The end of the year cards are here for the sport of mixed martial arts, and nearly all of them look to deliver fantastic action on paper. The UFC’s Nemesis card, however, is the clear cut winner as far as providing the most anticipation for many fans. On Saturday night from Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, we’ll find out who really is better… Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva or Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. If that isn’t enough for you to wag your tail next to your television, the rubber match between Georges “Rush” St. Pierre and Matt Hughes will also be featured. The winner will take on Matt Serra for the Welterweight title. Lastly, Rameau Sokoudjou will make his UFC debut against the elusive and frustrating karate tactics of Ryoto “Lyoto” Machida. Let’s take a look at this historic fight card.
Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva vs. Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell
The historic matchup of Silva and Liddell has been years in the making. Back when PRIDE was at the top of the food chain, both sides were already talking up a potential matchup of these two explosive strikers during PRIDE Final Conflict 2003. Liddell was stopped by the eventual UFC champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson after his preliminary round win against Alistair Overeem. That was the closest he had ever been to fighting Wanderlei Silva.
Now, Silva has made the journey to the UFC, and he is in nearly the same position as Liddell. Both fighters are coming off two losses that have stopped their progression as top light heavyweights in the world. Liddell was knocked out within the first flurry on his fight with Quinton Jackson at UFC 71 and lost a close split decision to Keith Jardine at UFC 76. Silva, on the other hand, hasn’t been as active lately. He was knocked out by a fierce left hand from Dan Henderson in February of this year to lose his title, and was devastated by Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic at PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute in September of last year.
With that all said, this fight still produces anticipation of being a great war between two very explosive fighters. Both men are coming off two losses, and both men will have to contemplate continuing their careers if they end up losing this battle. It should be a fight that will produce a highlight reel knockout, and there is no doubt that this fight will end by a stoppage of some sort.
Prediction: Wanderlei Silva via second round KO
So many fans and other columnists have expressed the styles matchup as being in favor of Chuck Liddell, but there is other factors that should be considered. Wanderlei Silva is one of the strongest Light Heavyweight strikers in the business. He’s overly aggressive and that has, at times, hurt him, but it has also been the pistons that run his engine. His power is unmatched, but he has had problems looping his punches in many of his fights. Look for his training at Xtreme Couture to remedy some of those problems.
I’m still going to take Wanderlei Silva for two reasons. First, Chuck may be a terrific counter puncher, but Silva does seem to capitalize on mistakes. His clinch is very strong, and it could be surprising if he happens to push Liddell much like Rampage did to him in PRIDE. Secondly, Silva’s training looks to be solid, whereas Chuck still seems to train specifically in a one-dimensional manner. Striking is his bread and butter while grappling is his escape tactic. Silva has more tools combined with his striking, but whether or not he uses those other tactics is the question. I’m going out on a limb and picking Silva.
Georges “Rush” St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes
After Matt Serra injured his back during his training for his matchup with Matt Hughes at UFC 79, St. Pierre swooped in to make this card even more exciting. It also completes the wishes of many fans to see the rubber match happen between the two fighters that was predicted by many to probably be happening in 2008. Instead, we’ll get to see it on Saturday night, and it should be fairly exciting.
Interestingly enough, Matt Hughes only has one loss in his last 8 fights. That one loss being to the man that will stand across from him on Saturday. Hughes dominated the competition in nearly all of his fights leading up to his UFC 65 showdown with St. Pierre. He defeated big names like BJ Penn, Joe Riggs, Frank Trigg, and St. Pierre at UFC 50. Will he be able to pull out another win over St. Pierre after being demolished by Pierre’s dynamic skillset at UFC 65?
To answer that, we must look at Hughes’s style. One major problem that St. Pierre doesn’t have that Hughes does have is that Hughes doesn’t have a large skillset to work with. His combination of wrestling and strength are a mainstay in his skillset. Hughes loves to throw opponents to the floor and work strikes to set up either submission attempts on an opponent’s appendages or work the chokes. He does, however, end many of his fights by the strikes alone since he is one of the more powerful welterweights in the division.
