Welterweight Championship bout: George St-Pierre over B.J. Penn
Light Heavyweight bout: Lyoto Machida over Thiago Silva
Light Heavyweight bout: Stephan Bonnar over Jon Jones
Welterweight bout: Karo Parisyan over **** Hyun Kim
Lightweight bout: Clay Guida over Nate Diaz
First I want to start by saying, this is a very, very difficult card to predict, as outside of the Bonnar-Jones match up, every fight looks very evenly matched, and even the Bonnar-Jones fight is no gimme, as Jones has looked very impressive so far in his short MMA career. Now, onto the predictions:
St.Pierre vs. Penn: One of the most anticipated rematches in MMA history, this fight, on paper at least, looks like it should live up to the hype. Their first fight was a 3 round war in which St. Pierre won a controversial decision. This time around, it will be for the Welterweight Title, and thus will be a 5 rounder, which will be the key to this fight in my opinion, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
In the striking department neither fighter has a real clear advantage in this one. Both fighters have great power, and both fighters are very technically skilled. Where I think GSP has the advantage on their feet is that his striking is more versatile then BJ's. BJ is almost strictly a boxer, and rarely mixes in any kicks or knees. GSP on the other hand, can hit you from anywhere, at any time, with just about any part of his body. He throws punches, kicks, knees, super man punches, spinning back fists, standing elbows, everything. On the flip side, when it comes to each fighter's respective chins, the advantage certainly goes to BJ. BJ has got one of the hardest chins in the game, and rarely if ever do you see him get phased. GSP on the other hand, not only has a questionable chin, but he's also almost completely devoid of head movement when he's striking, which from a defensive standpoint, makes him almost a sitting duck.
On the ground, we have yet another stalemate. While Penn clearly possesses better jujitsu then St. Pierre, GSP is an excellent wrestler who rarely if ever puts himself in a bad position on the ground, and if he does end up in a bad position, he has the raw physical strength to power his way out of those spots in most cases. GSP is also a legitimate jujitsu black belt in his own right, and while he’s certainly not to Penn’s level, he should be good enough to avoid getting caught in anything. I wouldn’t expect GSP to do much in the line of attempting submissions in this fight. If the fight goes to the ground, I’d expect him to use his superior ground and pound ability to wear Penn down, while only falling back on his jujitsu to avoid getting caught with something.
From a wrestling standpoint, there’s really no contest, GSP has the clear advantage in this department. This is not a knock on Penn, as Penn also possesses excellent wrestling, but GSP is one of the, if not the best in the UFC currently in this department. This will allow GSP to dictate where he wants the fight to take place. If he feels more comfortable on his feet, the fight will stay standing, if he chooses to take it to the ground; the fight will go to the ground. Penn will not have much say in that matter.
Now, back to the point I was making earlier about this being a 5 round fight as opposed to their first fight, which was a 3 rounder. This, in my opinion, is an enormous advantage for GSP. In their first fight, Penn absolutely dominated the 1st round, and was winning through 2 and a half minutes of the 2nd round…Then he began to gas. At that point, Penn was losing steam very quickly, and GSP just seemed to be getting stronger. The 2nd round ended up being very close, and GSP had his way with an exhausted Penn in the 3rd round. The end result was GSP winning a split decision, with 2 judges scoring it 29-28 in favour of GSP, and 1 judge scoring it 29-28 Penn. Now, since that time, Penn has actually begun to really dedicate himself to the sport, and has begun training much more seriously. He looked great against Stevenson, and after 3 rounds against Sherk, he didn’t seem too tired at all. But here is the thing; the fight with Sherk was strictly a boxing match. Neither fighter in that fight attempted a single takedown through 3 rounds. Now, while standing up and striking with somebody for 15 minutes would certainly not be a walk in the park, it is no where near as tiring striking, defending takedowns, trying to apply submissions off your back, and trying to get back to your feet off your back, which is what Penn is likely going to be facing against GSP. Also, he’s going to be trying to do that while facing a fighter who’s considerably bigger and considerably stronger then he is which is only going to make things more difficult on Penn’s cardio. That said, if this were a 3 round fight, I’d be going with Penn, as I think Penn and his new and improved cardio would be able to best GSP for at least 2 rounds, which would be enough to win a 3 round decision. Even with his new found dedication to training though, I can’t see it being enough to best GSP for 3 rounds, while still having enough to hold on for 2 more rounds. I’m taking GSP via late round (T) KO, or decision
Machida vs. Silva: Finally this fight has arrived! This is a fight that hardcore fans have been waiting for, for a long time. Most recognize the fact that both of these guys have an enormous amount of potential, but the knock on both of them is that neither has been truly tested by another top notch fighter (Which is true in Silva’s case, not so much in Machida’s). Finally we’ll get to see what these guys are really made of.
What’s really held Machida back from bursting into the mainstream among MMA fans is the fact that his fights are generally considered “boring”, because of the fact that Machida is a counter puncher who refuses to simply stand in there and slug it out with other fighters, and most of his fights end up going to a decision. While his fighting style has not made him particularly popular among casual fans, it has made him wildly successful, as he’s undefeated overall, he’s 5-0 in the UFC and through 5 fights in the UFC, and he has yet to lose a single round on any judge’s scorecard. What makes Machida so effective is that he has a very unique, very unorthodox set of skills which make him nearly impossible to adequately prepare for. His primary skill set in striking is Shotokan Karate, he’s a legitimate black belt in Brazilian Jujitsu, and he also has a strong background in both Judo, and Sumo Wrestling. While it’s not that difficult to find quality training partners in jujitsu and Judo, it’s nearly impossible to find a training partner with the skill of Machida in Shotokan Karate, and because of this fact, his opponents end up looking completely flummoxed by his fighting style, and they end up getting very frustrated as they cannot find a way to solve the riddle that is Machida’s stand-up.
