Appropriately named, “The Ultimate 2008” indeed looks to be the most impressive card (on paper at least) of the entire year. We’ve got two titles at stake, a compelling story line for a former champion now on the comeback trail, as well as some very promising heavyweight and middleweight battles. Let’s get to it.
Light Heavyweight Championship Bout: Forrest Griffin vs. Rashad Evans
Prediction: Evans via split decision.
I’m actually hoping this fight does not play out the way I imagine it will, but I have to go with my head and not my heart when it comes to predictions (especially if there’s money on the line.)
Everyone knows Forrest Griffin loves the scrap, in fact Griffin has said that it takes him a few shots to the noggin to really wake up and get in the fight. By contrast, Rashad Evans might almost be considered an anti-scrapper. Rashad likes to slip the jab, stick a quick combination, and get the hell out before anything dangerous counters his way. Call it brilliant or cowardice, but the man seems to have figured out how to win fights. Evans is significantly smaller than Girffin but miles faster, with much better hand speed, head movement, and that infamous Mike Goldberg “explosiveness.” If pressed, I would have to agree that Evans is the all around superior athlete.
Though Griffin has excellent sprawl n’ brawl in his arsenal, I find it difficult to believe that given five rounds, Evans will be unable to get Forrest down to the canvas- which is where Rashad will likely score plenty of points en route to his decision victory. It won’t be pretty, but I just can’t see this fight ending before the final bell. Evans seems too quick and cautious to get caught with any of Griffin’s strong, orthodox punches and in the land of wrestling, I still believe Rashad to be king.
Forrest has great all around skills and given a less tactical opponent, I could see him scoring a TKO or even another submission victory. But Evans and mastermind Greg Jackson no doubt have a highly detailed course already mapped out on how to dethrone Griffin, and I see such a strategy being carried out to a tee. Furthermore, without taking anything away from Forrest Griffin, I just don’t know that I am entirely sold on his caliber. I do not mean to imply that Griffin has been lucky, but….
Since 2006 Forrest has lost to Tito Ortiz, beaten Stephan Bonnar (again), lost to Keith Jardine and beaten Hector Ramirez. Forrest would then go on to defeat Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in impressive fashion, though I have a few caveats.
“Shogun” Rua was but a mere shadow of his former self in his first bout inside the Octagon. Sloppy, out of shape and unmotivated, Shogun looked to be somewhere else that evening as Griffin outworked and tuned up the former Pride middleweight grand prix champion. Griffin then earned a very close decision over Quinton Jackson, though try as he might could not finish Rampage despite taking away most of Jackson’s movement due to punishing leg kicks. Not to mention Quinton’s poor mental state at the time, but we won’t get into all of that again.
My point is that while Forrest Griffin has shown more than economic skills and tremendous heart since debuting on The Ultimate Fighter nearly four years ago, I still feel like he lacks a definitive strength to keep him at the top of the LHW ladder. Evans via decision.
Interim Heavyweight Title Bout: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Frank Mir
Prediction: Nogueira via Submission, Rd. 4
Frank Mir has said several times that he basically cannot envision a way in which he convincingly beats Minotauro Nogueira- and I’m inclined to agree with him. Despite Mir being a very strong grappler, what are the odds he is able to succeed with a submission attempt where other, better fighters have countlessly failed? Sorry Frank, but if Fedor, Barnett or Fabricio couldn’t sub Nougeira, I don’t see you doing it any time soon.
As for stand up? Give me a break. Frank Mir’s stand up looks about as good as Wesley Snipes’ ground game. Work on it all you want Frank, but Nogueira can at least strike at an above average level…and you cannot.
Mir’s historically shoddy cardio will also likely play a part given that tonight’s play date is scheduled for 25 minutes. I don’t know that Mir will gas out completely, but I do know that fending off the relentless Nogueira will prove even more difficult come those championship rounds.
The only route to victory I conceive for Mir would be if he were able to smother Nogueira from top position for as long as possible. However that strategy might not work out so hot either since Minotauro is so content and masterful at working off his back. Any way, I see Mir getting a little weak and winded and then caught in let’s say…a rear naked choke. In round 4. That work for ya?
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva
Prediction: Silva via TKO, Rd. 3.
When I break it down in my head without rehashing their first two meetings, I conclude that Quinton Jackson has the edge in this fight all the way. Without a ring, stomps, knees on the ground and an opening 10 minute frame, I dare say that this is Jackson’s fight to lose. Rampage had Wanderlei in a bit of trouble in both of their Pride bouts, but Jackson’s takedowns and clinch game were often nullified from the unforgiving ropes. Jackson also fell victim to soccer kicks and questionable forced stand ups from the always unbiased Pride referees.
