HELLO JAPAN: Part 2 – Akihabara

You may recall that I went to Japan at some point in the last few months and I was planning to write about it.  The writing fell by the wayside as the trip went on and I got back and got real lazy, but I now feel compelled to complete my travel thoughts and share them.  At this rate, I should be done by 2014.  Join me, won’t you?

*****

It rained all day Saturday.  That’s the excuse I want to use anyway for why I spent most of it hanging around the arcades of Akihabara.  Akihabara is known by many names: Akiba (kind of like the Japanese equivalent of “T-Dot”), Akihabara Electric Town, the “nerd” district of Tokyo (as my brother so fondly describes it) or as I like to call it, “what I thought heaven would look like when I was eight”.  Dozens of stores lined up all selling an array of electronics, souvenirs and fetish properties, often in combination with each other.  Walking into any of these establishments can be overwhelming.  I see so many novel things that don’t have an equivalent where I come from.

Though perhaps that’s for the best.

I just want to buy everything I see.  Action figures for famous martial artists.  Body pillows.  Super Famicom systems modified to play any kind of 16-bit cartridge.  If I lived here, my life would be over.  I’d be prowling Akiba every day, digging for treasures and trinkets, eating at Maid Cafés (I haven’t yet, but the tourist in me was begging to pull the trigger) and, of course, going to the arcades.  Arcades!  Ar-motherf–kin’-cades!  And not just arcades, but SEGA brand arcades.  That name actually still means something here and last time I checked, I traveled to Japan, not the year 1994.

If I hadn’t already, this would be a textbook “I want to go to there” moment.

When were taken to Quebec on a class trip back in elementary school, I remember wasting a considerable chunk of time playing Time Crisis 2.  It’s not something I’m proud of, but it happened and even though I’m not a hardcore gamer anymore, the sight of vibrant, colourful monitors and the clicking and clacking of buttons causes my gaming gene to flare up.  These arcades in Akiba are works of art.  Some of the cabinets are insanely elaborate and they’re all immaculately maintained.  They also have a pass card system so you can scan in your information and enjoy progression just like you would if you were playing at home.  The attendants are all dressed like janitors and they’re super eager to help you with whatever you need (typical in the Japanese service industry).  There are instructions and wet napkins at the ready.  Some of the more popular games have sign-up sheets.  I just want to say one last time: Arcades.

This is a game where you flip things off of a table to score points.  Yelling “F–k this, I’m outta here!” is optional.

My brother also took me to the famous “Super Potato”, paradise for a retro gamer.  Old TVs are hooked up to even older systems and you’re free to try them out.  I can’t read a lick of Japanese so I probably didn’t know 80% of the games there, but seeing them all in one place was breathtaking.  That’s right, I just used a word that people normally reserve for the Sistine Chapel or the birth of their child to describe a shelf of musty computer games.  That just happened.  On the top floor is a small arcade and, you know, a THRONE MADE OF CARTRIDGES.  No big deal.

…I was drinkin’ earlier, now I’m drivin’.

The guy working there was cool enough to let us take some pictures, so I pumped in a couple of credits so my brother and I could play Dynamite Deka (or as I knew it, Die Hard Arcade).  We couldn’t read the button prompts so we kept messing up the Quick Time Events, but we did pretty well considering I haven’t played the game in years.  That was about as close as we get to brotherly bonding.  Also anything to do with Persona 4, maybe the greatest JRPG ever made.

Everyday’s great at your Junes!

Seriously, I was freaking out at how much this country loves Persona 4.  There are huge posters of the characters everywhere and a fighting game just came out featuring the characters.  When I was at the arcade, there were maybe twenty cabinets on one floor and all of them were occupied.  It is nuts.  My brother and I both have a great fondness for the series and we blew about twenty bucks buying cards from that machine in the picture.  It’s worth it just for the envelope.

I could go on about Akihabara all day.  For now, I leave you with a picture of what I’ll be wearing for Halloween next year:

Guten tag.

The Gift & The Curse: UFC 149 Preview & Predictions

Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira.  DREAM bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes.  Thiago Silva.  Shogun Rua.  Yoshihiro Akiyama.  Thiago Alves.  Michael Bisping.  José Aldo.  These are some of the names that were originally slated for UFC 149 in Calgary but for one reason or another, will no longer be appearing.  Dana White referred to this as the most “cursed” card of all time and one would be hard pressed to dispute that claim.  Making things worse is the fact that this is the UFC’s first card in Alberta, making a good first impression even more important.  Luckily, Calgary has its own budding MMA scene including promotions such as Pure Fighting Championships and the long-running Rumble In The Cage (which produced current Strikeforce welterweight contender, Jordan Mein).  That kind of grassroots following usually leads to a receptive and educated crowd…or a bunch of bloodthirsty rednecks.  Either way, it’s a testament to the UFC’s depth that they are still able to load a card in a foreign country with a potent mixture of reliable veterans, hungry prospects and a hearty helping of local talent.  Time and time again we’ve seen cards packed with marquee names flop and lesser anticipated cards deliver, so it should be interesting to see how UFC 149 (which gradually descended from the former to the latter) fares according to that trend.

Fun fact: Based on record alone, this card features three of MMA’s most unbeatable fighters: Ryan Jimmo hasn’t lost in 16 contests, Hector Lombard in 25 and Renan Barão in 28.

We’re going streaking!

*****

*current ranking in parentheses (#)

Lightweight Bout: Mitch Clarke (61) v. Anton Kuivanen (60)

What you need to know: Clarke has the honour of starting off the show in his home province (he fights out of Edmonton, Alberta) and he should benefit from the crowd cheering him on.  Kuivanen dropped a unanimous decision in his debut, but has the stronger resume outside of the UFC including wins over fellow prospect Ivan Buchinger and Black House veteran Thiago Meller.

How it’s going down: While Clarke might be more motivated, Kuivanen has fought tougher competition and that’s going to make the difference in what should be a close fight.

The pick: Kuivanen

Featherweight Bout: Antonio Carvalho (51) v. Daniel Pineda (28)

What you need to know: Carvalho, a native of Ontario, is well travelled and owns some huge victories in Japan including wins over Takeshi Inoue, the legendary Rumina Sato and current top five featherweight Hatsu Hioki.  Pineda won his first two UFC fights via first round submission before dropping a hard fought decision to former featherweight champion Mike Brown.  He’s replacing an injured George Roop.

How it’s going down: Despite Carvalho’s past conquests, I have to go with what I’ve seen recently and Pineda has looked great in the UFC so far, even in his lone loss.  While I doubt that Pineda will be able to submit him, youth might be the difference here (Carvalho is seven years older).  Pineda should be able to find a second gear in the later rounds and take the fight.

The pick: Pineda

Bantamweight Bout: Bryan Caraway (-) v. Mitch Gagnon (-)

What you need to know: Caraway is a talented fighter who got an unfortunate rep as a head case during TUF 14 and as a misogynist for his clumsy attempts to back up girlfriend Miesha Tate in her Twitter war with Ronda Rousey.  If you missed it, a fan wondered if Rousey could beat Caraway in a fight, to which he replied he would “knock her teeth down her throat” and “break her arm.”  Whoa now!  Coincidentally, he’s making the drop to 135, which is Rousey’s weight class.  Don’t get any ideas.

He ain’t no Bobbie Riggs.

Gagnon is a submission expert having won gone 8-1 with all of his victories coming by way of tap out.  He makes his UFC debut.

How it’s going down: If Gagnon can’t get his submission game going, it’s going to be a long night for him.  Caraway is a good wrestler with excellent top control, but he’s prone to lapses in confidence and concentration.  I predict he’s going to slip up here and against a fighter with Gagnon’s level of grappling, you can’t afford to make any mistakes.

The pick: Gagnon

Light Heavyweight Bout: Ryan Jimmo (-) v. Anthony Perosh (15)

What you need to know: Jimmo has been a name on the Canadian MMA scene for some time, having won 16 straight after losing his first fight.  He has wins over UFC veterans Jesse Forbes, Marvin Eastman, Wilson Gouveia and Sokoudjou.  After failing to make it past the preliminary round of TUF 8 and being forced out of UFC on FX 1 in January due to an injury, Jimmo finally gets his chance to fight inside the octagon.  Along with Elvis Sinosic, Perosh has been a pioneer of MMA in Australia and he’s managed to put together a decent run in the UFC having finished his last three opponents.

How it’s going down: I hate to say it, but this looks like a showcase fight for Jimmo.  Then again, Perosh’s last opponent was another Canadian prospect, Jimmo’s teammate Nick Penner, and he finished him inside of a round.  Perosh is tough as they come and there’s no way he’s going to roll over for Jimmo, but “Big Deal” is eventually going to shake off the octagon jitters and take over.

The pick: Jimmo

Bantamweight Bout: Roland Delorme (19) v. Francisco Rivera (26)

What you need to know: Delorme looks like Jay Baruchel.  He’s 2-0 in the UFC so far, living up to his vaunted BJJ pedigree by ending both fights via submission.  Rivera is stepping in for Bibiano Fernandes, who was removed due to the fact that he hadn’t actually signed with the company.  Whoops.  Rivera lost two UFC featherweight bouts before dropping down to bantamweight and recording two speedy knockouts in the Tachi Palace Fights promotion.  He won a decision in his return to the UFC in May.

How it’s going down: Rivera can be an explosive striker and Delorme is a slow starter, but if he can weather the early assault he should have no problem getting the fight to the ground.  Once there, Rivera will be at a major disadvantage.  You might even say that he’s…”out of his league”.

I’m so, so sorry.

The pick: Delorme

Middleweight Bout: Court McGee (21) v. Nick Ring (29)

What you need to know: McGee and Ring are both looking to bounce back after dropping decisions to Costa Philippou and Tim Boetsch respectively.  They fought before on TUF 11, with Ring getting the better of a close decision.  Ring was forced to pull out with a knee injury and McGee would replace him and go on to win the competition.  Ring gained some notoriety for preventing a mugging in his hometown.  The UFC followed up by inviting the victim of the attack to attend the show.  Kudos all around.

How it’s going down: McGee is a “grinder”, which isn’t always a bad thing, but he’s getting a well deserved reputation for putting on slow, plodding fights.  Against Philippou, this backfired as his conservative style failed to sway the judges.  Look for Ring to stay off of the cage and pick McGee apart with superior striking.

The pick: Ring

Welterweight Bout: Chris Clements (44) v. Matt Riddle (37)

What you need to know: The UFC threw Thiago Alves, Sexyama and a pinch of Siyar Bahadurzada into the matchmaking blender and this was the result.  Clements is replacing Alves, while Riddle is replacing Bahadurzada who was replacing Sexyama.  Got all that?

While this match-up obviously lacks the cachet of the original pairing, it’s an excellent choice for the first fight of the PPV card as these are two fighters always looking to engage.  Riddle, for better or for worse, has never been in a boring fight and Clements owns the fastest knockout in MMA history (3 seconds!), having one-punched a charging Lautaro Tucas in 2006.  Clements won his UFC debut in April and has beaten Jonathan Goulet and Rich Clementi via TKO.

How it’s going down: Riddle is a strong wrestler, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him.  All he does is stand and bang, which has worked out pretty well for him since he’s been lucky enough to stick with the UFC for his entire career so far.  If he follows his usual M.O., expect the more creative Clements to have the advantage in this one.

The pick: Clements

Welterweight Bout: Brian Ebersole (20) v. James Head (48)

What you need to know: Ebersole is stepping in for Claude Patrick, a man that he defeated at UFC 140.  Willing to fight anybody, anytime, Ebersole put off his plans to drop to 155 to salvage this bout.  Head overwhelmed Papy Abedi in his last fight, winning by rear naked choke in the first round.

How it’s going down: Head has potential, but Ebersole is far too experienced, well rounded and unpredictable for him.  I expect Ebersole to assert himself on the feet with some heavy leather, while getting the better of scrambles and controlling the fight.

The pick: Ebersole

Heavyweight Bout: Cheick Kongo (10) v. Shawn Jordan (20)

What you need to know: Kongo was looking to finally establish himself in the top ten by taking on Minotauro, but Nogueira made the wise decision to bow out and continue rehab on his injured arm.  Jordan is a Strikeforce transplant who finished Oli Thompson in his UFC debut.  He trains with Greg Jackson.

How it’s going down: Jordan’s power is no joke, but I expect Kongo to dominate.  It’s never smart to bet against a Jackson cornered fighter as he always seems to get the most out of his fighters.  Considering the physical gifts and work ethic that Jordan already has, that could lead to an intimidating finished product.  Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s quite there yet.

The pick: Kongo

Middleweight Bout: Hector Lombard (-) v. Tim Boetsch (3)

What you need to know: Lombard (replacing an injured Michael Bisping) is on an insane streak having gone unbeaten in his last 25 fights (the only blemish being a draw against Kyle Noke).  Boetsch has looked impressive himself, dominating his first two fights at middleweight (over Kendall Grove and Ring) before scoring a hellacious comeback KO against top 5 middleweight Yushin Okami.  That #3 ranking I have for Boetsch might seem stupidly high, but I still had Okami ranked near the top when Boetsch knocked him out so Boetsch took his spot.  We’ll see if he truly deserves it on Saturday.

How it’s going down: Boetsch is a bad ass and I’ve always believed that Lombard is actually slightly overrated, but this is a good match-up for the Cuban judoka.  Boetsch also has a judo background (not nearly as renowned as Lombard’s) and I can’t remember the last time two practitioners of this particular discipline faced off.  I don’t expect it to be a major factor here, but it’s a neat detail.  The quality of Lombard’s competition has been justifiably criticized, but there’s no question that the man has dynamite in those fists.  Boetsch isn’t the most evasive fighter and eventually “Shango” is going to land enough shots to put the big man down for the proverbial count.

The pick: Lombard

Hector will still only be the second baddest Shango around.

Bantamweight Interim Championship Bout: Urijah Faber (2) v. Renan Barão (3)

What you need to know: Outside of Cruz-Faber III, this was the best bantamweight fight you could book and the UFC did the right thing by giving this opportunity to Barão, even though he’s far from a household name.  Like Jimmo and Lombard, Barão owns a gaudy undefeated streak, winning all 28 of his fights since losing his MMA debut.  Any concerns that he might falter when faced with top level competition were quieted when he cruised through bouts with top 10 bantamweights Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen.

Barão is the favourite, but this one is too close to call.  You want to say that Faber has the experience advantage, but the top tier of MMA is a young man’s world and the changing of the guard usually comes whether we’re ready for it or not.  Barão trains with José Aldo, who dominated Faber in their match and likely proved invaluable during game planning.  If Barão can avoid takedowns and pick Faber apart with leg kicks (something he was able to do against Jorgensen, another elite wrestler), you can expect this fight to have a similar outcome.

