BJ Penn (champion) v. Sean Sherk
This is a terrific match-up between a champion and former champion who truly hate each other. Stylistically, I don’t think this is a good one for Sherk. He’s short and will be up against a considerable reach advantage for Penn, who is a far superior striker. And while Sherk will certainly be the better wrestler in this fight, he’ll be playing right into Penn’s strength. “The Prodigy” is clearly the most flexible fighter in all of MMA, and his jiu-jitsu is world class. If put on his back, he’ll be able to neutralize the attack of Sherk and possibly even submit him.
But I don’t think the fight will go there. Sherk, like Matt Hughes, has yet to evolve from a wrestler with a tremendous ground-and-pound to a well-rounded mixed martial artist. Because of that, I think Penn will either score a takedown or pull Sherk into his guard then sweep, taking top control and working his way to a victory. Just look at St. Pierre’s dominant victory over Sherk at UFC 56. Penn, who arguably may have won his fight with GSP (after which GSP went to the hospital), should have the same success.
Penn via T(KO), referee stoppage due to strikes.
Keith Jardine v. Wanderlei Silva
It bothers me that this is Jardine’s first fight since his shocker over Chuck Liddell at UFC 76. But it’s intriguing, because Liddell is the last opponent for both of these guys. Jardine has to be bitter that Forrest Griffin, whom he destroyed in their fight, leapfrogged him for a shot at the Light Heavyweight title. Silva, meanwhile, needs to win here in order to make himself relevant in this division in the UFC.
This will assuredly be an all-out standup war, much like the fight between Liddell and Silva. “The Ax-Murderer” is an exciting fighter who lays it all on the line, win or loss, in every fight. He applies pressure and constantly works. While Liddell kept him at bay with the jab, using his reach advantage and counter-striking ability, Jardine doesn’t have the same technical prowess as Liddell. His kicks are what did in the “Iceman”, and they were successful because Liddell stayed on the outside trying to box and counter. Silva won’t be doing that here. We’ve seen in the past that Jardine’s defense is like a sieve, particularly against the likes of Houston Alexander who dominated him in the clinch and inside. I like Silva to use his superior cardio and apply constant pressure, working inside the jab and kicks to put the “Dean of Mean” to sleep.
Silva via KTFO in the 2 nd round.
Tito Ortiz v. Lyota Machida
I’m actually nervous about this fight. Tito is by far my favorite MMA fighter, and this is a fight that will have me on pins and needles until it’s over. Machida is an underrated, technical fighter who frustrates opponents and constantly outscores them; this is why most of his wins have come by decision. He’s defeated a murderer’s row of opponents, too, including Rich Franklin, Stephan Bonnar and a bloated BJ Penn.
Ortiz, meanwhile, hasn’t fought since July of ’07 when he gassed against Rashad Evans and would have won the fight had he not grabbed the fence. After a long layoff and an appearance on “Celebrity Apprentice”, Ortiz claims to be fully healthy and ready to go. It’s also a contract fight for the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy”, and his feud with Dana White will come to full boil at UFC 84: Ill Will. I can’t help but think that Machida will grind out yet another decision here. But I’m not going to do it. I think Ortiz is in fact motivated and will provide his best performance in years. Look for him to pressure Machida the entire fight and display a vastly improved cardio. I can only hope to join Ortiz in his celebratory “grave digger” ceremony after a victory.
Ortiz via T(KO) in the 2 nd round
Wilson Gouveia v. Goran Reljic
Gouveia is on a four fight win streak in the UFC after a tough decision loss to Jardine back in ’06. Reljic, meanwhile, is a UFC newcomer who comes with five submission wins in seven victories, no defeats. For Gouveia, I think he’s okay here. He’s a jiu-jitsu practitioner and has never been submitted. If he can avoid whatever strikes Reljic throws at him, I think Gouveia should be able to secure victory here. He was impressive in his last win over Jason Lambert which was a spectacular knockout, and I think he’ll continue to prove his mettle in the UFC on Saturday.
Gouveia via Decision
Thiago Silva v. Antonio Mendes
Remember way back when Silva was supposed to fight Rashad Evans on this card? And then Evans got bumped to fill in for Mauricio Rua as the main event against Liddell at UFC 85? And then Liddell got injured and James Irvin was supposed to fight Evans even though it was no longer a main event? And then Irvin got hurt and Evans got scrapped? Remember? Doesn’t that suck for everyone involved, from Silva to Evans to the UFC and the fans. Imagine if that fight was still on this card?
Instead, we get Mendes, a Brazilian riding an 11-fight win streak and 14-2 overall record. This should be a good test for Silva, who has terrific striking ability and showed some explosive ground and pound against highly touted, and now overhyped, Houston Alexander. I personally think Silva is a BAMF and don’t think he’ll have a letdown here. This guy was probably an assassin or enforcer in a past life, or this life even, and I think he’ll put on another impressive performance. Look for an explosion early on, but Silva will prevail.
Silva via T(KO) in the 1 st round
Ivan Salaverry v. Rousimar Palhares
Palhares by submission in the 2 nd round
Rameau Sokoudjou v. Kazuhiro Nakamura
Sokoudjou via Decision
Rich Clementi v. Terry Etim
Clementi by submission in the 2 nd round
Jon Koppenhaver v. Yoshiyuki Yoshida
Yoshida via T(KO) in the 1 st round
Jason Tan v. Dong Hyun Kim
Tan by submission in the 3 rd round
Christian Wellisch v. Shane Carwin
Carwin by (T)KO in the 2 nd round
Please note that these are only my picks. Rich is too nervous about the Tito fight to write anything for this weekend’s card. But he did want me to say hello and also pass along that he’s going Penn, Wandy and Tito. Enjoy, and let me know what you think will happen with this weekend’s fights.