UFC 134 Rio: Silva vs Okami – Preview and Predictions

The premiere event in world MMA returns to the motherland for the first time in 13 years and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil is the host city. The Brazilian MMA fans are among the most passionate anywhere in the world and, as you would expect, every fight except one features a Brazilian fighter. All eyes will be on the main event and the Middleweight Champion, Anderson Silva, making an un-precedented 9th defence of his title. Silva is unbeaten in 14 fights and is 13-0 in the UFC. The last man to ‘beat’ him, Yushin Okami is his opponent on Saturday night in Rio. I have deliberately put the word beat in inverted commas, as Okami did not submit, KO or win on points against the Spider, but was awarded the win after Silva was DQ’d for an illegal upkick. This marquee bout will be the first time in 8 years that Anderson Silva has had a professional MMA fight in Brazil. I don’t envy Okami walking out to that crowd.

Elsewhere on the main card, we have the return of Shogun Rua in a rematch against fan favourite Forrest Griffin, and also the return of Big Nog against Brendan Schaub. Together with Silva, these fighters are among the most succesful ever to come out of Brazil and compete in MMA and will enjoy fiercely loyal (and vocal) support from the crowd.

The lone Brit on the card is Ross “the Real Deal” Pearson. Pearson is up against it, facing a home fighter in the shape of the wildly talented Edson Barboza. The Brazilian has some nasty muay thai and has KO’d six of his 8 opponents. That one is going to be a war! So with all this UFC goodness to talk about in this event…..let’s get it on!

Prelims (aired in Brazil and on Facebook):
Yves Jabouin 15-7-0 vs. Ian Loveland 14-8-0 – Bantamweight
The only fight on the card to not feature a Brazilian fighter, I suspect most of the crowd will still be getting their Acai’s in whilst this one is on. Nevertheless it should be a decent enough scrap. Although Jabouin has fought at a higher level for longer, I would say Loveland looks to be the safe bet in this fight. He made his debut as a stand-in for Leonard Garcia at the TUF12 finale on less than 2 weeks notice and dominated the fight, winning a comfortable decision. He then dropped to bantamweight, losing a decision to Benavidez. Loveland is probably the better wrestler as you would expect from a guy fighting out of team quest, while Jabouin is known to have big KO power. I’m not overly familiar with either fighter, but I’ll take Loveland in a wrestle-stomping decision. Loveland decision

Yuri Alcantara 24-3-0 vs. Felipe Arantes 13-3-0 (2 NC) – Featherweight
In the first of 3 all-Brazilian encounters, long time veteran Alcantara faces Felipe Arantes. Neither man has fought much outside of their native country and this should be a pleasing encounter for the partisan crowd. Alcantara won the inaugural JungleFight lightweight championship and then promptly signed a 5 fight deal with zuffa, making his debut at WEC 53. Now a UFC prospect, he makes his featherweight debut against Arantes who is on a 7 fight win streak, bookended by 2 no contests. You have to make Alcantara the strong favourite here, himself on an 11 fight win streak, all of which have ended with finishes inside the distance. There isn’t an awful lot of information I can find on Arantes, but it’s fair to say he is a heavy underdog in this match. He has only been stopped once in 16 fights though and is clearly a tough guy to put away. In spite of a strong temptation to pick Alcantara as the second man to make Arantes tap, I’ll play safe and pick the decision Alcantara decision

Erick Silva 12-1-0 (1 NC) vs. Luis Ramos 19-6-0 – Welterweight
Silva was pencilled in to make his debut against Mike Swick on this event, but Swick was injured and swiftly replaced with Ramos. Silva won the Jungle Fight welterweight championship, defeating two opponents by submission on the same night. He is a BJJ and Judo Blackbelt. Ramos is the more experienced fighter and fighting out of Nova Uniao, he is a stablemate of Jose Aldo. He has only been stopped once in 25 fights and 11 of his wins have been via decision. I’m liking Silva in this one, to prove why he was the one picked up by the UFC to face a high profile star in Swick. Silva Submisison, Rd 1

