A short time ago overseas fans of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) were clamoring for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to host an event on foreign soil for the first time since 2002.
They asked and they received. UFC 70 Nations Collide took place on April 21 2007, in Manchester, England, and arguably featured the beginning of the downfall of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, by a stunning head kick by then un-heralded heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga. This began the UFC tapping into a new revenue hot bed and they began hosting events in Ireland, London even in Montreal, Canada.
The UFC returns to London on Feb. 21 for UFC 95. The event features the lightweight main event of Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez, in his first Lightweight fight in the octagon, taking on Joe "Daddy" Stevenson. Also included on the card are UFC veterans Nate Marquardt and Josh Koscheck, For those who love the up-and-comers, the card features Middleweight contender Damian Maia and Welterweight newcomer Rory Markham.
The card is filled with action-packed fights so lets take a look at the main card.
Welterweight bout: Josh Koscheck vs. Paulo Thiago
Josh Koscheck has really come into his own since being known as a cocky, arrogant contender on Ultimate Fighter season one. Early in his UFC career Koscheck was known as a one-dimensional fighter, relying on wrestling to gut out decisions. Koscheck then suffered a loss to Drew Fickett at Ultimate Fight Night 2 by submission in a fight he had full control in.
Since that loss, Koscheck has improved his striking, submission game and has become a threat to the the top of the welterweight food chain. As a matter of fact his only two other losses in the octagon came at the hands of the the top two Welterweights, Champion Georges St. Pierre and No. 1 Contender Thiago Alves.
For Paulo Thiago, this is the Brazilian submission expert's first foray into MMA competition and he will do it for the UFC. Koscheck is a tough matchup for veterans, let alone an octagon newbie. I give Thiago a chance in this because submission fighters always provide tough matchups for wrestlers; however that chance is small.
I look for Koscheck to use his all-around game to expose Thiago. Koscheck has a quick jab that will be used to keep Thiago off balance, and lead to takedowns where Koscheck will impose his will and take this one in the second by TKO via ground and pound.
Prediction: Koscheck Second Round TKO
Middleweight Bout: Damian Maia vs Chael Sonnen
This fight has fight of the night written all over it. Chael Sonnen, a Team Quest fighter, makes the move from World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) to the UFC. Sonnen has battled with MMA stars Jeremy Horn, Renato Sobral, and Jason Miller. The opportunity to fight in the UFC came about for Sonnen when Zuffa, (who also owns the WEC) eliminated the WEC Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions.
To many he is the uncrowned WEC Middleweight champion due to his last two fights against former Middleweight up and comer and WEC Middleweight Champion Paulo Filho (which he went 1-1 in, one a controversial submission loss, the other a lackluster decision win). Mix that with the chance to perform on the big stage, and this will give Sonnen a chip on his shoulder and something to prove against one of the brightest young stars in the UFC's Damian Maia.
For Maia, a win would solidify him as a threat to Middleweight king Anderson Silva. In his four fights in the octagon, Maia has won all four by submission. That includes an impressive submission clinic he put on submission artist Jason MacDonald at UFC 83 back in August. Maia also has an undefeated record in MMA and trains with Wanderlei Silva.
This fight will be a battle of wills. Although, I feel both have the proverbial 50-50 shot to win, I give Sonnen the edge. He has shown that he can stand and trade and we have not seen Maia in that type of fight or severely tested. This will be Maia's toughest test of his young career, and to be quite frank I don't see him passing it.
I see Sonnen standing and trading with Maia, avoiding the ground and slipping in some famous Team Quest dirty boxing to keep Maia away from the ground. Ultimately experience pays off and Sonnen has this, whereas Maia is limited in that department. Due to the experience and better all around skills I see Sonnen winning this fight via decision.
Prediciton: Sonnen by decision
Middleweight bout: Nate Marquardt vs Wilson Gouviea
This fight features two middleweight fighters looking to make a name for themselves in the division.
