Saturday’s UFC 97 card has a lot of implications that will be determined by each fighter. While the promotion has been steadfast in its attempts to pare down its bloated roster, this is the first time that thought process seeps into a main event with Chuck Liddell versus Shogun Rua. Will a legend be retired or will a career need to be reset? Either result will cause a stacked Light Heavyweight division’s top ten to regain some semblance of order after losses at the top and possible wins at the bottom.
That being said, the Middleweight division also has high stakes in a main event. Defending champion Anderson Silva has repeatedly proclaimed his desire to finish the UFC contract that prevents him from fulfilling other ambitions. A successful defense could cause Silva to set his goals higher and exclusively put big money matchups in his crosshairs. A new champion would be more likely to begin a game of hot potato than if it remained in the hands of Anderson.
-Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leites
The Middleweight title match has been ridiculed as a mismatch by the online MMA community; I can’t help but agree. A Buster Douglas analogy isn’t applicable to this fight because, here, the champion is still at the top of his game. Leites has shown his striking defense to erode as a fight weathers on, but it won’t need to be worn down regardless since Silva’s tools are as sharp as ever.
Prediction: Anderson KO’s Leites early in the first round with punches and takes home Knockout of the Night.
– Shogun Rua vs. Chuck Liddell
As mentioned above, this fight will dictate the paths both men will be forced down. With the striking prowess both men have it literally could be a make-or-(face)break situation.
The most difficult opponent for Shogun in this fight is overblown expectations. It’s extremely unfortunate that these unrealistic pressures will cause such a young and talented fighter like Rua to be criticized far too harshly. Biased fans are turning to excuses in order to protect their romanticized remembrances of the former PRIDE promotion; his very real shortcomings are ignored and unfairly create such a high standard that he may never be able to live up to them. His conditioning issues were already apparent in PRIDE as evidenced by his matches with Rogerio Nogueira and Kazuhiro Nakamura, the only two times he had competed past the first ten minute round. Moreover, the style he employs has been ruled obsolete. The Chute Boxe game has been solved. His brother Murillo and friend Wanderlei Silva have also been struggling to attain victories and it’s no coincidence. The overwhelming aggression approach has lost its effectiveness due to the advancement of gameplans. Shogun hasn’t adapted and it will continue to cost him if he doesn’t address the fact.
The same is said for Chuck Liddell. One of his most utilized tools was the intimidation factor. He doesn’t have that anymore. Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine showed it was possible to capitalize on gaffes Liddell would make. He and trainer John Hackelman also realized the limitations put forth by being so comfortable with himself and enlisted the help of American Top Team, more specifically Howard Davis Jr., to try refining the things that cost him three of his last four bouts.
Whether or not he did, the styles fit perfectly to result in a victory for Liddell. Shogun’s aggression will once again be his detriment; Liddell will put him away after being in trouble early.
Prediction: Liddell wins by KO via punches in the first round.
-Luiz Cane vs. Steve Cantwell
There are too many questions to properly predict a winner here. Cane has struggled against the only capable strikers he has faced in Sokoudjou and James Irvin. Despite coming out with a victory in the Sokoudjou fight, he showed poor defense on the feet. Steve Cantwell does not have the power of the African but is capable of throwing punches in a much higher volume with better accuracy. The fight will take place exclusively on the feet and it’s a toss-up between a TKO for Cane or a decision for Cantwell.
-Cheick Kongo vs. Antoni Hardonk
Kongo has shown massive improvement in his wrestling abilities since losing to Carmello Marerro at UFC 64. He will look to use that to avoid any and all standup thrown his way by Hardonk and ground and pound his way to a stoppage in the second round.
-Brian Stann vs. Krzysztof Soszynski
Stann uses crisp power punching combinations to stop Soszynski in the first round.
-Nathan Quarry vs. Jason MacDonald
The downfall for Quarry in his last fight against Demian Maia was succumbing to a hiptoss. Despite his other technical prowess, Jason MacDonald does not posess that type of clinch and takedown game. Nathan Quarry wins when the doctors stop the fight between rounds two and three due to accumulated damage.
-Denis Kang vs. Xavier Fouka-Pokum
“Professor X” survives on the ground long enough to land a heavy shot on an overconfident Kang for a KO in the second round.
-David Loiseau vs. Ed Herman
Guaranteed Fight of the Night. Both men are jack of all trades and masters of none. Herman’s strength is his offensive grappling, Loiseau’s unreal defensive grappling cancels it out. The Crow’s striking has been tempered in the last few years while Short Fuse’s has been coming along well (look to the Belcher split-decision for proof). The only two options I see are a unanimous decision for Herman or a TKO by cuts from Loiseau’s elbows; either way, this is a fight you’ll be telling your friends to track down and watch.
-Matt Wiman vs. Sam Stout
Wiman’s ego will get the best of him and he’ll regulate the fight to a kickboxing match. Matt pecks his way to a competitive decision in a fun fight that results in Sam Stout getting his walking papers from the UFC.