UFC 82: "Pride of a Champion" is set for tomorrow (Saturday) evening on March 1 from the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Remember: MMAmania.com will provide LIVE updates and blow-by-blow, round-by-round commentary of the main card action throughout the telecast. As usual, it promises to be a great discussion during an amazing line up of fights.
To get us pumped for the festivities MMAmania.com contributor Jesse Holland and site veteran "Mahde" went toe-to-toe below to try and predict the fighters who will leave the Octagon with their hands raised tomorrow during the featured fights of the night.
It's important to note for the predictions 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. At the end of each analysis, therefore, you will see the individual picks.
Let's get to it:
UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva (20-4) vs. Dan Henderson (22-6)
MMAmania.com reader "Mahde:" Question: Which middleweight contender was said to have the right skill set to dethrone current champ Anderson Silva?
- Travis Lutter
- Nate Marquardt
- Dan Henderson
- All of the above
The answer is: D. All of the above. Both Lutter and Marquardt managed to get Silva on to the ground. There (on the ground) they were supposed to have Silva right where they wanted him. But, Lutter got caught in a triangle (from which he was easily elbowed into a verbal submission) and Marquardt was swept (and subsequently pounded into a TKO). And yet, somehow, the hype behind this fight is the same as the others. The UFC would have us believe that the ground skills of Dan Henderson will be Anderson Silva's kryptonite. Albert Einstein said it best: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Jesse Holland: Speaking of insanity, does anyone else want to go public with a comparison between Dan Henderson and Travis Lutter/Nate Marquardt? I certainly don't. I won't discredit Anderson Silva for his victories over the latter but Dan Henderson is called "Dangerous" Dan for a reason. Aside from his Olympic-caliber wrestling, Hendo is one of the few men in the UFC who doesn't fear the Brazilian's clinch. And why should he? He practically wrote the manual for inside fighting with a ruthless Greco-clinch of his own. He may talk tough about standing and banging but he's too smart to turn this into a striking match. And I don't expect a straight shoot either. Look for Henderson to constantly push Silva into the cage and employ a Randy-like offense where the champ is always off balance and always guessing. What Henderson lacks in accuracy he more than makes up for in power. I believe Hendo is the more complete fighter and now that he's in his natural weight class I see him joining Big Nog as the second man to ever hold world titles in both PRIDE and the UFC.
Mahde -- Silva via technical knockout
Holland -- Henderson via technical knockout
Cheick Kongo (11-3-1) vs. Heath Herring (27-13)
MMAmania.com reader "Mahde:" When CroCop resorts to taking you down to score some points, I'd say you have some pretty good standup abilities. In fact, I would go as far to say that Cheik Kongo has the best standup in the heavyweight division. Heath Herring, on the other hand, was picked apart on his feet by Nogueira, and really only landed one good shot the entire fight. I don't see Kongo falling prey to a high kick any time soon. I also don't see Herring taking him down. Judging from his pre-fight interviews, Herring seems to want to stand up with Kongo. My guess is that Herring will wait until after Kongo has proven himself to be the dominant, to change tactics. Herring may be one of the best scramblers in mixed-martial-arts, but I have yet to see him pull off an impressive takedown. Just watch his fight against CroCop. After being schooled in the art of striking, Herring made several conspicuous takedown attempts. This fight will most likely have a similar result.
Jesse Holland: Cheick Kongo may have the Gabriel Gonzaga syndrome. A dominating win over a listless Cro Cop is reason to celebrate, but it does not automatically transform you into top three heavyweight. Fortunately for Kongo, the UFC's anemic heavyweight ranks lands him there by default. But Herring is no slouch. He suffered a less-than-impressive debut after being smothered by Jake O'Brien at Fight Night 8, but didn't Kongo have a similar experience at the hands of Carmelo Marrero at UFC 64? Herring has been around the block, pounding out K-1 level strikers like Gary Goodrich and will not be easily intimidated. I don't see this going to the ground, but I do fear it could become one of those slow-paced heavyweight battles we've come to dread. At least it's only scheduled for three rounds.
Mahde -- Kongo via broken ribs in the third round
Holland -- Kongo via unanimous decision
Evan Tanner (32-6) vs. Yushin Okami (21-4)
MMAmania.com reader "Mahde:" Both Yushin Okami and Evan Tanner are bigger and stronger than most other middleweights in the UFC. Both have respectable standup, good takedowns and takedown defense, and a submission game that opponents must look out for. The difference is that while the younger Okami was winning three out of his last four fights (he almost submitted Franklin in that loss), Tanner was throwing back a few too many and, more importantly, not training or fighting. I really don't see how Tanner can manage to not enter this fight with a performance-altering amount of rust. Tanner's best chance will be to take this to the ground, but Okami is not easily taken down. Also, Tanner's awkward standup, while distracting to his opponents, leaves openings. Just ask Rich Franklin.
