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UFC Rio Preview

By on August 24, 2011

UFC Rio is notable for plenty of reasons: it’s the first show that the UFC has done in Brazil since nearly 13 years ago, when Wanderlei Silva was quickly battered in his famous matchup with fellow Brazilian legend, Vitor Belfort. It’s also the first time I can remember that a UFC show has eschewed having the event number in the title. Most importantly, though, UFC Rio is one of the best cards of the year, with an underrated matchup between Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami for the UFC Middleweight Championship serving as the main event.

Luiz Cane vs. Stanislav Nedkov

Nedkov will play the role of the undefeated newcomer, bringing an 11-0 MMA record into the Octagon with him. His most notable victories are against Kevin Randleman and Travis Wiuff, which is more likely to be a reflection of the shallow talent pool outside of Zuffa’s promotions than anything else. His inactivity may be a concern, as he hasn’t fought in a year and three months, and has competed about once per year over the last four years.

Cane, on the other hand, overcame a lengthy layoff of his own earlier this year, coming back after ten months off to quickly swarm and stop Eliot Marshall at UFC 128. He’s had a rough go of it lately after a promising start to his UFC career, losing two of his last three. One of the losses was acceptable (a TKO defeat to Lil’ Nog) and the other was much more surprising (a TKO defeat to a resilient Cyrille Diabate, who had been hurt by Cane early in their fight).

The two are likely to have much different game plans, so the question is one of who will be more successful at what they try to do. Cane will unquestionably be looking to avoid takedowns and dominate the standup portion of the bout. Meanwhile, although Nedkov has okay (if rigid) technique and decent power, he uses his striking almost purely to close the distance and get a takedown or clinch opportunity. He will be hoping to take Cane down and pound him out.

Although Nedkov showed very strong hips and a wide variety of takedowns at his disposal in his previous fights, I’m going with Cane here. I think Cane’s standup edge is the biggest advantage in the fight for either man, and as a bonus, Cane may be able to submit Nedkov if he is taken down and his Bulgarian opponent gets too sloppy.

Prediction: Cane by KO/TKO

Edson Barboza vs. Ross Pearson

This fight is a prospective challenger for fight of the night honors, as both men bring a willingness to strike, albeit with wildly different styles of doing so.

Barboza is the exciting Brazilian prospect who brings an 8-0 record to this contest, while Pearson has a few losses, but only one in five UFC fights, which occurred when he was submitted by Cole Miller a year ago. He has impressive wins, however, against Dennis Siver and Spencer Fisher.

So we know that Pearson’s boxing-centric style can handle kickboxers, right? However, Barboza is a different kind of animal. He will show a lot more dedication to landing leg kicks early and often than Siver or Fisher did, and will also likely move around better and make Pearson miss more often.

Pearson is likely to try to cut off the cage whenever possible while trying to keep the distance close. At least, that’s what he should do. There is no profit to be had by staying at kicking range with Barboza and pittering around while having your legs hacked at. Also, while Pearson’s defensive wrestling is still a problem, he has shown a willingness and an ability to clinch and even take down opponents with about the same level of defensive wrestling as Barboza has. He may do that if the going gets a bit too tough while standing or if he senses that he needs to steal a round.

I still think this is a standup battle in the making, though, and while I can see Pearson doing well and maybe even winning, Barboza simply has more tools. Barboza’s lack of killer instinct against Anthony Njokuani was troubling, but I think he can out-point Pearson this Saturday.

Prediction: Barboza by decision

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Brendan Schaub

There are plenty of reasons for Nogueira fans to feel optimistic leading up to his matchup with the talented Schaub. Chief among them is that he should be healthier than he has been in years, thanks to surgeries addressing hip and knee problems that have plagued him in recent years.

However, there’s always a flip side: those surgeries have kept him out for a year and a half, and he returns at 35 as a largely unknown commodity, at least compared to what you’d expect of a veteran with 39 fights. Who can say what a healthy Nogueira would even look like? Furthermore, how much will age and the mileage of so many brutal fights continue to affect him?

Then, there’s Schaub, who is always hard to handicap for other reasons: he’s getting better with every fight. He has undoubtedly continued to grow as a fighter in the last five months, but how much?

If Schaub fights like a moron, Nogueira will win. There’s simply no way in hell that Schaub should be willing to take this fight to the mat. If he does, they need to immediately stand up both fighters and administer a field sobriety test to the younger fighter, as he clearly is not of his right mind. I don’t care how much he worked on his jiu-jitsu, this is not his “Matt Hughes taking Royce Gracie down” moment.