For Marquardt a win would help his chances in getting a rematch with Anderson Silva or Thales Leites following their title tilt in April. The former King of Pancrase has only lost to Silva and Leites. Marquardt's fight with Leites back in June could have led Marquardt back to a fight with Silva.
However, Marquardt was deducted points for illegal strikes that cost him a victory and led to decision win for Leites. Marquardt rebounded against Martin Kampmann by punches in September at UFC 88.
For Gouveia a win here would put him in title contention. Since his debut loss to Light Heavyweight Keith Jardine, he is 6-1 with no fights going the distance. Included in those fights are wins over Jason Lambert, Seth Petruzelli, and Jason MacDonald. Also Gouveia has won five fights by submission.
This fight, because of both fighters' submission game, could come down to who makes the first mistake. I'm looking at picking Gouveia in the upset. Marquardt could become a victim of Gouveia's stand-up game. Marquardt has also shown that he can be quite sloppy when trying to get submissions under pressure. These sloppy attempts leads to Gouveia being able to land combinations and work the clinch taking Marquardt out and winning by KO in the third round.
Prediction: Gouveia by KO in the third round
Welterweight Bout: Dan Hardy vs Rory Markham
This fight is between two men making their second appearance in the UFC. For the former International Fight League (IFL) standout Markham, this is first fight since his emphatic, head-kick knockout of Brodie Farber in June. One thing that Markham has always delivered is exciting fights. The Miletich Fighting standout has won 11 fights by knockout and according to his coach, Pat Miletich, he is always improving. And a win on the main UFC card would definitely get him noticed in the Welterweight division.
For Hardy, his first UFC appearance was a little less stellar. Hardy beat Akihiro Gono by a lackluster split decision in UFC 89 back in October. Hardy has won half his wins by knockout, although he is a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu blue belt, his fight record indicates he loves to stand up. This could be his undoing against Markham.
I look at Markham having a crisper, more efficient stand-up game. If Hardy wants to win he needs to work his ju-jitsu game; standing with Markham for a long period of time would not benefit him. I do not see this happening. I give Markham another first round knockout in a stand-up battle.
Prediction: Markham via KO round 1
Main Event: Lightweight Bout- Diego Sanchez vs Joe Stevenson
This first and foremost is a spectacular main event, especially for a free SPIKETV card. This marks the first Lightweight debut of Ultimate Fighter season one winner Diego Sanchez. Sanchez takes on Ultimate Fighter season two winner Joe Stevenson.
Stevenson has split his last four fights. In those two losses they have come in big matchups against the top two fighters in the Lightweight division, Kenny Florian (at UFC 91) and B.J. Penn (at UFC 80). In his last outing, against Florian Stevenson, he was overwhelmed by Florian's ability and succumbed by submission, which is Stevenson's forte.
Sanchez' road to this fight started after his loss to Join Fitch at UFC 76. In the post-fight press conference, he alluded to going to the 155-pound division. Sanchez however stayed at the 185 for two fights and won both fights against David Bielkheden and Luigi Fiorvanti.
Sanchez started out undefeated in the octagon until he met Ultimate Fighter season one nemesis Josh Koscheck in April 2007. Sanchez followed that up with the aforementioned loss to Fitch and appeared to be derailed on his trip to the top tier of the UFC.
For Sanchez this is a chance to make a statement for his first fight in a new weight class. For Stevenson this is his chance to once again become a threat in the lightweight division. For Sanchez to win he needs to get back to the feverish pace and up-tempo fighting style that made him a threat early in his career.
For Stevenson to win he needs to be patient and wait for his chances to expose Sanchez. While this fight is hard to call I think Sanchez wins by a razor thin, split decision. I think Sanchez will stand and trade to wear out Stevenson and avoid the ground due to Stevenson's phenomenal submission game. In the late rounds is when Stevenson will close the gap and take down Sanchez. However it will be too little too late as Sanchez wins his Lightweight debut.
Prediction: Sanchez by Decision
For fans you can catch all the action on SPIKETV starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time, Saturday, Feb. 21.