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Jay Hieron vs Jason High
High enters the fight a bit of an unknown commodity to most fans. He looks like a bodybuilder, which worries me, because Weigh-In Stars never seem to do well. I wish I could tell you more about him, but he's not really fought enough for me to make any educated statements. He beat Kevin Burns, although it was a doctor stoppage, so you never know why exactly it ended. On the other hand, Hieron is a proven winner with certifiable results. This one smells of a "put up job". Affliction wants and needs Hieron to win. High is their patsy. Heiron Wins by Submission.
Vladamir Matyushenko vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
I love rematches. Matyushenko defeated Nogueira in 2002 and since then has gone 10-1. Unfortunately his defeat came by way of knockout to Andrei Arlovski in a high profile fight on a UFC PPV. That sort of thing can kill a career, unless you're Chuck Liddell. Nogueira rebounded from the loss to Matyushenko by slicing through some of Pride's best, including a submission victory over Dan Henderson. I don't think Matyushenko's 2002 victory holds any sway over what happens tonight. It was Nogueira's fourth professional fight and both have changed over the past 6+ years. At this point in time I think Nogueira is better. His striking is much improved and it will show. I don't expect this one to end early, though. Nogueira Wins by Decision.
Paul Buentello vs Kiril Sidelnikov
This will be Kiril's first fight in America and it will be fascinating to watch how he handles it. He's only 20 years old and his potential is obvious to anyone who watches him. Buentello has never impressed me. He reminds too much of the early "Ultimate Fighters" for me to take him seriously. Somehow he is still the favorite, though. I think Kiril impresses the crowd with a TKO victory. Afterwards he slaps his belly like Kamala to the delight of all.
Renato Sobral vs Rameau Sokoudjou
This is the best pairing of the year, so far. Two of the sport's hardest to figure out fighters going head to head. It feels like Sokoudjou has been fighting for fifteen years when really it's only been two years since he knocked out Little Nog in 23 seconds. His trip to the UFC was a disaster thanks in part to awful matchmaking. When your sixth professional fight is against Lyoto Machida, you need to hire a new agent. He also didn't get any favors with the Luis Cane fight, either. Anyways, he's fighting for Affliction now and maybe it will bring a return to Pride form.
Babalu was rumored to face Tito Ortiz at the postponed "Day of Reckoning" event, but the fight and the show never materialized. I still hope they end up fighting. A win by Babalu over Sokoudjou would set up the Ortiz fight perfectly for Affliction's next PPV (if they remain in business).
As far as fighting styles go, Sokoudjou is still raw. He relies on his strength and speed, while Babalu is more technical. For Babalu to win, he needs to take Sokoudjou into the 2nd or 3rd round and sink in a submission. Despite what Sokoudjou says about his improved diet, I don't buy it. I believe he had less weight to cut. I believe he's eating much better. I don't believe this magically transforms him into a late round fighter. He's still a 1st round knockout artist until he proves otherwise in the ring. This one won't be popular and could make me look foolish if it ends brutally...Babalu Wins by 2nd Round Submission.
Matt Lindland vs Vitor Belfort
Chances are this one goes to the judges and comes down to Lindland's control vs Belfort's striking. 97% of the time American judges side with control. Belfort will need to finish Lindland or hurt him repeatedly. If it sounds like I'm leaning towards a Lindland decision win, you'd be correct. However, a quick look at Lindland's recent fights made me reconsider. Since 2006, Lindland is 5-2. His wins came over Fabio Leopoldo, Mike Van Arsdale, Jeremy Horn, Carlos Newton, and Fabio Negao. Why exactly is he considered a top five Middleweight again? Maybe we have put too much emphasis on his two weight jumps to fight Fedor and Quinton Jackson (losses in each), and not enough on his other mediocre competition.
Belfort is difficult to figure out. His talent ropes people in then boom a letdown. It would not surprise me if he knocked out Lindland in the first minute or was submitted in the first thirty seconds. Belfort's recent wins have come over even worse competition than Lindland's. It's bad when defeating Terry Martin causes fans to lose their minds.
My hope is Lindland will tire himself out in the 1st round and Belfort will drop him in the 2nd. It's possible, although I wouldn't mortgage my future on it. The more likely scenario is Lindland will battle his way through each round. He'll take some strikes, but mostly avoid the bigger shots. Once he has Belfort on the ground, we'll get to see the best lay n' pray in the business. Lindland Wins by Split Decision. (Sorry, I can't have my heart broken by Belfort again. I'll be cheering for him, though. I promise.)
Josh Barnett vs Gilbert Yvel
Barnett looked sluggish early on against Pedro Rizzo at Affliction "Banned". He got it together in the 2nd round and ended it with an awesome knockout. There is a lot at stake for Barnett tonight. All that stands in his way between a huge fight with the winner of Fedor/Arlovski is Gilbert Yvel.
Yvel is one of the most interesting head cases in sports. His meltdowns are legendary. He also sports nasty striking, which has ended 30 of his 35 wins. Expect to see kicks and punches coming from unusual angles. The biggest problem Yvel will have is dealing with Barnett's wrestling and submissions. If he can keep it standing for extended periods of time, he'll do damage.
When Barnett stood with Pedro Rizzo and knocked him out, it was impressive. Coming into the fight, Rizzo was thought to have the clear advantage on their feet. That said, I do not think Barnett can win a striking battle with Yvel. He hits much harder than Rizzo. Barnett needs to frustrate Yvel by closing the distance and force him into some mistakes. A wild miss is all it will take for Barnett to get the fight to the ground. Once there, I expect a submission. Barnett Wins by 1st Round Submission (something involving a leg).
Fedor Emelianenko vs Andrei Arlovski
Fedor has made a living off being unflappable in the ring. He lets other fighters talk then destroys them. Arlovski hasn't done much talking on his own, but his boxing trainer Freddie Roach just can't shut his mouth. Affliction should be thankful Roach decided to badmouth Fedor's boxing skills, because it was really the only "Day of Reckoning" story to get play in the past month. I do have to give Affliction some credit for rebounding from the Inauguration Press Conference to have a successful build-up to the PPV. They actually promoted the card this week very well. I'm not sure why they waited. Obviously Fedor refused to do much promo work, but I'm sure the other fighters would have been more than happy to ham it up on radio shows and smile for pictures. It's too bad they waited so long. With a longer promotional tour, this event might have done solid PPV business.
Back to the task at hand...Roach's words will not stop Fedor from taking Arlovski down. They also will not help Arlovski fend off the brutal ground and pound tactics that have made Fedor the best fighter in MMA. He's unlike anyone else when he's striking from the top. For most fighters, it's unlikely they will inflict damage inside full guard. With Fedor, you expect it (2:30 mark). There is no one else like him and probably never will be.
Arlovski faces the daunting task of winning a fight with only one tool at his disposal. He needs to knockout someone who has never been stopped before. If the fight goes to the mat, it's probably over. Time is not on Arlovski's side. The 1st round will be his best chance to hit Fedor with something deadly. As the fight progresses, Arlovski will tire and not be able to keep Fedor at a distance. All it takes is one moment when he does not throw a punch in time and Fedor will grab hold. If Roy Nelson could get him down, I'm thinking Fedor will too. Fedor Wins by 2nd Round TKO (strikes from the top).