The undercard of UFC 134 is highlighted by a light heavyweight rematch between two former UFC champions and two of the most exciting fighters in the sport. One man is trying to avenge the loss and rebound from a tough defeat, the other is looking to prove that the first fight was no fluke and make another run at the title. Also on the undercard is the return of a MMA legend, fighting in Brazil for the first time in his career against an up and comer who believes he’s on the verge of a title shot.
Light Heavyweight Fight: Stanislav Nedkov vs. Luiz Cane
Nedkov’s UFC Debut: Stanislav Nedkov is making his UFC debut this weekend and after watching footage of his fights, I’m not really sure why. No offense to him, but he just doesn’t strike me as a UFC caliber fighter who should be facing a guy like Luiz Cane in his first bout. He has heavy hands but he’s a wild striker who just ducks his head and rushes forward with punches. He has a good top game and stays busy with strikes, and he has a killer instinct that can’t be taught, but I just watch him and think that he shouldn’t be on the main card of a PPV. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong though.
Cane Looking For Consistency: Cane is one of the most overlooked guys in the division due to back to back losses to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Cyrille Diabate, but in terms of skill, Cane is right up there with anyone. He’s a good technical striker with power, has solid takedown defense, and holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu. He’s a hittable guy and his chin might be questionable, but he was hit by two of the best technical boxers in the division.
I Could Look Really Stupid: I feel like UFC is setting me up with this fight. It just seems like Cane should walk through Nedkov, and yet, because this is MMA, Nedkov could win and make me (and others) look really stupid. I don’t want to discredit Nedkov too much, he’s never lost in MMA and has finished 9 of his 11 opponents, but he hasn’t fought in over a year and I think Cane is one of the most underrated talents at 205.
Fight Prediction: Unless Cane gets caught early, this is his fight to lose. He should be able to pick apart Nedkov with straight punches and land big counters as Nedkov recklessly moves in. And if Nedkov is hurt, Cane is a great finisher and won’t let him off the hook.
Official Prediction: Luiz Cane to defeat Stanislav Nedkov by TKO in Round One
Lightweight Fight: Ross Pearson vs. Edson Barboza
Pearson’s Boxing: Not too long ago, Ross Pearson claimed that he was the best boxer in the lightweight division. Everyone laughed. Then Pearson got dropped by Cole Miller. So everyone really laughed. The Brit managed to bounce back against Spencer Fisher though, not only showing off his boxing, but also mixing in some takedowns. Reality is, Pearson is a good boxer, but not great, and certainly not the best. He has a sneaky good lead uppercut and a good counter right, but he lacks a lot defensively.
Barboza’s Diversity: While Pearson is almost exclusively a boxer, Edson Barboza is a very diverse striker. He has fast hands, throws a lot of feints, likes to use spinning back kicks, and has some of the sickest leg kicks in the sport. Also, unlike Pearson, Barboza doesn’t get hit a lot and is very quick defensively with his movement.
The Grappling Game: Pearson showed against Fisher that, if things aren’t going great on the feet, he’ll try for a takedown. He’s not a great wrestler but he’s solid at clinching and getting trip takedowns. We haven’t seen Barboza on his back but he has a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, so I imagine that he can handle himself on the ground. Of course we may not even see Barboza’s ground game because he has quick hips and balance, which helps his takedown defense.
Fight Prediction: I expect the majority of this fight to take place on the feet and I think Barboza has a pretty sizeable advantage striking because of his speed and diversity. As long as he does run into the counter right of Pearson when he throws a leg kick, Barboza should be able to light up Pearson with his hands and feet, possibly finishing him in the process.
Official Prediction: Edson Barboza to defeat Ross Pearson by TKO in Round Three
Heavyweight Fight: Brendan Schaub vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Schaub’s Speed: Brendan Schaub is one of the quicker heavyweights in the division. He’s light on his feet, has a nice jab and left hook, and a quick straight right hand. He also uses that speed to close the distance and get takedowns, although I’m not sure he’ll be looking to initiate a ground battle given that he’s facing the greatest heavyweight grappler in MMA history. Schaub will have the speed advantage on the feet, but Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is still an outstanding technical boxer.
Nogueira Coming Off Layoff: Nogueira hasn’t competed in the octagon since February 2010, when he was KO’d by now UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Not only has he been out of the cage for 18 months, but he had knee and hip surgery during that time off, which are not good parts of your body to have operations on when you’re a fighter, especially when you’re a fighter who relies so much on his hips and legs with his jiu-jitsu.
Schaub’s Ground Game: For the most part, Schaub’s ground game is still relatively untested. He has good takedown defense and he showed a solid top game against Mirko Cro Cop, but he’s never been tested on the ground like Nogueira could test him. Remember, Nogueira only needs one opening to capitalize on. He just needs Schaub to slip coming in, he just needs a quick takedown from the clinch and a scramble, he just needs Schaub to try and score points by shooting in. I’m sure Schaub knows that, and he’ll try his best not to make any mistakes, but if he does make one, it could be over very quick.
