205 lbs: Wanderlei Silva (34-12-1, 4-7 UFC) vs. Brian Stann (12-5, 6-4 UFC)
If the UFC wanted a slugfest in their main event on Fuel TV, they probably got one with Wanderlei Silva and Brian Stann. Both fighters love to stand and bang, and very rarely go for takedowns. My concern is that while the main event figures to be a slugfest, I don’t think it will be a very long slugfest.
While I’ve practically begged Wanderlei Silva to retire after each of his recent fights, he’s still somewhat competitive in the UFC. Silva still is a very dangerous striker with serious KO power in his punches and knees. When he’s taken down, Silva has excellent defensive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which he uses to quickly get back to his feet. And Silva’s tendency to throw wild hooks at an attacking opponent can dissuade volume strikers from throwing too many strikes his way.
What you’ll hear about Silva is that he’s very aggressive, and while Silva can be aggressive in spurts, he generally is not as aggressive as you think. Most of the time, Silva can actually be somewhat tentative. Silva has two striking “modes”: a cautious mode and a reckless mode. When Silva is in cautious mode, he’ll throw out a jab or straight punch, or an occasional kick. He’ll also focus on defending his opponent’s strikes, and sometimes has fairly effective head movement. While Silva’s cautious mode minimizes his risk of being knocked out, he does tend to be out-pointed.
Then there’s reckless mode. When Silva’s opponent gets more aggressive, instead of defending his opponent’s strikes, Silva will simply swing wild hooks right back at them. This is a double-edged sword: while Silva has a good chance of hurting his opponent with one of these strikes, he also leaves himself wide open to eating punches as well. Silva will also occasionally charge recklessly while swinging these wild hooks, usually in the last minute of a round.
It’s easy to see why this fighting style was so successful for Silva in his PRIDE days. Silva was excellent at forcing fights to take place at standing distance. Then, when Silva would attack his opponent recklessly, not only did he have a great chance of winning by KO, but he had a very durable chin that would prevent Silva from being knocked out himself. Now, many years later, that once durable chin is somewhat fragile. Instead of absorbing punishment and dishing it right back, Silva is often buckled by strikes, if not knocked out cold.
And against Brian Stann, Silva will be facing an opponent uniquely suited to defeat him. Like Silva, Stann is a multi-dimensional striker with terrific KO power. Unlike Silva, Stann has a chin that will likely hold up during wild exchanges. When Silva is fighting in cautious mode, Stann is likely to simply land more strikes than Silva during that time. When Silva flips the switch, and starts brawling with Stann, he may land some big shots, but he’s likely to eat big shots in return. And while Stann will likely be able to absorb those shots, there’s a very high chance that Silva will not be able to.
In terms of talent level, I don’t think there’s a big difference between these two fighters. Stann is more durable and a better overall striker; Silva is better at defending takedowns and using defensive grappling to get back to his feet. But in this fight, I think Stann has a huge advantage. Silva is always dangerous, and there’s a chance that one of Silva’s wild punches or knees will hurt Stann. But I think it’s much more likely that Stann will catch Silva in an exchange and win by KO. And if this fight somehow goes all five rounds, I think Stann is the probable decision winner as well.
I would love nothing more than to see Wanderlei Silva win in Japan for old time’s sake. But I think the most likely outcome, by far, is for Brian Stann to win by knockout, and leave me once again begging Silva to retire.
Pick: Brian Stann by KO
265 lbs: Mark Hunt (8-7, 3-1 UFC) vs. Stefan Struve (25-5, 9-3 UFC)
This is a fight of extremes. The most obvious is the difference in height between Mark Hunt and Stefan Struve. Hunt is about 5’10” while the UFC has claimed that Struve is now seven feet tall. But there are other extremes as well. There’s Mark Hunt’s KO power and striking skills against Stefan Struve’s tendency to get hit often and get knocked out. And then there’s Struve’s submission abilities against Hunt’s very rudimentary ground game. Perhaps no competitive fight has ever been less likely to go the distance.
Obviously Hunt has a massive advantage standing, even if his fist can barely reach Struve’s chin, and Struve has a massive advantage on the ground. The question is simple: which fighter can impose his game on the other? And that’s where I feel that it’s actually the underdog who is more likely to win this fight.
That’s because the onus is on Stefan Struve to get this fight to the ground. Struve landing a takedown is almost certainly out of the question; he almost never lands an actual takedown, and landing one on the very stocky Mark Hunt would be a shock to everybody involved. That means if Struve wants to get this fight to the ground, he probably needs to pull guard. Struve did exactly that at UFC 146 against Lavar Johnson, and submitted Johnson with an armbar moments later.
If this fight took place a couple years ago, I might have picked Struve to finish Hunt in a very similar manner. But since Hunt started fighting in the UFC, I think he’s been very motivated, and has improved his submission defense just enough that he no longer is on the verge of tapping out the moment the fight hits the floor. Even if Struve pulls guard against Hunt (and even that is harder than it might sound), I think Hunt has just enough skill to prevent Struve from submitting him.
Obviously, there’s a good chance that Struve finds a way to get Hunt to the ground, and submits him. I just think it’s more likely that Hunt clubs Struve and knocks him out.
