UFC 97 Breakdown and Predictions
By Matthew Degonzaque, DoghouseBoxing (April 18, 2009)
UFC 97 is live tonight from Quebec, Montreal, Canada and it has an amazing 12 fight line up. Officially 5 fights are scheduled for the air, but several prelims are typically aired throughout the card. I strongly recommend anyone interested in MMA checks out this card. It airs live at 10pm eastern tonight on Pay per view.

The Pay Per View Card

UFC Middleweight Championship (185lbs): Anderson Silva (23-4) vs. Thales Leites (14-1): Anderson Silva has been so dominant in the UFC Middleweight Division that it feels like no one can touch him. He has dominant victories over Dan Henderson, Rich Franklin and Nate Marquardt. At this point it’s hard to find a guy inside of the UFC that you could in there against Silva that would make a compelling fight because he has been so dominant. The problem with finding Silva compelling opponents is more evident now in this fight than ever. He is fighting Thales Leites, a fighter who has done nothing to justify getting a title shot and hasn’t proved himself as someone who could post a legitimate threat against Silva. His biggest wins in the UFC have been over a submission victory over Pete Sell (who is 2-5 in the UFC) and a split decision win over Nate Marquardt where Marquardt lost 2 points during the fight. At this point, Leites is the best the UFC can put against Silva and fans know that due and as a result, most of the fans leading up to the card are talking about Liddell-Rua.

Leites’ best chance at victory is if he gets Silva down to the ground and tries to submit him. Submissions are Leites biggest asset as most of his wins in the UFC and in his MMA career are by submission. But taking it to the ground doesn’t mean that Leites is out of the clear yet though as Silva himself has proven his chops on the ground already by submitting Travis Lutter and Dan Henderson, both known for having impressive ground games, in previous UFC fights. On the feet, if Leites tries to stand with Silva then I think he is making a big mistake. Silva is one of the best strikers in MMA and without a doubt the best striker in the Middleweight division. If Silva wins this fight it will be his 9th straight victory in the UFC, setting an all time record. Taking that in mind and the fact that Silva will be looking to make a statement after his surprisingly lackluster performance in his last victory at UFC 90 against Patrick Cote. My prediction: Anderson Silva defeats Leites by TKO in the 1st or 2nd round.

Chuck Liddell (21-5) vs. Mauricio Rua (17-3): For most fans this is the true main event of this card. Two years ago both of these men were considered the top two Light Heavyweights in MMA. Chuck Liddell was the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and was the most recognized face in Mixed Martial Arts. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had won the Pride 205lb Grand Prix and was winning against the likes of Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona in devastating fashion. People said that Shogun was going to be the man to dominate the division for the next several years. Fans salivated at the thought of these two getting on to prove who #1 at 205lbs was truly was. Now, in 2009, the fans will finally get to see these two collide but the fight is no longer a battle to see who the real division king is, now it’s a battle to remain relevant in the UFC Light Heavyweight division.

Since 2007, both men have gone on a decline in terms of standing in the division and apparently skill set. Liddell has since lost 3 of his last 4 fights, only picking up a decision win against Wanderlei Silva while losing to Quinton Jackson (by TKO), Keith Jardine (by split decision) and Rashad Evans (by KO). Foolish errors in Liddell’s defense have what have been primarily causing Liddell his defeats. In his loss to Jackson he wound up getting stopped as he backed away straight from Jackson while leaving his face unprotected. Against Jardine, he failed to check a majority of the leg kicks throughout the entire fight and was outworked. Against Evans, he failed to protected his face as he was throwing a right uppercut, his left hand was stretched out down by his waist, and was knocked out cold as Evans connected with a right hook of his own. UFC President Dana White has already said that Liddell needs to look to impress in this fight for White to want Liddell to fight again.

In the summer of 2007, after defeating Alistair Overeem and Pride folded, Shogun signed with the UFC. Shogun made his UFC debut against Forrest Griffin at UFC 75 in what was expected to be an easy fight for Shogun. Instead, Griffin took the fight to Shogun and controlled the majority of the fight. By the time the final round started, Shogun was terribly gassed and losing the fight. With 15 seconds left to go he was submitted by Griffin via rear naked choke. Afterwards, Shogun cited knee injuries and took some time off only to re-injured the knee in preparation for his next fight (which would’ve been against Liddell at UFC 85) and had to spend the entire year of 2008 rehabbing his knee. His comeback fight was at UFC 93 against Mark Coleman, in what was again supposed to be an easy fight for Shogun. Instead of vanquishing the 44 year old veteran, who hadn’t fought since 2006 himself, Shogun wound up gassing after the 1st round and struggling throughout the fight until finishing Coleman in the last round with only 24 seconds remaining.

