Heel vs. Heel – UFC 117 Predictions

I was about to lead off this preview by calling UFC 117’s main event between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and challenger Chael Sonnen “one of the most anticipated fights of the year,” but that cliché is becoming unusable when it comes to the UFC. Not every fight his been an absolute blockbuster, but they’re on such a tear that sandwiching a huge middleweight defense between the Lesnar/Carwin heavyweight clash last month and the BJ Penn/Frankie Edgar rematch in three weeks seems like par for the course.

The truth is, you can’t even call Sonnen vs. Silva the biggest middleweight fight of the year when Vitor Belfort is waiting in the wings to face the winner. This is neither the most competent threat to Silva’s title nor his last challenge before cleaning out the division. But it FEELS like a bigger fight than it is for two reasons:

  1. It’s the first cage appearance by Anderson Silva since the Abu Dhabi fight against Demian Maia that earned him heat from fans, media and officials alike.
  2. Chael Sonnen has spent the past four months building himself up as a conquering hero and antagonizing Silva to every microphone put in front of his face.

No matter the result, Sonnen deserves a bonus for his marketing efforts (and probably a ‘thank you” from Silva, whose only drawing power – his exciting, highlight-reel performances – slowly deteriorated by a series of ho-hum showings against virtual unknown challengers (Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Maia). But for all the talk, a victory by Sonnen – a 10-loss fighter on a sudden hot streak – would pass the first Penn/Edgar matchup as THE upset of 2010 and a genuine Rocky story.

Speaking of Rocky stories, I’m trying to cue up “Gonna Fly Now” myself and rebound from last month’s 5-4 defeat to Bruce in UFC 116 picks. There’s four more big fights on UFC 117’s card, so that’s five more chances for me to even the all-time series up…or make like Anderson’s last three middleweight challengers and wilt in the shadow of greatness.

Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen

MATT: Chael Sonnen has been wildly entertaining in the lead-up to this fight and it would be great to see him back up his talk and take the fight to Silva, if for no other reason than to light a fire under the champ. Unfortunately, I think the hype for this matchup of classic heels (the silent foreigner vs. the loudmouth) is going to outweigh the performance.

As an aggressive wrestler who hasn’t been knocked out, Sonnen offers a unique challenge. However, Silva has a noted history of dictating where his fights take place, whereas Sonnen has only been able to control the action when he’s up against like-minded wrestle-first guys (Nate Marquardt, Yushin Okami).

The challenger also has the benefit of Dan Henderson, the last man to win a round against The Spider, in his corner. But is Sonnen today as good of a wrestler (or a fighter) as Henderson was in 2008? I doubt it. Instead, look to see more of Anderson dancing and showing off (preferring to embarass Sonnen his own way instead of being provoked by the insults), baiting Sonnen in and finishing on his terms.

WINNER: Silva by TKO (strikes) in the 1st.

BRUCE: I don’t think this one is even going to be close. Dana White was openly unhappy with Silva’s title defense at UFC 112. I look for Silva to make sure everyone knows he’s still the king of the UFC Middleweight Division and do so in spectacular fashion. Sonnen talks a good fight, but I just don’t see him having the skills to stop the Spider’s reign.

WINNER: SILVA via TKO in round 1

Thiago Alves vs. Jon Fitch

MATT: Since 2003, Jon Fitch has lost just once – to Georges St. Pierre (a rare case of a unanimous decision being considered a “fight of the year” candidate). Since 2006, Alves has lost just twice – once to St. Pierre and once to Fitch. This one probably won’t be a rehash of Fitch’s TKO win, but I don’t see how he doesn’t make it 2-for-2. Since that fight, Fitch has faced tougher competition and developed as a fighter (albeit a slightly boring one, since his last five wins were all decisions). Alves is more exciting, but has he made comparable strides to Fitch in the past four years? A year ago, St. Pierre exposed Alves’ lack of ground skills by wrestling him to the ground and controlling him for all five rounds. That is Fitch’s M.O. and I find it hard to believe that Alves has had time to patch that hole in his game over the past 13 months after his repeated medical issues.

