Coming off a week that was dominated by the news that MMA’s white unicorn, the best heavyweight in the world Fedor Emelianenko, had shunned the UFC and signed with rival Strikeforce, UFC 101 has quietly arrived. And while the highly touted Russian cyborg will not be joining the stable of the world’s premier MMA organization, the UFC has no shortage of intriguing match ups to offer; including this Saturday’s card. Let’s start at the top of the card with the little guys.
UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn vs. Kenny Florian (155 lbs.)
This 5 round, lightweight title fight pits the division’s unquestioned #1 and #2. Current champ, BJ Penn, is coming off a January loss to welterweight champion George St. Pierre. Penn jumped up a weight class to avenge an earlier loss and was handed a 4 round beating by the Canadian that had Penn’s corner throwing in the towel before the final round and had the Hawaiian, Penn, eating a shit sandwich for all the smack he talked. Penn has come to terms with the loss and has returned to his natural weight class to prove he is still the king at 155 lbs.
In the challenger, Florian, you have an ever improving fighter that has rattled off 6 straight victories since he last fought for the lightweight title and lost to previous champ Sean Sherk. Florian has dominated all his fights, finishing 5 of them. After his last fight he emphatically called out the champ, screeching in his best Dustin Diamond voice, “I want BJ’s belt!!” (The guy is a lean 155 lb; he’s not going to sound like Bill Withers).
Penn is unquestionably talented and seems to have addressed many of his conditioning problems, bringing in USC QB Todd Marinivich’s crazy ass father Marv Marinivich to push the champ’s strength and conditioning. Marv is an elite trainer with a penchant for running his kids into the ground. He’s perfect for a phenom MMA fighter with an attitude problem like Penn, who until this point has surrounded himself with the dipshit squad from a cable access version of Entourage – all feeding his ego with pork sandwiches. Picture Damon Wayans in The Great White Hype – “Oh I’m in shape. I’m round.”
And while Florian is no Irish Terry Conklin (although he dos fight out of South Boston); a focused and well trained Penn is a dangerous man. The champ’s only weakness has been fighters who are bigger and stronger than him and Florian possesses neither of those attributes. Look for Penn to use his boxing until Florian can time his jab. At that point, Penn will look to put the challenger on his back and drop big, accurate punches to Florian’s head as it’s pressed against the mat. The champ will be patient while maintaining constant pressure until he closes out Florian with a flurry of strikes. Penn via 3rd Round TKO.
Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin (Light Heavyweight – 205 lbs.)
Anderson Silva is the most dangerous fighter in the world. It’s not hype; it’s consensus of fighters and fans and watching him perform to his full potential is scary. But that’s the problem – his last two fights he has not given 100% and turned in two questionable performances. The crazy thing is he still won both those fights! Much of the blame goes to his opponents who were undeniably scared. Hell, who wouldn’t be, the man can KO you from 15 different angles.
(This was before the UFC when he was still improving).
Saturday however, Silva moves up a weight class to face former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin who is coming off a loss to Rashad Evans. Griffin is a massive light heavyweight with an “I’ve got nothing to lose” type of attitude. He often jokes about being dumb and slow, but its all part of a self deprecating act that makes him one of the most well-liked fighters in the game. It’s well known that Griffin is the hardest working guy at one of the best gyms in the world, Xtreme Couture. He’s also a master tactician, constantly studying the art of fighting, reading and even publishing a NY Times Best Selling book, Got Fight. In his last 3 fights, Griffin has shown an ability to craft an effective game plan and frustrate his opponents by taking away their most feared weapons.
Anderson has a lot to prove in this fight, while Forrest only has to show he can hang with the best in the world. In many fights, that type of lopsided pressure would be a factor but for Silva, his focus has been tested and certified. The determining factor will be Silva’s pinpoint accuracy and Griffin’s penchant for head in the air brawling. Despite Silva being a true middleweight, he is still the tallest fighter Griffin has faced since being KO’d by Keith Jardine at UFC 66. Look or Forrest to try and box with the most feared striker in the world, using a lot of head movement and leg kicks. It would be wise for Griffin to try and wrestle Silva to the ground and control him, but the combination of Anderson’s 3rd degree Jui Jitsu black belt and the pressure of wanting to bring the fight to Silva will keep it standing. Silva will wait for his moment to explode and will find holes in Griffin’s defense to fire jabs, uppercuts, low kicks, head kicks and the occasional spinning back kick. The dizzying combination will be too much for the outmatched Griffin and eventually he’ll hit the canvas, succumbing to the laser beam finishing striking that Anderson has shown in his best fights. Silva via 2nd round TKO.
Ricardo Almeida vs. Kendall Grove (Middleweight – 185 lbs.)
Kendall Grove was the winner of the third season of The Ultimate Fighter and brings a hard nosed Hawaiian Muy Thai style. At 6’6”, he poses problems for any fighter but has struggled to find consistency. Ricardo Almeida is a member of the old guard of Brazilian UFC fighters making his UFC debut in 2001 at UFC 31. He’s a skilled Jui Jitsu practitioner but like Grove hasn’t been unable to convert that into a consistently successful style inside the octagon. This is a classic match up between a true striker and a true grappler, with the X factor being Grove’s length and reach. Look for Grove to try and keep his distance with the jab until Almeida can get the fight to the ground. Once there, don’t be surprised if Kendall uses that length to look for submission attempts. Grove won’t be able to close out but Almeida’s patience will keep him from gator rolling one of those long stems. The final horn will sound after 3 rounds of posturing with little action. Almeida via decision.
Johnny Hendricks vs. Amir Sadollah (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
Sadollah made the most sensational run on the Ultimate Fighter 7, winning the show despite have zero pro fights beforehand. Since then, he’s struggled with injuries and has yet to compete. Hendricks is a tough wrestler with an undefeated record of 5-0. Both are looking to use this fight as a coming out party. While Sadollah proved he can overcome huge odds, much of that success was a product of the energy of coming off the show. Hendricks has had 2 good wins since Amir last competed and will be too much for the rusty Sadollah. Hendricks via Decision.
Josh Neer vs. Kurt Pellgrino (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
Josh Neer is as tough as they come and has shown ever improving skill. Pellgrino is slick on the ground but Neer can match his submissions and best his strength and grit. Neer via 2nd Round TKO.