As for how the fight breaks down, this is how I see it:
On their feet, I’d give the advantage to Machida. Machida’s stand up in incredibly technically precise, while Silva has more of a loose, brawling style. Silva certainly holds the edge in power here, as Machida is not what I would call a devastating striker. But while Silva can likely knock Machida out with one punch, Machida can likely avoid Silva’s initial strike, hit him 2 or 3 times, and get out of there before Silva can realize what the hell hit him.
Silva though, will present Machida with something he’s not faced yet in his UFC career: That is, a competent, highly aggressive striker, who also possesses a very strong ground game. Really the only fighter Machida has faced in the UFC thus far that can be considered a competent, aggressive striker is Sokoudjou, who Machida defeated via arm triangle in the 2nd round of their bout at UFC 79. Silva though, is a much more dangerous opponent then Sokoudjou. While Sokoudjou is a skilled, extremely powerful striker, his endurance is very bad, and his skills on the ground are, well, embarrassing. Early on in Machida’s bout with Sokoudjou, Sokoudjou, for some unknown reason, took Machida to the ground. Within seconds Machida had swept him, and spent the remainder of the round on top of Sokoudjou, who at this point, was virtually helpless. Then, right off the bat in the 2nd round Machida scored the takedown and from there worked in an arm triangle and that was all she wrote. Against Silva though, taking things to the ground might be a very bad idea for Machida. The reason for this is that Silva possesses not only what is considered arguably the best jujitsu in the UFC at 205lbs (Interestingly enough, the same claim can also be made for Machida. They are both very evenly matched here), but he possesses some of the, if not the most brutal ground and pound in the division. Machida’s ground and pound on the other hand, is not terrible, but it is also nothing to really write home about. These 2 would be pretty evenly matched on the ground, unless of course, Thiago were to get on top, in which case, Machida could be in a lot of trouble.
Machida’s best bet in this fight is to keep the fight standing, and do what he does best: That being, forcing his opponent to chase him, countering their strikes as they’re coming in, then quickly getting out of there before his opponent realizes what’s going on.
The best course of action for Silva would be to get a hold of Machida early and often, and turn this into a street fight. If you give Machida the opportunity to dance around and pick you apart, he will do it, and he’ll do it extremely effectively. If Silva doesn’t give him that chance, and forces him to stand in there and exchange with him, Silva is going to be at a huge advantage, as this is where his brawling style of fighting, and his superior power will be most effective. That I think would be the plan that if successful, would give Silva the best chance of winning. That said, I don’t think it’s very realistic to expect that to happen. Machida is too slippery, and too good at avoiding slug fests. Silva’s most realistic chance is to take this thing to the ground early and often, and start really laying it to Machida. Machida has never been hit squarely in the face and it will be interesting to see how he reacts if this happens. If Thiago can get Machida down, and get on top of him, Machida I think will be in a world of trouble.
The “experts” seem to be in agreement that this fight is Machida’s to lose, but I personally see this as a fight that can really go either way. Officially, I’m going to go on record as saying Machida takes it, probably be decision, but I’ll certainly be rooting for Silva, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he takes this one.
Diaz vs. Guida: This, much like the Machida vs. Silva fight, is a pick’em in my opinion. If you simply look at each of these fighters skill sets, I’d say the advantage would certainly go to Guida. He’s a considerably better striker, he’s got absolutely fantastic conditioning, he’s a much superior wrestler, and he’s got respectable submission defence. Diaz on the other hand, only has a clear advantage in the jujitsu department. That said, Guida’s glaring flaw is that he tends to get too over aggressive, and has a habit of taking unnecessary risks, all in the name of putting on a good show. A perfect example of this is Guida’s fight against Roger Huerta at the Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale. Guida was clearly winning the fight through 2 rounds. In this situation, most fighters would hold back, play it safe, and ride out a decision. Not Guida. When the bell ring for the start of the 3rd round, he came out, balls to the wall, like it was the beginning of the 1st. What ended up happening is Guida made a mistake; Huerta got his back, and choked him out, thus winning the fight. That is something Guida can’t afford to do against a guy like Diaz, who has phenomenal jujitsu, and can very easily finish you on the ground, even when you don’t make a mistake. The best game plan for Guida in the fight would be to avoid letting this fight go to the ground, which shouldn’t be a problem as Guida’s wrestling is very good, while Diaz is nothing special in this department. All Guida has to do is avoid the takedowns, and he should be able to punish Diaz on their feet. In the event that Guida knocks Diaz down, he should take the same approach as Mir did when he fought Nog. That being: Unless I can finish him in the first couple of seconds down there, back off, and tell the ref to stand him back up. On the topic of Nog, Diaz reminds me somewhat of Nog, in that in a lot of his fights, he takes a beating for the first round or 2, and then out of nowhere, pulls out a slick submission and wins the fight. Diaz has got a ton of heart, and a ton of talent on the ground. You can beat the living hell out of him, but no matter what he is ALWAYS dangerous when things go to the mat. If Guida plays things smart here, he should come away with the victory. If he takes the same approach to this fight as he did to…Well, basically all of his fights leading up to this, where he’s more concerned with putting on a good show than he is with winner, then Diaz may very well remain undefeated in his UFC career.