In what may be the least hyped card in the last 5 years, UFC 133 coming out of Philadelphia, could be one of the better shows this yea. There are significant gains for the winners and disastrous results for the losers. This is remarkable well represented by the main event, a rematch from 2007 between former light heavyweight champions Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz.
The first fight can be seen retrospectively as a changing of the guard. At the time, Evans was known simply as the guy who had used his wrestling to win the second season of the Ultimate Fighter and this was his first big name test to see how he would compare with the divisions best. Ortiz who had been the long term champion at the start of the decade and beaten everyone outside Hall of Famer's Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell over a six year run in the company was coming off another failed championship fight. The fight was close, with Ortiz having the better of two rounds, it looked to be the fight that would lead to the first loss of Evans's career, had it not been for Ortiz grabbing the fence in the second round. The point deduction resulted in the fight being scored 28-28 and the final verdict a draw.
This had big implications as the still undefeated Evans was able to ride the undefeated streak through to a championship fight, beating Chuck Liddell on the way, and capturing it with a 3rd round victory over Forrest Griffin. Evans finally met his match against Lyoto Machida in his first title defense but has gone on to win twice more including over long term rival Quentin "Rampage" Jackson. Evans's career has stalled from that point, with contract disputes and injuries to himself and opponents losing him title shots on numerous occasions which has lead to this fight. Tito's career since that time has also been mainly about contract disputes, severe back injuries and with a run of 3 consecutive losses, he looked to be heading out the door. This was until is remarkable KO victory over another Ultimate Fighter starlet Ryan Bader at UFC 132 which has suddenly spring boarded the Huntington Beach Bad Boy back into relevance.
These two have similarities that can been seen in their past as controversial and prominently self promoting figures which has courted them both positive and negative attention. Similarities in their styles which is based on a solid wrestling base which can be used to either strike against a grappler or GnP a striker has further seen there relative careers compared in the media. Therefore this clash signifies a battle between the best two ever in their chosen fighting styles which has added extra interest to a match that was put together at the last minute. Initially Evans was due to face champion Jon Jones and after that the talented Phil Davis but both pulled out with injuries.
The fight itself is extremely difficult to pick as both men still have serious questions over their health, with numerous problems over the last 2 years with injuries although Ortiz problems have been far longer term. Evans will also have to contend with ring rust having not stepped into a cage since May 2010 and only fighting three times since the end of 2008. This could well swing things in Ortiz's favour who only fought last month although it may open up the question of whether the 38 year old's body has had sufficient time to recover.
The fight itself is likely to be very reminiscent of the first fight although both men will have more confidence with their hands than last time. The key may be who achieves the first successful takedown as both men, renown for their good defensive guards, could struggle to get back to their feet and the round may simply run away from them. There is also risk that both fighters, who have shown some knockout power, may look for the big knockout with the hands which could turn the fight into a very sloppy kick boxing affair. Most likely it will be a contest which the winner is the fighter who can land the more shots on the feet which will send the other fighter into wrestling mode and leave open a series of counters both striking and wrestling to the more effective fighter.
Prediction: Ortiz 29-28.
Early ring rust will get the better of Evans who will come back strongly in the third but not quite do enough. Be given in evidence to why UFC main events all need to be five rounds.
It has to be said that the co-main event between Vitor Belfort and Yoshihiro Akiyama is unusual, as both men are coming off losses, so this becomes a fight to keep themselves relevant at 185. Belfort, who was parachuted into a title shot against Anderson Silva, suffered a vicious up kick knockout that will go down on highlight reels forever will want to get back the form that saw him go five unbeaten before that fight. Akiyama who came to the UFC with the hopes of Japan weighing on his shoulder has been somewhat of a disappointment results wise, only going 1-2 in his first three fights with the company. However no fighter has been more exciting in the cage, winning fight of the night in all of his three fights.
The fight may well be a disappointment for the Japanese superstar as his main problem since entering the UFC has been his lack of size which has allowed bigger and stronger opponents to wear him down. In Belfort, he may be fighting the biggest fighter of his career as Belfort broke through at heavyweight and has the majority of his fights at light heavyweight. This size difference, likely to be upwards of 20lbs when it comes to fight time will limit Akiyama's judo and may not have the speed advantage he normally enjoys. Belfort should be able to rely on his well rounded nature to counter Akiyama's judo as he is also a black belt in the discipline, although no where near the standard of Akiyama, and has the advantage of a BJJ black belt. However it is Belfort's best known attribute,for his explosive hands, that has proven to be the difference maker in so many fights that is likely to cause the end of this fight..