Both fighters know that they need this win now more than anything. As a result, both Shogun and Liddell have begun training up their training regimes and looking to pick up new skills in order to evolve their games. Shogun has begun training with Demian Maia and Eric Haddad to work on his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and conditioning game. Liddell has begun training with American Top Team, although will still be cornered by John Hackleman on fight night. Liddell has been working with on his boxing with Howard Davis Jr., a 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist in boxing. Shogun focusing on his BJJ more than his standup surprises me since I’m predicting this fight will wind up being mostly fought on the feet. I thought a boxing coach would be more significant in Shogun’s camp especially after how horrible his boxing looked in his last two fights.

Maybe Shogun’s working with Maia is an indication that he is looking to take Liddell down, put I don’t know if Shogun can do that. Liddell has always had some of the best takedown defense in the sport and even when someone does manage to get a takedown on Liddell, he has the uncanny ability to stand up with no problem. Liddell is probably making the smartest possible move in working on his boxing technique with such an acclaimed coach. Liddell has always been an unorthodox kick boxer, someone who used his massive punching power to knock guys out from weird angles. But Liddell’s style, and poor defense, has begun to fail him and he is working on boxing to improve his stand up game. My prediction: It will be a tough fight for both guys, but I see Liddell winning a decision.

Brian Stann (6-1) vs. Krzysztof Soszynski (16-8-1): Stann was a WEC veteran and a former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion before the division was dissolved and the fighters were brought into the UFC. Soszynski is a TUF 8 veteran and is good at submissions but has been knocked out several times. All of Stann’s victories are by TKO in the 1st round. My prediction: Brian Stann wins this fight by TKO in the 1st or 2nd round.

Cheick Kongo (13-4-1) vs. Antoni Hardonk (8-4): Being that both guys have kick boxing backgrounds I’m guessing they will spend most of this fight standing up. I doubt either fight will look for a takedown as both guys have proven in the past that fighting on the ground isn’t their forte. My prediction: Kongo has at least defeated good opposition already while Hardonk has struggled with journeyman like Justin McCully in the past. My Prediction: Kongo by decision.

Luis Cane (9-1) vs. Steve Cantwell (7-1): Cantwell is a well rounded fighter and was the WEC Light Heavyweight champ when the division was dissolved. But I think he’s out of his depth here, Cane is a serious banger who has stopped Jason Lambert and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in the past. Unless Cantwell can get this to the ground I don’t see it being very competitive. My Prediction: Cane by TKO in the 1st round.

Preliminary Bouts

Denis Kang (31-11-1) vs. Xavier Foupa-Pokam (20-8): Kang disappointed in his UFC debut. This is his chance to regain some of the hype that he lost back at UFC 93. Foupa-Pokam doesn’t belong in the UFC, especially when the highlight of his career was getting submitted by Murilo Rua more than two years ago. My prediction: Kang by 1st round submission.

Jason MacDonald (21-11) vs. Nate Quarry (10-3): MacDonald hasn’t been relevant in the division since he fought Rich Franklin at UFC 68 two years ago. Quarry will never be elite, but he should be able to win this. My Prediction: Quarry by decision.

David Loiseau (18-8) vs. Ed Herman (14-6): Loiseau’s 3 fight win streak has gotten him back into the UFC; Herman’s 2 fight losing streak has him about to be cut from the roster. Herman is a fringe contender in the UFC and has never shown that he has the potential to be a top contender in the UFC. My prediction: Loiseau by decision.

Mark Bocek (6-2) vs. David Bielkheden (13-6): Bielkheden by TKO in the 1st round.

Ryo Chonan (16-8) vs. TJ Grant (13-2): Grant by 3rd round submission.

Matt Wiman (10-4) vs. Sam Stout (13-5): Wiman by decision.

Vinny Magalhães (2-3) vs. Eliot Marshall (6-1): Marshall by submission in the 1st round.

Hope everyone finds the predictions helpful and, more importantly, I hope you all enjoy tonight's UFC 97. Make sure to check the DHB main page out for my write up about the card.

Questions or comments,
Matthew at: mdegonzaque@hotmail.com

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