I almost can’t keep up with this. Seriously, it’s the first weekend in March, not even a quarter way through 2013 and we’re on our sixth UFC card, in the fourth host nation (indeed continent) of the year.
In fact, they really should retitle UFC on FUEL TV as the UFC on TOUR as this is the fourth Fuel card in succession to emanate from outside of North America, with the next one schedule for Sweden in April.
Building on the success of last year’s UFC 144 and the Fuel card in Macau, the promotion continues its attempt to break the Asian market with a return to the home of PRIDE, the Saitama Super Arena.
In keeping with that theme, we have PRIDE legends topping the card against younger contenders looking to build their own legend with the rest of the card filled out with a Japanese fighter in every bout. That’s how you draw the locals, folks…
Our main event is as close to a guaranteed knockout as I can imagine, as the most dominant Light Heavyweight in history and former PRIDE champion, Wanderlei ‘the Axe Murderer’ Silva (34-12-1, 1NC) headlines in the arena that hosted his greatest moments against “All American Hero” Brian Stann (12-5).
With a combined 33 knockouts and the feeling that this fight is more ‘just for fun’ than either guy making a genuine run at a title all the ingredients are in place for a bout with an explosive ending.
Despite both fighters spending the bulk of their recent career at Middleweight, this bout takes place at a more comfortable 205lbs largely because Wanderlei doesn’t enjoy cutting anymore as his career winds down. Fair enough, unlikely we’ll run into cardio issues then…
Despite his legend status, Silva’s UFC record is a disappointing 3-5 with his 18-0 run between 2000 and 2004 increasingly a thing of myth and legend. Wandy has proven quite knockoutable in recent years, although his win over Cung Le showed he’s still got the scary Muay Thai that earned him his nickname.
By contrast, Stann has been mostly defeated by tactics in recent years with guys who elect to stand and trade (Chris Leben, Jorge Santiago, Alessio Sakara) getting knocked out and guys who take him down (Chael Sonnen, Phil Davis) or adopt a more measured striking game (Michael Bisping) getting the better of him.
Of course, Wandy is Wandy and only knows the gameplan of moving forward, looking to land hooks and unleash his brutal knees, which almost turns this into a question of who lands a big shot first. I can’t wait…
Our co-main event sees another PRIDE legend, but this time it’s one on his best run of form since the mid 00s.
Former K1 Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt (8-7) went on a 5-0 run in PRIDE after losing his debut in 2004, but a 0-5 run of first round stoppage losses left him with a lowly 5-6 record. Then he ended up in the UFC, as a holdover from the deal by which the UFC had purchased PRIDE, making him perhaps the only fighter with a losing record to compete in the Octagon.
Among much sniggering from the keyboard warriors, Hunt lost his UFC debut to Sean McCorkle via first round submission (his SIXTH such loss) and wasn’t expected to grace the Octagon for long. However,in his sophomore effort, Hut showed he wasn’t going out into the night with a losing record and knocked out Chris Tuchscherer in emphatic fashion, showing that his striking skills were still something to be respected.
Following up with a decision over capable veteran Ben Rothwell and another memorable KO against fellow kickboxing alumnus Cheick Kongo, Hunt found himself on a 3-0 streak in the UFC and an outside contender to replace Alistair Overeem when his title shot at Junior dos Santos fell through because of a failed drugs test.
Instead, the UFC went with Frank Mir and given that Hunt hasn’t fought in a year, it could well have been due to injury – he’s never been the most prolific fighter, clocking only fifteen fights in a ten year career.
In any case, Hunt finds himself facing one of the UFC’s perennial outside prospects with the potential of a 4-0 streak and renewed impetus for a title shot…
That prospect is the relatively youthful Stefan Struve (25-5) who is himself riding a four fight win streak. Struve is an imposing prospect at seven feet tall and has increasingly shown an ability to use the height and reach advantage he holds over pretty much everyone as a winning mechanism to secure both TKO and submission finishes. A win for Struve would place him on a 5-0 run and right in title contention.
As a rule, Hunt wins via knock-out and loses by submission. Struve has shown in the past that he has a good ability to take advantage of shorter, stockier strikers lacking submission game and has submitted the likes of Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson in recent years.