Is Nogueira Done? After the loss to Velasquez, everyone was ready to write-off Nogueira as being done. Of course, those same people claimed “PRIDE NOGUEIRA IS BACK!” after he defeated Randy Couture, but lets not let facts get in the way of a good story. Obviously Nogueira isn’t the same fighter he once was. He’s been through a lot of wars and taken a lot of shots to the chin. He doesn’t have the same recovery ability that he used to, and that’s how he won a lot of his fights in his heyday.
Experience and Crowd: You can’t teach experience and you can’t turn a hometown crowd. Nogueira has both of those things on his side on Saturday. Nogueira has faced better, quicker strikers and bigger, stronger wrestlers than Schaub. He’s been in big fights and in front of big crowds before, and at UFC 134, he’ll have the entire crowd on his side. Schaub doesn’t have the big fight experience that Nog has, and he’s never faced a crowd like he’ll face on Saturday. We know that “Big Nog” is one of the mentally toughest fighters in the sports, but what about Schaub? We could find out in this fight.
Fight Prediction: If Nogueira wasn’t coming off such a long layoff that included knee and hip surgery, I’d really consider picking him. But I feel that he’s going to lack that quickness that he’s going to need in order to catch Schaub. Because of that, I think Schaub wins this fight. If Nogueira’s chin is completely shot, Schaub finishes him, but if Nogueira still has “Big Nog Second Life” then Schaub wins the decision.
Official Prediction: Brendan Schaub to defeat Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by TKO in Round Three
Light Heavyweight Fight: Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio Rua
UFC 76: UFC 76 took place in September 2007 and was home to the first fight between Mauricio Rua and Forrest Griffin. This Saturday, they meet again. In terms of skill, these two fighters aren’t all that difference now from how they were in 2007. Griffin is still an in your face fighter who mixes things up well while Rua is still an aggressive fighter who isn’t afraid to take risks. They’re in different places mentally though. Rua was the best 205 fighter in the world in 2007 while Griffin was still searching for that signature win over a big name. Now they’ve both been champion, Rua doesn’t have the mystique that he had at UFC 76, and Griffin knows he can beat him.
Griffin’s Last Performance: Even though Griffin defeated Rich Franklin at UFC 126, it wasn’t a great performance by the former 205 champ. He had been out of action for 15 months though and because of that, could never seem to find his rhythm in the cage. Now that he’s shaken the rust off and back on a normal fight schedule, we should see Griffin return to his usual form where he’s not “Tito’ing” (his words, not mine) opponents in the first round in order to gain a lead and then putting things in cruise control for rounds two and three.
Rua’s Knees: Rua is a 29 year old with the knees of a 40 year old, and even that might be generous. He had another knee surgery following his victory over Lyoto Machida and then looked terrible in his return against Jon Jones earlier this March. Maybe that was his post-operation performance and with that out of the way, he’ll return to the form that helped him win the UFC light heavyweight title. But there are rumors that his knees might be acting up again, and while I wouldn’t put too much stock into them, it’s still a troubling rumor. Rua relies a lot on his explosiveness and speed, so without it, he just becomes a regular fighter instead of a special one.
Chin & Power: Griffin has always been known as a fighter with minimal power and a questionable chin. Rua on the other hand as one punch power and an outstanding chin. I don’t think Griffin is ever going to develop real one-punch power, but he makes up for it with his volume of strikes and I don’t think his chin is as bad as people make it out to be. While I don’t question Rua’s chin, I do question how he’s holding up after the Jones fight. “Shogun” took an absolute beating in that fight and I’m not sure if he’s taken enough time to fully recover. Griffin might not have the power to put him away with one punch, but he does have the volume to damage Rua for 15 minutes.
Cardio: We all know that Rua has really struggled with cardio in his UFC career while Griffin is known for having one of the better gas tanks at 205. Rua has had trouble with guys that move forward and constantly attack, which is what Griffin does for the more part. And Griffin is able to constantly attack because of his superior cardio. Rua claims that he’s been working extensively on trying not to get tired, but some guys just can’t help it. They just don’t have the gas tank that others have, no matter how much conditioning they do in training. Plus, you can’t simulate the pace of a fight in training.
Wrestling & Grappling: Neither fighter has great takedown defense, although Griffin has much better offensive wrestling. Rua has the better grappling credentials but in the first fight, Griffin hung with him on the ground and even submitted him late in the fight. Rua’s active guard actually gets him in trouble, because if he doesn’t lock on a submission, he leaves himself in a vulnerable position. Griffin’s ground game is hit and miss. Some fights it looks really good, other times he looks lost on his back.
Fight Prediction: This fight is tough to call because we don’t know which Rua, will show up. Griffin, win or lose, he’s going to come to fight. He’ll pressure Rua and he’ll use his size. If Rua shows up in shape and unafraid to test his knees, he could easily out-quick Griffin and pick him apart on the feet. I trust Griffin more though. I think he’ll use his wrestling to get Rua down, avoid the submission attempts, and rough him up on the ground en route to a decision.
Official Prediction: Forrest Griffin to defeat Mauricio Rua by Decision