MMARR's Mike Doyle breaks down the UFC 59 event in our second of two UFC 59 "Reality Check" previews. check out both of MMA Ring Report's extensive UFC Previews before you watch the event tomorrow night that will take place in California for the first time in UFC history with a main event of Tito Ortiz taking on TUF 1 winner Forrest Griffin.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Tim Sylvia
The UFC heavyweight division has been surrounded by uncertainty since former champion Frank Mir suffered a serious motorcycle accident in September 2004. Due to the injuries Mir sustained he was in no position to defend his title for at least 12 months, so after Andrei Arlovski defeated Tim Sylvia in February 2005 he was named the interim champion. However, after Mirs rehabilitation schedule was repeatedly pushed back and his return to the UFC in question, he was officially stripped of the title on August 13th and the belt was awarded to Arlovski. If theres any UFC fighter that strikes the fear of God into his opponents, its Arlovski. The proof lies in the fact that his last two opponents, Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello looked so terrified when they were walking into the cage, the only thing missing was a priest leading the way reading them their last rites. Its no secret the UFC hasnt had an easy time finding fighters to challenge their heavyweight king, but having already felt Arlovskis wrath, big Tim Sylvia is willing to step back into the cage in an attempt to recapture the belt he once wore. When Arlovski and Sylvia first battled, the fight was seen as a toss up but heading into the rematch a little more then a year later Arlovski is now the decisive favourite.
At 6-4, and 240 lbs Arlovski has the size to compete with any heavyweight in the division, but its because he is able to move like a middleweight that creates mismatches for his opposition. Arlovski made his first official title defense in October and needed only 15 seconds to KO the hard-hitting Buentello, and has now won his last 6 fights. Over that span, Arlovski used his exceptional striking skills to pick apart 5 of those fighters, but being a two time Sambo world champion means opponents should not underestimate Arlovskis grappling skills either. Arlovski is without a doubt the most gifted heavyweight in the UFC and possesses the skills to succeed wherever the fight takes him, and he isnt fearful of fighting his opponents fight either. Against Sylvia, Eilers, and Buentello, all deadly strikers, Arlovski stood and banged with them and that resulted in KOing two of them, and dropping Sylvia with an overhand right that setup a fight ending submission.
Sylvia has made some adjustments in his game since his loss to Arlovski, the most notable are his striking and conditioning. In his first fight after the loss, Tra Telligman couldnt get past Sylvias long reach and when he tried to close the distance he got hit with uppercuts and jabs. Tims also using a lot more leg kicks, and a very well timed high kick resulted in the devastating KO of Telligman. Conditioning Guru Billy Rush has helped with Sylvias flexibility and has got him in the best shape of his career, as he had no problems going the distance in his last fight against Ausserio Silva. One thing Sylvia will likely have to contend with that he didnt see in his last two fights is trying to defend against low leg kicks, as Arlovski loves to chop away at his opponents. But make no mistake, Sylvias strategy will be to use the long reach by throwing his jab to keep the champion at a safe distance, and fire the big right hand down the middle when its open.
In their first fight Arlovski was successful in countering Sylvias reach advantage by moving around and using his great footwork, now its a question of whether Sylvia is able to counter Arlovskis speed. Even though Arlovski made quick work of Buentello, the challengers game plan was to rush Arlovski and keep the pressure on him and it seemed like it was an effective strategy until a right hand from Arlovski found its mark and made it look as though Buentello overdosed on sleep-ez. Sylvia will have to keep a stiff jab in Arlovskis face, avoid quick counter punches and be ready to check leg kicks from the champ, if he wants to give himself any chance of landing his right bomb. However, as long as Arlovski doesnt lose his focus in the fight its hard to imagine him losing, hell likely need to put in more then 47 seconds this time around, but the end result will be Dana White putting the belt back around his waist at the conclusion of the fight.
Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin
The UFCs venture into California is the perfect homecoming for the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, who returns to the Octagon for the first time since defeating Vitor Belfort at UFC 51. Its worth noting that the layoff was the result of a 9-month standoff (resolved in November) between Tito Ortiz and the UFC because the former light heavyweight champion felt he deserved a more lucrative contract. Ortiz claimed that since he had helped drive the companys popularity, and the fact that Zuffa has been experiencing a steady increase in their attendance and pay-per-view (PPV) buys, that should translate into higher salaries for the fighters. On the contrary, UFC president Dana White was of the opinion it was the UFC that made Ortiz, not the other way around. White also pointed out that since approx. 3.5 million viewers had watched the season 1 finale of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), Forrest Griffin was now more popular then his former poster boy. As Ortiz relationship with White and the UFC deteriorated to the point of no return, it seemed unthinkable that Tito would ever step foot back inside the famed Octagon. Nevertheless, after all the dust settled, Ortiz is back and its somewhat interesting that his first fight back is against Griffin. Is Forrest ready for the step up in competition or will he meet the same fate as TUF alumni Nate Quarry?
Tito has a rematch with Chuck Liddell tentatively scheduled for the Fall on his calendar, but hell first need to get past Griffin and then his nemesis Ken Shamrock to have any shot at reclaiming his belt. This also marks the first time Ortiz is not featured in the main event since UFC 18 (1999), when he defeated Jerry Bohlander. Just a few short years ago, Ortiz was on top of the light heavyweight division until he suffered back-to-back losses to Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, respectively. The last time he looked like his dominant self was when he destroyed Shamrock in 2002, since then hes 2-2, with the two aforementioned losses, and wins over Patrick Cote and Belfort. However, his last two wins certainly were not in convincing fashion, against Cote his performance was somewhat lacklustre and he was fortunate to pull out the split decision victory over Belfort. Yet, Ortiz did show great recovery and resilience in his fight with Belfort, as he suffered a broken nose in the first round and survived a barrage of heavy punches from The Phenom to capture the victory. Aside from the Belfort fight, Ortiz has shown the ability to recover when hes been rocked in fights with Wanderlai Silva, Yuki Kondo, Shamrock, and Cote. The only time he wasnt able to recover was against Liddell, but neither have the last 5 opponents The Iceman has faced. Ortiz trains all the various disciplines of MMA, but he is still first and foremost a fighter whos looking to take his opponent down, put them on their back and punish them with repeated elbow strikes.
Since his appearance on TUF, Forrest Griffin has been getting the attention thats usually reserved for rock stars. He came to prominence after his gruelling battle with Stephan Bonnar in April 2005, but in reality he has yet to face a marquee name in the UFC. However, he was tested by some tough competition prior to being cast for TUF, as he fought Jeremy Horn, Chael Sonnen, and Jeff Monson, defeating the latter two. His UFC PPV debut was against Bill Mahood and by all accounts it was expected to be a striking contest, unfortunately Mahood hit the canvas very early in the fight and couldnt get back to his feet before he was submitted by a rear naked choke. Griffins last fight was against Elvis Sinosic who was suppose to provide a tougher challenge given he is a submission specialist. However, Sinosic who had been training his stand-up in preparation for the fight elected to strike with Griffin instead, and early on he looked more then comfortable doing so. Nonetheless, Forrest was able to finish his opponent off with a left hook near the end of the 1st round. Griffin is primarily known as a stand-up fighter, and his fast hands and heavy punches certainly compliment that style, but he also possesses decent submission skills too.
Leading up to this showdown, the majority of fight polls suggesting who will win are surprising split down the middle between Ortiz and Griffin. This would seem to indicate the UFC has successfully used a strategy with Griffin that is very similar to what HBO and boxing manager Bill Cayton did with Tommy Morrison a few years back. The fighter was ultra-hyped into epic proportions in hopes the public would buy into it. In Griffins case its appearances on UFC Unleashed, Xyience commercials, Spike TV fight analyst, and plenty of face time during PPVs, all of which have kept him in the spotlight. However, the UFC marketing department will not be fighting on April 15th, which is when Forrest will get his chance to prove whether all the hype is warranted. Griffin will more then likely look to keep the fight standing and bang with Ortiz, but his striking often looks sloppy because he seems to swing for the fences with every punch. Liddell has been brought in for the final 3 weeks of Griffins training camp to help fine tune his stand-up game. Ortiz was successful standing up with Liddell for a round, so he wont fear striking with Griffin in order to setup a takedown. Also, unless Griffin can land a KO punch its unlikely his jiu-jitsu skills will catch Ortiz in a submission, especially if Belfort and Frank Shamrock couldnt. Ortiz will just have to be patient and shoot in when an opening presents itself, and once hes able to score a takedown he shouldnt have any problem executing his vicious ground and pound game. Furthermore, coming into California and expecting to beat Tito in his backyard is like a NBA team going into the Boston Garden in 1985/86 and thinking they could beat the Celtics. It just wont happen.
