UFC 110 preview
By Ariel Shnerer, The Fight Network
At UFC 110, some marquee stars from the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championships have their backs against the wall in last-ditch efforts to prove they can go toe-to-toe with today's younger breed of MMA fighters.
Two Brazilian MMA trailblazers and a fading Croatian special forces veteran will try to relive their success from Pride as the UFC will make its promotional debut in Australia on Saturday.
Let's break down the main card:
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-5-1) vs. Cain Velasquez (7-0)
The winner of this heavyweight bout will be right in the mix for a title shot in 2010.
Noguiera, 33, is one of mixed martial arts' all-time greats. "Minotauro," a black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu and judo, is arguably the greatest heavyweight submission specialist to ever step foot inside a ring or cage.
In Pride, Nogueira beat great fighters such as Mark Coleman, Dan Henderson and Mirko "Cro Cop".
Always involved in violent fights, Nogueira has sustained a substantial amount of punishment over the course of his 11-year pro career. After brutal contests against Fedor Emelinaenko and Bob Sapp, Nogueira's reflexes are slower than they once were. However, Nogueira remains one of the most dangerous competitors in the UFC.
He bounced back from a loss to Frank Mir, in which he was severely ill leading up to the bout, by defeating fellow legend Randy Couture in one of the 2009's most memorable battles.
Nogueira does not rely solely on his BJJ base. The Brazilian has trained with the Cuban boxing team and possesses good hands, although he might be better suited trying to slap on a fight-ending submission as quickly as possible against his foe -- a powerful NCAA Division I wrestler.
Velasquez, 27, has been dominant since his debut in October 2006.
After punishing Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell in his last two outings, the UFC brass deemed Velasquez ready for the biggest test of his career.
Under Dave Camarillo at the American Kickboxing Academy, Velasquez has steamrolled through opponents using his speed, wrestling base and menacing size. "Velasquez is the perfect mixed martial artist," said Camarillo.
If Nogueira can effectively utilize his savvy submission skills, he will prevail. However, Velasquez if can take Nogueira to the mat -- and if no reckless chances are taken -- he might be able to punish Nogueira for three rounds. Assuming the majority of this fight takes place standing, it can go either way.
The winner of this fight should be matched up against the winner of Junior dos Santos-Gabriel Gonzaga in March to determine who will challenge for the heavyweight crown once Brock Lesnar meets either Frank Mir or Shane Carwin this summer.
Wanderlei Silva (32-10-1) vs. Michael Bisping (18-2)
In another fan-friendly encounter, Silva and Bisping are expected to trade blows until someone can't continue.
Silva was one of Pride's most feared competitors. His conquests include Henderson, Ricardo Arona and Quinton Jackson.
Fans salivated at the idea of Silva returning to the UFC, where he had dropped bouts to Vitor Belfort and Tito Ortiz early in his career. Since his return, Silva has come out on the losing end against Jackson, Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin, while knocking out Keith Jardine.
Having lost five of his last six fights, the 33-year-old Silva needs a performance reminiscent of his Pride days to make an impact in his 185-pound debut.
Bisping, 30, won the third season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show and went on to win seven of his next nine fights, losing only to top-ranked fighters Henderson and Rashad Evans.
At UFC 100, Bisping was on the receiving end of the "Knockout of the Year" as Henderson took advantage of one of Bisping's major technical flaws, which is moving in the direction of your opponent`s power hand. If Bisping repeats the same mistake against Silva, he will lose quickly.
Bisping impressively defeated Denis Kang at UFC 105 and showcased his underrated ground game.
Bisping exudes confidence, which has led to claims that he is overrated by fans and fighters alike. Notwithstanding his critics, Bisping's improvements as a fighter are undeniable.
The brash Brit is likely to stand and trade with the Brazilian powerhouse, in which case he will meet his downfall.
The winner can look forward to a matchup with Japanese-born Korean warrior Yoshihiro Akiyama this summer.
