By Stephen Quinn
RANDY COUTURE VS. ANTONIO NOGUEIRA
With both Randy Couture and Antonio Nogueira both coming off of losses in their last fights, both former champions know the importance of getting back into the winner’s circle on Saturday night. With a victory, the winner of UFC 102’s main event will move one step closer to being back in title contention. On the other hand, the loser will have to answer the questions of whether or not it’s time to hang up the gloves for good.
A former alternate for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, Randy Couture is looking to get moving back towards the top come Saturday night. For Couture, who is 46 years-old, a loss on Saturday would signal the last run at a title shot for the former heavyweight and light heavyweight champion. With an overall record of 16-9, Couture is best known for his trilogy with Chuck Liddell. Although he lost the last two fights, it was during those fights that his popularity was raised to where it is today.
Former PRIDE and interim UFC champion Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira is looking to get back into title contention, and wants to show people that the fighter they saw fight in his most recent outing isn’t who he has become. In that bout last December, Nogueira was ambushed by punches thrown by Frank Mir, who at the time, was only known for his jiu-jitsu ability. Having already beaten some of the best fighters in the world such as Dan Henderson, Josh Barnett, Jeremy Horn, and Fabricio Werdum, Nogueira would love to add Randy Couture’s name to that already impressive list.
Being an Olympic caliber wrestler, look for Couture to try and bring the action of the fight to the canvas. For Couture to do this, expect for him to stay aggressive - trying to use his boxing skills inside the clinch to eventually bring Nogueira to the ground. For Nogueira, don’t look for him to panic if he does end up on his back. Nogueira has been widely considered to have the best jiu-jitsu in the heavyweight division. However, in order for Nogueira to have this fight go in his favor, expect for him to have greatly improved his boxing skills since being overwhelmed on his feet against Frank Mir.
KEITH JARDINE VS. THIAGO SILVA
With both Keith Jardine and Thiago Silva showing glimpses of being potential UFC champions, neither fighter can afford to have back-to-back losses inside the Octagon if they plan on fighting for UFC gold anytime soon.
Having not fought in over five months, Keith Jardine is looking to put his loss to Quinton Jackson behind him. At UFC 96, Jardine came up short against the former champ – losing by unanimous decision. Prior to his loss to Jackson, Jardine had beaten the likes of Brandon Vera, Forrest Griffin, and Chuck Liddell. After being a contestant on season two of The Ultimate Fighter, Jardine had compiled an impressive 3-1 record in his first four fights. After beating Griffin at UFC 66, Jardine looked as if a future title shot was just around the corner. Since his fight with Griffin, Jardine has strung together a dismal 2-3 record. If Jardine wants to eventually have the talk start back up again about him being a title contender, he’ll need to put on an exciting performance on Saturday night.
With an impressive 13-1 record, hard-hitting Brazilian Thiago Silva is looking to start his climb back up the ladder to eventually fight the only man that has beaten him – Lyoto Machida. Prior to his defeat at UFC 94, Silva has had notable wins over James Irvin and Houston Alexander.
In a fight that should see little time on the canvas, expect for both Jardine and Silva to stand in the center of the Octagon and exchange punches until someone gets knocked out. If Silva feels uncomfortable trading punches with Jardine, look for him to try and bring the fight to the canvas – trying to release a relentless pace of ground and pound. For Jardine, look for him to mix in powerful leg kicks to keep Silva off balance during the fight.
JAKE ROSHOLT VS. CHRIS LEBEN
Fighting out of Las Vegas, NV, Jake Rosholt is looking to take advantage of being on Saturday’s Pay-Per-View to show people around the world the type of skills that he possesses. At 5-1, Rosholt is looking to rebound from his latest outing inside of the Octagon and to show that he can compete with the best athletes in the world.
Whether Chris Leben’s fights end in victory or defeat, they all have one thing in common – they’re entertaining. After winning his first four fights after being on season one of The Ultimate Fighter, Leben was to be the first test to UFC newcomer Anderson Silva. Although the fight was extremely lopsided in the favor of Silva, Leben hasn’t given up his desire to be given another chance at the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Since his loss to Silva, Leben has gone 3-3.
When the action starts, look for Leben to try and keep the fight standing. Known for his ability and willingness to stand and trade punches with anybody, don’t expect for him to have a change of heart for this fight. For Rosholt, look for him to stay away from the powerful left hand of Leben while trying to use his strong wrestling skills to bring the fight to the canvas. Rosholt will need to be careful when trying to bring to action on the ground, because in order for him to do so, he’ll be in the striking range of one the hardest hitters in the UFC.
NATE MARQUARDT VS. DEMIAN MAIA
When two legitimate title contenders face off against each other inside the Octagon, the stakes of the fight rise to a new level. Both of these fighters know the consequences of losing this weekend.
Having won two straight fights, Nate Marquardt knows that he’s on the verge of being back in title contention. Marquardt would like nothing more but to get another shot at the last man to beat him – Anderson Silva. Prior to his loss to Silva, Marquardt had looked nearly unbeatable – winning four consecutive fights. Now Marquardt has strung together two consecutive wins and knows that by winning a third on Saturday night that he’ll move even closer to getting his shot at UFC gold.
Fighting out of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Demian Maia is looking to add another victory to his already impressive record. At a perfect 11-0, Maia has yet to taste defeat inside the Octagon and doesn’t plan on doing so this Saturday. Having already beaten the likes of Ed Herman, Jason MacDonald, and Nate Quarry, Maia knows that by beating highly touted Nate Marquardt that a shot at UFC gold may not be far away.
In what could earn Fight of the Night honors, both Demian Maia and Nate Marquardt have two different ideas of how this fight is going to end up. For Maia, look for him to try and bring the action to the canvas – looking for a submission. For Marquardt, expect him to use his strength and standup ability to keep the fight standing.
KRZYSZTOF SOSZYNSKI VS. BRANDON VERA
After winning six straight fights, Brandon Vera looked as if he was going to become champion in the UFC and keep the belt for a long time. However, having to deal with a management situation outside the Octagon, Vera was forced to step away from action for nearly a year. After coming back, Vera hasn’t looked like the same fighter – having gone 2-3 since returning to action. Vera knows that if he wants to move back into contention, he’ll need to string together multiple impressive performances.
With an overall record of 19-9-1, Krzysztof Soszynski is looking to continue his success in the UFC. Since competing on the past season of The Ultimate Fighter, Soszynski has yet to lose a fight. With a win on Saturday night, Soszynski may prove to the critics that he is indeed a true force in the UFC.
In a clash of styles, look for Vera to use his speed and strong standup ability to keep Soszynski from bringing him to the canvas. If Soszynski isn’t able to bring Vera down, look for him to try and clinch with him – trying to wear down a fighter whose cardio has come into question in the past.
UFC 102 - Main Card Fantasy Preview
Stephen Quinn, UFC - UFC 102 is fast approaching, and if you haven't already, it's time to get your picks in for the UFC Fantasy Game. And if you're still on the fence about some of Saturday's matchups, read on for the main card fantasy preview.