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UFC 76 quick preview, analysis and predictions

UFC 76: "Knockout" is set for tomorrow (Saturday) night on September 22 from The Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

The pay-per-view (PPV) event airs at 10 p.m. ET. Remember: will provide LIVE updates and blow-by-blow, round-by-round commentary of the main card action throughout the telecast.

It promises to be a great discussion as usual for an amazing line up of fights.

To get us pumped for the festivities contributor Jesse Holland and the top poster for the site, "Spida," went toe-to-toe below to try and predict the fighters who will leave the Octagon with their hands raised tomorrow evening.

I'm actually glad I sat out on this one -- there are some very competitive and intriguing bouts on the card.

It's important to note for the predicitions that while someone may be lauding a certain fighter, he isn't necessarily the guy who he thinks is going to win.

Basically, we never want this to come out sounding repetitive — that happens enough on this site day in and day out. At the end of each analysis, therefore, you will see the individual picks.

Let's get to it:

Chuck Liddell (20-4) vs. Keith Jardine (12-3-1)

Jesse Holland: What is there to say about Chuck Liddell? He's one of the greatest strikers the UFC has ever seen. It's not fair to question his legacy based on the losses to Rampage. Every fighter -- even the great ones -- has that one opponent they just can't beat (Hughes/Hallman, Nog/Fedor, Jackson/Silva). I don't expect Chuck to do anything differently in preparing for this fight nor should he. He's made a career out of knocking out strikers and it's not like anyone expects this to be a ground war. Jardine will bring his A-game and of course do all the right things but unfortunately it just won't be enough. Liddell's striking is the stuff of legend and Jardine's is merely good. Like Rua/Griffin, it's up to Chuck how long this one lasts. One thing's for sure, it's not going the distance.

UFCmania reader "Spida:" Keith Jardine is coming off a fight where he got highlighted by Houston Alexander. Everyone was expecting Jardine to win that fight, especially after stopping Forrest Griffin early in their fight back in December. To some fans this is a surprise for Jardine to get to fight the former champ after getting clobbered by a guy nobody had ever heard of; but, with a lack of other quality options and a match between Chuck and Wanderlei put on the back burner, the UFC made the match. Keith Jardine couldn't be happier. He goes from fighting and losing to a guy he was supposed to dominate, to now fighting a guy everyone expects to knock him out in the first round. Talk about taking the pressure off. Jardine is now the guy with nothing to lose. If he loses to Chuck Liddell, who's going to hold that against him? He can come into this fight and just fight. Still though, Keith Jardine has is work cut out for him. He has a very good coach in Greg Jackson, who's fighters are always in great shape and ready to fight. He has KO power and we know Chuck can be put down. He's shown in the past he has a tough chin, but he'll want to stay away from testing that chin against Liddell. Jardine is going to have to be the counter puncher in this fight. If he goes right after Chuck then he's going to probably get stopped, but if he sits back and lets Chuck come at him and is able to counter with strong combinations like he did against Forrest then he might just have a chance to win a couple rounds and possibly even get a stoppage himself. Chuck is used to fighting five-round fights where he's able to take his time a little bit and look for knockouts. If Jardine can steal an early round and stay away from Chuck's power, he might force Chuck to push the pace more than he wants to, which might put Jardine in position to win this fight late with a decision. I know it's the unpopular pick to say this fight will go the distance, but that's how I see it going down. I see a slow first round that could go to either guy. I see Chuck picking it up in the second and pushing the pace more and chasing Jardine a lot and getting counter punched and losing a close round. Then I see a frustrated Chuck Liddell getting completely out worked by an in shape Keith Jardine in the third and dropping a decision.

Final Predictions
Holland — Liddell via technical knockout
Spida -- Jardine 29-28 in an upset special

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (16-2) vs. Forrest Griffin (14-4)

Jesse Holland: Since the less than stellar debuts of fighters like Mirko Cro Cop and Heath Herring the PRIDE resume is more flaw than awe, but all that is about to change with the debut of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Shogun in my opinion is probably the second best fighter on the planet (behind Fedor). He knocked out current light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson with such ease it was almost comical. Of his 16 wins, only three have made it out of the first round. Add that to his 13 (T)KO's and you have the definition of a "finisher" (sorry KenFlo). A loss to Babalu back in 2003 (when he was 21 and gassed in the third round) is the only blemish on his record. No points for Coleman's win, see for yourself. Forrest Griffin is a tough guy and always brings it, but he is outmatched in every aspect. The only question is how long Rua allows the fight to go on.

