Inside Fights Roundtable: UFC 75: Champion vs. Champion

Welcome to the Inside Fights Roundtable for UFC 75: Champion vs. Champion! Without further ado, let’s get to our esteemed panelists:

Trent Pusey: Inside Fights editor and boxing guru.
Kevin Wong: Ubiquitous and expecting superstar of Inside Pulse.
JJ Botter: Inside Fights and Pulse Wrestling contributor.
Mike Nichols: Slacker DVD reviewer and Inside Fights contributor.

And now, the fights:

UFC/PRIDE Light-Heavyweight Championship: Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson vs. Dan Henderson:

TRENT: Henderson showed he can throw blows by knocking out Wanderlei Silva earlier this year. The same Silva that holds two wins over Rampage. Given his style, it’s surprising that Jackson loses so many fights by TKO and not submission. Jackson could very well knock Henderson silly but not in the later rounds, where this fight is likely to end up. Henderson will take advantage of a drained Jackson and work for the TKO stoppage in the third round.

WONG: As much as I’d love to watch this main event live, I’ll be in Vancouver attending my cousin’s wedding, which is a pity. Maybe I can sneak into the casino next door. Then again, it’s a full-on 10 course Chinese banquet, and if you’ve never had one of those… well, you’re missing out.

The curious thing for me here is how they build this fight up. Neither guy is truly a household name in the US, although Rampage has probably shot up the recognition scale with his trademark chain, howl – oh and his TKO of Chuck Liddell. Dan Henderson, on the other hand, doesn’t have that level of name recognition outside of the more knowledgable fans. I’m sure they understand what a big deal it is to be a MMA champion at two weight classes, but they need to see why this guy is worthy of those belts. They’re going to have to do a real good job building up Henderson, and in reality, they’ve got about two weeks to do so given the timing of this PPV relative to UFC 74. Since they (presumably) have the PRIDE library, they’d probably want to show his wins over Wanderlei Silva and Murilo Bustamante. Of course, they probably also want to show some of Rampage’s PRIDE victories as well – particularly the fight with Ricardo Arona, which is a shining example of why a powerbomb is such a viable finisher in pro wrestling:

I think it’s fair to say that Rampage didn’t get put to sleep with that triangle unlike, say, Matt “The H.I.T. Man” Hughes. Still, I don’t know how you go against the guy with two belts. Given that these two are friends, I don’t see this being a short fight. So with that in mind, the Unified Champion will be…Henderson by decision. Now, someone set up a Henderson/Anderson Silva unification fight.

JEREMY: This is the long-awaited UFC vs. PRIDE championship match to determine the true best 205-pounder in the world; surprisingly, it’s not between Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell. Silva vs. Liddell was the fight everyone wanted to see, and it never happened for various reasons — mostly because the former PRIDE management crew were complete idiots. Since the fight fell through, however, both Liddell and Silva were shockingly upset by the two men who will meet AT UFC 75: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Dan Henderson.

It may not be Dana White’s dream fight or something that was even on the radar of hardcore MMA fans a year ago, but this truly is the first PRIDE and UFC title unification match. After this fight, the PRIDE belt will cease to exist and all light heavyweights will be merged into the UFC’s swelling division; the winner will remain UFC champion and one vestige of PRIDE will be chipped away. In that light alone, this Saturday night is a historic night for fans of mixed martial arts, and the fact that such a historic championship fight is available for free on Spike TV is breathtaking. There’s no doubt in my mind that should an eventual Randy Couture/Fedor Emelianenko fight materialize out of thin Russian air, Dana White will no doubt refuse to put the fight on any card except one that you have to pay 50 bucks for.

Rampage Jackson (27-6) shocked the entire world by knocking Chuck Liddell out on May 5 to capture the UFC Light Heavyweight title. The outcome, though a legitimate shock to people who’d never heard of Jackson until he debuted in the UFC in February of this year, surprised no one who have seen Liddell destroyed at the hands of Jackson in PRIDE back in 2003. Liddell made a mistake in going for an unprotected body hook, leaving him open to a nasty right hook that left the former champ dazed and confused with new champ Jackson howling at the moon above him. Rampage is one of the UFC’s most marketable stars; he’s personable, has great camera presence and can talk better than anyone else in the game. Since his defeat of Liddell, fans have flocked to the charismatic champ and embraced him wholeheartedly, and he comes into this unification fight as a sentimental favorite for most UFC fans.

Dan Henderson (22-10) is one of the best Greco-Roman wrestlers in the entire world, and he comes into this fight after knocking out feared Brazilian striker Wanderlei Silva to win the PRIDE light heavyweight championship in February. Henderson competed on the 1992 and 1996 US Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling teams and began training in mixed martial arts in 1997 at the suggestion of his friend Randy Couture. “Hollywood” holds victories over some of the best fighters in mixed martial arts, including Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Vitor Belfort and currently trains with Team Quest. He’s never been knocked out — all of his losses have come from submissions or decisions.

There are two major factors in this fight. Number one (and obviously highest on the priority list) is that Dan Henderson is a world-class wrestler. In fact, he’s one of the top three wrestlers in the world currently fighting in mixed martial arts. Joe Rogan calls everyone a “world class wrestler”, but in the case of Dan Henderson, it’s the absolute truth. He’s easily the best light heavyweight wrestler in the world, and it’s going to play a huge factor in this fight because Rampage is not a great wrestler. This is not to say that he’s bad; it’s just that there’s a gigantic difference between someone who is an Olympic-level wrestler and someone who wrestled on the junior college circuit.

