UFC 115 has been overlooked by many, but if the prospect of Chuck Liddell getting possibly his last chance to relive his former glory against the always-tough Rich Franklin doesn’t do anything for you, how about two heavyweight bouts that are sure to become brawls to remember in their own right? There is a lot to look forward to in regards to tonight’s offerings, and no MMA fan worth his or her salt should miss the action. Let’s get right on to my preview and picks of the main card fights.
Ben Rothwell vs. Gilbert Yvel
While Paul Daley hits the unemployment line following his ill-advised swing at Josh Koscheck after their fight concluded at UFC 113, Gilbert Yvel, who has done everything from biting an opponent to knocking out a referee. I guess since Yvel’s infractions took place awhile ago, didn’t happen in the UFC, and received no mainstream media attention, it’s a different situation? Well, we’re pretty much making up the rules as we go along here, aren’t we?
In any case, Yvel will not be feeling too fortunate following his fight with Ben Rothwell. The Yvel who showed up to face Junior dos Santos looked lumbering and ineffective, creating a stark contrast to the explosive, exciting Yvel of old. Furthermore, Ben Rothwell is a blue collar slugger who will pressure Yvel from the outset, not allowing Yvel to get the distance that he needs to unleash a vintage kick or pinpoint strike. Instead, Rothwell will make Yvel uncomfortable from beginning to end, while Yvel’s gas tank and slowly-eroding skills will betray him. Should be an entertaining brawl, for as long as it lasts.
Prediction: Rothwell by KO/TKO
Paulo Thiago vs. Martin Kampmann
In an organization full of “Thiago”s, are any of them more criminally-underrated than Paulo Thiago? His stunning knockout of Josh Koscheck actually seemed to do him more harm than good, as the perception that Thiago landed a “lucky” strike overruled any credit that the Brazilian fighter should have received. At the same time, Martin Kampmann has recently gone from welterweight up-and-comer to forgotten fighter, as his run at a title shot was derailed by the afore-mentioned Paul Daley.
This fight should be a great one, as both fighters have skills to display in all areas of the fight. There are two main things to look at with this fight. The first is the stand-up action, where Kampmann has power but is better served to use his technical edge to get the better of Thiago with quantity rather than quality. He can attempt to load up some shots, but Thiago has power himself, as displayed in the Koscheck bout.
The other thing to think about is if Thiago is able to get the top position on Kampmann. This is the one truly bad area for either fighter to end up in during the fight, as Thiago’s top game is excellent, and Kampmann’s guard is rather rudimentary. Kampmann is not exceptional at getting back on his feet, either. For Kampmann to win, he has to stay off of his back and fight smart standing up. I tend to favor Thiago sticking to what he’s good at, since he has a track record of doing so in his career.
Prediction: Thiago by decision
Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald
Condit came from the WEC with boatloads of potential (and hype), but has not come close to fulfilling it in his UFC tenure thus far. However, both of his fights have been very close, as he lost a split decision to Kampmann and won a split decision against Jake Ellenberger. Meanwhile, MacDonald is a largely-unknown quantity with one lone UFC appearance to complement 9 other wins in organizations such as King of the Cage and Rage in the Cage.
The temptation is to favor MacDonald here, as his wrestling ability is more than enough to control Condit for the duration of the bout. After all, Condit’s lack of takedown defense is the most glaring hole in his game. However, MMA is a weird sport, and somewhere in all of the scrambles, transitions and unpredictable events that take place in a fifteen-minute fight, Condit will get his chances and make the best of them. He’s a more experienced fighter with more fights on the big stage, and also has deadly striking to put his foe in jeopardy at any time. MacDonald’s the safe pick via decision, but I’ll take Condit here.
Prediction: Condit by KO/TKO
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Pat Barry
I would imagine that many would see this as a “changing of the guard” or “passing of the torch” type of fight, but I don’t really see it that way. Cro Cop hasn’t had the torch to pass for a few years now, for one thing. Also, Barry is very talented, but is not exactly the undisputed best striker in the sport at this point, nor has he developed the ridiculous takedown defense that Cro Cop displayed in his prime. Still, this is a great fight that should hopefully provide both answers and fireworks.
The answers would be for questions regarding Cro Cop, of course. Is his mind right? Is he healed up? Is he done for? Cro Cop says that injuries have played the biggest part of his troubles in the UFC, and says he’s healthy now. I guess, then, that we’ll see whether Cro Cop has anything left in the tank tonight. It’s the last fight on his UFC contract, too, so a poor performance will likely mean we won’t see him again in the octagon.
Unfortunately, Barry is just the type of striker to give Cro Cop fits. Compact and explosive, Barry loves to work the legs of his opponents, and Cro Cop will not have the time and space to stalk Barry as he liked to do when he was at his best. Negating a vintage high kick or straight left hand landing, Barry will probably tag Cro Cop early and often. There are some concerns for Barry, such as his gas tank, but I think that such issues won’t hurt him in this particular bout. Sadly, I see Cro Cop taking another step towards retirement tonight. We’ll always have those old Pride DVDs though, right?
Prediction: Barry by KO/TKO
Chuck Liddell vs. Rich Franklin
Replacing a bout between Liddell and Tito Ortiz (that would have been much easier to predict), this fight will be our main event tonight. While it’s not exactly “do or die” for Franklin, this fight is a must win for both, since each fighter has aspirations of getting into the title mix. If Liddell loses, retirement is possible, and if Franklin loses, he will be three to four solid wins from seriously contending for the title. At 35 years old already (and fighting in an organization that schedules its top guys for two fights per year at best), that’s not a very promising proposition.
I’ve always thought that Franklin was one of the most underrated fighters of the current era. The guy is good at absolutely everything, takes great care of himself and is an underrated tactician. Meanwhile, it seems that MMA fans from all over the world have forgotten that no matter what the state of his chin is, Liddell is a guy that can knock people out. His losses have been dissected and replayed so much that even Franklin may have forgotten what a dangerous foe he is, were he not such a smart fighter himself.
The easy pick here is Franklin by decision. Franklin is adept at creating and maintaining space while landing strikes, and he has the takedown defense to usually keep the fight where he wants it to be. As mentioned earlier, his fight IQ also keeps him from doing anything dumb and sabotaging his own chances to win, the way so many fighters tend to do. Franklin is a guy that can exploit the weaknesses of his opponent and stubbornly stick to his game plan, no matter what.
However, I think that Liddell will be coming in better than ever in many ways. He has maintained his weight at 215 pounds since his appearances on “Dancing with the Stars”, which is a definite first for him. He has also shown an inclination to use his wrestling ability in his more recent fights, beginning with the Wanderlei Silva showdown, where his takedowns certainly helped him to win the decision. I think that Liddell will try to take down Franklin regularly, and will succeed. This will give him the points that he needs from the judges to comfortably execute his regular game plan while on his feet: to stalk and look for the kill-shot. In a straight stand-up bout, fighting this way is a good way to drop a decision, since you will often give up quantity to land a quality shot. If you don’t get the knockout, your opponent has probably tagged you more times than you have hit them, and his hand gets raised.
But since I think Liddell will take Franklin down, he will not only be ahead on the scorecards, but will also keep Franklin guessing when they are standing. Forced to defend strikes and takedown attempts, Franklin will be more likely to leave an opening that Liddell can exploit. Liddell also shouldn’t fade in the 2nd and 3rd rounds like he has in the past, since he’s in much better shape than usual. I may be crazy, but I think we’ll see a vintage Chuck KO here.
Prediction: Liddell by KO/TKO