UFCmania reader "Spida:" The best thing Forrest Griffin ever did was start training with Randy Couture. He looked great against Hector Ramirez. He fought smart and used some really nice leg kicks. Much like Keith Jardine against Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin has no pressure on him in this fight. Shogun Rua is one of, if not the best light heavyweight fighter in the world and nobody expects Forrest to last past the first round ... much less win. Don't tell that to Forrest Griffin, however. He says he matches up nicely with Shogun and likes his chances in the fight, and I agree. Forrest will have the crowd behind him, and that is huge. Having 20,000 screaming fans all cheering for you gives you a little extra adrenaline. Forrest is also used to fighting in the Octagon and with the UFC rules -- Shogun is not. Shogun has won a lot of his big fights in Pride, including one over current UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton Jackson, using rules that allow kicks and knees to downed opponents. He was great at stomping his opponents when they were down and utilizing the soccer kicks. He won a lot of fights like that, but now he'll have to adapt to the UFC rules, which don't allow him to use his best weapon. Forrest will have to try and avoid the clinch and stay away from Shogun's knees. He'll have to continue to use leg kicks and counter combinations with his hands. I don't see Forrest winning this fight by stoppage, but I can definitely see him taking two out of three rounds. Randy Couture will no doubt have Forrest in top shape, and Forrest will be ready to go. If he can stay away from Shogun's power and stay busy with the kicks, he'll win a close decision.

Final Predictions
Holland — Rua via technical knockout
Spida -- Griffin via unanimous decision

Diego Sanchez (17-1) vs. Jon Fitch (14-2)

Jesse Holland: Jon Fitch is the best welterweight that no one is talking about. With all the hype surrounding Hughes vs. Serra on The Ultimate Fighter 6 (not to mention the increasingly delicate psyche of Georges St. Pierre), people may not appreciate the ramifications of Fitch vs. Sanchez. Assuming we see the Sanchez of old and not the zombie that "fought" Josh Koscheck, we may have a candidate for fight of the night. Fitch is 6-0 in the UFC and for good reason: He's that damned good. Fitch is as dynamic as GSP and as ferocious as Sanchez, only he's not in therapy and he's not a religious zealot (so that ranks him higher in my book). He had his hands full in round one against Carneiro but like all great fighters he was able to adjust his game and turn it around for the win. He's a superior wrestler and while I don't expect him to keep Sanchez grounded, he will be the busier of the two. It's going to be close but I see Fitch clearing his last hurdle on Saturday night.

UFCmania reader "Spida:" Diego Sanchez is 19-1 as a professional fighter(6-1 in the UFC). He holds wins over Karo Parisyan, Nick Diaz, Kenny Florian, Joe Riggs, John Alessio, and Brian Gassaway inside the Octagon. There is no question in anybody's mind that Diego has the ability to win this fight and be one of the best in this division. What people do question is which Diego Sanchez is going to show up to fight Jon Fitch on Saturday night. Is it going to be the super aggressive Diego that dominated season one of The Ultimate Fighter? The guy that won every round against superstars Karo Parisyan and Nick Diaz? Or is it going to be the Diego who fought Josh Koscheck at UFC 69 with no emotion and no energy? There's no question if it's the latter, then Diego is in trouble against a top fighter like Jon Fitch. Fitch is the kind of fighter who is aggressive standing and on the ground, he's strong, he's smart, he's a great wrestler, he defends submissions well, he gets out of trouble well, he's just good. If it's the former, then we got ourselves one hell of a fight, and where there's a great fight involving Diego Sanchez, most of the time there's going to be a Diego Sanchez hand raised at the end. Diego thrives against opponents who try to push the pace. He's a great counter fighter on the ground and underrated on his feet. I'd say it's about even in the stand up, about even in wrestling, they both have great cardio(I've never seen either one get tired). I know Diego has a great chin. Fitch's chin hasn't been tested too much yet, but Diego doesn't have great KO power, so I'll call that one a draw too. I'll give the advantage to Diego on the ground, he‘s one of the best. And I'll give the strength advantage and the clinch to Fitch. This is about as tough a fight to call as there is. I say both guys come out in round one and try to feel each other out with a little stand up, and as soon as both guys get comfortable we're going to see a war. I see a long three-round fight with Diego winning three close rounds.

Final Predictions
Holland -- Fitch via split decision
Spida -- Sanchez via unanimous decision

Tyson Griffin (9-1) vs. Thiago Tavares (13-0)

Jesse Holland: Thiago Tavares is an unassuming lightweight who has quietly compiled a perfect 13-0 record, including two UFC wins over Naoyuki Kotani and the always-durable Jason Black. The wily Brazilian is a submissions master, ending roughly 75 percent of his fights by tap-out. He's finished opponents with the standard triangle and rear naked choke as well as by heel hook, which makes it pretty clear that anytime spent on the ground is a risk. That's important against Tyson Griffin, who may rely on his wrestling if Tavares refuses to strike. Griffin may be the toughest test to date, but Tavares is more than capable of remaining undefeated if he can keep it on the ground. Easier said than done but Griffin has been known to be overconfident. It's up to Tavares to exploit that.

UFCmania reader "Spida:" This fight is going to be a fight of the year candidate. Both guys are really aggressive and it's a classic wrestler vs. grappler. Tavares has great jiu jitsu and Muay Thai. He's looked very good in two UFC fights and is 13-0 overall in his career, winning 10 of those fights by submission and one by TKO. He seems to have all the skills to be the next great superstar in the UFC lightweight division. Then there is Tyson Griffin, the only man to ever beat Urijah Faber, who is one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. He recently won a very close decision against a very tough opponent in Clay Guida. He is 9-1 in his career and has five TKOs and three submissions. So he too looks to have all the tools to one day compete for a lightweight title. Both of these guys like to push the action and they both try to end fights. This fight is going to be won by the fighter who can push the pace more without making mistakes. Tyson Griffin has a very, very tough chin and it will be hard for Tavares to knock him out. Tyson also has very nice hands, but Tavares has great Muay Thai, so I'd say the stand up is a push. On the mat the advantage has to go to Tavares, but both guys are so quick and strong that I just can't see either one being submitted. I think both guys are so good that its going to be hard for one to stop the other or submit the other. When they come out in round one Tyson is going to try to keep the fight standing and he has great take down defense so he should be able to do that. He'll work the double jab and throw in some upper cuts and combinations and win round one. Round two will start the same way, but will hit the mat and Tavares will work the submission game and take Tyson's back late in the round but Tyson will be saved by the bell, round two to Tavares. Round three will be an all out scrap with both guys letting it all hang out.

Final Predictions
Holland — Griffin via unanimous decision
Spida -- Griffin via split decision

Ryoto Machida (10-0) vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura (11-6)

Jesse Holland: Kazuhiro Nakamura is an accomplished Judo master from Japan who unlike most Japanese imports probably won't have difficulty transitioning to the Octagon. To his credit, Nakamura has fought some of the top names in mixed martial arts including Josh Barnett and Shogun Rua (who he actually took the distance). I don't expect him to be nervous simply because it's his first match inside the cage, especially after beating the dangerous Igor "Ice Cold" Vovchanchyn in front of 50,000 screaming fans at Final Conflict back in 2005. Nakamura needs to keep this from turning into a stand-up war where he has a distinct disadvantage and focus on one thing: Getting Machida to the mat. From there he must work to out-point his opponent. Since 2004 Nakamura has fought five times a year, so whether or not the long layoff will help him recover from such a rigorous pace or hurt him from inactivity remains to be seen.

UFCmania reader "Spida:" Lyoto Machida has never been beaten in his MMA career. He holds wins over BJ Penn, Stephan Bonnar and Rich Franklin. He likes to keep fights standing, but is more of a defensive counter puncher, and since he's so good at that style a lot of fighters are timid when they fight him because they don't want to fall into his trap. This makes for a lot of his fights to be not so exciting. This one has some potential though. Nakamura is a tough dude who holds wins over Kevin Randelman and Bustamante. He's also fought and lost to W. Silva, Shogun Rua, Lil Nog twice, Dan Henderson and Josh Barnett, so he has some experience fighting big names in big fights. All those guys are top fighters and there's no shame in losing to them, but there's no reason to think Machida won't have similar success. Nakamura hasn't fought in nine months and is new to the UFC Octagon and rules. Machida has two solid wins over decent opponents in the UFC (Sam Hoger and David Heath). I would say Machida in a unanimous decision because that's usually how his fights end, but I think the first time UFC jitters and the nine-month layoff are going to get to Nakamura. I think sometime either late in the second or early in the third Nakamura is going to lean in with some kind of lazy punch and get laid out by a Lyoto Machida uppercut. Machida is finally going to have the opportunity to win some American fans in this fight.

Final Predictions
Holland — Machida via unanimous decision
Spida -- Machida via knockout

What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for UFC 76.

For the complete UFC 76: "Knockout" fight card click here.

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