Location: Las Vegas, Nev.
Venue: MGM Grand Garden Arena
Broadcast: Pay Per View
MAIN CARD (TELEVISED)
The Fighters: Champ Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar (for UFC heavyweight title)
The Records: Lesnar (2-1 MMA 1-1 UFC) Couture (16-8 MMA 13-5 UFC)
How Lesnar got here: Words really cannot do Brock Lesnar justice. He is an athlete you need to see in action to believe. Lesnar is a ripped 275lbs, strong like a 350lb man, and moves like a 175lbs man. Throw in a NCAA division 1 wrestling championship, and you have the recipe for a champion. Although late to the party, he is entering his third year of full MMA training and seems to improve exponentially. Lesnar’s first fight was in K1 against Min Soo Kim in June of 2007. He quickly dispatched the obviously overmatched Kim in 69 seconds. Lesnar then made the jump that few thought he was ready for and signed with the UFC. In his first UFC fight and second MMA fight ever he took on former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir (or “Mur” if you ask Lesnar). Without overstatement, Lesnar looked as impressive as someone could who lost the fight in 90 seconds. He immediately took Mir down and proceeded to try and make paste out of his face. First time jitters and a little too much adrenaline helped him fall into a knee bar and his first loss. Lesnar’s next shot at redemption was against a very experienced and always dangerous Heath Herring. Lesnar finally executed with the potential that we all knew he possessed and stomped a mudhole in Herring for 15 minutes. As much ability as he showed in the Herring fight, Lesnar also showed he still has a long way to go before his MMA game is anywhere near complete.
How Couture got here: A fighter bio on a 45 year old would take the rest of the week to read, so hear are the highlights. Couture is a Greco-Roman wrestler who was an alternate for several Olympic teams. Couture entered MMA and immediately had an impact. Over a career mainly fought in the UFC, he was a three time heavyweight champion and 2 time light-heavyweight champion. He is 7-1 as an underdog in the UFC and is well known the possible the most cerebral fighter in the heavyweight division. After coming out of a somewhat brief retirement, Couture beat Tim Sylvia to take his third heavyweight title and defended it against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74 last August. Couture has been on hiatus for over a year in a contract dispute with the UFC, but all has been forgiven as he has signed a new 3 fight contract and is ready to defend his title against Lesnar.
How they match up: This is a match up which is solely dependant on Lesnar. At 45 years old, we pretty much know what Couture brings to the table. An excellent wrestling game with great dirty boxing, cage tactics, and clinch technique. Lesnar is the X-factor in this match, as he seems to improve by leaps and bounds between his last two fights. Randy will try to neutralize Lesnar’s strength and speed advantage by tying him up and frustrating Lesnar. Lesnar has shown some rookie mistakes, like letting his emotions get the better of him and luring him into making mistakes that he is not yet experienced enough to escape. Lesnar has also not had to fight off of his back, nor had to fight through being punched in the face. To quote Mr. Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face.” We may get to see what Brock’s plan will be.
My Crystal Marble says: This seems to be a pretty simple fight to forecast. Couture needs to survive the first few minutes of this fight to win, and Lesnar will need to finish Couture in the first round to have the best shot at being the new UFC heavyweight champ. I think Randy can weather the storm in the first round and begin to frustrate and slow down Lesnar. Randy will tie up and slowly pummel Lesnar for 5 rounds and win a unanimous decision. But in doing so, will make Brock that much better of a fighter down the road. Brock is the future, but Couture is too much too soon for him right now.
The Fighters: Kenny Florian vs. Joe Stevenson
The Records: Florian (10-3 MMA 8-2 UFC) Stevenson (29-8 MMA 6-2 UFC)
How Florian got here: Florian was an original cast member of the vehicle that launched this sport into the stratosphere in the United States, the Ultimate Fighter. Florian made it all the way to the finals of the first season, where he lost to Diego Sanchez. One major fact about Florian on the TV show, he was fighting about 30lbs over his optimum fighting weight. Once the finale was over, Florian dropped to 155lbs and began to impress. He earned himself a shot at the newly instilled lightweight title against Sean Sherk at UFC 64. Florian lost a unanimous decision but gained new respect and new fans with an amazing performance against a potentially dominant opponent. The loss refocused Florian and revamped his training and rededicated himself to the sport. The results are plain as he is on a five fight winning streak including his most recent victory over a very hyped Roger Huerta at UFC 87.
How Stevenson got here: Stevenson is a extremely experienced fighter that has been fighting professionally since he was 17. As a result of his impressive resume, he was invited to join the cast the the Ultimate Fighter 2 cast. Stevenson entered the show on a eight fight winning streak and rode his momentum all the way to the finale and beat Luke Cummo to win the season 2 title. Stevenson quickly took his first loss in the UFC at welterweight to Josh Neer and realized that lightweight was the weight class for him. Since dropping to lightweight in the UFC, he is 5-1 with his only loss being a title shot against pound-for-pound great BJ Penn. Stevenson is coming off a submission victory over the previously un-submitted Gleison Tibau at UFC 86.
