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Fantasy Preview - UFC 89

Stephen Quinn, UFC - The stars will be out on Saturday night when the Ultimate Fighting Championship touches down at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England for UFC 89. But will you be victorious in your UFC Fantasy League? You’ve got a good shot at victory if you read on for the main card breakdown.
By Stephen Quinn

The stars will be out on Saturday night when the Ultimate Fighting Championship touches down at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England for UFC 89. But will you be victorious in your UFC Fantasy League? You’ve got a good shot at victory if you read on for the main card breakdown.

PAUL TAYLOR VS. CHRIS LYTLE

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Chris Lytle, it’s that he can take a licking and keep on ticking. The firefighter from Indianapolis, Indiana has continually competed against MMA’s elite – including former UFC champs Matt Hughes and Matt Serra, Karo Parisyan and Nick Diaz – and yet through 46 pro fights he’s only been stopped twice. And both of those TKO losses, which came at the hands of Joe Riggs and Thiago Alves, only happened due to doctor stoppages because of cuts. As he showed during a gutsy, one-sided decision loss to Josh Kosheck, in which Lytle was battered and bloodied throughout, there is no quit in Lytle.

With a UFC record of 2-2, England native Paul Taylor knows his future with the UFC could well hinge on the outcome of this bout, so expect to see him in his best form ever. Every one of Taylor’s fights seems to be an all-out, action-packed war, and this one should be no different.

While Lytle’s hands are respectable, and his defense is solid, he has done most of his damage on the ground, where he has notched 17 wins by submission. For Taylor, expect him to use his fast pace, fast hands and relentless fighting style to throw Lytle off his game plan. Taylor’s best chance for victory would seem to be to keep the fight standing and try to exploit Lytle with kicks as he did Marcus Davis, though Davis eventually stormed back for the submission win.

Likely to go the distance? Yes
Method of Finish? Unanimous Decision

RAMEAU THIERRY SOKOUDJOU VS LUIZ CANE

It’s a safe bet this fight is not going the distance, considering that both of these fighters have exceptional standup ability. One look at Sokoudjou and it is obvious that he is a physical specimen and extraordinary athlete, amazingly quick and powerful for his size.

The former Pride standout had destroyed the likes of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona, prompting everyone to take notice. But since joining the UFC, he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. The 24 year-old U.S. Judo champion lost his Octagon debut to Lyoto Machida (who has a knack for making good fighters look bad), but then rebounded with a win over Kazuhiro Nakamura.

With a record of 9-1, 1 NC, Luiz Cane is looking to build on his last fight with the UFC, when he stopped Jason Lambert at UFC 85. Winning the vast majority of his fights by knockout, he knows that another vicious KO on Saturday could endear him to the mainstream fans and raise his profile.

Though both men like to bang, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sokoudjou or Cane try to bring the fight to the canvas. I would expect that if Sokoudjou feels uncomfortable standing, he will be looking to use his strength to bring the action to the mat and work some ground and pound. If the fight does go there, Cane will be probably look to scramble back onto his feet – where he figures to be most comfortable. It will be interesting to see if Cane can negate Sokoudjou standing, perhaps with leg kicks, or if Cane is strong enough to keep Sokoudjou from imposing his will in the clinch or on the ground.

Likely to go the distance? No
Method of Finish? TKO

PAUL KELLY VS MARCUS DAVIS

Marcus Davis loves fighting in the UK, and it's almost like a home away from home for the Maine native. Paul Kelly, perfect at 8-0, has a chance to make a name for himself beyond his home shores if he can pull the upset. Known for his standup ability, Davis is looking to notch the 20th win of his career on Saturday night. He is also looking to avoid two consecutive losses. In his last fight, he lost by unanimous decision to Mike Swick. Prior to that defeat, Davis had put together an impressive 11 fight-winning streak – with notable wins over Shonie Carter, Pete Spratt, Paul Taylor, and Jess Liaudin. It will be interesting to see how he responds coming off a loss.

At only 23 years-old, Kelly is well on his way to becoming a real force in the welterweight division. There is no secret about how these two fighters approach this fight. Kelly, a Wolfslair Academy teammate of Michael Bisping's, is a grinder who likes to bang standing or assault his opponents with ground and pound. Davis is heavy handed and quick to go to toe-to-toe, though his ground game has grown leaps and bounds, as he showed during his come-from-behind win over Paul Taylor via armbar.

