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UFC 89: Previewing Lytle vs. Taylor & Cane vs. Sokoudjou

Chris Lytle (25-16-5 MMA 4-8 UFC) vs. Paul Taylor (9-3-1 MMA 2-2 UFC)

If you are a fan of MMA, this is the fight for you. Imagine two Tasmanian devils locked in a cage together with one side of beef. These are two of the most exciting fighters in the division. These are two guys with incredible gas tanks, all testicles, and no need for a game plan. Guys who fight for the love of it and leave their hearts in the octagon are worth their weight in gold. Not sure how much 170lbs of gold is worth, but they are worth all of it and more.

What can you say about Chris Lytle that hasn’t been already said? A nine year veteran with almost 50 fights to his credit, Lytle has experienced all the sport has to offer. Coming into this fight riding a loss to top ranked Josh Koscheck, Lytle’s main job is to excite the fans and man the gate to the top tier of the welterweight division. We throw the term “well rounded” around pretty loosely in MMA (myself included) but Lytle is one of the best examples of this in our sport. Lytle has elite level skills in all areas of the sport but seems to never be able to put it all together on a consistent basis to win the big matches. Lytle is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, with 17 of his 25 career wins due to submission. In the All-American-wrestler heavy welterweight division, Lytle’s above average wrestling skills often get overlooked. Lytle possesses a dynamic striking game which is centered on his boxing skills. He is a professional boxer as well as a professional MMA fighter who sports a 13-1 record. He has excellent power, and while he does not possess one-punch knockout power, his boxing is good enough to easily overwhelm an unsuspecting opponent for a TKO win at any time. Even Lytle’s transition game is excellent as he often will win the scrambles for position.

Why hasn’t Lytle ever won or even fought for a championship belt in the UFC? It is a good question with no direct answer. In my opinion Lytle’s issues throughout his career are mental in origin. He seems to have issues putting a complete product in the octagon. Lytle has definite confidence issues that will cause flat performances in big fights. Lytle is guilty on more than a few occasions of fighting not to lose instead of fighting to win. It has also resulted in lackluster fights with fans booing. After his loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 68 he seems to have finally turned a corner and is throwing caution to the wind by letting his hands go. As a result he has won three of his last five in exciting fashion and earned himself a nice big UFC contract extension.

Paul Taylor is a talented striker with excellent precision and technique, who is coming off of a razor-thin split decision win over Jess Liaudin. In my opinion he is the most technical striker from the UK in the UFC today. Taylor’s kickboxing is crisp, powerful, and capable of throwing multiple punch and kick combinations with deadly accuracy. As with most converted kickboxers in MMA, his ground game is somewhat suspect to say the least. Taylor’s wrestling is subpar to the point it is a severe disadvantage, especially in the wrestler-heavy welterweight division. His takedown defense has improved slightly from his first appearance in the octagon, but he still gives up takedowns all too regularly. Taylor’s submission grappling is progressing, and he actually has a rather active guard. The flip side of that is his guard defense is atrocious. He was pummeled for 12 minutes of his fight with fellow Brit Paul Kelly. Kelly is a talented fighter, but Taylor made him look like Mark Coleman with his lack of defense. Taylor does an excellent impression of the Energizer Bunny, and his act has won him two fight of the night bonuses already.

This is the best MMA fight you will see with absolutely no meaning to it in the division. This is just two fighters out to see who is the better man on any given day. It will be fireworks from the get-go as both fighters are quick to get off. Lytle is just a little bit better in every single aspect of the sport. With his experience and full spectrum of talent, Lytle is just too tall of a task for an up and coming fighter like

Taylor. But if Paul Taylor has proven anything in his short stay in the UFC, it is that he may have the biggest heart in the division. Taylor’s excellent chin and never-quit attitude will keep him in the fight for the duration, but to no avail. Lytle will lay a beating on him for 15 minutes and take a rip-roaring unanimous decision, and maybe a third fight of the night bonus for Taylor. If you share my love for the sport and not a particular fighter, then this fight will deliver.

Luiz Arthur Cane (8-1 MMA 1-1 UFC) vs. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (5-2 MMA 1-1 UFC)

The wizard that is Joe Silva has done it again. Silva will often make matchups that I will initially scratch my head and say “it makes no sense!” but it will somehow always end up being an excellent fight. Cane versus Soku will most likely outshine the two co-main events and could snatch the knockout of the night from the outstretched arms of Shane Carwin. When these two collide on Saturday night for the first time it may resemble a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerine plant.

Luiz Arthur Cane is the newest Brazilian import to the UFC light heavyweight division. Although unlike most Brazilian fighters, he is a hellacious striker who can absolutely devastate and demoralize an opponent. Cane is coming off of a impressive TKO victory over Jason Lambert at UFC85. Cane shows excellent Muay Thai and hand speed, with KO power in all of his strikes. There is a flip side to throwing strikes with all of your power. His conditioning may prove to be an issue if Soku is capable of weathering Cane’s storm and drag him into the later rounds. Cane’s only loss is a DQ loss for an illegal strike to James Irvin. The resulting confidence he exudes in his fights may be his biggest weapon. Cane is very calm and relaxed in his fights and has utter confidence that his strikes will find their mark and do the job. A fighter in that zone is extremely hard to beat. It takes patience and restraint in order to capitalize on a mistake and steal the fight.

Sokoudjou is the African phenom who burst on the scene as Dan Henderson’s Judo training partner early in 2007. Knocking out not one but two top ten light heavyweights in his first two Pride appearances has set the bar ridiculously high for this young fighter. Soku has handled the pressure well so far with his first acid test being a second round submission loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 79. Looking very tense and tentative against Machida, the loss may have actually helped as he look revitalized and having fun in his first round TKO win over Kazuhiro Nakamura at UFC 84.

Sokoudjou is extremely powerful and uses it in his striking and judo throws. He tries to overpower an opponent by hip-tossing them to the ground and smashing through their guard, as well as look for that knockout blow on the feet. With impressive knockouts over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona, it is a gameplan that is simple yet formidable. But in his loss to Machida, Sokoudjou was exposed in a few areas. Soku’s grappling game is somewhat suspect as he seems to rely on his Judo and overall strength when pressured on the ground. Soku’s defensive guard was far from water tight in that loss, and as a result his conditioning suffered under the constant pressure and punishment. Soku’s overwhelming physical abilities make him a substantial threat to all of the fighters in the 205lb division on any given night, but consistency and overall skill level will keep him from ascending the ranks anytime soon.

This matchup highlights two sluggers who like to bang on the feet and wade head-on into their opponent. These scenarios almost always lend themselves to a quick and decisive ending. This fight will not go further than the second round as one of these capable strikers will end the other’s night early. Cane seems to be too precise with his striking and packs serious power. I cannot see Sokoudjou withstanding a protracted standup battle with Cane, and from what we have seen of Soku’s grappling game he will not threaten him there either. I believe Luiz Cane will stop Sokoudjou via second round TKO.

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