UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami goes down tomorrow night from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
FightLine.com writer Dana Becker, head writer Mark Wayne, and President Raj Giri preview the top fights and offer their predictions for the show. Also, don’t forget to check back at FightLine.com Saturday afternoon for our live, ongoing coverage of UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami.
Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami
UFC middleweight champ and all-time great Anderson “The Spider” Silva will attempt to break his own records for most UFC title defenses (8) and longest UFC winning streak (13) this weekend in his backyard of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when he takes on challenger Yushin “Thunder” Okami.
One of Japan’s top fighters, Okami has toiled away in the UFC’s middleweight division for years looking for a title shot; he was finally granted a chance at the belt after going on a three-fight winning streak which includes impressive victories over Mark Muñoz and Nate Marquardt. Okami is a big, strong 185’er who’s forced more than one top-tier competitor to drop down to welterweight. He possesses competent and powerful striking and has a near-immovable base from which he employs his powerhouse grappling and ground striking offense.
Anderson Silva is widely considered to be the best mixed martial arts fighter currently competing and possibly the best to have ever laced up a pair of four ounce gloves. He holds the aforementioned records for longest UFC win streak (he’s undefeated in the promotion) and most UFC title defenses; though peppered with unusual and fan-displeasing performances, Silva’s career is marked by absolutely spectacular finishes over top-flight competition. His striking is second to none. Utilizing unorthodox techniques from odd angles and executing them with lightning speed and absolute precision, The Spider has proven to be almost untouchable while on his feet. Add to that a potent submission arsenal and solid defensive grappling and you have the formula for a fighter who can stay on the top of the heap for a long, long time.
Adding to this bout is the fact that, technically, Okami is the last person to defeat Silva. Silva knocked Okami out with an illegal up-kick at a Rumble on the Rock show in 2006 and was disqualified as a result.
Mark: Most accept that the path to beating The Spider is to take him down, keep him there and grind him out while avoiding his submission attempts. Okami absolutely possesses the tools to do just that — it’s kind of his bread and butter — but betting against The Spider at this point just seems like a foolish endeavor. Can Okami beat Silva? Yes. Will he? Doubtful. Silva via second-round TKO.
Dana: Two ways this fight goes, in my opinion. Either Okami comes out, tries to knock Silva’s head off in the opening few minutes and catches him with a strong blow, or “The Spider” eludes Okami’s thunderous hands, works “Thunder” with his jab and kicks, and eventually ends it with some ground-and-pound in the third or fourth round. This is a big fight for Silva, as he wants to remain champion and continue to be able to push for “mega” fights down the road. Silva via third round TKO.
Raj: It seems like we have a consensus here. While I believe Okami is severely underrated, with the fight being in “The Spider’s” home country, I think that we will be seeing the best Anderson Silva yet. I think Silva will be taken down once or twice in the first round, and come back to take the fight in the second. Silva via second-round TKO.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Forrest Griffin
In another rematch, Rua and Griffin will be revisiting their 2007 meeting that saw Griffin rudely welcome Rua to the UFC, defeating him via third round submission.
Though he’s remained inconsistent during his UFC career, thanks mostly to recurring injuries, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua possesses undeniable talent and ascended to the light heavyweight throne as a result. Fighting in front of a home crowd and coming off of an emphatic and title-relinquishing loss to Jon Jones, Rua is more motivated than ever to prove that he’s one of the best in the world when his training goes well.
Also having briefly held the UFC light heavyweight title, Forrest Griffin will enjoy heading into this bout the added boosts of having already beaten Shogun and currently being on a two-fight win streak. Though you can count on the fact that Griffin put his work in for this fight, he’s recently admitted to a waning hunger for the fight game, stating repeatedly that fighting is little more than a means to an end at this point.
Mark: Both men have the tools to beat the other. The difference here would seem to be motivation. Whereas Griffin is annoyed at having had to travel to Brazil and looks like he’s just clocking in for another day at the office, Rua is fired up coming off of a loss and appears to have trained diligently for this bout. Rua via unanimous decision.
Dana: While Nogueira will use the pro-Brazilian crowd to his advantage, I think Griffin uses it in the exact opposite way. He has already spoken out how he doesn’t feel comfortable fighting in Brazil, and I believe that will actually help push him harder. Along with already owning a win over “Shogun,” Griffin is coming off a strong performance against Rich Franklin and will carry that into this fight. Griffin via split decision.
Raj: Shogun has a lot to prove after his one-sided loss to Forrest Griffin. A motivated and aggressive Shogun can be a scary thing — just ask Lyoto Machida. On the flip-side, Griffin has sounded downright bored in the build-up to this fight. I think Rua will come out of the gates striking, and finish Griffin early in the fight. Shogun via first-round KO.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Brendan Schaub
It’s old lion vs. young lion, legend vs. prospect, all over again.
Having just defeated another PRIDE FC great in Mirko Filipovic, the fast-rising Brendan Schaub is looking to add another veteran’s scalp to his mantle by knocking off the returning Big Nog. A victory over Nogueira would put the athletic young fighter on a five-fight winning streak, which he believes makes a strong case for a title shot. Big, powerful and skilled across the board, Schaub has left behind himself a wake of TKO finishes and is a handful for most anyone in the division right now.
As respected a veteran as there exists in MMA, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will be returning early from double-hip and knee surgery to fight in front of his hometown crowd against the hungry Schaub. His last fight was against current champ Cain Velasquez in February of 2010 and resulted in his second-ever defeat via strikes. The 35-year-old is surrounded by X factors heading into this bout: whether or not he fully healed through his hurried recovery, whether his recent KO/TKO stoppages represent a career of damage catching up to him or whether they were a result of injuries hampering his training camp — injuries which he took time off to address — and what effect his long layoff will have on his performance.
Mark: No doubt Big Nog is as motivated as ever before to fight in Rio, but the chips are just stacked against him. Schaub is a tough fight for anyone, let alone a fighter returning prematurely from major surgery. Schaub via second-round TKO.
Dana: What a tremendous opportunity for Schaub to prove his standing in the heavyweight division. Since his time on TUF, he has really turned it up a few gears, stopping three opponents. His height is going to be a problem for Nogueira, as he holds a slight advantage in reach, as well. But “Minotauro” is a crafty veteran who has been in the cage with just about every top heavyweight in the world. I think “Big Nog’s” experience, and home-crowd advantage will push him to control “The Hybrid” on the ground. Nogueira via unanimous decision.
Raj: This is a smart fight for Schaub to have requested. Not that Schaub couldn’t beat Nogueira under normal circumstances, but with “Big Nog” returning after a two-year layoff and admittedly rushing through rehab to take this fight, I don’t see Schaub losing. I see Schaub dominating Big Nog on their feet in the first round before finishing in the second frame. Schaub via second-round TKO.