UFC 122: "Marquardt vs. Okami" from the Konig Pilsener Arena in Oberhausen, Germany is almost upon us. The world's largest fight promotion takes its brand overseas for what hopefully will be an exciting night of action airing via tape delay for free on Spike TV tomorrow night (Nov.13).
The main card may not be as loaded as what UFC fans are used to, but there is still plenty of intrigue. After all, the headlining bout features two very well rounded mixed martial artists with a shot at the middleweight championship on the line.
That's not enough for you?
Because the event is overseas, it's been stacked with plenty of international flavor, no different than the first UFC event held in Germany. Seven different countries will be represented in five main card fights. There may not be as much talent to showcase -- but there is no denying the strategy in booking the event this way.
Alright, enough with the potatoes, let's get to the meat.
185 lbs.: Nate "The Great" Marquardt (30-9-2) vs. Yushin "Thunder" Okami (25-5)
"Mean" Geno predicts: I'm really happy this is what the main event ended up being. Had Vitor Belfort not been promoted to a title shot, this could have been the dreaded, "striker vs. grappler" match-up that we all love so much.
Instead we get what should be an even contest between two of the most well-rounded fighters in all of MMA. I realize that term gets thrown around a lot but there are perhaps no two fighters it applies to more than Marquardt and Okami.
Nate, to me, is a guy who can be characterized as being good at everything while not being particularly "Great" at any one thing. This has its advantages but it's also a bit of a handicap. He's proficient with his wrestling, sure, but you saw what happened in the Chael Sonnen fight. He's dynamic as all hell on his feet but once he ran up against a specialist, he was destroyed.
Fortunately, Okami is essentially a mirror image of Marquardt, albeit with a few less tools to put guys away. On paper, the match-up is a push. I can't see any clear advantage for either guy.
"Thunder" has been knocking on the door of a title shot since he made his way into the UFC back in August of 2006. Early success in the form of four straight victories led to a fight with Rich Franklin to determine a number one contender. It was close but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
He bounced back by winning his next two fights and was going to be given a shot at Anderson Silva at UFC 90, due mostly to a lack of competition as opposed to his actual earning of the honor, but he was forced to pull out with a hand injury.
Back to the drawing board.
A win over Chael Sonnen at UFC 104 would have likely put him right back at the front of the line but, no different than Marquardt, he was felled by the superior wrestler. Unlike Nate, though, he learned his lesson and decided to take up training with Sonnen at Team Quest to hone his grappling skills.
We'll see if he adopts the strategy Sonnen used against Nate and if he can implement that kind of gameplan. Marquardt trains under the master gameplanner himself, Greg Jackson, so that's an area of the fight I'm most interested to watch play out.
So let's look at what we have here. Both guys are well-rounded, they've both demonstrated a repeated lack of ability to win major fights and they both badly want a chance to get back at Anderson Silva. Marquardt seems more fixated on it than Okami, but one can never really know such things, even if they tell us otherwise.
I asked Marquardt about the somewhat quick turnaround between this fight and the Palhares bout and he told me the timing is perfect. He said he will be in top shape and hitting his peak at just the right time. I don't know how much of an indicator that will be of his performance come fight time, but fighters are generally crisper if they don't have a long lay off.
I've gone back and forth on this pick for a while now but the closer we get to the actual fight the more I like Nate. He's got so many more ways to finish the fight and I actually think we'll see something that's never happened before: Okami tapping.
Betting Lines (as of Nov. 12):
Marquardt: -220 ((Bet Now))
Okami: +175 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Marquardt via submission in round two
185 lbs.: Jorge "El Conquistador" Rivera (18-7) vs. Alessio "Legionarious" Sakara (15-7-1)
"Mean" Geno predicts: Now we get into the fights that are a harder sell. What's the purpose behind booking a fight? Divisional relevance or spectacle that can't be passed up. Where does this fight fall?
Actually, I think it's a little bit of both. No one should kid themselves, Jorge Rivera and Alessio Sakara are not going to be challenging for the middleweight title anytime soon. "El Conquistador" has actually already fought Anderson Silva.
It ended about the way you would expect.
The point is, no matter how many wins in a row these two put together, they're probably not headed for glory. They've both won three straight but the level of competition hasn't exactly been the most difficult. They're filler material for events that need a little extra bang.
Rivera is a 38 year old Muay Thai practitioner that loves to stand and trade. His fights rarely go the judges scorecards and you can bet your ass that's why he was placed in this fight, in the co-main event no less.
Sakara is a 29 year old former professional boxer with plenty of power and even more technique. He underperformed in the beginning of his UFC career but since moving to train with American Top Team, he's won four of five fights. If he beats Rivera, don't be surprised if you start hearing Dana White talking about how underrated he is and how he's heading for big things.
If we know both guys have no plans to take the fight to the mat, which we can say with a certain amount of confidence, then the fight will come down to who gets their punches off and who lands first. The speed advantage may be slightly in Sakara's favor but that can make all the difference, as we saw in the Carlos Condit-Dan Hardy fight at UFC 120.
Rivera may be the more entertaining personality but at the end of the day, Sakara is the better fighter and that will become evident by the end of the fight.
Betting Lines (as of Nov. 12):
Rivera: -120 ((Bet Now))
Sakara: -110 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Sakara via KO in round one
155 lbs.: Denis Siver (16-7) vs. Andre Winner (11-4)
"Mean" Geno predicts: You might not recognize the names, or maybe you do, hell I don't know, but this fight is perfect for this card. No different than the co-main event, two fighters that love a good kickboxing match. If that doesn't get you excited, what will?
