On Saturday night at UFC 81 a new Heavyweight champion will be crowned and the birth or re-birth of a career will happen for one particular fighter. Brock Lesnar will be looking to start a new career as a mixed martial arts fighter as he makes the crossover from entertainment-style pro wrestling to the fight game. His opponent, Frank Mir, hopes to impress the Mandalay Bay crowd by showing us a bit of the old Frank Mir that won the UFC Heavyweight title earlier in his career.
The UFC’s Heavyweight title will also be on the line as Tim Sylvia will take on former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The fight has been deemed the “interim” title bout, but it seems to merely be a tactic to keep Couture within his contract limits. This should determine the real champion. The main card will also feature a middleweight bout between Nate Marquardt and Jeremy Horn and the return of Ricardo Almeida to MMA against UFC newcomer Rob Yundt.
Tim Sylvia (24-3) will try to win the UFC title once again as he takes on the iron chin of Antonio Nogueira. Sylvia comes into this bout after much criticism over his win over Brandon Vera. In the bout, Sylvia and Vera both had moments in which leaning on each other was a tactic to extend the matchup and cause the crowd to boo in disapproval. Sylvia simply did what he could to win the fight, and Vera broke his hand in the first round that made his striking completely useless.
This isn’t the first time Sylvia has been labeled being the cause of a boring fight. His style consists of straight jabs, some kicks, and clinches, but never any ground game. He usually tries to move in and out and rarely allows himself to get in a spot to be taken down. His main weapon in many of his fights is his physical size and reach, and it makes for some boring standup battles in which his opponents can’t seem to find a way to get inside or take him down.
With that said, Nogueira has a tough task ahead of him. He has excellent jiu-jitsu skills on the ground, and has some phenomenal boxing skills on his feet. The only problem is that he will lack reach on Sylvia, and it will be hard not to take heavy blows trying to get inside on Sylvia. Unless Nogueira can work a clinch and somehow put the big man down, it’s going to be a downhill battle for Nogueira in the beginning. The best chance he has is by tiring Sylvia and hopefully getting him to the floor.
Can he actually achieve that goal? I can’t decide, and this is the toughest pick I’ve had in awhile. Nogueira has taken beatings from the best in the world. Fedor crushed him with blows, and he still managed to last. He has an iron chin, great boxing, and excellent ground tactics. I have faith that he can take down Sylvia, especially considering Vera was able to do so at least once in his fight. That may be all it takes. I’ll go with the long shot.
Leland’s Prediction: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via submission, Round 4
I’ve went back-and-forth on this fight the last couple of days. I’ve watched a plethora of tape on both fighters. The key to winning for Nogueira is obvious; he must get this fight to the ground. Nogueira has good boxing, but he’s going to have to work on the inside. Sylvia is going to want to stay away from Nogueira and paw at him with his jab. I can see Tim using the same style he beat Brandon Vera with. Close the distance quick with strikes and push Nogueira against the fence.
Nogueira is going to have a tough time getting inside on Tim as he doesn’t throw many hooks. He likes to throw combinations straight down the middle which leaves his opponent no room to work on the inside. If Nogueira watched any tape, he’ll know that Tim throws a lazy left jab and that he can counter that with an overhand right. I think Nogueira’s chin can keep him in the fight long enough to get Tim to the floor and submit him.
Joe’s Prediction: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via submission, Round 3
I look at the two, and simply think Nogueira is a better fighter. Minotauro has better submission skills than anyone Timmy has faced (Mir included) and has also shown real susceptibility to the combination of quick hands and control on the ground. I see this playing out much like the battle with Couture. As the rounds wear on, the fight gets farther from Sylvia’s reach. Minotauro grinds out a signature win.
John’s Prediction: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via unanimous decision
Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar (1-0) is a complete unknown in the sport of mixed martial arts. His lone match against Min Soo Kim at K-1 Dynamite in June proved that Lesnar can at least pass guard and take down an opponent, but Kim wasn’t exactly the prototypical litmus test to see if Lesnar has what it takes to be a champion. Frank Mir (10-3) could possibly be that test.
Mir is a world class jiu-jitsu practitioner with a plethora of weapons on the ground in the form of a wealth of knowledge in the submission game. That’s where it ends for Frank Mir. He has the phenomenal ability to end the fight quickly once on the ground, but his standup is lacking. He isn’t particularly dangerous in the striking game, and being on the ground with a much bigger, much strong Brock Lesnar could be his downfall.