Faber has the more powerful hands and if he’s able to clip Barão, the whole fight could change in a second.  We’ve yet to see how Barão reacts to adversity as he’s done an excellent job of avoiding damage five contests under the Zuffa banner.  Faber’s ability to pressure will be unlike anything Barão has seen before.  I see Faber taking the first round, with Barão making the necessary adjustments to eventually come out on top.

The pick: Barão

And if you really need incentive to watch, Rachelle Leah and Logan Stanton are back.  Happy now, Calgarians?

How Soon is Now? – UFC on Fuel TV 4 Thoughts

It would be understandable if the Chris Weidman bandwagon was a little lighter after his last fight against Demian Maia.  The blue chip prospect looked sluggish in outlasting Maia and scraping out a unanimous decision victory.  There were a few factors that contributed to this, the main one being the massive weight cut that Weidman had to endure after taking the fight on only eleven days notice.  Despite not being in prime condition, he was able to defeat Maia, a mainstay in the top five of the middleweight rankings.  This was a nationwide broadcast on Fox and what should have been a coming out party for him was instead forgettable in the minds of many.  It might have helped his ranking, but it did no favours for him in the court of public perception.

Taking a short notice fight against such a high calibre opponent was not only a stern test for him but a fine way to get into the good graces of his employers.  Weidman was justly rewarded with a main event spot against and the man who many considered next in line for a title shot, fellow Division I wrestler Mark Muñoz.  Muñoz is the more experienced fighter and a key piece in the UFC’s mission to expand internationally, so I assumed that Weidman would need to put on a show if he wanted to move to the front of the line.  Well, he put on one hell of a show.

For such a decorated wrestler, Muñoz’ takedown game (both offensively and defensively) has always been suspect.  He’s been unable to impose his will on fighters with limited or non-existent wrestling pedigrees and he’s even been taken down by Chris Leben.  Weidman took full advantage of this, nearly spearing Muñoz to the mat in the opening seconds of their bout and soundly out-grappling Muñoz while delivering effective ground strikes.  He’s been touted as a BJJ prodigy and that talent was on full display as he refused to give Muñoz any chance to get up or attack from his back.

The second round was more of the same as Weidman avoided the power and took the fight to the ground again.  Muñoz did a much better job of getting up to his feet, but this proved to be the beginning of the end.  Weidman conducted the match like a maestro and he capped off the crescendo with a virtuoso standing elbow that sent Muñoz crashing down.  About a dozen unnecessary punches later and Weidman had his first highlight reel knockout in the UFC.  I hadn’t seen someone land an elbow so cleanly in the middle of an exchange like that since…well, Anderson Silva.

A quick recap of the rest of the night (new UFC divisional ranking in parentheses):

Bantamweight Bout: Assunçao (13) d. Tamura (30) via TKO (:25, R2)

What you need to know: Assunçao is a veteran who has made a gradual descent from lightweight to bantamweight over a span of eight years.  He owns early career wins over Jorge Masvidal and Joe Lauzon, but recently lost to top featherweights Urijah Faber, Diego Nunes and Erik Koch.  Tamura made a name for himself with a dynamite knockout of Zhang Tie Quan in his UFC debut, but remains unproven.

How it went down (in one sentence): Assunçao took it to Tamura, soundly taking the first round before finishing him off in the second.

What’s next for Tamura: (1-1 UFC, Lost last 1) John Albert, Jared Papazian or Nick Denis.

What’s next for Assunçao: (2-1 UFC, Won last 2) Ken Stone, Edwin Figueroa or TJ Dillashaw.

Welterweight Bout: Guimaraes (49) d. Stittgen (54) via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)

What you need to know: Guimaraes is an undefeated Brazilian fighter and a former Jungle Fight middleweight champion.  Stittgen is getting a second chance after being knocked out by Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.

How it went down (in one sentence): Whether it was the upgrade in competition or octagon jitters, Guimaraes was less than impressive in eking out an unsatisfying decision win.

What’s next for Stittgen: (0-2 UFC, L2) Back to the minors for seasoning.

What’s next for Guimaraes: (1-0 UFC, W7) Simeon Thoreson, Thompson, or if the matchmakers think he’s ready, Aaron Simpson.

Middleweight Bout: Craig (28) d. Natal (32) via KO (4:52, R2)

What you need to know: Craig made his debut in Australia against Kyle Noke as an injury replacement.  He overcame hostile territory to upset Noke via unanimous decision.  Natal is searching for consistency, but he made a name for himself knocking out Travis Lutter at Moosin: God of Martial Arts a couple of years ago.

How it went down (in one sentence): Natal was clearly winning the fight before gassing just enough for Craig to land a vicious head kick that ended the fight.

What’s next for Natal: (2-2-1 UFC, L1) Patrick Côté, Karlos Vemola or Maccarão.

What’s next for Craig: (2-0 UFC, W8) Thiago Bodão, Tom Lawlor or the winner of Court McGee-Nick Ring.

Flyweight Bout: Chris Cariaso (5) d. Josh Ferguson (10) via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)

What you need to know: Cariaso won his last two fights at bantamweight, but at 5’3” he made the right choice in dropping down to the 125 lb. division.  Ferguson, a TUF 14 cast member, is also making the transition to a new class.

How it went down (in one sentence): The flyweight division continues to live up the hype as Cariaso came out on top in an exciting back and forth battle.

What’s next for Ferguson: (0-2 UFC, L3) He might get released, but with the flyweight division being so thin he should get another chance.  Look for him to face Darren Uyenoyama, Tim Elliott or John Lineker.

What’s next for Cariaso: (4-1 UFC, W3) Taking into account his previous success and the thin flyweight ranks (the UFC currently employs only 11 flyweights), there’s really no easy fight waiting for Cariaso.  He can look forward to touch matchups with Louis Gaudinot, Yasuhiro Urushitani or John Dodson.

Bantamweight Bout: Caceres (20) d. Page (36) via Submission (1:27, R2)

What you need to know: Caceres made a name for himself with his “Bruce Leeroy” persona, but the 24 year old has shown a lot of potential since moving to bantamweight.  Page was once one of the top bantamweights in the world, but has fallen on hard times losing three straight by choke submission.

How it went down (in one sentence): Page loses his fourth straight by choke submission.

What’s next for Page: (0-3 UFC, L4) A release and some much needed free time to work on his submission defense.

What’s next for Caceres: (2-3 UFC, W1) Johnny Bedford (currently out with an injury), Erik Perez or Dillashaw.

Lightweight Bout: Dos Anjos (14) d. Njokuani (34) via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)

What you need to know: Dos Anjos remains a reliable hand for the UFC, able to match up with any style and put on a good show.  Njokuani has alternated wins and losses since coming to the UFC, a far cry from the three straight Knockout of the Night awards he won while in the WEC.

How it went down (in one sentence): Dos Anjos used his underrated wrestling to repeatedly take Njokuani to the mat while utilizing leg kicks to keep him honest in the stand up.

What’s next for Njokuani: (2-3 UFC, L1) He needs a good showing to keep his job.  I’d like to see how he’d fare against Fabrício Camões, John Cholish or TUF 13 winner Tony Ferguson.

