Off the Hook - By Joe Reilly

OTH: UFC 51 Super Saturday Preview

With all the misfortunes UFC owners, Zuffa, had with the line up for the previous UFC, it appears that business is back to normal again. The upcoming UFC card looks stacked and as promising as any MMA card could be. Even if you engross yourself into all the unpleasantries that led to UFC 50 being constantly re-shaped, it actually turned out to be a solid show with the exception of there being only seven fights compared to the usual eight, and the main event falling short after an action packed undercard…

With all the misfortunes UFC owners, Zuffa, had with the line up for the previous UFC, it appears that business is back to normal again. The upcoming UFC card looks stacked and as promising as any MMA card could be. Even if you engross yourself into all the unpleasantries that led to UFC 50 being constantly re-shaped, it actually turned out to be a solid show with the exception of there being only seven fights compared to the usual eight, and the main event falling short after an action packed undercard. Instead of me muttering on about those drawbacks that have fueled Internet debates on forums and chatrooms, I would like to outline what UFC 51 has in store for us to make up for all that. Read on and find out.

The first aspect of this upcoming show that makes up for previous misfortunes is that there are eight fights scheduled at present time. It’s still not clear if anyone will get to replace Joe ‘Diesel’ Riggs against David ‘The Crow’ Loiseau. The last time the UFC had nine fights on one card was back in September 2003 at UFC 44, so it’s a treat to say the least. There is one down side to this factor though. It will be even that more difficult for the promoters to decide which fights make the main card and which ones are relegated to prelim status.

Bout order is an issue that often sparks many arguments among fans and writers alike. I suppose you can look at the situation from a “half empty” versus “half full” perspective. On one side of the coin you’re not guaranteed to see the fight you anticipated most appear on the PPV broadcast. However, on the flip side you’ve got more fights to fill the time gaps if the majority of matches on the main card finish in the first round, which does happen sometimes. If I were Dana White, I would be smiling ear to ear when fans argue about this kind of topic. The reason?

Quite simple, it’s proof that the line up you’ve put out is very promising. This isn’t about favouring White’s view over the fans, because I can guarantee you that I’ve had just as many gripes with bout order as any fan at times. Particularly when Yves Edwards and Josh Thomson was doommed to the very first fight of the night for UFC 49, which did make the PPV broadcast in the end, thankfully. To be fair though, this sort of thing will occur when UFC matchmaker Joe Silva creates quality matches from top to bottom.

Although the exact bout order is yet to be announced for the upcoming event, we can assume given main card positions. Belfort and Ortiz, obviously being the main event. Terrell and Tanner due to it being a title fight for the vacant Middleweight crown. Also, Sylvia and Arlovski, as their fight will be a contest for the Interim Heavyweight Championship. We can only speculate on the remaining spots. I will now go on to breakdown each individual fight and comment on their possible order on the show.

Nick Diaz vs. Drew Fickett – Welterweight Bout (170 lbs)

I’m looking forward to this fight for two reasons. I have become a great fan of Nick Diaz and I have never seen Drew Fickett fight before. Therefore, I am extremely curious about how he performs in his UFC debut. Diaz is a Purple belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu and uses his tall six-foot frame effectively with good striking skills. He has also established himself as a regular in the UFC Welterweight division with two wins and one loss in his three appearances. Diaz’s only loss inside the octagon was his last outing at UFC 49 in August 2004 against Karo ‘The Heat’ Parisyan. To Diaz’s credit, it was a close fight and Parisyan couldn’t finish him. Diaz did hang with the master Judo player in Parisyan on the ground, but he wasn’t as sharp on the feet as he could have been. He was the better striker, but failed to capitalise when he managed to hurt Parisyan and Parisyan scored many takedowns, which did add up points in his favour.

Fickett on the other hand, is also a talented submission grappler, who has only suffered two losses in an experienced MMA career of over twenty fights. Although he has won most of his fights by submission, I have not heard a great deal about Fickett’s stand up skills, so there’s a question mark on that. Fickett needs to win because it’s his debut, but Diaz also must win because he is coming off a loss. Although most fighters are well rounded today, it’s still hard for a fighter to show both sharp stand up skills accompanied with sharp ground skills in a fight. Now, Diaz has both these dimensions, but he clearly had worked harder on his ground game for his last fight, which proved detrimental. Yes, his submission game looked solid, but his wrestling and striking looked sloppier.