Can St. Pierre avoid those tactics like he has in the past? With St. Pierre’s vast skillset of dynamic striking, great range, surprising wrestling and jiu-jitsu ability, and overall well-roundedness, it will be a tough task for Hughes. It makes it even harder to pick Hughes after St. Pierre defeated Josh Koscheck at UFC 74 by out wrestling him for nearly the entire fight.
Prediction: Georges St. Pierre by TKO, 3rd round
St. Pierre has too many skills in his bag for Hughes to handle. We saw in the last fight that St. Pierre ran circles around Hughes and dominated him by using his range to work his dynamic striking abilities. His impressive performance against Koscheck only solidified the idea that St. Pierre’s wrestling is on par with nearly all of the UFC’s elite wrestlers. Add those abilities that counter Hughes along with the abilities that Hughes may not even be thinking about, and we could see an end to this epic saga of two great Welterweights with St. Pierre reigning supreme.
Ryoto “Lyoto” Machida vs. Rameau Sokoudjou
This is probably the most interesting fight on the card in terms of conflicting styles. In reality, almost anyone’s style conflicts with Machida’s elusive tactics and that is exactly why he is a very tough fight for anybody. It also makes it the most interesting styles matchup because Machida is defensive until a mistake is made or he causes damage that leads to an opponent unraveling while Sokoudjou is mostly offensive, but has aspects that make him a fantastic counter puncher as well. Does Sokoudjou have what it takes to defeat the elusive Machida?
For the most part, there isn’t a lot of footage that we can make a broad generalization as to how Sokoudjou will perform. In most of his fights, he either uses massive leg power in his kicks to cause his opponents to become unbalanced to set up striking, or he’s looking to do so and ends up knocking out his opponent by countering an attack. He defeated “Little Nog” by countering the initial rush with a stiff left hand and crushed Arona with leg kicks that caused him to shoot for the takedown, only to be pummeled by hard hammerfists that set up a massive uppercut. In his only loss, Sokoudjou wasn’t heavily out of style, but lost simply to a battle of flailing striking that he ended up getting caught in. His leg kicks seem to nullify that potential. There is only one problem with these tactics… Machida doesn’t come at you.
Machida’s style is one of the most underrated fighting tactics in mixed martial arts. Many fans see it as boring and unexciting while many others see it as a beautiful mixture of genius and precision. Machida doesn’t attack you, he makes you attack him even if it creates the most boring round of mixed martial arts anyone has ever seen. This often frustrates opponents into creating bad attacking positions that put them in danger. Machida is elusive, very fleet-footed, and actually has some very good karate striking techniques that inflict damage, but do not seem to produce knockouts. Don’t be fooled though. Machida has been known to put opponent to the mat with precision striking in his hands.
Prediction: Ryoto “Lyoto” Machida via unanimous decision
I’ve been a fan of Machida for quite some time. Many of the fans who simply want to see two guys bash each other’s brains out don’t appreciate the tactical and precision gameplan that Machida imposes on his opponents. He’s smart and uses the logic that taking no damage is much better than putting yourself in immense danger of taking damage.
His main skill is Karate. He smartly counters attacks with good kicks and punches, and seems to tire opponents as the fight goes on by remaining elusive throughout the fight. He may lose the first round due to inactivity at times, but in a strange way, the viewer realizes toward the end of the fight that Machida is crushing his opponent while he, himself, remains untouched. Sokoudjou has a great chance to win, but I’m sticking to my guns and picking Machida.
Melvin Guillard vs. Rich Clementi
Bad blood between these two should result in a great matchup at UFC 79 between Clementi and Guillard. Stylistically, both fighters also seem to counter each other’s tactics, but there are some aspects to Guillard’s game that standout in both advantages and disadvantages.
First, Guillard’s style is as explosive as you can get at 155. He’s very quick on his feet, and his fists are lightning that usually follows with a thunderous knockout. He has some of the quickest hands in the division, and he was once said to be on his way to the top because of them.
There is a weakness, however, in Guillard’s game. His submission defense has been lacking. He lost 5 out of his 6 losses by submission, and Joe Stevenson and Josh Neer both capitalized on that weakness. Can Clementi come out and play the chess game with Guillard’s power? That’s the big question.