Barring that, Schaub wins. I’m sorry, but his movement, striking, and power are too much. On top of that, I’m not sure how much Nogueira’s boxing has been affected by his previous injury problems, but his technique is lacking, particularly defensively. He is too content to eat shots, and that will be his undoing here. Hey, I wouldn’t mind being wrong and marking out with the rest of you to another great submission win by Minotauro, but I just can’t call it that way.

Prediction: Schaub by decision

Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua

What do we make of their first fight back in 2007? We all remember nearly four years ago when a determined Griffin shocked us all by weathering the early storm and prevailing against what appeared to be a very out-of-shape Shogun, tapping him out with a rear naked choke that even the biggest Griffin fan would have to admit was merely academic at that point in the bout.

I say we cast it aside and pretend it didn’t happen. Too much has happened since then, after all. In Shogun’s case, there are much more recent fights that can be used to build a compelling argument in favor of a Griffin win, anyway. Shogun looked fairly awful against Jon Jones, although Jones certainly had plenty to do with that. Still, I haven’t seen the explosive, scary Shogun that we saw in Pride at any point in Shogun’s UFC career, save for his quick knockout of rival Lyoto Machida at UFC 113. Yet another knee surgery followed that bout of course, and then we have the Jones disappointment, and now, here we are.

I have no doubt of Shogun’s talent, but I also have no doubt of Griffin’s determination, ability to build a good game plan (and more importantly, to stick with it) and sound fundamentals. I actually think Griffin is in the most trouble in this one if Shogun is able to take him down, though I don’t know that Shogun will feel he’ll need to do so.

The problem is that Griffin isn’t going to fight him in a patient, moderately paced bout where Shogun is allowed to pick his shots, like he did in his first fight with Machida. Instead, Griffin will pressure Shogun, which means he will inevitably wear him out. Then, it becomes a much more one-sided affair (again).

I want to pick Shogun here, but I can’t. I decided awhile ago to stop incorporating my own natural sense of optimism into my picks whenever possible. Sometimes, a fighter isn’t going to bounce back, isn’t going to look the way he used to, and isn’t going to be the “old” version of himself again. Shogun hasn’t shown me enough evidence to the contrary to pick him here. Forrest will want it more, and that will make the difference.

Prediction: Griffin by decision

UFC Middleweight Championship
Anderson Silva (champion) vs. Yushin Okami

So, Okami’s finally done it. After a 10-2 record in the UFC, he will get a shot at the middleweight title just two days before the fifth anniversary of his Octagon debut. Also, there’s the whole “Silva’s fought everybody else already” thing, so let’s not forget that.

While just about everybody is picking Silva here, a number of people are getting cute with the MMAth and deducing that because Sonnen was able to take Silva down and beat him for nearly 25 minutes, Okami should be able to do so and avoid getting submitted at the last moment, thereby winning the title. Right?

In the words of Brand Nubian, “slow down“. Have we not learned by now that while you can learn from previous fights, each fight takes place in its own little bubble, and you can’t count on Fighter B simply following Fighter A’s blueprint?

That’s not to say that Okami won’t try, of course. And by the way, there was nothing particularly genius about a guy (Chael Sonnen) going “huh, I’m a pretty good wrestler and Anderson’s takedown defense is holier than a gaggle of Christmas carolers.” Also, even if Anderson’s takedown defense was Liddellian in its greatness, Sonnen would have worked the same damn strategy regardless, because that’s what he does. Same with Okami.

However, Silva is not stupid. It’s not as if he has no idea what Okami will be planning on doing. It’s not as if he’ll be surprised when Okami tries to double-leg him through the cage and into Dana White’s lap on Saturday night.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that Sonnen still went through a number of standup exchanges en route to winning the first four rounds of his bout with Silva. One of the reasons he did so well is that he did a great job of striking with Anderson. Okami will not be able to do the same, and I think his more one-dimensional focus on takedowns will make him predictable and put him in danger.

Unless Silva goes absolutely batshit crazy again and starts breakdancing in the cage while galloping away from Okami and telling “yo mama” jokes in Portuguese to get under his skin, this is his fight to lose. We all get a little bored of greatness now and then and want to talk ourselves into the position of devil’s advocate, but Okami will find nothing but disappointment in Rio. It’s just a matter of when and how.

Prediction: Silva by KO/TKO

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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