Due to filling in on ESPN 920 in Philly this week I didn’t have time to submit a UFC 73 preview to CBS Sportsline. However, I still wanted to leave my picks here in short-form.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Heath Herring – These two have fought two previous times, with Nogueira having won both matchups. The addition of Big ‘Nog is huge and this match was clearly booked with the intent of giving him a chance to showcase his talents to a mainstream U.S. audience that will be seeing him for the first time. Nogueira’s Jiu-Jitsu is top notch but he’ll definitely be able to stand with Herring as well. Honing his boxing skills with the Cuban national boxing team, Nogueira is a true dual-threat. Look for ‘Big Nog to finish Herring in the second round and begin his quest for the UFC heavyweight title. If Fedor is not signed by the UFC, don’t be surprised if Nogueira is the UFC heavyweight champ within the next 8-12 months.
Sean Sherk vs. Hermes Franca – I’m looking forward to this match as both Sherk and Franca are tremendous on the ground. Sherk is the better wrestler but Franca has the better submissions. Both fighters’ standup game have improved over the course of the last 18 months. Franca isn’t a technical striker but throws a big overhand right that led him to victory over Spencer Fisher several months back. Sherk isn’t a knockout threat but has solid boxing ability. He could be in trouble if Franca catches him with a wild swing, but Sherk will be prepared for this match and I don’t expect him to get caught. Look for him to utilize his strength and wrestling advantage to get the fight on the ground in order to grind his way to a victory.
Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz – When Dana White spoke with the media he announced that this will be the third match on the card. A lot of people are skeptical that this match will go on third but I’m just telling you what the UFC president announced last week. I almost completely certain this match will go to a decision. Up until his recent fights, Evans has had trouble finishing opponents. His striking has improved but I just don’t see him finishing a fighter the caliber of Ortiz. While not an All-American caliber wrestler at Michigan State, Evans’ wrestling is still good enough that he shouldn’t be fooled by Ortiz’s outdated takedown attempts. If Forrest Griffin had little trouble stuffing Ortiz’s takedown why will Evans find it difficult to stay on his feet? And stay on his feet should be the gameplan for Evans. Ortiz’s standup has improved slightly over the years but it’s still average, at best. Evans should plan to attempt to land 1-2 punch combinations and disengage and move around. He doesn’t want to stay stationary or throw many kicks because he’ll give Ortiz a golden opportunity at a takedown. By keeping the fight standing and landing occasional strikes, he’ll put himself in a position to outpoint Ortiz. If he lets his hands go and Ortiz drops levels and catches Evans offguard, Ortiz will then be able to score points by landing strikes from Evans’ guard. I don’t know if there is a more dangerous striker from the close guard than Ortiz. If Evans fights smart then he’ll win a unanimous decision. If he makes a mistake, Ortiz could pull off what I would consider to be an upset.
Kenny Florian vs. Alvin Robinson – Robinson should not be underestimated because the UFC has done an outstanding job of bringing in talent from smaller shows as of late. Robinson is 8-1 with all eight wins coming via submission. He’s very dangerous with some of his choke holds but Florian has been taking Jiu-Jitsu long enough to make sure he doesn’t give up his neck. Florian has a sizeable advantage when it comes to standup, as his Muay Thai skills have improved greatly in his recent fights. His leg kicks were especially impressive in his last bout. I believe Florian will take the match with a TKO in the third.
Anderson Silva vs. Nathan Marquardt – This match is a tough one to call. If it stays standing then I think Silva could easily finish the fight early with a TKO. However, if its goes to the ground then I think Marquardt will have a huge advantage. And getting the fight to the mat might not be all that difficult. Both of Silva’s knees were damaged going into his last fight vs. Travis Lutter and his takedown defense was almost non-existent as a result. But even when healthy his takedown defense isn’t all that great. Despite being a black belt in BJJ, I still have questions about Silva’s ground game. I’m sure he’s great when he’s rolling on a mat but Silva’s Jiu-Jitsu credentials haven’t translated well to MMA. He was exposed in Pride for his lack of ground game and you saw that weakness exploited against Lutter. When Lutter secured full mount I really thought he was in a position to finish. Silva was able to escape but had Lutter been 100 percent might we have seen a different result? I’m calling yet another upset and a title win for Marquardt. I’m sure that prediction will garner some reaction but I’m actually a much bigger fan of Silva’s than I am of Marquardt. I’m just calling it like I see it.