Wanderlei Silva has dropped seven of his last 10 bouts. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog.com
From Aug. 12, 2000 until Feb. 24, 2007, Wanderlei Silva stood at the heart of the Japanese mixed martial arts scene as one of the most successful fighters and fiercest competitors in Pride Fighting Championships.
Six years after his last appearance in the Land of the Rising Sun, Silva returns to his old haunts for a showdown with former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Brian Stann in the UFC on Fuel TV 8 main event on Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. In the co-headliner, surging Dutch heavyweight Stefan Struve toes the line against former K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt.
The UFC on Fuel TV 8 lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder, some of which we address here:
Question: Silva built his name on a granite chin and unparalleled aggression. Now that both of those qualities have faded -- in that order -- is it wise for “The Axe Murder” to continue fighting, despite scoring a vintage knockout over Cung Le and nearly stopping Rich Franklin in his last two outings?
Answer: There are no easy answers to complicated questions like this. As observers, we fear for the long-term health of combat sports athletes because we know there are limits to the amount of punishment the human body can absorb. While we want to remember our sports heroes at their peak, the reality is that most of them do not go out in a storybook blaze of glory. Think Joe Montana in Kansas City, Willie Mays in New York and Michael Jordan in Washington, D.C. In short, the athlete’s career belongs to the athlete, and for outsiders to take ownership in their accomplishments is an exercise in the ludicrous. Silva has earned the right to make this decision for himself, no matter what you, I or anyone else thinks.
Question: At this stage in his career, Silva appears to be tailor-made for Stann, a linear puncher with excellent power in his right hand. Stann is coming off losses in two of his last three fights. Will he score himself a much-needed knockout?
Answer: Stann could not have asked for a better situation in his first appearance in a UFC main event. In Silva, he draws a high-profile opponent who will be more than willing to oblige him with a standup battle on the feet. Provided Stann can withstand a violent flurry or two from “The Axe Murderer,” one has to view a knockout victory for the heavy-handed former World Extreme Cagefighting champion as the most likely outcome.
Question: Everyone knows Mark Hunt is famous for his hard head and power punching. Stefan Struve has shown susceptibility to getting caught with big shots in the past. Are we in for an upset or will this fight look a lot like Struve’s submission of Lavar Johnson?
Answer: It is pretty safe to assume we are in for one or the other. Struve should learn from Cheick Kongo’s missteps at UFC 144, as the towering Dutchman can ill afford to play around with Hunt on the feet. If Struves braves the standup for any length of time, he risks finding himself waking up to a referee and cageside physician in his face. Hunt faces a similar uphill climb if he cannot remain in an upright position. Six of Hunt’s seven defeats have come by submission, and Struve will be happy to add to that total if this hits the ground.
Question: Takanori Gomi has posted back-to-back wins for the first time since 2009. Does “The Fireball Kid” have one last run ahead of him or will his value to the UFC be limited to his drawing power in Japan?
Answer: Gomi was given up for dead following consecutive submission losses to Clay Guida and Nate Diaz in 2011, so the fact that he remains relevant two years later says a lot about his desire to still compete at a high level. However, few consider him a real threat to the true elite at 155 pounds. Gomi will probably spend the rest of his career battling the Mac Danzigs of the world, winning some, losing some and providing tantalizing glimpses of the fighter he once was.
Question: It has been more than three years since Diego Sanchez has fought at lightweight. Will he make another run at the top 10 or are his best days behind him?
Answer: Sanchez turns 32 later this year, and he would be wise to settle on a weight class. He will probably find his best chance at making another run into the top 10 at 155 pounds, where he can put his size, resourcefulness and durability to better use against smaller opposition. No matter where Sanchez drops anchor, he faces an uphill climb, as he has accumulated plenty of mileage during his 28-fight career. We could learn a lot about his immediate future by how well he handles his forthcoming matchup with Gomi.
Question: Some expect Yushin Okami to give Hector Lombard the stiffest test of his career. What would a win over a competitor as seasoned as Okami mean for the hard-punching southpaw?
Answer: Lombard remains in intriguing figure in the middleweight division, where champion Anderson Silva’s long reign has oftentimes made it difficult for potential challengers to generate interest. Okami is no joke at 185 pounds, as evidenced by his 12 UFC victories, good for 12th on the promotion’s all-time list. Lombard made inroads towards title contention with his violent rout of Rousimar Palhares in December, and he can take another positive step in his quest for UFC gold by toppling Okami.
Question: Okami is notorious for his slow starts. Will this tendency doom him against Lombard or will “Thunder” drag the former Bellator MMA champion into deep waters and drown him with his physical strength and takedowns?
Answer: Okami can ill afford a slow start here, as Lombard has finished 19 opponents inside the first round, seven of them in less than a minute. Okami’s height and reach may prove to be his most effective weapons against the Cuban judoka, providing an avenue through which to unleash his underrated jab and keep Lombard at bay. No matter how his game plan unfolds, Okami cannot risk a firefight with one of MMA’s true brutes.
Question: Siyar Bahadurzada was heavily hyped by hardcore fans ahead of his UFC debut in April, and the Afghan lived up to expectations by destroying Paulo Thiago with a single punch. Returning from injury, will Bahadurzada do the same to the much larger Dong Hyun Kim?
Answer: Like with real estate, it all boils down to location, location, location. If Bahadurzada can steer clear of Kim’s clinches, takedowns and suffocating top game, he certainly has the power and technique necessary to ruin the South Korean judoka’s night.
Question: Largely unknown by many UFC fans, Mizuto Hirota has recovered nicely after having his arm snapped like a toothpick by Shinya Aoki three years ago. After winning the Deep lightweight belt, Hirota gave Pat Healy all he could handle in his Strikeforce debut and won the fight on several media scorecards. How will he perform against veteran submission ace Rani Yahya in his first Octagon appearance?
Answer: With a background in judo, sumo and boxing, Hirota wields the kind of skill set that has given Yahya problems in the past. If he can impose his will, pile up punches and utilize his strength and size advantage against the smaller Brazilian, Hirota figures to enjoy a successful Octagon debut. If he becomes careless in grappling exchanges and wanders too far into Yahya’s world, all bets are off.
Question: Takeya Mizugaki has been paired with Bryan Caraway, who performed like a true professional in his bantamweight debut against Mitch Gagnon in July. Mizugaki has never won back-to-back fights under the Zuffa banner. Will the Japanese bantamweight finally stake claim to a winning streak?
Answer: It is almost unfathomable to think a fighter of Mizugaki’s caliber has not recorded two wins in a row since 2008. Much of that inconsistency can be attributed to the high level of competition he has faced in World Extreme Cagefighting and the UFC. Caraway prefers to be in the driver’s seat in his fights and would do well to put his Japanese foe on his back as soon as possible. If Mizugaki can lure Caraway into clinches and grind on him with close-quarters punches and knees, then the road to victory becomes much clearer.