23 August 2011
Due to injuries and an effort to build up the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, UFC 134 is the highest profile card the promotion has put on all summer with a triple whammy of main and semi-main event fights. The reason for the stacked card is simple: this is the UFC's first trip to Brazil in over a decade. For as much time as ten years is, it might as well be the first time the company has ever been to the country, and it's definitely the first show under the auspices of Zuffa, LLC, who bought UFC back in 2001. The country is rabid for this show, and booking an arena that holds 14,000 people as opposed to a giant soccer stadium that holds 100,000 was a big mistake. Hopefully, Dana White will fix that with the next go-round in a year and the fans will be just as ready for that show, too. Joe Silva has booked the card the way the company normally approaches a Canadian or British show, making all but one of the matches feature a native Brazilian taking on what the attendants will view as an evil foreigner.
Luiz Cane vs. Stanislav Nedkov - Cane has had his ups and downs since losing to Li'l Nogueira while I know nothing about Nedkov outside of the fact that he's Bulgarian, undefeated and making his debut with UFC. It's really a coin flip as far as predictions are concerned, so I'll be nice and pick Luiz Cane to win by decision.
Ross Pearson vs. Edson Barboza - This fight looks pretty tough for Pearson, whose claim to fame as the winner of The Ultimate Fighter lost some luster with a defeat to Cole Miller last year. Barboza, meanwhile, is an undefeated prospect who has really flashy stand-up. The Brazilian has a wider array of strikes than the Brit, and neither guy has great wrestling, so I only see this going to the ground if Pearson gets desperate. That'll be made even tougher as Barboza has devastating leg kicks, defeating two separate opponents via TKO that way. I suspect Pearson will suffer the same fate and Barboza to win by TKO late in the second round.
Brendan Schaub vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira - While anything can happen in the fight game -- just ask Tito Ortiz -- the booking of this fight seems pretty mean. Nogueira is the hometown boy and former UFC Heavyweight Champion, but he's been out for 18 months since getting knocked out by Cain Velasquez. The layoff has more to do with his accumulation of other injuries that had nothing to do with his two minute performance against the current heavyweight champ. His back has its issues, and he's coming back now after surgery on both knees followed by dual hip surgery. Big Nog is only 35 yet looks like he's in his fifties due to the amount of punishment he's taken over his long career. The guy is banged up is what I'm saying.
His opponent, however, is a young prospect with a lone loss on his record who has been running through most of his opponents with relative ease. Brendan Schaub has one decision win in his career, and that's a fight that he clearly dominated until the last ten seconds of the final round. Those ten seconds revealed a weakness that Nogueira can exploit, as Schaub's ground game appears pretty weak. However, getting Schaub to the ground may be easier said than done. Plus, Schaub is a really good striker, and it doesn't appear that Nogueira's chin is as cracked up as it used to be if the loss to Velasquez is any indication.
And that's what makes this fight seem sad. Antonio Nogueira's career has fewer fights ahead of it than behind, and while he could pull a Tito Ortiz level upset against Brendan Schaub, smart money says that won't happen. Schaub will probably win by KO in the first, but I very well might be overselling the extent to which Nogueira is truly shot and reports of his MMA demise could be greatly exaggerated.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Forrest Griffin - The first fight between both of these former UFC Light Heavyweight Champions is important for the sake of history and showing how far each fighter has progressed since the initial outing. Shogun Rua debuted in the UFC as a heavy favorite against Forrest Griffin at UFC 76, touted as the number one LHW in the world due to his dominance in Pride. As with a lot of fighters who make it big in Japan, Rua showed some really glaring weaknesses in the fight in his questionable gas tank and proclivity for injuries. Meanwhile, Griffin, my wife's favorite fighter, demonstrated two of his trademarks: deep stamina and tremendous heart. Forrest Griffin is a guy that fights until someone is knocked out -- it doesn't matter if he's the one on the canvas or his opponent. Sure, he'll take a submission, but his chief concern (as long as he's gotten at least one win under his belt for the year, as Griffin stated after his win against Rich Franklin) is to trade with his opponent because he likes punching people in the face even if it means he has to take a few shots in return. Rua came out strong in the first round, like he normally does, but he became tired and Griffin eventually upset Shogun with a rear naked choke submission late in the final round. Shogun then took a year and a half off due to knee problems.