What’s next for dos Anjos: (6-4 UFC, W2) Khabib Nurmagomedov, Jim Miller or the winner of the Jamie Varner-Joe Lauzon fight.

Bantamweight Bout: Dillashaw (15) d. Lee (23) via Submission (2:33, R1)

What you need to know: Dillashaw looked unstoppable against Walel Watson, bouncing back nicely from his first loss.  Lee experienced a career highlight in his last bout, submitting the declining “Kid” Yamamoto.

How it went down (in one sentence): A poorly executed high kick led to Lee being taken down and trapped in a standing rear naked choke in the ensuing scramble.

What’s next for Lee: (1-2 UFC, L1) Young and always willing to engage, fans would be happy to see him matched up with the likes of Dustin Pague, Papazian or the loser of the Jeff Hougland-Takeya Mizugaki fight.

What’s next for Dillashaw: (2-1 UFC, W2) Caceres or Assunçao both make sense, but I think it would be great if they paired him up with Mike Easton to further the Team Alpha Male-Alliance MMA rivalry.

Middleweight Bout: Carmont (18) d. Vemola (34) via Submission (1:39, R2)

What you need to know: Carmont is the latest stud to come out of Tristar Gym in Montreal and he came in having won seven straight fights including his first two UFC contests.  Vemola has competed in three different weight classes in his last four fights.  He’s finally at his ideal weight and is looking to make a splash at 185.

How it went down (in one sentence): After calmly escaping a couple of guillotine chokes, Carmont used his superior grappling to repeatedly pass to dominant positions until Vemola gave up his back and succumbed to a rear naked choke.

What’s next for Vemola: (2-3 UFC, L1) The jury is still out on Vemola as a middleweight.  Matchups with Riki Fukuda, Serginho or Natal could help with the deliberation.

What’s next for Carmont: (3-0 UFC, W8) A top ten opponent would be nice, but several are already booked or shelved with an injury.  Just outside of the top ten and waiting in the winner’s circle are Costa Philippou, C.B. Dollaway or the winner of the Ed Herman-Jake Shields match.

Welterweight Bout: Simpson (35) d. Robertson (50) via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)

What you need to know: Simpson is making his long awaited drop to welterweight in what was originally supposed to be a match with Jon Fitch.  Robertson is not Jon Fitch.

How it went down (in one sentence): As many people predicted, the weight cut seemed to take its toll on Simpson, a former top 15 middleweight, and he was forced to grind out a decision against an opponent he should have smashed.

What’s next for Robertson: (0-2 UFC, L1) This is actually Robertson’s second chance in the UFC as he was released back in February after only one fight.  He was replacing an injured Fitch so we should see if the third time is the charm.  A meeting with Papi Abedy, Keith Wisniewski or David Mitchell should prove entertaining as each man would be fighting to keep those Zuffa paychecks coming in.

What’s next for Simpson: (7-3 UFC, W1) Presumably Fitch, but if they can’t put that together then he could face off with the recently extended Josh Neer or fellow middleweight transplant Dan Miller.

Light Heavyweight Bout: Te-Huna (14) d. Beltran (-) via Unanimous Decision (30-26, 30-27 x2)

What you need to know: Te-Huna is a knockout artist, having punched out seven of his last eight opponents.  Beltran shed all the baby fat and looked svelte in his return to the UFC, now at 205.  He replaced Brandon Vera after Vera was sentenced, pardon me, scheduled to face Shogun.

How it went down (in one sentence): The record for combined significant strikes in a light heavyweight match was shattered in this brawl as Beltran, as usual, refused to go down even as he ate haymaker after haymaker.

What’s next for Beltran: (3-5 UFC, L1) If it were up to me, the Mexicutioner would take a long break.  There’s no way he should be within the next six months after taking all of those punches.  Then again, I’m an absolute hypocrite because when he does come back I would pay a hundred dollars to see him go to war with Chad Griggs.  That clash would be one for the neurologists to study afterwards, that’s for sure.

What’s next for Te-Huna: (4-1 UFC, W3) Stephan Bonnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira or the winner of the Shogun-Vera match.  Time to step up.

Middleweight Bout: Weidman (4) d. Muñoz (6) via KO (1:37, R2)

What you need to know: Weidman has been the number one middleweight prospect for the last couple of years and he’s answered every challenge that’s been given to him.  Muñoz has been a force at middleweight, going 7-1 in his last eight fights including stoppages of Kendall Grove, C.B. Dollaway and Chris Leben.

How it went down (in one sentence): Weidman manhandled Muñoz before finishing him off with a standing elbow that would have induced a rage quit if you did that in a game of UFC Undisputed.

What’s next for Muñoz: (7-3 UFC, L1) Back to the drawing board.  If this had happened a year ago I’d say that Muñoz’ spot was safe, but the middleweight division is starting to show signs of new life and the window for his title shot could be closing fast.  He needs to get in the mix with Michael Bisping, Tim Boetsch and Alan Belcher or he could find himself playing the role of gatekeeper.

What’s next for Weidman: (5-0 UFC, W9) It would be awesome to see Weidman face off with the names I just mentioned, but is it even necessary?  Before the fight started, I was telling a friend that I wouldn’t want to see Weidman get a shot if he won because I didn’t think he was ready yet.  After seeing him cruise through the most difficult test of his young career, I can’t imagine any of the other middleweights outside of Silva giving him a hard time.  He looked that good.

Weidman politely requested a fight with the champ in his post-fight interview.  At the press conference, he let everyone know that he felt he could submit Silva.  His confident proclamations were delivered modestly, in stark contrast to Silva’s last challenger, Chael Sonnen.  However, the message was the same: I’m not afraid of Anderson Silva and I have the tools to beat him.  Is there anyone who wants to bet against him?

Theatre of the Bizarre – An Analysis of UFC 148: Silva v. Sonnen II

That was a strange night of fights, wasn’t it? Calling UFC 148 bizarre is probably being kind as I’ve seen the words the words “disappointing” and “boring” used too. To start off, we had a preliminary card that looked so promising on paper that I deemed it to be more PPV worthy than the UFC 147 (a glorified Ultimate Fighter finale). Shane Roller was a WEC standout, Costa Philippou is a rising star in the middleweight division and Gleison Tibau and Melvin Guillard are two of the UFC’s most experienced fighters. Yet the preliminaries fell flat. There were some sparks (Philippou’s flurries, Fabrício Camões’ reckless attempts to drag Guillard to the ground), but nothing close to a flame. I’m not a viewer who immediately dismisses decisions as boring, but these fights were lacking.

That feeling carried over onto the first fight of the main card between Ivan Menjivar and Mike Easton, a solid matchup that never got out of the gates. That letdown was followed by two strange TKOs, both seeming to involve rib injuries. Cung Le and Patrick Côté provided some excitement with a good back and forth battle, but that was quickly forgotten in the wake of the listless third meeting between Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz. The fight was fine (if a little monotonous), but Griffin’s post-match antics were strange and, frankly, dick-ish. What was supposed to be a send-off for Ortiz turned into yet another episode of “What the F**k is Wrong With Forrest”?

Even the main event had a touch of controversy. It’s hard to say what caused more of an uproar: a seemingly illegal knee by Silva or the cartoonish spinning back fist attempt by Sonnen that preceded it. The referee stoppage was spot on, but admittedly a tad anticlimactic in lieu of all the hype. Anticlimactic: another word that could sum up the event.