You cannot judge this performance to reflect Diaz’s true ability though, as he clearly trained for a ground battle. He somehow needs to start showing up sharp in all these dimensions to come full circle. If he does, not only will he be dangerous on the ground against Fickett, but he should be that more difficult to take down and his striking should resemble the sharpness that was displayed in his fight with ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler when he knocked him out at UFC 47 in April of last year.

If Diaz has learnt from past experiences and refined these elements in his training I believe he’ll definitely possess an edge, as this will be Fickett’s first outing in the UFC and he may be trying to fight first time butterflies, as well as a well trained Cesar Gracie student. Some may say that Fickett could surprise us on the ground by submitting Diaz, but I cannot see Diaz, who comes from such a good submission/MMA team, being caught on the ground. My pick is Nick Diaz by KO in Round 2. What is the likelihood of this being on the main card? I think unlikely because Diaz’s last bout was doomed to the preliminary zone last time he fought in the UFC. However, with a good possibility of Diaz finishing his opponent, it might get a shot at the swing bout spot if time permits.

Karo Parisyan vs. Chris Lytle – Welterweight Bout (170 lbs)

This is another great bout in the stacked Welterweight division. This bout could easily put the winner in leading contention for a title shot against UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes. However, it’s highly speculated that Frank Trigg is next in line after his impressive defeat of the man, who I believe schooled Hughes, Renato ‘Charuto’ Verissimo. Trigg may get that opportunity at UFC 52 in April, but back to the fight at hand.

Karo ‘The Heat’ Parisyan comes into this with a lot of skills to his name. He is a fantastic grappler, who is very aggressive on the feet and on the ground, even off his back. He’s one of the top Judo players in the USA right now, but he has been able to master what many Judo guys have not and that is translate many of Judo’s effective techniques into no-gi competition. He also has what even some Olympic champions lack and that is a solid submission game.

Parisyan is on form at the moment. He’s coming off a big win over Cesar Gracie disciple, Nick Diaz, which has brought his UFC record up to 2 – 1 – 0. He also beat UFC veteran ‘Mr. International’ Shonie Carter with a dominating performance to get the judge’s decision in the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting). As impressive as this man is though, his opponent is stepping up with some impressive accomplishments himself.

Chris ‘Lights Out’ Lytle is a very well rounded fighter, who has all the tools to go as far as he wants in the sport. He is very soft spoken and comes across as an average guy with a family and a regular job, but don’t let that fool you. Despite all his regular obligations, he trains very hard and he likes to do his talking in the octagon. His original combat background lies in grappling, so he’s a solid wrestler and submission guy.

However, Lytle is a good stand up fighter as well. He’s shown particularly great boxing skills, as he has worked hard on this area of his game by competing in quite a few pro boxing bouts now. Despite losing his first two UFC fights, he has shown the dedication to bounce back hard picking up victories in his last two appearances in the UFC to bring his UFC record up to 2 – 2 – 0.

Lytle’s last loss in the UFC was at UFC 45 in November 2003 to ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler by a really close judge’s decision that many felt Lytle should have won. Lytle returned to the octagon at UFC 47 in April 2004 and tapped out the very tough Muay Thai expert, Tiki Ghosn in the second round by a Bulldog Headlock. At UFC 49 in August of 2004, he submitted tough Hawaiian fighter Ron ‘The Machine Gun’ Jhun with a nice Guillotine choke in round two. Lytle has also secured several victories in shows like the WEC. Lytle seems to always show up sharp, both standing and on the ground.

I believe this fight will go to the ground one way or the other, but the main difference I see between both fighters is that Lytle should be able to hang with Parisyan on the ground, but can Parisyan hang with Lytle on the feet? Unless Parisyan’s striking skills have improved considerably, I don’t think so. He’s shown in fights that he has a tendency to reach out to clinch with his opponents instead of using striking to get into the clinch. This can be a recipe for disaster ala Evan Tanner against Rich Franklin. In plain English, you’re more likely to walk into a hard strike.

Parisyan is dangerous when he gets into the clinch though and Lytle should avoid Parisyan’s clinch like the plague, not that he can’t clinch with him, but he should stay out of Parisyan’s main strength. Parisyan has a great ability to tie up your arms when you go for the takedown also, but if Lytle chooses to stay on the feet this should not be a problem unless Parisyan chooses to aggressively pursue his arm in the clinch like when he pulled off the rolling Kimura submission of Dave Strasser at UFC 44. All factors considered though, I’m leaning towards Chris Lytle via KO in Round 2. Will this fight be a prelim? I certainly hope not. Both men have the ability to be entertaining as well as effective with their respective games and it may be an important fight in the Welterweight rankings. I think it should be a swing fight if time allows it to make the main card, but will the UFC want all Heavyweight bouts on the card instead?

