Styles collide in UFC 123 main event
Four former UFC champions will compete on Saturday night on the UFC 123 card at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.
In the featured attraction, light heavyweights Lyoto Machida and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson will square off, both hoping that a victory will move them closer to another crack at the UFC title. Meanwhile, a monumental trilogy four years in the making will add a chapter as former two-division titleholder B.J. Penn looks to erase the memory of successive setbacks when he returns to the welterweight division to settle the score with UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes.
Here's a breakdown of the UFC 123 card:
Main bouts (on pay-per-view):
Lyoto Machida (16-1) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (30-8)
Both coming off harrowing losses, two of the top five light heavyweights in the game will clash in a thrilling headliner.
It's hard to believe that one year ago, UFC commentator Joe Rogan had welcomed us to the "Machida Era." Undefeated at the time, the crafty karate master was coming off destructive back-to-back knockout wins over Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans, adding to an already stellar list of victims that included Tito Ortiz, Penn, Rich Franklin and Stephan Bonnar.
A Brazilian of Japanese heritage, the 32-year-old Machida was brought up in karate under his father Shinzo Machida. He fine-tuned his martial arts background by spending time in Japan learning the art of wrestling. Today, the third-dan black belt in Shotokan karate is also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Originally a protegé of pro wrestling great Antonio Inoki, Machida is still a mysterious figure to most fans. After all, he hones his skills in solitude near the Amazon river and proudly admits to drinking his own urine every morning.
When it comes to his fight preparation, however, Machida spares no expense. In addition to working closely with his father, who has helped him evolve both spiritually and physically, Machida trains at Team Black House with the likes of the Nogueira brothers, heavyweight No. 1 contender Junior dos Santos and UFC middleweight king Anderson Silva.
In preparation for his fight with "Rampage," Machida spent time training at the highly regarded American Kickboxing Academy, home to recently crowned UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and welterweight contenders Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, in an effort to polish his wrestling base.
Inside the octagon, the unorthodox southpaw utilizes a dynamic style often described as elusive. "The Dragon" relies on crafty footwork to move around his adversaries and accurate counterstriking to punish them on their way in.
At UFC 113 this past May, compatriot Mauricio "Shogun" Rua found a kink in Machida's seemingly impenetrable armour, blasting forward and knocking him unconscious in the first round of their light heavyweight title bout. The unlikely result abruptly brought an end to the "Machida era."
Just over one year ago, "Rampage," who successfully starred in the A-Team movie remake, had publicly announced that "he was done fighting" to pursue an acting career.
The revelation was short-lived as Jackson returned to the UFC this past May, losing to his arch nemesis Evans by unanimous decision after a heated feud developed on the 10th season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
The 32-year-old former Pride grand prix finalist still has several years left in his prime. With what is arguably the most impressive list of wins against quality opposition in the entire sport, Jackson's career accomplishments speak volumes about how dangerous and well-rounded a motivated "Rampage" can be.
Among Jackson's key achievements. He knocked out Wanderlei Silva at UFC 92 to avenge two prior career losses in Pride. He outwrestled Dan Henderson to unify the Pride and UFC titles. He knocked out Chuck Liddell on two separate occasions. He powerbombed Ricardo Arona to knock him out in a highlight reel for the ages. He stopped Kevin Randleman in spectacular fashion. And he forced the feared Igor Vovchanchyn into submission during the Russian's heyday in 2002. The list goes on and on.
However, Jackson has been known to disappoint his fans when he lacks the drive and adequate preparation for battle. His decision win over Keith Jardine at UFC 96 was much closer than it should have been, his half-hearted effort against Forrest Griffin at UFC 86 cost him his UFC light heavyweight crown, although he probably should have earned the judges' decision. His 2001 submission loss to Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba is another example of an unfocused "Rampage" skipping out on the gym and looking past his opponent.
A standout high school wrestler, Jackson transitioned remarkably well to mixed martial arts. Under Juanito Ibarra, the explosive athlete developed lethal hands and incredible knockout power. He has since severed his relationship with Oscar De La Hoya's former boxing coach and now fights out of England's Wolfslair Academy. For this particular fight, "Rampage" has kept his camp on U.S. soil to stay closer to his family, working in California at Big Bear and Orange County.
While his opponent circles the globe to train with the sport's elite fighters, one has to wonder if training with the likes of Tiki Ghosn is enough to propel Jackson back to the top of the heap. He certainly lacks the same high-level training partners as other dominant fighters in the division.
