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UFC 110 Preview

In MMA on February 17, 2010 at 3:46 pm

The UFC returns this Saturday/Sunday and for the first time, the famous octagon will be set up Down Under as the world’s biggest MMA organisation makes its bow in Australia. To aid Dana ‘Dr Evil’ White in his plans for world domination, Zuffa have put together a fight card that is packed to the brim with intriguing match ups.

Main Event:

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Cain Velasquez

Generations collide in the main event, as one of the greatest fighters ever to take part in MMA tests himself against one of the sport’s brightest rising stars, in a no.1 contender match for the interim heavyweight belt.

‘Nogueira’ is a name that will evoke misty eyes and fond recollections in most fans, as Antonio Rodrigo’s body of work over the last decade qualifies him as arguably the greatest heavyweight of all time, bar a certain Russian cyborg. Unfortunately, that very same decade of action also qualifies him as one of the oldest 35 year olds on the planet.

Nogueira’s toughness is legendary. Having been almost killed by a truck at age 11, it was a small step to almost being killed by juggernauts like Bob Sapp, Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Sylvia. His only losses have come to Fedor, Josh Barnett, Dan Henderson and Frank Mir. In other words, the very best. Should Velasquez beat him, he could reasonably be considered a top 5 heavyweight on the upswing.

Beating Nogueira may not be quite as impossible a task as it seemed in the past, but the wily vet’s all round skills still make him a dangerous opponent for anyone. His boxing is still sharp and snappy, as he showed in his domination of Randy Couture. His one sided TKO loss to Mir, the one stoppage he has suffered in his career, can be at least partially attributed to the terrible condition he was in when he entered the cage, and he proved the rumours of his demise were premature against the ‘Natural’.

Former Pride and UFC heavyweight champ Nogueira is an all time great

His jiu jitsu is also among the very best in MMA, with a superglue guard and a dizzying array of sweeps and reversals making up for his substandard wrestling ability. He may find it difficult to escape from underneath Velasquez however, and this will be what the proud Mexican-American will be pinning his hopes on come fight night.

Velasquez has slowly built up a head of hype as he dealt with the steadily rising stakes in the UFC. He has compiled a 5-0 record in the octagon, with his last two wins his most impressive by far. Despite being served a few chin-Cheick’s by Kongo, he showed how powerful his takedowns are in slamming the giant Frenchman to the mat and slowly throttling him from above. His disposal of Ben Rothwell was even more encouraging, as he showed real signs of development. Leg kicks were mixed into his stand up, with some deftly executed trip takedowns complementing his power slams. He also finished a tough opponent, something he was unable to do against Kongo despite landing in excess of 250 punches on the Frenchman.

This fight will hinge on Velasquez’s ability to maintain top control and avoid submissions. Neither has devastating power on the feet, and with the Brazilian’s toughness and the Cain’s ability to snag a takedown when dazed, it’s unlikely to be finished by a big shot.

Cain Velasquez is a frightening prospect

What could happen, is either a Velasquez TKO after some punishing ground and pound, or a slick armbar or guillotine from Nogueira. This one could well be headed to the judge’s scorecards, and tough as it is to call, I’m gonna stick my neck out and say that youth will trump experience.

Wanderlei Silva vs Michael Bisping

There’s another treat in store for Aussie fight fans, as they get the chance to see one of the pound for pound most entertaining fighters in history, Wanderlei Silva.

Silva may be in the twilight of his career at this stage, but win or lose, he always brings frightening levels of aggression. He couldn’t be more dangerous if he carried a machete into the cage with him, and is just as likely to take someone’s head off.

This is a tough fight for Bisping, as he looks to re-assemble his shattered reputation in the wake of a crushing knockout at the hands of Dan Henderson. The win against Denis Kang was a big step forward for the Mancunian, and another victory here would catapult him right back into title contention.

