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UFC 117- Preview
Clay Guida vs. Rafael Dos Anjos
What to Expect:
Clay Guida, one of the 155-pound division’s most popular fighters returns to action against the versatile Rafael Dos Anjos in what has the potential to be the fight of the night. Dos Anjos is a well-rounded fighter who combines a stellar Brazilian jiu jitsu game with increasingly proficient muay thai. He utilized razor sharp kicks to take the spring out of Rob Emerson’s step, and he completely imposed his will on Kyle Bradley, getting the better of him in the stand up and on the ground. However, it was Dos Anjos’ latest performance, against highly-touted Terry Etim, in which he made his strongest impact, submitting the Brit with a second-round armbar.
Clay Guida, conversely, in spite of his relentless cardio and frustrating wrestling skills has been spotty as of late. His wins over Nate Diaz and Shannon Gugerty bookended consecutive losses to former title contenders Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian. Losing to the top dogs in the division is no shame, but Guida will really have to defeat Dos Anjos in order to rise above gatekeeper status. What Guida has going for him in this particular bout is his wrestling game. While Dos Anjos has shown solid takedowns, his takedown defense is likely not strong enough to stifle Guida’s shot. When the fighters engage on the feet, Guida will have difficulty with Dos Anjos’ kicks. But those kicks will also leave Dos Anjos open to being taken down. Since it is a virtual certainty that Dos Anjos will have to fight off his back for long portions of this bout, it becomes a question of whether the submissions expert is able to effectively sweep Clay or trap him in a triangle or arm bar.
Guida is a very difficult fighter to deal with. He has strong takedowns, he is active from the top position, and he has the conditioning to go three rounds at a frenetic pace. However, every time that Clay gets this fight to the ground, he will have to deal with a talented Brazilian jiu jitsu blackbelt looking for submissions at every turn. Dos Anjos’ ground game is one of the best in the division, and he is really coming into his own as a fighter in the UFC. He certainly has one of the most deceiving records in the division, as he is 3-2 but has looked quite solid in all five Octagon outings. Though Guida will control the tempo of the fight, it will be Dos Anjos who secures the victory by clinching a second round submission.
Dos Anjos- submission- round 2
Junior Dos Santos vs. Roy Nelson
What to Expect:
This fight will likely be contested in the stand up. Roy Nelson is a highly-accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but he lacks the wrestling chops to really put Junior dos Santos in danger. Though Nelson might shoot in for a double leg, it is more reasonable to believe that the only way he can take dos Santos down is by initiating a clinch and using his weight to force dos Santos to the mat. While this is certainly a possibility, dos Santos has demonstrated in past Octagon appearances that he is very light on his feet and good at moving in and out of the pocket.
In the stand-up battle, Nelson will have to contend one of the best strikers in the division. Nelson is no pushover in this realm. After all, he knocked out both Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve in the first round. Nelson hits hard and has a strong chin, but these factors will likely not be enough for him to gain victory over dos Santos. There is a clear discrepancy in speed between these two men, and that will be the difference maker. Though the rotund Roy is a lot quicker than his physique would indicate, he is also a step slower than the younger Cigano. Add dos Santos’ definite height and reach advantages, and you have a recipe for another impressive knockout win for JDS.
Dos Santos has looked superlative in all five of his Octagon appearances. The legendary striker Mirko Cro Cop was the only fighter to make it out of the first round with him in the UFC. That fight actually prompted some criticism, as several fans felt that dos Santos left himself too open to counter punches from Cro Cop. The bottom line, however, is that he ate those shots without getting rocked or becoming tentative. That is indicative of chin strength and a bold, aggressive style. The other heavy hitters who dos Santos has fought- Yvel and Gonzaga- did not even have the chance to really hit him flush. Dos Santos connected with powerful, fast punches, and disconnected those guys from consciousness. While Nelson has well-rounded skills, he is not the person equipped to take out Dos Santos. Roy will likely get picked apart in the stand-up until he is dropped by a powerful combination and the ref intervenes.
