Wednesday, May 20, 2009

UFC 98 Preview

The march to UFC 100 continues as the UFC heads back to home base, Las Vegas, for UFC 98 featuring the long awaited first Light Heavyweight championship defense of Rashad Evans against the deserving yet controversial Lyoto Machida. Evans is making his first defense of his newly acquired belt that he won off Forrest Griffin back in December. And as anyone in the fight game will tell you, you aren’t truly the champ until you defend your belt.

Machida was the back up option for the UFC. The much more affable Quinton Jackson was supposed to get this shot until he got injured in a bout curiously scheduled only two months before this fight was supposed to take place. The whole scenario was just plain odd as Jackson had to win his fight against Keith Jardine to get the shot but the UFC wouldn’t postpone Evans’ defense once they found out Jackson had been hurt.

So in steps Machida with his undefeated record and coming off his first (T)KO victory in the UFC. Machida’s counter striking style baffled many mainstream followers but earned him much credit amongst die hards like myself who value technical skill over sheer brutality. Even Evans recently commented that Machida would be the tougher match up for him.

I agree with that sentiment. Evans’ counter striking style is made perfectly for Jackson’s charge ahead strike and wrestle style. Machida on the other hand is very elusive and should make for a fight that many people will find boring but to those who understand the striking game I’m sure it will be a chess match at the highest level. I get giddy just thinking about it.

The co-main event is a year and a half in the making. Matt Serra was supposed to fight his bitter rival Matt Hughes at UFC 79. It was supposed to be the culmination of their rivalry that boiled over on The Ultimate Fighter six that would’ve lead to a title shot against Georges St. Pierre. Instead a rash of injuries to Hughes and Serra set this fight so far back that it’s no longer relevant to the Welterweight title picture.

However, fans love a grudge match so the UFC obliged and put on the now meaningless match a year and a half after the fact. Don’t get me wrong, these two guys still don’t like each other. I just don’t think it’s co main event material. But I can’t stand Matt Hughes and will be cheering on my home town underdog Matt Serra all the way.

Last but not least this card seemed almost cursed as six fights had to be changed or postponed before the card was finalized just last week. Hopefully the show goes a lot smoother than the training did for most of these guys. Let’s go ahead and start breaking down the fights:

Dave Kaplan v. George Roop: Kaplan is 2-2, 0-1 in the UFC, with both wins by TKO. He has a sprawl and brawl style. Roop is 8-4, 0-1 in the UFC, with 5 wins by stoppage. He is a grappler with solid wrestling and BJJ.

This fight will depend on who can impose their will. If Kaplan can keep it standing he should win but Roop would have the advantage on the ground. I usually pick the grappler here so I’ll pick Roop to win by submission in the second round. I don’t think we’ll see Kaplan back in the UFC any time soon.

Yoshiyuki Yoshida v. Brandon Wolff: Yoshida is 10-3, 1-1 in the UFC, with eight wins by stoppage. He is a judoka with solid hands. Wolff is 7-3, 0-1 in the UFC, with three wins by TKO. He is a striker.

I like Yoshida’s well rounded game to pick up the TKO victory in the first round. Wolff may or may not get anther shot in the UFC.

Krzysztof Soszynski v. Andre Gusmao: KS is 17-8-1, 2-0 in the UFC, with 14 wins by stoppage. KS is well rounded sporting solid wrestling to go along with his good striking and under appreciated BJJ. Gusmao is 5-0, 0-1 in the UFC, with four wins by stoppage. He is a striker with some grappling.

KS, who is stepping in for the injured Houston Alexander after fighting just last month, has way too much experience and a more well rounded game. I would expect him to take this fight down and control Gusmao to pull out the decision victory. I was tempted to go with another Kimura but I’m not seeing it here. Gusmao may get one more shot in the UFC after this.

Philippe Nover v. Kyle Bradley: Nover is 5-1-1, 0-1 in the UFC, with four wins by stoppage. He is a muay thai and BJJ fighter. Bradley is 13-6, 0-2 in the UFC, with 12 wins by stoppage. He is a striker with some submissions.

Bradley has not been very impressive in the UFC so far and I’m totally going to let my personal affinity for Nover (Brooklyn born and bred) cloud my judgement here. I’m picking Nover by submission in the first round. We won’t be seeing Bradley back any time soon.

Patrick Barry v. Tim Hague: Barry is 4-0, 1-0 in the UFC, with all four wins by TKO. He is a muay thai fighter. Hague is 9-1, making his UFC debut, with seven wins by stoppage. He is a striker.