Phil Baroni vs. Pete Sell – Middleweight Bout (185 lbs)

Originally, ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler was supposed to fight Phil Baroni. However, Lawler had to pull out of the fight a few weeks ago. For ‘New York Bad Ass’ fans, they can be relieved that their idol is still competing, but against Jiu Jitsu stylist, Pete Sell. To be perfectly honest this may not be a significant fight as far as the rankings of the upper echelons of the middleweight division are concerned. Phil Baroni is coming off multiple losses and Pete Sell is a UFC debutant with a fairly short career so far of 4 – 0. That is exactly why both men desperately need the win however.

If you have followed the sport over the last couple of years, Baroni needs no introduction. Yes, he has lost his last three fights, but some of his stunning finishes including victories over former UFC Middleweight Champion Dave Menne and UFC and PRIDE veteran Amar Suloev. For those who have kept a close eye in the developments of MMA during the above time period, these performances alone leave an indelible etch in our minds of just exactly what the bad ass is capable of. On the other hand, for newcomers to the sport, here is a brief breakdown of what Baroni brings to the fight.

Baroni is a very talented boxer for an MMA fighter. He also has an extensive background in Wrestling that goes back to his high school and college years. He has lost his last three fights, all against Team Quest members in Evan Tanner twice and Greco Roman Olympic Silver medallist Matt Lindland. His losses were down to two main things. Better wrestlers outwrestled him and his conditioning faded quickly in all fights. It’s speculated that his conditioning problems are down to cutting too much weight before fights. The man has got a bodybuilding physique and walks around at about 210 lbs or more.

How can he rectify this problem? Well, I would suggest going to a conditioning specialist. I’m not an expert on that topic by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know that too much muscle slows you down and that bodybuilding is about expanding your muscle mass. I do not believe this is a healthy life style for a Mixed Martial Artist though, as you need to be quick as well as powerful and if he walked around a bit leaner, maybe cutting weight would be easier and less likely to cause him cardio problems.

Pete ‘Drago’ Sell is harder to describe quite frankly, as he is relatively new in the sport. He is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under UFC veteran Matt ‘The Terra’ Serra. Judging by his lack of experience, it is difficult to predict just how well rounded he is and one could expect him to be nervous for his UFC debut.

There is a fairly high chance of this fight ending in a knock out, as Baroni loves to strike fast and hard. If Sell’s Jiu Jitsu background is anything to by, he will most likely look to avoid Baroni’s stand up and shoot or clinch to take it to the ground. This may be a difficult task however, as Baroni displayed great wrestling skills against Olympic Greco Roman Silver medallist and decent ability to scramble and secure takedowns himself. Although this ability tends to fade, as his gas tank empties, it is a good indication, that you still need good wrestling credentials to take this guy down and more importantly, to hold him down.

I have not heard anything about Sell’s wrestling ability, so there is a question mark in my mind at least, exactly how he will avoid the stand up on a consistent basis in this fight. Baroni still needs to be explosive in this fight though to avoid conditioning episodes later in the fight, so I’m going with Phil Baroni by KO in Round 1. Will this fight make the main card? Now, that Lawler is absent, doubtful at best. Baroni has been a poster boy for the UFC over the last few years, but he’s on terrible form of late and his opponent is virtually unknown to the masses. I expect this to be a prelim.

Mike Kyle vs. James Irvin – Heavyweight (205 – 265 lbs)

The Heavyweight division in the UFC has always been accused of being less deep than the other divisions. As a result, they are always trying to bring in some new blood. They like bringing in heavy-handed fighters because the American public like the big men and they like slugfests. Although you can never truly predict any fight, you can try and match up two good strikers and I hope they choose to stand with each other.

Mike ‘Mack’ Kyle is 1 – 1 in the UFC and stand up has shown to be his preferred domain so far in his UFC bouts despite battling on the ground with Wes Sims in his UFC debut for most of the fight until he secured the KO. Kyle is with a well-rounded camp in the American Kickboxing Academy training with greats like Frank Shamrock, Josh Thomson and Paul Buentello.

His opponent is James Irvin. A promising Heavyweight that also loves the knock out, but confidently explains that he is not necessarily pigeon holed into one domain of fighting. He considers himself well balanced, which is what the UFC is looking for.

Kyle and Irvin were recently supposed to fight each other on a recent WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) show, but the fight did not materialise. So, you have two of the top fighters in the WEC at this weight class fighting on a UFC show. What can we expect?

