On Saturday night in Oakland, pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva defends his middleweight title against number one contender Chael Sonnen. For a breakdown of this fight and the rest of the UFC 117 main card, read on...
JUNIOR DOS SANTOS VS. ROY NELSON
With a perfect 5-0 record inside the Octagon, Junior Dos Santos has notable wins over Mirko Cro Cop and Gabriel Gonzaga. By notching his sixth straight win Dos Santos will catapult to No. 1 contender status in the heavyweight division and earn a future meeting against the winner of the upcoming Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez clash. Worth noting: all of Dos Santos’ 11 wins have been finishes, eight by knockout or TKO, three by submission. The Brazilian, a teammate of Anderson Silva and the Nogueira brothers, has extremely heavy hands and he’s arguably the hardest puncher in the division, certainly right up there with Shane Carwin.
But do not let the belly of Roy “Big Country” Nelson fool you. His eye-catching and atypical physique has not stopped Nelson from beating some of the world’s best heavyweights. He is a talented BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie (with a past win over Frank Mir in submission grappling) and a former International Fight League champion; he was crowned winner of The Ultimate Fighter season 10 and has jumpstarted his UFC career with knockout wins over Stefan Struve and Brendan Schaub. The 263-pounder from Las Vegas – a former substitute teacher -- has stated that while other heavyweights want to avoid Dos Santos, he actually looks forward to fighting him.
CLAY GUIDA VS. RAFAEL DOS ANJOS
Known for his relentless fight pace and ability to take opponents down at will, fan favorite Guida will be looking for his second straight win against BJJ black belt Rafael Dos Anjos. A four-year UFC veteran, Guida has competed against a Who’s Who of the lightweight division, tangling with the likes of Kenny Florian, Roger Huerta, Diego Sanchez and Tyson Griffin. Guida’s grinding style has also earned him impressive wins over Nate Diaz, Marcus Aurelio and Mac Danzig, and razor-thin losses to Sanchez and Griffin. Guida gave opponents new reason to fear him recently, submitting Shannon Gugerty with an arm triangle choke.
The UFC career of Dos Anjos, 25, got off to a rocky start with losses to Jeremy Stephens and Tyson Griffin. However, the aggressive Brazilian has stormed back with three straight wins inside the Octagon, including an armbar submission victor over up-and-coming British sensation Terry Etim at UFC 112.
MATT HUGHES VS. RICARDO ALMEIDA
Considered by many to be the most dominant welterweight of all-time, Hughes returns to take on grappling ace Ricardo Almeida in what essentially amounts to Hughes’ third go-round against a “member” of the Gracie family. Hughes already owns wins by stoppage over the legendary Royce Gracie and Renzo Gracie. Almeida happens to be a highly-decorated, world-class BJJ black belt and longtime protégé of Renzo’s. The Brazilian has publicly called his looming fight against Hughes, a former UFC champ, “the biggest fight of my career.”
It will be interesting to see what strategy Hughes employs for this fight. The former collegiate wrestler may opt to abandon his trademark takedowns and slams and instead elect to stand against Almeida, similar to the blueprint Hughes followed during his fight with Renzo Gracie. In that fight, Hughes picked Gracie apart with punches and leg kicks, eventually earning a TKO victory. The 33-year-old Almeida is notably younger and stronger than both Gracies, arguably slicker on the mat and boasts better takedowns. In short, Hughes could have his hands full in a grappling match with Almeida, but Almeida has yet to knock out any UFC opponent.
JON FITCH VS. THIAGO ALVES
Thiago Alves has craved this rematch ever since Jon Fitch overpowered him four years ago en route to a first-round finish. Fitch, who wrestled collegiately at Purdue University, is 12-1 in the UFC with his lone loss coming to champion Georges St-Pierre.
Known for his incredible work ethic, and eating, sleeping and breathing MMA, Fitch’s grappling-based game will be seriously tested by a Thiago Alves who has evolved considerably since their first meeting. As proof, Alves has destroyed two of the UFC’s top wrestlers in former welterweight champ Matt Hughes and former NCAA wrestling champ Josh Koscheck, who happens to be a teammate of Fitch’s at the American Kickboxing Academy. Adding intrigue to this battle of former No. 1 contenders is the fact that Alves is faster, stronger and a more improved grappler than he was in his first go-round with Fitch, a jiu-jitsu black belt under Dave Camarillo. If the Brazilian can stuff Fitch’s takedowns, it could easily turn into a long night for the Indiana native.
ANDERSON SILVA VS. CHAEL SONNEN
In a clash of styles between the UFC’s most feared striker and the organization’s most hilarious trash talker, Saturday night’s title bout gives Anderson Silva another chance to solidify his legacy as a virtually untouchable middleweight champion, while also offering Chael Sonnen a shot at pulling off one of the greatest upsets in UFC history. Several key questions surround this fight, including: will Silva make the No. 1 contender eat his words? Will Silva do away with the wacky and bizarre antics that have plagued his recent performances?
The task before Sonnen is a monumental one. His Brazilian adversary has steamrolled 11 straight foes inside of the Octagon while creating highlight reels along the way. During his spectacular reign, Silva’s opponents have usually kept their mouths shut. However, the man who stands in the sure-fire Hall of Famer’s way on Saturday night has dared to talk loads of smack about the ferocious dominator in the months leading up to their middleweight title clash. This has caused most bystanders to wonder, ‘Has Chael Sonnen lost his mind?’ Or can the quote-machine use his Olympic-class wrestling to shock the world and back up his insults and ultra-confident rhetoric?
Given the outrage that UFC President Dana White – and most importantly, UFC fans -- have expressed over Silva’s latest and bizarre performances, a lot of people are expecting “The Spider” to make an example out of Sonnen, as Silva did during a first-round annihilation of Forrest Griffin.
Sonnen, meanwhile, has a golden opportunity before him. Years ago the 33-year-old promised his dying father: “I’m going to win a world title.” Sonnen came oh-so close to reaching that milestone only to have it cruelly snatched from him. A few years ago he fought Brazilian Paulo Filho – back when Filho sported a 16-0 record, held the WEC middleweight world championship and was widely regarded as a Top 3 middleweight. Sonnen made Filho look ordinary that night, taking him down and pounding on him for more than nine minutes. In the heat of that dominating performance, Sonnen paid a price for his lack of caution; Filho caught him in an armbar and escaped victorious. Sonnen would defeat Filho in a rematch but was the victim of bad luck; because Filho was overweight, the bout was deemed a non-title fight. But in many ways, being “caught” in submissions has been Sonnen’s Achilles Heel. In this fight, he must avoid the momentary lapses in concentration that led to his downfall in fights he seemed to have wrapped up.
What also makes Sonnen particularly intriguing in this fight against Silva is that the outspoken Oregonian has never taken a beating on his feet. Never. Although Silva has a way of making opponents look silly in the standup realm, Sonnen’s takedowns are top-notch, and if any style can shut down Silva – at least on paper – it would be a wrestling style that puts the champ on his back and smothers him. The short list of critics that Anderson Silva has often point to his fight with Travis Lutter several years ago, a fight that Lutter controlled early and had a chance to win when he mounted Silva. Though Lutter would eventually lose the fight, he nevertheless created a perception among some people that Silva, despite being a BJJ black belt, is most vulnerable on the ground. If Lutter could take down Silva and control him, it seems a safe bet that Sonnen can, too. So he will probably have to employ a similar strategy Saturday night in order to surprise the world and finally fulfill the promise he made to his late father.