The time is almost here…the wait is almost over. One of the biggest cards in memory looms on the horizon, as the dust settles on another. This Saturday is the much anticipated battle between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velzsquez for the UFC heavyweight title. Supported by an excellent undercard, I will be previewing this card as well as giving other thoughts and predictions for the night. However before we jump into the future, I’ve still got a card from last Saturday to cover!
UFC 120 emanated from London, England, at the spectacular o2 Arena. The evening was stacked with British stars Dan Hardy, Michael Bisping, and prospect John Hathaway in order to draw in the British fans. While quite an underwhelming card as far as name value, all of the british guys were the odds makers’ favorites going into the bouts, but oh how that would change.
John Hathaway and former TUF Winner James Wilks were both stopped dead in their tracks. Hathaway, who is used to employing a boring style, was soundly out pointed by veteran Mike Pyle. Hathaway had previously won 4 consecutive UFC bouts, and tasted defeat for the first time in his MMA career. Not a good start for the UK as they were 0-2 to start on the main card.
Dan Hardy looked to regain control of his career, as he was pitted against the very underrated Carlos Condit. Condit’s only loss in his past 11 fights had been a much disputed UFC debut against Martin Kampmann, and aside from that was 10-1 in said fights. In my opinion, Dan Hardy shouldn’t be placed in the title picture to begin with. His last three victories played right into his stand-up style, and didn’t offer much variation, and he took care of them without a major issue. This proved to not be the same with Condit as he managed a first round KO over the former number 1 contender. Condit is likely a couple of wins away from a possible title shot, as I truly believe the last thing UFC and Dana White want is Jon Fitch and Jake Shields commanding the upper ranks within the division. Styles make fights, but boring styles make BORING fights.
The nights main event was promoted around Michael Bisping, the England native whom was 9-3 in his UFC career. He took on Japanese superstar Yoshihiro Akiyama in a very exciting duel that managed to go three rounds. While Akiyama’s hands looked well enough early, for reasons unknown to me, he chose to employ the same gameplan for the duration of the fight. Being a grappler, Akiyama has typically heavy feet, and stayed very heavy on them throughout the fight. I have no idea why the superior Judo game in which Akiyama has wasn’t used at all, Bisping picked Akiyama apart for the rest of the fight and landed several huge blows, and ran away with the victory, his second in a row.
Many believe Akiyama may be on the chopping block after three consecutive underwhelming performances. Don’t look for him to be released, the UFC is relying on their currently contracted Japanese talent to market themselves within Japan, where Sengoku, DREAM and others have taken off so well. Whenever UFC finally returns to run a card in Japan, expect Akiyama to be a major selling point, as he is a huge celebrity in the country.
While a disappointing night, don’t expect this to keep the UFC out of the UK whatsoever, as always the UFC did well in the country, and they will be returning to Europe in just under a month for UFC 122 in Germany.
Before that we have the big one, UFC 121. Brock Lesnar, Tito Ortiz, Diego Sanchez, Cain Velasquez, Matt Hamill, Martin Kampmann, Jake Shields, Patrick Cote. We have some major names going at it on this card, and the careers of some of these guys may very well be hanging in the balanced based on their performances this Saturday night.
One of those men is Gabe Gonzaga, who is responsible for one of the most memorable moments in UFC history, when he KO’d the head kick master himself, Mirko Crocop. Since that occurred, Gonzaga is 3-4, and while all of his losses were against top level talent (Couture, Werdum, dos Santos, Carwin), his wins were against less than spectacular competition. Brendan Schaub looks to possibly eliminate Gonzaga from the company. The heavy handed striker is 6-1, and has finished all 6 of his defeated opponents within a minute and a half. I’m looking for Schaub to finish Gonzaga in the first round, as he makes his march towards the upper echelon of the heavyweight division.
Tito Ortiz, formerly the biggest box office draw in combat sports, has had quite the fall from grace. He’s now simply a gatekeeper as he takes on his former TUF 2 student Matt Hamill. It is my opinion that Tito Ortiz does not have any more gas in the tank. He hasn’t DECISIVELY beaten anyone besides Ken Shamrock in six years, and hasn’t finished anyone besides Shamrock in nearly a decade. This is likely to be Tito’s last UFC fight if he is defeated by Hamill as I suspect. Unless a Tito vs. Liddell fight is scheduled, it is unlikely that the UFC would bring Tito back.
I’m not going to delve too much into the Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago battle, but I will note that Sanchez’s game has gotten insanely well-rounded, and I look for him to take home a convincing victory, to get back on track after two consecutive losses. Sanchez is incredibly focused, and a motivated Diego is not a fun one to deal with inside the cage.
Jake Shields makes his UFC debut against Martin Kampmann, who looks to play the part of spoiler this weekend. Shields is the former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, dropping to welterweight for his UFC run. Kampmann is typically paired with strikers and submission specialists, so the superior wrestling of Jake Shields will probably give him a lot of issues. My heart is saying Kampmann, and my head is saying Shields in this battle. If Shields win, I’ll guess it will be by a decision.
It’s no secret I’m not a fan of Jake Shields after the Strikeforce: Nashville situation. I thought the way he and his camp handled that within the cage was horrible for the sport. He also failed to claim any responsibility and didn’t believe any punishment was deserved for the situation. His true character seemed to shine through in the following months.
The main event of the evening? Oh yeah, I suppose that will be a box office draw. Brock Lesnar, former WWE Undisputed Champion, NCAA National Champion, and current UFC Heavyweight champion takes on the undefeated Cain Velasquez. An interesting mix of factors occurs in this bout, as Velasquez enters with a very advanced skill set.
The younger, fresher Velasquez is still more experienced than the UFC Champion Lesnar. A former division 1 wrestler is no slouch on his feet, and it able to use his excellent jab to set up an even more excellent shot for a takedown. The main issue with that is the difficulty in taking down a man likely to be 30 pounds heavier, with a better wrestling pedigree. Lesnar was exposed on his feet by Shane Carwin, and Velasquez is a much faster striker. If he wants to take the title home, he really needs to pick his spots.
The gleaming difficulty that stands in Mr. Velasquez’s way is that Brock Lesnar is a freak of nature. A freak of nature with some of the best wrestling in the sport’s history. Giant hands, and the will to win, this is no longer a freak show fighter. With a victory on Saturday, Lesnar sets the record for consecutive Heavyweight Title defenses within the UFC. Brock needs to utilize his incredible size advantage and do the same thing he’s done his whole career. As Chael Sonnen would say “I’m gonna put him on his back and punch a hole in his face!” Oh you silly Chael. I’ll take Lesnar, round 2. TKO.
A victory for Lesnar is good for the company. Lesnar is simply the most marketable star on the roster due to his celebrity status. Because of the fact that he fights only 2-3 times a year, he can maintain his celebrity and main event status while still being reclusive in general, spending time with his family. He’s turned into the model company man after suffering his illness.
A victory for Velasquez wouldn’t necessarily be bad for business. I could think of far worse things than marketing an undefeated Mexican-Amercian Fighter. Although I don’t like the marketing of THIS fight as “American vs. Mexican” which is a direct cry for Hispanic viewers to purchase the program. Cain is an exciting fighter and would also make an excellent champion. I just don’t see it happening.
That’s it for the preview column ladies and gents! My follow up to this epic card should be in on Sunday so stop by here at 1Wrestling!
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