Read on for the UFC 128 Main Card Fantasy Game Preview...
Across the Hudson River from the bright lights of New York City, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Newark, New Jersey on Saturday with the light heavyweight championship title on the line as Shogun Rua takes on Jon Jones. Along with the light heavyweight title on the line, one of the must iconic fighters in the world, Urijah Faber, will face Eddie Wineland in his much-anticipated UFC debut. Also on the main card, Jim Miller takes on Kamal Shalorus, Nate Marquardt will square off against Dan Miller, and Brendan Schaub will battle Mirko Cro Cop.
Shogun Rua vs. Jon Jones
Having fought 13 times in a span of nearly four years while in PRIDE, Shogun Rua made a name for himself by winning the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix and 12 of those 13 fights – with notable wins over Rampage Jackson, Antônio Rogério Nogueira, and Alistair Overeem. Rua’s stint in the UFC didn’t start as intended when he was submitted by Forrest Griffin in 2007. After being defeated by Griffin, Rua went on to defeat Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell. After those victories, Rua was given a title shot at UFC 104 against Lyoto Machida. After a 25-minute war, nearly everyone believed that Rua had defeated his countryman to become the new light heavyweight champion. It seemed the only people to believe Machida won the fight were the only people whose opinion mattered – the judges. After losing by unanimous decision, Rua was given an immediate rematch. This time, however, Rua didn’t give the judges a chance to decide his fate. It took Rua less than four minutes to dispose of Machida and became the new light heavyweight champion. On Saturday night, Rua will defend his title for the first time.
Fighting close to his hometown of Endicott, New York, Jon Jones only has one thing standing between him and his dream of being a champion in the UFC - Shogun Rua. Making his UFC debut in August of 2008, Jones started his quest of becoming champ by defeating then-undefeated Andre Gusmao. After beating Gusmao, Jones went on to win his next two fights by beating Stephan Bonnar and Jake O’Brien. Looking to win his fourth fight in the Octagon, Jones manhandled and dominated Matt Hamill for the first 45 seconds of their fight before the contest was stopped by the referee when Jones landed an illegal elbow. Although on paper Jones lost the fight, everyone – including Hamill - agreed that the illegal elbow had little to do with the stoppage of the fight and agreed Jones was the winner of that fight. Coming up on the losing end of his fight with Hamill, it seemed to light a fire under Jones – who didn’t let his next three opponents get out of the second round. After his most recent fight, when Jones stopped previously undefeated Ryan Bader, “Bones” was offered what he had dreamed about – a title shot.
When the music stops and the Octagon door is shut on Saturday night, look for both fighters to try and bring the action of the fight to where they’re most comfortable. For Jones, look for him to use his unorthodox standup and mixture of punches and elbows to catch Rua off balance – bringing him to the canvas to use his brutal ground and pound. On the other hand, look for Rua to try and avoid the ground game and razor sharp elbows of Jones by keeping the fight standing while trying to test the strength of Jones’ untested chin.
Urijah Faber vs. Eddie Wineland
A member of Team Alpha Male and the former WEC featherweight champion, Urijah Faber had been the face of the WEC prior to its merger with the UFC. On Saturday, one of the biggest names in MMA to have not fought in the UFC will make his debut in the Octagon. While in the WEC, Faber amassed an impressive 9-3 record – with notable wins over Dominick Cruz, Jens Pulver (twice), and Takeya Mizugaki in his bantamweight debut. After defending his featherweight title five times, Faber succumbed to Mike Brown. The California Kid rebounded by defeating Pulver a second time, but came up on the short end of a 25-minute war with Brown in their rematch. Even in defeat, however, Faber showed great heart and earned Fight of the Night honors. After another victory, Faber lost for the third time out of five fights to UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo. It was that loss that prompted Faber to drop a weight class and begin his quest to win the UFC bantamweight title.
Making his UFC debut, Eddie Wineland is also a former WEC world champion and holds a professional MMA record of 18-6-1. Known for his kickboxing and wrestling, Wineland is a well-rounded and extremely fast fighter that has his sights set on claiming UFC gold. Wineland is riding a four-fight win streak, with victories over Manny Tapia, George Roop, Will Campuzano and Ken Stone. Beating someone with the name recognition and skill level of Urijah Faber might be all he needs to get another shot at fighting for the title.
