This Saturday night the UFC is back with a fantastic card. 2011 is a great time to be an MMA fan, in the UK the cards are coming thick and fast and are oozing with quality (more on that in another post coming soon) and in the US, Strikeforce have announced their Heavyweight Tournament and have just put on a great show. As spoilt for choice as us fans are, nothing whets the MMA appetite like a UFC card with a title on the line. This fight will have to go some way to top the last title match we saw (Edgar vs Maynard) but with the two protagonists being Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort, we may just see that happen!
However, even Dana himself – in an unprecedented statement – has said that while this has the potential to be one of the greatest middleweight fights ever, it could end up being the most shambolic. The UFC president said:
I’m going to be honest here — I’m not going to be a promoter here, but let’s be honest. This thing could be the most dynamic, incredible (freaking) fight we’ve ever seen — or the worst staring competition in the history of mankind. All I care about is that both these guys come and let it go and fight the fight we know we could possibly see.
What do you think could happen on the negative side?
That they stand there and neither guy gets off. Believe me… (shakes his head and makes a nervous noise). God forbid. That’s not what I want to happen.
Maybe Dana is hedging his bets as a certain Mr Silva has been known to make what should be a dynamic fight goddamn awful, here’s hoping we are all witness to a monumental clash of 2 amazing fighters and not “the worst staring competition in history”.
This event will have big implications for the light-heavyweight division too. Forrest vs Franklin pits 2 former UFC Champions against each other and Jones vs Bader throws two potential future champs into the mix. Will the winner of one fight the winner of the other?
Further down the card we have brits Paul Kelly and Paul Taylor fighting Donald Cerrone and Gabe Ruediger respectively. Also Kid Yamamoto and Miguel Torres will be looking to put the hurting on Bantamweight upstarts Demetrious Johnson and Antonio Banuelos.
Blah blah done…. let’s get it on!
Mike Pierce 11-3-0 vs. Kenny Robertson 10-0-0 – Welterweight
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge Pierce fan, while he does get the job done, he’s not the most exciting guy to watch and his 3rd round armbar over Amilcar Alves at UFC118 was his first stoppage in 5 fights. He is very hard to finish though and all his losses have been decisions. He is a powerful wrestler and has cardio for days and Robertson will find this fight to be a real tough welcome to the Octagon. Robertson has most of wins by submission but I fully expect the step up in opposition and the sheer power of Pierce to be way too much for him. We may even see another stoppage win from Pierce as Robertson succumbs to a takedown and top control dominance display courtesy of Pierce. Pierce TKO rd 3
Kyle Kingsbury 9-2-0 vs. Ricardo Romero 11-1-0 – Light Heavyweight
Kingsbury fights out of AKA and is on a two fight win streak including his most recent fight of the night win against Jared Hamann. His opponent, Ricardo Romero likes to finish fights and as the former Ring of Combat champion had a great run of 10 wins and one loss. He armbarred Seth Petruzelli in his UFC debut and I think he could shock Kingsbury in this one. Romero sub rd 2
Norifumi Yamamoto 18-3-0 vs. Demetrious Johnson7-1-0 – Bantamweight
This fight is available to view on facebook apparently if you “like” the UFC page. As I’m not a facebooker I won’t see this, but hopefully it will make it onto the broadcast somehow as who doesn’t love Kid Yamamoto? Whilst he hasn’t exactly been active over the past 3 years, he remains a Japanese MMA legend. He has dropped from FW to Bantam after suffering two decision losses in Japan on his return to MMA after a 15month layoff. Johnson suffered his only loss against British WEC standout Brad Pickett and will look to his wrestling base as the main offence against his Japanese opponent. Yamamoto is no wrestling slouch and actually quit MMA in 2007 to pursue his dream of competing in the 2008 olympics in freestyle wrestling. An injury put paid to that, but it will be interesting to see the wrestling styles of each man in this match.The problem for Johnson is that he is not a wrestler of the calibre of the last American Wreslter to beat Yamamoto – olympic gold medal hopeful Joe Warren – and his striking is nowhere near the standard of “kid”. I think (and hope) that we see Kid blitz Johnson with laser-beam accurate strikes and knees and blast him out inside 2 rounds. Yamamoto tko rd 2
Paul Taylor10-6-1 vs. Gabe Ruediger 17-6-1– Lightweight
This could well be Paul Taylors UFC farewell if he doesn’t pull out the win here. An 8 fight veteran of the UFC now, he is 3-5 in the promotion and is on a 2 loss streak. Despite the losing record, all his fights are competitive and he is very hard to finish. All his UFC losses have been decisions except his loss to Marcus Davis and he has been a fight of the night winner 3 times in his first 4 UFC fights, which probably explains while he is still employed by the UFC in spite of the current cull of fighters in the lower weight divisions with negative records. Gabe “godzilla” ruediger was riding a 6 fight win streak when he made his UFC debut against Joe Lauzon. Unfortunately he was more godzuki in that fight and Lauzon literally ran through him in an outstanding display. He will have a point to prove in this fight and will look to get Taylor to the mat and impose his jiujitsu game on the brit. This fight then will hinge on how well Taylor can control the distance and use his world class kickboxing skills to keep Ruediger at bay. As we saw in the Sam Stout fight, Taylor is tenacious and lives up to his “relentless” moniker and many thought he was robbed in that fight. I think Taylor will secure his spot for at least one more UFC fight by asserting his game on Ruediger and avoiding the ground on his way to a comfortable decision win. Taylor decision
Chad Mendes 9-0-0 vs. Michihiro Omigawa 12-8-1 – Featherweight
Another Japanese MMA stand-out makes a return to the UFC in the shape of Michihiro Omigawa. The world-class judoka squares off against hot-prospect Chad Mendes. A contrast in grappling styles again dominates this fight with the outstanding strength and wrestling of Mendes against the outstanding strength and Judo of Omigawa. This fight will most likely go the distance and is really hard to call. Mendes could adopt a lay&pray approach, and may have some success, but holding Omigawa down for 15 minutes is a hard task. Nevertheless, if this goes to the judges as I suspect it will, I won’t be surprised if the call is for Mendes. BUt if you ask me who I want to win, it’s Omigawa :). My pick is Mendes Decision, but I hope I’m wrong.
