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UFC 97 predictions, preview and analysis

UFC 97: ‘Redemption’ is set to go down this Saturday, April 18, 2009 from The Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, live on pay-per-view (PPV) starting at 10p.m. ET.

Remember: will provide LIVE updates with blow-by-blow, round-by-round commentary of the main card action on fight night, which is slated to air at 10 p.m. ET.

To get us pumped for the festivities, Editor and Senior Writer Jesse Holland (that’s me) will break down the main event matches and provide an unbiased and objective examination of each contest.

Well, not really, but you will be treated to a smörgåsbord of hot air, elitism and conjecture. And for the second straight edition of Nostradumbass, I’m going to depart from my usual cock-and-bull routine in favor of a neat and orderly format.

I’ve also included the current betting lines for each fight so that you can get a feel for what the money has to say about the chances of each combatant.

And if you just so happen to have a few bucks to throw down on your favorite fighter, far be it from me to stop you from clicking on the handy BetUS link I've conveniently provided.

Now, enough with all the pillow talk … at least for the time being.

Let’s get cracking:

185 lbs.: Anderson "The Spider" Silva (23-4) vs. Thales Leites (14-1)

Backgrounds: Fighting out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thales Leites has rattled off five straight wins inside the Octagon. And that includes a slick rear naked choke over the hard-hitting Drew McFedries at UFC 90 on October 25. Leites recently made headlines with a controversial split decision win over perennial contender, Nathan Marquardt, at UFC 85: "Bedlam" back in June. His only career loss is to Martin Kampmann in his promotional debut way back in 2006. He’s going to have to find a way to pull off what seems to be an impossible mission in overcoming the champ. Silva is on an absolute tear … and a devastating one at that. He is on an nine-fight win streak, eight of which have come under the UFC banner. And none of those fights have gone past the second round — with the exception of his bizarre match against Patrick Cote at UFC 90. Prior to that, Silva moved up to light heavyweight and dispatched of James Irvin in round one of their non-title 205-pound bout at UFC Fight Night 14. Silva agreed to temporarily change weight classes in a bid to lure viewers away from the debut effort of Affliction ‘Banned’ on July 19. It’s not a stretch to refer to him as the top mixed martial artist on the planet.

Dumbass predicts: If you're looking for a knock against Anderson Silva, it's hard to find one. The Cote fight isn't really a knock. "The Spider" admittedly had trouble finding his riddum in that bout. And despite flashes of his usual brilliance, he seemed content to dance the night away until "The Predator’s" knee folded up like Canadian origami. Don't expect a repeat of that performance. Silva has not only won nine straight - but he's finished all nine of his foes. The only thing that makes me nervous for Saturday is the hoopla surrounding his shot at the UFC win record. Add to that the constant talk about retiring and fighting Roy Jones Jr. and part of me wonders if Silva will be all there mentally come fight night. I don't think there is a chance of a flash KO, but Silva can be taken down. Can he be submitted? I don't count the flying scissor heel hook against Ryo Chonan in 2004 -- because you'll never see a sub like that pulled off for another ten years -- but he was Triangled by a Japanese tomato can back at PRIDE 26. Ancient history, I know, but is it not possible for Silva to drop Leites, overconfidently dive in for the finish and get trapped? Leites is 14-1 for a reason -- he's a talented fighter and by no means is this a lock. Then again Leites said he has no problem exchanging on the feet so maybe it is. Let's just hope we can get more than one round out of him -- these pay-per-views aren't cheap.

Betting lines (as of April 17):

Silva: -600 ((Bet Now))

Leites: +350 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Silva via TKO

205 lbs.: Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell (21-6) vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (17-3)

Backgrounds: Mauricio Rua — the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix winner — was at one point considered among the top 205-pound fighters in the world. In fact, prior to his upset loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 76: "Knockout" in September 2007, Rua had defeated a "Who’s-Who" of some of the best names in the sport such as Rampage Jackson, Ricardo Arona, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and others. Shogun failed to exorcise the demons of the Griffin loss by turning in an abysmal performance against Mark Coleman at UFC 93 in one of the ugliest wins in recent memory. On the other hand, memories may be all that remain of Chuck Liddell's past dominance. "The Iceman" defeated Wanderlei Silva in a thrilling three-round war back at UFC 79: "Nemesis" in December 2007. However, he could not capitalize on the momentum and was most recently on the wrong end of a vicious knockout at UFC 88: "Breakthrough" courtesy of Rashad Evans. It was his third defeat in four fights, and the former UFC light heavyweight king -- once known for his highlight reel knockouts -- hasn't stopped an opponent since his drubbing of Tito Ortiz at UFC 66 nearly two and a half years ago.