Nick Diaz vs. Sean Sherk
This is one of the most anticipated fights on the card, which is usually the case whenever Nick Diaz steps into the Octagon. Sherk and Diaz are both coming of losses and would like nothing more then get back into the win column, but of the two, Diaz cannot afford to lose this fight as it would be his 3rd in a row. This could also mark Sherks last appearance as a welterweight, as hes rumoured to be dropping to 155 lbs to compete at lightweight.
Nick Diaz was easily one of the UFCs rising stars in the welterweight division, going 4-1 in his first 5 appearances inside the Octagon with the loss occurring against Karo Parisyan in a close split decision. However, he has now dropped his last two fights, which marks the fist time he has lost back-to-back in his MMA career. Both of the losses came via decision, he was outworked on the ground by the ultra aggressive Diego Sanchez in a very feisty match, and in his last appearance he ultimately lost the striking battle against Joe Riggs. Diaz is a BJJ brown belt under Cesar Gracie, and possesses a very good guard where hes a real threat to slap on an arm bar, triangle choke or a kimura. Complimenting his grappling are excellent striking skills that he displayed when he shocked everyone by KOing Robbie Lawler. Yet, one area of concern is his takedown defense, as he was taken down in his last two fights and seemed to lack the urgency to get the fight stood back up or attempt a submission.
Sean Sherk is an absolute powerhouse, hes a great wrestler with a vicious ground and pound attack, which is the reason hes been compared to Matt Hughes. After picking up victories over Tiki Ghosn, Jutaro Nako and Benji Radach in his first 3 UFC appearances, Sherk was awarded a title shot against Hughes at UFC 42. Unfortunately, Hughes was able to control the majority of the fight and earned a unanimous decision victory, but Sherk showed a lot of heart lasting the 5 rounds. After that loss, Sherk went on a 12 fight winning streak outside the UFC that prompted Zuffa to invite him back to challenge welterweight sensation Georges St. Pierre. Sherk showed improved striking skills but he definitely got the worse of the exchanges with St. Pierre standing up and was just overwhelmed by some nasty elbows once Rush took the fight to the ground, and lost by TKO in the 2nd round. Standing only 5-6, Sherk has a size and reach disadvantage in most of his fights, but as Radach discovered, Sherks explosiveness usually turns out to be the equalizer.
Sherk will want to take this fight to the ground the first chance he gets, and since Diaz has nowhere near the takedown defense of St. Pierre, its not hard to in vision Diaz needing to fight off his back throughout this fight. Also, Sherk will likely look to utilize the same strategy Sanchez used against Diaz, which involves getting top control and dropping the biggest shots possible in Diaz guard. However, because of Diaz size advantage he should be able to keep Sherk in a tight guard and make it nearly impossible for him to pass, and once the fight is back on the feet his superior striking skills should be enough to keep Sherk on the outside and potentially catch him with a knee if Sherk shoots in too low. Bottom line, if the fight goes to a decision Diaz has lost. He will need to either submit or TKO Sherk if he wants to win. Since his last two fights have gone to a decision, and because he wasnt pleased with how the judges scored his fight against Riggs, Im certain hell find a way to stop Sherk before the final bell.