Despite this being Irvin’s debut, he has been listed as the favourite by most sports books on the Internet. This is down to two reasons. Kyle hasn’t really looked impressive so far in the UFC. He won a very controversial fight against Wes Sims where it was alleged that Kyle had bitten Sim’s chest during the fight. Kyle also looked poor in his KO loss to Justin Eilers, not to take anything from Eilers’ mostly by KO and TKO, but with an Armbar submission also. Due to the fast pace that I expect in this fight, I am expecting James Irvin to win by TKO in Round 1. Will the fight make the main card? I’m not sure, it just might. The UFC love to display most Heavyweight bouts on the main card due to their appeal to the masses and Kyle has brought controversy in both his appearances in the octagon. However, it may not considering Kyle has been relatively mediocre in form and Irvin his only making his debut.

The second reason is Irvin’s record. He is undefeated at 7 – 0. He has also finished all of his opponents in a mixture of ways
Paul Buentello vs. Justin Eilers – Heavyweight (205 – 265 lbs)

The Heavyweight division in the UFC has always been accused of being less deep than the other divisions. As a result, they are always trying to bring in some new blood. They like bringing in heavy-handed fighters because the American public like the big men and they like slugfests. Although you can never truly predict any fight, you can try and match up two good strikers and I hope they choose to stand with each other.

Paul Buentello is the King Of The Cage Heavyweight Champion and the UFC have had their eye on him for a while now, as he gets set to make his UFC debut. He is a very good Kickboxer and he trains extensively in Wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. Buentello has had some losses and showed in earlier fights in his career he was vulnerable on the ground, particularly to submissions, as his highest profile loss was in King Of The Cage to former UFC Heavyweight Champion Ricco Rodriguez by a Kneebar. So, he has learned from that and puts more emphasis on these skills in his training, as he now trains with a very well rounded team, American Kickboxing Academy. He has actually beat Mike ‘Mack’ Kyle, now a teammate of his, before they started training together.

Justin Eilers is also a good striker with very heavy hands. He also trains with the Miletich camp, so you can definitely assume that he trains very hard in Wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. He also has the advantage of training with other talented Heavyweights like Mike Whitehead and former UFC Heavyweight Champion ‘The Maine-iac’ Tim Sylvia. Eilers made his long awaited debut at UFC 49 by knocking out his child hood friend Mike ‘Mack’ Kyle in the first round with a hard left hook.

Both fighters will probably look to stay up and duke it out on the feet. I believe Buentello is the better kicker, but I feel Eilers has the harder hands. Also, Eilers has already fought on the big show, so he is less likely to be overwhelmed by the whole UFC experience, but Buentello is quite experienced and has fought and beat many good Heavyweights. Another element that makes me favour Eilers though is that I believe he has better Heavyweight training partners to spar with. Due to the aggressiveness of Eilers, I am going with Justin Eilers in the first round by KO. Will this avoid the clutches of preliminary status? I believe it will. The probability of this being a slugfest is high. Either fighter has the potential to be in the UFC title picture somewhere down the road and the mainstream US audience love Heavyweights.

Vacant UFC Middleweight Championship (185 lbs)
Evan Tanner vs. David Terrell

The UFC have had a problem since 2002 with keeping all their champions under contract. This is the reason why they haven’t had a champion in both the Lightweight (155 lbs) and Middleweight classes since 2002. They also claim that five to six PPV shows annually isn’t enough to cater for five champions. Until a live weekly MMA show on free TV is established, we may not see this problem corrected fully, but with several TV deals potentially on the horizon, they are looking to sort out the Middleweight division first.

They had one obstacle in the road to make this happen though. They wanted to have Evan Tanner face Dave Terrell, but Terrell had one fight left on his Pancrase contact. To avoid having a potential Champion on contract to another organisation, Zuffa struck a deal to buy out Terrell’s contract. There was a condition that the UFC must give three Pancrase fighters the chance to fight in the UFC this year. The UFC are planning to go to Japan in June to make up for the show that fell through this past December, which would be ideal considering that Pancrase is based in Japan. So the fight was made.

Evan Tanner is a highly experienced competitor. He competed in several Pancrase events in Japan, which really helped develop his submission skills. He also worked heavily in Wrestling and fighting inside the clinch and developed great knees and elbows that are very prominent in his game today. In the last few years, he has been training very hard with Team Quest in Oregon where UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture, Olympic silver medallist Matt Lindland and PRIDE Light Heavyweight contender Dan Henderson all helped improve his game.