Pick: Mark Hunt by KO
155 lbs: Takanori Gomi (34-8, 3-3 UFC) vs. Diego Sanchez (23-5, 12-5 UFC)
I can’t blame anybody for thinking that, since Takanori Gomi has now been matched up against an above-average UFC fighter, that he doesn’t stand much of a chance at winning. In Gomi’s last fight, he barely skated by Mac Danzig to win a split decision, and in his previous fight, he had to fight through far more adversity than should have been necessary to beat Eiji Mitsuoka. It seems that, given those performances, Diego Sanchez really should be able to get the job done here.
But I would submit that Gomi matches up really well with Sanchez. Sanchez is a fighter who is very aggressive, throws a lot of strikes, and attempts a lot of takedowns. He also has little to no head movement, and his striking defense in general is a sieve. His takedowns are, more than anything, throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. In terms of fighting in the UFC, Sanchez is a fighter who out-lasts his opponent more than anything.
Gomi’s flaws are well known. He has a difficult time on the ground, to the point where if a fighter wants to beat Gomi, submission is by far the best way to do it. Well, Sanchez hasn’t beaten anybody with an actual submission since he beat Cruz Chacon at a King of the Cage event in February 2004. And while Sanchez is likely to keep up a higher pace than Gomi in terms of throwing strikes, he’s also likely to leave his head wide open for Gomi to lob fastballs right back at Sanchez.
Gomi’s other big flaw is his conditioning, and that’s what’s likely to be his downfall here. If Sanchez fights as aggressively as usual, it’s unlikely that Gomi will be able to keep up with him over the course of three rounds. That means that after a competitive first two rounds, it’s likely Sanchez will be able to run away in the third round by capitalizing on an exhausted Gomi. And while Gomi is normally a big threat to win by knockout, that’s also unlikely here, as Sanchez has an excellent chin, and has only been stopped once, in the fifth round of his fight against B.J. Penn due to a cut.
So I think Sanchez should be able to win this fight, and due to superior conditioning, I think he has to be the pick. But if Gomi is able to out-point Sanchez, or even knock Sanchez out, I won’t be shocked. Gomi definitely has a better chance of winning than he’s being given credit for.
Pick: Diego Sanchez by decision
185 lbs: Hector Lombard (32-3-1, 1-1 UFC) vs. Yushin Okami (28-7, 12-4 UFC)
After each of Yushin Okami’s recent fights, my reaction has been that something wasn’t right with Okami. First, there was the loss to Tim Boetsch by third-round KO. Then, Okami ate a lot of strikes in a win against Buddy Roberts. Most recently, Okami was able to out-grapple Alan Belcher, but Belcher hurt Okami with strikes and actually won the takedown battles. Until this point, however, Okami hasn’t faced an opponent equipped to take advantage of his growing flaws.
Enter Hector Lombard. Lombard is the best type of fighter to counter what Okami does – Lombard has the takedown defense to keep the fight standing, and the KO power to put Okami to sleep. It’s an absolute nightmare matchup for Okami, whose best chance to win is probably out-pointing Lombard in this fight. Easier said than done – if Okami was having a tough time with the striking of Buddy Roberts, then it’s hard to imagine he’ll be too competitive in a striking match with Hector Lombard.
I’m sure Okami would love to get this fight to the ground, but once again, that’s easier said than done with Lombard as the opponent. Lombard has outstanding Judo, and the physical strength and athleticism to keep fights standing, even if his opponent gets in good position to land a takedown. In this fight, Lombard’s worst enemy is himself. If Lombard waits too much to attack, there’s a chance that Okami can win on points. Of course, that presumes that this fight will make it to the judges.
Pick: Hector Lombard by KO
145 lbs: Mizuto Hirota (14-5-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Rani Yahya (17-7, 2-1 UFC)
This is a fight that Mizuto Hirota absolutely should win. Rani Yahya has very little striking or wrestling ability, and wins fights almost solely with outstanding Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. When Yahya gets a fight to the ground, he has a tremendous ability to finish his opponent by passing the guard and locking up a quick submission hold. Yahya’s striking is very sloppy, and his takedowns just don’t have any power behind them. But when Yahya’s opponent makes a mistake, and gives Yahya a chance to work on the ground, Yahya can end it very quickly.
Hirota easily has better striking than Yahya, and while Hirota’s takedown defense is nothing spectacular, it should be more than good enough to keep this fight standing. And unlike Josh Grispi, I doubt Hirota will make the mistake of throwing a kick that Yahya can catch, or allowing Yahya to tie him up in any way. I think Hirota is going to keep this fight standing, and deliver a classic “sprawl and brawl” kind of performance.
Pick: Mizuto Hirota by TKO
170 lbs: Siyar Bahadurzada (21-4-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (16-2-1, 7-2 UFC)
Siyar Bahadurzada is a fighter who is known as a striker, but when I watch him on tape, he comes across as less a striker and more an aggressive fighter who hits very hard. To be sure, Bahadurzada is a very dangerous fighter who is a constant threat to win by KO. In most fights, Bahadurzada’s KO power trumps the striking of his opponent. While his wild, looping punches do leave him open to being countered, Bahadurzada’s opponent is often asleep before even having the chance to counter in the first place.