This should be a great stand up war but I see Barry being too much for Hague and winning a decision.

Brock Larson v. Chris Wilson: Larson is 25-2, 2-1 in the UFC, with 21 wins by stoppage. He is a grappler with good wrestling, judo, and BJJ. Wilson is 14-5, 1-2 in the UFC, with 11 wins by stoppage. He is a grappler with some striking.

Larson is stepping in here for the injured Josh Koscheck and he stepped into a good situation. Both these guys are grapplers but Larson is definitely the better of the two. Wilson will try to stand but Larson will take him down. I predict Larson wins by submission in the second round. This will send Wilson out of the UFC for awhile.

Sean Sherk v. Frank Edgar: Sherk is 33-3-1, 7-3 in the UFC, with 21 wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with some stand up and submissions. Edgar is 9-1, 4-1 in the UFC, with four wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with some kickboxing and BJJ.

This is a really tough fight for Frankie. The only place he may have an advantage would be BJJ. Otherwise I think he’s just outclassed in this fight. I think it will be a tough fight but I see Sherk controlling the fight and earning the decision victory.

Dan Miller v. Chael Sonnen: Miller is 11-1, 3-0 in the UFC, with seven wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with some submissions. Sonnen is 21-10-1, 1-3 in the UFC, with 10 wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with some striking.

Sonnen, who is stepping in for the injured Yushin Okami, got too much credit (from myself included) when he put up two solid performances against a shell of Paulo Filho. Otherwise he’s never beaten anyone of consequence and Miller has been pretty impressive so far. I’m going to pick Miller here to win by submission in the first round. Sonnen will probably get one more chance to stay in the UFC.

Drew McFedries v. Xavier Foupa-Pokam: McFedries is 7-5, 3-4 in the UFC, with four wins by stoppage. He is a striker. Pokam is 20-9, 0-1 in the UFC, with 18 wins by stoppage. He is a kickboxer with some submissions.

This should be a good stand up battle but I think Pokam, who is stepping in for the injured James Irvin after fighting only a month ago, is the better striker. I’ll pick Pokam to win by TKO in the first round. This will be the last time we see McFedries in the cage for a bit.

Matt Hughes v. Matt Serra: Hughes is 43-7, 15-5 in the UFC, with 31 wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with some striking and submissions. Serra 9-5, 6-5 in the UFC, with 5 wins by stoppage. He is a BJJ fighter with some striking.

As much as I want Serra to win and think Hughes is over the hill I can’t pick against Hughes here. Serra is just as over the hill as Hughes and neither has an advantage on the feet. I think Hughes can still out wrestle Serra and render his BJJ ineffective. Hughes will take Serra down and control the fight earning him the decision victory.

Rashad Evans v. Lyoto Machida: Evans is 13-0-1, 8-0 in the UFC, with seven wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with good hands. Machida is 14-0, 6-0 in the UFC, with six wins by stoppage. He is a karate striker with good BJJ.

This should be a great chess match on the feet. I don’t think Machida can take Evans down and I think Machida is too elusive for Evans to take down. Ultimately it will be two counter strikers looking for their shot. Machida will create angles and move in and out with his quick strikes with his feet and hands.

Evans will circle and look for the perfect opportunity to hit his counter punches as Machida darts in and out. If Evans catches him it will be lights out but he’ll have to catch Machida first which no one has been able to do. Many people may not understand what they’re watching and the boos might rain down. That’s ok though because I’ll be loving every second of it.

My prediction is that Machida will win the first few rounds on points but eventually he’ll take one chance too many and Evans will catch him like he caught Griffin and Liddell. I’ll predict Evans will end Machida’s undefeated streak by TKO in the fourth round. This win cements Evans place at the top of the heap at Light Heavyweight and sets up a much more desirable match up for the fans and the UFC between him and Quinton Jackson later this year.

This should be a great night for MMA but I don’t see this being an overwhelming card for the UFC in terms of PPV buys or media coverage due to lack of depth on the card and the lack of name recognition in the main event. However, I think the main event will be a shining beacon of what MMA can be and where it’s headed as opposed to what it once was and where it came from. While that sounds like a lot of pressure I truly believe Evans v. Machida can live up to that hype.

My pick for submission of the night goes to Philippe Nover. My pick for KO of the night goes to Rashad Evans. And my pick for fight of the night goes to Patrick Barry v. Tim Hague.

That’s all for now folks. Until next time,

Soccer kicks and head stomps...

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