Donald Cerrone 13-3-0 vs. Paul Kelly 11-3-0 – Lightweight
Cowboy Cerrone has a lot of hype behind him and is a strong favourite in most of the betting lines for this fight. If he can handle the raw, unpolished but powerful wrestling of Kelly he should be able to come through this test. Much as I hate to bet against the Brits (and I’ve done this to Kelly before and been wrong) I am going to have to in this fight. Kelly is tough, but he is only ever going to be a mid-level guy. A future light-weight champion he is not. Saying that I’m not convinced Cerrone is either, but he contested the WEC title 3 times and won 5 fight of the night and one fight of the year awards in his time there. He has one of the best MMA teams around behind him with Jacksons MMA and I just can’t see what Kelly can bring that he won’t be ready for. I give the edge in striking and submissions to Cowboy and think he will finish this fight inside the distance. Cerrone sub round 2
Miguel Torres 38-3-0 vs. Antonio Banuelos18-6-0 – Bantamweight
Bantamweight legend against bantamweight gatekeeper, this fight, in my opinion has been set up to showcase Torres to UFC fans. I am not discounting the skills of Banuelos. He has been around a long time and is no slouch but he has been around since 2001 and has never contested a title. Torres went 20 fights unbeaten from his debut in 2000, then dropped one fight and went a furhter 17 unbeaten, winning and defending the WEC bantamweight strap 3 times before his upset loss to Bowles. Torres has a good reach advantage and will own this fight on the feet as long as Banuelos is on the outside. On the ground this is all Torres as well. If Banuelos can get on the inside he could rough Torres up a bit and he is a tenacious and scrappy fighter. He will be tough to put away, but Banuelos is no match for the former champ and Torres will be looking to use this fight to make strides towards getting into contendership for the UFC bantamweight championship. Torres decision
Jake Ellenberger 22-5-0 vs. 9-0-0 – Welterweight
Wrestlestomping vs jiujitsu then in this welterweight clash. Rocha made a great UFC debut scoring a really nice knee bar against TUF11 finalist Kris McCray. He is undefeated in 9 fights but his opponents combined record in those fights is less than impressive (33-44-5). However you can beat the guy in front of you and Rocha has done so impressively, only being taken to round 2 of the fight once. Ellenberger is a big step-up in class for him. The American is a grinding wrestler in the Jon Fitch mould, but with the ability to actually throw decent strikes. If he is going to win this fight and take another step closer to a title shot, Ellenberger needs to use his wrestling to stifle the submission wizardry of his opponent, stay off the ground and throw shots. He needs to be very aware of his legs as Rocha will latch onto anything he can from anywhere and twist it at funny angles. I’m leaning towards Ellenberger here, but would not be surprised to see a submission of the night performance from the Brazilian. I’ll go with my gut and pick Ellenberger to drag Rocha into the unchartered waters of the last round and then stop him with strikes. Ellenberger TKO round 3
Ryan Bader 12-0-0 vs. Jon Jones 11-1-0 – Light Heavyweight
This is a great match up and one the fans have been clamouring for. The 205lb division was once the marquee division of the UFC when Chuck, Tito and Randy ruled the roost and no-one else got much of a look-in. Things are different now and the title seems to change hands every match. Jones and Bader are the two biggest rising stars in the division and this fight will show who is leading the charge to take on the top guys. Both men are very strong powerful wrestlers, but Jones takes explosive other-world striking to a new level. He smashed Brandon Vera’s face with an elbow and pulls off moves that wouldn’t look out of place in a video game. Bader won TUF8 and has steadliy improved since then. He is a division 1 NCAA wrestler and is coming off the back of a decison win against L’il Nog, a fight many expected him to lose. Bader boxing looked crisp in that fight and he stayed behind a solid jab for a lot of the fight. In an all out striking match though you have to favour the explosiveness of Jones. This is a tough fight to pick as both men are capable of getting the win. The first round will set the tone for this fight. I am expecting Jones to come out blazing and attempt to throw Bader off his stride with a fierce offence. If Bader can weather the storm and put Jones on his back then he could edge the round and if I was his coach that’d be my tactic. However no-one has put Jones on his back yet, so who knows how that will work out, but it remains Baders best hope for victory. If this stays on the feet, it’s all Jones and only a matter of time before he unleashes a spinning back elbow from hell (would that be a hellbow?). The smart pick is probably a decision win but I’m going out on a limb and saying that Jones puts the lights out on a fatiguing Bader sometime late on in 3rd. Jones TKO rd 3
