Vegas showdown UFC-style
Former WWE wrestler Lesnar takes 81's starring role
Posted: Thursday January 31, 2008 11:17AM; Updated: Friday February 1, 2008 9:48AM
While the most common topics leading up to Super Bowl XLII this weekend are the Patriots run for a perfect season and Tom Brady's ankle, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has its own questions to answer Saturday at UFC 81 in Las Vegas.
Two of the promotion's weakest divisions -- heavyweight and middleweight -- will receive the majority of the main card attention with five fights between the two scheduled on the card. The heavyweight division in particular provides us with two notable questions: 1) Who will be the interim titleholder, and 2) Can an inexperienced phenom defeat a seasoned veteran?
Tim Sylvia vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (interim heavyweight title)
When Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira signed with the UFC last year, there was no doubt that he would soon be contending for the heavyweight title. Nogueira (aka "Big Nog") is the former PRIDE heavyweight champion and has defeated the likes of Josh Barnett, Mirko Cro Cop, Fabricio Werdum (now the UFC's number one contender), and Dan Henderson. Big Nog even took Fedor Emelianenko, who is widely considered the world's top heavyweight, to the judges' scorecards.
Nogueira brings, possibly, the best jiu-jitsu game of any heavyweight in the world and is also quite good with his stand-up game, making him an all-around threat. However, he has to consider himself lucky to have survived his UFC debut against familiar PRIDE foe Heath Herring. Nogueira ate a left high kick late in the first round and, had it not been for Herring's tentativeness following that kick and early in the second round, Nogueira could have very well lost that fight. Instead, he survived to win by unanimous decision.
While Nogueira's presence in this fight is not unexpected, UFC President Dana White could not have imagined in his wildest dreams (or nightmares) that Tim Sylvia would be back in title contention less than a year after losing the belt to Randy Couture. With the signings by the UFC of Nogueira and Cro Cop, the free agency of Emelianenko, and the rise of young fighters such as Brandon Vera, it was not far-fetched to think the division was too deep for Sylvia to get another shot so quickly.
Instead the heavyweight division is a mess and its champ, Couture, no longer wants to fight in the UFC, giving way to this interim title fight. Emelianenko signed with another promotion (M-1 Global), Cro Cop has thus far been a flop, and Vera was defeated by Sylvia in his last fight. So, we find ourselves with the "Maine-iac" in yet another title match.
Sylvia's main asset is his height. At 6-foot-8, he stands seven inches taller than Nogueira. While he's not blessed with an abundance of athletic skill and his style can best be described as plodding, Sylvia has an impressive 9-3 record in the UFC including wins in six out of his last seven bouts. Even though he is considered a striker, Sylvia continues to work on his ground game and is not easy to take down or submit. The main rub against him is that five of his last six fights have gone to decision and they haven't exactly been barnburners. The Sylvia who came up through the ranks with exciting victories is no more. In his place is a man who is just good enough to eke out victories in, what have lately been, five rounds of boredom.
Will Nogueira be able to use his veteran guile and all-around skill to overcome the lumbering Sylvia much the same way Couture did nearly eleven months ago? Or will Sylvia smother Nogueira with his length standing up and do just enough to survive on the ground? Whatever the answer, expect this fight to go the distance.
Prediction: Sylvia wins by split decision
Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir (heavyweight)
I have a confession to make. I grew up on a steady diet of professional wrestling. I used to watch the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) on weekends, the National Wrestling Alliance on weekdays, and even dabbled in Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (when my parents weren't looking) before I finally outgrew that form of entertainment. So, it is with much curiosity that I will be watching former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar's UFC debut this weekend against former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir.