ hot streak under the Strikeforce banner, the level of competition he’s faced will pale in comparison to what the UFC throws at the mutton-chopped “Grave Digger.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Thompson, whose legendary undefeated streak spans amateur and professional kickboxing as well as his young six-fight MMA career, takes another significant step up to fight veteran Matt Brown. The match-up provides the perfect gauge of whether the “Wonderboy” can hang with the competition he is certain to face on his journey up the UFC’s welterweight ladder.

While those two bouts provide the most intriguing pairings, the tests don’t end there. Joining the aforementioned contests on the FX broadcast portion of the prelims, which kicks off at 8 p.m. ET, will be two lightweight battles. John Makdessi will look to rebound from his first career loss when he locks horns with Anthony Njokuani, and former Ultimate Fighter winners Mac Danzig and Efrain Escudero will square off.

Preceding the FX festivities, two bouts will stream live on Facebook beginning at 7 p.m ET, with featherweight Maximo Blanco meeting Marcus Brimage and welterweight Keith Wisniewski seeking his first Octagon win as he takes on newcomer Chris Clements.

This week, The MMA Corner’s Round Table has two debuting panelists, as recent staff writer additions Paige Berger and Sal DeRose join Bryan Henderson to share their opinions on all six prelim tussles.

FW: Maximo Blanco (8-3-1) vs. Marcus Brimage (4-1)

DeRose: Maximo Blanco was once at the top of the Sengoku ladder, winning five straight fights for the promotion. Blanco came over to the United States—and like most fighters who come over from Japan—struggled to get a win and was decisively beaten by Pat Healy.

Blanco won’t get an easy first fight in the featherweight division of the UFC. Marcus Brimage was a part of The Ultimate Fighter 14.

Brimage was beaten by Bryan Caraway on the show and was easily controlled by Caraway. After that though, Brimage showed in his next fight his striking skills to defeat Stephen Bass.

Blanco (Taro Irei/Sherdog)

Brimage is going to have to avoid getting too close to Blanco here and use his size and strength to plant Blanco on the mat. For Blanco, he needs to get in, use his wrestling and get the fight to the ground to work some ground-and-pound.

With that being said, I generally have a tough time picking guys making the transition to the States and Blanco will suffer his second defeat here by unanimous decision.

Berger: If Marcus Brimage can put on anywhere near as entertaining of a fight as he does an interview, this could be a fight of the night performance. However, I’d be naive to think that will actually come to fruition.

In Brimage’s Octagon debut, he won a decision over fellow TUF 14 contestant Stephen Bass. In his professional career, the American Top Team fighter, is 4-1 with his lone loss coming by submission. As many TUF fans will recall, he lost his fight in the house to Bryan Caraway by submission as well. While Brimage does have above average striking, his takedown defense and wrestling is definitely a weakness.

Maximo Blanco will be making his Octagon debut after dropping down to featherweight, and moving over to the UFC after dropping his first North American appearance to Pat Healey in Strikeforce. In order to come out victorious, Blanco will have to use his wrestling to keep the fight on the ground, and use a notable size advantage to overpower the smaller Brimage. The Venezuela native is a former King of Pancrase champion, and has only gone to decision twice in his 13-fight pro career.

With the size advantage going to Blanco, I don’t see Brimage being able to close the distance and really stand and bang. I think Blanco will land takedown after takedown, and squeeze out a decision victory.

Henderson: Like Sal, I also have a hard time choosing a long-time Japanese fighter transitioning to stateside competition.  The shift from Japan to the U.S. seems to take its toll on even the top overseas performers.  But that effect usually comes under the circumstances of the fighter doing all of his training in Japan, then travelling across the Pacific for his fight.  That shouldn’t be the case with Blanco, given his affiliation with the Greg Jackson camp.

Paige was spot on with her comments on Blanco’s wrestling giving him an advantage. Blanco’s U.S. debut loss came versus Pat Healy, a solid all-around fighter with a ton of experience.  It was also Blanco’s first bout under the tutelage of Jackson.  Brimage isn’t a savvy veteran like Healy; in fact, it’s Blanco who will hold the experience edge in this bout.  Brimage also comes in having focused on his striking.

If there’s one thing Greg Jackson is known for, it’s game-planning.  If he can keep Blanco on a certain path, this fight should play out in the Venezuelan’s favor.  Blanco has power on his feet, but he’s a wild striker who tends to throw big shots.  Brimage will display more technical striking and could pick apart Blanco on the feet.  But Blanco has been wrestling since an early age and should be able to take down Brimage at will.

I’ll echo Paige: with Jackson now at the helm of Blanco’s game plan, the former King of Pancrase will use his size advantage and wrestling to ground Brimage and control him for the decision win.

WW: Chris Clements (10-4) vs. Keith Wisniewski (28-13-1)

Berger: Keith Wisniewski and Chris Clements is the age old battle of the submission specialist versus the knockout artist. Wisniewski brings with him a 28-13-1 record into the fight, 15 of those victories by submission, and is in his second stint with the UFC. Clements, 10-4 in his pro career, has registered all of his victories by way of knockout, and will be making his first UFC appearance.

Wisniewski wears the wounds of battle (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

A 42-fight professional career would lead one to believe that Wisniewski has felt UFC success, but at age 30, this submission ace will be looking to register his first win inside the Octagon in his third try. In his first UFC bout “The Polish Connection” dropped a decision to Nick Thompson, which led to his release from the promotion and an additional four-fight losing streak. After a six-fight win streak, Wisniewski returned to the UFC late in 2011, where he was on the losing end of a doctor stoppage at the hands of Josh Neer. There is no doubt that he will be looking to avoid the knockout power of his opponent and try to take the fight to the ground in search of his 16th submission victory and first in the UFC.

Clements’ 14 professional fights have all been in smaller, regional promotions, along with a stint in the IFL, but has registered victories over former UFC notables Rich Clementi and Jonathan Goulet. Having knocked out his opponent in each of his victories there is no denying the newcomer is packing serious power, and will do everything to avoid the takedown. The Canadian is riding a four-fight win streak and will be looking to extend that win streak into the UFC.

As both fighters are looking for their first UFC win, this fight should be high tempo and action packed right from the start. Three of the four losses suffered by Clements have come by way of submission, couple that with it being his first time in the big show and I don’t see him walking away the victor in this one. Wisniewski will land the takedown and earn his first promotional victory by way of submission.

Henderson: Some prelim card fights excite me, but this isn’t one of them.  Sure, both guys will be eager to post a win and secure their further employment with Zuffa, but what really causes me to look forward to fights on this portion of the card is the potential for at least one of the fighters involved to rise through the UFC ranks.  I just don’t see that potential here.

Wisniewski has already had two shots in the Octagon, failing both times.  Meanwhile, Clements best wins have come against Rich Clementi and Jonathan Goulet, two UFC vets on the downsides of their careers.  Clements has also lost to three UFC veterans in John Alessio, Jesse Bongfeldt and Rory Markham.  None of that leads me to believe either of these guys will be around the UFC too long, even with a win in this fight.

Wisniewski does have the more impressive record, with wins over the likes of Jorge Santiago and Carlo Prater (twice).  He’s also logged a lot more cage/ring time with UFC veterans and high-level competition, including losing efforts against Shinya Aoki and Jorge Masvidal.

The one thing Clements has going for him is a striking game developed while training with Team Tompkins.  There’s no doubt he can score knockouts.  However, it seems like almost everything else is going against him in this fight.  He’ll be making his Octagon debut facing a more experienced fighter who has already been to the big show and has faced tougher competition throughout his career.

Clements (R) throws a right hand (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

I’ll side with the guy who has been here before: Wisniewski by second-round submission.

DeRose: I’m going to second Bryan’s idea that this fight is hard to get excited about. Neither guy really has a chance to become top in the division and they’re basically both fighting to make sure they’re still employed by Zuffa at the end of this.

With that said, it has been rare for the UFC to produce a boring match lately they have been on fire in that respect and bringing this classic matchup of striker versus grappler could be another good fight.

