This saturday sees the UFC’s first foray into the Middle East and the first ever outdoor UFC show with UFC 112: Invincible being beamed live from Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi already has a connection with MMA as it is home of the prestigous ADCC grappling tournament, which is one of the premier events in the grappling calendar (and one of the best paying tournaments for winners!). There are many potential problems with this show and the solutions aren’t really clear:
1: It’s outdoors, sure it probably won’t rain but what if it’s windy? It’s a pretty sandy place and sand in the eye is no fun for anyone, least of all a guy who is trying to avoid getting punched in the head!
2: Due to the time difference and the location the UFC will be taking a fair hit on profits for this one. They won’t get the same gate as they would in say, Vegas and the broadcast time is 1pm american Eastern time as opposed to the normal 10pm. This may hit their PPV audience pretty hard.
3: A minor problem given the 2 above but what of “the octagon girls”. Abu Dhabi is a muslim state with strict decency laws. Im pretty sure skimpy bikinis showing too much cleavage and tight shorts are a no-no on women out there. So will this be the first UFC without girls who have to concentrate really hard on holding a card with a number on in the air and walk in a circle at the same time? No real loss for me as I think they are pretty pointless anyway. Would be quite funny if they had to do “the walk” in bhurkas though!!
This card is pretty stacked, despite all these things. Two title fights on ANY UFC card is pretty huge right now, especially given the distinct lack of decent title fights we had throughout a large part of 2009 and early 2010. This right on the heels of 2 title fights last time out (well one and a half) means fans are finally getting to see the UFC big-guns in action. We are also treated to a trip down memory lane with the 3rd billed fight: Matt Hughes squares off against another Gracie in Renzo’s first UFC appearance. Both fighters are legends in their own right and it’s fair to say both have seen better days, but this is still a fight that provokes great fan interest. The British contingent is also well represented with Terry Etim, Paul Kelly and Paul Taylor (all Lightweight), Nick Osipczak (Welterweight) and Mustapha al Turk (heavyweight) all making appearances.
As ever then, it’s onto how i see the fights going……………..
Jon Madsen 4-0-0 vs. Mostapha Al-Turk 6-5-0 – Heavyweight
Al-Turk hasn’t had a kind run of opponents in his UFC career thus far and the results have shown that. Whilst his striking isn’t actually as terrible as his recent appearances would have you believe, he has been brutally exposed by stand-up predators like Cro-Cop and Kongo. This could be the fight that turns his luckless run around as he faces off against TUF alumni Madsen. Al-Turk has the far better grappling credentials, himself a European ADCC winner, but training out of Matt Hughes HIT squad gym, one could argue the case for Madsen having a wrestling edge. Al-Turk is no slouch there and this could come down to who gets top control if this fight hits the ground. I actually expect Al-Turk will want this standing for a bit and will look to use his boxing skills to pick Madsen off on the feet. Being stuck underneath Madsen could be bad for Al-Turk, but equally it is not a position Madsen wants to be in as Al-Turk does have great top-control (ask Gary Turner!!). In what could possibly be his last moment to shine in the UFC I’m hoping the brit can take the “W”. Look for Mus to use his boxing early on, take the clinch against the fence and once Madsen is on his back it’s all over. Of course it could go horribly wrong for Mus again but I’m hoping he can stay in the UFC a while longer. Whilst he is never going to be a title contender, it’s good to see a brit repping in the HW division. Al-Turk T/KO rd 1.