Let’s dig deeper starting with the first televised fight:

Lightweight Bout: Roller d. Alessio via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

How it went down: Alessio took the first round with takedown defense and effective striking, but Roller’s elite wrestling dictated the rest of the action. After the fight, Alessio looked annoyed at having been held down, but this was hardly lay and pray. Roller punished him with short punches and elbows from top control. A finish would have been great, but the former Division-I All American did more than enough to win and keep his job.

They may as well have put one of these on a pole.

What’s next for Alessio: (0-5 UFC, Lost last 1) A release, unfortunately.

What’s next for Roller: (2-3 UFC, Won last 1) The guarantee of another paycheck! Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing him matched up with Rafaello Oliveira (who picked up a win on the Facebook prelim). If that’s too obvious, Roller would make a good test for one of the recent TUF 15 contestants, like Daron Cruickshank (who has a similar style) or the undefeated Myles Jury.

Middleweight Bout: Philippou d. Fukuda via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)

How it went down: This had all the makings of a brawl, but Fukuda smartly stayed away once he felt the power of Philippou. Philippou, on the other hand, did everything he could to force the action while defending takedown attempts. A nasty eye poke derailed any chances of a finish in the closing moments, but he pressed forward anyway. Costa would later say that the thought he “lost his eye”.

What’s next for Fukuda: (1-2 UFC, L1) That record should read 2-1. In his UFC debut against Nick Ring, Fukuda was screwed over so egregiously by the judges that Dana White paid him his win money anyway. With the exception of a decent dust-up against Steve Cantwell, Fukuda is struggling to find his niche. Look for him to be matched up with the likes of Magnus Cedenblad, Caio Magalhaes or Clifford Starks as the UFC figures out just what to do with this talented Japanese fighter.

What’s next for Philippou: (4-1 UFC, W4) While a win over Fukuda doesn’t affect his standing dramatically, his current streak guarantees that he’ll be booked against a higher ranked opponent. It would be great to see him matched up with the dormant Ronny Markes or even Alan Belcher should that Belcher-Bisping encounter not materialize.

Lightweight Bout: Nurmagomedov d. Tibau via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)

How it went down: I greatly underestimated Nurmagomedov’s grappling acumen as he actually attempted more takedowns than Tibau. He didn’t complete a single one, but he clearly got points for trying. This match was scored in a similar fashion to the Kampmann-Sanchez fight, except that Tibau isn’t the counter striker that Kampmann is. The Eagle’s constant pressure was the deciding factor in this considerable upset.

What’s next for Tibau: (10-6 UFC, L1) He just can’t get ahead. The UFC has given him more than enough opportunities to step up, but he’s lost against every top ten opponent he’s faced. Now he’s lost to a prospect, all but confirming his status as a stepping stone. I could see him in competitive bouts with Jacob Volkmann or Sam Stout, but I’d like to see him face Edson Barboza so we can see how these two bounce back from tough losses.

What’s next for Nurmagomedov: (2-0 UFC, W18) I thought Tibau was already a pretty big leap in competition, so if they’re going to throw him to the wolves why not give him Melvin Guillard?

Lightweight Bout: Guillard d. Camões via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)

How it went down: The score above doesn’t reflect how close some of these rounds were. Guillard predictably dominated the striking for the duration of the bout, but I thought Camões stole round one when he managed to reach full mount and land some brief, but vicious ground and pound. Then again, that round also ended with him whiffing on a takedown attempt and eating some punches himself. The second round had an almost identical ending. Camões’ clumsy takedowns sealed his fate.

What’s next for Camões: (1-2-1 UFC, L1) Like I said, he really didn’t look as bad as that score suggested. He really needs to work on his striking and takedowns though. His jiu-jitsu is at an elite level, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to win at this level with only one skill set. The days of Royce Gracie are long gone. I’d like to see how he’d fare against TUF 15 runner-up Al Iaquinta, equally one-dimensional kickboxer John Makdessi, or veteran Carlo Prater.

What’s next for Guillard: (11-6 UFC, W1) If they think it’s too soon for him to face Nurmagomedov, I wouldn’t mind seeing him face off with Clay Guida.

Bantamweight Bout: Easton d. Menjivar via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)

How it went down: Along with the Philippou-Fukuda fight, I thought this had serious Fight of the Night potential. Neither even came close. Menjivar was wary of the massive hands of Easton. He was determined to land a definitive counter-punch, but with only fifteen minutes to work that opportunity doesn’t always come in an MMA bout. Easton showed great footwork and refused to give Menjivar any convenient angles. It’s a shame these clashing game plans made for an unappealing fight.

I mentioned the hands, right?

What’s next for Menjivar: (3-2 UFC, L1) He had an off-night, but he remains near the top of the bantamweight rankings and a couple of solid wins would put him back on track. Most of the marquee names are already booked, so the UFC might ask him to provide a rude welcome to incoming talents like Mitch Gagnon or Azamat Gashimov. Otherwise, it would be a treat to see him fight Brian Bowles whenever the former bantamweight champ returns from injury.

What’s next for Easton: (3-0 UFC, W8) His win over Menjivar makes Easton one of the ten best bantamweights in the world. After his fight, Easton told Ariel Helwani that he would be open to facing his teammate Dominick Cruz should that opportunity arise in the future. He stated that it would be insulting to Cruz if he refused to fight him, commending his warrior’s spirit. If he can get past the resurgent Eddie Wineland or the explosive Michael McDonald, we might soon see an all Alliance championship bout.

Featherweight Bout: Mendes d. McKenzie via TKO (:31, R1)

How it went down: Man, who could have seen this one coming? Oh right, everyone in the world except for this blogger. I admit to falling into the trap of fandom and talking myself into the whole “once you step into the cage anything can happen” mindset. There’s a reason I don’t gamble. McKenzie didn’t look right from the beginning. This is purely my opinion, but it looked like he didn’t cut weight the right way. Some guys can change weight classes and look more or less the same as they did before, but McKenzie looked drawn out and he was already a gangly lightweight. This suggests to me that he just starved or severely dehydrated himself to make weight as opposed to making the necessary changes to his diet. Again, this is purely speculation. As for the fight itself, Mendes took care of business. He caught an errant kick, nearly punched McKenzie’s rib cage out of his torso and finished with ground strikes.

Like this, but even harder.

What’s next for McKenzie: (2-3 UFC, L1) Hopefully a smoother weight cut and an easier opponent. Body shots were also his undoing when he lost to Nam Phan in the quarterfinals of TUF 12, so he needs to work on protecting that area. With his crowd pleasing style and unique look, it would be ideal for the UFC to feature him on one of their free cards in the near future. Possible opponents include fellow string bean Pablo Garza, former TUF housemate Jonathan Brookins or TUF: Brazil runner-up Pepey.

What’s next for Mendes: (3-1 UFC, W1) People are already saying that he’s destined to become the Jon Fitch of the featherweight division. He’s the clear cut second best featherweight, but was handled so easily by the champion that he’s a tough sell to main event again. I wouldn’t be against a rematch. Mendes got caught in a bad position and ate a knockout kick from José Aldo. There’s no shame in that. He’ll need to reclaim his place in line by beating upstarts Erik Koch, Ricardo Lamas or Chan Sung Jung. If the UFC doesn’t want to risk halting the momentum of one of those young stars, Cub Swanson would be a fun matchup as well.