You know what, don't answer that.
Siver is being used a bit as the poster boy for the UFC's charge into Germany. He's a nice, soft spoken but violent (in the right way) fighter that is perfect to promote the sport in his homeland.
His repertoire standing is impressive but his go-to move is the spinning back kick. Normally I would say it's never a good idea to be predictable but his ability to bust it out of nowhere is unprecedented. It really works in his favor in this fight too, as he stands just 5'7'' as opposed to the 5'11'' Winner.
The biggest attribute Siver will bring to the cage is his heart. He won't quit if the fight goes into deep waters and he won't wilt if his gameplan is ineffective. That's not something we can say about his opponent.
The absolutely dreadful performance Winner mailed in against Nik Lentz at UFC 118 reopened the debate about wrestling and the way it's used in MMA. Lentz spent most of the fight pushing Winner up against the fence and holding him there. He got a few takedowns but largely spent the night playing a clinch game that angered Winner, his camp in Team Rough House and the entire paying audience.
This is what I will say about it: If your opponent has you in a position you're uncomfortable in, get out of it. Don't complain about the rules or the scoring being biased against or for certain fighting styles. Learn to defend your opponents strengths and it won't be an issue.
What drives me nuts about Winner is that if he learned takedown defense and actually applied it to fighting, he could be a modern day form of an in-his-prime Chuck Liddell. He's an absolute monster with huge power in his hands. If he can figure out a way to consistently use it, he'll be climbing the lightweight ranks at a rabbit's pace.
Siver has the crowd behind him and he's actually a decent wrestler. He's also got a solid chin, the Melvin Guillard fight notwithstanding. Winner could catch him coming in but I doubt it. The crowd will be happy with this one.
Betting Lines (as of Nov. 12)
Siver: -140 ((Bet Now))
Winner: +110 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Siver via TKO in round three
"Mean" Geno predicts: Ah, Amir. After looking incredible on season seven of the "Ultimate Fighter," anticipation was high that he would quickly become a contender in the UFC.
Then he got bit by the injury bug.
After over a year on the sideline, he debuted at welterweight against newcomer Johny Hendricks. In just 29 seconds the fight was called after Hendricks swarmed Sadollah and Big Dan Miragliotta decided he'd had enough. It was a somewhat controversial stoppage, as it appeared Amir was trying to get up and he immediately protested but nevertheless it was an unsuccessful return to the cage.
Being a hot young prospect the UFC had big plans for, they gave him a winnable fight against the returning Phil Baroni at UFC 101. They went shot-for-shot in the first round but eventually, as was the plan, the "New York Bad Ass" faded and Sadollah cruised to a decision. He would also decision Brad Blackburn in his next fight although he looked thoroughly unimpressive in doing so.
He was given a big step up at UFC 114 in facing Dong Hyun Kim and didn't rise to meet the challenge, dropping a decision and leaving his record at a mediocre 3-2 in his short career. Which leads us to today and the reason this fight was made.
I don't want to say anything bad about Peter Sobotta. He's a talented guy but he's just not a UFC caliber fighter. He was originally signed to compete on the first card held in Germany at UFC 99. He lost a decision to Paul Taylor. He dropped his next fight to James Wilks at UFC 115 and that is his purpose in this fight as well.
The UFC is not above booking fights like this. Sobotta fights out of Germany so it makes sense to put him on this card. It also makes sense to put him up against a superior fighter, like say Amir Sadollah, and when he loses, as he likely will, they let him go.
It sounds bad to say it but that's the way it's going to play out. Unless Amir badly under-performs again, in which case it won't matter and HE might be facing the firing squad (he won't be).
Betting Lines (as of Nov. 12):
Sadollah: -350 ((Bet Now))
Sobotta: +250 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Sadollah via unanimous decision
"Mean" Geno predicts: I have this picture in my head of Dana White and Joe Silva sitting around at UFC Headquarters and talking about these two guys like, "Well, what do we do with them? Hmmm. I guess we could put them up against each other. Yep. We'll have them fight. Hopefully, someone will care."
The fans in Germany were passionate last time, maybe they will give these two plenty of love.
I like Soszynski. He's got his shortcomings, like his lack of a gas tank and seemingly disappeared killer instinct, but he's got the tools to be a threat in the light-heavyweight division. Maybe not a top tier talent but a solid gatekeeper at worst.
Reljic has had a bad year so far. His debut in the UFC was a resounding success. At UFC 84, he came in and knocked out established veteran Wilson Gouveia and won himself "Fight of the Night" in the process. Then he suffered a back injury and he just hasn't been the same since.
He sat out almost two full years before making his way back to the Octagon, this time at middleweight. He lost two decisions to C.B. Dolloway and Kendall Grove, respectively. So what's the obvious answer?
Move right back up to 205-pounds.
Really, both guys could be fighting for their jobs. Krzysztof has lost two of his last three fights and the one victory was a controversial TKO via headbutt to Stephan Bonnar. He definitively lost the rematch and now his UFC career is in jeopardy. Both guys need this bad and desperation usually breeds either tentativeness or recklessness.
I'm more confident in the "Polish Experiment" getting back to putting the pressure on and Reljic wilting after he gets hit. He might get another fight because of the switch in weight classes but don't be surprised to see him unemployed with another loss.
Betting Lines (as of Nov. 12):
Soszynski: -115 ((Bet Now))
Reljic: -115 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Soszynski via unanimous decision
That's a wrap, folks.
Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of UFC 122: "Marquardt vs. Okami."
What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for tomorrow night's event.