Lesnar brings a wealth of wrestling credentials to the MMA world. He finished his collegiate career as a two-time NJCAA All-American, two-time NCAA All-American, two-time Big Ten Champion, and the 2000 NCAA heavyweight champion, finishing with a ridiculous record of 106-5 overall. There is no doubt that he will have good takedown abilities, and it will be very tough to deal with Lesnar’s strength. Lesnar also seems to be fairly light on his feet. It’s been said that he has some decent striking and quick footwork, but those skills will be proven on Saturday night. Can Lesnar avoid the submission? That’s the big question.
I simply can’t pick Frank Mir in this fight for a few reasons. He won’t be as strong as Lesnar, and Lesnar’s wrestling skills will be tough to counter with the amount of power he has. Mir’s standup is horrible, and it’d have to improve considerable if Lesnar is to be in danger of being knocked out. Mir has had too many lackluster performances in the past as well, and his cardio is always a question later in the fight.
Leland’s Prediction: Brock Lesnar via TKO, Round 2
From the moment this fight starts, I look for Lesnar to immediately shoot on Mir and begin to work some ground-and-pound. The question that needs to be answered is this: Is Mir going to have an answer for Lesnar from his back? Many people think so, but I don’t. I think Lesnar’s strength and wrestling ability will overpower Mir.
I can guarantee you that Lesnar has been doing nothing but training submission defense and polishing up his wrestling. If I was Mir, I would think about throwing knees sporadically. He may catch Lesnar with a knee when he shoots for a takedown. However, I think there’s a slim chance that happens. Look for a stoppage in the second round from strikes.
Joe’s Prediction: Brock Lesnar via TKO, Round 2
Over aggressive wrestling is not uncommon among relatively green fighters. They stay in the danger-zone for far too long and the result is often a submission loss. Mir is vet so he’ll no doubt be relaxed entering the fight. All the pressure is on the Lesnar as a result of his self aggrandizement, while Mir is simply on the comeback trail with the chance to fell the new kid in town. I’m going against my gut feeling, and taking Mir with a triangle-choke win.
John’s Prediction: Frank Mir via submission, Round 2
I’m actually excited about this matchup. Horn (79-16-5) is a no-joke veteran to the sport who continues to be impressive against competition that is upper echelon material. He hasn’t been able to produce big wins over the top fighters, but he has the skills to make contenders look bad and even defeat them.
Horn’s last few wins have been over some decent competition. Falaniko Vitale, Chael Sonnen, and Trevor Prangley were all defeated by Horn in matchups in the IFL and the UFC. He recently lost to Jorge Santiago, who has been on a tear as of late, but Horn is still both dangerous in the submission and standup game against any opponent.
Marquardt (25-7-2) is also been primarily a grappler in his career, but has recently been unable to finish his opponents. He has some big wins over Ivan Salaverry, Joe Doerksen, and Dean Lister, but they weren’t in finishing performances. He doesn’t have overwhelming skills in the standup game, but they aren’t bad. Both fighters can bang a bit. Nathan’s primary means of beating Horn will be where Horn is best, on the ground. I think Horn can ride out a decision win here and defeat Marquardt. Horn has better quality wins in his career, and I think he can obtain another one here.
Leland’s Prediction: Jeremy Horn via decision
On paper, this looks to be a snoozer. Both guys have decent striking, and they match up well on the ground. I feel that Marquardt has the better wrestling and takedowns. He also has great submission defense. Horn, on the other hand, has excellent stand up defense and a good submission game. Horn should try to keep this fight on the feet as long as he can. I expect Marquardt to close the distance early and use top control and ground-and-pound to win a unanimous decision.
Joe’s Prediction: Nathan Marquardt via decision
“The Great” makes a return to action versus this Horn fellow. I’ve never heard of Horn, but he fights a lot. Just kidding. Can I see Horn out striking Marquardt? No, it’s pretty even there and neither will want to be on the feet. Marquardt has better wrestling and will be much stronger physically than “Gumby” will. Horn’s way out is the submission from his back, and Nate is too strong and smart for that. I think he pounds on Horn with ground and pound.
John’s Prediction: Nathan Marquardt via TKO, Round 2
This matchup will feature the return of Ricardo Almeida to the MMA scene and the insertion of a newcomer to the UFC, Rob Yundt (6-0). Yundt comes to the UFC from the Alaska Fighting Championships, a promotion that our own John McKiernan is very familiar with as he covers it. From what I have gathered in Yundt, he is a physically mammoth fighter for the Middleweight division. He has awesome power and his wrestling ability is helped by that strength. He’ll more than likely use it to try to pound Almeida out of consciousness.
