The bout between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cain Velasquez tonight will determine more than just a future heavyweight title challenger for later in 2010. It will also show whether Nogueira may be at the end of his days as a top five heavyweight, or whether Velasquez needs a bit more experience before being considered a truly elite heavyweight. Meanwhile, the stakes for Wanderlei Silva are much higher, as he desperately needs a win to become relevant to the middleweight title picture, as does his opponent, Michael Bisping. Here’s my breakdown and predictions for all of UFC 110’s main card fights.
Keith Jardine vs. Ryan Bader
Jardine has been on both the winning and losing sides of some of the more memorable light heavyweight bouts of the last few years, and Bader is actually his “easiest” opponent in some time. However, that’s more of a testament to the non-stop flow of top-notch fighters that have been sent Jardine’s way than an indictment of Bader’s skills, which are coming along nicely. Bader, unlike many great amateur wrestlers who never truly evolve, is already showing a lot of improvement in areas that don’t involve shooting at his opponents legs, most notably his striking. He has natural power in his right hand and is working hard to improve his technical striking, as well.
Jardine’s real advantage here (besides his experience) is his well-rounded striking. If this was a kickboxing bout, Jardine would frustrate Bader the whole time, peppering his legs with kicks and confusing the young fighter with awkward combinations and timing. However, Bader can take Jardine down at any time, and this threat takes much of Jardine’s biggest advantage away from him. Meanwhile, Jardine may have more submission skills than Bader, but it’s still far from his strong suit, and he’s not often put on his back, either. Tonight, however, he will be put there early and often, as Bader will probably fight a smart (if not exhilerating) fight.
Prediction: Bader by decision
Joe Stevenson vs. George Sotiropoulos
Sotiropoulos is not just looking to force writers everywhere to double- and triple-check the spelling of his name, but also to join the higher ranks of the lightweight division. While Sotiropoulos has not fought anyone near Stevenson’s caliber thus far, he has an unblemished record in the UFC of 4-0, and boasts a solid all-around game.
Meanwhile, you have to wonder how Stevenson feels about quite literally playing the role of gatekeeper in this one. No one wants to end up in that spot, as Stevenson and fellow UFC 110 competitor Keith Jardine has, since every fighter believes deep down that they have what it takes to be champion. However, if Stevenson wants to prove that, he’ll need to win against a tough, if unheralded, opponent tonight.
I think he will do just that. The problem for Sotiropoulos is that he will not be able to keep Stevenson from taking him down, and Stevenson’s top game is quite good. It’s good enough to threaten to finish the fight at any point, and it’s certainly good enough to neutralize any offense Sotiropoulos could mount from the bottom. Sotiropoulos, like most of Stevenson’s opponents, will enjoy a nice reach advantage, but I don’t think he will find a way to turn that advantage into anything tangible in this one. Meanwhile, Stevenson will use his striking combinations to set up takedowns en route to his third straight victory and a re-emergence among the better lightweights in the division.
Prediction: Stevenson by decision
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Anthony Perosh
Anthony “The Hippo” Perosh is not just a fighter with a ridiculous nickname anymore. He’s a litmus test for whether or not one of the better fighters of the last ten years of mixed martial arts still has anything left in the tank. While Perosh won’t give us as good of an idea of what Cro Cop can do at this point as Ben Rothwell would have, he deserves credit for stepping up on short notice.
Perosh is a pretty good fighter who has enjoyed some success, but is susceptible to knockouts. Furthermore, he’s one of the few heavyweights Cro Cop will ever face that is actually smaller than the former Pride Open Weight Grand Prix champion. If Cro Cop is ever going to do anything in MMA again besides simply collect a paycheck or knock out a mismatched Japanese fighter or two, he will knock Perosh out.
Predicting whether or not he will, though, is another question. Even counting his wins against Eddie Sanchez and Mostapha Al-Turk, Cro Cop has yet to look good in the UFC in five fights. In his last UFC fight against the impressive Junior dos Santos, Cro Cop looked not just bad, but vacant, admitting afterwards that his mind was elsewhere even during the fight itself. Does Cro Cop still even want to fight? If he does, this fight is his for the taking. Against my better instincts, I’ll let it ride on Cro Cop one more time, if only because an even half-motivated version of himself should devastate Perosh within the three allotted rounds.