How they match up: Let me start by saying, this is a fantastic fight. There may not be two better technicians in the lightweight division besides these two fellas. If you break this fight down to individual disciplines, the edge goes to Florian. Muay Thai, Florian is the more technical of the two and uses his elbows like ginsu knives. Boxing, Stevenson may have the more technical hands but Florian’s reach advantage is enough to cancel out any serious advantage Stevenson may have in that area. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, both are now blackbelts (Congrats Joe!) and should be able to cancel each other out for the most part. Stevenson’s guillotine is the most devastating in all of the UFC and Florian could spend the whole fight staying out of that alone. Wrestling, Stevenson has a significant advantage here but Florian has been consistently improving in that area. Overall Florian is just a little bit better in most areas.
My Crystal Marble says: If Florian had a little more power in his strikes, I may have seen this fight differently. I think Stevenson’s chin is solid enough to keep him from any serious damage and Florian is good enough on the ground to not get caught in any of Stevenson’s chokes. I think this comes down to the transitions and positioning as it goes to a decision. I see Stevenson using his superior wrestling to control where this fight is fought and making Florian work off his back for most of the fight. Stevenson will most likely be bloody and beat up, but he should out-point Florian for the decision.
The Fighters: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Josh Hendricks
The Records: Gonzaga (9-3 MMA 5-2 UFC) Hendricks (15-4 MMA 0-0 UFC)
How Gonzaga got here: Gabriel Gonzaga is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt with downright devastating striking. Gonzaga won the 2004 Mundials in Brazil and is commonly considered one of the best submission grapplers in the world. Gonzaga impressed early in the UFC by running off four wins in a row at heavyweight, but the exclamation point on his resume is his devastating head-kick knockout of Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic. That win earned him a title shot against Randy Couture at UFC 74. Unfortunately for Gonzaga, Couture just proved to be to much for him and beat him down for 3 rounds before being finished via TKO. He tried to bounce back and return to the title hunt, but was derailed again by his personal thorn-in-the-side, Fabricio Werdum. Gonzaga has since regrouped and got a win over Justin McCully at UFC 86.
How Hendricks got here: Josh Hendricks is a big, powerful wrestler with excellent ground and pound. Hendricks was a 2 time all American NCAA wrestler and has fought mainly in the mid-western circuit. He is riding a 10 fight win streak but his last fight was a TKO win over Braden Bice almost a year ago. Hendricks hasn’t been totally out of fighting over the last year as Randy Couture has called him in to Xtreme Couture to help him train for Lesnar as well as his own fight.
How they match up: On paper this is a massacre. Hendricks is a big, strong wrestler who will try to take down Gonzaga and get him out of his comfort zone. Gonzaga has some of the most devastating leg kicks in the sport and is absolutely world class on the floor. Gonzaga is physically superior to Hendricks in about every area of the fight except the transitions. Conditioning may be another factor as Hendricks has only been to decision once in his career.
My Crystal Marble says: I see this fight and want to say Gonzaga via whatever he wants, but then I replay Werdum vs. Dos Santos in my head and it makes me look a little closer at this fight. I am willing to give Hendricks enough credit to assume that he will be able to take Gonzaga down and keep himself out of most submissions on the ground. But I think Gonzaga absolutely eats him alive with leg kicks on the feet. I think Hendricks hangs tough for a round but will start taking on too much damage in the second round and get himself caught in a submission late in the round. Gonzaga via second round submission.
The Fighters: Demian Maia vs. Nate Quarry
The Records: Maia (8-0 MMA 3-0 UFC) Quarry (10-2 MMA 5-1 UFC)
How Quarry got here: Nate Quarry is a fan favorite from season one of the Ultimate Fighter. Quarry was inured during the show and could not compete but got a contract regardless. He ran off a three fight winning streak and earned himself a shot at the middleweight title against Rich Franklin. It turned out to be a curse in disguise as not only was he highlight-reel knocked out in 2:34 but he received a spinal injury that not only threatened his career but his ability to walk at all. Almost two years of surgeries and rehab later and he has seemed to make a miraculous recovery with a KO win over Pete Sell and most recently a dominating decision win over Kalib Starnes at UFC 83.
How Maia got here: Maia is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and ADCC submission grappling champion. He is considered by many insiders to be the most talented grappler in the entire UFC right now. Maia has successfully moved over to MMA from BJJ and is storming through the UFC middleweight division right now with three straight wins, his last being over Jason MacDonald via rear naked choke at UFC 87.