Wisniewski, being the ground fighter, will obviously try to take it to the ground where he is more comfortable and try and work out a submission or edge out a decision victory. Wisniewski lost in his last UFC bout to Josh Neer by a doctor stoppage, but has faced, and beaten, some good competition.

For Clements the fight is all about keeping it standing and landing some vicious shots to drop Wisniewski. Staying off the ground is a huge key here for Clements.

Clements has beaten some UFC competition like Jonathan Goulet and Rich Clementi. Of course though Goulet is the human knockout reel, with him always being the one getting knocked out ten ways to Sunday.

Like everyone else, I’m going to take experience and the ground fighter to take the fight. Wisniewski lands his first UFC win by decision.

LW: Mac Danzig (20-9-1) vs. Efrain Escudero (18-4)

Henderson: It’s a battle of two former TUF champs, but I could almost flip a coin to choose who wins this one.  Why?  Well, I don’t really have confidence in either man. Escudero has posted more wins lately, going 5-1 to earn his way back to the UFC, then dropping his return bout to Jacob Volkmann.  Danzig has somehow managed to remain employed by Zuffa despite at one time going on a three-fight skid.  Problem is, Danzig has managed an underwhelming 3-5 mark since taking home the TUF trophy. I don’t know what it’ll take for the UFC to part ways with Danzig, but this feels like a loser-leaves-the-UFC fight.

Danzig shows the effects of his last fight (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

I’d have to give Escudero the wrestling edge, while handing the striking advantage to Danzig, who has finished five opponents via some form of knockout.  Danzig is skilled on the ground, which leads me to think that Escudero, who also finishes the majority of his bouts by submission, might be reluctant to take this fight to the mat.

While Escudero might be reluctant to take it to the mat, I really see that as the only area where he can win this fight.  He could use his wrestling to maintain top control and work his ground-and-pound.

However, Danzig’s skills on the mat will put Escudero in danger, and that could spell the end for the TUF 8 champion.  If Escudero does opt to utilize his wrestling, Danzig will attack with submission attempts from his back and will look for sweeps.  Like I said, this is almost a coin toss for me, but I’ll say Danzig’s mat skills put him in a position to coax a tapout from Escudero.

DeRose: I’m not big on Escudero and I’m actually surprised at the run he made to get back into the UFC. I honestly thought it would never happen, but here we are and I admit I was wrong.

Escudero and Danzig is a pretty good fight. Danzig has solid ground skills that have gotten him thus far in the UFC. Danzig has had a rough trip since winning The Ultimate Fighter and will faceoff against another underachieving TUF winner.

Escudero has solid ground work as well, but last time out was beaten by a better ground fighter. Jacob Volkmann.

Escudero is getting a second shot and will most likely be leaving the UFC if he loses this fight. I don’t think Danzig will be treated the same, he is coming off of a “Fight of the Night” performance in his last fight against Matt Wiman and earned “Knockout of the Night” honors the fight before that against Joe Stevenson.

I think this fight will stay standing as both fighters pretty much neutralize the other on the ground. Unless of course one of the fighters is feeling more dominant that night and takes a risk by going to the ground.

Escudero (L) nearly finish his last fight by choke (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

I think Danzig’s edge in striking gives him the unanimous decision victory here and we’ll most likely see Escudero leaving the UFC for good this time.

Berger: Like Bryan, this one is a bit of a toss up for me, however I’m very interested to see how it plays out. I’d guess that both men are putting their job on the line in this one, and both will come out trying to impress the UFC brass.

Escudero dropped a decision to a much more talented Jacob Volkmann at UFC 141 in December. While he looked completely overmatched early in the fight, the TUF 8 vet did make things interesting in the end, which likely led to him being given a second chance. He trains with lightweight champ Ben Henderson, and has a solid ground game.

I don’t know what it is about Danzig that continues to make me put faith in him, maybe it’s because he’s been in a few fight of the night bouts, or that it seems like he’s always fighting a decent name—Clay Guida, Jim Miller, Josh Neer, Matt Wiman. He does have a knockout win over Joe Stevenson to his credit as well as 10 submission victories. If he drops this one though, I don’t see him being asked back. As Bryan said before, who knows how he’s managed to stick around this long?

