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Fantasy Preview - UFC 97

Stephen Quinn, UFC - The UFC returns to Montreal, Canada on Saturday for UFC 97: Redemption, and it’s bringing the big guns, including pound for pound king Anderson Silva, middleweight challenger Thales Leites, and 205-pound superstars Chuck Liddell and Mauricio Rua. Read on for the main card breakdown for UFC Fantasy Game players and make sure to get your picks in.

By Stephen Quinn

The UFC returns to Montreal, Canada on Saturday for UFC 97: Redemption, and it’s bringing the big guns, including pound for pound king Anderson Silva, middleweight challenger Thales Leites, and 205-pound superstars Chuck Liddell and Mauricio Rua. Read on for the main card breakdown for UFC Fantasy Game players and make sure to get your picks in.


Fans are beginning to think of Luiz Cane as a stud after his TKO victory over Rameau Sokoudjou. This is Cantwell's big chance to make a similar statement. Cantwell, the former WEC light heavyweight champ, has won four straight. The 22-year-old Las Vegan, who is well-versed in standup and who is also a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, submitted Razak Al-Hassan in his UFC debut.

Cane shocked a lot of people with his win over Sokoudjou and another victory on Saturday will raise his stock even more. Cane will be more than happy to keep the action standing, though it will be interesting to see his ground game if the fight hits the mat. For Cantwell, expect him to bring the fight to the mat – trying to ground and pound his way to victory. But he has deceptive power in his hands and feet, and he just might engage Cane in a slugfest.

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


This should make for an entertaining fight. US Marine veteran Stann is making his UFC debut and Soszynski gets a chance to show everyone that he is more than just a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter. There is no better way for either of these fighters to accomplish these goals than on one of the largest UFC Pay Per View cards of the year.

Stann, the former World Extreme Cagefighting light heavyweight champion, is eyeing similar success under the UFC banner after the WEC axed the weight class to focus on lighter weight fighters. While in the WEC, Stann amassed a stellar 5-1 record, with his only setback coming in his last outing against Steve Cantwell. It's rare for a debuting fighter to be penciled in for the main televised card, but Stann earned it with his heavy hands and a compelling personal story which includes two tours in Iraq (which has landed his story on CNN and in the New York Times, among other media outlets.)

Soszynski made a name for himself on season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter, winning his first two fights on the show before losing via armbar to Vinny Magalhaes. During his time on the show, the Team Quest member gained fans due to his poised demeanor inside the house. Prior to being defeated, he was one of the favorites to reach The Ultimate Fighter finale. Although denied of that goal, Soszynski rebounded nicely when he beat Shane Primm. Now he is looking to build on the victory and show his peers that he can be a force at 205 pounds.

Although Soszynski seems to be comfortable wherever the fight may end up, expect for him to use his cardio to push the action of the fight – trying to bring it to the canvas. If he is able to bring the fight to the mat, he’ll be looking to stay aggressive so the referee doesn’t stand the fight back up. Stann, a knockout artist who now trains at with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, should be looking to keep the fight on the feet.

Method of Finish? Decision
Likely to go the Distance? Yes


Kongo has won two straight and four of five and Hardonk is riding a three-fight win streak, setting the stage for the winner to move closer to a title shot and the loser to fall out of contention.

France’s Kongo is known as a potent striker who has made great strides on the ground. In recent fights he has shown increased confidence wherever the action ends up. Having not lost in over a year, with wins over Dan Evensen and Mostapha Al Turk, the chiseled, grim-faced athlete has shown that it may not be long before he gets that shot at heavyweight gold.

By beating a formable opponent like Kongo, Hardonk would change the perception many fans have of him, which is that of a talented but unspectacular heavyweight. We could be in for a very interesting fight when these two fighters square off in Canada. On paper, it would seem that their respective fighting styles should play well into making this a great fight. With that said, Hardonk (who trains in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Rickson Gracie black belt Henry Akins and works on his striking with the legendary Ernesto Hoost) may look to make this a fight on the ground. There are not many fighters who would prefer to stand and trade shots with Kongo – who can end the fight with a single punch. But if he does decide to stay standing, Kongo wouldn’t be happier.

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


For years, MMA fans have been waiting for these two top-tier fighters to square off. Finally, it will happen on Saturday night, and whichever fighter loses could see his stock go into a freefall. With all of the buildup, this bout has “Fight of The Night” potential.

