UFC 86 is almost upon us and while anticipation for almost every UFC event is usually high, overall this event is not the strongest event in the UFC calendar. With the exception of a handful of strong bouts, the card lacks some of the marquee matchups that are expected from UFC pay-per-views but does yield some important scenarios.
Thinning the field of title contenders at 185 lbs.
The middleweight division will see a number-two contender arise from this event. The winner of the Patrick Cote vs. Ricardo Almeida should put themselves in line just behind Yushin Okami, for a title shot against Anderson Silva. Okami would appear to be the number one contender for the 185 lbs. crown and considering he holds a victory over Silva it does make sense for the UFC to give Silva a chance to redeem a past loss. That is unless the UFC plans to have the Cote Almeida fight face Okami for the chance to fight for the title. That scenario would probably depend on a couple factors, not the least of which is his foray into the 205 lbs. weight class on July 19.
Thinning the field of title contenders at 155 lbs.
In the lightweight division Tyson Griffin will attempt to win four fights in a row and put himself in line as a contender for the 155 lbs. crown that currently belongs to BJ Penn. Griffin will take on American Top Team competitor Marcus Aurelio who is on a 2-bout winning streak of his own. If Griffin were to win, he should be on the short list for a chance to be the #1 contender in the division.
Joe Stevenson, a man that just held the #1 contender position for the aforementioned crown, will face Gleison Tibau on his road back to the title that eluded him in his loss to BJ Penn. This will be a very important fight for the winner of TUF 2, who was on a major roll coming into his title shot but ran into the brick wall known as The Prodigy. He will need to rebuild his confidence en route to another shot and this bout should provide the right challenge.
MAIN EVENT BREAKDOWN
I cant really see the Quinton Rampage Jackson and Forrest Griffin bout being anything less than the best fight of the night. Both fighters are aggressive, entertaining fighters that have shown a tendency for great fights time and time again. I see this being a contender for fight of the year, if it isnt over in the first round.
This is a tough one to decide as both have pretty solid hands. Even though Griffin was knocked out by Jardine in a short slugfest, his hands looked better than Jardines in the early goings of that bout and with the exception of this bout his chin has always looked good in the past. Coming off the first installment of the Ultimate Fighter TV show Griffins hands looked very wild, but his boxing game has improved dramatically.
Jackson has a knockout of Chuck Liddell on his resume so that tells you he hits hard but is he a superior striker than Griffin? I think the best way that I can put it is that I feel Jackson has more knockout potential in his hands than Griffin does. Neither fighter readily employs kicks into their game plans and Jackson has an impressive knee KO over Randleman so the edge might have to go to Jackson based on the results of his previous bouts.
Striking advantage: Rampage
Forrest Griffins Jiu Jitsu is underrated and I feel that if he finds himself on top he is going to be at an advantage with his strong submission background. Getting the fight to the mat will be the issue for Griffin who I feel is the weaker wrestler. Griffin has a handful of recent submission victories to his name while Jackson does not and Griffin has had success on the submission grappling circuit so this should be an advantage for him. Griffin is also more likely to give up position to for a submission while Rampage seems hesitant to do so.
Jiu Jitsu advantage: Griffin
I feel that Jacksons natural strength and solid wrestling background will give him the edge in this department but it isnt necessarily a slam dunk. Griffin is working at Xtreme Couture and there are few better wrestlers in the sport of MMA than Randy Couture. BUT working with, and actually owning the type of wrestling pedigree that Couture possesses, are totally different. I feel Jacksons natural strength will be a factor in this department and give him the edge here.
Wrestling advantage: Rampage
I have seen both fighters on the good and bad end of the conditioning advantage in fights over their careers. Griffins teammates have stated in recent interviews that they feel Griffin will have the conditioning advantage going into this bout and although I feel it is close I might have to agree with them. Griffins gas tank has improved over time and his UFC bouts have shown significant improvement in that department. He even out-conditioned Tito Ortiz, a man that was known at the time as a cardio machine. Jackson has also seen improvement, but with the exception of his bout with Henderson, little can be gleaned from his bouts with Liddell and Eastman. I dont see this fight going five rounds but I have been wrong in the past, if it does get there I think Griffin will have a little more spark in the tank.
Conditioning: Slight edge Griffin
I think unless you are a superior wrestler like Dan Henderson who was able to take the fight to Jackson early, Jackson is going to be hard to beat in the first few rounds. I think he will be content to keep it on the feet and work the hands and look for knees by bullying Griffin against the fence when it gets into clinch range. Griffin will throw hands with just about anyone in the sport and I expect he will do so here as well. If he can get it to the mat, which is a big if, he may want to work on the ground and pound. On his back is where Jackson is weakest so it makes sense to try to take it there at some point.
Griffin is a wild card at the best of times. He will win big and sometimes lose big but he is rarely in a boring fight and that is what makes this fight exciting. Adding intrigue to the fight is the fact that Griffin holds a victory over Mauricio Shogun Rua, who is the last fighter to have defeated Jackson. I feel this fight will be much closer than the blowout some pundits seem to expect but I dont think that Griffin will have what it takes to dethrone the current champion on Saturday. I feel it will be competitive for three rounds but Jackson will be at an advantage throughout the bout and stop Griffin via referee stoppage due to strikes in the third round in a back and forth affair where Griffin will not quit.
Jackson is one of those charismatic fighters that almost everyone enjoys watching. In fact the same can be said of Griffin. Win or lose both of these fighters will always have a following based on personality and that is rare in any sport. However, if Jackson wins he will find himself with a somewhat limited number of marquee title bouts in the immediate future. If Liddell defeats Evans will we see Liddell vs. Rampage 3? Who else is out there that could product a big money title fight?
A factor to consider
Quinton Jackson is a very strong individual but we have seen Jacksons gas tank up and down. I expect with trainer Juanito Ibarra at the helm it is going to be in peak condition but he also hasnt fought in nearly a year. Will ring rust be a factor? I think this is going to be a great bout but I expect Jackson to come out on top.
My Quick Picks:
Quinton Jackson over Forrest Griffin round 3 Ref stoppage
Joe Stevenson over Gleison Tibau Decision Rd 3
Josh Koscheck over Chris Lytle Decision Rd 3
Tyson Griffin over Marcus Aurelio Decision Rd 3
Ricardo Almeida over Patrick Cote Submission Rd 2
Gabriel Gonzaga over Justin McCully Submission Rd 1
Jorge Gurgel over Cole Miller Decision Rd 3
Melvin Guillard over Denis Siver Knockout Rd 2
Corey Hill over Justin Buchholz Knockout Rd 2