He has recently left Team Quest though and has new trainer, who is working on Tanner’s overall game, but is particularly tuning up his striking skills to complement his other skills, which he demonstrated in his last two fights. He was formally a competitor in the Light Heavyweight (205 lbs) class. He was always small as a Light Heavyweight and then came down to the Middleweight class. Evan Tanner defeated Phil Baroni at UFC 45 by TKO due consecutive unanswered elbow strikes. Baroni was irate because referee Larry Landless made a mistake by stopping the fight thinking that Baroni had submitted. A furious Baroni lashed out and tried to hit Landless and he actually caught him a few times. The sanctioning body for the fight suspended Baroni for a year, but Baroni later apologised for his actions and appealed the sentence.

It was then reduced to six months, which cleared Baroni for a rematch with Tanner at UFC 48. Baroni looked flat and not as aggressive as he usually fights. Tanner was on form and he won a convincing judge’s decision after three rounds. Tanner returned at UFC 50 and beat ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler by Triangle choke in the first round. Tanner has amassed an impressive 3 – 0 – 0 record in the Middleweight division and is intent on improving that winning streak and bringing the vacant Middleweight crown home.

To do that he has to get passed Dave ‘The Soul Assassin’ Terrell. Terrell is a phenomenal submission grappler being the only Jiu Jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie. He’s competed in and won many of the top grappling tournaments in the world. In the world’s top no-gi grappling event, Abu Dhabi Combat Club, he even submitted Renzo Gracie protégé Ricardo Almeida by a flying leglock. Although many people believe Dean Lister is the top grappler in America, there are just as many who argue that David Terrell deserves that title, as he has beaten Lister twice in no-gi submission wrestling competition. Terrell also showed his striking prowess by knocking out the long time number one fighter at Middleweight Matt Lindland very early in the first round at UFC 49.

When you pair both fighters up it is extremely hard to predict. Although Tanner has improved considerably on his striking skills, it may be risky to stay up and bang with Terrell. I think despite Terrell’s skills on the ground it would be wiser for him to try and take Terrell down. Tanner is the better wrestler so if he sets up the takedown well with his strikes he should obtain top position on the ground. Even if he lands in Terrell’s guard, I believe he has a good balance of Wrestling and Jiu Jitsu to keep the top position and avoid Terrell’s submissions and reversal attempts. Also, as the fight wares on and both men produce more sweat, it will be a lot more difficult for a submission to be secured by Terrell.

If Tanner is able to pass the guard of Terrell, he should have the skills to do some damage in the advantageous positions. If Terrell finds himself on the bottom he will need to tie up Tanner very well to avoid Tanner’s ground and pound. He should do his best to gain the top position and try and pass Tanner’s guard to show just how dominant his submission skills are. I don’t see this fight ending too quickly, but I don’t expect it to go five rounds either, it should be a war, but something will give eventually. I have a feeling I may change my mind back and fourth on this one, but I am not sure how adaptable Terrell is to the pressure of big title fights despite taking out the former number one ranked individual in the weight class in his last fight. I am leaning on Evan Tanner winning by TKO via Ground and Pound in the third round.

Vacant UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship (205 lbs to 265 lbs)
Andrei Arlovski vs. Tim Sylvia

Frank Mir is the UFC Heavyweight Champion, but the reason he is not fighting on the show to defend his title for the first time is that he is recovering from a serious motorcycle accident. Mir broke his leg in the accident and was fortunate not to injure himself worse. Meanwhile, there are competitors looking to challenge for the title. Therefore the UFC is introducing the Interim Championship to crown a temporary champion until Mir gets back into the Octagon later this year. Whoever is the Interim Champion when Mir returns gets an automatic immediate title shot against Mir himself.

Andrei ‘The Pitbull’ Arlovski comes all the way from Minsk, Belarus. Originally a keen football (soccer) player, the tall Belarussian played as a goalkeeper. In his later teens, Arlovski joined the police academy and it was then he was introduced to the Russian art of Sambo. Sambo is a mix between Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It has extensive throws and submissions, but is particularly famous for it’s leglocks. Arlovski excelled at Sambo rapidly and finished runner up in the World Sambo Championships after only one year of training. Arlovski then went on to win the very same competition a year on. Soon after, Arlovski attained the status of International Sambo Master. Arlovski then entered MMA and quickly had some success in the local shows.