On paper, the ‘Axe Murderer’ looks ripe for the picking. In practice, things are a lot more complicated than that. Losing 5 of his last 6 fights is a fair indicator that the Brazilian is not the unstoppable force of yore, but it also makes him a far hungrier prospect. After his decision loss to Chuck Liddell in his octagon debut, Wand was all smiles and delighted to have ‘put on a performance’ for his fans. Further losses to Quinton Jackson and Rich Franklin have wiped the beam off his reconstructed mug, and all that remains are statements of intent. He wants a win, and he wants a knockout.

Wanderlei Silva is one of MMA's premier knockout artists

His brawling style is thrilling to watch, but also leaves him open for skilled strikers to connect with hard counters and take advantage of his fading chin. Bisping is a skilled striker, but unfortunately for him, he could lack the power to put Silva away. His win over Kang may point the way forward, as he showed some hitherto unseen wrestling skills and impressive ground and pound. Supposedly a BJJ black belt, Silva is far more interested in head hunting. In fact, he hasn’t had a submission win in over 10 years.

Unfortunately for Bisping, he has the wrong skill set to really put Silva in trouble. His volume over power style of striking will not phase Wand unless his chin has deteriorated badly, and he will happily wade through three or four jabs to land a cleaving haymaker. He will also be difficult to take down and control unless Bisping’s wrestling is significantly better than we’ve seen previously, so all signs point to a comeback win for Silva.

George Sotiropolous vs Joe Stevenson

It wasn’t long ago that Joe Stevenson was challenging BJ Penn for his lightweight title, and seen as a legit threat to the ‘Prodigy’. Things didn’t quite go to plan for Joe ‘Daddy’ though, and he has only recently arrested what seemed like a career spiral. Wins over Nate Diaz and Spencer Fisher have set him back on the comeback trail, but it will take more than a win over Sotiropolous to shake off the cursed tag of ‘gatekeeper’ and don the mantle of ‘contender’ once again.

Joe 'Daddy' (L) is on the comeback trail

Sotiropolous, meanwhile, was one of the more promising prospects to emerge from the 6th seasonof TUF. He followed up a quick submission win over Billy Miles in the finale with second round finishes over hardy competitors Roman Mitichyan, George Roop and Jason Dent. He now takes a significant step up the ladder for his first main card appearance.

The hometown boy’s rangy striking will be one of his  primary weapons in this fight, as he looks to keep his distance from Stevenson’s powerful but stubby T-Rex arms. Stevenson will be looking to get inside and land short hooks, clinches and takedowns. From there, he will got to work from the top and have a big advantage.

The ‘Souvlaki’ is a big underdog in this one, but he has a good chance. He’s a skilled fighter with most of his wins coming by submission, so should he get Stevenson down, or reverse him on the ground, he might well show ‘Daddy’ who’s boss. Stevenson is uncomfortable on his back, but he should be able to stay on top in this one.

Stevenson will more than likely get this to ground when he needs to, and his relentless work from the guard should be enough to spoil Sotiropolous’ party.

Keith Jardine vs Ryan Bader

Another distressingly difficult bout to call, this one sees wrestling powerhouse and TUF 8 winner Ryan Bader try and work out the puzzling but effective striking of the ‘Techno Viking’ Keith Jardine.

Bader showed he has some dynamite in his fists while sending TUF 8 rivals Tom Lawlor and Vinnie Magalhaes to dreamland, but his main asset remains his world class wrestling ability. His development stalled slightly with two lacklustre decision wins over Carmelo Marrero and Eric Schafer, but at 26 years old, he has the base on which to build a highly successful career in the octagon.

Jardine could beat (or lose to) anyone on his day

Keith Jardine meanwhile, remains one of the sport’s true enigmas. Behind his fearsome, Aryan appearance, lies a nice-guy attitude, and behind his unimpressive recent record lies a dangerous opponent who can wear out the best with his awkward technique. Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell and Brandon Vera have all been on the wrong end of his snapping leg kicks and unorthodox, angled fists. These worthy wins are juxtaposed with just as many discouraging losses though. Flash first round  knockouts at the hands of Houston Alexander, Wanderlei Silva and Thiago Silva have shown that he is more vulnerable than most to a smack in the chops. But his wafer thin decision loss to Quinton Jackson also shows that if you don’t put him away, he could surprise you.

