Programming note! I’ll be live-Tweeting my thoughts on UFC 102 Saturday night starting at 10 PM, or whenever I start getting wi-fi reception in the bar. You are invited to follow along Saturday night.
The Rolling Stones come through town every year or two, and every time they do I’m sorely tempted to knock my piggybank senseless and pick up some tickets. God, I love me some Stones. The problem is, I don’t want to see a creaky Mick and a burnt-out Keith. Yeah, it would be good, and I’d probably enjoy myself a lot banging my head to “Paint It, Black”, but I doubt I could savor the night without feeling disappointed that I’m not seeing them in their prime. Sadly, I was born a little too late for Altamont.
Randy “The Natural” Couture is 12 years removed from the first title win of a UFC career that saw him strap plenty of gold around his waist. This is only Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira’s fourth UFC fight, but he was a legend in PRIDE, twice winning their Heavyweight belt. The four men who have beaten Minotauro are Fedor Emilianenko, Dan Henderson, Josh Barnett, and Frank Mir. There’s no shame in dropping to any of those guys, and in between he’s managed to notch an impressive 31 wins.
There’s no question the two men have mythical careers, but the main event of Saturday night’s UFC 102 card can’t help but leave us all feeling a little wistful. Both men are coming off losses and one has to wonder if the heavyweight division has passed them by.
No doubt, the UFC is salivating over the prospect of one last run for Couture. A win here likely means a rematch against Brock Lesnar, which would be a pay-per-view goldmine for fans looking for the impossible dream: for Couture to stun the world and do to Lesnar what he did in his “Captain America” fight against Chuck Liddell at UFC 43.
Part of the thrill of that win was Couture defying the critics who said he was too old, at 39, to get it done. Well, that was six years ago. Since then, Couture lost the rematch and the rubber match to Liddell. He’s decisioned a clearly-cooked Tim Sylvia and stopped a frequently-disappointing Gabriel Gonzaga. Most recently, he looked severely outmatched against the monstrous Lesnar. That we are not in Couture’s prime is beyond question, but we’re not even at 2003 levels. Nogueira, meanwhile, was stopped cold by Mir in his last fight nine months ago. Lesnar-Mir was the big show; Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez are the next in line; I can’t help but think that this is the last real hurrah for the two legends we’ll see Saturday night.
Still, I expect a good fight; neither man is lacking for toughness. It could be a great one on the ground, with Big Nog’s jiu jitsu against Randy’s wrestling. Sadly for Dana White’s dreams of dancing dollar signs, I think Noguiera pulls it out in three hard-fought rounds.
On the undercard, there are a few fights worth paying attention to. Thiago Silva doesn’t get an easy out for his first fight since Lyoto Machida blemished his record in January. Keith Jardine always shows up for the fight, but Silva’s ground-and-pound will likely be too much for the Dean of Mean. Silva will be anxious to prove he’s worthy of a rematch against Machida; next time, for the title.
Chris Leben’s back for his first UFC fight in almost a year. He’s kept busy in that time, and not in a good way, earning the delightful triple crown of a DUI arrest, a probation violation, and a nine-month suspension for banned substances. He’s got Jake Rosholt, who’s coming off a quick loss to Dan Miller. Leben’s got talent and an impressive result here would go a long way towards starting to prove he’s got his act together.
Krzysztof Soszynski is facing his third fight of 2009 and he’s looked good lately; as the voice of reason in the sea of idiocy that was The Ultimate Fighter: Season Of Browning, he’s earned more than a few brownie points in my book. I think he’s going to submit Brandon Vera to move a fighter who once stopped Frank Mir to 2-4 in his last 6 fights.
The fight that most excites me on the card is undefeated Demian Maia against Nate Marquardt. Some have speculated that Maia could earn a shot against Anderson Silva with a shot here, although nobody seems to know anything when it comes to the Spider’s career plans. My mancrush on Maia is massive and will approach unhealthy levels if he can take Marquardt out. Maia’s jiu-jitsu is sickeningly effective, earning six first-round submissions in 10 fights. The best possible result is for Maia to do to Marquardt what Machida did to Silva: prove he can win an exciting fight over a top-notch fighter and allay the fears that he’s too boring to give Silva a good battle. Of course, that’s easier said than done. This should be a great contrast-of-styles fight with Nate’s striking and Demian’s grappling. I like Maia to win, but I’m also disturbingly biased, so take that how you will.
Nogueira over Couture (decision)
Silva over Jardine (KO – 1st)
Maia over Marquardt (submission – 2nd)
Soszynski over Vera (submission – 2nd)
Leben over Rosholt (decision)
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