Oakland’s Oracle Arena will host its first UFC card Saturday night. A middleweight title defense, a welterweight rematch, and a spot for the top heavyweight contender are all featured on the televised card that kicks off at 9:00 p.m. Central Time.
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen
The talking comes to an end and the action will take its place when the longest reigning champion in UFC history goes up against a worthy, albeit controversial and hyped promotional machine.
Silva’s strengths include crushing combinations and an ability to remain focused and calm when pressed. Opponents with strong wrestling abilities have given Silva some fits, but he maintains stability in pulling switches and gaining better position. Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt have been on the receiving end of Silva’s improved wrestling. Coupled with Mark Muñoz’s integration into Team Black House, Silva and company have a powerful compliment to already polished athletic makeups.
Chael Sonnen’s wrestling has been key to victories over Nate Marquardt, Yushin Okami and Dan Miller. He’ll have to furiously employ an upper-body clinch and takedown strategy to have a chance at winning. Striking-wise, Sonnen excels at setting up clinches and shots by feinting and blasting through to his opposition. If he wins, it’ll be by a very well-earned decision.
Standing across will be Anderson Silva, a fighter touted as one of the best pound-for-pound. He faces a strong opponent with an equally big trash-talking game to boot. Whether Silva can channel a furious response toward another successful title defense or not will be the question.
Silva’s key to winning the bout lies in his speed and ability to strike from the outside. He’ll have to avoid the clinch against Sonnen, unless he breaks him down with leg kicks and other strikes. Should he find himself on the ground against the challenger, Anderson Silva has shown a willingness to engage and win by submission.
Prediction: Anderson Silva def. Chael Sonnen by TKO (strikes) in round 3.
Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves II
A rematch years in the making and interrupted by an unexpected brain surgery comes to fruition in tomorrow’s main event.
Jon Fitch’s stout wrestling earns praise from veteran MMA fans and followers, but draws ire for its blanketing and bunny punching to earn decisions. In his sole loss in the UFC, Fitch was dominated by welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre en route to a decision loss. Fitch’s main weakness is an apparent lack of striking. Against Thiago Alves, Fitch will have to avoid or respond to Alves’ muay thai arsenal.
Alves can win the fight with striking, but his bout against St-Pierre at UFC 100 showed that his ground skills against a proficient wrestler needed improvement.
Prediction: Jon Fitch def. Thiago Alves by decision.
Clay Guida vs. Rafael dos Anjos
MMA’s Energizer bunny Clay Guida takes on slick submission specialist Rafael dos Anjos in a lightweight attraction on the main card. Fan-friendly styles of fighting are entertaining, but there are times when the grungy hair and relentless pace of action could see you on the losing end.
Guida certainly can put on a show. (Tyson Griffin and Roger Huerta can attest to that) The frenetic pace of his bouts make him a promotional dream. But that style has not led to more favorable numbers in the win column.
Rafael dos Anjos is a veteran of the Brazilian MMA scene and carries submission wins against Terry Etim in the UFC and fellow notable countryman Johil de Oliveira. He rides into tomorrow night with a three-fight win streak.
Guida’s best chance is to keep the fight standing. Getting into guard play against a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu would stifle him and leave him susceptible to a submission loss. Dos Anjos can work a clinch game and wrist control to soften Guida up before landing a takedown and working for positional advantage.
Prediction: Rafael dos Anjos def. Clay Guida by submission in round 2.
Matt Hughes vs. Ricardo Almeida
Almeida looks to avenge the loss of his mentor and long-time jiu-jitsu instructor Renzo Gracie against the venerable Matt Hughes.
Almeida’s jiu-jitsu credentials have led to submission wins against Rob Yundt, Matt Brown, and – many years before – Nate Marquardt and Kevin Jackson. He also carries an average striking game to complement his effective trip takedowns and scrambles from unfavorable positions.
Hughes’ career is at a crossroads: a loss against Almeida should conceivably lead to contemplation of retirement from competitive MMA bouts, while a win would be good, yet would come against a fighter whose inactivity between bouts may hurt the quality of a victory. Still powerful with takedowns and shots, Hughes rebounded from a TKO loss to Thaigo Alves with wins against Matt Serra and a TKO stoppage against Renzo Gracie. His submission defense still raises questions, but his veteran status in the sport cannot be ignored.
Prediction: Ricardo Almeida def. Matt Hughes by submission in round 2.
Roy Nelson vs. Junior dos Santos
Opening up the pay-per-view broadcast is the next contender spot against the winner of October’s heavyweight title bout between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez in Los Angeles. Roy Nelson carries his experience and unappreciated ground game against slugging knockout artist Junior dos Santos.
Nelson’s ascension in the UFC came hot off the heels from his eliminating Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson on The Ultimate Fighter. Since then, he’s knocked out both Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve. The former IFL heavyweight champion’s two previous defeats came in controversial fashion: in his bout against Andrei Arlovski, the bout was restarted from the standing position despite a good work rate from Nelson. That led to a TKO stoppage. His “March Badness” bout against Jeff Monson in 2009 left viewers with a bad taste in their mouths. Nelson outworked Monson on the feet and stifled takedowns, but the judges at ringside rendered a unanimous decision against him.
The fresh jiu-jitsu black belt has shown good lateral mount control by pinning opponents – albeit under a thick layer of girth – and working to gain a better position. He’ll carry a considerable reach and height disadvantage, but he has shown good striking against the taller Struve and Schaub.
Junior dos Santos rocked the world in 2008 against Fabricio Werdum, and has earned credible wins against Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Stefan Struve. Despite his successful stand-up game, no one truly knows how the Team Black House heavyweight can fare on the ground. He’ll have to keep Nelson at a distance and hope to land sharp striking combinations to knock him out.
Prediction: Junior dos Santos def. Roy Nelson by TKO in round 1.
As always, reader feedback is suggested and encouraged. Drop me a line at Jaime.Martinez@gmail.com to share your thoughts on the fights.
You can also hear me on “The Mighty Gwinn Show” this Monday, August 9 at 11:30 a.m. on KBME Sports Talk 790 as I recap Saturday’s results with show host Dylan Gwinn and Marcell Epps, contributing writer to the MMA blog.