Junior Dos Santos- tko- round 2
Ricardo Almeida vs. Matt Hughes
What to Expect:
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this fight is the fact that Hughes’ previous two opponents, Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie, have a connection to Almeida. Serra and Almeida have trained together in the past, and Renzo Gracie serves as a close personal friend and mentor to Almeida. Hughes defeated both those grapplers, but in very different ways. In the Serra fight, a noticeably slower Hughes had to survive a first round onslaught from Serra (precipitated by an accidental headbutt to the chin), and then use his impressive wrestling to win the next two rounds and the decision. Against Renzo Gracie, we saw the debut of Matt Hughes, Kickboxer. Many of us scoffed at the strategy and felt Matt should not quit his day job, but the fact is the gameplan was sound, as Hughes was avoiding Renzo’s ground game and simultaneously battered him with leg kicks and superior boxing.
Against Almeida, Hughes will not opt to stand. Exclusively working his striking against Ricardo would be a problematic scenario for him because Almeida is stronger and more aggressive than Renzo. If Hughes wants to use leg kicks and boxing, Almeida will likely pressure him, initiate the clinch, and push for a takedown of his own. Hughes, therefore, would be better suited in trying to wrestle Almeida and ground and pound him, the style that made Matt one of the most dangerous welterweights of all time. Almeida, though not a wrestler, has exhibited a great deal of improvement in his wrestling in recent fights. He took Matt Horwich and Kendall Grove down at will. Against Matt Brown, Almeida utilized a diverse game of clinch work, dirty boxing, and Brazilian jiu jitsu, leading to a rear naked choke that ended the fight. Almeida, then, will assuredly be looking to put Hughes on his back. Neither of these men are strikers and the likelihood is that the fighter who is able to put the other fighter on the mat on a more consistent basis will take home the decision victory.
Hughes is the better wrestler and possesses more raw power. Almeida is bigger, younger, and hungrier. If Hughes is able to put Almeida on his back, he will find that he will have difficulty doing anything significant from the top. Almeida is one of the preeminent BJJ blackbelts in MMA, and he will be able to neutralize Hughes’ ground and pound and force the ref to stand the fight up. The x-factor in this fight is Almeida’s wrestling. His relentless push for takedowns has given him a great deal of success in his last fights, but Hughes has never been an easy fighter to take down or keep on his back. Still, Almeida’s grappling and his improved boxing will help him win this fight. It will not be easy, but Almeida will take home a unanimous decision.
Ricardo Almeida- unanimous decision.
Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves
What to Expect:
A rematch from 2006, Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves will face off in one of the most highly-anticipated welterweight showdowns in recent memory. Many consider Fitch and Alves to be the two best welterweight fighters not named GSP. The winner of this fight will place himself in contention for another title shot (both lost vey lopsided decisions to St.-Pierre), while the loser will have to go back to the drawing board.
Each man has a very clear strategy in this bout. Fitch will look to use takedowns, stifling top control, and ground and pound from the guard, a gameplan that has helped to turn him into one of the UFC’s most successful fighters. Alves, conversely, will use his tremendous size and improved takedown defense to negate Fitch’s wrestling so that he can punish him in the stand-up. Alves is perhaps the best muay thai practitioner in the 170-pound class. Standing and exchanging strikes with him is like getting into a wrestling match with Georges St.-Pierre, it’s a losing proposition. Though Fitch has competent boxing and an iron chin, he will not be able to win this fight if he cannot take Thiago Alves down.
GSP, the most explosive wrestler in the weight class, took Alves down with relative ease. However, Alves was consistently able to power back to his feet, an achievement that is all the more impressive since none of St.-Pierre’s other recent opponents (Penn, Fitch, Serra, and Hughes) were able to do so. Fitch must continually use his wrestling to take Alves down. He should also employ the stacked guard ground and pound that he used to frustrate and dominate Ben Saunders. Sometimes passing the guard in the hopes of securing dominant positions creates the space an opponent needs to get back to his feet. That is exactly what Fitch must avoid.