Paul Kelly9-2-0 vs. Matt Veach 11-1-0 – Lightweight
Wolfslair product Paul Kelly will be looking to get back to winning ways after a patchy run in the UFC thus far. Always game for a ruck, he gives 100% in the octagon and has shown that from his very first fight in the organisation: His fight of the night against fellow brit Paul Taylor at UFC 80. He then lost to Marcus Davis and won a hard fought decision against Troy Mandaloniz before dropping to lightweight and beating Roli Delgado with another decision. Last time out he was on the wrong end of a viscious spinning back kick from Denis Siver that earned Ko of the night for the German. This time, he faces off against heavy handed wrestler Matt Veach, another product of Matt Hughes’ HIT squad gym. Veach has only appeared in the UFC twice, getting to the big show on the back of a 10 fight undefeated run that saw him score 6 sub and 3 TKO wins with only one by decision. His last fight was a loss to Frankie Edgar, after a surprisingly game performance which earned fight of the night honours. Veach showed his wrestling prowess in that fight with some big takedowns and slams and Kelly is going to have his work cut out in this one. Unfortunately I think Veach edges Kelly in all areas and it is only going to be the grit and tenacity of the brit that keeps him in the game in this one. He could make it the distance but if he does it will be on the back of a very one-sided affair. As much as I hate to bet against a brit, I have to take Veach on this one by being just a little bit better at everything Kelly can do. Veach decision
Brad Blackburn 15-10-1 vs. DaMarques Johnson 10-7-0 – Welterweight
TUF 9 welterweight contender Johnson faces off against striking machine Brad Blackburn in a striker vs grappler clash. Johnsons ground game is his biggest asset in this fight but in 27 fights Blackburn has only been submitted once. I think you probably get where I am about to go with this prediction. 7 of Blackburns 10 losses have been by decision so this is a guy who is damn hard to finish. If Johnson can get a hold of something then he may have a chance to tweak on a submission but he has to get past Blackburns fists, feet and knees first and herein lies the problem. Johnson isn’t averse to the idea of staying inside and taking shots to get what he wants, but against Blackburn this is a horrible plan and he is going to get very well acquainted with Brads knuckles in this fight. Blackburn T/KO rd1
Rick Story 9-3-0 vs. Nick Osipczak 5-0-0 – Welterweight
Slick Nick is the third brit to step into the open-air octagon on fight night and this is a tough, tough fight for him. Story, although beaten by another Brit – future WW contender John Hathaway – in his 1st ufc outing, is a beast. Nick will be at a serious size disadvantage on fight night and although he is a very capable striker and a cerebral fighter, will he have the answers to the questions Story will pose for him? He was widely touted as the underdog in his fight against Matt Riddle (another wrestling standout) and he was able to control that fight and finally win a TKO victory in the 3rd, so to write Osipczak off would be foolish. He has a pretty complete game, fluid stand-up and decent grappling. Wrestling is one area where a lot of brits don’t do so well compared to the American fighters, but this is no doubt an area he has worked on extensively with his rough house teammates. Osipczaks ability to out-think his opponents comes to the fore in this fight and he will no doubt have been studying a lot of tape on Story. Trying to out-power the American will be futile and so he has to make this fight go his way by relying on a sound game-plan and not getting drawn into a brawl. Although relatively inexperienced in comparison to Story, Osipczak continues to develop and impress as a fighter and this makes him decent upset pick for me. Osipczak Decision
Phil Davis 5-0-0 vs. Alexander Gustafsson 9-0-0 – Light Heavyweight
Another Light-Heavyweight Uber-wrestler, Phil Davis is going to do big things in this division. He is somewhat unusual in that he is a collegiate wrestling star but also has surprisingly good BJJ skills (he won the no-gi World jiujitsu championships last year in the super-heavyweight division). This makes him a very dangerous fighter. Couple that with his explosive power and you have a big prospect in the making for the future. Gustafsson comes into this fight on the back of a perfect 9-0-0 record which includes many a KO’d opponent. He blitzed Jared Hamman in his UFC debut and on the feet is more than a match for Davis. That being said Davis’ wrestling credentials and ability should mean he can pretty much nullify the stand-up threat that the swedish fighter presents and once this hits the mat it is going to be all Davis. Davis ran riot against former WEC champion Brian Stann, himself a mean striker. This pretty much sets the blue-print for how Davis will beat Gustafsson. I don’t see this one going to a decision though! Davis TKO round 3
John Gunderson 22-7-0 vs. Paul Taylor10-5-1 (1 NC) – Lightweight
