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UFC 91: Keys to Victory

The day we’ve all been waiting for is here: UFC 91 – Couture vs. Lesnar. All the fighters have made weight and have passed their pre-fight medical exams. It’s all systems go.

Now, let’s take a look at what considers to be the keys to victory for every fighter involved with the main televised portion of the card.

Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar

Randy Couture

Experience: Now both of these men hold very significant advantages over the other but there’s no advantage larger than this one for Couture. The difference between Couture and Lesnar’s resume is like night and day. The UFC champion has been competing in mixed martial arts for more than a decade while Lesnar got his start just over a year ago in June of 2007. This will be Couture’s 25th professional bout while the former WWE superstar will be competing for only the fourth time this Saturday night. Lesnar has had a baptism by fire since coming to the UFC when he faced former heavyweight champion Frank Mir in his debut and then rebounding veteran Heath Herring in his second appearance in the octagon but it pales in comparison to the level of competition that Couture has faced throughout his career. Top fighter’s like Vitor Belfort, Tito Ortiz, Pedro Rizzo, and Chuck Liddell have all fallen prey to the five time UFC champion and since making his return to the heavyweight division Couture has victories over top heavyweights Tim Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga.

There is absolutely no substitution for the level of experience that the 45 year old veteran will bring to the table at UFC 91 and it should help Couture in countless ways when he goes up against someone that is physically superior to him. All the little things that you just can’t teach that come from years and years of fighting at the highest level should benefit Couture when he faces off with a man that is rushing to play catch up.

Technique: Brock is without a doubt the better wrestler but this isn’t going to be a wrestling match. This is going to be a fight and Couture has been in the fighting business for more than 10 years now. There is no way you can teach someone in a years time what someone has been doing with tremendous success for the amount of time that Couture has. He established one of the best mixed martial arts training facilities in the business when he opened the Xtreme Couture Gym in Las Vegas and has spent time training with many of the best fighters in the game in recent years. Couture can feel extremely confident that he is the more well rounded fighter going into this one.

Strategy: Time and time again The Natural has proven that he is a master of developing great game plans. He did it against Liddell in their first fight and more recently against Sylvia and Gonzaga at heavyweight. All of the years of competition have turned Couture into a master strategist in the cage and you can rest assured that he has spent countless hours studying every minute of Lesnar’s previous three bouts. The champion will be sure to try and exploit any mistake that has been exposed in Lesnar’s game up until now. Any mistake that only a fighter as experienced and as seasoned as Couture could notice. Also very important to note is the fact that Couture brought in monstrous UFC heavyweight prospect Shane Carwin to help with training which will help tremendously in preparing for the freakishly powerful wrestler.

Patience: Something tells me that there’s a really great chance that Couture will be fighting off of his back for the first round or two. I also highly suspect that Couture is fully aware of this possibility and very well just needs to contain the beast for a little while. Long enough for Lesnar to start sucking wind and this will be the moment for Couture to turn the tables. Even if it takes until the fourth round, if Couture can contain the 265 pound powerhouse it’s highly likely that he will be able to have his way with Lesnar in the later rounds.

Cardio: If Couture can turn this into a fast paced affair where Lesnar has to really work the whole time then the gas tank advantage has to got to Couture. The UFC champion may be 45 years old but he hasn’t been out of shape a day in his life. Couture pushed the pace for all five rounds and showed no signs of slowing down when he toppled the physically imposing Tim Sylvia to regain the heavyweight championship so whether he can go five hard rounds or not should not be too big of a question mark in this one. Another thing to note is the fact that muscles require oxygen to breathe and Lesnar will be feeling it if the fight gets into the later rounds.

Leg Kick/Right Hand Combo: The one that he executed so flawlessly in the opening moments of his bout with Tim Sylvia. If Couture can land this beauty of a combo early on against Lesnar it could turn out to be a shockingly early night. Especially if Lesnar’s chin turns out to be made of Cinderellas glass slipper.

Brock Lesnar

Size: Lesnar is absolutely massive and nearly impossible to prepare for. He cuts weight to get down to the 265 pound weight limit and gets his weight back up to around 275 pounds by fight time. His wrestling prowess makes it very likely that he will end up on top of Couture at some point in this one and those 275 pounds pressing down on the aging champion could prove to be too much. If Couture spends a lot of time trying to get up unsuccessfully, he will expend a ton of energy and end up extremely vulnerable to a ground and pound assault.

Strength/Wrestling: There is no dispute that Lesnar is the more powerful man of the two. If it comes down to a wrestling match, Couture will wind up on his back, no doubt about it. Even though it’s not a wrestling match, Lesnar should have little problem getting Couture to the mat whenever he wants to early on. If Lesnar is able to control Captain America from the top, he will have little problem making hamburger out of Couture’s face over time. While Lesnar may not knock the heavyweight champion unconscious on the ground, if he can keep it there he will be be able to do enough damage to force the stoppage.