Prediction: Cro Cop by KO/TKO
Wanderlei Silva vs. Michael Bisping
Like Jardine, Bonnar and Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva badly needs a win. While Dana White says Silva will never be out of the UFC, Silva is not content to simply have a place in the organization. He’s a proud former Pride champion who wants to be feared and respected, as he was when he attacked opponents with the savagery of a wild beast in Japan. To get anywhere near that point again, Silva has to win this fight.
Bisping is in a similar situation, though he has much more to gain than to lose. His impressive win over former top ten middleweight Denis Kang proved that Bisping is still a very good fighter, but like Silva, he wants more than that. To be considered in the running for a title shot anytime soon, he has to defeat Silva. Otherwise, he’ll be dismissed as the “good, but not great” fighter that his detractors have always maintained that he was.
Bisping feels he has the advantage because his boxing is crisper and more technically sound. He’s half-right…his boxing is better in those ways, but this does not give him the type of advantage that he thinks it does. Silva’s own assessment that Bisping can’t knock him out is closer to what matters most, as you can’t simply expect good technical striking to keep Silva off of you for three rounds. Even in the face of powerful strikers like Chuck Liddell (or technically savvy ones like Rich Franklin), Silva keeps coming forward at all times.
Besides, we heard all this before, in the lead-up to the Henderson fight. Bisping made fun of Henderson’s looping right hand and talked up his technical boxing advantage. Sound familiar? I hope so, because he has said the same things regarding his fight tonight with Silva.
Neither fighter is going to look to take the other down tonight, although if Silva gets Bisping in hot water, I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see a takedown attempt under those circumstances. Still, I don’t see this going the distance, and I don’t see either fighter’s ground skills coming into play.
Bisping may have the technical boxing advantage, but Silva has the power and will not stop until either he or Bisping is out. Also, Bisping neglects to mention that there is more to striking in MMA than just boxing. Silva has not used his muay thai clinch or powerful kicks as much as many would have hoped so far in his UFC tenure, but he still has options where Bisping does not. Silva will eventually put Bisping away.
Prediction: Silva by KO/TKO
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Cain Velasquez
This is far and away the toughest fight to call on the card. With Nogueira, there is always the wild card of when exactly his many battles in the ring and cage will catch up to him, and Velasquez is a young fighter who still has much to learn, but has the kind of limitless potential that is hard to handicap. Furthermore, a fighter like Velasquez often looks completely improved each time you see him, which means that he may very well have tightened up a lot of the weaknesses we saw a year or even several months ago.
I’m going to give Nogueira the benefit of the doubt and say he has a little something left in the tank. He looked outstanding against Randy Couture, and I have no reason to not believe what he said about being very sick leading up to his disappointing loss to Frank Mir.
At the same time, Velasquez has likely worked hard on his striking, which would appear to be his biggest weakness after being put in deep trouble each round by Cheick Kongo, although he won the decision. Still, the idea that Kongo was able to hurt Velasquez standing in the relatively few seconds each round that took place before he was taken down is not a great sign for the young fighter’s striking skills.
Of course, Kongo is a very good striker, and while Nogueira has always been a pretty competent one, he’s not on Kongo’s level. Nogueira usually does not pack enough power to put his opponents in danger, and I think that concerns about Cain’s chin should be more of a credit to Kongo’s power than anything else. Looking at it the other way around, I don’t think Velasquez has what it takes to put Nogueira on the floor with a punch, either.
Will this fight be decided on the mat? I don’t know. I tend to think that Velasquez will avoid settling into the dangerous guard of Nogueira unless the striking starts going poorly for him. Velasquez has absolutely vicious ground and pound, but a fighter like Minotauro has made a career out of submitting overly eager opponents on the mat. For the most part, I think this fight takes place standing up, and it’s really anyone’s call in that case. I’ll go with my heart on this one, and say that Nogueira will have a slight edge in striking throughout, leading to either a decision victory or a poor choice to take the Brazilian down, leading to a submission loss on Velasquez’s record.
Oh, what the hell. Let’s go with Nogueira by a third-round submission win.
Prediction: Nogueira by submission.