UFC 117 Predictions: Something Is Happening
The best thing about this card is that it’s going to be a great, fun series of competitive fights with strong sporting implications leading up to what is likely going to be one of the most memorable fusterclucks in UFC history for the main event. Whether you come for the competition, the violence or the bizarre spectacle you are likely to walk away satisfied, if a little confused.
* Middleweight Championship bout: Anderson Silva (c) vs. Chael Sonnen
Look, the pick is Andy by 2nd round KO, though I’d love to be wrong. That said, if you know what’s going to happen in this one you’re a better man than I at this prediction thing. There’s several ways this could go:
1. Silva just kills him Forrest Griffin-style, using footwork to give Sonnen no angles to shoot off of and smashing him with counters as he comes in. Andy showed up for the pre-fight press conferences with an angry man’s beard, a neon pink sweater and death in his eyes, so this is a real possibility.
2. Sonnen gets a takedown, controls for a while, falls asleep in top position for a second and gets armbarred or triangled from the bottom. He has a habit of panicking when threatened with submissions, and 7 of his 10 career losses have come by that road. Andy’s not known for his work off of his back or a particularly active guard, but he’s hardly awful.
3. Sonnen can get the takedown, and has improved enough to be able to hold Silva down without too much danger. The fight becomes five rounds of chess where Sonnen controls the majority of the action, but after every standup (which Silva often tries to create from the bottom with a triangle bodylock and posture control), sweep or at the start of every round there’s high drama as Sonnen tries to get it down again before Andy punts his head into orbit. There’s also a variation of this where Sonnen uses Greco to hold Silva by the fence, and the drama arises as Andy tries to get the distance to throw knees.
4. A bunch of pawing around early with Andy mostly throwing jabs, then Sonnen drives in for the double and runs headlong into the knee which Andy was baiting him into. Sonnen is sent off at a right angle like a foul ball and lands with a wet smacking sound, never to rise again.
5. Complete unmitigated bullshit. Andy’s habit of total dipshittery and clownishness in every fight over the last 2 years comes up again and is matched by Sonnen’s ongoing decent into being a total pro wrestling caricature of himself, resulting in something as bizarre and unpredictable as round 3 of Kalib Starnes vs. Nate Quarry or, well, Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia. They may spend 30 seconds at a time just screaming at each other in (possibly) mutually incomprehensible languages, or trading obscene gestures, or playing to the crowd, or possibly doing any number of other things which are impossible to predict. I am actively rooting for this to be honest; as the name of this blog should suggest I love a good epic sporting disaster, and this could absolutely be one for the ages.
6. Some combination of the above. 3 minutes of mutual silliness, then Andy kills him; or three rounds of chess and two rounds of silliness; or something to that effect.
As to which of these possibilities is most likely, well, I would put money on the first two more than the others. I think Sonnen for ego and self-promotional reasons will at least try to make it a fight early, which means if he comes in direct Andy will have a chance to dodge and counter (again, watch the knees) and if he can’t finish the Oregonian quickly Chael is probably good enough to get at least one takedown since Andy’s best takedown defense is his footwork and angles, and he’ll have to plant his feet to use his best counters as Sonnen comes forward and pushes. Whether this ends up as an interesting contrast of styles or a quick KO (assuming no BS) will largely depend on Sonnen’s chin, which is in some ways a good thing especially for fans- if Sonnen fails that test we’ll get a quick and memorable fight, and if he passes it this could end up being the most competitive fight Silva’s been in for years. Instead of fighting people who were dumb enough to kickbox with him or people who wanted to roll but couldn’t force that, he’s hopefully facing a guy who’s either going to get the ground battle he wants or go out on his shield trying. After several guys who wanted to test Silva’s technique but were physically outmatched or who wanted to test Silva physically but weren’t skilled enough to make it happen, Andy faces a guy whose wrestling skill ensures that he’ll be able to pose at least some sort of physical challenge to the champion.