Raphael Assuncao 16-4-0 vs. Johnny Eduardo 25-8-0 – Bantamweight
Assuncao has had a bumpy run of late and in his first fight in his native Brazil, he has been handed a tough match against 33 fight veteran Johnny Eduardo. Assuncao is coming off a big KO loss in his UFC debut and this will be his first fight at Bantamweight. Eduardo, who is also dropping down a weight for this fight, hasn’t lost a match since 2008 and all but 2 have finished inside the distance. Eduardo has been installed as the favourite in this fight, but Assuncao has big league experience and has father time on his side. Of his 8 losses, 7 have come via submission for Eduardo and this could be the achilles heel that Assuncao can exploit. Eduardo is Jose Aldo’s muay thai teacher and will be a massive threat on the feet, but despite improving ground skills, he cannot match up to Assuncao’s prowess on the mat. If Assuncao can get this to the floor, he will earn his UFC reprieve. If not, Eduardo should put the lights out on him inside the distance. I’ll go with the former, but it won’t be surprising to see Eduardo’s hand raised at the end. Assuncao Submission round 3

Paulo Thiago 13-3-0 vs. David Mitchell 11-1-0 – Welterweight
Paulo Thiago needs a win, and if he can’t get it in this fight, then his UFC days could be numbered. He certainly has the edge on Mitchell in terms of top-flight experience and home advantage. Mitchell does not bring any of the attributes that Thiago has struggled with in the past: Stifling top control (Fitch) – nope! Unbelievable work ethic and nice striking to wrestling to ground transitions (Sanchez) – nope! In fact I think just about everything Mitchell can do, Thiago can do better. Whilst it is probably true that he will never be able to truly deliver as much as he seemed to promise in his victories over Swick and Koscheck, Thiago can still hold his own in the mid-tier of the UFC 170lb division. The jury is out on Mitchell doing the same and he could be looking at the minor leagues after this fight. Thiago TKO rd 2

Aired Prelims (Televised in Brazil, Spike TV and online at UFC.TV):
Rousimar Palhares 12-3-0 vs. Dan Miller 13-5-0 (1 NC) – Middleweight
Palhares is a wrecking machine and Miller needs to be very careful that his leg remains intact after this fight. A fighter who is almost as wide as he is tall, Palhares is one of the shortest Middleweights in the UFC but also one of the most dangerous when things hit the mat. He is a leg lock specialist and has viscious heelhooks and kneebars. Miller is a tough dude and hard to beat with a decent enough submission game of his own, but it pales in comparison to the go-for-broke style of the Brazilian. If Miller was a more refined striker and wrestler I’d give this to him hands down, but I don’t think he posesses the necessary skills to keep Palhares away from him in this fight. Once the Brazilian latches onto a limb, he is going to try and take it home with him and Miller will have it all to do to try and stop that happening. I personally don’t like his chances. Palhares submission rd 1

Spencer Fisher 24-7-0 vs. Thiago Tavares 15-4-1 – Lightweight
Spencer Fisher has been around forever and is still going strong but his best days are behind him. He is still a tough match for any Lightweight, but is now more of a gatekeeper to the upper-echelons of the division than a true contender himself. Tavares is an up and coming Lightweight with a patchy record, but always shows flashes of brilliance in his fights. He is a 3 time fight of the night winner (all 3 were losses for him) and honour which has eluded Fisher. Fisher has only finished one opponent since his 2006 win over Dan Lauzon and that was by submission, so despite being acknowledged as a great striker, his finishing ability is in question. Tavares has a much more varied skillset than Fisher with a blackbelt in BJJ and very good muay thai. Fisher has tighter boxing, but against Roller Tavares looked to have improved that particular area of his stand up game. On balance, I think Tavares should have his fight wrapped up and while I dont see him putting Fisher away, I think he will take this on the judges cards. Tavares decision

Main Card:
Luiz Cane 11-3-0 (1 NC) vs. Stanislav Nedkov 11-0-0 – Light Heavyweight
The defeated Nedkov makes his UFC bow in the home country of his opponent, who has already had 7 fights in the UFC. Despite neither of these facts relating to his obvious fighting skill, this immediately puts Nedkov at a disadvantage in my opinion. Cane is a decent fighter who had a 2 fight blip where he was KO’d in the first round, but prior to that was touted by some as a fighter who could potentially challenge for the 205lb strap. Nedkov is a strong grappler and BJJ blackbelt but his striking is not on a par with that of Cane and despite victories over veterans Randleman and Wiuff, has not faced the level of opponent Cane has. I like Cane in this fight and think he will stop Nedkov inside the distance. Cane TKO rd 2