Almeida hasn’t fought in competitive mixed martial arts competition in nearly 4 years. His last bout was at PRIDE Bushido 3 where he defeated Ryo Chonan by decision. He did manage to string together some huge wins in his short career though. He defeated Nathan Marquardt in a controversial fight that saw both corners pour into the ring afterwards in a near brawl, and won decisions against Kazuo Misaki, Yuki Sasaki, and Ikuhisa Minowa. Not bad for a short-lived 4 year career. He now will bring his submission prowess back into the cage against a relatively unknown fighter from the tundra that is coming in on short notice.
I have to take Almeida here. Even though he’s had a long layoff, he still has a very good ground game and has the ability to avoid heavy damage. Yundt is going to be a load in this fight, and may be worth putting a small bet on, but I don’t believe he will simply put Almeida out. Almeida will most likely look to impose his game on the ground, it should end there.
Leland’s Prediction: Ricardo Almeida via submission, Round 1
I recently watched some tape of Yundt, and the thing that sticks out in my mind is he has terrible submission defense. In several of his fights, he was caught with triangles and guillotines, but was able to power his way out. Against Almeida, he won’t have that opportunity. I look for Yundt to come out fast and aggressive and could get caught in an immediate guillotine. If that doesn’t happen, look for Almeida to finish Yundt with a submission from his back.
Joe’s Prediction: Ricardo Almeida via submission, Round 1
The return of Ricardo. The guy was solid when he was in the game, and I expect him to be almost as good in his return. He’s still pretty young by MMA standards and the guys he’s beaten in the past are no joke.
Yundt has had no national exposure, and I think people will be surprised when they see him march into the octagon. To say he’s physically imposing is an understatement. For a middleweight, he’s simply massive. He brings a phenomenal wrestling game that benefits from brute strength, and will look for the takedown from the get-go.
This may prove to be blessing, and it may prove to be a curse. “Monster’s” bullish wrestling juxtaposed with Almeida’s submission game mirrors the Lesnar – Mir situation. Taking a fight of this caliber on such short notice results in a tall order for Yundt, but I’ve seen the guy pound the hell out of people before. Will the ring rust be a factor? Will both fighters have those UFC jitters? I say yes to both, and see Yundt making a stellar debut.
John’s Prediction: Rob Yundt via decision
Griffin (10-1) is on the rise in the UFC’s lightweight division. With a lone loss to Frankie Edgar, he could stand to get some more big wins to solidify a spot in the upper echelon of the division. His wrestling and striking skills are adequate, and he has a tremendous amount of power. As he’s moved up to fighting tougher talent, he’s found that actually using that power to win has become tougher. Gleison may be another tough challenge in that capacity.
Gleison Tibau (15-4) is primarily a jiu-jitsu fighter with some solid experience avoiding strikes. Although his losses have mainly been by TKO, he’s managed to avoid standup wars in return for decision wins in his career. I don’t think he can avoid Griffin’s overall well-rounded abilities in this matchup though. Griffin will be better in the standup, and has able enough wrestling skill to avoid the submission and pound on Tibau.
Leland’s Prediction: Tyson Griffin via TKO, Round 2
I think Griffin’s wrestling and striking is too good for Tibau. Out of Tibau’s 4 losses, 3 have been TKO’s and I look for Griffin to do the same. There aren’t many ways for Tibau to win this fight unless he catches Griffin with a fluke punch. Griffin has shown in the past that he has excellent submission defense and a solid wrestling base. Look for him to stop Tibau with strikes late in the second round.
Joe’s Prediction: Tyson Griffin via TKO, Round 2
Lytle has only lost via TKO when he has been cut, and Bradley’s main strength is his power in his standup game. At 13-4, Bradley has an impressive record that is against a lot of subpar competition. In his losses against veteran fighters, he was outclassed, and that’s exactly what will happen in this matchup. Lytle should be able to put Bradley to the floor and submit him quickly.
Leland’s Prediction: Lytle via submission, Round 1
Lytle is looking to rebound off his recent loss to Thiago Alves. Lytle has good striking and has an underrated ground game. Bradley is going to be in trouble wherever this fight goes. Not only does Lytle have a good skill set, he is also very durable. He’s only been stopped twice in his career, and both were from cuts. Lytle will use his boxing to set up the takedown and then he’ll finish Bradley off with a submission.
Joe’s Prediction: Lytle via submission, Round 2
I’m pretty high on Chris Lytle. His UFC record is much stronger than it appears; two losses by cut and the others to Serra (the current king), Hughes, Karo, and Lawler. He gave them all hell too. I’ve never seen Bradley, but his record on paper tells me he’s never fought in late rounds, and that’s where Lytle has made his living. Logically if it goes there, I see it being advantage –Lytle. I’m saying it won’t take that long for the veteran to get the takedown, do some damage, and lock up a choke for the win.