There is one additional intriguing possibility here. Anderson Silva has been linked for years with Roy Jones, either in terms of his desire to fight the man or the similarity of their styles which both depend on quickness, timing, reflexes and that eerie calmness in the ring or cage which only super high-level strikers posses. Roy Jones, like Silva, looked incredibly dominant for years- unbeatably so- with the minor exception of when he suffered what was considered a fluke DQ loss to Montell Griffin, similar to Silva’s loss to Yushin Okami. Jones went up in weight and dominated; so did Silva. Jones returned to his natural weight and looked shaky, beating Antonio Tarver but looking a step off of the pace in doing so; Silva returned from 205 to face Demian Maia at 185 and looked not quite his old self, losing a round late and appearing to many people to misjudge how much clowning he could get away with resulting in his gassing out. Roy Jones stepped into the ring for a second time at age 35 against Antonio Tarver, a mouthy opponent who talked shit at him for months and seemed to get in his head, and suffered a brutal and humiliating KO loss; Silva goes into the cage Saturday against mouthy shit-talker Chael Sonnen at age 35. The parallel isn’t perfect, but it plays up a real issue: Silva’s style is based, as Jones’ was, on pin-point accuracy and perfect reflexes which make up for a host of technical deficiencies; when the reflexes slip just a bit all of a sudden the punch which wizzed by an inch away from the chin a year ago connects unexpectedly and leads to unexpected results. There is a non-zero chance that Sonnen may just hit Silva with that one-in-a-million punch that Silva thinks is out of range, but isn’t. Be surprised but not shocked if that happens, because I think it’s actually Sonnen’s best chance here. Time humbles everyone.
Again, the pick is Andy KO2; but one way or another, this is going to be one of the most fascinating fights of the year.
* Welterweight bout: Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves
I previewed this one back in March, and little has changed in the interim other than Alves has suffered a brain injury, had surgery, and spent even more time out of the cage. Fitch, sigh, decision. Sigh. Might be better than most Fitch fights. Might not- you should probably drink your way through it, that’s my advice anyway.
* Lightweight bout: Clay Guida vs. Rafael dos Anjos
I hate Clay Guida and I realize I’m the only one, but boy howdy do I hate that guy. I think his fights are overrated, he’s just not that good, and he only does one thing in the cage which is mind-boggling after all this time. He has his uses however, and primarily they are to separate the real top guys at lightweight from the not-quite-top guys. He has lost to Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Tyson Griffin, Gilbert Melendez and a few others of note; he has beaten Nate Diaz, Mac Danzig, Marcus Aurelio and Josh Thompson among others. Sometimes you get a false positive (does anyone think Roger Huerta is really that good anymore?), but for the most part Guida is a good test of which side of the line a guy is on. Up until his last fight I would never had thought Haffy Two Oranges had a chance to be on the bright side of things, but he took apart Terry Etim- a guy I like and who I picked in that fight- dominating him for two rounds and tapping him with a submission-of-the-night armbar. He’s a dangerous guy, athletic and very skilled on the ground and a good enough striker so that unless Guida has dramatically improved there he’s probably going to have to go to his the-one-thing-he-does-well, wrestling, which will put him in Dos Anjos’s world. Dos Anjos has to finish Guida here since no matter how good he is off of his back it’s simply impossible to get judges to respect guard work these days, but I think he’ll be slick enough to make it work. I’m going to say Dos Anjos SUB2, armbar transitioned off of a triangle. Watch for leg locks as well.
* Welterweight bout: Matt Hughes vs. Ricardo Almeida
Chuck Liddell keeps fighting and people complain and weep and cry about it, worried for his health; Tito Ortiz keeps fighting and people gnash their teeth, excited to see him catch another beating to make up for all his years of talk; Randy Couture keeps fighting and people talk about his getting one last title shot, or fighting for the honor of MMA against evil boxer James Toney; Matt Hughes keeps fighting and… really? Matt Hughes is still fighting? Huh. Didn’t he retire in ’08? He didn’t, you say? The hell, you say. In all seriousness there’s nothing wrong with Hughes fighting and it’s not like he’s shot or anything, but he’s clearly not what he was and he seems to have settled into this semi-retired half-life where he takes on fellow semi-retirees like Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie in fights which are theoretically interesting but not really meaningful- the unofficial seniors’ tour of MMA.