Wingspan/Punching Power: Lesnar shattered Heath Herring‘s orbital bone with the first punch he threw in the fight. One of the biggest factors of that punch landing is the length of the huge heavyweight’s wingspan. Lesnar can land punches from distances that are nearly impossible to train for. When his punches land they do serious, serious damage. In his fight with Frank Mir, Lesnar was able to drop the former heavyweight champion with a short right hand that wasn’t thrown with very much force. Some guys just have “heavy hands”, Lesnar’s one of them. If Lesnar has the power behind his punch to shatter orbital bone’s then he most definitely has the power to knock Couture out if he lands the right punch.

Kenny Florian vs. Joe Stevenson

Kenny Florian

Precise Striking: While Stevenson is no slouch on his feet, Florian is much more technical and polished. The Boston native showed crisp , accurate stand up in his last fight with Roger Huerta and has looked better and better on the feet with each passing fight. The elbows he throws from unusual angles make him a threat at all times and his whole muay thai game is some of the best in the UFC right now. Stevenson has good boxing and throws powerful shots but he will come up on the losing end of things if he decides to trade with Florian. His striking is just far more advanced than Stevenson’s.

Elbows/Cuts: Florian has shown has displayed over and over that he possesses some of the most vicious elbows in mixed martial arts. Chris Leben, Alex Karalexis and Sean Sherk can all attest to to just how lethal Florian’s elbows can be. Florian is a danger at all times. Whether it be standing, in the clinch, from the top or the bottom position, he can end the fight in an instant with the swing of his elbow. The image of Joe Stevenson bleeding all over the ring in his bout with B.J. Penn makes me think that this is a factor to watch out for.

Takedowns: While I feel Stevenson may be the better wrestler of the two, it’s still possible that Florian could score a takedown at some point. So many things open up for Florian when he’s in the top position. His ground and pound is relentless and the danger of his elbows causing a cut causes many fighters to give up their back. If Florian can get Stevenson on his back and put on the pressure, who knows what could turn out from it. One thing’s for certain. If Stevenson gives Florian anything on the ground, he will take it home with him.

Joe Stevenson

Guillotine Choke: Stevenson’s guillotine choke can easily be described as one of the most lethal in the business. In his last four wins, three have been finished by the guillotine. It’s one of the most lightning quick submissions in the sport and Stevenson has a real knack for catching some really talented fighters with it time and time again. Florian is a jiu-jitsu black belt as well as Stevenson so it’s not likely that he will get caught with a guillotine but it is far from impossible. If Stevenson can catch Florian slipping during a scramble it could be an early night.

Scrambles: Whether it be the guillotine or the rear naked choke, Stevenson is really good at choking people. It’s his bread and butter so to speak. Stevenson may be a little more powerful than Florian so if they end up scrambling for position a whole lot of things could open up for him.

Wrestling: Both of these guys have solid wrestling but Stevenson may be a little more powerful with his takedowns and top control. If Stevenson can control Florian from the top and rain down hard punches and elbows for three rounds the way Sean Sherk did then he may be able to squeak out the decision.

Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Josh Hendricks

Gabriel Gonzaga

Octagon Experience: It can be very easy to be overwhelmed by the bright lights that come with the first trip to the octagon. The more a fighter experiences everything that comes with competing in the premier fighting organization in the world, the more that fighter can relax and perform to his full ability. This won’t be Gonzaga’s first rodeo by a long shot. This will mark his eighth trip to the Octagon while it will be the very first time that Hendricks has laced up his five ounce gloves for the UFC. The UFC veteran should be able to jump on Hendricks early with great results.

Jiu-Jitsu: Even though 10 of Hendricks 15 wins have come by submission, Gonzaga will hold a significant advantage over the Ohio based fighter. The Brazilian is received his black belt in jiu-jitsu from Wander Braga and is considered to be one of the best submission fighters at heavyweight. If Hendricks makes the mistake of playing the submission game with the seasoned Gonzaga it could be a very early night.

Exchanges: As Gonzaga demonstrated in his fight with Mirco Cro Cop he is one head kick away from victory at any given moment. The former Chute Boxe fighter throws his kicks with a ton of force and if Hendricks leaves his guard down for an instant in the first round it could be over. Many people forget that Gonzaga also has one punch knockout power. It could be that many people actually block the fight Gonzaga had with Kevin Jordan in the Brazilian’s UFC debut out of their head because it was an extremely boring fight with neither fighter doing much until the end came. Gonzaga hit Jordan with one of the hardest superman punches I have ever seen and the injured fighter crumpled to the canvas with a water fountain of blood pouring from his mouth. It was a gruesome sight that Hendricks should take note of because if he gets lazy for a second with Gonzaga it will be lights out.

