The UFC hits Dana White’s hometown for the first time Saturday night, boasting a stacked card featuring a poor man’s version of Inoki vs. Ali as an aging boxer steps into the cage to meet an aging cagefighter. The boxing vs. MMA heat on this one (before, during and after) will be unbearable, but don’t get caught up in hyperbole – no fight between two 40-year-old men will have that great an impact on the future of the sport.
If you’re looking for the future, then tune in for the pair of elite lightweight division fights featuring the four best 155ers the UFC has to offer.
Bruce holds a one-fight lead on me through predicting three events (UFC 116, UFC 117 and Strikeforce: Houston), but who’s counting? I AM COUNTING, DAMMIT.
Frankie Edgar vs. B.J. Penn
BRUCE: Frankie Edgar pulled the upset of the year (sorry Chad Griggs) when he beat BJ Penn for the lightweight title at UFC 112. I don’t think Edgar can do it again. Penn is simply to versatile. Too good. BJ Penn will prove that he has to be included in the “best pound for pound fighter in the world conversation” after this one.
WINNER: PENN by submission in 2nd
MATT: Edgar earned the first win. The obnoxious “fluke?” discussion around this fight is discounting the fact that he executed a perfect underdog gameplan to upset a champion who many deemed unstoppable. The trouble with perfect underdog gameplans is that they usually don’t work twice.
This fight will be what the first fight was, and what Penn’s last five or so lightweight fights were: the dynamic Hawaiian phenom trying to finish an underdog with strong grappling credentials and supposedly superior cardio while said underdog seeks to wear him down. Up until April, that trope had the same ending – some time after the first round, Penn finds his opening and lands some big shots that eventually lead to the finish. But now we know that the underdog CAN outlast The Prodigy – Edgar didn’t do a lot of damage in their first meeting, but he stayed active and (more importantly) didn’t get rocked.
The stunning development in the first fight was that Edgar was FASTER than Penn, something previously thought impossible. He ducked, dipped, dived and dodged for five rounds and earned his points with quick, technical striking. BJ slowed down considerably in late rounds, and the widening gap in their pace certainly affected the scorecards. I could see Penn doing his thing and catching The Answer flush, but it will require more luck than skill. I think Edgar has five more rounds in him.
WINNER: Edgar by split decision.
Randy Couture vs. James Toney
BRUCE: This is a trainwreck. If Toney wins he blackens the eye of MMA. If Couture wins, he’s just beaten up an over the hill fighter. When, not if, Couture takes this on to the mat its all over. The Natural wins this one decisively.
WINNER: COUTURE by submission in the 1st
MATT: I think the fact that no one is picking James Toney to win this fight is making some people pick James Toney to win this fight. I want to avoid the term “puncher’s chance” (although I’m keeping it in for the Google hits!) because the one thing we know Toney is good at is probably Couture’s chief weakness. “The Natural” is only 8-7 since 2002 and all of the losses involved him losing the stand-up battle. But the difference in this fight is about preparation: both men are in their 40s, but Couture knows the drill. In the past year, he’s had three fights to Toney’s one (in boxing, obviously). Plus, for all Toney’s bluster and hype, it’s clear that he is not taking MMA seriously – he still thinks he can beat anyone and everyone via knockout and that all he needs to do now is learn to sprawl and hit a tire with a sledgehammer. Dana White and Randy Couture wouldn’t have gone through with this borderline sideshow if they didn’t have supreme confidence that the true MMA fighter would prevail.
WINNER: Couture via TKO in the 2nd.
Demian Maia vs. Mario Miranda
BRUCE: Maia’s last fight was the unpopular decision loss to Anderson Silva. Miranda is coming off a TKO win at UFC 115. Maia is the more seasoned fighter with some impressive victories under his belt. Miranda is still trying to make a name for himself in the UFC. Unfortunately for Miranda, I don’t see that happening in this one. I expect Maia to take the fight to the mat early and wear Miranda out before taking the fight with a submission.
WINNER: MAIA by submission in the 2nd
MATT: It’s not crazy to think Mario Miranda : Demian Maia :: Junior Dos Santos : Fabricio Werdum. But it is awfully optimistic about Miranda’s chances. As a BJJ black belt, he should have the skills to fend of Maia’s submission attempts, but as a more experienced fighter with a need to erase the memory of his title shot debacle against Anderson Silva in April, Maia has more to lose and should use his superior grappling skills to take this fight where he wants it to be.
WINNER: Maia via submission in the 1st.
Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard
BRUCE: The winner of this one is guaranteed a shot at the lighweight title. Florian, the Ben Stiller of MMA, has won 3 of his last 4 fights by submission. During that same stretch, Maynard has been racking up decision victories. I think this could be the best fight on the card. Maynard brings a perfect record to the table. I like his more multi-faceted skill set. I think it will be a brutal fight with the winner deserving the title shot.
WINNER: MAYNARD by split decision
MATT: Maynard has been on the kind of shallow incline that Florian enjoyed two years ago. Having the only win over Frankie Edgar has raised his profile a bit, but otherwise he’s been slowly plugging away and picking up wins over bigger and better guys. The difference between the two is that Florian has a better track record of finishing, whereas Maynard is a decision-junkie after Jon Fitch’s own heart. The killer instinct should give Florian the edge, but Maynard has been getting progressively better (especially with his boxing). I was all set to give this one to Maynard, but two things are holding me up: first, Florian’s got the home field advantage being from Boston. As a Tampa Bay Rays fan, I can’t discount how obnoxious people from Boston can be in a large group. That’s a big hurdle for Gray to clear. The bigger issue is that I think KenFlo offers a) the worst nickname in MMA and b) a big matchup problem. So far, “The Bully” has been able to muscle his opponents around and overwhelm them with a size advantage. That’s not the case here. Florian is two inches taller (with a six-inch reach advantage) and he started his UFC career two weightclasses and thirty pounds heavier. As much as I’d like to see Maynard take the next step, I don’t believe he’s ready for this challenge yet.
WINNER: Florian via submission in the 3rd.
Marcus Davis vs. Nate Diaz
BRUCE: Davis is probably fighting for his UFC life in this one. He has two losses in his last 3 fights. That’s trouble in Zuffaland. That’s a pretty strong motivator, but will it be enough? I don’t think so. Diaz is looking to make a mark as a welterweight and I think he will do it at the expense of Davis.
WINNER: DIAZ by TKO in the 2nd.
MATT: Diaz is 12 years younger and has a six-inch reach advantage. Davis has looked old and slow in his last few fights. Watching Diaz get KTFO’d would be pretty enjoyable, but he’s the better fighter here, and I think he demonstrates it with panache.
WINNER: Diaz by submission in the 1st.