In the four years since that fight, both guys have won and lost the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, and both have taken extended periods of time off due to injury. More than anyone, though, Shogun Rua has a tendency to come back too soon from his injuries, usually making them worse in the long run. Besides the time he took off after fighting Forrest Griffin, Rua also took almost a year off following his rematch with Machida where he won the championship. In both instances, the first fight back (against Mark Coleman and Jon Jones, respectively) after the extended layoff saw Shogun have a really have a tough time with his cardio. Rua insists that he wasn't injured going into the Jones fight but merely got hurt early and never recovered. Does that mean he's 100% going into his fight with Forrest? It's hard to say, but considering his attitude, I wouldn't be surprised if Rua still has lingering injury issues.
Whatever the state of Shogun, I expect a really exciting first round from both guys since Forrest is a gamer and especially if a first round is all Rua has to offer. I'm rooting for Forrest because I love watching the guy fight and I also know that it's the safest call to make in my household considering how much my wife loves the guy. Forrest will take the win by decision, but with the caveat that I wouldn't be surprised if Rua pulls an Anderson Silva-like knockout against him, too.
Yushin Okami vs. Anderson Silva (c) for the UFC Middleweight Championship - Speaking of the champ, Anderson Silva finally gets his rematch against the guy who last managed to secure a victory against him when he faces Yushin Okami. At least, that's how many people are hyping the fight, and that is how it looks on paper. Only Silva lost via DQ after throwing an illegal kick and Okami had trouble recovering. Silva has hinted that Okami exaggerated his condition at the time and could have continued but was too afraid. The infamous Chael Sonnen, Yushin's training partner for the fight, insists that Anderson threw the kick intentionally hoping to gain a better position upon the separation for it. Granted, everything Chael Sonnen says should be taken with a truckload of salt, which is one of the things that makes him so great.
Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami are the yin to each other's yang. Where Anderson Silva is one of the most exciting fighters to watch (when he's motivated), watching Yushin Okami fight is akin to watching grass grow over drying paint. He's the worst. Oftentimes, an Okami fight is actually a detriment to me wanting to watch a show because he goes for the clinch, eventually manages a takedown and then proceeds to pepper his opponent with just enough shots so as not to get stood up. Okami is more of a "fight not to lose" competitor than Georges St. Pierre, and like the middleweight champ, he's enough of a great wrestler to make that the case more often than not.
But this is Anderson Silva we're talking about, right? He's the pound for pound greatest fighter in the world, the guy with the most wins ever in the UFC, not to mention the longest winning streak and most championship defenses! AND STEVEN SEGAL HAS GIVEN HIM SUPER ZEN CHAI TEA LATTE POWERS OF KICKING! Apparently. But I wrote something back in February when referring to the holes Chael Sonnen revealed in Anderson Silva's game that went thusly: "He's susceptible to the takedown, and while Silva is adept at finding a submission off his back, a fighter who can avoid or defend said submissions has a strong chance of beating the premiere middleweight in the UFC." If that doesn't describe Yushin Okami to a captial T, I don't know what does. Okami isn't the wrestler that Chael Sonnen is, but few people are, and unlike Sonnen, Okami won't choke in the last two minutes of the round and leave himself open to a triangle.
That is why this is a dangerous fight for Silva and, shock of shocks, he could lose a boring decision...in front of his countrymen, no less, possibly killing the territory for the UFC in the process. And, honestly, I kind of want to pick Okami because it'll make me look really smart, which would be pretty cool. However, Anderson Silva is going to be the champ for as long as his speed and reflexes hold up. Silva will TKO Okami in the third round.