For years the heavyweight division has been the marquee attraction in both boxing and later on in mixed martial arts. There is nothing quite like seeing two big guys doing battle and trying to knock each other out with one punch. However, despite the financial potential, the heavyweight scene in MMA has faded somewhat much like it has in boxing. The reality is, it’s very expensive to keep a viable heavyweight division going for an extended period of time.
As such, many of the world’s top heavyweight mixed martial arts found themselves in a state of limbo, as they were unwilling to fight for what they perceived to be less than their market value. Seeing an opportunity to make an instant impact, clothing maker Affliction made the decision to go out and try and lock up a lot of the sport’s available key heavyweight fighters.
The end result was the most star-studded heavyweight affair in recent memory on paper set for this Saturday in Anaheim, Calif. at the Honda Center and live on pay-per-view (check local listings) at 9 p.m. ET. The PPV telecast will be preceded by a one-hour undercard show on Fox Sports Net at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings) that will feature at least two fights free of charge.
While the rumored budget for this card has caused great heartache for wannabe MMA financial analysts, Saturday’s lineup is a dream for many true MMA fans. It remains to be seen whether this weekend’s show will send Affliction to the poor house, but fans shouldn’t allow such things to interfere with what could be the kind of show we don’t get to see again for quite some time.
Join 5 Oz. was we preview and predict this epic mixed martial arts event (click below for more).
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Tim Sylvia for the WAMMA heavyweight title
While Affliction will be using the unified rules of MMA, they will be holding their fights in a ring as opposed to a cage. Word is that the ring they will be using will be larger than the typical boxing ring. The rumor has been for quite some time that Fedor’s management does not want him fighting in the cage, which always struck me as odd because based on his ground ability, I would think Fedor would be much more dangerous if he had the advantage of pounding his opponents against a fence.
Saturday’s main event between Fedor and Sylvia will also be for the vacant WAMMA heavyweight title, which means the fight is scheduled for five rounds as opposed to three.
Fedor, the last reigning heavyweight champion in PRIDE’s history, finds himself with the toughest opponent he’s had to face in nearly two and a half years. Against Sylvia, he has a chance to quiet many North American fight critics who have questioned the caliber of opponents he’s faced in recent years.
According to a report last year by Dave Meltzer, when negotiating a possible deal with the UFC, Fedor’s management apparently wanted no part of Sylvia. So why are they doing the fight now? It could be because Sylvia is a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion and a win by Fedor would go a long way towards quieting a lot of the critics.
Fedor’s stock will only rise in the U.S. market if he’s able to beat heavyweights that are recognizable to most MMA fans. While there are a lot of people that have never seen Fedor fight, there are a lot of people that know Sylvia well based on his long tenure in the UFC.
Looking at the fight from a technical standpoint, Sylvia’s reach will be the key. While some dispute it, Fedor’s face has a tendency to bruise easily. If Sylvia can use his jab effectively, he might be able to inflict a surprising amount of damage.
While Fedor’s standup can be incredible, he does not want to slug it out with Sylvia. Not only does Sylvia have the reach advantage, but he has the power punching advantage. Fedor can get away with brief exchanges, but if the two stand for an extended duration, we could enter upset territory.
Fedor has to close the gap and he must do so carefully. Randy Couture manhandled Sylvia because he kept him off-balance and quickly closed the distance and was able to apply a body lock very quickly, while also using shoulder collars/dirty boxing technique.
Fedor should adopt Couture’s strategy verbatim by pressing Sylvia and taking away his opportunities to get extension on his strikes. Once he closes the gap and makes contact with Sylvia, he needs to put him on his back and let his amazing ground skills takeover.
Sylvia is underrated and has improved over the years. However, I don’t feel his ground game has made enough strides. On the mat, he will be at a decisive disadvantage against Fedor and that is where I think the fight will be decided.
Prediction: I expect Fedor to win via third-round TKO (due to strikes).
Andrei Arlovski vs. Ben Rothwell
While interviewing Rothwell for CBSSports.com this week, he made a good point in that Arlovski couldn’t continue to employ the same aggressive style he used against Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello because he started to fight opponents such as Fabricio Werdum and Jake O’Brien. Against Eilers and Buentello, Arlovski didn’t have to worry about the takedown. He could sit in the pocket and bang. Against Werdum and O’Brien, he had to adopt a more cautious style out of necessity.
