At first glance the UFC 102: Couture vs. Noguiera card looks rather unspectacular, disappointing is a word I would use. In the main event, we have two fighters in the twilight of their careers looking to prove that they still have it against a similar past-his-prime fighter.
Randy Couture (16-9) will take on the legend Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera (31-5-1) in the consolation bracket of the heavyweight tournament that began almost a year ago at UFC 91 with Couture facing Brock Lesnar.
As far as implications to the division, this fight is about as interesting as watching a tournament on the Nationwide Tour. Other than seeing a tactical fight between a great wrestler and the ultimate gameplanner in Couture against the world class jiu-jitsu of Noguiera, the main event offers little in the way of excitement.
But if you look further, beyond the main event you see four fights that are much more intriguing. The first of which is what appears to be a No. 1 contender match-up in the middleweight division between Nate Marquadt (31-8-2) and Demian Maia (11-0).
Both fighters are on impressive winning streaks. Obviously Maia has never lost, winning against former WEC middleweight champ Chael Sonnen and contenders Nate Quarry and Jason MacDonald most recently. Meanwhile, since losing a split decision to Thales Leites at UFC 85, Marquadt has gone on to impressive wins over Martin Kampmann and Wilson Gouveia via TKO stoppages.
This fight has exciting written all over it.
Then there is the light heavyweight clash between top 10 contenders Keith Jardine (14-6-1) and Thiago Silva (13-1). Both fighters are coming off of tough losses that knocked them back out of the title discussion — to “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida respectively.
The fighter who can bounce back on Saturday night will find himself right back in the mix while the other will have some searching to do after two straight losses to guys now ahead of him.
Two other fights also have my interest piqued. Another light heavyweight clash between two guys that are right on the edge of the top 10: Brandon “The Truth” Vera (10-3) and Krzysztof “The Polish Experiment” Soszynski (19-9-1). Soszynski has been extremely impressive since breaking into the UFC after The Ultimate Fighter season seven while Vera has been inconsistent since making the drop to 205 lbs.
The last fight I’ve got on my radar is a clash between former heavyweight title contender Gabriel Gonzaga (10-4) coming off a loss against Shane Carwin, and UFC newcomer Chris Tuchscherer (17-1). Gonzaga has been said to be in the best shape of his life, with a new determination in the sport since the knockout loss to Carwin.
In a division that has suddenly found some much needed strength at the top and depth in the middle, Gonzaga will need a big win to get himself back into the fray with the heavyweights. It is perhaps this fight, rather than the losers battle between a couple of past-their-primers in the main event, that could have greater implications to the future of the heavyweight division in the UFC.