The UFC continues its march towards global supremacy as the octagon touches down in the Middle East for the first time. UFC 112 beams live from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, marking the first time a UFC fight will occur in an open air arena.
This event features two championship bouts, continuing momentum from UFC 111. This card features two pound for pound greats as Anderson Silva defends his middleweight title against Demian Maia, and BJ Penn also puts his lightweight belt on the line (for possibly the last time) against Frankie Edgar.
This card also features two MMA legends as Matt Hughes welcomes Renzo Gracie to the UFC for the first time.
Let's break down the fights:
Anderson Silva vs Demian Maia
Silva is 25-4 with 19 wins by stoppage. He is a striker first and foremost, but also has a dangerous jiu jitsu game. He is arguably the best fighter on the planet and has the resume to prove it.
Maia is 12-1 with 10 wins by stoppage. He is a jiu jitsu fighter with a developing boxing game. He has fought and beat some tough guys, but the only reason he got this shot is because Vitor Belfort was injured and Maia beat the contender many people are clamoring for, Chael Sonnen.
Maia has been working nonstop on his stand up, but no one can get ready for Anderson Silva in a matter of months (not to mention Maia took this fight on relatively short notice).
Only two things worry me in this fight about Silva.
First is his lay off. He hasn't fought since August of last year and it was at 205 lbs., meaning he hasn't had to make 185 lbs. in a year.
Second is motivation. Obviously he is a supremely talented fighter both technically and athletically. However, at what point does running roughshod over the competition get boring?
Ultimately I don't think this is the fight Silva gets caught in. To me the fighter that beats Silva is a wrestler with heavy hands—someone who can knock him out or hold him down and rough him up.
Maia has neither of these qualities. Silva's striking is too good and Maia's lack of wrestling prevents any opportunities on the ground to open up. Whether or not this fight ends quickly is entirely up to Maia.
If Maia comes in aggressive this fight will be over quickly. If he tries to stay in the fight and remain cautious this could turn into another snoozer. I think it'll end up somewhere in the middle so I'm picking Silva by TKO in the third round.
BJ Penn vs Frankie Edgar
Penn is 15-5-1 with 12 wins by stoppage. He is a jiu jitsu fighter first but with very good boxing skills. He could also be in the conversation for best fighter on the planet and has fought the best in the world to prove it.
Edgar is 11-1 with five wins by stoppage. He is a grappler first, but has solid boxing. He has scratched and clawed his way to the top, but my personal opinion is that Gray Maynard deserves the shot ahead of Edgar.
Ever since Penn dedicated himself to conditioning with the Marinovich brothers we have seen a new BJ Penn. He has absolutely destroyed his last two opponents and even though both went to the championship rounds he looked like the fresher fighter, which wasn't the norm in past fights.
I don't see how Edgar wins this fight outside of a lucky punch. Penn's jiu jitsu is far superior, his sprawl is excellent, and his boxing is technically superior to Edgar's. To top it off Edgar isn't exactly known as a finisher, while BJ is.
Edgar is a scrappy kid but not someone Penn should fear. So assuming Penn doesn't get too cocky I see this fight ending in the later stages after Penn has beaten his opponent down. I'm picking Penn to win by TKO in the fourth round.
Assuming Penn wins this fight it will be interesting to see whether he moves up to welterweight full time. I would love to see Maynard get a shot before he goes up, but he has pretty much cleaned out the division and wants revenge on Georges St. Pierre.
Matt Hughes vs Renzo Gracie
Hughes is 43-7 with 33 wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with active ground and pound and jiu jitsu. He was the best welterweight in the world for a period of about five years and has fought and beaten the best in the division.
Gracie is 13-6-1 with nine wins by stoppage. He is a jiu jitsu fighter with better striking than expected. He has fought the best in the world, but hasn't beaten anyone of note on the right side of their career in over 10 years.
Gracie makes his first appearance in the UFC after a long career that hasn't seen him fight in over three years. My own personal "conspiracy theory" is that he wants to leave a better taste in people's mouths of the Gracie name than the last two Gracies (Royce got destroyed by Hughes five years ago and Rolles was thoroughly embarrassed at UFC 109 before being cut).
Both of these fighters are well past their prime, so I'm not expecting fireworks here. Both of them are legendary grapplers though in separate areas, so it will be interesting to see who wins that battle.
Hughes has seven years on Renzo and the wrestling ability to lay on him for 15 minutes without getting caught. As much as it pains me to say it (because I hate Hughes and have a lot of respect for Gracie) I'm picking Hughes to win a boring decision as he begins his retirement lap on the geezer circuit.
Terry Etim vs Rafael Dos Anjos
Etim is 14-2 with 13 wins by stoppage. He is a grappler first with some muay thai. After a tough start in the UFC he has put together a nice string of victories.
Dos Anjos is 13-4 with seven wins by stoppage. He is a jiu jitsu fighter primarily. Dos Anjos also had a rough start, but has put together two wins in a row.
This is an interesting fight between two up-and-coming lightweights. I'm betting Dos Anjos is better on the ground, but probably not enough to end the fight. This is a fight where neither of them wants to be on the ground and you get two grapplers swinging for the fences.
If that's the case I think Etim has the advantage on the feet. I'm picking Etim by TKO in the second round.
Kendall Grove vs Mark Munoz
Grove is 11-6 with nine wins by stoppage. He is a jiu jitsu fighter who loves to strike. He has had his ups and downs in the UFC, but has fought a lot of tough guys along the way.
Munoz is 7-1 with four wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler with improving striking, but he hasn't fought anyone of note except his devastating loss to Matt Hamill.
Munoz would be wise to take this fight to the ground even with Grove's jiu jitsu and suspect chin. Too much can happen on the feet especially with Grove's reach.
Grove has a puncher's chance especially if Munoz is dumb enough to want to trade with him. However, I think Munoz has enough wrestling and jiu jitsu skills to stay safe on the ground while scoring some points.
I'm picking Munoz to win by decision.
Alexander Gustafsson vs Phil Davis
Gustafsson is an impressive striker, but Phil Davis is going to give him a wrestling clinic. Gustafsson has a puncher's chance, but I don't see Davis being dumb enough to stand and trade. I'm picking Davis to use his superior athleticism and wrestling to grind out a decision victory.
Paul Taylor vs John Gunderson
This is a good striker vs. grappler match up respectively. While Taylor hasn't had a stellar career in the UFC I think he has enough weapons to put Gunderson away. I'm picking Taylor by decision.
Nick Osipczak vs Rick Story
This is a tough fight to call. Both guys are tough and offer a good mix of skills. I'm going to take a shot in the dark and pick Osipczak by decision.
DaMarques Johnson vs Brad Blackburn
Neither of these guys are world beaters, but it should be an entertaining fight. Both guys like to strike. However, I think Johnson has a more diversified skill set so I'm picking him to win a decision.
Paul Kelly vs Matt Veach
Veach should be able to use his wrestling to take down Kelly and control him. I don't think Kelly will have an answer for this. I'm picking Veach by decision.
Jon Madsen vs Mostapha Al-turk
Madsen is a wrestler and normally I would go with the wrestler. And even though Al-turk has looked like a complete tomato can against Kongo and Cro Cop I think he can handle a TUF reject. I'm picking Al-turk to hand Madsen his first professional loss by TKO in the first round.