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UFC 123 – Main Card Fantasy Preview

Read on for the UFC 123 main card Fantasy game preview...

Joe Lauzon vs. George Sotiropoulos  

Joe Lauzon’s path to the UFC is unlike nearly everyone’s.  After debuting with a spectacular first round knockout of former lightweight champion Jens Pulver in 2006, Lauzon went on The Ultimate Fighter to tune his skills and build his name even more.  And although Lauzon was defeated in the semi-finals, it was evident that he was ready for the biggest stage in the world.  Since appearing on season five of TUF, Lauzon has gone 5-2, and in his best performance inside the Octagon since the show, Lauzon destroyed Gabe Ruediger in a little over two minutes of the first round at UFC 118.  And whether winning or losing, Lauzon has looked better and better each time he’s entered the Octagon.  He’s hoping that trend continues on Saturday night

For George Sotiropoulos, fighting had always been his dream – regardless of what it took to become a fighter in the UFC.  He traveled the world in search of the best people to train with, and it didn’t matter where he slept or what he ate.  As long as he was training, Sotiropoulos didn’t mind.  At one point, he was living inside a gym and could count all the money he had in one hand.  Hearing a story like this made you realize something; Sotiropoulos didn’t get into fighting because of the possible fame and fortune that could come with it.  He just wants to fight.  Having won all six of his fights since being on season six of The Ultimate Fighter, Sotiropoulos is quickly moving up the lightweight ladder.  If he’s able to win in convincing fashion, he may only be one more win away from getting his shot at UFC gold.

It’s going to be interesting to see where this fight ends up.  Both fighters are well rounded and won’t panic in any position.  Look for Lauzon to try and set up a submission – if he’s able to bring the action down.  Although Sotiropoulos is comfortable on the ground, he may try to keep the fight standing – feeling that’s where he has the advantage.   

Phil Davis vs. Tim Boetsch

A 4 time All-American and 2008 NCAA wrestling champion for Penn State University, Phil Davis turned pro as a mixed martial artist in October of 2008 and it only took him four fights to catch the eye of the UFC.  Since making his debut back at UFC 109, Davis has won all three of his fights, defeating Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson, and Rodney Wallace.  At 26 years old, Davis knows not to look ahead of anyone in arguably the toughest division in the UFC.  With all the talent in 205-pound division, one loss can be detrimental to his career.  Although he has fought three times in the UFC already, fighting on a Pay-Per-View will only do great things for his career if he can put on a great performance.

Despite having won three of the five fights he’s had in the Octagon, Tim Boetsch has been unable to string together multiple wins in a row.  Having won his latest outing at UFC 117, Boetsch is looking to get on a winning streak to move his way up the light heavyweight ladder. Although he has shown signs of being a real force, Boetsch just hasn’t been able to put anything together for a long period of time.  At 29 years old, this may be his best opportunity to start making some noise in this division.

When people first look at Phil Davis, people often marvel at how big he is.  Looking more like a heavyweight than a light heavyweight, look for him to use his size and strength to bring the action of the fight to the canvas.  If he’s able to bring Boetsch down, ‘The Barbarian’ may be in trouble.  Look for Boetsch to stall – hoping the fight gets stood up.  In a contrast in styles, look for Boetsch to try and keep the fighting standing – looking for a knockout.

Gerald Harris vs. Maiquel Falcao

Fighting out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Gerald Harris, who was a product of season seven of The Ultimate Fighter, is currently riding a three fight winning streak in the UFC – with wins over John Salter, Mario Miranda, and most recently Dave Branch.  Although Harris has won all three fights inside of the Octagon, he’s won nine fights in a row since being defeated by Amir Sadollah (who ended up winning season seven) on episode seven of TUF.  And two of his three fights inside of the Octagon have ended with Dana White handing him a check for Knockout of the Night.  

