UFC 129 this Saturday night in Toronto, Canada is the biggest MMA fight card of the year. The Rogers Center (home of the Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball team) with be filled with 55,000 MMA fans and the UFC estimates the gate will be around 11 million dollars. Also, there are two UFC Championship belts up for grabs that night. So here are 5 things to keep an eye out for this Saturday:
1. Jake Shields is better then you think he is
Chuck Liddel has described Jake Shield's takedowns as "awkward in a good way" while Jon Fitch has said Shields is "stronger then he looks". UFC Welterweight Champion George St. Pierre has said Shields is the toughest opponent he has faced in a long time and that he is not underestimating him. But even when you are not underestimating Jake Shields, in some way you will overlook some element of his game. The guy has won 15 straight fights for a reason. During his winning streak there have been three different men who have held the UFC Welterweight belt (GSP, Matt Serra and Matt Hughes). Shields always finds a way to win and that should worry St. Pierre the most. You will see the best Jake Shields ever in the Octagon this Saturday; is George St. Pierre really prepared for that?
2. Jose Aldo has never faced an opponent like Mark Hominick.
Since joining the WEC, Jose Aldo has faced fighters who are wrestlers or takedown experts. He has beaten all of them. But Mark Hominick is different then all of Aldo's previous opponents because Hominick has elite level boxing skills and is underrated on the ground. Hominick trains with Olympic level boxers as sparring parteners. The current Featherweight Champ has been known for his excellent standup skills. Yet Aldo's best chance at winning this fight is taking it to the ground and submitting Hominick. I cannot remember the last time Aldo attempted a takedown. He hasn't even submitted an opponent in 6 years. Aldo is considered one of the best fighters in the world yet Hominick has more then a puncher's chance to leave the octagon with Aldo's featherweight belt. Can Aldo handle Hominick on the feet?
3. Can Lyoto Machida find his form or will Randy Couture grind out a win?
Before his last two losses to Maurico "Shogun" Rua and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Lyoto Machida had never lost a fight. He had beaten aggressive fighters like Thiago Silva and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. He has beaten top level wrestlers such as Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans. In 2005 he was able to stiffle B.J. Penn en route to a Decission victory. So the fact that he is on a two fight losing streak is perplexing. Randy Couture has said that he thinks his style of fighting matches up well with Machida's allussive fighting style. Although Couture has a wrestling base, his style is different then Rashad Evans or Tito Ortiz: Couture is strategist who uses his mind to maximize his physical skills. If Randy can get his hands on Machida, it will be a long night for the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champ. Machida has a good ground game but I'm unsure if he is prepared for a fighter like Randy Couture who is willing to grind out a win. Machida needs this win more then Couture which makes Lyoto a desperate fighter coming into this matchup while Randy is relaxed and ready for war.
4. Ben Henderson has something to prove
Before losing his WEC Lightweight belt to Anthony "Showtime" Pettis, Ben Henderson had won 10 straight fights. He had beaten the best of the WEC lightweight division and people were wondering how he would fair against the best of the UFC. Now Henderson's first fight since losing his WEC belt is against a fighter who some view as the "gatekeeper" to being considered a contender in the lightweight division. Mark Bocek's three losses in the UFC have been to Frank Edgar, Mac Danzig, and Jim Miller. Henderson is more talented then Bocek yet the fight is in Canada and Bocek will have the crowd behind him. The pressure is on Henderson to live up to expectations and forget about his loss to Pettis.
5. There has never been a UFC event with 55,000 fans, how will the fighters handle it?
Veteran fighters like George St. Pierre, Jake Shields, and Randy Couture have fought in many types of enviroments and they know how to handle the pressure and the crowd. But Canadian fighters Mark Hominick, Mark Bocek, Rory McDonald, and Sean Pierson have never been involved in a MMA event such as this. The crowd will be mostly behind them, how will the handle that pressure? Also young fighters such as Jose Aldo, Jason Brillz, Ben Henderson, and Jake Ellenberger have never fought on such a large stage stage before with 55,000 people or an event with the amount of publicity leading up to it. This is a big deal for the UFC and Canada, it will be interesting to see which of these fighters come of age in the Octagon and who will let the pressure crush them.