However, there is also a suggestion of a glass jaw, as Struve has been knocked clean out four times.
All the stats favour Struve, but Hunt only needs to catch him once…
Next up, we have former PRIDE Lightweight champion and living legend, ‘the Fireball Kid’ Takanori Gomi (34-8) welcoming former title challenger Diego Sanchez (23-5) back to the 155lb division.
Gomi is looking to improve a 3-3 record in the UFC but is tellingly on a 2-0 streak since the promotion started staging cards in Asia and the home crowd and his ever potent fists make ‘the Fireball Kid’ a force to be reckoned with.
Sanchez is returning to 155lbs following a so-so run at welterweight where he was well beaten by John Hathaway and Jake Ellenberger but squeaked out excitingly narrow victories over Martin Kampmann and Paulo Thiago. Utterly unafraid of engaging in a brawl, Sanchez’ ability to withstand damage and keep coming forward, throwing a daunting volume of punches means that while his recent record is full of decisions, his matches are rarely boring.
Tellingly, Gomi’s kryptonite is submissions and Sanchez hasn’t secured a win by tap out since 2004. Given that Diego has only ever been knocked out by the best ever version f BJ Penn, I’m thinking this is going to a decision, but will be a real contender or fight of the night.
Another homegrown hero, Yushin Okami (28-7) is regaining some momentum, looking for his third win in a row following losses to Anderson Silva and Tim Boetsch. One of the toughest competitors at middleweight with heavy hands and a grinding combination of judo and wrestling he remains a serious test for anyone in the division.
That includes the imposing Hector Lombard (32-3-1) who is also looking to to regain momentum following a loss to Boetsch. An impressive TKO1 win over Rousimar Palhares back in January righted Lombard’s ship and with his entertaining style he knows he’s only a win or two from a title shot. Okami is playing gatekeeper here.
Lombard is the definition of heavy handed but showed that he can be out worked by Boetsch. On the other hand, Okami is hard to finish but two of his three TKO losses have come in the last few years. This one could go either way…
The next fight sees Korean Dong Hyun Kim (16-2-1) with as close to a home fight as he’s had in years. ‘Stun Gun’ is a dominant grappler, grinding out TKO and decision victories against almost all whom he has faced. His two losses are by TKO, with one a shock first round loss to a Carlos Condit jumping knee and a freak injury before his bout with Demian Maia really got going.
An apparent (if deceptive) weakness to KOs will be music to the ears of Siyar Bahadurzada (21-4-1) who boats six TKO finishes in his current 7-0 run. Of course, skim isn’t actually an easy man to finish and if Siyar shows the recent Blackzillian trend to assume victory then gas in the later rounds when it doesn’t materialise, we could see him get bossed about by Kim.
Rounding out the main card is a Strikeforce import looking to bounce back from a depressing loss to Pat Healy by dropping to Featherweight for his UFC debut. That fighter is the heavy handed Mizuto Hirota (14-5-1) being welcomed to the Octagon by submission specialist Rani Yahya (17-7) in a classic striker vs. grappler contest.
It’s a cracking card, with some nice matchups on the Facebook prelims but I won’t preview them in depth, because I invariably end up struggling with Bruce Buffering issues. I’d love to see Cristiano Marcello and Takeya Mizugaki compete but I’m not going to rely on it.
In the wake of some events of frankly massive significance, this card is more about fun. Some old warhorses coming out to fight in bouts that practically guarantee entertainment while simultaneously trying to expand the brand in an important market.
Things like titles, the creation of new divisions, the culmination of prolonged feuds and cards that might set pay per view records are all well and good but sometimes, it’s nice to just have a night of fun fights. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day…
MAIN (FUEL TV, 10 p.m. ET)
• Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann
• Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve
• Takanori Gomi vs. Diego Sanchez
• Hector Lombard vs. Yushin Okami
• Mizuto Hirota vs. Rani Yahya
• Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Dong Hyun Kim
PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 7:30 p.m. ET)
• Riki Fukuda vs. Brad Tavares
• Bryan Caraway vs. Takeya Mizugaki
• Cristiano Marcello vs. Kazuki Tokudome
• Alex Caceres vs. Kyung Ho Kang
• Marcelo Guimaraes vs. Hyun Gyu Lim