Wednesday, August 24, 2011

UFC 134/Rio Preview: What To Know

UFC 134 (also known as UFC: Rio) marks the first time the UFC has hosted an event in Brazil since 1998. So it was logical to have big time Brazilian MMA stars such as Anderson Silva, Maurico “Shogun” Rua, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on the main card. Here are my “things to know” heading into this Saturday’s UFC 134:

1. Anderson Silva looks to avenge blemish from his fighting record again Yushin Okami

Anderson Silva has been one of the most dominant fighters in UFC history. He has never lost a fight while in the UFC and has one blemish on his fighting record since 2005: a Disqualification loss to Yushin Okami at Rumble on The Rock in January of 2006. He was disqualified when he landed a controversal upkick from the bottom position on the ground. While Okami looked able to continue the fight the referee decided to end the fight and allow Okami to move on in the tournament.

Since then Silva has not lost a fight while Okami has lost to Jake Shields, Rich Franklin, and Chael Sonnen. Now the two finally have the opportunity to rematch, Silva will be very motivated to avenge this “loss”. Both fighters have improved since their 2006 fight, but it has been Silva who has become one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time while Okami has been “good enough” to stay relevant at 185 pounds. Despite the fact that Okami has been training with Chael Sonnen for this rematch, it is hard to see Okami duplicating the performance Sonnen had for the first four rounds of his fight with the UFC Champion Silva. Defeating Okami this Saturday night would be a major victory for Silva’s personally and career wise: to redeem himself and beat the last man to walk away from fight with him not a loser.

2. Can Forrest Griffin stay relevent in the UFC Light Heavyweight Division?

Forrest Griffin is 10-4 in his UFC career; he is the former UFC Light Heavyweight champion and won the first season of the Ultimate Fighter. A good career by many people’s standards. Griffin is a very popular fighter in the UFC but he needs a win over “Shogun” Rua to stay in the top-tier of the 205 pound division. Since beating “Rampage” Jackson for the 205 pound belt back in 2008, Forrest lost back to back fights, took some time off, then came back and has won two straight. He has never won more than three fights in a row during his time in the UFC so he needs to show he can build significant momentum and the type of winning streak to earn him not just another shot at fighting for the belt but also show he can still be a perennial contender in the UFC. Forrest has accomplished so much in his career that he could retire in the next couple years and most fans would not hold it against him. Coming into his rematch with Maurico “Shogun” Rua at UFC 134, Griffin has admitted he will be cutting a lot of weight to get down to 205 by the day of weigh ins. The question has never been is Griffin talented, strong, or tough enough to fight in the UFC, the real question is how bad does he want to be champion again? Does the fire still burn in him that will drive him to be the best? This Saturday night will show us where Forrest is at in his MMA career.

3. Brendan Schaub wants to take out big names on his way to the top

Since losing to Roy Nelson in The Ultimate Fighter Heavyweight Finale, Schaub has won four straight fights. In his last two fights he has beaten Gabriel Gonzaga (former UFC number one contender) and Mirko “Cro Cop” Fillipovic (2006 PRIDE Open Weight Tournament Champion). Next he faces Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the former PRIDE Heavyweight and Interm UFC Heavyweight Champion. Also, Schaub has said he wants to fight Frank Mir soon, another former UFC champion. But Schaub has been criticized by some “experts” because he has beaten both Gonzaga and “Crop Cop” when they are on the downside of their fighting careers. Nogueira is coming off surgeries on both of his knees and a hip while not fighting since February of 2010 so we are unsure how good he will be in his return to action.

So is it really that big a deal if Schaub is beating these big name heavyweights when they are not at their best on fight night? I understand the old saying “In order to be ‘the man’ you have to beat ‘the man’” but to use big name fighters to build your career when those fighters are not what they once were? Some people say this is wrong and “doesn’t seem right”. Yet Schaub has said in interviews he wants to fight guys who “scare him” because it brings out the best in him. So to him it is not disrespectful or him picking on old competition to beat these MMA stars. If we go by what Schaub says, he is fighting guys who in his mind are dangerous and beating them means a lot to him. Either way, building a win streak that has names such as Gonzaga, “Cro Cop”, and Nogueira on it is definitely a sure way to get into the top-tier of UFC heavyweight fighters.

4. Different career paths have brought Ross Pearson and Edson Barbosa to face each other

This matchup of two young and talented lightweight fighters has potential to be Fight of the Night at UFC 134. But their paths to this fight are very different. Pearson won The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Final and has gone 4-1 during his time in the UFC. Going through TUF is a major promotional platform for young fighters and typically guys who win TUF get more chances from the UFC to show they can be successful. On the other hand, Barbosa is 8-0 in his MMA career and has won his first two UFC fights. He is the former Ring of Combat Lightweight Champion and 7 of his 8 MMA wins have been finishes via knockout or submission. A showdown of two dynamic, young fighters is always sure to be a good fight and the winner of this fight is likely to elevate themselves in the UFC’s 155 pound division. Should be interesting to see whose fighting style will be more successful standing: Pearson’s sharp boxing or Barbosa’s technical Muay Thai. Also, Barbosa has a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-Jitsu and Pearson has a brown belt in Judo.

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