The Oakland Raiders, an iconic NFL franchise, are known for many things including the famous saying, “Real men wear black.” This Saturday night the phrase will be modified to include the color “blue”, as a group of “real men” will take to the Octagon in Oakland’s Oracle Arena and risk exiting the eight-sided structure bruised and battered. ”UFC 117: Silva vs. Sonnen” is packed with talent and features a number of intriguing match-ups, including two bouts that will determine top divisional contenders (Jon Fitch’s rematch with Thiago Alves, Junior dos Santos’ clash with Roy Nelson), Ricardo Almeida attempting to avenge his Gracie-peers’ losing performances against Matt Hughes, and a headlining title-fight between Anderson Silva and the new king of trash-talking, Chael Sonnen.
Before I get into the actual “pick em” part of this article let me preclude the breakdown of bouts by saying one of the things about Mixed Martial Arts I’ve always loved is its unpredictable nature. I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction with a little insight/opinion included in the deal, but readers would be wise to avoid laying down money on my attempts to glimpse into the future. Beyond that, please don’t hesitate to share your own thoughts on any or all of the scheduled fights in the “Comments” section below, and let’s get this show on the road…
Ben Saunders vs. Dennis Hallman
This is a great bout to open up the show with, though I’m not exactly sure why it received lower billing than a few of the other pairings on the card given the circumstances surrounding the match-up. Saunders may have lost two of his last three fights, but both defeats came to highly-respected, experienced opponents (Jon Fitch and Mike Swick) with a brutal first-round knockout of veteran Marcus Davis sandwiched between. Given his win over Davis, and the seven straight he’d earned prior to facing Swick, Saunders has shown a lot of potential. He has an exciting, aggressive style, Ultimate Fighter experience, and a personality to match Forrest Griffin’s. Truly, at age 27, he’s a welterweight the UFC should be promoting rather than using as a curtain-jerker.
Hallman also deserves more respect given his 13-year tenure in the sport and the fact he’s won five of his last six fights. He’s won 42 fights and has submitted a mind-boggling 33 opponents courtesy of his top notch grappling skills. However, it seems he’s an ideal adversary for Saunders in that he’s been knocked out a number of times in his career (including his last bout) and “Killa B” has the ability to strike from a variety of angles. He’s good with kicks, knees, punches, and in the clinch as well. Saunders also has a five-inch height advantage, meaning his size should make it more difficult for Hallman to score submission-friendly takedowns while also allowing the ATT product to land effective shots from the outside. As such, I think Saunders will eventually catch Hallman on the chin, or maybe even in a clinch, until the ref calls for the stoppage.
Winner – Ben Saunders via TKO Round 2
Tim Boetsch vs. Todd Brown
I’m glad to see Boetsch get a call back to the UFC after going 2-2 during his first run, then stringing together three finish-based wins in smaller organizations thereafter. It’s a good example of why any fighter, or any fans of an affected individual, shouldn’t give up hope whenever a contractual release takes place. Brown is making his Octagon debut and has been out of action since November 2009, so he’s obviously a major underdog, but he’s 11-1 overall and has seven wins in his last eight fights (with the other bout being a “No Contest”) so it’s not as though he’s hopeless. That being said, I do think Boetsch’s power will prove to be too much, and if he isn’t able to pound out a win from the top he’ll at least do enough to win a decision.
Winner – Tim Boetsch via Decision
Stefan Struve vs. Christian Morecraft
This is an important fight for Struve who is coming off a loss to Roy Nelson and a decision win over journeyman Paul Buentello. Losing to Morecraft, who will be making his UFC debut, could signal a pink-slip for the 6’11 heavyweight and as such it’s crucial he comes away with a victory. Morecraft is undefeated and finished all six of his opponents. He apparently has submission skills and knockout power, so it should be interesting to see how Struve approaches him. Most of his wins have been the result of tapping opponents out so it seems he’s likely to try and grapple with Morecraft rather than stand and exchange strikes. His long limbs are ideal for locking in chokes, as evident by twelve of his fourteen submissions involving those of the triangle and rear-naked variety, so I suspect that if Struve wins it will be by one of those two techniques. However, I’m going with Morecraft for the win because he appears to have a bit of jiujitsu in his arsenal and definitely the power to floor Struve. The towering Dutchman has been dropped before and owes three of his four losses to TKOs. I think Morecraft will be able to successfully defend Struve’s attempts to submit him and eventually land enough shots, whether standing or from top position, to put him away for good.
