By Jaime C. Feal
Saturday night, live and free on FOX TV, the UFC brings fans three great fights for their viewing pleasure. Both the co-main event and the main event are extremely intriguing light heavyweight matchups with serious title shot implications. With Lyoto Machida squaring off against Ryan Bader for the co-main event, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua taking on Brandon Vera in the main, there are 3 possible fighters who may earn a title shot tomorrow night. UFC President Dana White has said the man who wins most impressively will earn the next shot at light heavyweight gold, with the recent exception of Brandon Vera: his possibility at a title shot was nixed after uproar by MMA fans on twitter and the like.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Jamie “C4” Varner (20-6-1, 2-1 UFC) vs. Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon (21-7, 8-4 UFC)
What a tough matchup to call. Two years ago with Varner completely out of both the WEC and UFC, and Lauzon establishing himself as a hot prospect in the UFC 155 lb. division, one would have said Lauzon takes this easily. Now, however, things are much different. Varner is coming off an explosive and shocking upset over former undefeated Brazilian Edson Barboza. Varner handed Barboza his first professional loss by knocking him out in impressive fashion. Lauzon, on the other hand, has slipped up recently, succumbing to a vicious headkick dropping a first round TKO loss to Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.
Varner was once the WEC lightweight champ, with a signature win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. He has more explosiveness than Lauzon and is better everywhere except the submission game. Joe Lazuon has great jiu-jitsu and a killer instinct to grab a hold of a submission and finish. The key factor in this lightweight matchup is Varner’s excellent wrestling pedigree, which should be able to thwart Lauzon’s takedown attempts. It is for that reason fans can expect a standup war, where Varner slowly grinds Lauzon down and then finishes late with heavy hands.
Prediction: Jamie “C4” Varner wins by TKO, Round 3.
Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs.):
Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida (17-3, 9-3 UFC) vs. Ryan “Darth” Bader (14-2, 7-2 UFC)
Lyoto Machida is always entertaining to watch. His karate background means tons of flashy kicks, and quick in-and-out attacks. He faces Ultimate Fighter Season 8 winner Ryan Bader, a wrestler with a very powerful right hand. Machida has way more technique, skill, quickness, and timing on the feet. He should be able to slowly pick Bader apart should the fight remain standing. Machida must watch out for Bader’s overhand right, which could end the fight with one punch.
The more intriguing aspect of the fight will be how Machida responds to an elite level wrestler’s takedown attempts. Ryan Bader is a former Division I All-American wrestler at Arizona State. Some predict Machida’s timing and brilliance in the distance game will render the takedown attempts useless. Others contend Machida hasn’t faced a wrestler of this caliber and could be put on his back. The X factor is Machida’s judo training, core strength, and great hips. For these reasons I see him being able to nullify Bader’s grappling game, when and if Bader gets ahold of him. Machida cruises in this one, and puts himself in line to possibly challenge Jon Jones or Dan Henderson for the title.
Prediction: Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida wins by unanimous decision.
Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs.):
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (20-6, 4-4 UFC) vs. Brandon “The Truth” Vera (12-5, 8-5 UFC)
Initially Dana White had said the winner of this fight would get an automatic title shot, which is absurd considering Brandon Vera’s resume. A public outcry from UFC fans everywhere convinced Dana White to change his mind, and now only Shogun is eligible to earn a title shot in this match. The fact that Vera earned a main event on national TV is enough reward for a man whose biggest wins are over Krzysztof Soszynski in 2009 and Frank Mir in 2006. “The Truth” thinks he’s being rewarded with this main event on FOX, but Vera is just getting walked to the slaughter house in this one.
Analyzing Vera’s strengths, one could say he is a Muay Thai fighter first, with some jiu-jitsu and wrestling. While Vera’s Muay Thai striking is no joke, he’s up against one of the best at utilizing Muay Thai for MMA the world has ever seen: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The legendary Chute Boxe product has a wealth of experience and huge wins. The former PRIDE superstar has faced only the elite of the elite in the UFC, and has handled himself well, briefly holding the title after knocking out Lyoto Machida cold. Brandon Vera is simply the weakest opponent Shogun has fought in at least 8 fights. Furthermore, Vera is just an inferior version of his opponent: Shogun is a high level Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. There are very few ways for Vera to win the fight other than a lucky punch. The more likely scenario is Shogun striking quickly and viciously to finish a fighter who doesn’t belong in the Octagon with him.
Prediction: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua wins by KO, Round 1.