Marcio Cruz vs. Jeff Monson
This match up features two Abu Dhabi world champion submission grapplers, but if that wasnt intriguing enough theres been a feud brewing between Cruz and Monson for quite sometime. They both hold a win over each other in grappling, but in one of the meetings Monson put Cruz in a can opener move in an attempt to escape his guard, however instead of opening his guard to relieve the pressure, Cruz tapped and Monson was disqualified from the tournament. The move is illegal to finish a fight, but its fine to apply if youre trying to break an opponents guard. Monson believes Cruz took the cowards way out, and feels as though he has the mental advantage heading into their first MMA fight.
Physically, Cruz resembles something out of Frankensteins castle, but hes a 6-time jiu-jitsu world champion who trains with the Gracie Barra Combat Team. One of his training partners is Babalu who has helped Cruz make the transition from submission specialist to MMA fighter. He made his MMA debut at UFC 55, winning by submission early in the second round against Keigo Kunihara, but it was his last fight against the former heavyweight champion, Frank Mir, that put Cruz on the map. Mir was able to outmuscle and throw Cruz to the ground for the first takedown of fight but aside from attempting a kimura, Mir wasnt able to offer any other offense. Once Cruz was able to slip out of Mirs submission attempt, the former champ looked helpless on his back and Cruz only further punctuated that when landed some shots to open a cut above Mirs eye. The fight was temporarily stopped while the cut was examined, but once the match was restarted Mir couldnt do anything to defend Cruz ground and pound assault and to the surprise of everyone Cruz stopped the former champion in the 1st round.
Monson is a 2-time Abu Dhabi world champion, a very strong wreslter and has been improving his boxing skills the past few years training with the American Top Team. In February he returned to the UFC after a 4-year absence and in the process picked up his 14th consecutive victory over Brandon Lee Hinkle. He displayed his incredible strength as he was able to power out of the guard with Hinkle trying to keep him pinned down, and was awarded the tapout of the night with his north/south choke submission in the 1st round.
Cruz has a 7.5 reach advantage but dont expect him to stand with Monson, with his lack of MMA experience he will want this fight on the ground where hes most comfortable. However, Monson is a more complete fighter then Mir, hes a very good wrestler and has decent striking skills that compliment his grappling background, so he will offer more in the way of offense then Mir could. Wherever this fight goes, Monson has more then enough tools to handle Cruz.
Evan Tanner vs. Justin Levens
Tanner was initially slated to face MMA veteran Jeremy Horn, however Horn had to withdraw because he injured his back in training. Vale Tudo fighter Justin Levens agreed to take the fight on 3 weeks notice, and is also dropping down from light heavyweight to fight at 185 lbs.
Tanner is the former middleweight champion, as he was awarded the (vacant) title by defeating David Terrell at UFC 51, however, his first defense of the title was also his last. Tanner took a severe beating at the hands of Rich Franklin and relinquished his title in the process, but he did show his warrior spirit as he kept fighting until a doctor stopped the bout in the 4th round. In his last fight, Tanner fought feared middleweight striker David Loiseau and did a great job of neutralizing his opponents attack for the 1st round, but unfortunately in the 2nd round Loiseau was able to slice Tanner open with some elbow strikes that eventually led to the fight being stopped. A former member of Team Quest, Tanner is the prototypical Oregon fighter, excellent wrestling background, loves to work the clinch, and punishes his opponents with elbows when he takes them to the ground.
Levens trains with Ruas Vale Tudo under the tutelage of Marco Ruas himself, and carries a 7-1 record into this fight, but he also suffered his only career loss in his last fight against Scott Smith. Additionally, Smith is really the only credible opponent Levens has really faced to date, as the majority of his wins have come against opponents who sport an under .500 record.
Tanner has a significant experience advantage over Levens but hes also been stopped by very good strikers his last two fights, and Levens prefers to end his fights standing. Yet, none of Levens fights have ever gone past the first round, so expect him to come out guns ablazing. However, Tanner is familiar with that type of strategy as he needed to whether an onslaught from Phil Baroni in their first fight and survived, so I expect Tanner will live another day in the UFC and pick up the win.
David Terrell vs. Scott Smith:
Karo Parisyan vs. Nick Thompson:
Thiago Alves vs. Derrek Noble:
Jason Lambert vs. Terry Martin: