UFC 117 takes place on Saturday night at the Oracle Center in Oakland, California with Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen taking center-stage, though in reality the who main card is stacked full of quality fights, including two bouts which will decide the next No.1 contender in the welterweight and heavyweight divisions.
See below for our full preview and predictions for the event.
Anderson Silva Vs Chael Sonnen
Anderson Silva has come in for a lot of criticism lately, but what the records show is that despite some lackluster performances over the past few years the champion has still gone through his entire 11 fight UFC career to date without a single defeat.
Chael Sonnen is no slouch either, but he hasn’t showed Silva’s superhuman tendencies. In his first spell in the UFC back in 2005-2006 he struggled to make an impact, going 1-2, but he’s looked rejuvenated in his second run he’s put together a solid 3-1 run, and recently ran over the top of quality fighters like Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt.
That’s helped him claim the next shot at the title, though his attention grabbing comments about Silva, and the fact that Vitor Belfort has been out injured also had a significant role to play.
Now the war of words is all but over though and it’s time for Sonnen to back up his words with actions. He certainly has the skills to do so. He’s primarily a wrestler, and a well credentialed one at that being a former olympic alternate. Sonnen has made no efforts to hide the fact that he wants to double-leg Silva, keep him pressed to the mat and slowly wear him down with ground and pound. While he’s never been a finisher, his gas tank that should enable him to push hard for the full five rounds if need be.
Sonnen’s striking shouldn’t be completely overlooked either. He’s not heavy handed but he’s technically sound and looked particularly good in that regard against Okami. It would not be wise to stand and bang with Silva, but setting up his takedowns with strikes could be key to his chances of success.
As for Silva, everyone knows of his striking prowess. He’s as complete a stand-up fighter as MMA has with great balance, speed, awareness, power and the ability to counter-punch. He’s also dangerous with all eight limbs which poses an almost unlimited number of problems for his opponents to contend with.
Silva will be well aware of Sonnen’s desire to take the fight to the floor – it’s a strategy that many of his recent opponents have tried and failed to accomplish – ensuring that his takedown defense will have been finely tuned for this match-up. If the fight does hit the floor though then don’t count Silva out. Both Dan Henderson and Travis Lutter have previously discovered that Silva is a skilled BJJ technician, and with Sonnen having previously been submitted seven times in his career there may well be openings for the champion to exploit.
While Sonnen can’t be counted out from pulling off an upset if he can take the fight to the floor, realistically the smart money is on Silva here. He’ll carry a major striking advantage, good takedown defense, and is a genuine threat off his back if Sonnen’s desire to get him to the mat succeeds. Given Sonnen’s propensity for decision wins, Silva will likely have the full five rounds to figure out a way to beat him, but I don’t think he’ll need that long. The only concern is which version of Silva will show up on the night?
Anderson Silva to win by KO in Rd2
Jon Fitch Vs Thiago Alves
It’s been four years since Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves last fought, and they’ve both continued to impress since then. In fact they’ve each lost just one fight during that time, and to the same man – current champion Georges St.Pierre. Dana White revealed at yesterday’s pre-fight press conference that the winner will get a title shot and potentially a chance to avenge that loss, putting even more expectations on this already exciting match-up.
Alves is of course one of the 170lb divisions best strikers with particularly devastating mauy thai kicks and knees that the majority of his opponents simply can’t handle. On top of that one thing he’s developed over the years is stellar takedown defense. He’s also a brown belt in jiu-jitsu and even when getting dominated on the ground by GSP he managed to find ways to get out from under him and back to his feet which could come in handy against Fitch.
It’s no secret that Fitch is the very definition of a ‘grinder’, with his wrestling credentials allowing him to shut down his opponents offense and impose his will on the way to a decision victory. It takes more than just that to put together a 12-1 record in the UFC though and Fitch is a well rounded fighter. He’s certainly not a deadly striker, but he’s worked hard to improve on that aspect of his game and is certainly a competent kickboxer, while on the ground he can now lay claim to a black belt in jiu-jitsu.
What Fitch’s improvements haven’t afforded him however is an ability to finish fights which has hampered his chances of a second title shot, until now.
Ring rust could be a factor for Alves here. He’s had 13 months out since his loss to GSP and has only just recently returned from minor brain surgery. He also continues to push the limit as far as weight cutting goes which may affect his performance in this fight. Those factors may well play into Fitch’s hands. At the same time I do think Alves superior striking and takedown defense could be the key to defeating Fitch. It’s a tough call but I’m going for Alves to end this fight before his cardio becomes a factor in the later stages of the fight.
Thiago Alves to win by TKO in Rd2
Matt Hughes Vs Ricardo Almeida
Former dominant champion Matt Hughes is no longer be in the prime of his career, but he’s still coming into his fight with Ricardo Almeida off the back of two victories and remarkably his only losses in the last nine years have come to GSP, Thiago Alves and BJ Penn.