Three time fight of the night winner Paul Taylor makes his lightweight debut against Ken Shamrock prodigy Gunderson. Taylor is a former world kickboxing champion and now fights out of the up-and-coming Kaobon Gym with Terry Etim. It will be interesting to see how the new division and new gym have changed Taylor as a fighter. Gunderson, now training out of Xtreme Couture, has 15 of his 22 career wins by submission and has never been knocked out. Both men are coming off decision losses and will have a point to prove in this fight. With Taylors stand-up pedigree, Gunderson is badly outmatched on the feet. Although Taylor isn’t a devastating striker in terms of his power, he moves well on his feet and strings combinations together nicely. Taylor will look to push the pace in the fight and will be determined to stay off his back where he is probably at his most vulnerable against Gunderson. Taylor has been in with a much better class of opponent that Gunderson and has far more “big show” experience than his opponent and these could all be telling factors come fight night. Expect Taylor to chalk up another “W” for the brits in this one and although he is probably not knocking on the door of the lightweight elite like his training partner Etim just yet, he will certainly find a place in the LW division. Taylor decision
Terry Etim 14-2-0 vs. Rafael dos Anjos 13-4-0 – Lightweight
The final brit to make an appearance on the card, Etim takes his first PPV bow on Saturday night. Riding the back of a 4 fight win streak Etim is rapidly gaining prominence as one to watch in the lightweight division. His long rangy frame and excellent Muay Thai make him a very difficult opponent in the LW division where is often a lot taller than his opponents. It also poses difficulties when the fight hits the floor, which is where this fight is very likely to end up. Etim has won 2 submission of the night bonuses on the bounce and will be hoping to add a third against Dos Anjos but it won’t be easy. Dos Anjos is a BJJ blackbelt and decorated grappler and trains out of Evolve MMA who have an excellent Thai background with instructors from the Sityodtong gym. This fight is no doubt Etims toughest to date. If he can use his reach advantage well Etim should be able to score on Dos Anjos and taking out the legs will take away some of the wrestling advantage that Dos Anjos has. Etim is a finisher and has only been to a decision once in his UFC run, Dos Anjos by contrast has yet to finish a fight in his 2-2 UFC career. Whilst the stand-up of Dos Anjos is certainly improving, it is not as polished as Etims and this is the clincher for me. Etim is more than capable of hanging with Dos Anjos on the ground but as long as he can avoid the takedown, this fight will go his way a lot easier. I can see this one going the distance and it will be Etims hand that is raised at the end. Etim Decision
Kendall Grove 11-6-0 vs. Mark Munoz7-1-0 – Middleweight
Grove has had a very hit and miss UFC run since winning TUF3 but is always a threat in the Middleweight division. His long lanky frame makes him awkward on the feet and a nightmare on the mat. Whilst he doesnt have the same sort of power in his fists as Munoz, he can make it very difficult for his opponents to get anything on him in the stand up exchanges, probably a good thing as his chin is more than a little suspect. If Munoz can get inside that reach advantage and land on Grove it will be a very short night for “Da Spyder”. On the ground, although Munoz has the superior wrestling, I would actually give Grove a much better chance of scoring a submission off his back than getting finished by GnP. This is a pretty tough fight to call because it all depends on whether Munoz is able to land on Grove. Grove was able to submit another tough wrestler in Jake Rosholt and there is a very good chance of him doing the same here if Munoz is ineffective with his striking. Using the very intelligent and astute process of “the coin flip” I’m picking Munoz to blast Grove with punches early on. But I will be entirely unsurprised if Grove latches onto some funky choke in a botched takedown attempt by Munoz. Munoz T/KO rd 1
Matt Hughes 43-7-0 vs. Renzo Gracie13-6-0 – Welterweight
Two legends that need no introduction bring a bit of “old school flava” (yes I AM still down with the kids!) to the event in the last non-title fight of the night. Renzo is looking for retribution for the Gracie name after Hughes quite literally raped his cousin Royce. However everything about this matchup is bad bad bad for Renzo. Although both men are well past their prime it is Renzo who will struggle the most in this fight. Whilst Hughes is no longer the freak he once was, he is still more than a physical match for Gracie. I can’t see Renzo avoiding being put on his back here and we ain’t gonna see no beautiful technical standup leading into the ground phase. Gracies only chance is to utilise his guard and submit Hughes, however his cousin couldn’t do it 4 years ago, his protege Matt Serra couldn’t do it last year and I really don’t think Renzo is going to do it this year. Expect Hughes to finish his first fight since 2006 in this one. I don’t think we will have seen the last of either men in the UFC as Dana seems to love bringing back old faces for “one last roll of the dice” (see Chuck, Tito, Coleman, Trigg, Serra as other examples that spring immediately to mind) although who they fight after this is anyones guess. I suspect both would be mangled by any of the top 5 ww’s in the UFC right now. Hughes T/KO rd1
BJ Penn 15-5-1 vs. Frankie Edgar11-1-0 – Lightweight Championship