With an aggressive style and fierce power, "Rampage" has all the tools needed to slay "The Dragon." In fact, the two fighters are polar opposites. Machida generally avoids any wild exchanges, but he keeps his hands low as he circles the octagon. Given his aggressive free-swinging style, "Rampage" could land a knockout blow if he finds a hole in the Brazilian's defensive game. But Machida has performed well against powerful wrestlers in the past. In assessing how Griffin and Jardine were able to frustrate Jackson with pestering leg kicks and constant footwork, it becomes clear that this matchup is favorable to Machida's evasive game.
If their fight goes the distance, Machida has had better luck with judges. He was unanimously favored on judges' cards when he earned a controversial decision over Rua in their first bout. Meanwhile, Jackson got the shaft when he lost his title to Griffin at UFC 86.
When "Rampage" fights, it often takes only one clean punch to seal the deal. But the order of the day for Machida will be to avoid the American's heavy hands, while countering with a masterful assortment of striking. Although Jackson calls the Brazilian's style "boring," he will be discouraged as the fight progresses and the accumulation of counterblows begin to take their toll.
B.J. Penn (15-7-1) vs. Matt Hughes (45-7)
One of the most epic trilogies in MMA history comes to fruition as the Hawaiian "Prodigy" returns to the welterweight division against the resurgent Hall of Famer and 170-pound icon Hughes.
Arguably the most gifted natural athlete to ever grace the sport, Penn has consistently been his own worst enemy, as he has suffered from lackluster training camps and non-commitment to the game.
Recently humbled after successive decision setbacks against previously unheralded lightweight Frankie Edgar, Penn desperately needs to get back into the win column in order to resurrect a once-illustrious career.
Supporters of Penn have grown tired of talking about his endless potential. After all, potential is one thing and results are another.
Prior to his pair of bouts with Edgar, Penn cemented his legacy as the greatest lightweight of all time with stunning one-sided victories over Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Sean Sherk, Joe Stevenson and Jens Pulver.
In his return to the welterweight division, Penn will be at a significant size disadvantage. He walks around at about 165 pounds, and Hughes is a natural 185-pounder who cuts 15 pounds to make the welterweight limit. On fight night, Hughes likely will possess a 15-pound edge.
However, "The Prodigy" is no stranger to fighting bigger opponents. He challenged Georges St. Pierre twice and arguably did enough to warrant the win in their first bout. He won the first round of a heavyweight encounter against Machida in Japan. And, in his most impressive career accomplishment, he submitted Hughes in their first meeting at UFC 46 to capture the UFC welterweight title.
One of only two men to win UFC titles in multiple weight categories, Penn is a versatile machine. The first non-Brazilian World Jiu-Jitsu champion earned his black belt under Andre Pederneiras in 2000. Since then, Penn has developed into an intelligent boxer with a precise jab and deceiving knockout power. Esteemed boxing trainer Freddie Roach, the mastermind behind pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, has referred to Penn as the best boxer in mixed martial arts.
Penn's insistence on organizing his own training camp in Hawaii has been a burden throughout his career. Previously anchored at Nova Uniao, as well as the American Kickboxing Academy, Penn suffers from a lack of direction and world-class training partners. Although many stars are brought out to Hawaii for brief spurts of training with Penn, the majority of his work is done alongside his brothers Jay Dee and Reagan, in addition to UFC veteran Troy Mandaloniz. Clearly, this self-managed camp is no longer cutting it as Penn's conditioning continues to fail him. He recently turned to herbal medicine and acupuncture in an attempt to better control his energy and improve his cardio.
Matched up against a BJJ black belt for the fourth straight time, the 37-year-old trailblazer Hughes is looking to build on his three-fight winning streak.
A former NCAA Division I All-American and ADCC submission grappling competitor, Hughes vanquished all comers to impose a commanding reign as UFC welterweight champion. Formerly a member of Pat Miletich's camp, the H.I.T. Squad founder now trains alongside the likes of Robbie Lawler. Triumphs over Sherk, St. Pierre, Carlos Newton, Frank Trigg and Royce Gracie made Hughes the most dominant champion in UFC history.
Not only is Hughes a wrestling powerhouse, but he also possesses a highly dangerous submission game, evidenced by the front headlock he used to choke Ricardo Almeida unconscious in August. According to Hughes, however, no win was more important than his stoppage of Penn when they faced off in a rematch at UFC 63 in 2006.
In assessing their first two bouts, it is clear that Penn's BJJ game matches up well against Hughes' vigorous wrestling. The Hawaiian's incomparable takedown defense makes it immensely difficult for Hughes to put him on his back. And once on the mat, Penn threatens with constant submissions and positional improvements. Penn was on the verge of defeating Hughes a second straight time before his gas tank emptied and his rib cracked. Hughes then was able to finish Penn with repeated punches to the face. When they engage standing, Penn is quicker on his feet and unquestionably the more skillful boxer.
