One of the most anticipated rematches in UFC history headlines this Saturday in Vegas. There can’t be too many MMA fans who don’t know the back story to this one and there is no mileage in rehashing the history of the Silva vs Sonnen feud for you all over again. Suffice to say that there is definitely no love lost between the two protagonists in this story. Also, I don’t recall any Anderson Silva fight in the UFC since he became champion, where so many people are predicting he will lose. Whatever happens, this is a fight that will be discussed long after the contest has ended and one of the two has the belt strapped round his waist.
Chael Sonnen, hasn’t just upset the champion, he has upset pretty much a whole country with his constant berating of all things Brazilian. Trash talking is Sonnens thing and he is definitely winning the psychological war in this one. He knows that getting inside Andersons head and getting him to fight angry is the best way to create an opening he can exploit. But after two years of Chaels prodding and poking to get a response, it is like something has finally snapped in Silva. His recent conference call rant, left all in attendance stunned. In an uncharacteristic break from the usually calm, collected and respectful champions “press persona”, Silva launched into a visceral rant, threatening to destroy his opponent and break every bone in his body. Whether he is able to do what he promises remains to be seen. One thing is for sure in this match, it is going to be edge of your seat stuff from start to finish.
Although the majority of the talk around this event is concentrated on the headliners, there are plenty of other decent scraps on the card. The rubber match between Griffin and Ortiz has co-main honours. Ortiz will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame prior to this fight and a well deserved accolade that is. This will be the last fight on Ortiz current contract and is expected to be his swan song in MMA. Both men have struggled in recent years, Ortiz particularly who only has one win in his last eight.
Other notable fights are the return of former title contender Patrick Cote against Cung Le and also the Welterweight debut of Demian Maia. All eyes will certainly be on the main event, but there is much to be enjoyed here apart from that fight.
Anderson Silva 31 – 4 – 0 vs. Chael Sonnen 27 – 11 – 1 – UFC Middleweight Title
All the questions over whether Chael really is the man to beat ‘The Man’ will be answered on this night. Think what you like of him, but Sonnen is the only man to have laid a beating on the champion in 6 years. No other fighter has come anywhere near doing the kind of damage he did to Silva at UFC 117. He landed almost twice as many strikes on the spider than the total number of strikes landed by ALL his UFC opponents in his career with the promotion to that point. Sonnen isn’t just talking shit in the build up to this one, he genuinely believes he has Silva’s number. Die-hard fans of the champ will cry out that Silva was injured and that Sonnen was on steroids and both may be true (one certainly is), but those 22 minutes were some of the most painful and humbling Silva has experienced in the UFC octagon. His response to that (especially as the prelude to it was some serverly lacklustre performances by his standards) was to utterly destroy Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami in his subsequent bouts. The champion definitely rediscovered his motivation after UFC 117!
As for the challengers post 117 run: He got two ticks in the win column against Stann and Bisping and remained resolute that he is the “true champion” and would face Silva again. His boasts have put a lot of pressure on himself to perform and live up to the hype. The pressure is also on the champion to protect his astounding legacy and prove his assertion that in a fair fight and injury-free he has Chaels number.
In the first fight, Silva did not respect Sonnens striking and was caught off guard with his chin the air as Chael shot in behind a big right hand right at the start of the first round. Of course, in an out and out striking match, Sonnen doesnt stand a chance against the champions sublime stand-up game, but Silva has to take him seriously this time. Sonnen has stated he wants to KO the champ but I really don’t like his chances, with the exception of Stann, Sonnen hasn’t finished an opponent since 2007. His crushing top-game and elite takedowns are what Silva has to worry about and after getting a taste of this once already, he should be well-prepared.
Where Chael excels is using his greco roman skills to subdue his opponent and chop away with strikes. He has an incredible work-rate and his cardio is through the roof. There are a lot of people saying that Chael will do the unthinkable and take the belt, and just as many people ridiculing his chances. There is no question that at UFC 117 he was on his way to a dominant win before that triangle was sunk in, but let’s not forget that Silva had a couple of near submissions, took Chael down in Round 1 and opened up a beastly cut in the 4th with an elbow from guard. Sonnen didn’t have things all his own way.
