DARRIN ANTLER REPORTING …
MMANews.com's own Darrin Antler recently sat down and put pencil to paper (well… fingers to keyboard) to break down this weekend's UFC 76 “Knockout” pay-per view, featuring the three main-event matches: Chuck Liddell vs. Keith Jardine, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Forrest Griffin and Diego Sanchez vs. Jon Fitch. The card also features the return of “Lyoto” Ryoto Machida as he battles the debuting Pride veteran Kazuhiro Nakamura, and top Lightweights Tyson Griffin vs. Thiago Tavares.
Let's take a glimpse into the mind of Darrin Antler and see his thoughts on the big fight card…
UFC 76 PREVIEW (Antler, 9/21/07)
Chuck Liddell vs. Keith Jardine
With both fighters coming back from first round knockout losses, this match is pivotal in each man’s quest for a title. In the case of Jardine, he is seeking to regain his status as a top ranked contender in the UFC and for Liddell it is a chance to get back on the winning trail on his way towards reclaiming his Light Heavyweight title, with a possible mega-fight with Wanderlei Silva in between.
Jardine was on a serious roll before running into an unknown Houston Alexander at UFC 71. In less than one minute “The Dean of Mean” went from bona fide contender, to the back of the UFC title line in a very strong division. This fight with the former champ presents Keith Jardine with the opportunity to skip a couple places in line if he can pull out a victory.
Liddell was fighting on the same card as Jardine the night that the world met Houston Alexander and “The Ice Man” fared only marginally better. It took almost two minutes before Liddell got knocked out by the recently crowned Undisputed Light Heavyweight champion of the World, Quinton Jackson. That night Chuck threw a lazy body hook that he had got away with dozens of times over the years and it cost him his UFC title.
This fight will be a chess match of sorts. Jardine likes to be the aggressor and push the pace, while Liddell is content to hang back and use his footwork to set up counter strikes. The question many have had about Liddell is whether or not he possesses the ability to beat anybody with above average striking ability. Jardine definitely fits that profile, as the Greg Jackson — trained fighter brings to the octagon a technical striking game far superior to anyone that Liddell has faced who is not named Quinton.
In the end, whichever fighter can assert their game plan upon the other will win this fight. Chuck must be mindful of Jardine’s power and ability to work angles for scoring shots and Jardine has to be aware that he is only one punch away from getting knocked out. As much as I like Jardine as a fighter, I do not think that he can hang with Liddell; especially not a Chuck Liddell who knows that if he gets the `W’ on Saturday, he will be on his way to quite possibly the biggest fight in the history of MMA with “The Axe Murderer.”
“The Ice Man” will be focused, determined and ready, all of which make for a bad night for Keith Jardine.
PREDICTION: Chuck Liddell via TKO in Round 3
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Forrest Griffin
A new brand of violence is coming to the octagon in the form of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. A prized student of the renowned Chute Boxe academy, this Brazilian standout is regarded by many as the true number one Light Heavyweight in the world.
Standing across from him will be UFC darling Forrest Griffin. If Griffin has his way, he will prove that he is one of the elite at the 205 pound weight limit and not just a reality show star.
Shogun built his legend in Pride, beating the likes of Kevin Randleman, Ricardo Arona and “Rampage” Jackson, quite often in devastating fashion. In his sixteen professional victories, Shogun has seen the judges’ scorecards only twice. He is a hyper-aggressive machine with no reverse gear. Shogun doesn’t want to win fights; he wants to hurt people. In the past, he was the premier practitioner of the soccer kicks and stomps that were permitted under Pride rules, unleashing untold amounts of punishment on his opponents. Forrest Griffin is hoping that Shogun’s game will not be as effective without the use of such tactics.
Griffin is a quality fighter with some memorable battles under his belt against the likes of Tito Ortiz and of course his epic bout with Stephan Bonnar in `The Ultimate Fighter’ finale that helped birth the MMA craze in North America. Recent changes to Forrest’s game make him a more dangerous fighter than before, when his all out brawler mentality made him a star. Since his loss to Keith Jardine, Forrest began training with TUF 1 mentor and UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. No doubt Randy will help Forrest develop a game plan to counter Shogun’s Muay Thai skills and his push forward style. However, where they decide Forrest should take the fight is a difficult task. Shogun is also a slick BJJ practitioner and grappler, in addition to his incredible striking prowess. Forrest’s best bet is to work for takedowns and establish top control and put Shogun’s ground skills to the test, because despite his abilities, Shogun is not accustomed to fighting from his back.
