Nate Marquardt vs. Chael Sonnen
The Breakdown: With Dan Henderson long gone and Vitor Belfort already lined up to face incumbent middleweight champion and destroyer of souls Anderson Silva, Marquardt and Sonnen enter this fight a win away from getting dibs on a title shot. The obvious question central to this fight is whether Sonnen can put his stultifying top control to work against one of the division’s most dynamic fighters.
Unlike the vast majority of wrestlers in MMA, Sonnen seamlessly transitions from one takedown attempt to another and is deft at employing everything from double legs to crotch-lift slams. While Marquardt has shown stout takedown defense before, Thales Leites took him down multiple times in their contentious bout at UFC 85, and Sonnen’s wrestling makes Leites’ look like spastic flailing.
Historically, the problem for Sonnen has never been scoring takedowns. His issue has been keeping his limbs from getting mangled by competent grapplers. Marquardt has never been much of a guard player, but he does know how to create space and escape to his feet.
That is where this fight takes a bad turn for Sonnen. His simplistic striking game will get him knocked out if he tests his luck. The predictability of Sonnen’s striking, which consists of simple one-two combos and telegraphed leg kicks, plays right into the hands of Marquardt, who has developed into a dangerous counterpuncher.
Throwing telegraphed strikes got Demian Maia knocked into another dimension in his fight with Marquardt at UFC 102, and Sonnen will do no better if he can’t hold Marquardt down. Limiting your options that much against someone as versatile as Marquardt rarely ends well, and Sonnen’s been known to trip at the finish line.
The Bottom Line: Marquardt has too much skill for Sonnen to overcome the difference with pure top control. The road getting there may be rough, but Marquardt will eventually get Sonnen in a bad spot on the feet and bust out a “Street Fighter”-style super combo for the finish.