Fitch has to recognize that a heavy-handed guy like Alves is dangerous until the very end of the fight. When he battled tough-as-nails wrestler Mike Pierce last December, Fitch found himself in great danger near the end of the fight because Pierce came at him with aggression and threw a flurry of vicious punches. That being said, Fitch is well aware of what Alves brings to the table and he has many advantages. He has the confidence in knowing he already defeated Alves in the past (albeit a much less experienced Alves), he has the momentum that comes with four straight victories, and he has the fact that he has been the much more active fighter in recent months.
Since June of 2009, Fitch has fought three men. In that same time period, Alves, due to injury and surgery, has only fought once. If Alves comes back with ring rust, it is likely that Fitch will quickly take him down and outwork him to a lopsided decision. If Alves comes back in prime conditioning, then it is likely that we will experience a very competitive, hard-fought battle in which Fitch takes Alves down, Alves forces the fight back to the feet and tries to brutalize Fitch’s head and legs with low kicks, knees and punches. Either way, Fitch will be able to take Alves down and employ ground and pound just enough to capture the decision.
Jon Fitch- unanimous decision.
UFC Middleweight Championship Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen
What to Expect:
Much like the co-feature, there is no mystery as to what each of these fighters wants to do. Sonnen will look to utilize his elite wrestling to put Silva on the ground, and Silva will want to keep the fight standing so that he can decimate Chael with his accurate punches, brain-rattling knees, and slick kicks.
Sonnen is likely the best wrestler in the middleweight division. Though Silva has quality takedown defense and is adept at maintaining distance so as to avoid shots, he will not be able to stop Sonnen from taking him down. If Sonnen can take Silva down on multiple occasions, he will have to match up his impressive top control and ground and pound against Silva’s extremely underrated defensive Brazilian jiu jitsu. Indeed, Silva’s ability to neutralize opponents from his back is very impressive. Elite BJJ blackbelt Thales Leites took him down in the second stanza of their championship fight and could do absolutely nothing with it. Ditto for heavy-handed wrestler Dan Henderson, who took Silva down but was prevented from doing any significant damage. Still, Sonnen knows that if he can take Silva down, avoid submissions, and stay active, he will win rounds on the judges’ scorecards.
Silva typically has good cardio, but he has never had a strong wrestler chipping away at him for a prolonged period of time. Sonnen, meanwhile, displayed good submission defense in his last UFC fight, but he has been notoriously susceptible to submission holds in the past.
Chael Sonnen is coming off career-best performances against top 5 competition in Nate Marquardt and Yushin Okami. He looked dominant in both efforts, leaving many to believe that he might be Anderson’s most stern test in a long time. Though the two dynamic wins certainly made Sonnen a credible contender, it has been his frequent and funny trash talking that has really gained him a whole new fan base. Those who feel Sonnen is the man to dethrone Anderson have a strong argument, as he is, stylistically, the worst possible match for Anderson at this point. As long as he can take Anderson down, and unleash enough ground and pound to prevent a stand up, he will steal rounds on the judges’ scorecards.
The smart thing about matching Silva up against Sonnen, from the perspective of Dana White and Joe Silva, is that the latter will force the champion to work. In his last fight, a bizarre, uninspiring performance against Demian Maia, Silva tried to avoid contact with the challenger, dodging exchanges in the championship rounds. He had done enough damage in the first three rounds to ensure that he won the fight, but many felt that Silva’s antics during the bout, which involved taunting the challenger and dancing around the Octagon, were weird at best and disrespectful at worst. Sonnen will not give Silva the time to play. He has that do or die mentality and Silva will be forced to be aggressive or he will lose the fight
The problem is that Chael really has one obvious way to win the fight, while Anderson has several. Since Silva is extremely durable, it is highly unlikely that Sonnen will be able to finish him. This means that he will need to win at least three of five rounds, survive for 25 minutes, and win the decision in order to capture the title belt. Meanwhile, Anderson can assuredly knock Sonnen out with his striking, and might also use his BJJ to lock on a hold and elicit the tapout. Though Sonnen has great cardio, he will not be able to keep performing takedowns and frenetic ground and pound for twenty-five minutes. Around the third round he will likely be tired and sloppy, allowing Silva to catch him with a submission.
Anderson Silva- submission- Round 3