The UFC invades the pacific northwest for the first time this Saturday as UFC 102 beams live from the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. The local hero Randy Couture (actually from Washington state but coached at Oregon State and started Team Quest in Gresham, OR) will take on the legend Antonio "Minotauro" Rodrigo Nogueira for one last shot at the heavyweight title. For both of these men, a loss here will be a major stumbling block to overcome in getting another title shot.
Both of these men lost their last fight in the "heavyweight tournament" that culminated in Brock Lesnar's destruction of Frank Mir for the undisputed heavyweight title at UFC 100. Couture and Nogueira need a win to prove they still belong in the title picture. However, for both men, Couture due to his age and Nogueira due to the punishment he's taken over the years, another loss would be devastating.
This fight is a battle between champions and legends of the spot that any true MMA fan has been longing for ever since the two were champions simultaneously for the UFC and Pride back in 2001. These are two of the best that ever put on the fingerless gloves and hopefully they come out at their best and put on a show worthy of their lofty status in the annals of MMA greatness that they inhabit. A loss here wouldn't only take away another shot at the title but it would set them down a peg in the all time heavyweight rankings.
As great as this fight is there are other fights on the card. While Jardine v. Silva is the co-headliner (for good reason as they should put on a striking war) another fight should be getting more attention. The fight between Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia has serious title implications in the middleweight division and it is a fight many hardcore MMA fans should be salivating over. Let's break down the card:
Randy Couture v. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Couture is 16-9, 13-6 in the UFC, with nine wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with solid boxing. Nogueira is 31-5-1, 2-1 in the UFC, with 22 wins by stoppage. He is a jiu jitsu fighter also with good boxing.
Couture put up a much better fight his last time out than Nogueira however there were rumors of an injury and illness that plagued Nogueira before his lackluster performance against Mir so it will be interesting to see which Nogueira shows up this time around. This will be a very interesting match up of very different grapplers. Couture loves to stay in the clinch, pressure his opponents, and take away their will. Nogueira lays in wait like a spider waiting for its prey to get caught in its web and pounce on them with his slick jiu jitsu.
If these two men come out at their best it's going to be a very tough fight. Nogueira probably has the better pure boxing skills but if Couture can keep him in the clinch his dirty boxing can be very effective. If Couture can keep the pressure on Nogueira in the stand up I think he has a very good chance to win but if it goes to the ground it could get very dicey for Couture who is a great wrestler but is not one for jiu jitsu.
This is a very tough fight to call. I think Noguiera will come out much better than his last fight but I'm picking Couture's clinch game and the pressure of his grappling over Nogueira's more technical style. I'm picking Couture to win by a very tough decision.
Keith Jardine v. Thiago Silva
Jardine is 14-5-1, 6-4 in the UFC, with eight wins by stoppage. He is a kickboxer. Silva is 13-1, 4-1 in the UFC, with 12 wins by stoppage. He is a muay thai fighter.
These two guys have very different but effective striking styles. Jardine is a very unorthodox kickboxer while Silva brings lethal and brutal muay thai to the table. Both guys love a stand up war and they are both looking for redemption coming off loses.
This should be a great brawl. Jardine has been in the cage with some of the best in the world and hasn't always put his best foot forward though Jardine will be the second best fighter Silva has fought behind Lyoto Machida.
As good as Silva is I think Jardine poses a lot of unusual problems and usually comes in with a good gameplan from Greg Jackson. I'm picking Jardine to win a very close decision.
Chris Leben v. Jake Rosholt
Leben is 18-5, 8-4 in the UFC, with 14 wins by stoppage. He is a boxer with some grappling ability. Rosholt is 5-1, 0-1 in the UFC, with all five wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler.
While this looks like an interesting match up on paper I'm not so sure it's going to be an exciting fight. If Leben catches Rosholt with a big punch it could end dramatically but that's not how I see it going down. Leben has a lot more experience on a big stage against better competition and Rosholt looked terrible in his last fight.
However, I think that's exactly why the UFC put this fight together. If Leben wins he starts climbing back up the ladder but I think they gave Rosholt the perfect opponent to start his climb in the UFC. It's a big name with not much of a ground game.
Rosholt should be able to take Leben down and lay on him for the majority of the fight which wouldn't be exciting but a win over Leben would get Rosholt noticed. Leben is a tough guy and could probably fend Rosholt off but it wouldn't score him any points. I'm picking Rosholt to win by a very boring decision.
Nate Marquardt v. Demian Maia
Marquardt is 28-8-2, 7-2 in the UFC, with 20 wins by stoppage. He is a grappler with good boxing. Maia is 10-0, 5-0 in the UFC, with nine wins by stoppage. He is a jiu jitsu fighter.