Ross Pearson 12-4-0 vs. Edson Barboza 8-0-0 – Lightweight
This is a potential fight of the night encounter. Both men like to press forward and throw down but the edge on the feet has to be given to Barboza’s explosive Muay thai game. Pearson is a heavy underdog in this match and after seeing Barboza demolish Mike Lullo’s legs and win a hard fought decision over Njokuani it is no surprise. Although Pearson has more UFC experience, he is not the type of deadly finisher that Barboza is. He will need to be aware of the thudding leg kicks of the brazilian, as his footwork is key to his sprightly boxing style. While Pearson is not a one punch KO type of fighter, he is effective in picking up points on the feet and went toe to toe with Spencer Fisher and Dennis Siver and handled the veterans really well. If he has this movement taken away he is going to be in big trouble in the standup game. If he is to win, I think his best chance is to wrestlestomp the Brazilian. He has based his camp at Alliance MMA rather than Roughhouse for this fight, training with fighters like Bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz and so we may well see that approach from him. Barboza is no slouch on the ground but would definitely be more comfortable on his feet, so it makes sense for Pearson to come out and look to put him on his back straight away. However he has to walk through a severe muay thai assault to get it there and therein lies the problem. As much as I would love to pick Ross here, it would be a massive heart over head pick. So, regretfully I am going with Barboza via TKO either late in the 1st or early in the second. But I will be the loudest one in the room if Ross proves me wrong. Barboza TKO (1 or 2, not sure which)

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 32-6-1 (1 NC) vs. Brendan Schaub 8-1-0 – Heavyweight
Everyone loves Big Nog, how can you not! But you have to wonder how much he has left in him. Dogged by injuries and looking far older than his 35 years, he bears the scars of many hard fought battles. Schaub is a fighter coming into his own and looking for his big breakout win. Going to Brazil and taking out one of the brightest stars the country has produced in MMA (albeit a fading one now) may well be that breakout win. Of course Nog has the tools to spoil the party. He has one of the best submission games in the heavyweight division, but is all too often willing to engage in slug-fests he doesnt look like winning. In spite of this, he has always been really hard to put away, with a head like a concrete block. Maybe all the surgery will see Nog return in the best form he has been in in a long time, but against the heavyhanded Schaub will the old concrete block hold up? Unfortunately not is my pick as Schaub finds the opening to deliver the crushing blow that may just end the Nog war-wagon once and for all. If he is KO’d in this fight that is 3 ko losses in 4 fights. Surely alarm bells would ring after that? As long as Schaub stays safe in good posture if he gets Nog on his back, he will this fight inside the distance and stop the Brazilian, who will not doubt be given a standing ovation by the crowd win or lose Schaub T/KO rd 2

Mauricio Rua 19-5-0 vs. Forrest Griffin 18-6-0 – Light Heavyweight
I keep to-ing and fro-ing on this one. Forrest has given a few interviews recently where he talks about realising he will never get better and hating training etc… but you have to wonder how much of this is down to self-deprecating nature or how much of it is psychological warfare even? He did the unthinkable when he welcomed Rua to the UFC and submitted the guy who was once feared as the best 205lb fighter on the planet. In his last outing against Jon Jones, Shogun was uncermoniously torn apart, but he looked soft around the middle and has long had questionable stamina. He looked broken in that fight after putting in 2 shifts against Machida that had many thinking he might be getting back to his best. Forrest hasnt had a great run either, but stamina has never been in question for him. He always comes at his opponents and is a hard man to put away. If he can pour it on Rua like he did their first fight, there is no reason to think that he can’t come out the winner again. But Rua is fighting in his home country for the first time in 8 years and he knows he has to put on a show after the last time. Just like Forrest, there is no quit in the man and he will stay in the fight as long as he is physically able. Forrest isnt a KO artist, but he has decent boxing and a massively underrated ground game. Rua is known for his muay thai skills but has high level jiujitsu. Forrest needs to drag Rua in to deep water and keep the pressure on him to try and grind him down and break his will. Rua needs to use his Muay thai in much the same way as he did with Machida, creating angles and movement to throw Griffin off and hurt him. This is the toughest fight of all for me to call, but I’m leaning towards Rua as I type this. After I have posted it, I will probably change my mind again, but for now…. I say Rua. Rua decision

