UFC 115 may not have any title fights, or indeed any that have title implications, but what it does provide is a number of well matched bouts and I think there’s going to be some entertaining scraps in store on Saturday night.
Chuck Liddell Vs Rich Franklin
The card is of course headlined by a light-heavyweight showdown between two of the UFC’s best known fighters, Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin, and it’s a crucial fight for both men – particularly for Liddell who’s lost four of his last five fights and still has the threat of retirement looming over him.
Both men have had a considerable absence from competitive action recently, with Liddell returning from a fourteen month break, while Franklin has had a nine month absence. The two fighters say the time off has given them time to recharge physically and mentally, and certainly that’s particularly noticeable in Liddell who at the age of 40 looks in perhaps the best shape we’ve ever seen him in. That’s just as well as Franklin is a cardio machine and will have no problem going three full rounds at a high pace.
The question is whether Liddell has improved on his all-too-familiar gameplan which generally revolves around landing his devastating right hand, and in recent fights, very little else. The word from his camp is that he’s been working on his boxing and defense, while also developing his jiu-jitsu skills during his time off. Despite that, in the Countdown show Liddell admitted that he would still be looking to his right hand to win the fight with Franklin.
Franklin is a more versatile fighter who lacks his opponents natural knockout power, but makes up for it by good technique, intelligent footwork and a nice mix of punches and kicks. I also feel he’s under-rated on the ground, but with Liddell having good wrestling and the uncanny ability to get back up to his feet with relative ease, it’s more likely that Franklin will look to steer clear of the right hand, make good use of leg kicks to chop away at his opponents base and ultimately look to outpoint ‘The Iceman’ in the stand-up battle.
There’s been some questions over both men’s chins. Liddell’s has undoubtedly seen better days, but Franklin does not possess the one hit power of a Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans or Shogun Rua. At the same time it should also be pointed out that Franklin has never suffered a clean KO loss despite going up against a slew of heavy hitters, but he has shown that he’s vulnerable to getting rocked and struggles to recover from that.
Watching tape on both fighters recent fights is revealing. Keith Jardine showed that leg and body kicks can be effective against Liddell, and that should suit Franklin, though it should be noted that he does drop his hands when throwing his kicks which could leave him exposed. Another positive for ‘Ace’ is that he’s previously survived a three round encounter with a fighter who has a fixation for landing his powerful right hand – Dan Henderson.
There’s also positive news for Liddell though as even in recent fights that Franklin has won (against Wanderlei Silva), narrowly lost (Dan Henderson) or was decisively beaten in (Vitor Belfort), he has at some point been caught with solid shots that appeared to hurt him. Liddell may need just one to land to end the fight.
Really this seems to be set up to be either a victory for Liddell by knockout, or a win for Franklin on the judges score-cards. I can see a strong case for either, but after much deliberation I’m going with Franklin. It’ll be a tense fifteen minutes, but he knows to avoid the right hand, and has the movement and footwork to do so. A gameplan based around leg strikes is tried and tested and suits his style, and significantly he will get stronger as the fight goes on, while Liddell is more likely to tire and become frustrated.
I’m going for Rich Franklin to pick up the victory by decision.
Mirko Cro Cop Vs Pat Barry
Two of the UFC’s most accomplished kickboxers, Mirko Cro Cop and Pat Barry proceed the main event in a battle to establish who has the deadliest kicks in the heavyweight division.
This is the last fight on Cro Cop’s UFC contract and after a lackluster 3-3 record in the octagon he’s stated that it’s either win or bust for him here. Meanwhile Barry is coming off an impressive victory over ex-training partner Antoni Hardonk that won him both ‘Fight Of The Night’ and ‘Knockout Of The Night’ honors at UFC 104 to take him to 2-1 in the UFC so far.
The big question in this bout is what version of Mirko Cro Cop will show up? Even the fighter himself has admitted that mentally he’s not been in a good place in a number of his recent fights, and that’s been evident in his lackluster performances. He’s appeared to be in better spirits heading into this bout though and that could in part be thanks to his claims that an old leg injury has now healed up to the extent where he’s able to throw his infamous kicks again at full power.
The mental aspect is significant for Barry as well who’s featuring on the main card of a UFC event for the first time in a high profile fight against one of his childhood idols. He’s admitted in his pre-fight interviews to being nervous, and if he can’t keep his emotions in check on the night he could face a strength sapping adrenalin dump. Barry also says he’ll be heading into this bout at aprox 250lbs – around 15lbs heavier than in his previous fight. While that could mean even more weight behind his powerful strikes, it could also be to his detriment if the fight goes into the later rounds.
Barry has stated he doesn’t think the fight will go the distance though and I expect him to have an all-action style here and push the pace, which won’t suit Cro Cop who prefers to stalk his prey. One trick the Croatian does have up his sleeve though is his ground game. He certainly holds an advantage here over Barry who is like a fish out of water from his back. If the stand-up battle is not going in his favor then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cro Cop trying to win in this manner instead.
