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Alan Belcher vs Denis Kang
This one looks too easy. Everything points towards Kang walking away with a victory. The only thing that scares me is his former Pride status. For whatever reasons, the Pride fighters have been terrible in the UFC. Other than Rampage (I don't count Nogueira's comeback wins as all that impressive. He's been rocked in each fight and Mir made him look like a 74 year old man trying to play pickup basketball in an inner city.), the Pride guys have been manhandled. Kang wasn't on the level of Nogueira, Henderson, or Silva, but at one time he was on quite a roll. The question is whether he can regain his form now that the bright lights are back on.
Belcher has not impressed me. He's gone 4-3 in the UFC, including an ugly first round TKO loss to Jason Day. Two of the wins came against Sean Salmon and Kalib Starnes. I'd need insider information about a Kang injury to even consider taking Belcher. There are a lot of times when the obvious choice is not the way to go. This fight isn't one of them. I think Kang submits him in the 2nd Round with a Rear Naked Choke.
Rousimar Palhares vs Jeremy Horn
Welcome to the most dangerous line of the night. Off the top of your head, you'd think Palhares would win this no problem. Horn is like 40 years old, right? He probably has prostate problems and won't get through the first round without a bathroom break. Those were my first thoughts until I checked his age. Horn is only 33 years old. Palhares will be 29 in February. I was amazed by this for at least three seconds.
The more I think about this fight, the less I see Palhares as a slam dunk. He has extremely scary submission skills, but little else. He also seemed way too content with giving Dan Henderson top position when they fought at UFC 88. UFC judges love the hell out of top position. If Horn can stay on top most of the time and avoid tapping, he can walk out with a decision victory. Horn also happens to know a thing or two about submissions. The more I think about it, the less I want to go with Palhares.
All right, I'm done with the scare tactics. Despite all of my best efforts, I can't pick Horn. Dean Lister and Nate Marquardt submitted Horn in 2008. Palhares has gotta come up with something. God, I'm gonna hate myself if Horn takes a decision. Anyways, Palhares wins by 1st Round Submission, which will probably involve Horn's leg/foot/ankle hurting real bad.
Marcus Davis vs Chris Lytle
I have made my feelings known about Davis before. To me, he is a legitimate Welterweight contender. The problem is the UFC does not see it that way. They see him as a novelty act. He's an entertaining fighter and nothing more. Never mind the fact he has turned himself into an all-around fighter over the years and is no longer simply a boxer. I hope after he gets done beating on Lytle's head that they wise up and put him into the cage with a top Welterweight. The winner of Hughes/Serra would be a nice start. Davis Wins by 3rd Round TKO.
Mark Coleman vs Mauricio Rua
Injuries play more of a factor in MMA than any other sport, even the NFL. Brock Lesnar parlayed his destruction of Heath Herring into an unlikely title shot against Randy Couture. The fight with Herring was never supposed to happen. Mark Coleman was Lesnar's opponent until an injury forced him to pull out. Would Lesnar have dominated Coleman the same way? My guess is Coleman, who is a former Olympic wrestler, would have been better equipped to counter Lesnar's size. It likely would have been a less than exciting fight with Lesnar winning the wrestling duel by decision. Maybe Lesnar still gets pushed for the title shot. We'll never know. The one that will keep you wondering, though, is whether Randy Couture ever comes back if Lesnar isn't a viable opponent. He might still be sitting on the sidelines muttering about Fedor, if it wasn't for Coleman's bum knee.
On the other side of the cage is Mauricio Rua, who is no stranger to injuries himself. Everyone knows about the elbow injury he suffered against Coleman the first time they fought. That is not my concern. Instead, think about this. While training for his debut in the UFC against Forrest Griffin, Rua sustained an ACL injury. Those within his camp claim the injury limited his cardio work and left him gasping for air late in the fight. Griffin took control late in the fight and scored an unlikely submission victory. The win validated Griffin as a contender and landed him a title shot against Quinton Jackson. 50 leg kicks later, we have a new champion. All thanks to Rua's ACL injury? Well, partially, I'd say.
I'm still not done with this injury theme. Rua factored into one more strange scenario. Last June Rua was to meet Chuck Liddell at UFC 85. He injured his ACL again and pulled out of the fight, thus opening the door for Rashad Evans to KO Liddell and win the title at UFC 92 against Forrest Griffin. If it wasn't for Rua's ACL, the entire landscape of the Light Heavyweight Division would be different.
So this fight might seem like nothing more than a rematch from years ago, but actually it features two of the most influential fighters in recent history. I'm surprised they both made it to fight night without hurting themselves. When it was announced I figured at least one would suffer an injury and it would trigger a series of events that culminated with something no one would have thought possible like Dana White growing hair.
I dare you to find another MMA website who could start with "Mark Coleman vs Mauricio Rua" and end with "Dana White growing hair." And, that's before I said a word about the actual fight.
Coleman is one-dimensional. However, he does the one thing exceptionally well. Rua needs to keep space between them. If he does, he wins easily. Coleman will not allow this happen. He's fine with putting his head down and holding onto a leg for three minutes. I think we'll see a competitive fight early on with Coleman controlling things. I'd be surprised if Coleman allows Rua to land more than one punch without going for a tie-up. This should get Coleman through the 1st Round and possibly even win it for him.
The rest of the fight will be a different story. I think Coleman will tire himself out in the 1st Round working for takedowns. Rua will take control in the 2nd Round and remind the MMA community why he was once considered one of top five pound for pound fighters on the planet. The end will come in entertaining fashion and Joe Rogan will yell, "Ohhhhh!" Rua Wins by 2nd Round TKO (maybe a flying knee).
Dan Henderson vs Rich Franklin
Wouldn't it be great if this ended in a draw? It would be worth it to hear each fighter try to deflect the Ultimate Fighter coaching job on the other. If Dana White really wanted to put something at stake, he should have made the loser coach TUF 9. They need to hire me as "Stakes Consultant". I'd set all sorts of odd things into motion. For the GSP/Penn rematch, I'd have the loser agree to grow his hair out for six months. You can't tell me you wouldn't want to see that.
My gut is telling me Henderson will win. It feels like a trap, though. Henderson is no doubt one of the legends of the sport. He's fought much tougher opponents over the course of his career than Franklin. The reason I'm worried is because my mind might be putting too much emphasis on his knockout win over Wanderlei Silva. Other than that win, what else has he done lately? He beat Palhares and lost two title fights. His best moment in the UFC was winning a round against Anderson Silva before being choked out.
The big problem I have with Franklin is I do not know if he can counter Henderson's wrestling ability. The Matt Hamill fight does not tell us anything because Hamill insisted upon standing, instead of relying on his wrestling background. Henderson will not try to prove anyone wrong. As we saw against Palhares and the 1st Round against Silva, he is fine with winning a battle of position.
Franklin needs to rattle Henderson with strikes the way Silva did. It's easier said than done. Quinton Jackson spent five rounds in the cage with Henderson and couldn't hurt him. I'm gonna go with my gut and pick Henderson. He should be more used to fighting at 205 lbs, able to withstand Franklin's strikes, and stubborn enough to win a wrestling match even if the fans are booing. I'd be very surprised if either fighter can stop the other. Henderson Wins by Unanimous Decision.