Almeida is something a bit different. Yes he’s old and from another era himself, but he’s looked impressive after a recent drop to 170 and UFC, in need of new welterweight contenders, clearly want him to grow into being a title challenger- and are putting him against Hughes in the hope that a win here will make his name and fame strong enough for that slot in another fight or so. Worst case scenario, Hughes wins and maybe if he keeps winning you can pull him out for a “one more time for the legend” title shot since this would be his third win in a row. I’m almost tempted to put this as no pick, since Hughes is so hard to read these days- his fight with Serra was bizarre and questionable for several different reasons, his fight with Renzo Gracie even more so, before that he was a late replacement against Thiago Alves… it’s been two years really since we saw a serious Matt Hughes in a serious fight. Nevertheless, grumbling all the way, I’m still going to take Hughes here- I think he can take Almeida down anytime and after all these years his top game is good enough that more often than not he’s not going to be badly threatened by Almeida in 3 5 minute increments. These guys met once at ADCC a decade ago with Hughes wining on points; I expect more or less the same fight now just with more of Hughes punching from the top.
* Heavyweight bout: Roy Nelson vs. Junior dos Santos
I was sitting around cooking dinner a few nights ago and watching old fights off of the DVR as is sometimes my wont, and I caught JDS vs. Gabriel Gonzaga for a second time. After the fight, I realized something: not some deep technical insight, or profound revelation about the nature of the sport, just… this guy is really, really fucking good, and I am on his bandwagon, and it’s pretty damn rare that I actually get into the engine room of the hype train for anyone. I like this guy, I like to see him fight, and I think he can be heavyweight champion of the world some day. But to get there he first has to get his shot, and to get it he has to beat Roy Nelson here in a #1 contender’s match, which I don’t think he’ll have much trouble with. JDS is a far superior athlete to Nelson, he hits at least as hard and maybe harder, he’s got a good chin which was tested by both CroCop and Gonzaga, he’s technically superior in his striking with more variety and shorter and more accurate shots, his takedown defense is solid and he has the ability to scramble up quickly, his BJJ is by reputation strong, and he’s facing a guy who once lost to Ben Rothwell and Jeff Monson. He’s 9 years younger than Roy and you can still make a case that he’s actually more experienced, since his three best opponents (Fabricio Werdum, CroCop, Gonzaga) are notably better than Roy’s best three (Andrei Arlovski, Jeff Monson, Ben Rothwell). I think it stays standing and JDS busts him up, shrugging off some takedown attempts as Roy gets desperate and eventually knocking him out with a left hook or an uppercut in the second.
* Welterweight bout: Dustin Hazelett vs. Rick “ipedia” Story
I live in Williamsburg. I’ve seen enough people who look like Dustin Hazlett to last a lifetime. I am rooting for Rick Story, and given Hazlett’s injury layoff and largely under-developed game, I think I’ll come away happy as Story uses his wrestling to keep this standing and smacks Hazlett around on the feet. Decision.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Phil Davis vs. Rodney Wallace
Phil Davis ought to completely Mack truck Wallace, who tries hard but just isn’t that good. Let’s say arm triangle 1.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Tim Boetsch vs. Todd Brown
I never trust a late replacement without good reason, and I can’t come up with one for Brown. Boetsch by KO1.
* Welterweight bout: Johny Hendricks vs. Charlie Brenneman
Brenneman does nothing but wrestle, and Hendricks is a better wrestler who hits REALLY fucking hard and has more experience against UFC level opposition. Hendricks really should win this going away, and hopefully can get his next fight back on TV. Decision.
* Heavyweight bout: Stefan Struve vs. Christian Morecraft
Struve irks me. He has the physical frame to be an unholy terror, and instead of locking himself in a room with Semmy Schilt until he knows how to use what he’s got he prefers to give up his size to do just-ok BJJ. So far this strategy has won him a few fights, but it’s also gotten him blasted and nearly finished by Denis Stojnic, blasted and nearly finished by Paul Buentello, and brutally KO’d by Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson each in a combined 93 seconds because he can’t move his damn head out of the way of anything. Yes, people punching him looks like short folks trying to touch the rim at the local basketball court, but so far it’s working for them. I know nothing of Morecraft beyond what the Sherdog fight finder can tell (6’8, 260, 6-0 with 3 KOs and 3 Subs all in the first round). I am going to pick Struve by decision mostly because of experience and because I do like his mental toughness and endurance against a guy with untested cardio, but if he gets caught cold and bomb-dropped in 30 seconds because he still won’t move his head, well, it won’t be a shock.
* Welterweight bout: Ben Saunders vs. Dennis Hallman
Saunders is young and huge and strong; Hallman is old and small and weak. Slow, too. Saunders by whateverwhatever plus knees. KO1.
I am intensely excited for this card. Expect much more on this later.
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