UFC 87 Breakdown: Maia vs. MacDonald, Gamburyan vs. Emerson

Aug 6, 2008
The undercard action for UFC 87 on Saturday features a pair of bouts worthy of being on a card named after one of Metallica’s seminal thrash metal epics.

After all, nothing screams “METAL!” quite like a good old throwdown, and this time around we get to see everything from canine judo to liquid jiu-jitsu. So read on and discover some of the budding stars looking to ride the lightning all the way to the top.

Demian Maia (Pictures) vs. Jason MacDonald (Pictures)

Maia Scouting Report
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 lbs.
Age: 30
Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Fighting out of: Sao Paulo, Brazil
MMA Record: 7-0

Bio: Already considered one of the premier sport jiu-jitsu and submission wrestling competitors in the world, Maia placed first in the 87-kilogram division at the 2007 ADCC tournament and was the 2006 Pan-American Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion. With those accolades in tow, he set his sights on MMA. His undefeated fighting record speaks to his success, as he has scored submission wins in both of his UFC bouts, the most recent being a triangle choke on Ed Herman (Pictures).

A win here and Maia may be next in line to take on UFC middleweight champion and skull crusher extraordinaire Anderson Silva (Pictures).

Why he’ll win: A far more accomplished grappler than MacDonald, Maia simply exists on a different plane than most competitors when it comes to the intricacies of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Not only dangerous with submissions, Maia has the positioning, guard passing and defensive skills to befuddle most any middleweight.

Why he’ll lose: We saw Maia show some suspect conditioning in his bout with Herman, and his striking remains a huge question mark. Jiu-jitsu alone will only get you so far, and it may be a matter of time before someone forces Maia to rely on something other than his grappling to win a fight.

MacDonald Scouting Report
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 lbs.
Age: 33
Hometown: New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada
Fighting out of: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
MMA Record: 21-9

Bio: Once regarded as one of the premier prospects in all of MMA, “The Athlete” was supposed to be the next superstar to come out of Canada.

Instead, everyone got to see MacDonald get shutdown like HAL 9000 as he lost six of eight bouts during a run that seemingly ruined his career. However, MacDonald’s determination carried him through, and a string of wins saw him finally earn that UFC contract.

Entering his new home tagged as nothing more than a gatekeeper, MacDonald quickly scored a pair of shocking wins over Ed Herman (Pictures) and Chris Leben (Pictures) to remind the world he was always more than a bunch of hype. While losses to Rich Franklin (Pictures) and Yushin Okami (Pictures) have kept him out of the title picture, notching one more upset here would change all that faster than it took Brangelina to turn their home into a miniature UN.

Why he’ll win: MacDonald is a bit more proven on the feet than Maia and, if he can gain the top position, has the ground-and-pound to throw off Maia’s submission game. Plenty of elite jiu-jitsu players have proven incapable of handling a fist to the head, and MacDonald has the tools to test Maia’s moxie.

Why he’ll lose: Granted, MacDonald has shown he can handle himself on the ground, but he can ill afford an extended grappling session with Maia. If this bout turns into a jiu-jitsu seminar, MacDonald will turn into Maia’s grappling dummy.

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The bottom line: It won’t be long before Maia is forced to get by on more than just jiu-jitsu, but MacDonald doesn’t have the striking or the wrestling to keep Maia from posting another submission win. If “The Athlete” can keep a furious pace and drag this bout into the latter stages, it could turn interesting. With that said, Maia’s submission prowess will prove too much as he scores a submission late in the first round.

Manvel Gamburyan (Pictures) vs. Robert Emerson (Pictures)

Gamburyan Scouting Report
Ht/Wt: 5’5”/155 lbs.
Age: 27
Hometown: Gyumri, Armenia
Fighting out of: North Hollywood, Calif.
MMA Record: 8-2

Bio: A product of the judo-oriented Hayastan dojo, Gamburyan, along with Karo Parisyan (Pictures) and Harout Terzyan, was part of a trio of prospects who were supposed to put judo on the MMA map.

While Parisyan would go on to educate the masses on the mass-moving might of judo, Gamburyan was left on the sidelines with a debilitating shoulder injury. One last chance at reclaiming his past came when he signed up for “The Ultimate Fighter,” but the deck was stacked against him as the UFC loaded the show with top-shelf lightweight prospects.

Remarkably, Gamburyan shook off three years’ worth of rust and reached the show’s finals before he re-injured his shoulder against Nate Diaz after taking the first round on the scorecards. Regardless, Gamburyan was awarded a UFC contract and has since picked up a pair of dominating submission wins over Nate Mohr (Pictures) and Jeffrey Cox (Pictures).

Why he’ll win: With a stout frame worthy of his “Pitbull” noms de guerre, Gamburyan excels at bull rushing opponents from the opening bell and grabbing hold of whatever his opponent leaves unprotected. Considering Emerson comes from a more kickboxing-oriented background, we may see Gamburyan notch another short-order submission.

Why he’ll lose: As handy as his Lilliputian build has proven to be, Gamburyan is at a major disadvantage on the feet since he always gives up a huge reach advantage and his own striking remains unrefined at best. Emerson has the accurate, rangy striking that could have Gamburyan pulling out what little hair he has left.

Emerson Scouting Report
Ht/Wt: 5’9”/155 lbs.
Age: 27
Hometown: Huntington, Calif.
Fighting out of: Irvine, Calif.
MMA Record: 7-6, 1 NC

Bio: A graduate of the same season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as Gamburyan, Emerson found the pickings slim as eventual season winner Nate Diaz quickly eliminated him.

Fortunately for Emerson, he was given a second chance on the show thanks to Gabe Ruediger (Pictures)’s Three Stooges approach to weight cutting. He was eliminated again, though, this time by the wispy warrior, Corey Hill.

Despite dropping both of his bouts on the show, “The Saint” impressed Dana White enough to get a UFC contract. After a bizarre UFC debut against Gray Maynard (Pictures) that ended in a double-stoppage no contest, Emerson seems to have settled into his new home with a surprising split decision over former Shooto rookie champion Keita Nakamura (Pictures).

Why he’ll win: Not only does Emerson hold a considerable edge in the striking department over Gamburyan, but he also flashed some excellent takedown defense in his bout with Nakamura. If his newfound wrestling skills can hold up against the endless pressure of the Armenian bruiser, Emerson may be the one doing all the bruising.

Why he’ll lose: A slick striker he may be, but Emerson’s grappling is as suspect as Rob Schneider’s acting credentials. If Gamburyan can drag Emerson down to the ground, this bout shifts against “The Saint” in half the time it took Amy Winehouse to fumigate her lungs.

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The bottom line: While Gamburyan is rightfully the favorite in this one, Emerson definitely has the striking to give Gamburyan fits. However, far less clear is whether Emerson can keep this bout on the feet long enough to so much as throw a punch.

The smart money says that Gamburyan gets right in Emerson’s grill and manhandles him en route to a quick and dirty submission win. That or Emerson makes good on his UFC.com profile and hits the flying “platapuss.” Don’t ask me what it is -- I just know it sounds cool.
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