Dumbass predicts: I've always been a huge Chuck Liddell fan, and these past two years have been tough for me to watch. I know there are a lot of factors to consider when talking about whether or not Liddell is finished as a title contender, but for me the defining moment was the Keith Jardine fight at UFC 76. Had "The Iceman" cruised past Jardine with relative ease, I might be able to accept that he "just got caught" against Rashad Evans. But "The Dean of Mean" dropped him in that fight. Just as Quinton Jackson had dropped him the fight prior and Evans the fight after. Dan Henderson once told me that some fighters, once they get dropped, can't seem to stop it from happening again and again. Case in point: Wanderlei Silva, who went eight years without getting knocked out, only to do it three times in his past five fights. Chuck is one of the all-time greats, but he also turns 40 this year and has no submission game to fall back on to compensate for his loss in speed and timing. Rushing off to American Top Team may have been too little, too late. Shogun on the other hand is only 27 and in the prime of his career. You might not know it based on his time in the UFC, which has thus far been quite underwhelming and left a lot of Rua fans (including me) scratching their heads. I don't think his skills have diminished, but there is a marked difference between being in "gym shape" and being in "cage shape." It's no secret that Shoguns's career is on the line here. If he turns in another wind-sucking performance or gets knocked stupid by Liddell just 30 seconds in, it's off to the scrap heap with his UFC contract. Rua has something to prove, and I have to believe that the same man who terrorized the biggest names in PRIDE is still in there somewhere. 14 of his 17 wins have come by way of (T)KO, and not against cans either. People say he's nothing without the soccer kicks, but what good is a soccer kick if you haven't already knocked your opponent down? I expect Shogun to arrive in shape, angry and ready to vault himself back into the top five. Consider Chuck Liddell retired.

Betting lines (as of April 17):

Liddell: -200 ((Bet Now))

Rua: +150 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Shogun via TKO

205 lbs.: Brian "All American" Stann (6-1) vs. Krzysztof "The Polish Experiment" Soszynski (16-8-1)

Backgrounds: Krzysztof Soszynski resides in Winnipeg, Canada, making this a homecoming of sorts for him at the Bell Centre in Montreal. He defeated Mike Stewart (technical knockout) and Kyle Kingsbury (armbar) on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 8 before losing to eventual runner-up Vinicius Magalhães in the semifinals. He most recently competed at TUF 8 Finale in December, stopping Shane Primm with a second round submission. The Team Quest-trained fighter is currently riding a four-fight win streak after dropping his last two bouts in the now defunct International Fight League (IFL) to heavyweight Ben Rothwell (technical knockout) and light heavyweight Reese Andy (split decision). Soszynski trains under Dan Henderson in Temecula, Calif., along with training partner Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. He has a strong wrestling base, power in his both his hands and feet and solid submission skills to boot. Stann, on the other hand, is basically just a power puncher. In fact, all six of his career wins have been first round stoppages because of strikes. In his last fight at WEC 35 in August, he not only lost his 205-pound title to Steve Cantwell, but he was more or less exposed by Cantwell’s more technical striking.

Dumbass predicts: This will be an interesting fight because I think it will gauge just how far Soszynski has come since his time in the TUF house. Submitting Shane Primm is nothing to hang your hat on and Stann looks to be the perfect opponent. He is a one-trick pony, yet happens to be very good at that one trick: knocking people out. If Stann can keep it on the feet I think he has a chance. If it goes to the ground, he may be strong enough to keep out of danger, but going past the first round only once in is career makes it hard to believe he will have the gas to survive an extended affair. Soszynski is the more well rounded opponent -- and he needs to fight that way. I have this vision of "The Polish Experiment" getting rocked in the first round, causing him to shoot in and work the submissions. A rear naked choke late in the first would not surprise me.