With the score even at a win a piece, the rubber match will decide who the superior fighter is in 2010, four years since their last encounter. Penn is at a crossroads after multiple losses in a division he was supposed to dominate for years to come, and Hughes is actively picking up wins against other veterans in the 170-pound division. Hughes feels no added pressure and remains in the fight game because he enjoys his job. On the other hand, Penn has his back against the wall and needs a spirited effort to reclaim his aura as a legend.
Size, conditioning and overall skills are all important elements in the final chapter of the Penn-Hughes trilogy. If Hughes can take advantage of the size mismatch and use his power to impose his will on the much smaller Hawaiian, he can control the fray en route to a decision. Conversely, Penn will once again stop Hughes if he comes into this fight in great shape, while finding the perfect balance between aggression and timing. Penn can hardly afford to lose for the third straight time, so we can expect to see the revival of a consummate mixed martial artist. In other words, Hughes could have a date with his executioner.
Gerald Harris (17-2) vs. Maiquel Falcao (25-3)
Having stopped all three of his octagon adversaries, Harris is getting a main card showcase fight against the debuting Brazilian Chute Boxe product Falcao.
Harris, 31, was defeated by Amir Sadollah on the seventh season of "The Ultimate Fighter," but he has since knocked out John Salter, Mario Miranda and Dave Branch to establish himself as a viable contender in the middleweight division. Based out of the Grudge Training Center under Trevor Wittman, the IFL veteran's game includes a mix of outstanding wrestling and power punching.
Falcao, a heavy-handed Brazilian destroyer, has knocked out 21 of his 28 career foes. Most recently, Falcao stopped fellow Brazilian Wendres Carlos da Silva in the first round. A local star on the Brazilian fight circuit, the majority of Falcao's wins have come against relatively unknown opposition, though he has lost twice to Team Nogueira member Fabio Maldonado, who was victorious against James McSweeney in his UFC debut earlier this year.
The Brazilian has competed at 205 pounds for the majority of his career, and his frame will undoubtedly be better suited for the middleweight class. Like most Chute Boxe exports, Falcao does not excel in the wrestling department as he is a gunslinger who moves forward with the aim of knocking his opponents out.
For his UFC debut, however, Falcao has the unenviable task of fighting a high-caliber wrestler with powerful slams and ground-and-pound. Harris can probably hold his own against Falcao on his feet, but he will not fight Falcao's battle of choice. The American will instead wisely opt to pursue a takedown and unload with strikes, reverting to an obvious strong point on his way to a fourth UFC victory.
Phil Davis (7-0) vs. Tim Boetsch (12-3)
Boetsch is being groomed as yet another stepping-stone for Davis, one of the light heavyweight division's brightest prospects.
Davis, 26, is nicknamed "Mr. Wonderful" as a tribute to his professional wrestling inspiration Paul Orndorff. The four-time NCAA Division I All-American has some of the best amateur wrestling credentials of anyone in the sport.
Splitting time training at a number of different academies, Davis has been like a sponge trying to absorb techniques and fighting systems. After being dubbed a one-dimensional wrestler, Davis put his BJJ blue belt under Lloyd Irvin to work when he submitted quality prospect Alexander Gustafsson with an anaconda choke at UFC 112.
Boetsch, 29, is hardly the most intriguing fighter to test Davis at this stage in his evolving career.
A former high school wrestling champion, Boetsch will be outclassed by the more physically imposing Davis if the action spills to the floor.
When matched up against other elite wrestlers such as Vladimir Matyushenko, Matt Hamill and Jason Brilz, Boetsch has come out on the losing end. His striking is decent, but not quite dangerous enough to threaten Davis, who should have little trouble putting his wrestling to work en route to a late stoppage or a lopsided decision win.
George Sotiropoulos (13-2) vs. Joe Lauzon (19-5)
An early candidate for "fight of the night," Sotiropoulos and Lauzon will put on a clinic for the Michigan-area fans.
Sotiropoulos, 33, has emerged as a top contender for the UFC lightweight title after six straight UFC wins, including recent decisions over durable opponents Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino.
Often referred to as a gym hopper, Sotiropoulos has benefited from the knowledge of countless influential figures in the sport at numerous academies, including Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Enson Inoue's Purebred affiliate in Japan and 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu under the direction of BJJ wizard Eddie Bravo.