Frankie Edgar has been on an impressive rin in the UFC since debuting in 2007. His only loss was to a dry-humping decision by snooze-meister Gray Maynard. Edgar has only finished 2 of his UFC fights, but he is exciting to watch and comes to fight. A willingness to mix it up is, unfortunately for Edgar, not going to get him anywhere. BJ Penn is the most dominant lightweight of all time, a viscious counter-puncher and one of the best grapplers in the game, he has laid waste to the division and aside from some ill-fated journeys up to welterweight in the UFC and even light heavyweight in K1 heroes (against Lyoto Machida no less!) he hasn’t lost a match since 2002. That’s 8 years without a loss in his natural weightclass!! There is nothing that Edgar is bringing to the table in this fight that BJ hasn’t already seen and already dealt with. Everyone thought Diego Sanchez was going to be a big test, BJ destroyed him. Edgar is much smaller than Sanchez and will not be able to do a GSP with his wrestling and overpower BJ. I think the gold is safe and would not be surprised if after this fight BJ vacates to go campaign at Welterweight. Maybe now he is training right things will be different, maybe he is the man who can take GSP out???? He’s not looking past Edgar though and rightly so. Poor Frankie is getting beat up tomorrow night!! This will play out like so many other Penn fights. He will find the timing of Edgars striking early on, hit him with big counter shots that light him up and put him off his game plan then finish him off in the later rounds. Edgar could be semi-competitive for the first 2 maybe 3 rounds but i can’t see this one going past the 4th. In fact I’m picking: BJ Penn sub rd 3
Anderson Silva 25-4-0 vs. Demian Maia 12-1-0 – Middleweight Championship
The best striker in the division against arguably the best grappler in all of MMA. A lot of people are billing this as a classic striker vs grappler match. Except that is is a striker/grappler vs grappler match, everyone seems to forget that Silva is himself a BJJ blackbelt. Perhaps not as elite level as Maia and certainly not as active in he pure- BJJ world as Maia but his ground skills shouldn’t be discounted. Silva has submitted Dan Henderson and the only other people to do that are the Nogueira brothers, Silvas mentors. 10 straight wins in the UFC give him the highest number of consecutive wins inside the Octagon and if he wins against Maia he will tie Matt Hughes for the most successive title defences in the UFC. His brand of muay thai has devastated everyone he has fought and he has finished all but one of his UFC fights inside the distance (that one fight being the infamous disdainful performance against Thales Leites). Silva has recently undergone elbow surgery for a long standing injury but the chances of that hampering his performance are pretty negligible. For his part Maia certainly brings a huge challenge to the table in terms of the ground game. His problem is going to be getting Silva there and more importantly getting him there without getting tagged! Maia is a 4 time submission of the night winner, winning 3 of those on the bounce in his first 3 UFC fights. He showed much improved standup in his most recent fight against Dan Miller and this area is something he works on constantly since his quick KO loss to Nate Marquardt. Had Marquardt won against Chael Sonnen he may well have been getting his much sought-after rematch with Silva but it was not to be! In fact if Vitor Belfort hadn’t got injured this fight wouldn’t be happening at all either but again that is another story… The question is can Maia hand Silva his first loss and the answer is a resounding no. Silva showed in the Forrest Griffin fight that even moving backwards he can mess you up. His lightning quick and wrecking ball heavy hands and breathtaking footwork make him a nightmare for any fighter trying to get in close to get hold of him. Maia has simply no chance on the feet, not that that will worry him and he is game enough to be prepared to take a shot in order to lay hands on Silva, but that’s all the spider needs – one shot and it’s game over. Even if Maia does get in on Silva, getting him down without eating knees from the Thai clinch or – if Maia chooses to pull guard – GnP’d until he breaks, is a tall order. Simply put I don’t see anything other than another dominating performance from the Pound-for-Pound greatest MMA fighter on the planet today. Expect his next fight to be in another weight division and expect him to put a beating on someone in whichever division that is too. At the moment this guy is unstoppable. Silva T/KO rd 2
************* UPDATED WITH RESULTS *************
John Madsen vs Mustapha Al Turk – My Pick: Al Turk TKO rd1 Actual: Madsen Decision
Paul Kelly vs Matt Veach – My Pick: Veach Decision Actual: Kelly sub rd 2 (sorry for doubting you Paul!!)
Damarques Johnson vs Brad Blackburn – My Pick: Blackburn TKO rd 1 Actual: Johnson TKO rd 3
Nick Oscipczak vs Rick Story – My Pick: Ospiczak decision Actual: Story Decision
Phil Davis vs Alexander Gustafsson – My Pick: Davis TKO rd3 Actual: Davis sub rd 1
Mark Munoz vs Kendall Grove – My Pick: Munoz TKO rd 1 Actual: Munoz TKO rd2
Terry Etim vs Rafael Dos Anjos – My Pick: Etim decision Actual: Dos Anjos Sub rd 2
Matt Hughes vs Renzo Gracie – My Pick: Hughes TKO rd 1 Actual: Hughes TKO rd3
BJ Penn vs Frankie Edgar – My Pick:BJ Penn sub rd3Actual: Edgar decision
Anderson Silva vs Demian Maia – My Pick:Silva TKO rd 2Actual: Silva Decision
(*NB Paul Taylor should have fought but was not cleared by medics *)