Against Rothwell, we could see some of the Arlovski of old. Rothwell likes to box and isn’t likely to try and take the fight to the floor. While I am sure we’ll see some defensive posturing from Arlovski, he will be able to take more risks considering that he doesn’t have to worry about being taken down.
Athletically, Arlovski is superior. However, Rothwell could have the edge when it comes to the intangibles. He’s very tough and has the ability to out-work his opponents during a fight.
I consider Rothwell a top ten fighter but he isn’t getting that recognition from certain pundits because he doesn’t have a win over a consensus top ten opponent. Against Arlovski, he is finally getting that opportunity and I expect him to take full advantage of it.
Prediction: I am predicting an upset with Rothwell winning via second round TKO.
Josh Barnett vs. Pedro Rizzo
This fight will be a rematch from their previous meeting at UFC 30 in 2001, a fight that Rizzo via second round knockout. But maybe we shouldn’t even reference their first meeting because the two are completely different fighters.
Over the years, Barnett has progressed and is in his prime as a fighter. At the time of their first meeting, Rizzo was considered by UFC officials to be their top heavyweight and the expectation was that he’d carry their heavyweight division as champion. In fact, I’ve spoken to some former UFC officials who indicated that the promotion wanted to see Rizzo beat Randy Couture in both of their meetings at UFCs 31 and 34.
Rizzo was unable to get past Couture and some say the losses broke him mentally. Whether that is truly the case remains to be seen, but Rizzo was never the same after those losses. While he’s still past his prime, Rizzo did look much improved while competing for the Art of War during wins over Justin Eilers and Jeff Monson.
Some believe this will be a cakewalk for Barnett, but if Rizzo can keep the fight on his feet and utilize his brutal leg kicks, we’re going to see a very good fight.
Prediction: I believe Barnett’s catch-wrestling will be on point and he will ground and pound his way to a victory in the second round.
Matt Lindland vs. Fabio Negao
Negao, a former member of Brazilian Top Team, isn’t well known within the U.S. MMA scene but his jiu-jitsu credentials are top notch. However, this is a very good matchup for Lindland. The biggest weakness in Lindland’s game is his standup, but Negao isn’t known for being strong on his feet either.
Lindland has also had a tendency to fight up in weight against bigger, and stronger opponents. He’s not going to be at a size disadvantage during this fight.
Normally Lindland’s best bet for victory would be to score a takedown and ground and pound his way to a win. However, Negao is a threat to submit Lindland off his back. As such, I think you’re going to see Lindland keep the fight standing and try to utilize his boxing skills, which he has spent a lot of time trying to improve.
Prediction: I believe this fight is going to be closer than some think, but in the end, I still believe Lindland will get the win via unanimous decision.
Renato Sobral vs. Mike Whitehead
This is another fight that will be closer than people are expecting. Whitehead, who trains out of Xtreme Couture, is on a 12 fight win streak and has not lost since leaving the UFC following his loss to Keith Jardine at UFC 57.
Despite signing contracts with a thousand different MMA promotions, Sobral has fought just once since being kicked out of the UFC following a controversial win over David Heath last August at UFC 74 in which he refused to release a submission hold on Heath after the fight had been stopped.
Sobral is the better fighter of the two in this one, but he does not always fight to his ability. Then again, Whitehead is not someone who has always been focused in the past as well so this could come down to who simply is the better fighter.
Prediction: I have doubts about the outcome, but when it doubt, pick the better fighter. In this case, it’s Babalu and I’m picking him to win via unanimous decision.
Aleksander Emelianenko vs. Paul Buentello (to be televised on FSN)
Buentello is a tough fighter that can hurt people if they don’t respect his standup. However, he’s not a well-rounded fighter and he’s shown to have problems with gifted fighters. Emelianenko has a ton of potential but isn’t as highly regarded as he should because he has not fought consistently in recent years. If he fights one of his better fights, I don’t think Buentello will be able to make it past the second round.
Prediction: Emelianenko via second round submission.
Vitor Belfort vs. Terry Martin (fight could be televised on FSN)
Everyone pines for the old Vitor Belfort, but we need to see the old Terry Martin in order for him to have any chance to beat Belfort. His final fights in the UFC left a lot to be desired. Belfort was once one of the top fighters in the world at 205 lbs. After several falls from grace, he is considered one of the most enigmatic fighters in the sport. He’s only 32, but he’s been fighting since the age of 19 and has been through his fair share of wars. As such, he’s an old 32 as far as the fight game is concerned.
Prediction: He might not have much left, but as long as he keeps his chin down, he’ll have enough to win a unanimous decision over Martin.