The way I see things is pretty simple: If a drug-enhanced Sonnen could not put an injured Silva away – despite beating the hell out of him for 4 and a bit rounds – what is he going to do different this time? I don’t think either man has undergone any major evolution since they last fought, but Silva is the more adaptable and well-rounded fighter. You could argue that Sonnen is a better athlete in terms of power and endurance, but Silva has experienced and absorbed the best of Sonnen and he still won. I say Sonnen has not seen the best of Anderson Silva and that for me is the key to this match. If Silva can work his magic on the feet, Chael is in deep deep trouble. The one problem is Silva loves to kick, and he is very good at it. However Chaels elite wrestling and reactions means that in the first fight, most of his takedowns came off kick attempts from Silva. Silva needs to rely on his hands to do most of the work when they are stood up and if he finds himself grounded he needs to make space to use his elbows to slice Chael open. Chael is a bleeder and he has a fair bit of scar tissue on his face. These are things Silva can use to his advantage on fight night.
If Chael is going to win, he needs to get off to a flyer and get to Silva early. If he can execute his game plan as successfully as the first time and avoid the submissions then he could win this. But I can’t look past the champ in this fight. This time the Spider is poised, ready and fired up to put a serious hurting on the challenger. Chael may have only been KO’d twice in his 39 fight career, but everytime he closes on Silva he is going to get punished and as much as listening to Sonnen talk smack is fun, I will be cheering every second of the beating he is about to get. Silva TKO rd 2
Forrest Griffin 18 – 7 – 0 vs. Tito Ortiz 16 – 10 – 1 – Light Heavyweight
This rubber match could be a great fight or it could be an uber-boring pitter patter kickboxing match. Of course both men are legitimate superstars of the UFC and Tito has just been inducted to the hall of fame, so the great name value of these two makes it a big drawing fight. I say great but let me be clear: Forrest has never been “great”: He has had some great moments and is unbelievably tough, but he was never great. Tito was undeniably great at the peak of his career. But his downward spiral and record of one win since 2006 has tarnished his legacy a little. He has battled serious injuries and is showing the scars of many a battle. He has lost his edge of speed and power and his days of blasting doubles for fun are long gone. My brother said to me that the last thing Tito took down was Jenna’s knickers and they were half way round her ankles anyway. I checked the stats and to be fair to the man, he did hit a takedown on Rashad in their last fight, but he hasn’t won the takedown battle in any fight since his last match with Forrest – a fight which he still lost!
Forrest fights with his heart above everything else. He has great leg kicks, hugely underrated grappling and decent range which makes him awkard to stand with. His biggest attribute is his toughness but three big KO losses in his last 5 fights perhaps show that his chin isn’t quite up to a TUF-esque battle in the pocket. Tito doesn’t posess the kind of stand up power of Shogun, Silva or Rashad, but his striking is his most underrated attribute and he showed against Bader that he can land a decent punch when presented with the opportunity.
If this one is going to end inside the distance, then I can see Forrest subbing “the peoples champ” as I rate his ground game. Anyone who can RNC Shogun like he did has to be respected on the ground. A more likely scenario though, is that this plays out very similar to the last 2 with a tough three rounder culminating in a very tight decision. It would be a fantastic way for a legend to leave the game if Tito came out on top here and although my head is telling me that Forrest is the pick, I’m rooting for Tito to go out on a high. I hope he retires after Saturday as MMA does not need another legend to carry on way past the time he should have called it quits. Thanks for the memories Tito! Ortiz decision (but seriously don’t put your money on this to actually happen).
Cung Le 7 – 2 – 0 vs. Patrick Cote 17 – 7 – 0 – Middleweight
This match up is the sleeper on the main card for me. Cote is tough as grizzly adams old walking boots and will look to impress on his return to the promotion. Le met his match against Wanderlei Silva in his promotional debut but showed flashes of the brilliance that enthralled the Strikeforce crowds during his days in the promotion. I see this one being explosive from the start and this is 3rd in my list for potential KO of the night honours (after Silva and Guillard).