Coincidentally Almeida has only had three losses during the same period (to Matt Lindland, Andrei Semenov and Patrick Cote), though to be fair he’s had far less fights that Hughes during that time frame. He’s claimed victories in his past three fights, the last one being his first since cutting down to 170lbs.
Matt Hughes blueprint for victory has been tried and tested many times over the year. He is of course predominantly a wrestler, possessing strong takedowns and excellent ground and pound. Though he has been submitted before he is savvy enough to avoid putting himself in many compromising positions from top control. Despite winning a stand-up battle with Renzo Gracie last time out Hughes striking still leaves a lot to be desired however. He’s fairly predictable, somewhat labored, and lacks the power to really threaten on his feet.
Meanwhile Almedia is a fairly well rounded fighter, though his Brazilian jiu-jitsu is top level and clearly his main asset. Admittedly his striking is a work in progress but it has improved and I feel is better and more varied than Hughes. He’s also aggressive, big for the welterweight division after moving down from the 185lb weight class, and won’t be a pushover in the wrestling department.
I think we’re looking at a clear case here of one fighter in who’s starting to slow down as he reaches the tail end of a successful career, and another who’s still hungry and looking to leave his mark in the sport. I think this is the fight that will highlight the fact that Hughes is no longer a major threat at 170lbs as Almeida mixes it up by threatening on the feet and on the mat.
Ricardo Almeida to win by decision
Clay Guida Vs Rafael Dos Anjos
The always energetic Clay Guida has had a somewhat turbulent 2009, picking up consecutive losses to Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian, but bounced back with a rare submission win over Shannon Gugerty earlier this year and now faces a tougher challenge as he looks to reassert himself in the upper reaches in the 155lb weight class.
Rafael Dos Anjos has been in fine form of late, racking up three wins, including an impressive showing against UK prospect Terry Etim last time out. That helped cancel out his prior two defeats in the UFC and has pushed him further up the lightweight ladder.
Guida’s main attribute is his almost inhuman gas tank which allows him to keep up a relentless pace for three rounds. When he is successful in establishing top control on the mat, which is essentially his bread and butter, it often ends up being a long night for his opponent. His stand-up is so-so – fairly predictable and not particularly technical, but he’s got a cast iron jaw and he’s not afraid to trade leather.
Dos Anjos is not a major threat on his feet either, but for a primarily ground based fighter he can certainly hold his own and may find some success with his kicks in particular against Guida. His real speciality is his black belt level jiu-jitsu though with half of his wins coming by submission. He was impressive with his last victory over Etim in this regard, showing good composure on top, and good control from his back.
This has all the makings of being a close fight. I like Dos Anjos though, assuming he’s not overwhelmed by Guida’s pace. I think he can give Guida a few problems on the feet, and if he gets taken down his BJJ will certainly come in handy against ‘The Carpenter’ who has shown a susceptibility to submissions throughout his career.
Rafael Dos Anjos to win by submission in Rd2
Junior Dos Santos Vs Roy Nelson
After running rampant through the UFC’s heavyweight division with five consecutive wins against respected opposition Junior Dos Santos now has just one man standing in the way of a shot at the title against the winner of Brock Lesnar Vs Cain Velasquez.
That man is former IFL champion Roy Nelson who has himself looked impressive recently, picking up two first round knockout wins in his first two official UFC bouts.
So far Dos Santos fights have played out exactly how he wanted them to – in a series of stand-up battles. That suits him perfectly given his excellent boxing skills and KO power. The real questions about Dos Santos lie in his ground game. His only defeat in 12 pro-fights came by armbar in his native Brazil, but he’s shown good takedown defense since and he has worked diligently on his jiu-jitsu, earning a brown belt under Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
In recent fights Roy Nelson has also been happy to strike and has certainly shown he’s got the power to drop his opponents. His boxing is not on the level of Dos Santos though in my opinion. Unlike Dos Santos, Nelson’s ground skills are not in doubt. His size allows him to smother opponents, but that’s backed up by good technique, excellent guard passing and surprising agility for a big man. A black belt under Renzo Gracie, if Dos Santos does have deficiencies in his own BJJ then Nelson could well exploit them.
I really like this fight and am intrigued to see how it plays out. It’s possible that we could finally get to see Dos Santos ground game which would be fascinating, but I’m actually predicting that we won’t. Nelson has already stated he’d like to test out his stand-up first and then take the fight to the ground if he comes up second best. I think by that stage it may be too late as Dos Santos is the better striker and has demonstrated the kind of power than can end fights fast. I also believe that Dos Santos takedown defense will make life difficult for Nelson if he does decide to opt for plan B.
Junior Dos Santos to win by TKO in Rd2
Prelims (Predicted Winner Highlighted In Bold):
Todd Brown vs Tim Boetsch
Dustin Hazelett Vs Rick Story
Ben Saunders Vs Dennis Hallman
Stefan Struve Vs Christian Morecraft
Johny Hendricks Vs Charlie Brenneman
Rodney Wallace Vs Phil Davis