Now that Jackson gets to meet Silva inside the octagon, a whole new world opens up…or closes in rather. Jackson can shoot on Silva and thoroughly work for the takedown against the cage without fear of going through the ropes. Rampage can also defend himself on the ground without worrying about eating knees and kicks to the face. And since this is a non-title UFC bout, Silva will not get the opportunity to rain down as much continued damage as he had during the opening 10 minute round in Pride. On top of all that, Quinton Jackson is simply a much more complete fighter now than he was the last time he met Silva in 2004.
Yet it is the unanswered questions which provoke my torn pick for Wanderlei Silva. Just how mentally prepared is Rampage for this bout? And how well has Jackson’s exotic new training camp been going as far as testing and fine tuning his game? Is he over the whole three-day-fast-then-snap-and-almost-kill-people-in-a-highly-publicized-hit- and-run-TMZ mess? Is he over his breakup with Juanito Ibarra? Will fighting on the comeback trail keep Jackson motivated or pressure him into making a mistake?
Rampage has stated before that he refuses to watch his second fight with Silva for a variety of reasons, the most obvious, however, being fear. As opposed to dissecting his performance for future reference, Jackson is likely afraid that viewing his second severe Silva beating would only further screw with his head. So is Quinton Jackson ready to face his fear head on? Or will the sight of the Axe Murderer conjure up all those suppressed memories and break Rampage down from the inside out? Because there is just no way of knowing until Saturday, I have to go with Silva via TKO, round 3.
Cheick Kongo vs. Mustapha Al Turk
Prediction:Kongo via KO, Rd. 2.
Does anyone else immediately think of the lion king character Mufasa upon hearing the name Mustapha? Sorry, I just had to throw it out there. Anyhow, Mustapha Al Turk comes to the UFC after putting in long hours across the pond in Cage Rage where he was the promotion’s heavyweight champ. He’s also apparently a half decent grappler according to his stats, which boast a 2005 title from the European ADCC competition.
Al Turk seems like a decent enough prospect but I do not believe he is ready for the more seasoned, heavy handed behemoth that is Cheick Kongo. Perhaps Mustapha can get Kongo to the ground but I will go out on a short limb and say that he can’t. I will go a little bit further on that limb and assume that Turk will also not be able to stand toe-to-toe with Kongo without getting tagged like a sorority girl in a facebook photo. I’ll say Turk gets caught with something ugly some time in the second round. Kongo via KO.
C.B. Dollaway vs. Mike Massenzio
Prediction: Dollaway via split decision
How this bout made it onto the main card over Lister vs. Okami I can’t really understand. Ah well. Dollaway is a strong wrestler with a well groomed submission game. Mike Massenzio has an eerily similar background and a little more experience than Dollaway, with neither differing very much in terms of physique. Bit of a tough call here, as the contest could easily turn into a sluggish grappling match with neither fighter ever moving in for the kill. Still, even if things go the boring lay n’ pray route, I pick Dollaway to pick up more points and score the decision. Side note: I think I do know why this match is on the main card: The possibility of yet another Peruvian necktie sighting. Don’t act like you’re not thinking about it.
Dean Lister vs. Yushin Okami
Prediction: Okami via decision
I’ve always had a pretty favorable opinion of Dean Lister and honestly, would probably rather see him enjoy further success in the UFC over Yushin Okami. Regardless, I am quick to admit that Okami is the superior fighter. Albeit not the most exciting, Okami has undeniable skill in all of the vital areas: Boxing, wrestling, submission/sub defense, sprawl, the man can really hang wherever the opposition wishes to take him.
Lister will undoubtedly be looking for the takedown/submission, but even if he is able to complete part A, I doubt he will be able to execute part B. Lister could pull out a decision if he manages to smother the hell out of Okami for 15 minutes, but I see that scenario playing out more so in favor of the competition. The bottom line is that Lister has to get the fight to the ground if he is to have any chance at victory. Unfortunately, Yushin Okami is just too high up in the game to be beaten by a one trick pony. Though in all fairness Lister is very adept at that one trick. Okami via hard fought decision.
Matt Hamill vs. Reese Andy
Prediction: Hamill via TKO, Rd. 2.
I think Reese Andy, another decorated wrestler, can hang with Matt Hamill for at least the first round or so, but ultimately I see Andy getting overwhelmed and put out by a flurry of shots from the mount. Hamill via ground and pound in round 2.