The winner of this fight will find themselves in the group of challengers that have tried and failed against Anderson Silva and is likely to have another co-main event slot in the future. What will be more interesting is the future of the loser. If that is Belfort, the immediate thought will be that he has cut to much weight and will be on his way back up to the 205 division where he is likely to fitted in to fight the likes of Ryan Bader or Matt Hamill. If it is Akiyama, facing three defeats on the bounce, his future in the UFC could be very questionable indeed. A move to 170 and a card in Japan may well save him from the chop but there is no doubt that the loser will have to face big changes in the near future.
Prediction: Belfort 2nd Round TKO
Akiyama should fight valiantly through the first round and may well put Belfort in some uncomfortable positions but his stand up skill will fail him eventually and the size and power difference will come into play.
The validity of the next fight between Jorge Rivera and Constantinos Philippou as a main event match up has been widely questioned across the MMA world this week. This is not going to counter those arguments as understanding why the battling Rivera who is not in the middleweight title picture against the unknown Philippou, has been given precedence over the likes of the Mike Brown vs Nan Phan fight is simply baffling.
The fight itself will likely be a slug fest as Rivera will look to land a hay-maker that has downed such opponents as Nate Quarry and Kendall Groves while Philippou, who has stepped in for the injured Alessio Sakara, has shown himself to be an opportunist, taking advantage of opponents inefficiencies when gaining his victories. There should be plenty of opportunities for this approach against Rivera who has never developed the superior technique that his potential suggested.
Prediction: Rivera 3rd Round TKO
Although Rivera may not have the best technique, he should have the experience to overcome Philippou.
My pick for fight of the night is the bout between the veteran Mike Pyle and Canadian golden boy Rory McDonald. Mike Pyle is a veteran of the international MMA scene, fighting over several organisations in his time. This has often lead him into being the marker for a young fighter wanting to know if they have the potential to get into the UFC which has been a trend that has continued, as one of the best gatekeeper fighters around. Recent wins over up and comers John Hathaway and Jesse Lennox has shown the 35 year old is not an easy fighter to get past. This trend continues as Pyle fights 22 year old McDonald who has already picked up a notable win over Nate Diaz.
McDonald is one of the new generation of MMA practitioners who has not come from one specialization but has trained in all areas from the very beginning which makes him equally as comfortable in every area of the fight. This rounded style has proven to be greatly effective in taking opponents out of their game plan with his only professorial loss coming against the vastly experienced Carlos Condit who's superior striking over whelmed the youngster who has clearly won the first two rounds. Such explosiveness is unlikely from Pyle who will be more methodical in his approach which could mean the opening minutes of the fight turn into a cagey affair.
The difference maker in the fight between two such well rounded fighters could well be the historical problems that Pyle has suffered against top class wrestler which is the area McDonald can be considered strongest in. However Pyle does train at Xtreme Couture against some of the best wrestlers in the world so this weakness has been addressed to some degree as witnessed by the Hathaway fight. Whichever area of the fight is engaged in, there will be little between the two which could potentially lead to one of the best back and forth contests of the year.
Prediction: Pyle Unanimous Decision
Although McDonald has a big future at welterweight, this time around the experience of Pyle should just be enough to outscore the youngster in what will hopefully be a three round war.
The final fight on the PPV card is between two of the most infamous MMA fighters in history. Dennis Hallman is the conqueror of Matt Hughes having defeated him twice in a combined 38 seconds. This was remarkable as for a considerable period in the early 2000's Matt Hughes was the most dominant welterweight on the planet. While Brian Ebersole is a man has built a reputation for being he type of fighter who will fight anybody, fighting at four different weight divisions from heavyweight to welterweight. Ebersole has added to his legend by emigrating to Australia which has helped drive up the quality in that country considerable.
With 124 combined fights both men are hugely experienced however neither have had that many battles within the UFC itself. Hallman first fought in the UFC 29 but never settled in one company which many have theorized had something to do with the presence of Matt Hughes in the UFC. However Hallman finally found his home in the UFC in middle of 2009 and has several fights left with the company. While Ebersole chose to fight in his new Australian homeland for many years which limited his opportunities in the more famous organisations until the UFC went down under in February 2011. This will be Ebersole's first fight in the United States since 2007.
The fight should come down to who is the better grappler with Ebersole coming with the wrestling pedigree, being a former division I wrestler and Hallman the submission artist who holds a remarkable 38 victories by that method. Putting money on this fight is a very dangerous idea indeed as either man could finish this at any time.
Prediction: Hallman 2nd Round Submission
When a fight is this close, the x factor is often what decides the outcome. In this case, that x factor is Hallman's submission skill and so will be the most likely outcome.