How they match up: This may be the matchup of the two nicest, most well respected guys in all of MMA. A more polite fight we will never see. As far as how they stack up, it should be an interesting tilt. Maia is looking more and more impressive each fight. Maia’s ground game is light years above everyone else in the division, including Anderson Silva. Maia’s key to his UFC career is how far along he can bring his striking game. Quarry is no slouch on the feet with legitimate knockout power in both hands. Quarry should be able to get the better of the exchanges on the feet. Quarry also possesses fairly decent wrestling and takedown defense, so Maia will have to battle to get this to the floor. If and when they hit the ground, Quarry has not shown too much of his grappling skills yet. Maia most likely will hold a significant advantage in that department as well.
My Crystal Marble says: It will be hard to watch one of these guys lose this fight as they are both so damn likeable. That being said, if Maia can stay away from Quarry’s power, he should win this fight. If Quarry can’t hurt Maia on the feet, he will not stand much of a chance on the ground with him. I see Maia hanging in there long enough on the feet to get the takedown and a submission shortly after. Maia via submission win in round 2.
The Fighters: Dustin Hazelett vs. Tamdan McCrory
The Records: Hazelett (11-4 MMA 4-2 UFC) McCrory (9-1 MMA 2-1 UFC)
How Hazelett got here: Hazelett is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt under Jorge Gurgel and trains with the likes of Rich Franklin. He is a talented grappler who continues to impress both on the ground and in the striking department. Hazelett’s kickboxing is getting better and better, and it is showing as he has knocked down his last two opponents. After recently running off a three fight win streak in the UFC, he earned himself a jump up in competition against Josh Koscheck. He impressed in the bout but ultimately succumbed to Koscheck via TKO in the Second round. Hazelett rebounded with a very slick submission win over always tough Josh Burkman at UFC TUF 7 finale.
How McCrory got here: McCrory is an young but very aggressive fighter who is fairly well rounded. McCrory is a good striker with decent grappling to go along with it and an overall aggressive nature that makes him a fan favorite. He has only been fighting for two or three years but busted his way into the UFC last June with a submission win over Pete Spratt. McCrory earned a major jump in competition and faced Akihiro Gono at UFC 78. He lost via armbar in the second round but put on a very good showing against the more experienced fighter. After going back to school to finish his degree, he bounced back with a win over Luke Cummo at UFC 87 via unanimous decision.
How they match up: A good matchup of two up and coming fighters on the rise in the division. McCrory is well rounded and tenacious, but Hazelett is an absolute beast on the ground. McCrory may be able to hold his own on the feet, but he is fairly outclassed on the grappling department.
My Crystal Marble says: This will be an exciting win for Dustin Hazelett. McCrory has the typical punchers chance, but Hazelett is superior to McCrory in almost every aspect of the fight. Hazelett is light years ahead of McCrory on the ground and once this fight hits the floor it will be over shortly after. Hazelett via submission round 2.
The Fighters: Jorge Gurgel vs. Aaron Riley
The Records: Gurgel (12-4 MMA 3-3 UFC) Riley (26-10-1 MMA 0-2 UFC)
How Riley got here: Riley is the definition of a journeyman fighter. He has fought professionally for 11 years and is only 28 years old. Riley has gotten two chances at the big show before, losing to Robbie Lawler at UFC 37 and Spencer Fisher at UFC fight night 3. Riley is most recently coming off a win over Steve Claveau at Xtreme MMA5 in September via unanimous decision.
How Gurgel got here: Gurgel is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt and was a cast member of the second season of the Ultimate Fighter. After being eliminated on the show by losing to Jason Von Flue, Gurgel was offered a contract anyway. He has had mixed results in the UFC. Gurgel has shown in wins over Diego Saraiva and John Halverson that he has potential that can be fulfilled, he has also shown in losses to Mark Hominick and Alvin Robinson that he can be baited into making mistakes and fighting someone else fight. Gurgel is most recently coming off a loss to Cole Miller at UFC 86 where he was submitted via triangle choke as time expired.
How they match up: This is a fairly decent pairing of evenly matched opponents. Gurgel is a very good BJJ practitioner, but rarely likes to use it in favor of striking with his opponents. Riley is a fairly well rounded kickboxer with submissions as well, although not at Gurgel’s level. Gurgel will most likely do what he normally does and let Riley bait him into a standup war which he could still potentially win.
My Crystal Marble says: Gurgel is a frustrating fighter. You just want to scream, “why don’t you just take him down and submit him!” He is very caught up in wanting to be exciting and well liked instead of wanting to win. Not a good combo for a successful UFC career. Most likely this will get decided on the feet where Gurgel does not have an advantage and allows Riley to steal a unanimous decision win over Gurgel.