Likely to go the distance? Yes
Method of Finish? Split Decision

BRANDON VERA VS KEITH JARDINE

This is a critical fight for both top-tier fighters, neither of whom looked sharp in their last outings.

Fans of Brandon Vera are not used to seeing the type of performance that he has displayed in his recent outings inside of the Octagon - losing back-to-back fights against Tim Sylvia and Fabricio Werdum. In desperate need of a win, he rebounded by beating Reese Andy, though many considered it a lackluster performance and Vera indicated he had trouble properly cutting weight for his debut at 205 pounds. Vera is trying to reclaim the form that once gave him the look of a future champion. After winning his first four fights inside of the Octagon, Vera was forced to leave fighting for nearly a year. After settling a dispute with his manager, he finds himself 1-2 and in need of a win on Saturday.

Keith Jardine, an alum of The Ultimate Fighter season 2, has been in some big fights in the Octagon and he has tasted the highs and lows of the fight game. After beating Chuck Liddell in a grueling 15-minute war, his stock soared (he also owns a KO win over Forrest Griffin). Then he learned, as quickly as you can become a contender, you can be put right back into the middle of a talented division. At UFC 84, Wanderlei Silva made Jardine look average, demolishing him with a first round knockout.

If both men are at their best, this may end up being the "Fight of the Night.” Both fighters have shown an inclination to stand and trade, and both have the firepower to end it with a single blow. Expect Jardine to come out with his methodical fighting style – waiting for Vera to make a mistake and then trying to capitalize. Jardine’s herky-jerky punches and set-ups give some fighters fits, as he can be highly unorthodox. For Vera, on the other hand, he may take a page out of Wanderlei Silva and Houston Alexander's book - trying to storm at Jardine, and bombard him with punches and kicks. If it hits the ground, Vera would seem to have the advantage as he is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under Lloyd Irvin and his submission game is highly underrated.

Likely to go the distance? No
Method of Finish? KO

MICHAEL BISPING VS. CHRIS LEBEN

This main event was originally scheduled to take place at UFC 85, and now these two products of The Ultimate Fighter reality show will finally clash.

Bisping will enter the Octagon on Saturday night knowing that a win will put him near the top of the list to fight the winner of next Saturday’s Cote/Silva bout. Holding an impressive 6-1 record inside the Octagon, Bisping has made great strides since winning The Ultimate Fighter season 3 as a light heavyweight. Since dropping to middleweight, Bisping has looked more svelte and ferocious as he destroyed both Charles McCarthy and Jason Day.

In the Octagon, Bisping is a cardio machine who is known to throw caution to the wind and go for broke, but he might be wise to come out with a more patient approach – trying to capitalize on a sometimes-overaggressive Leben while minimizing his own mistakes. If this fight does end up on the ground, Bisping will look to force a frenetic pace trying to wear Leben down for an eventual knockout or ground-and-pound TKO. Bisping will be fighting once again in front of his countrymen, and has proven before that the pressure of the big stage and competing in his own backyard elevates his performances, and doesn’t hurt them.

Seeking a better opportunity for both his personal and fighting life, Leben (18-4) traveled to Hawaii to work as an instructor and refocus on his fighting career. In the Octagon, “The Crippler” has repeatedly demonstrated that he is only one punch away from ending a fight. And having been groomed in the Team Quest system for most of his career, Leben is not easy to take down or outwrestle. Leben’s vulnerability, however, has been his bravado and tendency to become careless with his punches while trying to force knockouts.

On paper, it is tempting to assume that Bisping, 17-1, should steamroll Leben, winner of two in a row. But what happens if the fiery Brit is unable to take Leben down or hurt him while they are standing? Yes, Leben’s normally reliable chin looked mortal when he was annihilated by Anderson Silva in just 49 seconds in 2006 – but Silva’s standup is in a league all its own, making this an intriguing matchup to say the least.

Likely to go the distance? No
Method of Finish? TKO
Saturday, July 26
8PM/5PM
ETPT
San Jose, CA

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