Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami will square off once again. | Photo: J. Sherwood
Sherdog.com staff and contributors put their reputations on the line with bold predictions for the UFC 134 “Silva vs. Okami” main card, which airs live on pay-per-view at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Saturday from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
UFC Middleweight Championship
Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami
Jordan Breen: Okami has roundly been discounted against Silva -- and unfairly so. Their first fight is probably not horribly instructive, as both have come far beyond where they were in early 2006. Okami’s powerful wrestling and underrated guard passing are legitimate threats for Silva. If Okami were to have the top position that Chael Sonnen enjoyed, for instance, his more advanced submission prowess would actually give him a chance to get Silva out of there. There is a clear route for Okami to win. The unfortunate note for Okami, however, is that Silva’s virtuosity on the feet is more likely to scramble his brains before he gets that opportunity. Silva is finally turning into a superstar, especially in his native Brazil, and a brilliant, vintage knockout would perhaps put him over the top. However, even if it turns into a 25-minute dance-a-thon, as Silva bouts have in the past, it will happen because he’s embarrassing Okami while ahead on points. The forecast for Rio is a Silva win. We can only hope that if it does come to fruition, it’s executed with the grace and brutality we’ve come to expect from “The Spider.”
Tristen Critchfield: It seems like the only time we’ve seen questionable performances from Silva is when he feels his opponent is not up to his standard of excellence. That shouldn’t be a problem against Okami, who is responsible for The Spider’s last loss back in 2006. It was only a disqualification victory for Okami, but that should be motivation enough for Silva to get revenge in his native country. Okami is a powerful middleweight and would like to maintain dominant position against Silva, a la Chael Sonnen at UFC 117. What was unusual about Sonnen’s near upset of Silva was that he was winning the striking battle against the 185-pound champion. Okami won’t be able to do that, and clinching with Silva up against the cage remains a dangerous proposition. Silva is still at the top of his game, and his striking is unmatched by anyone else at middleweight. Okami can make this interesting with wrestling and ground-and-pound, but Silva will eventually finish him with strikes for only the second time in his career.
Lutfi Sariahmed: Silva isn’t the question in this fight; it’s Okami. How does he compete with a guy that nearly front kicked Vitor Belfort right out of the cage? Well, a strong ground game could certainly help matters. Okami’s wrestling has never really been anything more than adequate to this point in his career, but we’ve heard so much about how he’s stronger than five bulls, or something to that effect. His working with Sonnen does lead me to believe he’ll try to put the fight on Silva early and do it from in close. If Okami stays at a distance with Silva for any considerable length of time, it’s game over, as he’ll be picked apart. However, it’s certainly conceivable that Okami could fight on the inside with Silva, take him down and work his top game from there. Then you remember that Forrest Griffin was supposed to be the stronger fighter, too. Then you remember that Dan Henderson should’ve had the advantage with his wrestling and his work from the clinch. Then you remember Silva was on his way to losing a decision before pulling out a triangle off his back in the fifth round against Sonnen. On top of that, Okami is a notoriously slow starter. If the Rich Franklin bout had been a five-rounder, he would’ve won. He cannot afford to give up rounds in this fight, either. Silva wins a decision and retains his title.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Forrest Griffin
Brian Knapp: It never ceases to amaze me how the public sells Griffin short. His only two losses in the last five years have come to Rashad Evans, perhaps the No. 2 light heavyweight in the world, and Anderson Silva, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time. Even now, Griffin matchups up well with Shogun, who, one needs to remember, has not fought since being annihilated by Jon Jones. Such defeats can dent a man -- permanently. Griffin always gets himself in excellent condition, optimizes his size and strength and typically follows sound game plans. I do not see him risking too many standup exchanges in the rematch. I expect him to secure takedowns and work his top game, as he tires and frustrates Rua and wins a decision, much to the chagrin of the Brazilian crowd.
Todd Martin: I have trouble understanding why Rua is a sizeable favorite and most seem to be predicting a Shogun win. It wasn’t as if Griffin got lucky in the first fight against Rua. He dominated the standup and the groundwork, and he finished the fight. Rua did have injuries going into that fight, but he also has injuries now. I think Griffin has improved more since the first fight, and he has a good feel for Rua’s style. Plus, Rua looked terrible in his last fight. Griffin is the strong pick to win.
Freddie DeFreitas: Rua’s blitzkrieg attack and constant forward pressure could spell disaster for Griffin if he decides to retreat straight back and forgo the basics of head movement. For Rua to succeed, he will need to vary his attack, as his infamous leg kicks will be an open invitation to the takedown, from which Griffin can employ his size advantage on top. The question that lies heavy in the back of many minds is how long “Shogun” can maintain the pace against the bigger, stronger Griffin. To be honest, I’m still uncertain at this stage. Initially, Griffin was my reluctant pick to win by decision, but the more I hear people claim a bet on Griffin is easy money in this fight, I’m almost convinced otherwise; Rua by knockout.
