This Saturday night (August 27, 2011), two talented light heavyweights will open up the main card action of UFC 134 as hometown favorite Luiz Cane welcomes UFC newcomer Stanislav Nedkov to the Octagon.
Cane is trying to continue bouncing back after suffering consecutive first round knockout losses. He looked terrific in his last fight, blasting Eliot Marshall with a first round technical knockout, but "Banha" had better be ready as Nedkov is a fighter that's not to be taken lightly.
Stanislav Nedkov hails from Bulgaria where he was a two-time national champion wrestler. He's waited over a year to make his UFC debut, having repeatedly been denied by injuries to himself or his opponent. We'll find out just how eager he is come Saturday night.
Will Cane send Nedkov back to Bulgaria with his tail between his legs? Or will the rising prospect make a huge impact in front of a hostile crowd?
Record: 11-3 (1 No Contest) overall, 4-3 in the UFC
Key Losses: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC 106), Cyrille Diabate (UFC 114)
How he got here: Brazilian Luiz Cane made his UFC debut in 2007 and it didn't go very smoothly. Less than two minutes into his inaugural fight, he was disqualified for throwing an illegal knee at a grounded James Irvin. He would get back on track with three straight impressive showings, even earning a "Knockout of the Night" bonus against Sokoudjou.
Just as it seemed his possibilities were endless, Cane ran into big trouble against a pair of southpaws. First, he was quickly knocked out by "Little Nog" at UFC 106 and he followed up that poor showing by getting knocked out again in the first round by French kickboxer Cyrille Diabate at UFC 114.
After taking nearly 10 months off, Cane came back with a vengeance, crushing Eliot Marshall in just 2:15 in the first round to announce that he wouldn't be a punching bag anymore. After the fight, he begged for a spot on the upcoming UFC event in Brazil. His prayers were finally answered as he is set to be tested by the Bulgarian prospect.
How he gets it done: Cane has a strong base in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) but his true strength is in the stand-up department. He'll have his hands full trying to keep the fight on its feet as Nedkov is a talented wrestler but if he can do it, he'll really increase his odds of winning drastically.
Look for Cane to be cautiously aggressive. That's not an oxymoron, it's simply the best plan of action for him. Cane will likely keep his distance and feel out Nedkov early, looking for openings in the stand-up and an opportunity to strike and hit him with everything he's got.
The key will be to avoid committing to a strike too hard and exposing an opportunity for a takedown. Expect to see Cane really work his "test" strikes like his lead jab or low leg kicks that can't be caught and turned into takedown attempts.
Record: 11-0 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Kevin Randleman (Sengoku 11), Travis Wiuff (Sengoku 8)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Stanislav Nedkov was a repeated national champion wrestler for his native Bulgaria before taking the plunge into MMA. He got off to a terrific start on the local Bulgarian circuit, crushing all opposition en route to a 7-0 record that would earn him a trip to Japan to compete internationally.
After a dominating debut in Pancrase, Nedkov was matched up with a pair of UFC veterans, both of whom pushed him to the limit. He had his hands full with Travis Wiuff before scoring a third round technical knockout and he barely squeaked by former UFC champion Kevin Randleman via split decision at Sengoku 11.
After returning home and earning one last win in Bulgaria, Nedkov was signed by the UFC. His first fights with Rodney Wallace and Steve Cantwell fell through after a pair of injuries, but he's finally back and ready to go, making his UFC debut in hostile territory.
How he gets it done: Nedkov has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and he's also got a nice history in boxing, but it's his wrestling that has been his biggest friend thus far in his career.
With his two-time national champion skills, he's been able to take fights to the ground and beat his opponents senseless. We really haven't seen Luiz Cane against a tough wrestler thus far in his career so it would be wise for Nedkov to test his opponent's defensive wrestling capabilities early and often.
Nedkov's boxing background could be a huge benefit as well. Since Cane has had major issues fighting left-handed strikers in the past, the Bulgarian could attempt to switch stances to southpaw in his stand-up and try his luck there. There might even be some mental blocks for "Banha" in that department that Nedkov could exploit.
Fight "X-Factor:" There are two "X-Factors" for this fight. The first is, just how good is Nedkov's wrestling? Sure, it wasn't bad against Bulgarians in Europe, but he had some issues against UFC washouts Kevin Randleman and Travis Wiuff when in Japan. A national championship in wrestling is great, but look at Karlos Vemola. He got absolutely schooled a week ago by Ronny Markes, a fighter with little to no wrestling background at all.
The other factor is, will Nedkov's conditioning play a part in this fight? Nedkov is a tough fighter, but he's shown some serious conditioning issues in the past. Fighting on the big stage, the opening fight of the main card in his UFC debut will likely only make that worse. If Nedkov can't earn an early finish, he could be severely exploited for his cardio problems.
Bottom Line: This is a very intriguing stylistic match-up. Both men are capable wherever the fight goes, but each has a specific strength and a specific place they'd like the fight to take place. Whoever is more capable of forcing his opponent to bend to his own will is the fighter that is going to be the most successful come Saturday night. This bout could be a barnburner or it could be a fifteen minute lay-and-pray session. It all depends in each man's defensive abilities and aggression.
Who do you think will come out on top at UFC 134? Tell us in the comments below!