Imagine it's March 24, 1975, and an unheralded and previously unheard of underdog named Chuck Wepner had just knocked down the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali. It appears that hell has just frozen over and the sporting world has been turned upside downÂ…for at least a moment. Ali is up as fast as he went down (from what he claims was a slip) and now he's pissed off. With 19 seconds left in the 15th round, the almost Cinderella story is over and Ali has once again retained the Heavyweight Championship of the World after referee Tony Perez called a stop to the fight and declared a TKO for the champ. Ali's shot at charity, giving an unknown journeyman fighter a chance on the greatest boxing stage on earth against the greatest boxer of all time, had almost backfired. Even in a fight that many say he barely trained for, the Champ's skill and experience were still way too much for an over-the-hill club fighter.
Fast Forward to UFC 153 and it's like dejavu all over again. Spider Silva, the current Middleweight champion, winner of 16 MMA fights in a row, with 12 title defenses, and undefeated in the UFC, has chosen to give one Stephan Bonnar, at 17-7 and a guy who's never won a championship, a shot at the greatest MMA fighter of all time on the world's biggest MMA stage ,The Ultimate Fighting Championship! But hold on there Skippy! As great as Anderson is, let's be clear that Stephan Bonnar ain't no Chuck Wepner and has more than just a punchers chance of winning this thing. Let's take a closer look.
Anderson "The Spider" Silva (30-4) vs. Stephan "The American Psycho" Bonnar (17-7)
Stephan Bonnar is still at the top of his game, and although he's never been on the elite level contenders at 205 pounds, his skill set and physique has improved over the years. There are three reasons why Bonnar can potentially win this fight. First is the fact that size does matter and he'll weigh somewhere around 220-225 by fight time and have an 80" reach compared to Silva's 78". The only place that The Spider has ever looked human is the few times that he's been mounted and on his back. The kind of strength, dirty boxing, and ground and pound that The American Psycho possesses can bode well for him here if he can garner the opportunity to take the champ down.
Secondly is the fact that he's on a 3-fight win streak with sky high confidence and nothing to lose. Get knocked out by Silva in the first round? So what? It's happened to former champs Vitor Belfort and Forrest Griffin. If the greatest beats you, so what? He was supposed to. The pressure is all on the guy with the 16-fight flawless UFC record. But for Bonnar, it's even better than that, as he's never been knocked out or submitted, so he can't even comprehend the thought. Lastly is the fact that Bonnar loves to get hit, get hurt, and be "in a fight". So if Spider's kickin his ass, then he is arguably in his comfort zone (weird huh?) and that's the moment that he could change this fight and alter MMA history.
The Pick: Okay, now that I've got you believing all of that, the answer is still Spider! He remains the greatest, shows no signs of age, is fighting in front of his home crowd in Brazil, and is the Michael Jordan of MMA.
The X Factor: In this case, this should be called the Chael Sonnen Factor. If Bonnar can borrow a page from Sonnen's almost victory in his first fight with Spider, then he has a good shot. He'll need to exchange in the stand-up, catch Spider off guard, take him down and then use his size and presumably strength advantage to exploit some ground and pound. Easy enough, right?
Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira (33-7-1) vs. Dave Herman (21-4-2)
When last we saw the legend Minotauro, it was almost 1 year ago at UFC 140 in Rio. He started strong against his long-time nemesis Frank Mir, rocking him, dropping him, and doing what he's always done. He went for the submission and then it all changed in an instant as Mir, who had been the first fighter to knockout Nogueira, became the first fighter to submit the submission king in a brutal arm-snapping Kimura. It was one of the memorial moments in sports history, like watching Lawrence Taylor twist Joe Theisman's leg 180 degrees, that you really try and forget at least the viciousness of it. So he's back and the UFC has either given him an easy test to see how much his surgically repaired arm, hips, and knees can withstand at 36 years of age, or they are setting him up for the slaughter by a young, strong and super athletic fighter in Dave Herman.
Herman has good standup, is super light on his feet, and he's been fighting since 2006, so with 25 fights under his belt, he's got the experience and skill set to be a serious challenge. The questions remain large though for Herman, as he's been knocked out in his last two outings by both Stefan Struve and Roy Nelson. What's more telling is that a perusal of his record shows those are the only two big name fighters he's faced and a third loss here could mean a fast exit from the UFC.
The Pick: Nogueira will win this. Although Herman is bigger, possibly stronger and faster, his overall skill set is not as good. Minotauro is a better boxer and that should be the advantage he needs to get this fight to the ground and submit the man who claims that Ju jitsu is a joke.