Winner – Christian Morecraft via TKO Round 2
Johny Hendricks vs. Charlie Brenneman
This should be a fairly evenly matched fight with Hendricks having an obvious edge in wrestling as indicated by his back-to-back national championships at Oklahoma State. Both men seem to have similar styles, opting to stand or work ground-and-pound as opposed to attacking with submissions, as well as a similar level of experience. I think Hendricks will dictate the pace of the fight, as well as where most of the action takes place, but I don’t think he’ll be able to finish “The Spaniard” off who has proven himself to be a tough draw in the past. He’s 11-1 with his only loss coming by way of decision to John “Doomsday” Howard and riding a seven-fight win streak since, plus he beat Jason High in his previous bout who is himself a solid grappler. Look for Brenneman to hang with Hendricks and offer him a significant test but don’t expect him to win.
Winner – Johny Hendricks via Decision
Phil Davis vs. Rodney Wallace
Wallace is in a do-or-die situation at UFC 117, as he’s lost back-to-back bouts in the Octagon and has 2/3 of his total wins by way of decision (meaning his style is not necessarily the type to have average fans clamoring for more). And, unfortunately, “Sho Nuff” is going to essentially need to channel “the glow” on Saturday night to have a legitimate chance because Davis is an incredibly tough draw, especially for someone in his position. “Mr. Wonderful” is a four-time All-American, championship-winning wrestler who has done an excellent job making the transition into Mixed Martial Arts. He’s athletic, has no problem procuring submissions, and can knock opponents out as well. Basically, Wallace needs to throw caution to the win and let his hands fly if he has any real hope of beating Davis because he’s not going to out-work him on the mat or ease his way into any takedowns. However, I don’t think he’ll approach Davis as recklessly as that would require, and in the end it won’t take the former Nittany Lion long to pounce, take Wallace down, and either pound him out or work him into position for a fight-ending choke.
Winner – Phil Davis via Submission Round 2
Dustin Hazelett vs. Rick Story
This match-up has “Fight of the Night” potential written all over it. Story and Hazelett are both well-rounded competitors with a lot of heart who have shown gradual improvement on a per-fight basis. Hazelett is by far the better submission-grappler between the two, having tapped out nine of the twelve opponents he’s beaten, but he’s also shown a past willingness to stand and exchange on his feet as well. Story may not have Hazelett’s jiujitsu weaponry but he’s a solid wrestler with decent power who isn’t a slouch on the ground either. “McLovin” has been knocked out a few times in his career, so it’s possible Story could play the role of a liquor-store robber by landing a shot and dropping him, but I tend to believe it’s Hazelett who will come away with a hard-fought win after catching a triangle or armbar from the bottom.
Winner – Dustin Hazelett via Submission Round 3
Junior dos Santos vs. Roy Nelson
I see a lot of potential for an upset in this bout based on how the Nelson and Dos Santos compare to each other. As I said in this week’s Grappling with Issues, “The only time “Big Country” has ever been knocked out in his career was to Andrei Arlovski, and it still took a few flush punches after a lot of previous damage to drop him. Dos Santos may be more aggressive than Arlovski, but he’s not as technically sound from what I’ve seen, and I think Nelson’s striking may just be good enough to defend, dish out a little bit of damage (with jabs for example), and open up takedown opportunities. He also has knockout power so a clean shot to Dos Santos’ chin could definitely result in an end to the fight.
Additionally, if the Buddha-bellied big-man gets on top of “Cigano” it could make for some very tense moments in the Brazilian’s corner. Nelson’s jiujitsu is solid and he knows how to use his physique to his advantage when it comes to controlling from the top. It will be very interesting to see how Dos Santos responds if put that position since he’s generally faced strikers in the Octagon thus far, with a flabby Fabricio Werdum being the lone exception, and with his primary method of attack involving stand-up.”
Basically, I see Nelson as having more paths to victory, and I think his experience will assist as well in allowing him to approach the fight calmly and intelligently. This is the biggest fight of both of their careers but the Ultimate Fighter Season 10 champ has been in more Clearly, Dos Santos could easily land a vicious combo and drop “Big Country”, but outside of that scenario unfolding I don’t see a lot of other ways for him to win.