Josh Hendricks

He’s been training with Randy Couture: Hendricks was brought down by Couture to help the UFC champion prepare for his bout with Brock Lesnar. Couture needed massive guys to help emulate Lesnar and Hendricks fit the bill. Being that Couture’s last victory in the octagon came over Gonzaga it is highly likely that he helped Hendricks tremendously in preparing a game plan for the dangerous brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.

Being Underestimated: The best thing in the world for Hendricks would be for Gonzaga to look past him on Saturday night. Hendricks is coming into this fight riding an 11 fight win streak and 10 of those bouts he has finished on his own terms. Knowing that this could be the only opportunity he may have to fight in the UFC, Hendricks is likely to come out guns blazing and Gonzaga better have prepared for him accordingly.

Nate Quarry vs. Demian Maia

Nate Quarry

Stand Up/Punching Power: Maia has shown a willingness to trade in some of his recent fights but if he tries it with Quarry he will get put on his back. Since making his debut in the UFC, four of Quarry’s five wins have come by knockout. Punches to get a little more specific. As most people would agree, all five of the heavy handed fighter’s wins would have come by knockout had Kalib Starnes not shamefully run away from Quarry for most of their “fight”. If Maia gives Quarry any opportunity to put one on his chin you can rest assured that he will take it and there aren’t many men that can stand up to a guy that punches as hard as Quarry does.

Wrestling/Takedown Defense: Taking Quarry to the canvas is far from an easy task. The powerful 185 pounder has the better wrestling out of the two and will be looking to keep the fight standing without question. If Quarry can prevent Maia from taking the fight to the ground there will be little chance of victory for the Brazilian. I don’t see any way for Maia to knock out Quarry or win a stand up fight by decision. It’s just not going to happen.

Endurance/Cardio: One of the biggest question marks hanging over the head of Maia is his gas tank. He has looked near exhaustion when some of his most recent fights have gone into the later rounds but has still managed to come away with victories in all of those bouts. Quarry has always been the kind of fighter that keeps up a punishing pace and looked fresh after going the distance with Starnes even though he was forced to chase the retreating fighter for a good portion of the fight. If this fight turns into a war and it goes into the third round, Quarry will hold a significant advantage.

Submission Defense: Quarry has never been submitted in his mixed martial arts career. Nuff said.

Demian Maia

Jiu-Jitsu/Submissions: Maia is as dangerous as they come on the ground in mixed martial arts or anywhere for that matter. The Sao Paulo, Brazil fighter has a second degree black belt in jiu-jitsu and has won numerous submission tournaments including the coveted ADCC world championship. Since making the transition to mixed martial arts from pure jiu-jitsu competition, Maia has shown a real talent for converting his submission game to work for as he has finished six of his eight opponents by submission. Upon his arrival in the UFC the undefeated Maia has stopped Ryan Jensen, Ed Herman and Jason MacDonald by tap out. Quarry will be in serious danger of being submitted at any point that it hits the ground.

Momentum: Maia has never tasted defeat since coming to mixed martial arts and has finished some really tough guys since stepping up in the UFC. The type of confidence that he is sure to have will push him to perform at the best of his ability.

Dustin Hazelett vs Tamdan McCrory

Dustin Hazelett

Submissions: Hazelett’s submissions are absolutely top level. The Ohio based fighter has a balck belt in jiu-jitsu and eight of his eleven wins have come by submission. The armbar he threw on Josh Burkman in his last fight was a thing of beauty and Hazelet just seems to never stop improving and expanding his jiu-jitsu game. If he is able to take the fight to the ground he will hold a major advantage over McCrory and his best chance of winning will most definitely be while working his magic on the floor.

Taking the fight to the ground: I feel like McCrory definitely has the advantage on the feet so Hazelett will prefer to get this fight to the mat. The key will be to engage McCrory in the stand up so Hazeltt can catch him off balance and take him down. If he can do this, and keep it there for a while, Hazelett will either get the submission or win the fight on points.

Tamdan McCrory

Striking: The fact that McCrory started out his fighting career with six straight knockout victories just demonstrates that he is a naturally powerful and devastating striker. A few questions were raised about Hazelett’s chin in his knockout loss to Josh Koscheck who is not known for his knockout power but all of those questions should be answered one way or another in this one. If McCrory can force Hazelett to exchange in this one he could end up with the stoppage or the decision.

Range: Hazelett is an extremely tall 170 pounder at 6’1″ but he will be looking up at McCrory who is a towering 6’4″. If the rangy striker is able to utilize his range and pick off Hazelett from the outside it could pose all sorts of problems for Hazelett.

Keeping it Standing: Well this is kind of a no brainer. McCrory’s advantages are when the fight is on the feet so it will be essential that he prevent Hazelett from taking him down. If he can keep it standing for most of this fight he should walk away with the win.

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