Arlovski soon made his debut in the UFC by defeating Aaron Brink with an Armbar submission. Arlovski still being relatively young at this point lost his next two appearances inside the Octagon to former UFC Heavyweight Champion Ricco Rodriguez by TKO and Pedro ‘The Rock’ Rizzo by KO. Being thrown in the deep end of MMA so early in his career forced Arlovski’s experience level up a notch and since then, he has shown some formidable striking skills demonstrating his ability to become a well rounded fighter. He trains with K-1 veteran Andrei Dudko and has displayed lightning fast combinations accompanied by very hard hands.

Arlovski has now consecutively knocked out Ian ‘The Machine’ Freeman, ‘The Janitor’ Vladimir Matyushenko and Wesley ‘Cabbage’ Correira all in devastating fashion. These are fighters that are not afraid to exchange on the feet and known to have iron jaws. Well, his next opponent also has a tough chin and hits even harder.

‘The Maine-iac’ Tim Sylvia is one of the most feared heavy hitters in the Heavyweight division. He stands at a colossal 6’8 and he’s got great takedown defence and is steadily improving his Wrestling and Jiu Jitsu in the famous Mileitch camp. Sylvia burst on to the scene at UFC 39 by defeating iron chin Wesley ‘Cabbage’ Correira with constant barrages of punches and knees forcing Cabbage’s corner to throw in the towel in the first round.

Sylvia followed up on that victory at UFC 41 by quickly dispatching an over confident Ricco Rodriguez by knock out for the UFC Heavyweight Championship in the first round. Rodriguez was unable to take Sylvia down and tried to pull guard in desperation to the get the fight to the ground. Towards the end of the first round Rodriguez tried to stand up with Sylvia, but he left his hands way too low. Rodriguez initiated an exchange with a low right kick to Sylvia’s left thigh and Sylvia countered with a big right cross knocking the former champion down to the canvas and followed up with several more hard punches on the helpless Rodriguez after he hit the mat forcing the referee to stop the fight.

Sylvia returned to defend his belt at UFC 44 in a battle of the giants against 6’10 Gan McGee. Sylvia pressed the fight early on and adopted the classic boxing stance with both hands up protecting his jaw. Unfortunatley McGee did not adopt the same posture and chose a more loose Karate like stance with one hand up and one hand down. It wasn’t long before Sylvia exposed his lankier opponent by catching him with a clean right hand to the jaw that sent McGee down allowing Sylvia to follow him down and pound him with several unanswered strikes for the victory.

Soon after the impressive performance, a post fight urinalysis revealed that Sylvia had illegally taken Anabolic Steroids. Sylvia was more co-operative than any other athlete in the history of the Nevada State Athletic Commission in a case like this and openly admitted his mistake and relinquished his UFC title. Sylvia was only suspended for four months considering his forthcoming nature and was all set to return to the Octagon at UFC 47 to face Andrei Arlovski in a vacant UFC Heavyweight Title contest when a pre-fight drug test showed that there were still trace amounts of steroids still in his system, which forced him to withdraw from the bout a day in advance.

Arlovski fought Cabbage instead in a non-title bout and used a smart stick and move strategy to land as many unanswered punches to the head and leg kicks as he could. In the second round, Arlovski managed to knock down the big man, which led to the referee stopping the fight. Andrei Arlovski appeared to unload everything he had against Cabbage and broke his hand in the match.

With Arlovski temporarily injured, Sylvia emerged with a clean urinalysis and took on rising star Frank Mir at UFC 48 for the Vacant UFC Heavyweight Championship. For a brief period both men stood up and exchanged strikes. Mir landed a clean right low kick to the left thigh of Sylvia and Sylvia countered with his trademark right cross. Mir tried to block the strike, but got hit in the face and fell to the mat. Sylvia followed Mir to the mat and wound up in Mir’s open guard. Instead of standing back up, Sylvia tried to push Mir towards the fence to unleash some ground and pound, but Mir immediately locked up Sylvia’s right arm and went for an Armbar.

Mir locked the submission in deep and Sylvia tried to posture out of it. Sylvia managed to partially free his elbow from the hold, but Mir was able to secure the lock on Sylvia’s forearm due to Sylvia’s limbs being much larger than an average Heavyweight. Mir torqued Sylvia’s arm causing it to suddenly break, which led to referee Herb Dean stopping the fight. The crowd booed, clearly confused at what had just occurred.

Sylvia denied his arm was broken despite the slow motion replay suggesting otherwise. Mir was awarded the victory and the UFC Heavyweight Title by Technical Submission due to Sylvia not tapping out. It was Sylvia’s first and only loss of his Pro MMA career. UFC interviewer, Joe Rogan, clearly pointed out on the various replays what had happened and the crowd remained blatantly ignorant refusing to accept the result. Mir was visibly disappointed by the crowd’s reaction despite doing nothing wrong himself. It was later revealed by the doctor that several tests revealed that Sylvia’s arm was indeed broken, but in four to five separate places. Sylvia later thanked Herb Dean for saving his career.