Forrest Griffin 17-6-0 vs. Rich Franklin 28-5-0 – Light Heavyweight
Both former champions, both destroyed by Anderson Silva and both looking to re-establish themselves as contenders in the UFC, these two have a lot in common going into this fight. Forrest is far and away the bigger man and will look to use that to his advantage against one of the most intelligent and adaptable fighters in the UFC. Both men have great conditioning and can bring it for 15 minutes and I can see this one going the distance. Franklin probably has the sharper striking game with Griffin’s ground game being a little more well-rounded than that of “Ace”. Griffin will want to close the distance and work dirty boxing on the inside and throw knees. I expect this to play out almost entirely on the feet and be a bruising 15 minute encounter. The winner?? I’m just going with a finger in the air pick and taking Forrest by just being able to assert his size well and out work Franklin in the clinch. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Franklin get the nod from the judges. Griffin decision
Anderson Silva 27-4-0 vs. Vitor Belfort19-8-0 – Middleweight Championship
The big fight on the card has fans all over the world salivating. In this fight more than any of his others, Silva faces a striker who may just be able put it on him and knock him out. No-one has ever looked like doing it before but Silva isn’t getting any younger, his reactions that he has relied on so heavily as the key to his game have slowed and his striking accuracy is proven to have declined. Vitor Belfort is an enigma, we had the old Belfort, UFC champ at 19 and rightly christened the phenom, then the new Vitor was very hit and miss and mixed in with moments of brilliance were real letdowns and disappointing performances. I will bet my house that Joe Rogan asks the question about “which Vitor Belfort will we see in the Octagon” at some point during the broadcast. Another key question is about the weight. Vitor started as a heavyweight and his last UFC fight was at catchweight back in 2009. Injuries to him and injuries to Silva have meant this fight has been postponed more times than I care to count. Will “ring rust” factor? Will the weight cut affect the phenom? These are all big questions. One thing we do know is that Vitor is working with Mike Dolce and if it works for him like it worked for Thiago Alves then we should see a supremely conditioned Belfort on Saturday night.
So how does this play out? We may see Vitor look to take the Chael Sonnen route as no-one has worked Silva over like that before their match. Both Vitor and Silva are BJJ blackbelts and the ground battle would be interesting, but no-one really wants to see these two in a grappling match, even a grappling geek like me. We want to see the one punch bruality of Belfort against the laser-accurate muay-thai of Silva. I think Vitor will oblige as he seems hard wired to go after the kill in his fights. This may be his downfall. Silva LOVES it when people go after him, when he is forced to use his movement and footwork to create angles and counters, that is when his genius is truly on show and I think that is the kind of fight he wants. Silva has more tools than Belfort and it is virtually impossible to pick against him. Victory for him here and for GSP against Shields leads to a UFC fan’s wet-dream of the top 2 p4p fighters in the world facing off in the octagon. While the single punch that lands is always a worry for the champ, especially when it is thrown the way Vitor throws them, I see Silva looking the best he has in a long time, aided by Belfort bringing him the type of fight he wants. I really hope that this fight explodes into life early and we see a really exciting match. I can’t see this going 25, Silva should end this inside 15. Silva TKO rd 3
***************** UPDATED WITH RESULTS *************************
Mike Pierce vs. Kenny Robertson – My Pick:Pierce TKO rd3 Actual:Pierce TKO rd 2.
Kyle Kingsbury vs. Ricardo Romero – My Pick:Romero sub rd2 Actual:Kingsbury TKO rd 1
Norifumi Yamamoto vs. Demetrious Johnson – My Pick:Yamamoto tko rd2 Actual: Johnson decision
Paul Taylor vs. Gabe Ruediger – My Pick:Taylor decision Actual: Taylor TKO rd2
Chad Mendes vs. Michihiro Omigawa – My Pick: Mendes Decision Actual: Mendes Decision
Donald Cerrone vs. Paul Kelly – My Pick:Cerrone sub rd2 Actual: Cerrone Submission (rnc) rd 2
Miguel Torres vs. Antonio Banuelos – My Pick:Torres decision Actual:Torres decision
Jake Ellenberger vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha – My Pick:Ellenberger TKO rd3 Actual: Ellenberger decision
Jon Jones vs. Ryan Bader – My Pick:Jones TKO rd3 Actual: Jones submission (guillotine) rd 2
Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin – My Pick: Griffin decision Actual: Griffin decision
Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort – My Pick:Silva TKO rd 3 Actual:Silva KO rd 1