The well-travelled Australian BJJ black belt has come a long way since his stint on the sixth installment of "The Ultimate Fighter," where he was knocked out by Tommy Speer in the semifinals. In addition to a polished ground game, Sotiropoulos has developed his boxing skills significantly and he can now be regarded as a well-rounded fighter. Additionally, Sotiropoulos proved he could take a shot when he ate several clean punches from Pellegrino at UFC 116 but still went on to win by decision.
A question mark surrounded Lauzon's career as he underwent extensive knee rehabilitation after losing to Canadian kickboxer Sam Stout at UFC 108 in January. However, Lauzon rebounded with an immaculate performance against Gabe Ruediger, a fellow cast member from the fifth season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
A BJJ purple belt, Lauzon shocked the MMA world with a first-round knockout of Pulver in his UFC debut back in 2006. Since that win, he has submitted four opponents, while losing only to Stout and Florian, a former title challenger.
Stylistically, this lightweight matchup is almost guaranteed to produce fireworks. A winner of six fight bonuses, the second most in UFC history, Lauzon is rarely involved in a dull affair. That being said, Sotiropoulos will have an opportunity to prove his worth as a top title contender as he should have Lauzon's number wherever the fight goes.
Preliminary bouts (on Spike TV):
Mark Munoz (8-2) vs. Aaron Simpson (7-1)
Elite-level wrestlers are set to meet on the Spike TV preliminary card. Both former NCAA All-American wrestlers for Oklahoma State and Arizona State, respectively, Munoz and Simpson are both looking to rebound from their first losses in the middleweight division as Munoz dropped a split decision to top contender Yushin Okami, while Simpson was knocked out by Chris Leben. When two high-level wrestlers face off, there is often a stalemate in that department, which leads to a striking exchange. If that is the case, the more assertive striker Simpson could connect with a lethal fight-ending combination.
Brian Foster (14-5) vs. Matt Brown (11-9)
Hughes' teammate Foster looks to improve on his 2-2 UFC record against the well-rounded Brown, who is coming off back-to-back submission losses to BJJ aces Chris Lytle and Almeida. Foster is a rugged wrestler with reliable takedowns, although he has been susceptible to the submission game, tapping out four times in his career. Regardless, Foster's imposing wrestling has flustered many opponents and he should be able to garner a victory from top control. Foster has never gone the distance in 19 career bouts despite being a wrestler. He might get his first taste of three full rounds against Brown.
Preliminary bouts (non-televised):
Karo Parisyan (19-5) vs. Dennis Hallman (45-13-2)
In a critical bout on the untelevised portion of the card, the 28-year-old Armenian judoka Parisyan makes his return to the UFC. The return comes as somewhat of a surprise to many observers after Parisyan had pulled out of his fight with Dustin Hazelett at UFC 106 on short notice due to a painkiller addiction. This could very well be Parisyan's last shot in the promotion as he is matched up against the well-rounded 60-fight veteran Hallman. While Parisyan's past troubles have caused him to be buried on the untelevised card, a strong performance against Hallman could mean his re-emergence as a solid contender in the welterweight division.
Mike Lullo (8-1) vs. Edson Barboza (6-0)
In a clash of promotional newcomers, the Xtreme Fighting Organization veteran Lullo will look to build on an eight-fight win streak against the unbeaten Barboza. A solid submission specialist, Lullo will have his hands full against the Brazilian Muay Thai wrecking machine. Lullo can seize the opportunity of a lifetime after accepting this fight on short notice, but Barboza is too explosive on his feet and that will likely be the difference maker.
Paul Kelly (10-3) vs. T.J. O’Brien (16-3)
The entertaining British banger Kelly is coming off a unanimous decision setback against Minnesota-based wrestler Jacob Volkmann. Since dropping from welterweight to the more appropriate 155-pound division, Kelly has gone 2-2. O'Brien, a veteran of the Midwest circuit, possesses sublime submission skills and great killer instinct. But Kelly has more experience competing under the bright lights of the UFC, which should give him an edge in this lightweight meeting.
Nik Lentz (19-3-2) vs. Tyson Griffin (14-4)
By the look of things, the UFC is trying to punish the Minnesota Martial Arts prodigy Lentz for a dull performance against Andre Winner at UFC 118 this past August by matching him up against the well-travelled Tyson Griffin, a product of Xtreme Couture. However, this will not be an easy fight for Griffin, who is looking to rebound from losses to Takanori Gomi and Evan Dunham. Griffin has a significantly better stand-up game, but Lentz should never be counted out based solely on his extensive wrestling pedigree. That being said, Griffin can hardly afford a third straight loss and will likely give it everything he has to resurrect his contender status in the lightweight division.