I have to be honest with you, I have been waiting for this card since the main event was announced back in November. UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva has reigned dominant since he broke onto the scene in the UFC in 2006. Simply he has looked nothing short of unstoppable in his rise up the pound-for-pound rankings to the point where many of the top MMA analysts have Silva as the best in the World.
Along comes Dan Henderson — with his Pride Middleweight belt to back him up — to challenge Silva for ultimate supremacy among MMA middleweights. For a long time, even before Silva destroyed Rich Franklin for the second time in October of ’07, people were clamoring for the Silva-Hendo fight (I was one of them) and here it is finally as Hendo agreed to drop down to 185.
In addition to the unbelievable main event, this card is stacked with some great match-ups and some of UFC’s biggest stars including Andrei Arlovski, Jon Fitch, Diego Sanchez and Josh Koshcheck. Also featuring fights of Cheick Kongo vs. Heath Herring, Yushin Okami vs. Evan Tanner and Chris Leben vs. Alessio Sakara.
Some really good match-ups that have me salivating for Saturday night to come so without further adoo, here are my predictions:
Diego Sanchez vs. David Bielkheden (170 lbs)
To be completely honest with you, I know very little about Bielkheden. I do know this though, he’s 12-5 and new to the UFC and fighting Diego Sanchez who is on a mission to get back to the top of the welterweight division where he was before his recent string of losses. Sanchez chose to bulk up at 170 rather than drop down to 155 and should be an improved fighter because of it.
Sanchez by 2nd round submission
Josh Koscheck vs. Dustin Hazelett (170 lbs)
Another welterweight showdown with a big name fighter in Koscheck back in action after his August loss to St.-Pierre. Koscheck is a phenomenal athlete and a phenomenal wrestler while Hazelett is a solid fighter with good stand-up and good ground game with a 12-3 record. However, Hazelett isn’t spectacular in any area and to beat a fighter like Koscheck you have to be excellent in at least one area.
Koscheck by Unanimous Decision
Andrei Arlovski vs. Jake O’Brien (HW)
Now to a fight that has me not only exciting but pretty enraged, I guess you would say. I am extremely eager to see Arlovski back in action as he is one of my top 5 favorite fighters in the UFC. It’s been close to a year since he last fought Fabricio Werdum in London at UFC 70 and pulled out a UD win. Many fans call the fight a boring one and a lackluster performance by Arlovski and certainly are down on his abilities right now. I hope, with this being his contract fight in the UFC (the last fight of his deal), he comes out with a vengeance. AA has something to prove and essentially a price to set for himself on the open market.
In O’Brien, Arlovski’s fighting a very talented wrestler with very good takedown skills. AA is no slouch in the wrestling department though. He has fought some of the very best Heavyweight competition over the years and guys like Tim Sylvia and Vladimir Matshushenko who are very good at taking you down. This experience, plus Arlovski’s top-notch stand-up game and submission ability will be too much for O’Brien to handle. I actually look for an extremely anxious pitbull to come up storming O’Brien and getting a quick finish.
Arlovski, 1st round KO
Jon Fitch vs. Chris Wilson (170 lbs)
Now we get to the televised portion of the card (talk about some great fights with those above on the non-televised, geez) and we have a late fill-in in Wilson (for Akihiro Gono who pulled out with injury) facing Fitch who is on an absolute tear through the UFC’s Welterweight division. At 20-2-1 Fitch has reeled off 14 straight wins and a 7-0 record in the UFC, pretty impressive to say the least.
Wilson is new to the UFC, supposedly has a very solid game but Fitch has his sights set on a title shot and will be supremely focused in this bout.
Fitch by rear-naked choke submission, 1st round
Yushin Okami vs. Evan Tanner (185 lbs)
The return of Evan Tanner will be showcased in this fight after a two-year absence in which he stopped training and dealt with alcoholic issues. Tanner is 36 years old with a 34-6 MMA record while Okami is 26, 22-4 and believed to be the #1 contender in the Middleweight division by many observers.
Okami’s strength and overall skill should be too much for Tanner’s solid stand-up game. Plus, having been out of the sport for over two years and being at the age Tanner is at, should certainly have a detrimental effect in his first appearance back.
Okami, arm bar submission, 2nd round
Chris Leben vs. Alessio Sakara (185 lbs)
Here is another very interesting fight in that you have two very good strikers going toe-to-toe and one in Sakara who not only just fought six weeks ago at UFC 80, but is also cutting to 185, supposedly a permanent move for him. It certainly will be interesting to see what Sakara has strength wise and stamina wise in this bout. In my opinion, he wouldn’t take such a fight without knowing he was capable of handling the quick turnaround.
I really like Sakara’s striking ability and toughness. Leben, on the other hand, is a very unorthodox fighter in the way that he strikes and moves around. Even though Leben is a tough customer, I think Alessio’s strength and power will be too much for “the Crippler” to handle.
Sakara, 2nd round TKO
Cheick Kongo vs. Heath Herring (HW)
Yet another fight I am extremely interested in viewing. Kongo is a heavyweight that has all of the talent and potential in the World with such a great athletic, strong build. Put simply, the dude is a beast. He’s also training partners with Light Heavyweight champion, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, in trainer Jaunito Ibarra’s camp and I’ll be surprised if he hasn’t been training extremely hard on his lone perceived weakness — the ground game.
Herring is a very experienced fighter who has fought the biggest names in the sport including the current interim UFC Heavyweight champion in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira three times. His last fight, with Big Nog in July, was one in which he had Nog almost out but couldn’t close the deal. So he certainly is no slouch, has a solid all-around game that is primarily focused in the stand-up area.
I think this fight stays on the feet, that Kongo utilizes his superior reach and athleticism to manhandle Herring. I also think that we see improved ground work from Kongo as he repeatedly stuffs takedown attempts from Herring as Herring gets frustrated in the later rounds from being beaten so badly standing.
Kongo, 3rd round TKO
on to the MAIN EVENT!!!
Anderson Silva vs. Dan Henderson for Middleweight Championship
This fight is a perfect match-up of style contrasts — a Greco-Roman world champion wrestler with a granite chin and knockout power in his right hand versus a Mauy-Thai Brazilian stand-up master with precision striking and incredible elusiveness. It’s as good of a fight as you can put together on paper and should prove to be just as good in action.
We all know how tough Dan Henderson is. How steel-ironed his jaw is and how he loves to get his opponent in the Greco clinch and on the ground. The problem is Anderson Silva is so long, so elusive and agile that he’s not gonna be easy to get on the ground or to even hit with those monster right hands that Hendo has. Let’s face it, Anderson just toys with his opponents. He’s too smart, too well-versed and talented for his competition.
Silva is the complete package standing. His laser sharp, pin-point striking will be too much for Hendo to handle. Not only that but his ground game is vastly underrated. Henderson will score a take down or two but Anderson will not be kept on the ground for long and in the end Silva’s striking will be too much for Hendo to handle.
Anderson Silva, 3rd round TKO