Given the UFC is currently embattled in a legal war against heavyweight champion Randy Couture – who wants to walk away from his contract with the promotion – they have decided to establish an interim title match between Tim Sylvia and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 81 “Breaking Point” on Saturday, February 2 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Nogueira, a former PRIDE champion, is widely considered the second best heavyweight in the world after Fedor Emelianenko. Additionally, Nogueira [30-4-1] is credited with incorporating his Brazilian jiu-jitsu background into MMA better than anyone else in the heavyweight division. Yet, the submission specialist also possesses excellent boxing skills, which he’s refined during sparring sessions with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Possibly the only thing that overshadows the Brazilian’s offensive weaponry is his ability to withstand punishment – and lots of it. After surviving a head kick knockdown against Heath Herring in his last fight, Nogueira registered a decision victory in his UFC debut.
It seems the more Sylvia [24-3-0] wins, the more he alienates the fans in the process. Sylvia has earned this reputation because of a tendency to use his jab to keep opponents at a safe distance and ride out decision wins. However, this cautious, tentative fighter is not the same six-foot-eight knockout artist that emerged on the scene in 2002. Back then, Sylvia used the devastating knockout power in his right hand to rise to the top of the division, as he wasn’t afraid to step in and commit to a punch. Yet, that style tends to expose a fighter to a counterattack, which is the reason Sylvia has become hesitant about throwing knockout shots.
While it might come as a surprise to some, Nogueira has the better boxing skills in this match-up. Nonetheless, the former BTT fighter’s modus operandi will be to neutralize Sylvia’s reach advantage. It’s certainly no easy task trying to get inside on Sylvia, let alone attempt to take him down. However, over the course of a five-round fight, Nogueira will get his opportunities and he’ll definitely seize them.
Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar
The heavyweight clash between former UFC champion Frank Mir and ex-WWE star Brock Lesnar features one of the most anticipated showdowns in UFC history, as Lesnar gets set to make his highly publicized debut on MMA’s biggest stage.
Mir, 28, is three years removed from what some MMA pundits believe were his best days. After defeating Tim Sylvia at UFC 48 for the UFC heavyweight title, the Las Vegas native was involved in a horrific motorcycle accident just a few months later. As a result, Mir [10-3-0] suffered a broken femur bone and was sidelined from competition for nearly two years. Though, upon returning to action, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has been less than stellar in compiling a 2-2 record. Yet, in hindsight, Mir believes he resumed his career too soon after the injury. Therefore, based on his latest win over Antoni Hardonk last August, Mir is convinced he’s returned to his old ways.
The six-foot-three, 265-pound Lesnar [1-0-0] created quite a stir when he left the scripted, sports entertainment world of professional wrestling for the opportunity to showcase his true athletic ability in MMA. Furthermore, as a former NCAA wrestling champion, the 30-year-old Minnesota native possesses some serious credentials. However, with only one MMA bout to this credit, Lesnar’s trainers are quick to claim the fighter has made sound progress in the striking and submission facets of MMA. In addition, submission guru Erik Paulson was brought into Lesnar’s training camp to help prepare for Mir’s ground game.
It’s worth considering that Lesnar’s biggest strength – 18 years of wrestling experience – might not come into play in this match-up. The reason for this is the fact Lesnar only has a little over one year of jiu-jitsu training, which is not sufficient enough to prepare him for fighting inside Mir’s guard. Therefore, it’s possible the game plan will be to isolate what’s perceived as Mir’s weakness – his striking. Nonetheless, Mir is the more seasoned fighter and although his stand-up is not his greatest attribute, he’ll still have an advantage in that department. That said, Mir can’t afford to get involved in a long-drawn-out battle with Lesnar either.
Nate Marquardt vs. Jeremy Horn
Middleweights Nate Marquardt and Thales Leites were all set to square off until a broken hand suffered in training forced Leites to withdraw. Now stepping in as a replacement is MMA veteran Jeremy Horn, who is looking to re-establish himself as one of the premier fighters at 185 pounds.
Marquardt [25-7-2] is coming off a disappointing loss at the hands of Anderson Silva in his last outing. Nevertheless, the Greg Jackson-trained fighter is still one of the most gifted fighters in the division. The Colorado native is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and has developed into a very capable striker. As a result, Marquardt’s tremendous skill set allows him to execute Jackson’s game plan to near perfection.
Horn [79-16-5] has the distinction of being one of the most experienced fighters in the sport. First and foremost a submission specialist, Horn is also known for his defense during fights because of the uncanny ability to avoid serious damage. Unfortunately, it appears some of those traits are beginning to fade for the veteran, as Horn has dropped 2 of his last 3 fights. In addition, the lone victory over that span – a split decision over Niko Vitale – was seen as controversial.
Considering Marquardt already owns UFC victories over the likes of Ivan Salaverry, Joe Doerkson, and Dean Lister, it would be difficult to see him not winning this one too.
Ricardo Almeida vs. Rob Yundt
Earlier this week Alan Belcher pulled out of his scheduled bout with Ricardo Almeida because of a severe case of bronchitis. Therefore, agreeing to take the fight on short notice was Rob Yundt, who has made his name competing under the Alaska Fighting Championship banner.
A BJJ black belt under the legendary Renzo Gracie, Almeida [8-2-0] is returning to competition after a self-imposed three year hiatus. Almeida initially walked away from the sport to spend more time with his family and train students. Nonetheless, the fighter with victories over Nate Marquardt, Ryo Chonan, and Kazuo Misaki will be looking to take a step closer to realizing the potential so many of the people around him believe he possesses.
Yundt [6-0-0] has never fought outside the AFC, so this will be his first appearance under the bright lights. While there isn’t a lot known about this newcomer, he seems to favor a ground-and-pound strategy. Yundt is coming off a 53 second knockout victory in his last fight.
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