While I agree with Sal that Danzig has the edge in striking, I’m going against the grain with this one and I’m going to give it to Escudero. Danzig hasn’t put up too many W’s lately and I think his confidence may be lacking. While Escudero lost his most recent fight, he went 5-1 with three submission victories in between stints in the UFC. I see Escudero with a late submission or a split decision victory.

LW: John Makdessi (9-1) vs. Anthony Njokuani (14-6)

Berger: Anthony Njokuani and John Makdessi are both knockout artists that will be looking to put on a show in Atlanta. Between the two men, they have 23 wins, 15 coming by way of knockout. With both men coming off losses, they will both have something to prove and could certainly end up garnering fight of the night honors.

Njokuani (R) delivers a kick (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Njokuani will have a noticeable five-inch height advantage which could make it hard for Makdessi to find his range, and give “the Assassin” the advantage. In his last fight, Njokuani dropped a close decision to the fast-rising Danny Castillo, however at UFC 132 he put forth what is probably his best performance to date, and put on a Muay Thai clinic on his way to defeating Andre Winner via unanimous decision. With three knockout of the night, and one fight of the night honors, there is no denying that the Nigerian-born fighter brings it every night.

A Karate black belt, Makdessi trains out of the Tristar gym with Georges St-Pierre, so there’s no doubt that he will come in prepared and with a great game plan. In his 10 professional fights, “The Bull” only has one loss, with seven of his nine victories coming by way of knockout. In his last bout, he was finished by submission ace Dennis Hallman. While losing via submission probably isn’t a huge concern with Njokuani, Makdessi has no doubt worked on both his takedown defense and jiu-jitsu since losing the for the first time.

Expect fireworks in this one, as it could end with one punch at any point in the fight. Njokuani has the experience, and probably the more well-rounded attack, although I wouldn’t count on this one ever making it to the ground. Having dropped two of three in the UFC, Njokuani will be out to prove that he has what it takes to be successful at this level and return to Vegas with a TKO victory.

DeRose: I totally feel like this could be the possible “Fight of the Night” right here. Both fighters are going to swing and swing hard.

I have to give the edge in pretty much everything to Njokuani, but only slightly. Njokuani has some slick striking skills and a will enjoy a nice advantage in size. Njokuani’s gameplan will most likely be to keep Makdessi on the outskirts and utilize the jab.

The reach difference—at least to me—is probably what separates these two from being the winner and loser. Njokuani has a seven-and-a-half-inch reach advantage while enjoying a comfortable five inches in height. It’ll be interesting to see just how off Makdessi’s timing will be.

Makdessi will try to break into the inside of Njokuani’s reach and get in as many quick punches as he can. If Makdessi can corner Njokuani against the cage he has a really good chance at beating the reach disadvantage, but he will have to be leery of the Muay Thai skills of Njokuani.

Makdessi (The MMA Corner)

All in all, I really think this is Njokuani’s fight. He lost his last time out to Danny Castillo and has currently lost two of his last three so I think he should be ready to go come Saturday night. Njokuani takes the fight by TKO somewhere in the second or third round.

Henderson: Njokuani has had a rocky Zuffa career thus far.  He hasn’t won back-to-back fights since 2009.  The good news for the 32-year-old is that he also hasn’t lost consecutive fights since 2010 losses to Shane Roller and Maciej Jewtuszko.  Given that he lost his last fight, it looks like he’s due for a win here.

Beyond the pattern of wins and losses on his record of late, there’s another thing I’ve noticed: Njokuani doesn’t just stumble upon those wins.  In his victories, he demonstrates real improvement in certain aspects.  Despite his setbacks, he has been growing into a better fighter.

Makdessi kicked off his UFC career with two win prior to his submission loss to Hallman.  He’s a solid striker, but I’m not sure we’ve really seen him tested yet.