Jesse Holland: Evan Tanner is back from the Phantom Zone to try his luck against a middleweight who is 15-3 over the past four years. It may be a tall order for Tanner but if anyone can do it he can. Tanner has a style that's difficult to adjust to and he can take a ton of punishment. "Thunder" has trouble defending when he's overwhelmed and Tanner needs to stay in his face without getting out-muscled at ever turn. Tanner is also too wily to be submitted – having tapped only once (and that was over ten years ago). Not surprisingly, the X factor is Tanner's absence from competition. I don't think rust will be as much of a problem for a freestyle fighter as I do the level of cardiovascular conditioning. Okami gets better as the fight gets longer so Tanner has to avoid the feeling out process and go for the jugular in round one. He may not get it, but he will at least be the sentimental winner that night.
Mahde -- Okami via knockout
Holland -- Okami via technical knockout
Jon Fitch (15-2) vs. Chris Wilson (13-3)
MMAmania.com reader "Mahde:" I want to start by saying that Chris Wilson is no joke. He has excellent Muay Thai and training with Team Quest has made him a force to be dealt with on the ground as well. Having said that, Jon Fitch is easily the second best fighter in the division, second only to GSP. Fitch's submission defense is freakish. Getting caught in things like triangles or guillotines doesn't seem to be a big deal for the former Boilermaker. His striking is also top-notch. And, while I don't think Fitch's striking is quite at the level of Wilson's, I feel his wrestling will more than make up the difference. If there is one thing that can be learned by watching MMA, it's that takedowns make kickboxers gun-shy. Short of a perfectly-timed knee, Wilson won't have any opportunities to knock out Fitch. And a knockout is Wilson's only hope. Fitch will take him down and pound him until the ref intervenes.
Jesse Holland: Chris Wilson has his work cut out for him against Jon Fitch but like the Tanner/Okami fight, Wilson has a legitimate shot in the first round. Fitch is a fighter who goes from good to great as the fight progresses. Fitch had all he could handle early on against Roan Carniero at Fight Night 10 and if Wilson has been watching tape he knows that's his time. Again like Tanner, Wilson does not have the luxury of a feeling-out process and must try to overwhelm the Fitchster as soon as possible. If he makes it to the second or third round, it may be in his best interest to fight from his back since four of his five submission wins have come via triangle choke. Wilson is 13-3 and fights out of Team Quest and ordinarily that should be enough to make a case against any fighter. Then again Fitch is anything but ordinary.
Mahde -- Fitch via technical knockout
Holland -- Fitch via submission
Alessio Sakara (12-6) vs. Chris Leben (17-4)
MMAmania.com reader "Mahde:" While Chris Leben may have a superior Octogan record (7-3) to Allessio Sakara's (3-3), Sakara is definitely the more talented fighter. His standup is crisp and he showed excellent takedown defense in his last fight against James Lee. Yes, he will have to respect Leben's knockout power because he has been overwhelmed before. However, I highly doubt Leben has the same amount of power as say, Houston Alexander or Drew McFriedes. The fomer pro-boxer will certainly test Leben's chin and should be able to avoid and serious headshots. After his defeats to Alexander and McFriedes, and after seeing the way in which Leben has won his fights, don't expect Sakara to overextend. This is the mistake that Leben's opponents have made and paid for. That's how Leben has bailed himself out of being out-pointed time and time again.
Jesse Holland: Chris Leben, like Alessio Sakara has been on hard times lately in the UFC. Both are 2-3 in their past five fights but in my opinion Leben has less to prove. While he may not be racking up the wins as of late, he still manages to get the crowd buzzing and his dramatic come-from-behind win against Terry Martin is why people still love to watch him fight. Leben may not have the most technical style, but he does have devastating power. Sakara could already be at a disadvantage with this fight being his middleweight debut. There is no telling how the cut will affect his performance and Leben will not be in a forgiving mood. Leben should be ready to come out and do what he does best: Get in Sakara's face and start throwing bombs. I see this one ending in the first.
Mahde -- Sakara via unanimous decision
Holland -- Leben via knockout
That's a wrap, folks. For the complete UFC 82 fight card click here.
Remember to come check us out before, during and after the show for all the latest results, recaps and thoughts on this blockbuster night of fights.
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 82: "Pride of a Champion."