In just under a week, the UFC will make its grand entrance into the southern hemisphere as UFC 110 will mark the organization’s debut in Australia and just second show south of the equator.
The Acer Arena in Sydney, the metropolis of the Outback, will host—not only a stacked card populated with Joe Stevenson, Michael Bisping, and Ryan Bader—a Pride FC reunion for three of the most beloved fighters to ever grace the Land of the Rising Sun.
Watching Wanderlei Silva tap into his country’s other athletic tradition, futbol, in the four-sided ring by soccer kicking or face stomping downed opponents, seems like a distant memory. Those were the glory days when Mirko Cro-Cop head-hunted fighters, swinging his devastating high kicks without remorse—when Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira submitted some of the very best in front of a sold-out Saitama Arena.
Can you hear the methodical drum pounding, drowned out by the possessed screeching of that female announcer, as the competitors each casually lined up next to each other during the grandiose introductions?
Let’s not forget about the knees and kicks allowed to the head of a downed opponent, winners getting presented with trophies taller than most of the audience members, the awkwardly meek ring girls, the eerie silence from the crowd that would transform into cheers as the fight progressed on the ground—all vital ingredients into what made Pride so intriguing.
Last but not least, the Japanese organization was the cradle and nurturer of legendary commentator, Bas “El Guapo” Rutten (he was a pretty decent fighter back in his day too).
Now fast forward a couple years and you have; a defunct Pride organization owned by the UFC, hours of enjoyable Bas Rutten material on youtube, and three fighters who all once dominated the Pride roster having transferred into the octagon with mixed results—two of those three producing losing records.
The nostalgic daydream is over. UFC 110 in Sydney is now and all three men are on the main card looking to prove the naysayers wrong—convince the fans that they still possess the prowess from their Pride heydays.
Since entering the Zuffa universe; Wanderlei Silva is on the brink of irrelevancy losing three out of his last four fights, Cro-Cop has gone 2-3 in the UFC with a TKO victory over a blinded Mostapha Al-Turk, and Noguiera is vying to maximize momentum after defeating Couture last summer—a fight that followed a less-than-satisfying performance against Frank Mir.
Let’s briefly dissect each fighter’s imminent battles down under :
Wanderlei desperately needs a win over Ultimate Fighter coach and fighter Michael Bisping if he wants to make any kind of serious run at the title as a legitimate contender. It has been a long time since Silva’s thunderous first round knockout of Keith Jardine at UFC 84 and his legion of fans from the Pride days are getting impatient.
When “The Axe Murderer” pulls the trigger, his primitive aggression propels a windmill of knees and looping punches towards his foes to mixed results—this style has doubled as his dynamite and kryptonite.
His empty promises of tightening up his striking technique have gone on deaf ears after fans have continuously watched him play roulette after resorting to old habits. Nothing highlights this contrasting method like his knockout of Jardine and being knocked out in his following fight by Rampage Jackson, who consequently, has helped Bisping—a fellow Wolf’s Lair patron—prepare for his bout against Silva.
Bisping lacks the power to really utilize that counter-hook like Jackson did against Silva, but the Brit has crisper striking overall. The advantage will, more than likely, be nullified by Wanderlei’s uncanny ability to absorb strikes and recover in the process.
With that said, Silva will control the octagon, stalking his opponent until the two engage and Bisping gets clipped. Also, having a bad habit of rolling towards the power hand, Wanderlei’s right hand in this case, the Brit increases this scenario’s probability of happening.
Wandy wins this one via knockout in the late minutes of the first round.
The Croatian Sensation has looked anything but sensational during his turbulent stint in the UFC. In the last couple of years, Cro-Cop has dropped contests to top tier heavyweight competition in Cheick Kongo, Junior Dos Santos, and Gabriel Gonzaga.
Ironically, the latter toppled the Croatian at UFC 70 with a high-kick, a trademark of Cro-Cop’s, in what was eternally seared in the memories of fight fans as one of the nastiest knockouts ever.
Nothing has truly been the same for the notorious striker after that night—the high kick from Gonzaga must have rattled Cro-Cop’s confidence and implanted a seed of doubt that has laid waste to his mental game.
After winning a controversial match with Mostapha Al-Turk via eye-poke, Cro-Cop went on to get ransacked by heavyweight prospect and current contender, Junior Dos Santos. From the onset of the bell, Dos Santos pelted Cro-Cop with a barrage of punches that led to a verbal submission after the Croatian informed the referee he could no longer see.
He has fought tentatively when coming up short in his bouts—an unbecoming factor in his loses. It has also been documented in the media after that fight; Cro-Cop expressed signs of depression, claiming he had thought of hanging himself in the hotel after the fight.
Needless to say, Rothwell will have the mental advantage going into this bout knowing that fighters in the UFC do not fair well after consecutive losses.
Fighters, who bring the fight to Cro-Cop causing him to retreat, have experienced the most success. Rothwell has the hunger and will to get back on track after a disappointing debut against Cain Velasquez but will the pressures of avoiding the pink slip and fighting a MMA legend be too great?
The main factor will be mental strength in this impending stand-up war. After overpowering Cro-Cop in the clinch for three rounds, Rothwell’s hand will be raised as Bruce Buffer announces his unanimous decision victory.
Antonio “Minotauro” Noguiera
“Big Nog” is the only Pride migrant of this group of three that has built a solid run in the UFC; winning the interim heavyweight belt from Tim Sylvia, losing the title to a much improved Frank Mir due to numerous injuries and a rumored bout with staph infection, and recently earned himself a decision victory in an epic battle with Randy Couture last summer.
Nogueira is one fourth of the “Fab Four” heavyweight contenders—Velasquez, Mir, and Carwin—all eagerly awaiting current champ Brock Lesnar’s return in July. Mir and Carwin are facing off for the a new interim belt at UFC 111 as a result of Lesnar’s bout with diverticulitis that sidelined the collegiate wrestler for what will be nearly a year.
Even though Brock’s welcome back match will be with either Carwin or Mir, the winner of Velasquez and Noguiera will be next in line.
In order for Minotauro to get a chance to tame the beast that is Brock or potentially Mir or Carwin, he will have to exercise his masterful Brazilian Jiu Jitsu off his back against an acclaimed wrestler in Velasquez.
The 33-year-old Nogueira’s technical striking should out match his younger opponent’s stand up but caution should not be thrown out the window since the undefeated Velasquez has power in his hands despite having a suspect chin.
After getting picked apart on his feet, the American Kickboxing Academy protégée will employ the tremendous takedown he learned at Arizona State taking the Brazilian to the mat. If there is a man tough enough to weather a Cain Velasquez ground and pound session, it is the Black House trainee, Noguiera.
From that position, Velasquez’s inexperience will be capitalized by Big Nog’s numerous submission attempts—threatening the Mexican-American’s undefeated record.
Noguiera will prove victorious late in the third round after sinking in a submission after a frustrated Velasquez realizes his ground and pound is nothing Big Nog has not seen before—allowing Nogueira to add another stone to his path to the title.
February 20 in Sydney, Australia is an exciting night for Pride FC addicts, as we all get a chance to see where our alumni stand at this juncture in their careers. Will there be confetti and an enormous trophy presented to our Pride veterans—of course not—but hopefully each fighter will avoid flushing their opportunities, counter clock-wise, down the drain by regaining some of that old Pride magic they once commanded in Japan.