The Fighters: Nogueira is one of the few PRIDE vets who was able to successfully transition to the UFC. He won his first two UFC fights, including a win over Tim Sylvia for the UFC title. Since he's gone 1-1 losing to Frank Mir and beating Randy Couture.
In his UFC stint 'Nog has been oft-injured. More particularly he's battled staph infections during his entire UFC tenure. 'Nog is never one to make excuses but, after the Mir loss it was revealed that he had spent a ton of time in the hospital battling a bad staph infection. It's hard to argue that the staph didn't affect his performance in that fight. Not only was he finished for the first time in his illustrious career but he looked old and more then a step slow. Many, myself included, wondered if wear and tear had finally caught up to 'Nog. However, in his win against Couture he proved that he still has a ton left in the tank. His boxing was as crisp as ever and he showcased his world class ground skills.
Cain Velasquez may be the fastest rising heavyweight prospect the sport has ever seen. He's 5-0 in the UFC, but more importantly he's looked better every fight. He proved against Cheick Kongo that he could win a three round war as well as take a punch. As Jordan Breen would say "the man has a great beard." Ben Rothwell was suppose to be another step up in competition for Velasquez. However, Velasquez took the much bigger and experienced Rothwell down at will and made him look like an amateur. Every test that has been presented to Velasquez he has passed with flying colors.
Breakdown: Odds makers have this fight as a Pick 'Em and it's hard to disagree. 'Nog has great boxing and will have a significant advantage when the fight is standing but, as we saw in the Kongo fight Velasquez isn't easy to drop. Velasquez will want to shoot early and often and should have no problem getting 'Nog to the ground. The key question is; will Velasquez be able to control the action on the ground? Velasquez is relentless and can push the pace like no other heavyweight in the UFC can but he's also never fought a fighter of 'Nog's caliber on the ground. 'Nog has a knack for taking a pounding, but still finding the perfect opportunity to sweep or submit. Even when it looks like he's on the brink of defeat he's not, just ask Bob Sapp.
Velasquez is so hyper active on the ground it could end up being reckless. Look for a classic 'Nog performance as he catches the wrestler off guard with a sweep followed by a textbook submission.
Prediction: Nogueira via Arm-Bar Round 3
Wanderlei Silva (32-10-1) vs. Michael Bisping (18-2)
Unlike his PRIDE counterpart, Nogueira, Silva did not find immediate success upon entering the UFC. In fact The Axe Murderer is only 1-3 in the UFC (though you can make a sound argument that he beat Rich Franklin.) His UFC run has certainly been a disappointment but there's a lot of reasons to think that he can still turn his career around. Silva is making his debut at middleweight, dropping from light heavyweight. Silva was always on the small side for a 205 pounder and has said he feels much quicker since dropping the weight. Silva also underwent facial surgery. He got his mangled nose repaired and a ton of scar tissue removed. While the gains of such surgery appear superficial on the surface they are not. The scar tissue left Silva's face much more susceptible to cuts, also Silva said the surgery on his nose has helped his breathing tremendously.
Silva certainly earned the nickname The Axe Murderer. His style is to come straight at you at overwhelm you with strikes and knees from the clinch. The underrated aspects of Silvas game are his wresting, more then adequate, and his jiu-jitsu. He never uses either offensively but he's shown skill in both areas when he's been forced to.
Bisping is the brash winner of The Ultimate Fighter. I've long considered Bisping an overrated fighter whose record was inflated by fighting low level talent. After his decisive loss to Dan Handerson I found myself vindicated. However, in his win over Dennis Kang, Bisping proved the doubters wrong and showed he still has a lot of talent. What impressed me most about Bisping in the Kang fight was his jiu-jitsu. Kang has a tight ground game and Bisping did a great job using his hips to keep Kang off balance. In the later rounds he showed improved wrestling as he dropped Kang with ease.
With an 8-2 UFC record a win over Silva would put Bisping in or around the top 10 and potentially only one or two fights away from a title shot.
Breakdown: Bisping in a lot of ways is similar to Forrest Griffin. He's tough and he's well rounded but he doesn't have one particular skill that's exceptional, and at the end of the day that can only get you so far. Bisping should look to keep Silva at a distance with his jab and leg kicks, Silva on the other is going to try to showcase his trademark combination of explosiveness and violence and bum rush Bisping with strikes.
Bisping will find himself overwhelmed in the striking game just like he did against Dan Henderson, who really is just a one trick pony. Bisping could work for take-downs but Rich Franklin struggled to take Silva down and Silva's take down defense should only be better at a lighter weight class.
Prediction: Silva via TKO Round 2
Joe Stevenson (31-10) vs. George Sotiropoulos (11-2)
The Fighters: The hometown hero Sotiropoulos, is a very well rounded fighter. He's a BJJ Black Belt but he also has an amateur boxing background, in fact in 2004 he won a Victoran State Amateur boxing tournament. Sotiropoulos is 11-2 overall and 4-0 in the UFC. His only two losses are a DQ loss to Shinya Aoki and a split decision loss very early in his career. Sotiropoulos competed on the Ultimate Fighter and made it to the semi-finals before losing in controversial fashion. Sotiropoulos has never been finished in his professional career. As a former welterweight Sotiropoulos is a very large lightweight and is a handful to try to take down. Sotiropoulos is similar stylistically to Paulo Filho. He's incredibly methodical as he tightly transitions from position to position.