Either man is capable of getting the finish here, but the longer this goes on the more it favours Cote. Le is 40 years old and has about one fight a year in between his acting jobs. It is almost like fighting is more of his hobby now than his full-time career and that is dangerous when fighting in the UFC. In many ways Cote is a more favourable opponent for Le than Franklin would have been (Franklin was drafted out of this fight to stand in for Belfort against Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147). Cote isn’t going to trouble Le in the clinch and wrestling ranges too much and is going to look for the finish on the feet, playing to the strengths of his opponent. The key for Cote is if he can weather the inital storm in the first round and drag this into the latter stages of the fight, taking advantage of a tiring Le’s inability to explode with this kicks.
Neither man has proved particularly evasive in their approach to the standup game and both can be hit. The winner will be decided by who lands biggest first. I’m picking Le to rock an advancing Cote with a turning back kick and then swarm him and finish the fight inside the first 5 minutes because let’s face it Le’s kicking game in full flow is just flippin’ awesome to watch! Le TKO rd 1
Dong Hyun Kim 15 – 1 – 1 vs. Demian Maia 15 – 4 – 0 – Welterweight
MMAMath will tell you that this one isnt likely to end inside the fifteen minutes. Maia’s last seven have gone the distance and Kim has gone all three rounds in six of his last seven. Something happened to Maia after his KO loss to Marquardt. After putting on BJJ clinics in his first five UFC fights, taking four Sub of the night bonuses in that time, he got KTFO’d by Nate. After that, EVERY fight Maia has been in has gone the distance and he is 4-4.
Kim will be a stern test for Maia in his first venture down to 170lbs in the UFC. Kim is a judo stud and has only been beaten once in 17 fights. He was outclassed on the feet by Carlos Condit, but he won’t have that trouble with Maia. Obviously he will have to be careful of Maia’s jiujitsu but he has the striking and clinch skills to avoid being taken down. I think Maia is going to really struggle in this one to find the opening he needs. After the Marquardt fight he seemed to abandon his BJJ and trained striking a lot. He then attempted to showcase his new skills in subsequent fights and although his striking has clearly come on, he seems to have neglected his bread and butter BJJ.
Even if Maia chooses to play his strongest suit and work his BJJ he is going to have to do something really special to win. Kim is difficult to take down and his clinch skill is ridiculous. His elite Judo gives him great posture and submission defence and his striking is at least on a par with Maia’s. Kim is not small for a Welterweight and Maia won’t enjoy too much of a size advantage.
Whilst you can never write off a guy like Maia from pulling out a submission seemingly from nowhere, the form and consistency of Kim makes it incredibly hard to pick against him. My love of a great submission is no secret to regular readers, but unfortunately I can’t see one coming in this match. I’ll be rooting for Maia to pull it off, but the sensible pick is Kim by decision
Chad Mendes 11 – 1 – 0 vs. Cody McKenzie 13 – 2 – 0 – Featherweight
McKenzie drops to Featherweight for this one and will be looking for his (unprecedented) 11th guillotine choke win. The Mckenz-oteen doesnt quite have the same ring as the Sass-angle but Cody definitely has as much of a shout for getting a submission renamed in his honour as Paul Sass does for making the move truly his own. The problem here is how he secures it on a mini-tornado like Mendes. Sure Mendes will shoot, but he has to have trained his guillotine defence a whole lot coming into this match and will be confident he won’t get caught. If the weight cut doesnt go well for McKenzie then he is going to have a horrible night dealing with the pace of the team Alpha male standout. I’m not goint to waffle too much in this one, we all know Mendes will win by Wrestle-fuck. But if McKenzie pulls this one off, he might just get the nod for a sub of the night bonus. Mendes decision
Ivan Menjivar 24 – 8 – 0 vs. Mike Easton 12 – 1 – 0 – Bantamweight
A decent argument can be made for either fighter here. The vast experience and nasty clinch work of Menjivar has seen him through a many fight and he is 3-0 in his UFC career to date. Easton has tasted defeat only once, is a physical specimen and has decent power in his hands. Easton has a BJJ blackbelt but belts hold less weight in MMA and despite having ‘only’ a brown belt, I think Menjivar could be more than a match for “the Hulk” on the mat.
This one is a toss up for me, but for some reason I am leaning towards Menjivar. The last man to KO him was GSP in his pro debut and the two men are now training partners. Menjivar has not been stopped since 2002 and I think he will just prove to wiley an opponent for Easton to pick off. Menjivar decision