This one could go either way, with Bader looking susceptible to leg kicks and quick strikes. Jardine will bring these to the table, along with a Greg Jackson game plan. Those leg kicks could really sap Bader, take the sting out of his takedowns, and leave him vulnerable. These elements put Jardine right in the fight, but Bader’s wrestling ability hands him the ace card. Jardine hasn’t submitted anyone in over five years, and is unlikely to be a danger on his back. This is where he will most likely spend most of this fight as Bader grinds him down.

Mirko Filipovic vs Ben Rothwell

Yet another Pride legend takes centre stage in Oz, as famed kickboxer Mirko Filipovic looks to launch a late comeback in the octagon. His opponent will be the giant Ben Rothwell in his second fight with the promotion.

Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ has the most feared left leg in mixed martial arts, with the most head kick knockouts in the history of the sport. In his prime, his quiet intensity and fearsome power was enough to intimidate even the most confident opponent. Unfortunately for him and his fans, his prime looks to have been about four or five years ago and may well be gone for good.

Arriving into the octagon 3 years ago to much fanfare and the barely contained excitement of his legions of fans, he summarily dismissed Eddie Sanchez in a tune up fight. Next up was the little known Brazilian Gabriel Gonzaga as the top brass eased him towards a title shot. That fight ended predictably enough, in a head kick knock out. Except this time, it was Cro Cop lying crumpled at his opponent’s feet.

Whether that was the moment when the Croatian lost his fire, or if that had come before, it quickly became apparent that all was not as it should be. A decision loss to Cheick Kongo left him looking for some confidence outside the UFC, before returning to take a controversial TKO over Mostapha Al Turk. ‘THIS time’, his fans cried yet again. But no, he looked the same gunshy, unsure shell against Junior dos Santos, who eased his way to a 3rd round TKO.

Mirko Filipovic has been a shadow of his former self in recent times

Ben Rothwell is the new man to play Russian roulette with the former knockout machine, but it increasingly looks like the Croat’s chamber may be empty. Rothwell is the kind of solid fighter that Filipovic would have made short work of at his best, but he has a great chance to add a star name to his record in Sydney.

‘North Star’ has some notable wins on his resume, taking the Ws against Roy Nelson, Krzysztof Soszynski and Ricco Rodriguez. He has consistently failed to take the next step up though, and his latest disappointment came at UFC 104, where he was mauled by Cain Velasquez. He is a well rounded and experienced scrapper, 28 of his 30 wins coming by way of stoppage, with 17 Kos and 11 subs.

He’s no submission whizz though, and his most likely approach to this fight will be to stand toe to toe with Cro Cop and brawl him. In days gone by, this would have been suicide, but right now, it has a good chance of working.

I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with Filipovic in the last few years, continually waiting for him to recover his old spark (‘Now, watch, he’ll throw a kick, no, a punch, here it comes, no, any second now…). Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that the fight is gone from the old dog. He no longer has the intense aggression that once defined him, and the hunger has been sated. There is no shame in this, but it makes him a far more manageable opponent. One that Rothwell may well have too much for.

Undercard:

The undercard is once again stocked with some excellent fighters and intriguing fights.

Elvis Sinosic and Chris Haseman square off in the UFC’s first all-Aussie fight, Stephan Bonnar looks to arrest his slide against the tough Krzysztof Soszynski, and Chris Lytle takes on Brian Foster in a potential slugfest. Finally, two Croatians anchor the card. Exciting prospect Goran Reljic makes his long-awaited return against CB Dollaway, and Igor Pokrajac faces Kiwi James Te-Huna.

Goran Reljic will look to reprise his Cro Cop impression from UFC 84

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