This is a very interesting fight on many levels. On the surface it looks like two great grapplers who could put on a very technical battle. However, I believe this fight won't even come down to who has the better fighting skills. It will come down to who is the smarter fighter.
This fight will be the ultimate chess match. Whoever can think two steps ahead of his opponent and execute will wind up with the win. Marquardt obviously has the more well rounded game but Maia is probably the best functional jiu jitsu fighter in MMA.
Marquardt is the best grappler Maia has faced to date so if the fight goes to the ground he could survive longer than most but it's still not a smart move. Maia on the other hand has never really been tested on his feet and Marquardt is more than capable of putting Maia down with his striking. This is another very tough fight to call but to me Maia is too one dimensional. I could wind up being very wrong with this pick but I'm picking Marquardt by TKO in the third round handing Maia his first loss and putting Marquardt behind Dan Henderson for a shot at Anderson Silva.
Brandon Vera v. Krzysztof Soszynski
Vera is 10-3, 6-3 in the UFC, with eight wins by stoppage. He is a muay thai fighter with some grappling. Soszynski 18-8-1, 3-0 in the UFC, with eight wins by submission. He is a grappler with some boxing.
Vera was originally supposed to fight Matt Hamill but Hamill pulled out due to injury. This is a more classic striker v. grappler match and this is a good test for both fighters at 205 lbs. This will be Soszynski's toughest fight to date in the UFC and the last time Vera faced anyone good he got beat by Keith Jardine.
I usually go with the grapplers in these cases and Soszynski has really been on a roll lately. I think he has enough stand up to survive until he can get the fight to the ground where he should be able to control Vera and threaten with submissions from the top. I'm picking Soszynski to win by decision.
Ed Herman v. Aaron Simpson
Herman is 15-7, 4-4 in the UFC, with 13 wins by stoppage. He is a grappler. Simpson is 5-0, 1-0 in the UFC, with all five wins by KO. He is a striker.
This fight was originally billed as James Irvin v. Wilson Gouveia but both fell off the card due to injury so we're left with a much lower level fight. Herman has the experience advantage over Simpson and I like his grappling ability to be able to control the fight. I'm picking Herman by submission in the second round.
Gabriel Gonzaga v. Chris Tuchscherer
Gonzaga is 10-4, 6-3 in the UFC, with all 10 wins by stoppage. He is a jiu jitsu fighter with solid muay thai. Tuchscherer is 17-1, making his UFC debut, with 13 wins by stoppage. He is boxer and wrestler.
This is Tuchscherer's first fight in the UFC and I never like rookies in the cage. Also, Gonzaga has fought much better competition. It will be tough to get Tuchscherer down but I think Gonzaga's muay thai and pure brute strength will be able to take care of business. I'm picking Gonzaga by TKO in the first round.
This will be a nice rebound fight for Gonzaga who had a tough loss to Shane Carwin in his last fight. Gonzaga is nowhere near a title shot right now but this win will hopefully put him back on to main cards where he belongs.
Justin McCully v. Mike Russow
McCully is 9-4-2, 2-1 in the UFC, with five wins by submission. He is a grappler. Russow is 11-1, making his UFC debut, with two wins by KO. He is a wreslter with some boxing.
This is a tough fight to call. McCully has the better experience but I'm not sure his jiu jitsu is good enough to overcome Russow's wrestling. Normally I don't pick rookies, as I mentioned, but in this case I'm making an exception. I'm picking Russow to win a low level grappling battle by a very boring decision.
Tim Hague v. Todd Duffee
Hague is 10-1, 1-0 in the UFC, with eight wins by stoppage. He is a striker with some grappling. Duffee is 4-0, making his UFC debut, with all four wins by KO. He is a striker.
This will probably end up being a solid striking battle as I don't think Hague will be as intimidated by Duffee's stand up as he was Pat Barry's. I think Hague has the upper hand in this fight though it could go either way. I'll stick with Hague though and pick him to win by TKO in the second round.
Nick Catone v. Mark Munoz
Catone is 7-1, 1-1 in the UFC, with six wins by stoppage. He is a grappler and boxer. Munoz is 5-1, 0-1 in the UFC, with three wins by KO. He is a wrestler with solid muay thai.
Catone has the more well rounded game but I like Munoz in this fight due to his wrestling. I think Munoz can out wrestle Catone and Munoz should be much bigger and stronger now that he's dropped down to 185 lbs.
I think Munoz will use his wrestling to impose his will on Catone and wear him out until he can go for the kill. I'm picking Munoz to win by TKO in the second round.
My pick for submission of the night goes to Ed Herman. My pick for KO of the night goes to Gabriel Gonzaga. My pick for fight of the night goes to Keith Jardine v. Thiago Silva.