Since then Sylvia has successfully rehabbed his arm and he fought in a recent SuperBrawl event in Hawaii by defeating long time rival Wes ‘The Project’ Sims by a vicious TKO by Ground and Pound in the first round. Sylvia feels he is ready to jump right back into the title picture.

Matching both Arlovski and Sylvia up is not an easy one to call. Arlovski is definitely faster with his lightning quick combinations and appears to be a more illusive striker. However, Sylvia is the better boxer and has several inches in reach on Arlovski and appears to hit that bit harder too. I believe Arlovski is the better ground fighter though and he has been working very diligently with a Rickson Gracie black belt on his Jiu Jitsu in Chicago, Illinois. Sylvia’s takedown defence is very solid though. One unknown factor is how Sylvia’s strength in his arm is compared to the pre-injury stage of his career. Will it affect his power if he goes toe to toe with Arlovski? Will it affect his takedown defence?

I definitely think Sylvia will pursue the stand up, as he has a good success ratio on the feet with a great reach he can utilise to attempt to keep Arlovski at bay. Arlovski will have a difficult task ahead of him getting inside this reach, landing a quick and accurate combination and getting back out without getting tagged by Sylvia’s hard counters. Based on Arlovski’s last few fights though, I’d be surprised to see him pursue a ground battle over a stand up war. Guys have hurt him like Pedro Rizzo before and still he chose to remain on the feet. Although it’s his normal strategy, if he was likely to opt for a ground battle against anyone, it would be against Sylvia since he was clearly exposed on the ground last time he fought in the UFC.

If Sylvia shows up 100% healthy though and comes well prepared I see him being able to keep Arlovski at bay with the jab and capitalise with the counters if Arlovski does manage to get inside his reach and he should be able to shrug off the takedown using his reach and polished takedown defence. Based on all the factors I’m edging with Tim Sylvia by KO in Round 2.

Main Event
Tito Ortiz vs. Vitor Belfort – Light Heavyweight (205 lbs)

‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ Tito Ortiz is a former five time defending UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. He’s a very good wrestler with good Jiu Jitsu skills. Tito has worked considerably hard on his Muay Thai and Boxing, but usually his biggest weapon in a fight is his cardio. When Ortiz was the champion, he seemed unstoppable, but a commodity of elements added up signalling his demise as champion. After Ortiz defeated ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’ Ken Shamrock at UFC 40 in November 2002, for many it was a simple reminder to us all that he was the most dominant 205 lbs fighter in the world.

Ortiz’s next fight was against the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture at UFC 44 in September 2004. Couture became the champion by defeating long time number one contender Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell at UFC 43 when Ortiz claimed he was unable to defend his belt. Couture outwrestled Ortiz in dominant fashion to win a Unanimous Judge’s Decision. Ortiz was heartbroken because now he truly had no claim to the title from any angle you looked at it. Despite the loss, Ortiz knew he would have to answer when called in future fights because he was no longer the champion, which is the only leveraging tool you can use to do things your way.

In my opinion, this was the best thing for Ortiz’s career in my opinion for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it would make him hungry for success in MMA again. Second, it would give him the courage to actually ask to for the fights he needed to succeed. Ortiz soon faced his nemesis Chuck Liddell, who he originally avoided as champion. Both men squared off at UFC 47 in front of loudest fan reaction I’ve ever witnessed first hand.

Ortiz showed courage by standing up with the better striker, but it proved to be a mistake. Liddell knocked Ortiz out early in the second round with a flurry of punches. Ortiz admitted that he was very stubborn to prove he could stand with Liddell. In an attempt to end his losing streak and get back on track, Ortiz agreed to fight Lion’s Den fighter, Guy Mezger, at UFC 50. He had fought Mezger twice before. He lost the first fight by Guillotine choke, but dominated Mezger in the rematch with his patented ground and pound. Unfortunatley, the third fight did not come off due to Mezger suddenly falling ill just a week before the fight was scheduled. Young French Canadian, Patrick Coté stepped in on short notice to fight Ortiz.

