LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio Rua
Very few people are giving Mauricio “Shogun” Rua even the slimmest of chances to win this bout. And perhaps it’s justified. Rua certainly has not exhibited the form that led him to be almost universally considered the top light heavyweight in the world during his run in Japan’s PRIDE organization, not even during victories over Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell.
But the overlooking of Rua may not even be due to Rua’s skills as much as a general recognition of how great Lyoto Machida is. Hardcore fans of the sport have known about Machida’s prodigious skillset for years, but after his continued destruction of top-ranked fighters in the stacked light heavyweight division, the rest of the world has caught on as well. The seminal moment of Machida’s career came at UFC 98 in May, where he made the formerly undefeated Rashad Evans look like a complete amateur in a one-sided beating that culminated in a knockout and one of the greatest post-fight promos in UFC history that painted Machida as a modern-day version of the Karate Kid.
Machida is nearly impossible to hit and is one of the most accurate strikers in MMA history, trailing only good friend Anderson Silva in the accuracy department. Rua, on the other hand, thrives on wild strikes that look awesome and land at a much lower percentage rate. The bout seems tailor-made for Machida to show off his Matrix-like avoidance skills.
Oddsmakers have Machida as a -550 favorite at the time of publication. And while that makes Rua very interesting for those of you who like to put money on the line during fights, it doesn’t change the fact that Rua does, in fact, have very little chance of pulling out a victory. If the Shogun from PRIDE shows up, he could make things a little interesting and challenging for the champ. But we’ve been waiting for the Shogun from PRIDE to show up ever since his UFC debut, and there’s no sign it’s ever going to happen.
PREDICTION: Lyoto Machida by TKO
Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Rothwell
Velasquez is one of the hottest prospects in the heavyweight division, a wrestling wunderkind that seemingly has all the tools to rise to the top and challenge for the heavyweight championship. He probably edges Rothwell in just about every facet of the game, save for one crucial category: the glaring holes in his stand-up game that were exposed by Cheick Kongo in his last outing in the Octagon.
I believe Rothwell will be able to capitalize on those holes. I’m not saying he hits harder than Kongo, but he certainly has enough power to put Velasquez to sleep. And while Velasquez was able to rely on his wrestling talent to see him through a win over Kongo, he won’t be able to do the same thing against the much bigger Rothwell. Or maybe he can. Either way, it’s going to be a much more difficult task for Velasquez in this fight, which is why we could very well see an upset in this bout.
PREDICTION: Ben Rothwell by decision
Gleison Tibau vs. Josh Neer
The most interesting aspect of this fight is that Neer is allowed to fight at all. “Troubled” doesn’t begin to describe Neer, who was arrested earlier this year and charged with a DWI, hit-and-run, eluding police and other traffic violations.
This bout will consist of Neer trying to stay on his feet and Tibau trying to take the action to the ground, where he’s a superb submission expert. I don’t know if Neer’s legal troubles will weigh on him at all in the cage, but I see Tibau locking up a submission victory here.
PREDICTION: Gleison Tibau by submission
Joe Stevenson vs. Spencer Fisher
Here’s your early candidate for Fight of the Night. Stevenson is a former challenger for the lightweight championship, an extremely bloody bout that saw BJ Penn choke Stevenson out in the second round. After the loss, Stevenson went into a tailspin, losing to Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez and coming dangerously close to getting cut by the UFC. But Stevenson rebounded with a victory over Nate Diaz in June, a victory that secured his job with the company and exhibited a reinvigorated fighter.
Spencer Fisher says that if he beats Stevenson, he wants a title shot. He won’t get it, but it will certainly go a long way towards putting him in the upper echelon of contenders for 2010. He’s seen victory in three straight bouts, most recently over veteran Caol Uno over the summer.
Fisher is an exciting fighter, and this will be an exciting bout. But I believe Stevenson to be too well-rounded for Fisher to overcome, and this will probably go the distance with Stevenson seeing a decision win.
PREDICTION: Joe Stevenson by decision
Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida
No matter what happens in this bout, Yoshida will live in UFC highlight-reel infamy for his spectacular (and terrifying) knockout at the hands of Josh Koscheck last year. Johnson is a fighter on the rise, one of many very interesting prospects in the surging welterweight division. He’s finished all his his victories in the UFC by TKO or KO, which leads me to question if this bout isn’t just a setup for Johnson to score another vicious finish. It probably is.
PREDICTION: Anthony Johnson by TKO, round one