The X Factor: Minotauro's injury was and is a serious one. The fact that he's back fighting in less than a year is amazing. How far back he's come and how many times can his body come back from major injures remains the unknown that can sway this fight in either direction.
Glover Teixeira (18-2) vs. Fabio Maldonado (18-5)
The best Light Heavyweight that you never heard of is the billing that many have tabbed Glover Teixeira with. Immigration issues have kept him out of the UFC and fighting all comers in Brazil for years, all the while honing his skills. Now he's here to stay and taking on an ex-boxer with plenty of knockout power in Maldonado. In America, you often here the expression "wrestlers strength" when referring to MMA fighters with that background. For Brazilians, it might be more like farmer's strength, and if that exists, then Teixeira possesses an acre of it.
Seemingly the problem for his opponents just might be that he's got that crazy core strength coupled with a completely well-rounded MMA skill set. Witness his first round demolition and submission of Kyle Kingsbury as validity. Many are saying that he's heading for a quick showdown with current Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. Fabio Maldonado is not one of those people and certainly believes his formidable power will be a stumbling block for Teixeira's UFC rise.
The Pick: Glover, and it should end quickly. It's simple really; he's way too skilled and way too good. Maldonado is 1-3 in the UFC and hasn't faced near the caliber of opponents that Teixeira has.
The X Factor: Assuming that he can get inside and land some good punches, just how much power does Maldonado have?
Jon Fitch (26-4-1) vs. Erik Silva (14-2)
Jon Fitch is still the #7 ranked Welterweight in the world, despite his UFC 141 knockout loss at the fists of Johny Hendricks last December, a fight which he admits he took because he needed the money despite a serious knee injury. This is a nasty, well-rounded and malicious fighter with tons of experience and desire. Current Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre has said that he could break most guys once he knew he was winning and in control, however, Fitch wasn't one of them. No matter how the fight was unfolding and how much GSP got ahead, Fitch just kept coming.
Now enter the 20th ranked welterweight in the world, but don't let the numbers disparity fool you. This is another in the new generation of MMA fighters. He's truly well-rounded with no major holes in his game and super athleticism. This guy starts fights fast and aggressively and tends to overwhelm his opponents, finishing 11 of them (8 Submissions and 3 KO's). For Fitch, the challenge of going against a younger and faster fighter will be how well he survives and counters that first barrage of attacks. Fitch says that he's healthy and in the best place mentally and physically that he's been in for a long time. This is Silva's biggest fight and a way to quickly move himself into title contention, especially if he can win big.
The Pick: This is the toughest fight of the night to pick as these guys are both so evenly matched. However (deep breath), I'm going with Silva here as his explosiveness and confidence should be the difference maker. Fitch is coming back from a knee injury and a knockout loss, which may be both a confidence crusher and a sign of the toughest sport in the world finally take its toll on this long-time warrior.
The X Factor: Jon Fitch is a bad dude with an unbreakable will. If this fight goes deep into three rounds, the advantage in experience will lie with him.
Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis (9-1) vs. Wagner Prado (8-0)
This is like deja vu all over againÂ…did I already write that? Okay, here's the deal. It's August 4th 2012 and it's UFC on Fox: Shogun vs Vera. Prado and Davis are set to fight and at 1:28 of the first round, Davis inadvertently hit's Prado in the eye. The fight is paused as the doctor comes into the cage and asks Prado if he's okay. Prado answers with something like, "I'm seeing double," and then...BAM...the doctor stops the fight and it's ruled a No Contest. Both fighters are visibly upset. Prado's screaming, "Let me fight," and Davis is frustrated because he's one of the cleaner fighters in the league and he came here for battle. Needless to say, for both of these guys, this rematch or real match could not come soon enough.
Despite the fact that he seems to be the most forgotten 6th ranked Light Heavyweight in the UFC, Phil Davis is still one tremendous fighter with ever-improving standup. Prado has the mystique of an undefeated fighter and boasts some ridiculously heavy hands, having garnered 7 wins by KO. This should be a great contrast of styles of wrestler versus power puncher.
The Pick: Davis. He has more experience against bigger names, superior wrestling, and he's a tremendous natural athlete. It may go the distance though, and typical of Phil Davis victories, it probably won't be pretty or exciting.
The X Factor: How good is Prado's power? If he can find ways to get past Davis' 82" reach, then this thing could be over in an instant.
And one more for the books:
Demian Maia (16-4-0) beats Rick "The Horror" Story (14-5-0)
Thanks for reading and supporting. Have a powerful day!