FRANKIE EDGAR VS. GRAY MAYNARD
In April of 2008, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard first met inside the Octagon with nowhere near the implications their fight on Saturday night will have. Fighting on a UFC Fight Night, it was Maynard that had his hand raised at the end by winning a unanimous decision. With UFC lightweight gold now on the line, Maynard vows for the same result, whereas Edgar plans to show Maynard that he’s evolved into a completely different fighter – the type of fighter that has the ability to hold on to the belt for a long time to come.
A New Jersey native, Frankie Edgar is looking to start the New Year with another successful title defense in the lightweight division. Prior to getting his title shot back at UFC 112 against BJ Penn, Edgar was riding a three fight-winning streak with victories over Hermes Franca, former lightweight champion Sean Sherk, and Matt Veach. Entering his fight with Penn though, very few outside of his camp felt he had any chance of being crowned the new champion. But that’s exactly what he did on that warm night in Yas Island, as Edgar walked away with the belt after a close five round decision win. It’s not often in the UFC, regardless of the outcome of the fight, that we see immediate rematches but this was one of those rare occasions, and a little over four months later at UFC 118, Edgar went on to defeat Penn again in another 25-minute fight, but this time he silenced his critics by winning a more one-sided affair. Now Edgar looks to prove that his fights with Penn weren’t a fluke when he starts his 2011 championship campaign on Saturday night.
A product of season five of The Ultimate Fighter, Gray Maynard, like any other fighter getting their chance to fight in the UFC, has his main goal to work his way towards a shot at the title. For Maynard, that time is Saturday night. Currently training out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Maynard will have to travel less than four miles from the place he’s been spending nearly all of his time over the past few months to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in order to achieve a fighting dream. Since arriving in the UFC, Maynard has notable wins over Jim Miller, Roger Huerta, Nate Diaz, Kenny Florian, and Saturday’s opponent, Frankie Edgar.
When the Octagon gate closes on the Las Vegas Strip inside the MGM, look for both fighters to come into the fight with different game plans. When something isn’t broke, don’t fix it and don’t expect Edgar to come in with any other plan than to use his top-notch boxing. Arguably the most gifted boxer in the UFC today, look for Edgar to not stand still for long – using his movement and speed to make it difficult for Maynard to bring him to the canvas. Along with constant movement, Edgar will look to break Maynard down with accurate, hard punches. For Maynard, who is a three-time Division I All-American wrestler, look for him to try to bring the action to the canvas from the opening bell, something he hasn’t seemed to have much difficultly doing throughout his career.
CHRIS LEBEN VS. BRIAN STANN
Fighting out of Hawaii, original Ultimate Fighter cast member Chris Leben may be upset to see 2010 leave. Having the most successful year of his professional career, Leben won all three of his outings inside the Octagon as he worked his way back into contender status. Leben beat Jay Silva by unanimous decision in January, stopped Aaron Simpson in June, and then just 14 days later, Leben beat Yoshihiro Akiyama when filling in as a last minute replacement at UFC 116. After winning three fights in just six months, Leben was finally able to take a much deserved break from the Octagon and to come back stronger, as he knows the importance of continuing on his current winning streak. With a victory on Saturday, Leben will move one step closer to reaching the top of the division.
Regardless of the success Brian Stann has during his fighting career, there’s no title or record that would be close to what he’s done outside the Octagon. Prior to his fighting career, Stann, who was a member of the United States Marine Corps, was awarded the nation's third highest award for valor in combat, the Silver Star, in 2006. A former light heavyweight champion in the WEC, Stann made his move over to the UFC, and since coming over, Stann has gone 3-2 and is looking to build on his latest victory over Mike Massenzio. A win for Stann will put him in the thick of the division, where a loss will produce more questions than answers.
In a bout that has Fight of the Night honors written all over it, look for both Leben and Stann to stand and trade punches in a fight that could end in a blink of an eye. Known for having great kickboxing, look for Stann to use his kicks to keep away from the lethal left hand of Leben. For Leben, who doesn’t shy away from a war, look for him to try and push through his opponent’s flurries – seeking another highlight reel knockout.
THIAGO SILVA VS. BRANDON VERA
Brazilian Thiago Silva is eager to get back in action and start what he hopes to be a successful 2011. The last time Silva entered the Octagon was back at UFC 108, where he was on the short end of a decision loss to Rashad Evans. Prior to his defeat, Silva won five of his six fights inside of the Octagon. At 14-2, with his only losses coming to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida, Silva has been on the cusp of getting a shot at UFC gold but hasn’t quite made it to the top of the division. Silva knows that in order for him to make it to the elite level, it starts with a victory on Saturday night.
Fighting out of San Diego, CA., Brandon Vera is aware of the importance of winning fights when fighting in an organization like the UFC. With talent from top to bottom in the light heavyweight division, coming off two straight defeats makes victory a must this weekend. After losing to Jon Jones and former heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Randy Couture, the pressure is on for the talented Vera, and he knows his margin for error is small.
Although Silva has shown flashes of greatness on his feet, you may expect Silva to try and use his black belt in jiu-jitsu to try and submit Vera. For Vera, on the other hand, look for him to try and finish the fight on his feet.
NATE DIAZ VS. DONG HYUN KIM
Born and raised in Stockton, CA., Nate Diaz beat Gray Maynard in the semifinals of The Ultimate Fighter’s fifth season on his way to being awarded a six-figure UFC contract. Diaz has gone 7-3 since winning TUF 5 – with notable wins over Josh Neer, Melvin Guillard, and Marcus Davis. Although Diaz’s main roots come from jiu-jitsu, he continues to look more and more well rounded each time he enters the Octagon. On Saturday night, Diaz is looking to make it three straight victories and make a serious run at the welterweight crown.
A fourth degree judo black belt and native of South Korea, Dong Hyun Kim has the same intention and goal as his opponent on Saturday night. Unbeaten in 15 pro fights, Kim knows that a victory on Saturday night will move him one step closer to getting a shot at the title.
With both Diaz and Kim having exceptional ground games, it will be interesting to see where this fight goes. However, although both fighters are good on the ground, still look for Diaz to try and bring the action to the canvas. If Diaz brings the action down, look for Kim to try to bring the fight back standing. If Kim can keep the fight standing, we may be in store for an unexpected knockout.
TAKANORI GOMI VS. CLAY GUIDA
The first PRIDE lightweight champion, Takanori Gomi became a true icon in Japan during his stellar career. After losing his first fight in the Octagon to Kenny Florian, Gomi went on to beat Tyson Griffin, and having beaten some of the best in the world, at 32-years old Gomi wants to add ‘UFC Champion’ to his already impressive list of accomplishments before he retires. In order for him to move up the lightweight ladder, he must get past Clay Guida first.
Regardless of a fight’s outcome, Clay Guida aims to please the fans and that’s why he’s become one of the most popular fighters in the sport today. Known for fighting non-stop from bell to bell, Guida has the cardio to outwork anyone in the lightweight division. After winning big fights but never being able to put a long winning streak together, Guida started training under the watchful eye of Greg Jackson. Currently riding a two-fight winning streak, Guida has defeated Shannon Gugerty and Rafael dos Anjos, and since training with Jackson, Guida has been able to find the balance between putting on an entertaining show and following the proper gameplan to get the victory.
In a contrast of styles, look for Gomi to do what he does best – throw punches with lethal intentions, while Guida looks to bring Gomi to the canvas. While on his feet, it doesn’t take much for Gomi to land a knockout punch, so look for Guida to be extremely cautious while standing. If Gomi ends up on his back, it may spell bad news when fighting someone with the strength and relentless attack that Guida possesses.
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