Winner – Roy Nelson via Decision
Matt Hughes vs. Ricardo Almeida
Almeida is Hughes’ stiffest test to date since losing to Thiago Alves at UFC 85. He may be similar to Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie, who Hughes has faced post-Alves, in his approach to MMA based on their affiliation with Gracie Jiujitsu, but the Brazilian grappler also offers a few challenges that weren’t present in either of the other match-ups. Almeida is a big 170-pounder who has past success at middleweight, meaning Hughes shouldn’t be able to bully him based on a size advantage (as he did against Serra). Almeida has also relatively active as of late, winning four of five bouts in the Octagon since returning in 2008, while Gracie hadn’t fought in three years, and Serra was dealing with a year’s layoff from action, prior to facing Hughes. Almeida should be in shape, well-prepared to defend off his back to counter Hughes’ primary method of attack (i.e. wrestling/ground-and-pound), and able to control things from the top if he’s fortunate enough to find himself in such a position. However, I have a hard time picking against Hughes, who I think will be able to use his stand-up, which I’d say is superior to Almeida’s, to set up takedowns and who is also experienced enough to avoid submissions from the bottom. After all, he’s only been submitted twice in the last decade (BJ Penn and Georges St. Pierre). Though Almeida is well-versed in the art of jiujitsu, I don’t think he has the other tools in his belt that are necessary to pull off a win against Hughes and his wet-blanket attack.
Winner – Matt Hughes via Decision
Clay Guida vs. Rafael dos Anjos
This is a dangerous match-up for Guida. Dos Anjos has strung together three wins since losing a decision to Tyson Griffin in April 2009 and is a significant threat when it comes to jiujitsu. Seven of his fourteen wins have come by way of submission while he’s never been tapped-out in an eighteen-fight career. More than half of Guida’s total losses have been the result of submissions and his wrestling-friendly approach to MMA means a good deal of the bout could take place on the mat. However, I think “The Carpenter” is intelligent enough to recognize the threat Dos Anjos provides on the ground and will instead utilize his speed/technique to keep things standing as much as possible. Guida’s boxing ability should allow him to land jabs/combos, maybe even mixing in a few kicks along the way, and his takedown defense is strong enough to keep Dos Anjos at bay.
Winner – Clay Guida via Decision
Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves
Alves is a terrific fighter but styles/situations influence results and as such I don’t think Fitch will struggle to beat him. The ATT-trained Brazilian hasn’t stepped in the ring for more than a year, is coming off a few medical problems, and is rumored to have had a hard time cutting weight in preparation for the bout (though he’s personally denied it). He’s got knockout power and high-level Muay Thai to dish it out with, but I don’t think he’ll have a chance to utilize either against Fitch because he’ll spend most of the fight on his back. Fitch’s wrestling ability and ground-control are both well-documented, and though he’s only been TKO’d once (eight years ago) I’m sure he remembers the taste of Alves’ fist after getting clipped in their first fight and will avoid stand-up scenarios as often as possible. My feeling is the former Purdue wrestling captain will push “Pitbull” against the cage when possible, as well as work on him from the top, in hopes of testing his cardio while wearing him down physically. I don’t think Fitch will be able to submit or TKO Alves, but I do think he’ll be able to grind his way to a decision victory. Fitch? Win a decision? Shocking, I know.
Winner – Jon Fitch via Decision
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen
In this week’s GWI it was asked how the middleweight title fight would end, so let me just defer to that answer as far as how I see this match-up unfolding…
“In my opinion, Silva is never better than when he’s motivated by the sense of being slighted; that he’s toyed with his last few opponents because he didn’t feel they deserved to be in the cage with him, not because he was insulting the sport or fans. After all, Maia had only won a single bout since being knocked out by Nate Marquardt, while Thales Leites and Patrick Cote hadn’t really beaten anyone of note prior to their title shots. I think Sonnen’s trash-talking will have a similar effect on Silva, as his insane insults have probably provided a little more fire in the champ’s tank where a desire of complete clowning is concerned. When you combine that with another guy who has fairly plain-Jane stand-up and a singular style of attack…well, let’s just say history doesn’t bode well for the Brazilian’s opponents. I don’t know if the fight will end early or late, but I’m pretty sure the finish will come at the choosing of the current middleweight champ and its timing will be dependent on whether he wants to continue picking Sonnen apart or put him out of his misery.”
Winner – Anderson Silva via TKO Round 2