Sariahmed: Lightning will not strike twice in this one. Consider the circumstances of their first bout: Shogun was not healthy, and Forrest was fighting at a much better clip than he is right now. If you were to pick anyone that would be affected by fighting in a hostile environment on this card, Forrest is going off as your favorite, and it’s not even close. Griffin isn’t close to the fighter that he was when he held the belt in 2008. He may claim to be rejuvenated and more interested in fighting, but Shogun is still superior. He’s faster on the feet and more capable of defending a takedown that cost him the bout at UFC 76. I expect Rua to win and to win handily
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Brendan Schaub
Rob King: I love Nogueira, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that he is on the backside of his career. Injuries and age are really starting to catch up to “Big Nog.” Schaub, on the other hand, is rocketing up the ladder, and a win over a name like Nogueira may put Schaub one win away from a title shot. Schaub has heavy hands, and Nogueira’s chin has been suspect over his last couple of fights. I like Schaub to chip away at Nogueira’s chin throughout the fight before scoring a stoppage early in the third round.
Tomasz Marciniak: I certainly don’t think this is simply a formality for Schaub. After all, a battered Gabriel Gonzaga needed only 10 seconds to get his back, but the power discrepancy greatly favors the American. Nogueira has been hit and dropped in every UFC fight he has had, and I can’t see him bobbing and weaving or at the very least bouncing Schaub’s punches on his gloves. No, instead Nogueira will once again rely on his chin to get him through the standup portion of the fight, and it will once again fail him. Schaub finds a punch that slays the Minotaur.
Tony Loiseleur: After knocking out Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic late in his last fight, we find Schaub slated against another noteworthy heavyweight of yesteryear in Nogueira. We’ve seen Big Nog rarely since his entry into the UFC, but in those few appearances, we’ve seen depreciation in the durability we’ve come to expect from him in his Pride Fighting Championships days. If anything, this appears to be a logical next step for Schaub after Crocop; his striking might be up to par with Minotauro’s solid boxing, but his submission defense may not be. As Big Nog has been knocked out twice in his last three, I wouldn’t count out another Schaub KO here, but I also wouldn’t count out the fact that Nogueira could hustle Schaub on the mat. I’m leaning toward a Schaub decision, if only because I think he’ll keep this standing where his chances are better to either get the KO or control the fight until the bell. However, I still wouldn’t be surprised if this ended with a Nogueira anaconda choke.
Ross Pearson vs. Edson Barboza
Knapp: In sports, there is no substitute for speed, especially the kind with power attached to it. Barboza will enter this matchup as the vastly superior athlete -- a disadvantage the tough-as-nails Pearson will have to work hard to overcome. He needs to stay close to Barboza to neutralize his size, reach and speed and to avoid his lethal leg kicks, which are legitimate game-changers. I doubt Pearson can turn the trick with enough authority to even the odds. I expect Barboza to perhaps struggle finding a rhythm early on, only to pile up the points as the fight deepens and his physical advantages become more pronounced. The Brazilian wins going away, either by unanimous decision or late stoppage.
Breen: Pearson is an ideal foil for Barboza right now. We saw against Anthony Njokuani that if a fighter can go tit-for-tat with Barboza with respect to technique he might deviate from strategy. Pearson is a good boxer from the outside but also excels with dirty boxing inside, so he’s a versatile threat. However, if Barboza utilizes his height and reach by moving around the outside, employing his ferocious low kicks, he should be able to slow him, if not butter him up for high-impact strikes -- just as Cole Miller was able to do. Barboza will have to negotiate Pearson’s tough wrestling and boxing, but if he can stay on the outside, he should pick up his biggest win to date in front of his home state.
Luiz Cane vs. Stanislav Nedkov
Marciniak: I don’t think much of Nedkov, and his long injury layoff did nothing to convince me otherwise. A fighter who went tit for tat with Kevin Randleman in 2009 and tired to a point of having to give his post-fight speech in a sitting position likely just isn’t UFC-level. Cane, despite his vulnerability to punches coming from his right side, is just a much better striker and grappler and should easily dispose of UFC’s newest Bulgarian.
Loiseleur: I’ll always remember Nedkov for brutalizing Travis Wiuff with repeated low blows at Sengoku “Eighth Battle” in what was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to watch. Be that as it may, he seemed decent at neutralizing everything in the clinch before scoring the late knockout. I sincerely doubt that power has disappeared over the course of his last two fights, so I wouldn’t say it’s beyond the Bulgarian to land a good counter on Cane and potentially put him away, too, particularly given how reckless Cane can be. Still, Cane is a step up from the kind of competition that Nedkov has faced for most of his career, and his aggressiveness and experience in the UFC makes me hesitant to pick against him. I have “Banha” for the win here.
Knapp: When a fighter is best known for a series of below-the-belt blows, consider it a red flag. Nedkov, an undersized light heavyweight, may carry an undefeated record, but he has yet to test himself against the kind of competition he figures to encounter in the Octagon. For all his issues, a vulnerability to the left hook chief among them, Cane still wields the firepower he needs to dispatch with opponents who have not yet proven they belong at this level. Nedkov falls into that group. Give me Cane by first-round knockout.
2011 Picking & Grinning Standings
Jordan Breen: 120-50
Brian Knapp: 119-51
Tomasz Marciniak: 116-54
Tristen Critchfield: 116-54
Todd Martin: 113-57
Guilherme Pinheiro: 111-59
Freddie DeFreitas: 111-59
Rob King: 109-61
Lutfi Sariahmed: 107-63
Tony Loiseleur: 106-64