Both of these men are strikers who will look to keep this fight standing.  I, too, see Njokuani’s reach and height advantage as one of the biggest factors in this fight, but tack on Njokuani’s continued growth as a fighter and I think that wraps up the argument for who comes out on top here.  Njokuani via knockout late in the first round.

WW: Matt Brown (13-11) vs. Stephen Thompson (6-0)

DeRose: I honestly think Stephen Thompson is a legit threat in the welterweight division and is a really nice up-and-coming prospect to watch. Thompson has lethal striking skills that could make the best strikers worried to stand with him.

Thompson (L) delivers a knockout head kick (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Last time out he made easy work of Dan Stittgen and looked like a complete animal out there finishing him with a highlight-reel head kick knockout that won him “Knockout of the Night” honors. It was a beautifully executed fake low, hit high head kick and it clearly shows how he went 63-0 in both amateur and professional kickboxing.

Brown is coming off a big win over Chris Cope after losing four of his previous five fights. Brown looked good in that fight and looked to be rejuvenated against Cope.

Unfortunately for him, Brown is stuck on the train tracks of the oncoming Thompson hype-train that is starting to pick up some steam.

If this fight stays standing or goes to the ground, I feel Thompson has the advantage and will pull out the victory. I’ll take Thompson to win the fight by knockout and then do his ninja-esque flip at the end. It’s the coolest celebration.

Henderson: I was sold on Thompson before his UFC debut, and count me among those who still see him as a promising new fighter in the UFC.  He hasn’t tasted defeat in kickboxing or MMA, and he’s developed enough of a ground game to hold his own.

Brown is a tough fighter though.  He’ll never make anyone’s top welterweights list, and he’ll never seriously contend for a title.  He’s just barely managing to hang on to a winning record.  But he’s the best type of gatekeeper to throw at Thompson.  Brown has never lost via any form of knockout, and he’s able to finish foes on the feet or in the grappling department.  His real Achilles’ heel tends to be his takedown and submission defense.  Put him in against a good wrestler or grappler, and Brown is more likely to fail.

Brown celebrates his victory (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Thompson is a world-class striker who will find himself in a war here.  I’m not quite as certain that Brown will be steamrolled by Thompson.  I’m more inclined to believe that Brown will cause Thompson to struggle somewhat.  In the end, Thompson’s striking will be enough to earn him a unanimous verdict, but we’ll really get to see what he’s made of in the process.

Berger: I’ve definitely purchased my ticket and jumped on the Stephen Thompson bandwagon. The kid is going to have a very bright future in the sport, and Matt Brown will be his first test.

As Bryan mentioned, Brown will never be a contender in the welterweight division, but he’s definitely the biggest name Thompson has faced in his MMA career. In his Octagon debut “Wonderboy” lived up to his nickname and made his name known quick within MMA circles. A lot of guys who come in labeled as one-dimensional don’t typically have the hype behind them that Thompson does, but training with guys like GSP, Rashad Evans and Nate Marquardt will round out your game pretty well.

Brown will have the experience factor in both the UFC and MMA, but while he’s the same height as his opponent, he’ll be giving up a six-inch reach advantage, with a striker at Thompson’s caliber that’s bound to end in disaster for “The Immortal.” I love the intensity with which Brown fights every time he steps foot in the Octagon, and he’ll definitely give Thompson his toughest challenge yet.

I think Thompson will add a few more passengers to his bandwagon Saturday night and show just how mortal Brown is. “Wonderboy” will take this one with a late second-round TKO.

HW: Travis Browne (12-0-1) vs. Chad Griggs (11-1)

Henderson: I suppose the UFC needed a strong fight to “headline” its preliminary card broadcast.  That can be the only reason this fight between the undefeated Browne and the scrappy Griggs lands on the preliminary portion of a pay-per-view event.

Griggs will look to continue his winning ways (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

As a relative unknown, Griggs surprised many when he defeated Bobby Lashley and followed up with wins over Gian Villante and Valentijn Overeem, all of which occurred under the Strikeforce banner.  I don’t consider the outcome of those fights to be too shocking though.  Lashley’s gas tank has never been great and Overeem’s name gave him more cred in that fight, as he tends to barely keep his head above the .500 mark.  In other words, Griggs faced competition that was likely overrated.