To say Stevenson is veteran would be an understatement. Stevenson fought Jens Pulver when he was only 17 years old! Stevenson is only 27 years old but already has 41 pro bouts on his record. Like Sotiropoulos, Stevenson moved from welterweight to lightweight. Stevenson won his first four fights as a lightweight before getting a shot at the UFC title against B.J Penn. Since losing to Penn it's been a mixed bag for Stevenson. He looked good against Diaz and Fisher but not so good against Florian and Sanchez.
Stevenson recently teamed up with Greg Jackson and it's done wonders for his career. Stevenson has gone back to his roots, his wrestling and top game, and is riding a two fight win streak.
Breakdown: Much like 'Nog vs. Velasquez the question in this fight is; what happens when Stevenson gets Sotiropoulos down. Sotiropoulos has the skills to sweep or submit Joe Daddy. However, what I see being the underrated aspect of this fight is Sotiropoulos boxing. He hasn't showcased it a ton in his UFC career but you can tell he has actual boxing technique, something we don't get to see in the UFC often. Joe Daddy might be able to take Sotiropoulos down but I don't think he'll be able to keep him down.
Prediction: Sotiropoulos Via Split Decision
Keith Jardine (15-6-1) vs. Ryan Bader (10-0)
The Fighters: Expect the word "unorthodox" to be used to describe Keith Jardine roughly 8,000 times this fight. The former Ultimate Fighter contestant began his career at heavyweight before settling in at 205. Jardine is 6-5 in the UFC but has faced top competition for most of the past three years. Jardine holds wins over contenders Brandon Vera, Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell. Jardine is well rounded, trains at a great camp (Greg Jackson) and has a unorthodox (Ding!) striking style that keeps opponents off guard. He likes to use his leg kicks, some of the best in the sport, and his jab to keep distance from opponents.
Ryan "Darth" Bader won his season of The Ultimate Fighter. When watching him on TUF you got the sense that not only did he have the raw skills to be a TUF champ but a UFC champ one day. A two time All-American wrestler at Arizona State University and a three-time PAC 10 Champion, Baders 120 wins ranks him 8th on the all-time wins list for ASU. Bader was college teammates with current UFC competitors Cain Velasquez and C.B. Dollaway. Bader is 3-0 in the UFC.
Breakdown: Where Bader struggles is on his feet. He has tremendous power but his striking arsenal is limited to a single Dan Henderson style overhand right. The UFC has protected him in the stand up game by feeding him grapplers and weaker wrestlers early in his career (Magalhaes, Marerro, Schafer.) That's why Jardine is a bigger test then people realize. How's Bader going to react to leg kicks? Will he check them properly or are we heading for Robbie Lawler territory (if you underestimate the importance of leg kicks look no further then Griffin/Rampage where Forrest essentially won a title because of them.) How will Bader react if he gets tagged? These things are unknowns with Bader. As for Jardine we've seen that he's most vulnerable when facing a striker with K.O power. Of his five losses three came within the first minutes of the fight (W. Silva, T. Silva, Alexander.) Where Jardine excels is when he's forced to wrestle and scramble.
Bader is a great wrestler and should be able to take Jardine down at will but even Rampage Jackson had trouble holding Jardine down for three rounds.
Prediction: Jardine via TKO Round 3
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (25-7-2) vs. Ben Rothwell (30-7)
The Fighters: Wild Boys...Wild Boys....Wild Boys!
It's been a quick and sudden fall for Cro-Cop who was once unanimously considered the third best heavyweight in the world. The one time PRIDE star has found almost no success in the Octagon. He's 2-3 in the cage but his wins have been over meek competition (Eddie Sanchez and Mastapha-Al-Turk.) I've written about Mirko's struggles at length. Mirko would blame his struggles on the lack of a proper training regimen and a mental block in the Octagon, I would simply blame them on age. PRIDE fighters tend to age in dog years and all those years of tournament fighting seem to have caught up to him.
Ben Rothwell came into the UFC with a fair amount of hype. The 28 year old was considered a borderline top 10 heavyweight and he racked up an impressive record fighting in the now defunct IFL. Somehow the UFC had always eluded him. Rothwell's UFC debut didn't go as planned as he was manhandled by Cain Velasquez.
Breakdown: Cro-Cop is on the small side for a heavyweight and relies on his kickboxing. In fact, Cro-Cop has basically made a career off of jab-head kick. Rothwell is a monster of a man, tipping the scales at 260 plus. Rothwell also relies on his kick boxing but he doesn't have the same technical acumen as Cro-Cop. Rothwell is a mauler and brawler, not a counter puncher. That fact should bode well for Mirko.
Prediction: Cro Cop via KO, Head Kick, Round 1
...Hey we all can dream.
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