With an overall professional record of 25-3, 1 NC, Maiquel Falcao will make his Octagon debut on Saturday night.  On Saturday night, Falcao will undoubtedly be facing the toughest and most important test of his professional career.  Being relatively unknown to most MMA fans, that perception could quickly change if the fight goes the way he plans.  There is no easier or better way to jump into the spotlight than by having a solid performance when fighting on Pay-Per-View.  Although it’s the best opportunity a UFC fighter can get when entering the Octagon for the first time, it can also come with the most pressure.  Depending on the person, knowing that for the first time in your fighting career, millions of people will be watching either brings the best out of you or leads to a poor performance.  We will just have to wait and see how he responds.

Look for Harris to use his strong wrestling skills to try and bring the action of the fight to the canvas right away.   If he’s able to bring the action down, it’ll be interesting to see Falcao’s ability to fight off his back when Harris is throwing non-stop elbows.  On the other hand, Falcao, who has knocked out his opponent in 21 of his 25 victories, will look to keep the fight standing.  Hoping to end the fight in dramatic fashion, Falcao knows that a highlight reel knockout will quickly make him a name people will remember.  Being that it’s his first outing in the Octagon, he needs to be careful to not go out swinging for the fences.  Doing that would cut down on his energy tank and make him more likely to be taken down and beaten as the fight enters its last few minutes.          

Matt Hughes vs. BJ Penn

Matt Hughes and BJ Penn first met in what would end up becoming a trilogy back at UFC 46 in 2004.  In that fight, Penn secured a rear naked choke in the first round to win the fight and take the welterweight title away from Hughes.  Over two and a half years later, at UFC 63, Hughes finally had his opportunity to avenge the loss.  Hughes did exactly that – winning by TKO in the third round.  Now tied up at a win apiece, Saturday night will be the rubber match in what has turned out to be a great rivalry between two of the greatest MMA fighters in the world.

Arguably the greatest and most dominant champion in the history of the UFC, two-time welterweight champion Matt Hughes has won a record 18 times inside of the Octagon and is looking to make it 19 on Saturday.  First winning the welterweight title at UFC 34, Hughes defeated Carlos Newton by a controversial slam. Less than a year later, Hughes silenced the critics by defeating Newton once again – this time in dominating fashion.  From March of 2002 through September of 2006, Hughes went on to win 11 of his 12 fights during that span – with notable victories over Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg (twice), Georges St-Pierre, and legendary jiu-jitsu artist Royce Gracie, and he also avenged his only loss during that period to BJ Penn.  Although Hughes had previously beaten St-Pierre, the roles were reversed back at UFC 65 – St-Pierre defeated Hughes and became the new welterweight champion.  After returning with a win over Chris Lytle, Hughes was given another shot at St-Pierre but lost the rubber match.  Many believed after his second loss to St-Pierre that the welterweight torch had finally been passed, and at first, it seemed as if many were right.  For the first time in his UFC career, Hughes had lost two straight fights when he was defeated by Thiago Alves.  But then came three-straight victories against Matt Serra, Renzo Gracie, and Ricardo Almeida, and with a win over Penn, he may get even closer to a chance at one last title shot.  

Having fought in multiple divisions in his career, BJ Penn has won UFC gold in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions.  Prior to winning the welterweight title, Penn had two different opportunities to win the lightweight title.  At UFC 35, Penn fought for the first time in his UFC career with a championship belt on the line.  Unfortunately for Penn, he lost a majority decision against Jens Pulver.  After winning two straight fights, Penn once again let UFC gold slip through his fingers when he fought to a draw against Caol Uno at UFC 41.  Feeling that he’d be better suited for the welterweight division, Penn was finally able to win UFC gold at UFC 46 by beating the very fighter he’s scheduled to meet on Saturday night, Matt Hughes.  After winning the UFC welterweight title, Penn stepped away from the UFC, and after returning in 2006, Penn lost his first two fights back in the Octagon to Georges St-Pierre and Hughes.  In his next six fights, Penn won five and the UFC lightweight title – with notable wins over Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.  But Penn wasn’t able to match Frankie Edgar stylistically and he lost both fights and his title to the New Jersey native.  After two straight defeats, Penn has moved back to the welterweight division, and he will finally look to settle the score with Hughes.