WINNER: Fitch by unanimous decision.

BRUCE: With a welterweight title shot on the line, these two finally get their rematch to the octagon. This fight has been rescheduled twice, once due to Alves’ brain deformity. I think this one has “fight of the night” written all over it. Fitch is ready to take the next step. All that’s standing between him and that step is Alves. Oh, and Georges St. Pierre. Alves is returning just five months removed from brain surgery. Though I was wrong about Lesnar’s health last month, mono is one thing. Brain surgery is a whole other. It just concerns me. Its the deciding factor for me.

WINNER: FITCH by Split Decision

Rafael dos Anjos vs. Clay Guida

MATT: This could be a show-stealer if both men perform up to task. Dos Anjos is probably best known for his KO of Jeremy Stephens, but as of late he’s pulled two decisions and a submission to go on a 3-0 streak. I’m fond of Guida but we’re starting to find out that his place in the lightweight division is just below the top shelf. He’s a grinder and has shown the ability to control more talented or athletic fighters through straight work ethic, but he’s also shown a weakness in his submissions defense, so this one could go either way.

WINNER: Guida by split decision.

BRUCE: Chris Leben anyone? Guida is that same kind of journeyman fighter. He’s capable and fun to watch. I have to admit to never having seen Dos Anjos in action. So, with that said, I’m going to pick the guy I know.

WINNER: GUIDA by submission in round 2

Ricardo Almeida vs. Matt Hughes

MATT: These days, Hughes only seems to take fights with guys whose brighter days are behind them. At 33, Almeida could still have some strong years ahead of him, but since his return after a three-year hiatus, he hasn’t seemed quite so dangerous. Hughes made a hall-of-fame career on his wrestling credentials and shouldn’t have a problem neutralizing Almeida’s jiu jitsu.

WINNER: Hughes by unanimous decision.

BRUCE: I’ve been watching a lot of old UFC shows on DVD. They run from the early 50s to the mid 70s. Hughes features prominently on those cards. He’s one of my favorite fighters to watch. Though he’s on the backside of his career, I think he’s got one more big performance in him. I think that will be this one. Taking on another member of the Gracie retinue, Hughes should have the experience and skills to put this one away.

WINNER: HUGHES by unanimous decision

Junior Dos Santos vs. Roy Nelson

MATT: Dana White continued the trend of booking heavyweight title matches two at a time and said the winner of this fight gets a shot at either Brock Lesnar or Cain Velasquez, presumably in 2011. A lot of people seem to think that Dos Santos could pose a threat to the championship, but I don’t buy it. BJJ brown belt or no, Dos Santos is a striker, and every marquee win he’s had (Werdum, Gonzaga, Cro Cop) came with little or no ground test. Big Country has shown a knack for testing one-dimensional strikers on the ground. Plus, who DOESN’T want to see Nelson vs. Lesnar with an XXXXL belt on the line?

WINNER: Nelson by submission in the 1st round.

BRUCE: Big Country is the guy Dana White doesn’t want in the UFC. I believe he tried to embarrass him on the Ultimate Fighter by pairing him off with Kimbo Slice in the first round. It backfired with Nelson destroying Slice in his own way. Nelson went on to win The Ultimate Fighter and a UFC contract. Then Nelson knocked Stefan Struve out in the first round of his official UFC debut. Now Nelson finds himself in a fight where the winner is to be named the number 1 contender to Brock Lesnar’s Heavyweight Title.

Come on! Who doesn’t want to see Roy Nelson fight Brock Lesnar?

Oh, that’s right, Dana White.

Nelson is a reminder of the “human cockfighting” early days of MMA. He’s not sculpted. He’s not polished. What he is is effective.

Dos Santos is an accomplished fighter. A win wouldn’t be a huge shock His record speaks for itself.

Still, I’m going with Nelson.

WINNER: NELSON via TKO in second round.

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