Welterweight Bout: Maia d. Kim via TKO-Injury (:47, R1)

How it went down: Continuing the mystifying action, Kim was finished in under a minute after suffering what appeared to be a crippling rib injury. Maia looked good dropping down to 170, doing what he does best: grappling. Despite Kim having excellent takedown defence, once Maia got a hold of him he wasn’t letting go until he brought the fight into his world. The injury might have been a fluke, but Maia did exactly what he wanted do and was rewarded for it.

What’s next for Kim: (6-2 [1 NC] UFC, L1) It’s hard to believe that only a year ago, Kim was facing off against Carlos Condit in what was essentially a no. 1 contender’s bout. Stun Gun is a long ways from those lofty heights now. He finds himself stuck in the middle of the pack with the likes of Thiago Alves, Diego Sanchez and Paulo Thiago, all marketable names who might have to climb over each other to stay relevant.

What’s next for Maia: (10-4 UFC, W1) GSP was in the building and if I were Maia, I would have called him out. Then again, Maia is a professional fighter and not a moron like me, so I guess you can see why he might not do that. Maia’s going to be tough to book because he’s a former middleweight title contender, but still an unknown property at welterweight. This fight didn’t answer many questions. I’d like to see how he’d fare against grinders like Mike Pierce or Rick Story, but Mike Pyle would make for the most exciting fight.

Middleweight Bout: Le d. Côté via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)

How it went down: Another fight that was closer than the scorecard suggests. Côté actually came into this fight as the favourite, which is fair considering he’s fought for the title before and was riding a four fight win streak outside of the UFC. Le, on the other hand, snatched a Fight of the Night bonus with Wanderlei Silva, but it’s fair to say that he’s getting up there in age. Côté has improved his wrestling a lot, but he found himself on his back more than once thanks to some beautifully timed trips by Le. The Sanshou master’s arsenal of kicks was on full display and he landed several nice shots to the leg and body from angles that most fighters wouldn’t attempt. To Côté’s credit, he fought hard to the end and made Le earn every round.

What’s next for Côté: (4-8 UFC, L1) He did the boss a solid by stepping in for a Rich Franklin (who had to step in for an injured Vitor Belfort at UFC 147) and he looked sharp too. He’s now in a similar situation to the aforementioned Riki Fukuda, so expect him to be slotted with the same level of opponents or maybe even Fukuda himself.

What’s next for Le: (1-1 UFC, W1) Were he ten years younger, there would be a plethora of choices but at this stage in his career there’s only one fight that makes sense: his originally scheduled opponent Rich Franklin.

Light Heavyweight Bout: Griffin d. Ortiz via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

How it went down: Much like W. Silva-Franklin II, this was another fight that was labelled as irrelevant by fans. Unlike Silva and Franklin, these two failed to deliver. This match was almost identical to their last encounter except that Griffin and Ortiz looked diminished. Ortiz no longer has his dynamite takedowns and Griffin’s pitter-patter shots looked pitter-patterier than ever. Griffin out-struck Ortiz by a wide margin, but Ortiz rocked Griffin and the crowd was firmly behind him by the time the final bell rang. Griffin then proceeded to make an ass of himself. First, he ran out of the octagon as if anticipating an unfavourable decision and then he ruined Ortiz’ chance to have a closing interview with Joe Rogan by conducting the interview himself. He also took some odd cheap shots at Ortiz while talking to him. It was a classless move by such a likeable fighter and regardless of how you feel about Ortiz that should have been his moment to enjoy.

What’s next for Ortiz: (15-11-1 UFC, L3) A well deserved retirement. I remember him walking to the ring when he was facing Ryan Bader and just looking solemn. I don’t think his belief in himself ever wavered, but he definitely was aware that fans were prepared to say good-bye. He scored a miraculous win that night and three fights later he can finally walk away knowing that he left it all in the octagon. He carried the torch for the UFC during their darkest days, never attempting to distance himself even as fair-weather fans and the mainstream media vilified the sport he loved. He may have been motivated by his own interests, but he paved the way for increased fighter salaries (an ongoing battle) and widespread acceptance. He was a cocky punk and an ambassador all at the same time. Tito Ortiz has a comfortable perch amongst the legends of mixed martial arts.

What’s next for Griffin: (10-5 UFC, W1) A psychiatrist, perhaps?

Middleweight bout: Silva d. Sonnen via TKO (1:55, R2)

How it went down: Round six started off the same as rounds one through five. Sonnen walked Silva down, eating a couple of shots before getting a grip around Silva’s waist and taking him down. Right away, you could see a change in Silva’s strategy. Rather than waste energy attempting to get up or apply submissions, Silva held on and didn’t allow Sonnen to posture up. Sonnen remained active enough to avoid being stood up, but he wasn’t able to land anything substantial other than a few glancing elbows. The challenger took round one easily and it seemed like everything was going his way except for the fact that Silva wasn’t really hurt.

In the second round, it took a little longer but Sonnen took Silva down again. This time they were pressed against the cage giving Silva the opportunity to wall walk up, which he eventually did while blatantly grabbing on to Sonnen’s shorts. Referee Yves Lavigne was reluctant to intervene for some reason, allowing Silva to maintain his illegal hold while peppering Sonnen with straight rights. It’s at this point that Sonnen might have been seriously hurt, though it’s unclear. It’s the best explanation for what happened next though. As Silva was backed up against the cage again, Sonnen threw a preposterous spinning back fist, a move that nobody had ever seen him use before. I could be wrong, but you’re not supposed to end up flat on your ass after throwing one of those, right?

Smelling blood, Silva pounced immediately landing effective strikes as Sonnen struggled to get back up. He fell again and Silva threw what looked to be knee to the head of a downed opponent. Further angles showed it being buried deep into Sonnen’s chest. As Sonnen was being pummelled, Lavigne made the wise decision to call the fight.

One last note: There’s no way Silva was aiming for Sonnen’s head with that knee. It’s one thing to grab onto the shorts and risk a point deduction; it’s another to risk getting disqualified and lose your title. Also, considering how much damage that knee did, I have a hard time believing that it didn’t land exactly where it was supposed to. Anderson is the best striker mixed martial arts has ever seen. He knows what he’s doing.

I mean, come on, this isn’t Malaysia.

What’s next for Sonnen: (6-5 UFC, L1) A well deserved retirement…oh, wait no. Despite the brilliant challenge he laid down against Silva, swearing to leave the UFC forever if he lost, he remains highly marketable and it would suck to see Sonnen hang it up. He made a healthy pay day (only $50,000 to show, but I guarantee he’s getting a cut of the PPV money that should put him past seven figures) and he deserves to take some time off to rest after working his ass off to build up this fight. A move to light heavyweight has been discussed, but it’s better for Sonnen to take a few more big money fights before he retires. Depending on how some key middleweight matchups go over the next few months, Sonnen could find himself facing off with Chris Weidman, Vitor Belfort or Jake Shields.

What’s next for Silva: (15-0 UFC, W16) As always seems to be the case with Silva, there is no immediate challenger to his throne. Mark Muñoz is the most likely option if he can get past Chris Weidman on Wednesday, but don’t expect Weidman to be picked if he manages to upset The Filipino Wrecking Machine unless he does it in spectacular fashion. The same goes for Hector Lombard who should reasonably be two fights away, but a decisive defeat of Tim Boetsch might get him the nod, especially considering he’s unbeaten in twenty-five straight contests. Boetsch is also a legitimate threat and a win over Lombard would make him 4-0 in the middleweight division. Lastly, there’s Michael Bisping and Alan Belcher. Bisping has an 8-3 record at middleweight, with Dan Henderson being the only man to beat him definitively. Love him or hate him, he was arguably the division’s second biggest name before Sonnen’s campaign and a match between he and Silva would draw. Belcher would be my choice, as he’s 6-1 in his last seven fights including a controversial split decision loss to Sexyama. Bisping and Belcher have been begging to have a crack at each other and whoever wins would be more than worthy of a main event slot opposite the Spider. I’ve championed Belcher for a long time as the man to topple Silva, but that’s an article for another day.

Another one of my sterling predictions.

Walk Into My Parlor – UFC 148 Preview & Predictions

For whatever reason, I’ve been skeptical that UFC 148, headlined by the second meeting between Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva, will crack one million PPV buys. The last card to hit that number that didn’t involve Brock Lesnar was UFC 114: Rampage v. Evans. That fight had the benefit of a full season of The Ultimate Fighter to hype it up and the lure of two former light heavyweight champions who both excel at hyping fights. I also think that the image of two cocky, powerful and black American prizefighters evokes fond memories of marquee boxing matchups. Of course, I don’t see colour so I don’t know why I’m even mentioning that sort of thing.

After reading a couple of well-reasoned Tweets and thinking about it a bit more, this PPV is probably a safe bet to hit that magical mark. I’ve underestimated just how much coverage the fight has received outside of the usual venues. Much of the credit has to go to Sonnen, who has been on a mission to destroy not only Silva, but his reputation. Prior to defeating Nate Marquardt to earn the title shot, Sonnen was already calling out Silva as a “fraud”. All of this talk about how nobody ever calls Silva out is nothing new. Sonnen has been playing that angle for over two years now. Say what you want about his outlandish insults, at least he’s consistent.

The fact that Silva finally fired back is almost quaint. His response was not only unnecessary (as he’s fine playing the quiet assassin), but also a little awkward. Nevertheless, it was different and it was a sign that the stakes are considerably larger, as it should be with any good sequel. Yeah, this one is going a milli.

*The number next to the names are their placement in my unofficial (and as of yet, unpublished) UFC rankings. (c) = champion.

*****

Lightweight Bout: Rafaello Oliveira (47) v. Yoislandy Izquierdo (63)

What you need to know: Loser leaves town match! Oliveira is a game veteran who just hasn’t had a lot of luck in the octagon, going 1-4 in five UFC appearances. Despite being only two years older than Izquierdo, he actually started fighting back in 2004 and he has a lot more experience against name opponents. Izquierdo is still an unknown property. He lost his debut fight against fellow prospect Reza Madadi.

How it’s going down: I’d love to pick Izquierdo, but I’ve honestly never seen him fight and he just doesn’t have a convincing resume. I think Oliveira’s experience pays off and he gets off the schneid here.

The pick: Oliveira

Lightweight Bout: John Alessio (54) v. Shane Roller (48)

What you need to know: Loser leaves town match number 2! I know it’s a rude thing to say, but if you’re fighting in one of the lighter weight classes in the UFC, you can’t afford to go on a losing streak of any kind. Alessio lost his last fight against fellow Canadian Mark Bocek and Roller is actually winless in his last three matches. Neither is really a fan favourite and while they’re tough fighters, this booking is a reward for both guys stepping in for injured fighters in their previous appearances.

How it’s going down: Roller looked good in the WEC and had one shining moment in the UFC when he beat Thiago Tavares with a flash knockout. I loved that finish because Roller’s striking looked comically bad that whole fight before a wild shot put Tavares on his ass. That said, Alessio is the more well rounded fighter and I see him avoiding takedowns while picking Roller apart in the stand-up.

The pick: Alessio

Middleweight Bout: Constantinos Philippou (17) v. Riki Fukuda (36)

What you need to know: Well, what you really need to know is that I have an inexplicable bias for Serra-Longo fighters. Let’s establish that now. After a disappointing submission loss in the qualifying rounds of TUF 11 and a decision loss in his UFC debut against Nick Catone, Costa finds himself on a surprising three fight win streak. A win over Fukuda would likely earn him a fight against a top 15 opponent. Fukuda won an entertaining slugfest against Steve Cantwell at UFC 144. Philippou is a willing brawler and if Fukuda brings it like he did last time, this could be the Fight of the Night.

How it’s going down: This is a difficult fight to pick because these two are likely to just wail on each other. The resulting knockout or close decision could go either way. Like I said, I don’t bet against Serra-Longo.

The pick: Philippou

Lightweight Bout: Melvin Guillard (11) v. Fabrício Camões (37)

What you need to know: This is an absolutely terrible fight for Guillard, who I still believe has a title shot in his future if he ever puts it all together (surely, this has never been said about Guillard before). Camões only has three UFC fights under his belt, with one win, one loss and one draw. I have to give Guillard a lot of credit for even taking this fight as he really has nothing to gain other than an easy win…

How it’s going down: …the problem with that is Camões is known for his elite ground game. While it’s doubtful he’ll be able to get the massive Guillard to the ground, should the fight go there for any significant period of time an upset is likely. Guillard has shown himself to be vulnerable to chokes (surely, this has never been said about Guillard before) and it could be argued that Camões has the best jiu-jitsu out of anyone he’s ever faced. I trust him to use his range and athleticism to stay out of trouble.

The pick: Guillard

Lightweight Bout: Gleison Tibau (10) v. Khabib Nurmagomedov (38)

What you need to know: Despite the disparity in rankings being slightly higher than the Guillard-Camões bout, this is actually a less dangerous fight for Tibau. The hulking Brazilian is returning from a short layoff and a tune-up fight is in order. Not only that, but Nurmagomedov is a white hot prospect entering this fight 17-0. Both fighters have a lot to gain as a win for Tibau could be the start of a long overdue run at the lightweight title, while an upset would vault Nurmagomedov into the top 20 and earn him a big ticket fight.

How it’s going down: Tibau is going to have a strength advantage over almost every lightweight he faces and the Nurmagomedov is no exception. The wiry Russian is a great athlete, but his stand-up looked uneven in his UFC debut against the equally sloppy Kamal Shalorus. He got away with being wild there, but I don’t think that’s going to work against the punishing Tibau. Expect something similar to the Josh Neer fight, with Tibau taking down Nurmagomedov repeatedly for fifteen minutes.

The pick: Tibau

Bantamweight Bout: Ivan Menjivar (9) v. Mike Easton (14)

What you need to know: With only one loss on his record and having fought two exciting fights in the UFC so far, Easton is emerging as a dark horse contender in the bantamweight division. Unfortunately, he’s training partners with Dominick Cruz and has taken the expected oath to never battle his buddy. Menjivar has been on the MMA scene for over a decade, but dropping to bantamweight has made him look like an entirely new fighter. He’s won three straight, including first round finishes of Charlie Valencia and John Albert. A win here puts both fighters on the short list for the next title shot (Cruz could be out for a while after knee surgery, so the door is now open for Easton).

How it’s going down: Technique vs. power. I like Mike Easton a lot. He’s got swagger. He acts like someone who believes he can beat anyone and that’s the kind of attitude a UFC fighter has to have. Every punch is thrown with savage intent. That said, Menjivar has looked incredible at 135. He’s a testament to the UFC’s choice to implement the featherweight and bantamweight divisions as his talents were often overshadowed by the significant poundage he was usually giving up. His movement is going to cause Easton fits and if it goes to the ground he’ll definitely have the advantage.

The pick: Menjivar

Featherweight Bout: Chad Mendes (2) v. Cody McKenzie (-)

What you need to know: This is an overdue and welcome drop to the featherweight division for McKenzie who always looked a little doughy at lightweight. He actually won his last fight, but made the wise decision to change divisions before he ran into a monster like Tibau or Gray Maynard. The bad news is that they’ve matched him up with Mendes who is the second best featherweight in the world and who just fought against José Aldo for the title. It’s a curious match to make, which makes me wonder if they’re looking to get Mendes back in the W column or if there’s more to this match than meets the eye.

How it’s going down: I’m an unabashed McKenzie fan, so I would love to say this is going to turn out just like his other fights against wrestlers have gone: He charges in, gets taken down, applies a guillotine choke variation and wins by submission. Sounds plausible, right? So why is he an 8-1 underdog? Mendes has outstanding top control and has rarely been close to being submitted. His last win was against Rani Yahya, owner of 14 submission victories and he won that fight handily. Add in the fact that the guillotine choke is also the specialty of Mendes’ camp, Team Alpha Male, and there’s no way anyone in their right minds would pick McKenzie.

The pick: McKenzie

Welterweight Bout: Dong-hyun Kim (13) v. Demian Maia (-)

What you need to know: Kim was on his way to earning a title shot that nobody was looking forward to when he was mercifully derailed by an unstoppable Carlos Condit. He bounced back with a solid win against Sean Pierson and now faces a former middleweight title challenger in Maia. Maia, after an ugly performance against Chris Weidman, is looking to revitalize his career in the welterweight division.

How it’s going down: I’m concerned for Maia. He looked uncharacteristically exhausted against Weidman and I’m not sure how dropping another fifteen pounds is going to help him. He’s a private fellow, so I’m going to assume that he has undergone all kinds of fitness and dietary changes in preparation for the weight cut and has chosen not to share that information. Kim’s strength usually allows him to manhandle most of his opponents at welterweight, but he definitely won’t want to grapple with Maia. I predict that Maia will be able to do just enough on the feet to get into a position where he can take the fight to the mat. After that, it’s over for Kim.

The pick: Maia

Middlweight Bout: Cung Le (28) v. Patrick Côté (-)

What you need to know: Something about Côté has always rubbed me the wrong way. He’s a solid striker with good pop and an excellent chin. He even seems like a nice enough dude. I just don’t like him. His run to the title was infuriatingly dull as was the ensuing fight with Anderson Silva, which ended with him suffering a bizarre knee injury. Cung Le, on the other hand, won me over with a wicked brawl against Wanderlei Silva in which he withstood a lot more punishment than I thought he could handle. He’s getting up there in age and his chance at tasting UFC victory is getting slimmer by the day.

How it’s going down: I’d like nothing more than to see Côté get his head kicked in, but I don’t see that happening. He is smart enough to avoid Le’s early onslaught and it’s only a matter of time before the Sanshou practitioner starts to run out of steam. Look for Côté to capitalize and punch his ticket back to the big show.

The pick: Côté

Light Heavyweight Bout: Forrest Griffin (8) v. Tito Ortiz (19)

What you need to know: Lost in the main event hype is the culmination of this less-than-epic trilogy. The stakes never felt that high between these two so it’s understandable that Griffin-Ortiz doesn’t carry the same cache as Liddell-Couture, St-Pierre-Hughes or even Edgar-Maynard. Neither fight was for a title nor did either fight occur when both men were ranked in the top 10. There’s also no real storyline, other than the other two fights being competitive (both ended in split decisions) and the fighters openly discussing retirement. Not exactly the stuff of legends. Still, it would be nice to see a definitive finish between these two. Griffin and Ortiz are pioneers of MMA in North America and they deserve this co-main event. They’ve earned it and I’m sure when the dust has settled, they’ll have vindicated the matchmakers.

How it’s going down: Ortiz’ body seems to be breaking down with every fight. Before his last two TKO losses, he’d only lost in that fashion twice before in his fifteen (!) years of fighting high level competition. He simply cannot take a body shot anymore. Griffin, despite a disappointing performance in his rematch with Shogun, still looks to have a little left in the tank. He’s pummeled Ortiz in the stand-up in every encounter they’ve had and Ortiz doesn’t have the explosive takedowns that he used to. If Griffin starts to work the body, this one is over.

The pick: Griffin

Middleweight Championship Bout: Anderson Silva (c) v. Chael Sonnen (2)

What you need to know: Seriously, what do you need to know? Silva is the reigning champ having gone undefeated in fourteen UFC contests, including nine consecutive title defences. Sonnen is the last man to even come close to defeating him. In their first meeting, Sonnen out-struck, out-wrestled and flat out whupped the champion before getting caught by a last minute triangle choke. Sonnen politely asked the champion for a rematch (throwing in some kind words for Silva’s family and the people of Brazil) and Silva happily granted it.

How it’s going down: Chael is toast. Add me to the Silva supporters who are willing to believe that a rib injury greatly affected their last fight. I also think that Silva didn’t take Sonnen seriously, which was a dumb mistake. Still, Silva didn’t look like himself. Nobody can argue that. He’d had trouble with wrestlers before (Travis Lutter and Dan Henderson), but Sonnen was also getting the better of him in the striking department and the only reasonable explanation is that Silva was off that night. Sonnen had never shown elite stand-up against anyone and if you think he’s suddenly going to outbox the best striker in MMA, well…there’s really no helping you, is there?

In the first fight, Sonnen put on a brilliant, brutal performance. He absolutely kicked Silva’s ass for over twenty minutes and what made it more extraordinary was that he did exactly what he’d been saying he was going to do for months. Sonnen famously proclaimed himself to be a “hammer” and he certainly looked the part as he pounded Silva into the mat. Styles make fights and Sonnen’s resilient chin and relentless attitude make him the perfect foil for The Spider. I fully expect him to start the fight on fire, constantly pressuring Silva, denying him any opportunity to get into one of his trademark rhythms.

It won’t matter. Silva is mad and unlike a lot of athletes, he only gets better when he’s angry. I can think of two other instances where he was openly disdainful of his foes: Maia and Belfort. He made an ass of himself against Maia, but that was only because he was so clearly dominating the fight that he felt like it was okay to fool around as the fight wound down. It wasn’t, but the embarrassment of Maia (and the UFC to some degree) was the first episode where we saw what happens when you make Silva angry. He also had a personal beef with Belfort and that ended with Belfort taking the top spot in Silva’s personal highlight reel. You just don’t piss this guy off.

There have been some murmurs of a possible knee injury that Silva’s trying to hide and if that’s the case, I fully expect Sonnen to capitalize and take that UFC title. Again, that’s not taking anything away from Sonnen. Everybody goes into the octagon with some kind of lingering injury. It’s the nature of the game. If Sonnen wins, he’s the better man. Period. However, we can’t forget that Sonnen is still the one with something to prove. As much as he boasts about being the true champion and all that, he lost that first fight. It doesn’t matter how long he was winning for because he didn’t win. There are plenty of folks out there who are betting that this fight will look a lot like the first. I agree, especially the part where Silva’s hand gets raised at the end.

The pick: Silva