Having already fought each other twice already, both fighters know precisely what to expect from one another.  Look for Penn to try and keep the fight standing so he can exploit the area where he has the most advantages.  If he’s able to keep the fight off the canvas, it could end up being a long night in Auburn Hills for Hughes.  On the other side, look for Hughes to try and time a kick or punch from Penn – in order to set up a takedown.  That may be easier said than done, however.  Quite possibly the biggest strength Penn has is his balance.  He’s nearly impossible to bring down early in a fight.  Hughes will need to try and push the pace – testing Penn’s cardio.  If he’s able to bring the fight to the ground, look for him to use his patented ground and pound.  Regardless of what position Penn is in, Hughes will need to be careful of being caught in a submission.  
Lyoto Machida vs. Rampage Jackson

Both Lyoto Machida and Rampage Jackson have held UFC gold around their waist in the past two years, and on Saturday night, they have the same goal in mind on Saturday night when the Octagon gate closes – to win and get another title shot.  The winner of this fight won’t have far to look at a possible title shot but the loser of this fight will be on the outside looking in when it comes to getting back atop the divisional ladder.

In previous fights, Lyoto Machida would stay in his native Brazil to train, but feeling that he needed better partners to train with, Machida decided to stay in southern California to put together the best possible camp as possible.  One of the few fighters today that train mainly in karate, the Dragon is a black belt in Machida Karate – a fighting style that his father developed.  Known for his methodical fighting style, Machida has the ability to frustrate his opponents by keeping a slow pace and continuously moving – keeping his opponents guessing.  Machida then uses his opponents’ frustration to his advantage when they inevitably will try to push the action and get into a brawl – that’s exactly what Machida wants.  With his pinpoint accuracy, he’s generally able to end the fight by waiting for a mistake from his opponent. Machida won his first eight fights inside the Octagon – with notable wins over Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans, and Mauricio Rua.  After the close nature of his decision win over Rua at UFC 104, Machida stepped back into the Octagon with “Shogun” less than seven months later.  This time however, Rua saw to it that the judges wouldn’t have a say in this fight by knocking Machida out in the first round.  There was a point when many believed that Machida’s fighting style made it nearly impossible for him to get hit – let alone lose.  Saturday night will be Machida’s first step at trying to put the fear back into his opponents, but more importantly, he’s looking to get back on track to reclaim the UFC light heavyweight championship belt.

Like his opponent, Quinton Jackson decided to have a change in scenery during his training camp for his fight on Saturday night.  For the past few years, Jackson would leave his southern California home to travel across the pond to the Wolfslair gym in the United Kingdom.  Wanting to still be around his children while training to fight Machida, Jackson brought out the usual members of the U.K. based Wolfslair gym to California to get him prepared for his bout with Machida.  While fighting for PRIDE in Japan, it didn’t take long for Jackson to become a superstar all over Asia.  Going 12-5 in the organization, Jackson beat notable fighters such as Kevin Randleman, Murilo Bustamante, Chuck Liddell, Ricardo Arona, and Murilo Rua.  In 2007, Jackson made his UFC debut by knocking out Marvin Eastman.  He then faced Liddell for the second time and took ‘The Iceman’s title via knockout. Rampage then became the first MMA fighter to unify the UFC and PRIDE belts when he defeated Dan Henderson.  Although Rampage had become the new light heavyweight champion, his reign atop the division didn’t last long.  Roughly 10 months later, Jackson lost his belt to Forrest Griffin. He returned to action only five months later when he knocked out Wanderlei Silva in the first round, and then defeated Keith Jardine by decision.  In his most recent bout in May, Jackson lost a decision to heated rival Rashad Evans. Needless to say, Rampage knows the importance of Saturday night and he expects to fight accordingly.

It’ll be interesting to see the game plan Rampage and his camp come up with for Saturday night.  Jackson is known for his aggressive style, and that isn’t the game plan you want to have when fighting a pinpoint striker like Machida.  Look for Rampage to come in with a more methodical gameplan, in hopes of Machida trying to push the action.  And although Rampage is subject to being submitted if the bout hits the floor and Machida has the ability to pull one off, what makes Rampage difficult is his knowledge and ability to use his strength to get out of a submission hold.  But most likely the majority of the fight will be fought on the feet.  Both fighters will pick their shots carefully – knowing their opponent has the power to finish the fight with one punch.        

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