Cro Cop’s relatively upbeat mood this week has given me some hope that the dark clouds may have lifted from his head, but I still fear he’s still fragile enough mentally that a couple of Barry’s nasty leg kicks could make him retreat back into his shell. Therefore, even though I think Barry will be vulnerable to getting taken down and will tire if it goes to the later rounds, I can’t bring myself to pick the former PRIDE legend.
I’m going for Pat Barry to win by TKO in Round 2.
Gilbert Yvel Vs Ben Rothwell
After disappointing UFC debuts both Gilbert Yvel and Ben Rothwell know that a win in their heavyweight encounter is essential.
To be fair the two veterans met two of the division’s best in their first octagon outings, with Yvel tasting the power in Junior Dos Santos fists, while Rothwell came up against the unstoppable wrestling force that is Cain Velasquez.
There’s no surprise that Yvel will be looking to stand here considering that his ground game has always been his weak point. He does make up for that though by possessing nasty knockout power and that’s clearly his route to victory here.
A number of problems arise with that gameplan though. Firstly Rothwell will have two inches in height, three inches in reach, and at least 25lbs in weight over his opponent. Secondly he’s got a solid enough chin to absorb a considerable amount of damage, and thirdly though he likes to strike, Rothwell has a clear advantage here on the ground which will at the very least make Yvel cautious of possible takedowns.
Obviously knockout power can be a game-changer, but overall I think the deck is stacked in Rothwell’s favor here, and with his job potentially on the line here if he doesn’t win I believe he will fight smart and neutralize Yvel’s threat by taking him down to the ground.
I’ll take Ben Rothwell to win by TKO in the third round.
Carlos Condit Vs Rory MacDonald
Though he’s only 26 years of age himself, Carlos Condit will be looked upon as the veteran in his encounter with Rory MacDonald being that his opponent is just 20 and has 19 fights less than him.
Condit is a former WEC welterweight champion who successfully defended his belt three times before arriving in the UFC where he’s found life tougher, posting a 1-1 record so far. MacDonald’s remarkably quick rise to the main card came about after garnering an unblemished record of 9-0 in Canada before signing for the UFC and adding another notch in the win column in his debut at UFN 20 in January.
It’s a testament to the UFC’s belief in MacDonald that they are putting him in against Condit who is a significant step up in class for the youngster. The Canadian has shown maturity beyond his years though to keep grounded despite being considered by some as ‘the future of the sport’, and he has the skills to back it up, ending all 10 of his fights so far by either knockout or submission.
Condit is in many ways a similar fighter with a dangerous ground game backed up by solid striking which favors the muay thai style as opposed to his opponent’s boxing. He also pushes a furious pace, though the indications are that MacDonald can match him in that regard. The final similarity is that he is also a finisher – heading to a decision only three times in his career to date, though two of them have come in his last two fights.
With the two fighters being so evenly matched I expect them to mix it up on the feet and the ground, and it should be a fun fight to watch. Condit’s shown he can survive wars in the past and with that experience under his belt I think he’ll try to push MacDonald to his limits and see if he breaks. I don’t think the youngster will though, and so, despite their prior records suggesting otherwise I believe a decision could be on the cards, with Condit just doing that little bit extra to earn the nod in his favor.
I’ll go for Carlos Condit to win by decision.
Paulo Thiago Vs Martin Kampmann
Meanwhile a worthy welterweight match-up sees Brazil’s Paulo Thiago takes on Denmark’s Martin Kampmann.
Thiago is currently 3-1 in the promotion, picking up a notable submission win over Mike Swick last time out which marked him out as a genuine contender at 170lbs. Kampmann himself was in the title mix before a loss to Paul Daley last year. He did however manage to bounce back with a win over Jacob Volkmann at the turn of the year, taking his octagon record to 7-2.
Thiago is the dark horse of the 170lb weight class. He doesn’t have a particularly eye-catching, crowd pleasing style, but what he does possess is a well rounded skill set. He’s not got the most graceful stand-up fighter, but he can hold his own and packs some power, while he’s also well versed in jiu-jitsu and often delves into that particular bag of tricks to pull of a submission victory in his fights.
Kampmann is the more technical and versatile striker of the two, though he has shown himself to be vulnerable defensively. While he’s happier to stand and trade blows he’s also capable on the ground and like Thiago has found success from submissions in the past.
I suspect this is going to be a fight that takes place both on both the feet and on the mat, and for that reason I favor Thiago. The key for me is that he’s the more talented ground fighter and I think it’s here that he’ll gain the upper hand that will award him the victory on the judges score-cards.
I’m taking Paulo Thiago to win by decision.
Tyson Griffin vs Evan Dunham
Mac Danzig vs Matt Wiman
David Loiseau vs Mario Miranda
James Wilks vs Peter Sobotta
Ricardo Funch vs Claude Patrick
Mike Pyle vs Jesse Lennox