Betting lines (as of April 17):

Stann: +115 ((Bet Now))

Soszynski: -155 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Soszynski via submission

265 lbs.: Cheick Kongo (13-4-1) vs. Antoni Hardonk (8–4)

Backgrounds: Cheick Kongo recently dismantled Mustapha al Turk at UFC 92: "The Ultimate 2008" in December 2008, unleashing a vicious onslaught of elbows and punches on the Cage Rage veteran that resulted in a first round technical knockout stoppage. It marked the fourth win in the last five fights for the Parisian. He dropped a split decision to Heath Herring at UFC 82: "Pride of a Champion" back in March 2008, which temporarily derailed his chances of competing for a division title. Kongo — who now trains at Wolfslair Academy in England alongside Michael Bisping, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and others — will look to get right back in the mix with a win over the Dutch kickboxer. Hardonk is the winner of three straight, taking our Mike Wessel via second round technical knockout at UFC 92. Prior to the win, he notched impressive back-to-back victories over Eddie Sanchez and Colin Robinson. He has not lost a bout since late 2007 — a submission courtesy of interim heavyweight champion Frank Mir.

Dumbass predicts: Cheick Kongo is a bit of a mystery to me. Here is a guy who has everything it takes to be a top heavyweight yet just when he seems to get close to establishing himself as a contender he comes up short on the big stage. There was a lot of hype surrounding him early on, but losing to Carmelo Marrero exposed his weakness against wrestlers. All was forgiven when he dominated Mirko Filipovic at UFC 75, but then he came up short against Heath Herring. Kongo needs to go on a ridiculous run in order to make it to the promised land and he's off to a good start. Now aligned with Wolfslair, Kongo finished his last two fights via brutal TKO after going to four straight decisions. Yes, he was expected to win but those finishes may have given him the confidence to let go in his fight against Hardonk. Like Kongo, the Dutchman has strung together some nice TKO wins after a rocky start. His submission loss to Frank Mir is forgivable, however his unanimous decision loss to Justin McCully is not. I'm favoring Kongo here because I think his aggression and Octagon control will have Hardonk on the run until they inevitably clash, and Hardonk will be knocked out for the first time in his career.

Betting lines (as of April 17):

Kongo: -300 ((Bet Now))

Hardonk: +200 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Kongo via TKO

205 lbs.: Luis "Banha" Cane (9-1) vs. Steve "Robot" Cantwell (7-1)

Backgrounds: Luis Cane destroyed Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou via second round technical knockout at UFC 89: "Bisping vs. Leben" back in October. It was his second straight win — the Brazilian heel stopped Jason Lambert at UFC 85: "Bedlam" last June. His only loss is to James Irvin, which was ruled a disqualification because of an errant knee to the face. The 27-year-old fighter is tough as nails and comes prepared to bang, which means that Cantwell ought to as well. "Robot" finished Razak Al Hassan with a first round armbar in his Octagon debut at UFC Fight Night 16: "Fight for the Troops" in December 2008; however, the Iowa resident refused to tap, causing his elbow to buckle under the pressure. It was a grisly scene made worse by the classless comments from Cantwell in wake of the win (he apologized to Al Hassan for the remarks shortly after their fight). Cantwell is riding a four-fight win streak after suffering the first loss of his career to Brian Stann back in early 2007. He’s stopped all four opponents on his current run, including a win against Stann in a rematch. In fact, Cantwell has never been the distance in eight professional mixed martial arts bouts, win or lose.

Dumbass predicts: I never liked Luis Cane, because I always thought he was more mouth than mojo. But after watching him digest Sokoudjou -- who made a name for himself feasting on Brazilians -- I couldn't deny that he was a bad MoFo. His striking is as nasty as his attitude and I don't think Catwell -- who is on a mission to clear his name after giving Al Hassan a permanent Kung Fu Grip -- will provide much resistance. You can argue that "Robot" has a few submission wins to his credit, including three armbars, but I have a hard time believing Cane will end up on the ground with a chance to pull one off -- unless of course Cantwell gets dropped and is in survival mode. I expect a slow beginning that will quickly speed up towards the end of round one. If Cantwell survives, he won't last long into the second. I'm taking Cane by stoppage -- and already making plans to see him against a top ten light heavyweight in his next contest.

Betting lines (as of April 17):

Cane: -275 ((Bet Now))

Cantwell: +190 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Cane via KO

That’s a wrap, folks.

Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and our coverage of UFC 97: "Redemption."

What do you think? Now it’s your turn … let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for Saturday’s event.

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