John’s Prediction: Lytle via submission, Round 1
An interesting matchup between two explosive fighters that will most likely get one of these guys a shot at some upper echelon competition in the future. The Middleweight division is rather weak, and if Eastman or Martin can put the other one away, we could see a potential shot at someone moving into contention. Eastman (14-7-1) has been known to knockout an opponent in the past, but he lacks the reach to consistently put opponents away. He has 8 decisions in his 14 wins, and only 4 TKO’s in his 14 wins.
Terry Martin (16-3) was on the fast track to become a real contender. He unfortunately ran into a tough and determined Chris Leben at UFN 11. Leben ended up knocking out Martin late in the third round after a flurry of punches landed on his face. He countered with a huge haymaker that put Martin out. Although it was an unfortunate outcome, Martin’s matchup at UFC 81 should suit him. If he can push the pace and put some good leather on Eastman’s chin, it should result in a big win for Martin. Martin also has some good wrestling he can use to pound on Eastman. I think Eastman may be a dark horse in this matchup, but I’ll go with Martin.
Leland’s Prediction: Terry Martin via TKO, Round 2
This could be an interesting stand-up war. Both guys are very compact for middleweight and they actually match up well on paper. Eastman has show in the past that he has a questionable, and Martin has show he has very heavy hands. I think Martin will test Eastman’s chin early. Look for a devastating KO in the first round.
Joe’s Prediction: Terry Martin via KO, Round 1
I believe that both guys will look to trade bombs until someone is felled in a big way. Eastman has been through the wars. If a furious pace materializes over the first round leading into the second and history is any indication, Eastman has the cardio advantage. I favor his technical striking in the latter half of the fight, and look for a TKO win late in the second for “The Beastman”.
John’s Prediction: Marvin Eastman via TKO, Round 2
Boetsch (6-1) has some good wrestling skills and managed to hang in there with Vladimir Matyushenko and ride out a decision loss. He has some decent striking skills and his ground game isn’t bad either. I’ve never been impressed with David Heath, and after Sobral’s dismantling of his dignity in the last fight, I can’t see Heath winning.
Leland’s Prediction: Tim Boetsch via decision
Boetsch has some good wrestling, and can use that to control Heath from the top. Heath likes to strike, but has shown that his takedown defense isn’t that great. I think Boetsch will be able to control Heath from the top position and ground-and-pound his way to a unanimous decision.
Joe’s Prediction: Tim Boetsch via decision
Heath was Machida’s first victory in the octagon, and now it should be universal opinion that there’s zero shame in losing to Machida. Machida’s a bona fide badass and stylistically, he might be the most difficult 205’r to deal with. Also on Heath’s resume is a loss to Babalu, who is no slouch either. A submission loss to him is what it is. Boetsch? I don’t know what to tell yah. If these guys stand and trade; and I’m guessing they will; Heath breaks his losing streak with a nice undercard victory.
John’s Prediction: David Heath via KO, Round 1
As one fan who I frequently talk to has put it, Nakamura is a lock. Unfortunately, he’s been wrong before. Keita Nakamura (14-2-2) is a submission fighter from Japan who has had some impressive finishes in his career including a decision win over newly signed Yoshiyuki Yoshida.
Emerson has been in recent news over his arrests resulting from assaults he helped carry out with his band of delinquents known as the Lords of South County. With his personal life in turmoil, it’s amazing that the UFC has even given him a fight. Emerson has no real way to finish opponents, and has won a majority of his bouts by decision. He does seem to last through fights, but in this case, Nakamura should win via submission fairly quickly. He has a much better ground game than Emerson by far.
Leland’s Prediction: Keita Nakamura via submission, Round 1
Nakamura has had a few bad breaks inside the Octagon, but he has shown excellent durability in both fights. This should be Emerson’s last fight in the UFC as Nakamura will control the fight from start to finish. I think Nakamura has the ability to win this fight wherever it goes. I look for Nakamura to exploit Emerson’s weak ground game.
Joe’s Prediction: Keita Nakamura via submission, Round 2
Rob Emerson just simply has not impressed me. He has no outstanding skills in any facet of the game, and Nakamura is a veteran who has a nice submission game. Emerson has shown he will wear down, and a tired fighter has a tough time staving off the submission. A drag-out confrontation goes to Nakamura, and I don’t see Emerson posing much of a threat if the 23-year old Japanese fighter doesn’t try to stand and brawl.
John’s Prediction: Keita Nakamura via submission, Round 3