Joe Stevenson (31-10) vs. George Sotiropoulos (11-2)
Stevenson, 27, recently returned to his winning ways with successive victories over Spencer Fisher and Nathan Diaz.
Triumphant on the second season of "The Ultimate Fighter," Stevenson has since encountered ups and downs in the UFC. Despite impressive showings against Yves Edwards, Melvin Guillard, Kurt Pellegrino and Gleison Tibau, Stevenson struggled against some of the division's top-10 fighters such as B.J. Penn, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.
With revived confidence in the octagon and MMA trainer extraordinaire Greg Jackson in his corner, the BJJ and judo black belt is looking to get in line for another shot at Penn's championship.
Stevenson's evolution as a fighter has been his greatest asset. A standout collegiate wrestler and lifelong BJJ practitioner, Stevenson is on the brink of reclaiming top-10 status at 155 pounds.
Sotiropoulous, 32, has showcased a flawless ground game since debuting in the UFC last April. The Australian, who was eliminated from "The Ultimate Fighter 6" after getting knocked out by journeyman Tommy Speer, has won three straight fights. In his last two bouts, Sotiropoulos submitted Jason Dent and George Roop.
A black belt in BJJ under John Will, Sotiropoulos takes a big step up in competition when he faces Stevenson, a former lightweight title challenger.
Sotiropoulos' submission wizardry has been his defining feature in the UFC, but Stevenson too is an accomplished grappler, therefore he should be able to hold his own before capitalizing on an opening for the TKO win.
Keith Jardine (15-6-1) vs. Ryan Bader (10-0)
Jardine, 34, has dropped four of his last six fights and needs a stellar showing to remind observers of his wins over Brandon Vera, Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin in the not-so-distant past.
Despite losing a unanimous decision, Jardine delivered an inspiring performance against Quinton Jackson at UFC 96 before getting knocked out by Thiago Silva at UFC 102 last August.
Unorthodox, awkward and downright strange are some of the words pundits have used to describe Jardine's unique striking. Sometimes, however, being unique is an asset in MMA. After all, there are no training partners to mimic Jardine`s stance in the cage.
"The Dean of Mean" has the tools to punish opponents standing if he keeps his distance and avoids power shots.
A special project at Greg Jackson's MMA in New Mexico, Jardine has been taken under the wing of Jackson and conditioning coach Jonathan Chaimberg, who is adamant Jardine has improved drastically and will shine on Saturday night.
Bader, 26, is unbeaten in 10 professional fights. He is the unlikely betting favorite despite only three years of experience.
A two-time All-American anchored at Arizona Combat Sports, Bader won "The Ultimate Fighter 8" by stopping BJJ ace Vinny Magalhaes. He impressively dispatched Eric Schafer at UFC 104 last October.
With stong wrestling and malicious ground-and-pound, Bader is a light heavyweight prospect with a bright future.
Against Jardine, however, Bader faces a much tougher test than he has become accustomed to. If Jardine throws careless leg kicks, Bader will take him down at will. If Jardine defends intelligently, keeps his distance and turns this bout into a stand-up chess match, this will be a much closer fight.
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (25-7-2) vs. Anthony "The Hippo" Perosh (10-5)
Perosh is a last-minute replacement for Ben Rothwell, who had to pull out because of an illness.
This is a do-or-die fight for Cro Cop, who was demolished by dos Santos at UFC 103 last September.
The 2006 Pride open-weight grand prix winner was once widely regarded as the most dangerous striker in the sport.
Everything went downhill for the proud Croatian when he suffered back-to-back losses to Cheick Kongo and Gabriel Gonzaga during his first stint with the UFC.
Now 35, Cro Cop will need to dig deep in order to continue competing at an elite level.
The former K-1 sensation is still one of the best technical strikers in MMA.
Training alongside Elvis Sinosic, Perosh is coming off a first-round stoppage of Kym Robinson in December. Having competed primarily for the Cage Fighting Championships promotion in Australia, Perosh was released from the UFC in 2006 following consecutive losses against Jeff Monson and Christian Wellisch.