Browne has had some solid tests against the likes of Stefan Struve, Cheick Kongo and Rob Broughton. Although he would have lost to Kongo had it not been for a point deduction penalizing Kongo, Browne did win the other two contests.  It’s a little disturbing that he couldn’t finish Broughton, but the altitude in Denver and Broughton’s toughness as an opponent likely contributed.

This is a really intriguing match-up that I can see playing out similarly to Browne’s fight with Broughton, at least in one respect.  Browne and Griggs should be a more entertaining display, but Griggs is just as tough, if not tougher, than Broughton.  He could frustrate Browne and stretch this out into a three-round affair.

The thing is, outside of flukes like Browne’s fight with Broughton and Griggs taking two whole rounds to defeat Lashley, both of these men like to rush to their post-fight interviews; they don’t waste much time fighting.  Eight of Griggs’ wins have come in the first frame, as have seven of Browne’s victories.  If this goes beyond the first frame, I look for Griggs to test Browne’s gas tank and look for the late TKO.  But what I really expect is for someone to get rocked early.  With Griggs making his Octagon debut, I have to lean towards Browne to come out of this with the first-round TKO win.

Berger: I agree with Bryan, and I’m not quite sure why this fight is on the undercard. It will likely be more entertaining than at least a few of the main card bouts. Griggs is making his promotional debut, and Browne will be looking to climb the all-of-a-sudden stacked heavyweight ladder.

With only one loss in his professional career, and his last three fights coming under the Zuffa banner, Griggs is not one to overlook. Every professional fight “The Grave Digger” has been involved in has been finished, primarily by (T)KO. An alternate in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, Griggs will be looking to enter the UFC right where he left off in Strikeforce.

Browne is in an interesting situation. He’s undefeated in his pro career, the only “blemish” is a draw with Cheick Kongo. He’s got the size, 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, to be a real force within the division. With a win “Hapa” will likely be thrown into possible contender talk, though he will need a few more wins to be in conversation with the likes of Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez. His knockout of Stefan Struve was nothing short of awesome, and he’s definitely got some heavy hands. The thin air in Denver definitely seemed like it got to Browne, but I’d expect him to come in with a lot more fuel in the tank this time around.

Browne (R) throws a leg kick (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Overall, I second all of Bryan’s sentiments on this fight and how he sees it going down. However I don’t see Griggs being affected by his Octagon debut. That said, Griggs hasn’t really been tested in his last few fights, whereas Browne has seen the likes of Stefan Struve and Kongo. With a lot riding on the line for the Hawaiian, Browne will leave Atlanta victorious.

DeRose: I’ll third the motion that this is a main card fight on the preliminary card for Atlanta. Both fighters know how to finish their opponents and it will be a big fight for both fighters to gauge where they’re at in the heavyweight division.

I’m with everybody else with Chad Griggs, I think his competition has been lacking so far and has made a run on big names that just aren’t good fighters. The only guy I might give him—and that is a big might—is an up-and comer like Gian Villante—also because I’ll always bleed Hofstra colors having gone there.

I think Griggs brings the power to his fights and with one swing you can be on your back asking the referee “Grandma, can you make me pancakes?”

Same goes for the undefeated Travis Browne. Good fighter, brings the pain, knows how to knock you flat on your behind. Difference with him is he has beaten someone of at least noteworthy mention in Stefan Struve. I’m not saying this is a win that you get a title shot off of, but compare that to Bobby Lashley and Valentijn Overeem and you might as well call Struve a Junior dos Santos caliber victory.

Browne last fought in September and I didn’t think he looked adept to fight. Obviously the altitude had to do something, but honestly that should be something you’re prepared for.

I’ll be the lone man out here as I fear the sideburns and I think those things alone give you the mighty power of manliness and Griggs will win in his Octagon debut via knockout in the late second or third round.

Top Photo: Travis Browne (James Law/Heavy)

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