The thing is – I don’t think Dong Hyun Kim is going to play the striking game at all. As dangerous as Bahadurzada is standing, his grappling leaves a lot to be desired. He’s susceptible to trip takedowns, and has very rudimentary submission defense. Against an opponent like Dong Hyun Kim, that’s bad news. Kim has a skill set that is almost perfectly designed to counter Bahadurzada, as Kim has very good trip takedowns, and stifling top control. To make matters worse, Bahadurzada tends to gas out in the second round of fights, so if he doesn’t get the KO in round one, he might not have the energy to even have the chance to finish Kim in rounds two or three.
Pick: Dong Hyun Kim by decision
185 lbs: Riki Fukuda (19-6, 2-2 UFC) vs. Brad Tavares (9-1, 4-1 UFC)
What’s funny about Riki Fukuda is that he has five fights that have been scored by Fight Metric. All five times, the fight went to decision, and Fukuda’s opponent landed between 41 and 47 significant strikes. Fukuda is remarkably consistent, at least in terms of how often he gets hit by his opponent. This fight against Brad Tavares looks to be very close and competitive – both fighters are active strikers with a good takedown game and good conditioning. I honestly think this is about as close to a 50-50 fight as it gets. If there’s an edge to be had, it’s that Fukuda will be fighting in his home country, and the judges might have a bias towards him in what figures to be a close fight. But honestly, flip a coin on this one.
Pick: Riki Fukuda by decision
135 lbs: Bryan Caraway (17-5, 2-0 UFC) vs. Takeya Mizugaki (16-7-2, 3-2 UFC)
This is a battle between a fighter who is good but not great at everything, and a fighter who is very good at only one thing. Takeya Mizugaki is a very well-rounded fighter with decent striking and wrestling, but is also a fighter who lacks the exceptional talent to win against highly-ranked opponents. By contrast, Bryan Caraway isn’t much of a striker at all, and his wrestling is lackluster at best. But Caraway is excellent at taking his opponent’s back in scrambles, and once he has the body triangle, he doesn’t let go of it easily at all. I think Mizugaki knows what Caraway wants to do in this match, and will be able to shut down Caraway’s game. As long as Caraway isn’t controlling position on the ground, Mizugaki should have the advantage, and that’s enough for me to pick him.
Pick: Takeya Mizugaki by decision
155 lbs: Cristiano Marcello (13-4, 1-1 UFC) vs. Kazuki Tokudome (11-3-1, 0-0 UFC)
Cristiano Marcello is a throwback to the early days of MMA. Marcello is a pretty one-dimensional fighter, with very good offensive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to go along with pretty ugly striking. To Marcello’s credit, he’s at least aggressive with his striking most of the time, and he was able to do enough to at least convince the judges to wrongfully give him the decision win in his last fight against Reza Madadi. The thing is – Marcello’s skill set is probably going to be just enough to beat Kazuki Tokudome. From what I saw on tape, Tokudome just doesn’t have UFC-level talent. He has good takedowns, but very little activity on the ground, and his striking is pretty much a disaster. I hate to be so negative, but outside of Marcello’s BJJ, there’s nothing to look forward to here.
Pick: Cristiano Marcello by submission
135 lbs: Alex Caceres (8-5, 3-3 UFC) vs. Kyung Ho Kang (11-6, 0-0 UFC)
In terms of overall talent, I think Alex Caceres is easily a better fighter than Kyung Ho Kang. Caceres is the better and more active overall striker, and is a little more slick on the ground than Kang as well. The thing is – I think Kang matches up really well with Caceres here. Kang is similar to his teammate, Dong Hyun Kim, in that he has excellent Judo, with an arsenal of throws and trips that he can use to take fights to the floor. It helps that Caceres has no takedown defense at all. On the ground, I expect Caceres to be very hard to control, but just as Caceres should threaten with submissions from the bottom, Kang could easily catch Caceres making a mistake, and win by submission himself. And in Caceres’s last fight, he only won by split decision against Motonobu Tezuka, because Tezuka was the one landing takedowns. So while I think Caceres is the better fighter, I’m actually going to pick Kang to score the very mild upset here, mostly because of how judges usually score fights.
Pick: Kyung Ho Kang by decision
170 lbs: Marcelo Guimaraes (8-0-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Hyun Gyu Lim (10-3-1, 0-0 UFC)
Marcelo Guimaraes had about the worst performance possible by a winning UFC fighter in his debut, edging by Dan Stittgen based on a couple wild flurries, and barely winning a decision. It’s possible that Guimaraes can catch Hyun Gyu Lim in a submission here, but if he doesn’t, this should be Lim’s fight to lose. Lim is a talented striker, and a fighter who usually wins his fights by TKO. He’ll have a big striking advantage here, and I think Lim should be able to use defensive wrestling to keep this fight standing as well. But if Guimaraes can get Lim to the ground, he does at least have a chance.
Pick: Hyun Gyu Lim by TKO