Liddell is one of the greatest champions in UFC history. Whether or not you’re a fan of The Iceman, people have always applauded him for his willingness to fight whoever was put in front of him – even if that meant putting his number one contention on the line. Liddell, who has lost three of his past four fights, still believes he can reclaim the title, even though he is 39 years old and has looked virtually unrecognizable to fans in recent fights. Sometimes you need to take some time away from fighting to let everything fall into place – Liddell simply would not do that. During his time as champion, he seemed to steamroll virtually every opponent that was put in front of him. With notable wins over Tito Ortiz (twice), Jeremy Horn, Renato Sobral, and Randy Couture, Liddell didn’t care whether he was in a championship fight or not, his mindset remained the same – look to win in dramatic fashion.

After Liddell’s multiple year reign as possibly the greatest fighter to step foot inside of the Octagon, he has fallen back to Earth. Two of his recent losses have been by devastating knockout. Though Liddell doesn't see it that way, victory on Saturday night seems imperative. This is pretty much a must-win fight for him.

Former PRIDE Grand Prix champion Mauricio Rua, meanwhile, wants to turn his luck around in Canada. There isn’t a fighter he’d love to do that against more than Chuck Liddell. Two major knee surgeries have reduced Rua to a fraction of the fighter many once considered to be the best 205-pounder in the world. The last time "Shogun" entered the Octagon, he beat Mark Coleman, but it was in such unconvincing and unspectacular fashion that it caused fans to wonder why he needed to dig so deep to beat a 44-year-old man who is not as ageless as Randy Couture. Prior to that unimpressive victory, Rua lost his debut in the UFC to Forrest Griffin. Although he hasn’t looked impressive lately, fans know what he’s capable of doing. In 2005, he won the Middleweight Grand Prix (205 lbs). With wins over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Rampage Jackson, Rua knows that he still possesses the arsenal to become one of the best in the UFC light heavyweight division.

Both fighters need to impress once the gate closes in Montreal, so it will be interesting to see how both fighters perform in round one. The pressure of this fight should have no effect on either Liddell or Rua, who have fought the best guys on the biggest stages throughout their respected careers. For years, Liddell has been known as a guy who is going to wait for a big knockout, but now that he is training with Danilo Villefort of American Top Team, no one is sure if he’ll switch-up and change his extremely predictable, slug-first, slug-second fighting style. For Rua, look for him to bring the action to the canvas, but Liddell -- with one of the best sprawls in the game -- makes that easier said than done.

Method of Finish? Decision
Likely to go the Distance? Yes


It may be hard to believe, but while Silva has gone unbeaten the past three years and feasted on American fighters in the process, he hasn't fought a single Brazilian during that span. This is his first time in five and 1/2 years that the UFC middleweight champ will face-off against one of his countrymen. Why is this potentially significant? Because Leites is trained by Andre Pederneiras, one of the best and most underrated trainers in the world. Pederneiras is Brazilian, is an exceptional Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor, and has in Leites an all-around fighter with a stellar record and the ability to slam Silva to the canvas and submit him on the mat.

Silva has been like a riddle that American fighters have been clueless to solve. Perhaps he will be less of a mystery to his fellow Brazilians, and perhaps they see ways to beat him that the Americans have missed. We shall see.

Of course, a Leites win would be a shocker to a lot of folks. Silva tops the pound-for-pound rankings and has won his last nine fights in lopsided fashion, including wins over Patrick Cote, Rich Franklin (twice), and Dan Henderson. In order to push himself to the next level, Silva has even moved up in weight – and the result was unchanged. Practically every time he fights, it doesn’t look much different – Silva wins in dramatic fashion. He has had only one fight go into the third round and on Saturday night, he doesn’t plan on letting the judges decide his fate.

A lot of fans seem to be underestimating Leites and selling short his chances of winning on Saturday; the middleweight king should not make the same mistake. Leites possesses all the skills to dethrone Silva. With an impressive five-fight winning streak, and wins over Nate Marquardt and Drew McFedries, Leites can take a punch and is perhaps the most dangerous fighter Silva has faced on the ground during his reign (more dangerous than Travis Lutter, who mounted Silva but could not finish him).

Once the fight starts, expect Silva to start out with his slow, methodical approach. Silva likes to wait and see what his opponent’s intentions are until he makes his move. Generally, that move is a combination of devastating knees and strikes. If Silva is able to get Leites into the clinch, the fight may not be far from over, though Leites is proficient with judo throws.

For Leites, it would be hard to imagine him wanting to stay on his feet for very long. Expect the challenger to try and bring the action to the canvas. On the canvas -- despite what many people are saying -- is where Leites should have an advantage in this fight. But in order for him to secure a solid takedown, he will need to be in striking distance of quite possibly the most feared striker in the world.

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