Anderson Silva 30-4-0 vs. Yushin Okami 26-5-0 – UFC Middleweight Championship
Here it is, the big one. Anderson Silva’s chance for revenge against the last man to beat him in professional MMA. It is also the chance for Okami to become the first Japanese UFC champion, and to win it off a fighter like Silva, in Brazil the homes country of the champ would send the interwebz into meltdown, create a priceless expression on Dana Whites face and make Chael Sonnens twitter account, the most followed feed in all of MMA!! Okami has shot, but it is a very long shot: He simply has to put Silva on his back and make it the sort of fight that Anderson hates, one where he is ground out and left no room to be able to do the insane things the man can do when he is stood up. The simple fact is that every second this fight is on the feet, is another second closer to Okami getting KTFO. For Okami to come out and try and strike with Silva is MMA suicide and I’ll eat my own head if it happens. All Silva has to do then, is stay on his feet. Sure enough he has a great ground game to fall back on if needed, one that enables him to take 24 minutes of a beating and still pull out the win in fact (see the Sonnen fight).

If I watched Okami’s highlight reel (does he have one?) I imagine it would be far less spectacular than the champs: No front kick KO’s, no freaky reverse uppercut elbow KO’s (watch the Fryklund fight on cage rage if you don’t know what I’m talking about!), but it does have a lot of takedowns, crushing control and disciplined, well postured ground and pound. This makes him exactly the kind of fighter that could give Anderson Silva problems. If you do the MMA Math and study the stats, the only two people to beat Okami in the UFC are Franklin and Sonnen, both of whom Silva despatched in his reign as champion. Okami has only ever been knocked out once, but any fighter facing the spider has their probability of being KO’d increased by 1000%!! So on paper they both have clear ways to win and easily defined strategies to do so. How does this play out come fight night? Okami will start tentatively and maybe even look to stall and frustrate Silva and get him to act the fool like in the Leites / Maia fights. But at some point he HAS to engage the champion. Crossing the line to try and lay hands on his opponent is where things get dangerous for Okami. Silva has a 5 inch reach advantage over him, despite both fighters being the same height and the champ should find a home for his laser accurate strikes as Okami looks to engage. At some point Okami will commit his all to a takedown attempt that will be stuffed and promptly followed with a knee to the face. He may enjoy some good moments, but like the rest of the world (except if your surname is Sonnen) I see Okami getting put away here. The end will come before the 3rd round is out. Silva TKO (knee) Rd 3

*********************** UPDATED WITH RESULTS *****************************
Yves Jabouin vs. Ian Loveland – My Pick:Loveland Decision Actual:Jabouin Decision
Yuri Alcantara vs. Felipe Arantes – My Pick:Alcantara Decision Actual:Alcantara Decision
Erick Silva vs. Luis Ramos – My Pick:Silva Submission Rd1 Actual:Silva KO rd1
Raphael Assunção vs. Johnny Eduardo – My Pick:Assuncao Submission rd3 Actual:Assuncao Decision
Paulo Thiago vs. David Mitchell – My Pick:Thiago TKO rd2 Actual:Thiago Decision
Rousimar Palhares vs. Dan Miller – My Pick:Palhares Submission rd1 Actual:Palhares Decision
Thiago Tavares vs. Spencer Fisher – My Pick:Tavres Decision Actual:Tavares TKO Rd2
Luiz Cane vs. Stanislav Nedkov – My Pick:Cane TKO rd2 Actual:Nedkov TKO Rd1
Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Brendan Schaub – My Pick:Schaub TKO rd2 Actual: Nogueira KO Rd1
Ross Pearson vs. Edson Barboza – My Pick:Barboza TKO rd2 Actual:Barboza Decision
Maurício Rua vs. Forrest Griffin – My Pick:Rua Decision Actual:Rua KO Rd1
Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami – My Pick:Silva TKO Rd3 Actual:Silva Ko rd2


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