As much as I thought UFC 97 may not receive much press due to it being outside of the States and not having the most intriguing main event, there has still been significant buzz. I suppose we can accredit that to Anderson Silva’s drawing power.
Personally, I’ve been urging mainstream fans and MMA newcomers to order this pay-per-view due to the title/contender picture implications many of the matches have. Although seemingly docile at first glance, there is much on the line this weekend for a good amount of the gents who’ll enter the Octagon.
Let’s get into breaking down the main card for “Redemption”…
UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leites: Anderson is hungry after a not-so-spectacular outing against Patrick Cote in his last fight. With the solid conditioning and ground work Silva’s been putting in leading up to this fight, you can expect to see a razor-sharp champ. Thales is a top-level Brazlian Jiu Jitsu practitioner and could very likely do well in submission efforts here. The key for Anderson is to overwhelm Thales on the feet and pick his shots expertly, while Leites will need to execute a perfect gameplan including plenty of grappling. What’s dangerous for Thales in attempted takedowns is winding up on Silva’s vicious clinch. Side note: Anderson is going for the UFC record in most title defenses and consecutive victories.
Chuck Liddell vs. Mauricio Rua: Ah yes, the most talked-about scrap leading up to 97. Let me tell you, Chuck is not buying into the retirement hype that some have thrown around following his loss to Rashad Evans and did the right thing by training outside his comfort zone for this Rua fight. Liddell gets himself on the road to 2010 title contention with a solid win over Rua here, and Mauricio has not had enough gas in the tank since entering the UFC. This is a huge opportunity for at least one of these men to silence the critics and begin climbing the ladder once again.
Brian Stann vs. Krzysztof Soszynski: The war hero vs. the “Polish Experiment” is a fun fight as both men are powerful, and recognized names. Stann is the former WEC light heavyweight champ (lost to Steve Cantwell), and Soszynski is coming off of an impressive showing on TUF 8. Experience is key here, for Krzysztof. Stann’s a tough, tough challenge, but he’ll have to stick hard and fast to a full-of-boxing gameplan in order to topple a well-rounded Soszynski.
Cheick Kongo vs. Antoni Hardonk: This fight has received little to no attention, although it has the makings of one of the best fights of the night. These two are both vying for a top spot in the heavyweight division’s title contender picture. Hardonk knows how to fight smart but will have to use all of his instinct, and braun, to best a beastly Cheick Kongo. Momentum is great for both fighters right now, and the showdown is potentially explosive.
Luis Cane vs. Steve Cantwell: Both are tough, underestimated light heavyweights who possess expert striking, and execute beautifully on the ground. Many critics are giving the edge to Cane, but Cantwell realizes this is a big chance to make a large jump up the 205 lbs. ladder. Although I expect both to stand and consistently close the distance, don’t be surprised if superior grappling determines the winner here.
As always, we’ll be providing you with picks/predictions leading up to UFC 97, as well as LIVE fight results.