UFC 92: Happy Belated Christmas from Zuffa & Co.
It hardly matters if your Christmas gift is a few days late when it is the best Christmas present ever. And while the UFC’s president Dana ‘Santa’ White may not have made it down your chimney in time this year, the gift he’s packing is one well worth waiting for.
UFC 92 may be one of the most compelling Mixed Martial Arts cards that the UFC has ever put together. Let’s start at the top:
Forrest Griffin vs Rashad Evans
Forrest, The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 winner whose televised bout against Stephan Bonnar made MMA history has realized the dream capturing the Light Heavyweight title from Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. The hard working, self-effacing Griffin now looks to make his first title defense.
His challenger is the undefeated Rashad Evans also an Ultimate Fighter alumnus, the winner of TUF Season 2’s Heavyweight division. Technically undefeated Rashad Evans looks to be the better boxer and wrestler and coming off a knock out win over former Light Heavyweight champ Chuck Liddell, the unbeaten Evans poses a serious threat to Griffin’s title reign. But Griffin is a hard worker and in his two most recent fights he has tricked the odds makers upsetting the favoured competitors in both Rampage and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua.
It is amazing that two fighters from the UFC’s reality show are fighting for the coveted Light Heavyweight title but both men have earned their way here and it should prove a competitive match-up.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Frank Mir
‘Minotauro’ Nogueira who wears the Interim Heavyweight belt should have faced Randy Couture upon the former champ’s return to the UFC but instead Nogueira has to earn a shot at the title now held by Brock Lesnar by defeating challenger and former UFC Heavyweight champion Frank Mir, the man who submitted Lesnar one and a half minutes into Lesnar’s first UFC match.
It has been argued that Mir and Nogueira were more deserving of a Heavyweight title shot than former pro wrestler Brock Lesnar but Lesnar is now the man with the title and Mir and Nog must battle for the opportunity to take it from him.
Considering the credentials of these two men, the words ‘Interim Title’ do little to detract from this match. Both Mir and Nog are grappling wizards with submission victories over a who’s who of heavyweight mixed martial artists.
That said, chances are that the fight will be won on the feet. While Nogueira is a slick submission miracle worker, Frank Mir’s bone-snapping strength and deceptive speed on the ground poses a very real risk for any opponent. Mir’s striking however is unremarkable while Nogueira spars regularly with friend and UFC Middleweight champ Anderson Silva who is to MMA striking what Nogueira is to grappling. Add to that Minotauro’s solid chin and his superior conditioning and one begins to see that the Brazilian’s best bet is to keep the fight standing and out box Mir whose conditioning has often been less than superb.
As Minotauro rarely knocks out opponents a boring five round decision might be the eventual outcome but hard core fans will be riveted throughout anticipating the possibilities should these two submission masters get each other on the mat.
Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson vs Wanderlei ‘The Axe Murderer’ Silva
Though there is no belt currently around the waist of either of these men, this match perhaps brings more anticipation than the two title fights on the card and it is almost assured that the winner of this match will challenge the winner of the Forrest Griffin-Rashad Evans bout for the title.
Rampage became the UFC Light Heavyweight champ by knocking out future Hall-of-Famer Chuck Liddell for the second time only to lose the tile by decision in a very close match with Griffin.
Before coming to the UFC Wanderlei Silva had reigned as Pride Champion for years destroying opponent after opponent before finally being stopped by Dan Henderson. In his first UFC fight Silva gave an impressive performance losing a hard fought decision to Chuck Liddell. While Rampage holds victories over both Dan Henderson and Chuck Liddell it is Silva who owns two gruesome knock-out victories over Rampage himself.
When both men competed in Pride Rampage twice had the opportunity to challenge then-champion, Wanderlei Silva and both times Jackson fell victim to Silva’s brutal knees from the Thai clinch. 2 and 0 against Silva many critics wonder why a third match is even taking place. For those who question the wisdom here are a few items worth noting:
Jackson’s first defeat to Silva occurred in a tournament format with Jackson having won a very tough fight against Chuck Liddell earlier the same night before facing Silva in the final.
In the first 10-minute round of the rematch, Jackson was able to put Silva on his back and was busily working from the top position when Silva’s corner began haranguing the referee to stand the fighters up. Those watching the bout saw the referee look to Silva’s corner before stepping in to stand-up the fighters possibly saving Silva from some serious damage on the ground. In the second round Silva was able to capitalize on Rampage’s fatigue (he’d been fasting for three days before the fight) to earn another knock out.
Hopefully the outcome of their bout at UFC 92 will not be influenced either by questionable officiating or by shoddy training methods. What may influence the outcome however is the fact that the UFC takes place in a cage rather than a ring.
The cage tends to favour strong wrestlers like Jackson as they can pin opponents up against it and muscle a take down whereas in Pride, strikers like Silva were able to bounce off the ropes to avoid take down attempts. If this isn’t enough to tip the scales in Jackson’s favour add in the rule differences which see elbows on the ground allowed (a Jackson specialty that was not allowed in Pride) and head stomps disallowed (The Axe Murderer won more than a few fights with brutal head stomps).
Taken altogether UFC 92 seems to offer Jackson every opportunity for redemption provided he can keep his head on straight, eat and train properly and not suffer any further breakdowns. That being said, Wanderlei Silva is as dangerous an opponent as there is and he dislikes Rampage vehemently. Both men have knock out power, solid chins and ample motivation to punish each other. Is it any wonder that this is the most talked about fight on the card?
The Rest of the Card Completely overshadowed by the three big fights, the rest of the UFC 92 card features lesser-known fighters looking to get noticed and while they may not be big draws themselves history has shown that it is exactly these sorts of undercard fights that tend to result in sensational performances.
Welterweight: Ryo Chonan (15-8) vs. Brad Blackburn (12-9-1) Note: Chonan is the last man to beat Middleweight champ Anderson Silva by way of an unconventional and unexpected flying scissor heel hook in their 2004 Pride bout. Silva’s only loss since that fight was by DQ to Yushin Okami.
Middleweight: Yushin Okami (22-4) vs. Dean Lister (11-5) Note: Okami owns a DQ win over UFC Middleweight champ Anderson Silva and his only UFC loss to date was a decision loss to former champ Rich Franklin. Lister is a grappling expert with slick submissions. The winner of this bout could very well be slated to face the winner of Anderson Silva and Thales Leites for the Middleweight title. TUF finalist CB Dollaway (7-2) vs. Mike Massenzio (11-2)
Light Heavyweight: TUF alumnus (4-2) Matt Hamill vs. Reese Andy (7-2)
Heavyweights: Rampage training partner Cheick Kongo (12-4-1) vs. Mostapha Al Turk (6-3) Antoni Hardonk v(7-4) vs. Mike Wessel (6-0) Dan Evensen (10-3) Vs. Pat Barry (3-0)