Mark Bocek (9-3-0) vs. Ben Henderson (12-2-0)
After earning a very quick and very tidy Submission of the Night victory over Dustin Hazelett at UFC 124, Bocek declared himself the best jiu jitsu player in the 155-pound division. While I don’t necessarily dispute this, George Sotiropoulos might, and this isn’t a jits competition — its MMA. And for the sake of argument, if his ground game is so much better than everyone else, how come he couldn’t put Jim Miller away at UFC 111 when he had his back for four minutes in the second round? He had the arm trapped in his body lock and everything…
Anyway, Bocek will get a chance to continue making his case for bigger fights by welcoming former WEC lightweight champ Ben Henderson to the Octagon for the first time. “Smooth” is a perfect opponent for Bocek to prove his mettle against, as there may not be a lightweight out there with more flexibility and a knack for getting out of tight sub attempts than Henderson.
On the opposite side of the coin, Henderson gets an immediate opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and insert himself into the thick of the lightweight division with a win over Bocek. Critics never gave Henderson or any of the WEC lightweights enough credit in the past, and now that they’ve moved to the UFC, they’ve been proving they belong, and Henderson gets his chance.
While he’s relied much more on his wrestling and grappling over the last three or four fights, don’t be surprised to see Henderson feature his striking a little more in this one. Though he’s comfortable on the ground and has the Gumby-like bendiness mentioned earlier, he also has an advantage over Bocek on the feet.
Winner maintains their main card status and gets a higher profile fight next time out; loser tumbles down the ladder into preliminary card purgatory.
Randy Couture (19-10-0) vs. Lyoto Machida (16-2-0)
As if watching one of the sport’s best strategists (Couture) take on one of the most elusive and hard to figure out fighters in the business (Machida) wasn’t enough, we now know this will be Couture’s curtain call, and that makes it an absolute must-see.
There aren’t enough words to do Couture’s career and impact on the UFC justice; he is one of the true legends of this sport, a UFC Hall of Famer and an icon, and he will be missed. But before he rides off into the sunset — or wherever they’re filming The Expendables 2 – he’ll put his three-fight winning streak and diagnostic skills on the line against Machida.
Couture admitted he turned down a couple different opponents before accepting this bout because he likes the challenge of facing the former light heavyweight champion; I too like the idea of him trying to solve the Machida riddle. While Mauricio Rua showed one (or two) ways to defeat “The Dragon,” Couture can’t go with either of those options, so it will be interesting to see where his gameplan takes him in this one.
This one isn’t all about Couture, though, as Machida has a lot at stake here.
He hasn’t looked overly impressive since “The Machida Era” was ushered in at UFC 98, and officially brings a two-fight losing streak into the cage with him. Fair or not, His counter-striking style and penchant for taking backwards steps puts him at an immediate disadvantage with the judges, and it’s something Machida must consciously work on, especially against someone who likes to get inside like Couture.
I don’t think Machida is in danger of being cut should he lose here; after all, he’s less than a year removed from being light heavyweight champion. That being said, his karma has evened out (“beat” Rua the first time, “lost” to Jackson in November) and now he needs to get back to the winning ways that brought him into the spotlight in the first place.
Vladimir Matyushenko (25-5-0) vs. Jason Brilz (18-3-1)
True story: the placement of this fight in the middle of the main card scares the bejesus out of me. I’m all for quality wrestling matches between two underrated competitors, but on a card laced with high energy fights and a laundry list of fighters people want to see, why do you stick “The Janitor” and Jason Brilz smack dab in the thick of things?
This one goes one of two ways; either we end up with a quality grappling display like we saw when Brilz dropped a shaky split decision to Rogerio Nogueira back at UFC 114, or their wrestling chops cancel each other out and we get an awkward kickboxing match that sucks the life out of the venue formerly known as the SkyDome.
Please let it be the first one, please let it be the first one, please let it be the first one…
Jose Aldo (18-1-0) vs. Mark Hominick (20-8-0)
The only saving grace of sticking Matyushenko and Brilz in the three-hole is that these two featherweight firecrackers will come into the cage after them and set the place on fire.
Aldo is arguably the most consistently entertaining and exciting fighter in the sport; he’s riding an 11-fight winning streak and earned seven stoppages in eight WEC fights, including the still awesome eight-second double flying knee to the face of Cub Swanson at WEC 41.
The 145-pound champ has cut through Manny Gamburyan and Mike Brown, and cut down Urijah Faber in his featherweight farewell. He’s universally recognized as one of the top pound-for-pound competitors in the sport, and now gets to show his skills off on the big stage, in front of the second-biggest crowd in MMA history.
Then you’ve got Hominick, a ten-year Canadian vet getting to fight in his home province for the first time, and for a world title no less. His story is the thing of Hollywood movies, but his skills in the cage are just as noteworthy.
As he’s said in the build-up to this fight, Hominick is the best striker Aldo has faced, a long-time Shawn Tompkins student with fast, forceful hands and very good kickboxing. He’s underrated on the ground as well, and while we hear Aldo has a slick ground game too, we haven’t seen it yet, and Hominick has the skills to test him if the fight goes to the floor.
Both guys are non-stop from the start and should deliver some serious entertainment in this one.
Georges St. Pierre (21-2-0) vs. Jake Shields (26-4-1)
I honestly can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this fight; I don’t have the words, and that’s saying something for a yappy guy like me.
Beyond fighting for the belt, both St. Pierre and Shields are fighting for their legacies, though they’re somewhat different.
GSP is accepted as the best welterweight on the planet and one of the best in the sport today, along with being on a short list of contenders to be crowned the greatest of all-time. He’s had so few troubles over the last three years that many people expect to see him breeze through Shields, leaving the welterweight division completely cleaned out in the process.
For Shields, this is his opportunity to prove to everyone that he is the best 170-pound fighter in the sport today, and equally deserving of the accolades being bestowed upon St. Pierre. After all, it’s Shields, not St. Pierre, who brings a 15-fight winning streak that spans six years into the Octagon on Saturday night, a streak that includes a stretch as the Strikeforce middleweight champion with wins over Robbie Lawler and the organization’s current light heavyweight champ Dan Henderson.
There really hasn’t been a fight that better exemplifies the UFC vacuum factor than this one. The above makes the fight something any fight fans should be interested in seeing; the fact that it takes place in front of 55,000 fans on Canadian soil ups the ante and brings it to “you can’t call yourself an MMA fan if you miss this fight” status.
This fight and this entire card are going to be awesome, not to mention historic.
You’ll kick yourself in the ass if you miss it, so don’t miss it.