Anderson Silva vs. Dan Henderson
On Saturday, UFC 82 Pride of a Champion will crown an undisputed middleweight champion when Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson finally meet at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Both fighters are regarded as world champions. Silva is the current UFC middleweight king while Henderson still lays claim to the PRIDE title. The fight is being billed as a unification bout.
Silva [20-4-0] is widely considered the top pound-for-pound fighter in MMA, as well as the most dynamic striker in the sport. The Brazilians pinpoint accuracy has left a trail of victims in his wake during a reign of terror in the UFC. Yet, although Silva has received his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a number of his detractors believe its the equivalent of someone that has obtained an honorary degree from a university its more for show. However, in recent fights against Nate Marquardt and Travis Lutter well respected BJJ black belts Silva didnt think twice about attempting high risk maneuvers that led to him being taken down. Therefore, its safe to suggest Silva doesnt share these same concerns regarding his ground skills.
Henderson [22-6-0] is a two-time U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler who has evolved into an extremely well-rounded fighter. Since entering MMA the California resident continues to improve his striking and has developed one of the most lethal right hands in the business. Henderson is the type of fighter that doesnt take a step backwards, and to his credit hes never been knocked out in nearly 30 professional fights. Also, its worth noting Hendersons Greco-Roman background should offset Silvas alleged advantage in the clinch.
While Henderson wont be reluctant about trading strikes with Silva, hell eventually want to close the distance and put his opponent on the ground where he can control the fight. Also, its safe to say Henderson learned a valuable lesson about trying to fight someone elses style, as his rematch against Kazuo Misaki saw his opponent use great movement to dictate the pace of the fight. Conversely, Silva will try to maintain a comfortable distance between himself and Henderson so he can inflict damage from the outside. This is a very close fight to call, but I think Silva should be able to land shots from the outside that will begin to take their toll later in the match.
Cheick Kongo vs. Heath Herring
The co-main event features rising heavyweight contender Cheick Kongo in action against MMA veteran Heath Herring. The winner will see themselves propelled up the ranks and possibly only a fight or two away from competing for the UFC heavyweight title.
After the recent defection of Mirko Cro Cop to the upstart Japanese-based DREAMS promotion, Kongo [11-3-1] is now arguably the best striker in the UFC heavyweight division. The Frenchmans stand-up skills have never been in doubt, although theyve looked even sharper in his last two outings under the guidance of famed trainer Juanito Ibarra who is credited with resurrecting the career of Quinton Rampage Jackson. However, questions still surround Kongos ground game, in particular his inability to defend against takedowns. As a result, Kongo needs to ensure he remains on his feet to improve his chances of victory.
Herring [27-13-1] has fallen on somewhat hard times of late, as its been almost four years since hes been able to string a series of wins together. Since debuting in the UFC last year, the Texas Crazy Horse has not displayed the skills that made him a fan favorite in the PRIDE organization. The 29-year-old is 1-2 in the UFC, the lone bright spot being a decision victory over Brad Imes. Although Herring tends to favor striking during a fight, the majority of his victories are via submission. Therefore, in an effort to get back to his roots, Herring has teamed up with trainer Rob Kaman. The legendary Dutch kick boxer was instrumental in Brandon Verras development.
Herrings biggest attribute in this fight is his experience. Yet, considering he was staggered by a jab in his last fight against Antonio Nogueira, hell be in deep waters against Kongo whenever the fight is standing. Herring has secured the majority of his wins through submissions, so the obvious game plan would see him trying to put Kongo on his back and utilize his ground skills. However, Kongos confidence is at an all-time high heading into this fight, which should translate into him overwhelming Herring before the veteran can even think about a strategy.
Chris Leben vs. Alessio Sakara
The UFC is banking on the middleweight showdown between Chris Leben and Alessio Sakara being a knock-down, drag-out battle, hence the reason this match will be televised on the pay-per-view broadcast.
Lebens brash personality helped him gain notoriety during season one of The Ultimate Fighter. Yet, after a disappointing exit from the show, the red-headed bandit went 5-0 in the UFC and earned a shot against top middleweight contender Anderson Silva. Although Leben [17-4-0] was perceived as having a granite chin, the future UFC middleweight champion unmercifully pummeled him into submission in under a minute. Unfortunately, since then, Leben appears to have lost the fire he once carried into the Octagon. Furthermore, he was well on his way to losing a decision against Terry Martin last September, when he somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a Hail-Mary type knockout in the last minute of the fight.
Sakara [12-6-0 1 NC] made an immediate impact in the light heavyweight division when he arrived on the scene in 2005. Although his UFC debut was eventually ruled a no-contest because of a low blow delivered to Sakara, the former Italian boxer served notice he had arrived. Unfortunately, Sakara has been plagued by inconsistency since and has gone 3-3 after making his debut. However, the 26-year-old was at his finest during a first round destruction of Victor Valimaki at UFC 70, as the Canadians jaw was nearly dislodged from his face. Sakara will be moving down in weight and making his debut at 185 pounds on Saturday.
Chris Leben once answered to such monikers as The Crippler, The Cat Smasher, and Red Terror, but that fighter seems to be a distant memory now. In addition, even though Leben claims his recent training camps have been top-notch, he appears as if hes just going through the motions during his fights. On the other hand, Sakara seems to have found a new home at the American Top Team training facility, which is arguably the best MMA camp in the business. A focused and determined Sakara should spell trouble for Leben.
Yushin Okami vs. Evan Tanner
After nearly a two-year hiatus away from fighting, former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner returns to the sport on Saturday night against the ever-resilient Yushin Okami.
Tanners personal problems have been well documented, but it appears hes exercised those demons and is once again focused on fighting. The 37-year-old Texas native is an absolute warrior when hes in the right frame of mind. Interestingly, aside from a brief stint with Team Quest, Tanner [32-6-0] has never really been affiliated with a particular training camp. Instead, the veteran fighter has been a ronin of sorts and moved from one team to another. Nevertheless, before stepping away from the sport, Tanner was regarded as having one of the most devastating ground-and-pound attacks in the game.
Theres probably no greater compliment to receive as a fighter than to hear other fighters dread facing you. Okami [20-4-0] is that fighter. The Japanese middleweight has been able to control nearly everyone hes faced in the UFC with the exception of Rich Franklin. However, a slow start was responsible for the decision loss to Franklin, because when Okami started to push the pace in the third round he had Ace in some serious trouble. Okami has decent striking skills but his primary motive is to overwhelm opponents in the clinch and then take them down and punish them on the ground. Alan Belcher, Kalib Starnes, Jason MacDonald, Rory Singer and Mike Swick have all experienced the misery of being underneath Okami.
Taking nothing away from Tanner, but there are just too many questions surrounding him heading into this fight. Has the long layoff diminished his skills? Has his conditioning returned to an elite level? Its great to see Tanner back in the sport, but Okami is probably too tough an opponent to face after being away from the game.
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