Prediction: Melvin Guillard via second round KO
I like Guillard in this fight for a few reasons. His power is unmatched at 155. He has unbelievably quick hands and the bounce in his step creates an elusiveness that is hard to keep up with. He can move in and out of combat quickly because of his fleet-footedness. Also look for Clementi to be drained possibly since he has had problems cutting to 155 in the past.
There is also the factor that both of these Louisiana natives are battling it out as former training partners who have a lot of bad blood between them. This creates an explosive environment leading up to this fight. I think Guillard has the added incentive of showing the fans that he’s done with the drugs that he tested positive for as well. He should be motivated, and seems to have a good training team as well surrounding him.
Soa Palelei vs. Eddie Sanchez
Prediction: Soa Palelei via first round TKO
Palelei is one of the better fighters out of Australia to hit the UFC, one of only three fighters to make it to the promotion from Australia. He is a very large heavyweight, tipping the scales at around 265 and exhibits some fantastic knockout power. He mainly overwhelms opponents with flurries of striking, but usually sets up the takedown from the striking stance.
After Sanchez’s performances against sub par talent and Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic, I’m not convinced he has the skill to beat Palelei. Sanchez has decent takedown defense, but even fighters like Neto were able to put him to the ground. Problem is, Neto didn’t have the power or weight that Palelei will bring. Sanchez’s striking and defense in the standup was terrible against “CroCop” and is normally below average in many of his fights. Palelei will most likely be able to catch him.
James Irvin vs. Luis Arthur Cane
Prediction: James Irvin via first round TKO
Another matchup of two powerful strikers for the Light Heavyweight division. Irvin is coming off a bad knee injury that he suffered at UFC 71 whereas Cane is an up-and-coming Brazilian knockout artist with vicious striking and powerful Muay Thai knees. Irvin’s health is in question with his knee, but Cane has fought nothing but low level competition that is reminiscent of the type of competition that Reinhardt had faced throughout his career. I can’t pick Cane based on the fact that many of his fights were against MMA newcomers. Look for Irvin’s experience to win this bout.
Manny Gamburyan vs. Nate Mohr
Prediction: Manny Gamburyan via second round submission
Manny is coming off his Ultimate Fighter Finale loss to Nate Diaz due to a shoulder injury. As disappointing as that was for the Armenian fighter, he is now on the road back to redeem that loss and make an impact at 155. Gamburyan’s style is very frustrating due to the power he has in the ground and pound position. He has excellent ground abilities and his small frame combined with his upper body strength allow him to be a force inside the guard as well. Nate Mohr hasn’t been as impressive as he could be, and Gamburyan will be no easy bout for Mohr. Mohr’s susceptibility to the submission leads me to believe Gamburyan can win this one.
Dean Lister vs. Jordan Radev
Prediction: Dean Lister via second round submission
Lister is a world-class practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, winning the 2003 ADCC Absolute Division, but he lacks excellent finishing ability against tougher opponents. His standup is weak where Radev has some better standup abilities and a good takedown defense. Look for Radev to keep it standing while Lister tries to takedown Radev and get him into the ground war. I can’t see Radev knocking out Lister, and Lister should be able to get Radev to the ground and some point during the fight and put the clamp on him.
Roan Carneiro vs. Tony Desouza
Prediction: Roan Carneiro via unanimous decision
Both fighters are grappling standouts, but I’ll go with Carneiro purely based on the fact that he has a bit better striking than Desouza and is more powerful. Desouza is an excellent grappler, but he’s always been susceptible to the standup knockout. I don’t see Carneiro actually ending this fight with a knockout or TKO, but he may be able to do enough in the standup to produce a decision win.
Mark Bocek vs. Doug Evans
Prediction: Mark Bocek via second round submission
I like Bocek in this fight for a couple of reasons. First, he’s been training with Team Quest out of Temecula, California where Dan Henderson trains at along with a lot of other great fighters. His standup should improve on his very good jiu-jitsu skills on the ground. Secondly, Bocek’s grappling should be far more advanced than Evans submission game. Although Evans has a significant wrestling background, look for Bocek to counter that with excellent jiu-jitsu. Many people are counting on Evans to have better standup, but with Bocek training with Team Quest, he may surprise some people.