I do not think that Forrest will be able to accomplish this feat. If Griffin tries to close the distance, Shogun will pepper him with knees from the clinch. If Griffin stands and trades with Shogun, he will not be able to stay outside of Shogun’s range due to Shogun’s never stop attitude and incredible power.
This is definitely Shogun’s fight and there is very little chance that Forrest will come out on top or unpunished.
PREDICTION: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua via TKO in Round 1
Kazuhiro Nakamura vs. “Lyoto” Ryoto Machida
Yet another Pride veteran is slated to make his debut in the 205 lb. bracket at UFC 76. Kazuhiro Nakamura is set to lock up with the enigmatic Ryoto `Lyoto’ Machida.
Nakamura is a judoka who trains under Hidehiko Yoshida. He brings an 11-6 record to the octagon, which at first glance appears to be uninspiring. When you look at the names of those who have beaten him, a different story is told. Wanderlei Silva, Josh Barnett, Antonio Rogerio Nogueria, Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua are the only people who have been able to best the Japanese fighter. He has also registered victories against some tough fighters as well. Guys like Cyborg Santos, Kevin Randleman, Murilo Bustamante and Igor Vovchanchyn were unable to beat Nakamura. This is a fighter who has been in fights with the best of the best.
Undefeated Ryoto Machida makes his third appearance in the octagon after posting two of the most dominant decisions you will ever see over Sam Hoger and David Heath. Among Machida’s other victims on his way to his perfect 10 — 0 record include Rich Franklin and Stephan Bonnar who were both finished via TKO. Machida is one of the rare karate practitioners who has made a highly successful transition to MMA.
It is obvious that Nakamura will look to use his incredible grappling skills to get Machida to the ground and work for submissions. Equally obvious is that Machida will want to keep this fight standing where he can use his superb striking ability and pinpoint accuracy to pepper his foe until he falls.
Neither fighter is known for their finishing abilities, so look for the judges to make the call on this one. Machida will be able to land scoring strikes while using his speed and footwork to frustrate Nakamura’s grappling aspirations for a full three rounds.
PREDICTION: “Lyoto” Ryoto Machida via Unanimous Decision
Jon Fitch vs. Diego Sanchez
This fight has classic written all over it. Two of the best in the UFC’s best (or perhaps second, given the recent influx of 205’ers) division will go head-to-head to stake their place in line for Matt Serra’s title.
Fitch is the hottest fighter in the UFC right now. The former Purdue wrestling team captain has won all six of his UFC matches, and thirteen in a row overall. A member of American Kickboxing Academy and teammate of Diego Sanchez nemesis, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch is among the most well rounded fighters today. In any situation, Fitch feels comfortable and is able to finish his opponent.
Diego Sanchez is `The Ultimate Fighter’ season one champion in the Middleweight division and a former King of the Cage champion. The aforementioned Josh Koscheck is the only man to beat Diego so far. Before that fight, Sanchez had a perfect 19-0 record. But everyone already knows that. What is lesser known, or at least lesser acknowledged are the circumstances that led to Diego’s poor performance at UFC 69.
While undergoing his standard medical exam prior to the event, doctors informed Diego that he had life–threatening Hepatitis C. That disease precludes involvement in combat sports and Diego was left with no choice but to withdraw from the fight with Koscheck. He was prepared to announce his retirement from MMA at the weigh–ins. After further diagnosis, it was discovered mere hours before the scheduled weigh–ins that Diego did not have Hep C after all, but a nasty staph infection. Not to be an apologist, but in my mind this scenario no doubt effected Diego’s ability to focus on Josh Koscheck.
This fight will be a war. The scrap will touch all sides and surfaces of the octagon. No matter if the fight is on the feet or on the ground, both athletes will be going 110 percent, mathematical impossibilities aside. I don’t see either fighter being able to stop the other with anything but a well–timed haymaker as their respective skills negate each other in all facets of the game. The old Diego Sanchez will be back in the cage on Saturday and he will give Fitch all he can handle. Fitch will be ready and will no doubt rise to the occasion.
Once again, the judges will have to decide this one and it won’t be easy.
PREDICTION: Diego Sanchez via Split Decision
Tyson Griffin vs. Thiago Tavares
I am going to skip the preamble and get right to it.
Griffin got a gift in his last fight against Clay Guida. Before Hamill/Bisping the Guida/Griffin decision was the worst of the year. But, no doubt that Griffin is a great wrestler and capable fighter with a long career ahead of him.
Thiago Tavares is a freak. In his last fight against Jason Black, he put on one of the most impressively dominant grappling clinics that I have ever seen. His BJJ is on another level and will lead him to victory, keeping his perfect record in tact.
PREDICTION: Thiago Tavares via Submission in Round 1
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