Coté was originally slated to fight Marvin Eastman, but it would be a tall order stepping up against more of an accomplished competitor in Ortiz. Ortiz had one scare in the opening round by getting dropped by Coté by a hard right hand. Ortiz went on to end his losing streak by winning a unanimous judge’s decision after three rounds. Despite clearly winning, Ortiz was not his dominant self and many commended Coté on surviving before congratulating Ortiz on winning. Ortiz’s upcoming opponent is a man that he was supposed to fight on a couple of occasions, but the fight fell through due to injuries.

This is the last fight on the contract for both fighters so it is imperative that they win and do it in impressive fashion.
Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort is known for having incredible hand speed as well as hitting extremely hard. He has also picked up some impressive Muay Thai skills and is a black belt in Jiu Jitsu under Carlson Gracie. Belfort has had some dominant KO’s in the past over greats like current PRIDE Light Heavyweight Champion ‘The Axe Murderer’ Wanderlei Silva and David ‘Tank’ Abbott. Lately though, Belfort has appeared listless with his loss to UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture.

Due to this, Belfort has been training hard for this fight by reuniting himself with Brazilian Top Team, who have produced excellent fighters like former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, tough PRIDE Light Heavyweight Ricardo Arona and former UFC Middleweight Champion Murilo Bustamante just to name a few. I’m expecting that Belfort’s Jiu Jitsu skills should be well prepared along with his overall game, but where is his head at mentally?

This has always been the case with Belfort. Sometimes he shows up finishing people like it’s going out of fashion and then he hits a slump just as quick as he got going. Has Belfort found a balance with his new team? Only time will tell? However, Ortiz’s head isn’t exactly free from speculation at this point either as far as the fans are concerned. I think this fight is about who shows up on the night. We can’t really confirm anything new on that for sure, but I do believe Belfort will be hungry once again in this fight. When it comes to Ortiz I’m not so sure, as even UFC president Dana White wonders if Tito still really wants to continue fighting much longer.

Belfort has wanted a fight with Ortiz for years now and he has stated that he does have resentful feelings for Ortiz. This is rare to see Belfort openly pronounce this before a fight because he is usually very respectful towards his opponent since the Christian has found God in recent years. As a Christian myself, I fully agree with this attitude as opposed to a trash talking one, but I do believe you also need to want to out compete your opponent in a fight on every level. Belfort’s dislike for Ortiz should promote this, but he shouldn’t get carried away either and let anger get the better of him.

Belfort is a counter striker and some say this is why Couture was able to beat him in such dominant fashion in his last fight. This isn’t fully accurate though. The reason why Belfort lost was not from adopting a counter fighting strategy, but rather choosing to not try and circle as his opponent charged in aggressively on him. Belfort showed good balance for the majority of the first round of that fight in the clinch. This should mean Ortiz will have to work hard to take him down if in the clinch.

Belfort needs to be more aware of where the fence is in this fight as he has got decent takedown defence in the centre of the octagon. He needs to circle out to the centre anytime he is near the fence. He may be able to frustrate Ortiz by doing this forcing Ortiz to strike to create a clinch or shooting opportunity for Belfort’s legs. It’s at these times where an aggressive Ortiz is vulnerable. Ortiz on the other hand has to close the distance without getting hit and secure the takedown. If Ortiz gets it to the ground, he needs to keep Belfort there by pressing him up against the fence taking away his mobility. If Ortiz manages this, Belfort will find it difficult to get back to the feet or secure a submission.

That is why Belfort needs to constantly stay active if on his back and use constant submission attempts to neutralise Ortiz’s ground and pound. If attempted successfully by Belfort, he will create chances to get back to his feet. Belfort is the better striker and I do believe he will have worked off his back greatly for this fight in a more constructive way than he did for his last fight with Couture.

If Ortiz shows up like he did against Coté, Belfort considering the difference in striking ability will knock him out. Belfort will be in close to Ortiz though as Ortiz has a reach advantage by a couple of inches and Belfort stands southpaw bringing him even closer to the conventional Ortiz’s shooting distance. I am making a big assumption and that is that Ortiz will be find it hard to control Belfort like he did against a less illusive Coté, therefore I am going with Vitor Belfort by KO in Round 2.

That is my complete round up of this show and no matter if the show unfolds differently, I believe we will be treated to an action packed show. For the North American audience, this show will be live on PPV this Saturday on the 5th of February at 7pm P/T and 10pm E/T. Order it if you haven’t already. For fans in Ireland and the UK, you will be able to watch the show on one-day delay on Bravo from 9pm till midnight on Sunday February 6th. Check it out, it’s free TV if you have access to Bravo on SKY Digital or any of the other local cable operators. In the meantime, please check back for updates on weigh-ins and fighter interviews here at wrestling 101.

Joe Reilly