In a contrast of styles, look for Faber to use his strength, wrestling edge and superior scrambling skills to bring the action of the fight to the canvas. If Faber is able to bring the fight down, look for him to stay active by either seeking out a submission or by forcing the referee to stop the fight due to ground and pound. On the other hand, look for Wineland to keep the fight standing and try to exploit Faber with his precision boxing. When the fight is standing, Faber knows that Wineland has the power to end the fight with a single punch.
Jim Miller vs. Kamal Shalorus
Fighting in his home state of New Jersey, Jim Miller holds an impressive 19-2 overall MMA record entering his Saturday night fight, and he’s riding a six-fight winning-streak – with notable wins over Mac Danzig, Duane Ludwig, Gleison Tibau, and Charles Oliveira. Having only lost in his career to Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar, Miller wants a chance to avenge those defeats, and he knows that a victory over Shalorus could possibly put him in the mix to fight the winner of the Edgar-Maynard rematch that will take place later in the year.
Making his UFC debut on Saturday night, Kamal Shalorus, who isn’t well known to most UFC fans, has the chance to gain some followers quickly by putting on an impressive performance while fighting on Pay-Per-View. While in the WEC, Shalorus put together a 3-0-1 record – fighting to a hard fought draw against Jamie Varner. Beating an opponent with the credentials of Miller, Shalorus knows that a win will immediately put him in the thick of the division.
With both Miller and Shalorus known for wanting to bring the fight to the canvas, it will be interesting to see where this fight goes. Shalorus has already noted that Miller will be the first opponent that he has faced that’s a southpaw. Look for the majority of the fight to stay standing. With their wrestling being nearly equal – expect both fighters to stand and trade punches until one of their chins gives way to a knockout.
Nate Marquardt vs. Dan Miller
A longtime staple in the middleweight division, Nate Marquardt is looking to move his way back up the 185-pound ladder. Making his UFC debut in August of 2005, Marquardt won his first four fights before given a chance at the middleweight title; a chance that Marquardt didn’t capitalize on when current middleweight champion Anderson Silva defeated him. After starting his UFC career off in strong fashion, Marquardt has gone 5-3 since his title fight against Silva – including a 1-2 record in his last three fights.
With the devastating earthquake that hit Japan just days ago, Yoshihiro Akiyama was understandably in no condition to leave his homeland for this weekend’s fight, although he and his family were spared serious harm. Stepping in is New Jersey’s Dan Miller, who was scheduled to fight Nick Catone on the UFC 128 preliminary card. Now Miller gets a shot on the main card against one of the division’s top contenders.
With a difference in fighting style, it will be interesting to see witch fighter is able to impose their will and take the fight to where their most comfortable. For Marquardt, look for him to try and keep the fight standing, especially considering that his last five wins have come by way of knockout. Miller can scrap with the best of him, but he won’t want to stand for too long with Marquardt. Instead, his solid ground game and black belt level submissions will be the way to go if he wants to score the upset.
Brendan Schaub vs. Mirko Cro Cop
A finalist on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, Brendan Schaub is looking to beat one of the biggest names in MMA and by far the most recognizable opponent he’s ever fought in his career. With an impressive 8-1 overall MMA record, Schaub is looking to win his fourth straight fight and move another step closer to the title. Coming off a unanimous decision victory over Gabriel Gonzaga, Schaub knows that by beating Cro Cop he will be on a short list of people who have defeated a true legend in the sport of MMA.
Fighting out of Zagreb, Croatia, Mirko Cro Cop is one of the most feared strikers in the history of MMA, with 20 of his 27 victories coming by way of knockout. A legend in PRIDE, who has fought a Who’s Who in MMA since 2001, Cro Cop is looking to add a UFC title to his resume before the end of his career. Although that may be unlikely at the moment, a victory on Saturday will move him one step closer.
From the start of the first round, look for Schaub to try to bring the action of the fight immediately to the canvas. Like all of us, Schaub knows how dangerous Cro Cop can be on his feet and won’t look to become number 21 on Cro Cop’s list of victories by KO. Look for Cro Cop to try and avoid a takedown and look to land either a punch or kick that abruptly ends the fight.