The other major impact on this fight is Henderson’s chin: as mentioned above, he’s never been knocked out. Hollywood can take a truly brutal beating on the chin without being fazed, and that’s going to take away most of the edge that Rampage may have had in the striking category. On top of that, Henderson has one of the better clinches in the world and can pepper Rampage with deadly knee strikes.

I’m not going to come out and say that this will be a one-sided fight, but it should be very clear that Dan Henderson is a huge favorite in this one. I think that Handerson’s combination of wrestling, clinch skills and iron chin will be enough to carry him to a five round decision and the unified UFC light heavyweight championship

MIKE: Between Matt Serra, Randy Couture, Houston Alexander, Nick Diaz, and the Fertittas buying PRIDE, it’s been a weird year in MMA to say the least, and very little can embody the weirdness of this year quite like this fight. Think about it: the man who beat the unstoppable Chuck Liddell against the man who beat the unstoppable Wanderlei Silva for the titles of what were once the two biggest rival organizations in MMA.

Like a lot of North Americans, my experience with Henderson is pretty limited: I know that he’s the top dog with Team Quest, I know that he’s tough as nails, and I know that he’s an Olympic gold medalist. He’s developed some serious stopping power over the course of his career, which saw him lose the derisive ‘Decision Dan’ nickname and grow into a truly feared fighter.

Still, I can’t quite buy into Jeremy’s idea that Henderson’s wrestling is going to make the difference. I watched Rampage absolutely obliterate Kevin Randleman, a multi-time NCAA champ, and take a decision off of Matt Lindland, who’s every bit the grappler that Henderson is. As everyone’s seen from his PRIDE highlights, Rampage has freak strength, and he’ll be coming down in weight while Henderson is fighting above his most effective weight class. If Rampage can neutralize Henderson’s ground game, I think he’s got a good chance of winning a standup battle with Hendo.

Yeah, I know that Rampage couldn’t get the belt in PRIDE, and I know that Hendo is as nasty an opponent as they come, but for some reason, this just feels like Rampage’s year. Like I said, it’s been a weird one. Rampage by TKO (ref stoppage) in the 3rd.

Matt Hamill vs. Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping:

TRENT: This is an intriguing fight…two years ago. I don’t care now. I don’t know anything Hamill has done since their season of Ultimate Fighter ended, and for all I know he’s still feeling the effects of a concussion or something. I guess the good news for him is that he won’t be able to hear the overwhelming crowd response for Bisping. Hamill will take Bisping down a few times, but the The Count ought to outstrike “High Maintenance” Hamill. Bisping by unanimous decision.

WONG: It’s a good thing that Matt Hamill’s deaf, because he doesn’t have to hear himself whine. The Ohio native was taken out from The Ultimate Fighter due to injuries, evident because he literally beat Mike Nickels with one arm, which probably says more about Nickels than Hamill actually. Since then he has been boasting/whining that he would’ve won the competition had he not been removed from the competition. I’m not going to say that Hamill wouldn’t have won, but it’s easy to say things like that in hindsight. Going by that rationale, I can say that if Tiki Barber had scored some touchdowns and my opponent didn’t have LaDanian Tomlinson, I might have won my fantasy football league playoff game.

The thing is that Hamill’s got some skills. Like many wrestlers he’s freakishly strong and relies on the takedown/ground and pound strategy. This works to his advantage against Bisping as The Count has shown some vulnerability on the ground. The key here, of course, is for Hamill to drive the opponent to his corner, where he can get instructions.

As I mentioned, Bisping has shown some vulnerability on the ground, but in the end he still emerged victorious in his three UFC fights – all against fighters with purported ground skills, and all via TKO. He hasn’t lost yet, but against a strong wrestler like Hamill he will need to work hard to stay standing and avoid Matt’s heavy hands. And definitely, his conditioning will be tested, so we’ll see how this turns out. Bisping, TKO R2

JEREMY: If you watched the UFC 75 Countdown show on Spike this week, you’ll see that Dana is billing this fight as the real TUF Season 3 finale. Yeah, you could look at it that way, but the way I see it is this: just another easy opponent in front of an easy crowd for Bisping. There’s no doubt that Hamill is a great wrestler, but he’s not even remotely as well-rounded as Bisping.

So often, you’ll find that UFC plays up non-existent rivalries between fighters in order to build up hype for a card. It’s standard pro-wrestling practice that UFC has perfected to a T, but on rare occasions, you don’t even have to create something fake in order to hype a fight, and this is one of those instances, as these two men sincerely do not like each other. Hamill is bitter that Bisping won TUF after he (Hamill) was forced to sit out the final fight of the show due to injury, and Bisping thinks that Hamill is an ass who uses his handicap to disguise his true personality and gain sympathy and popularity.

I don’t think this will be a close fight at all. Bisping is too well-rounded, and once this fight is over they need to put him in the ring with a serious contender. Personally, I’d have Bisping fight the winner of Shogun/Griffin for a shot at the belt. Bisping by knockout.

MIKE: Bisping’s obviously being groomed for a title shot somewhere down the road, but anyone looking to hop onto his bandwagon should consider the old saying of caveat emptor—let the buyer beware. Eric Schaefer was able to get him to the mat with ease in their fight and almost caught him with an armbar, while Elvis Sinosic ate leather for five minutes only to almost pull out a submission win of his own. Neither guy had the skill (Schaefer) or the stamina (Sinosic) to finish Bisping, and I don’t think that Matt Hamill will either, but it’s worth noting that he’s been in some very bad spots only two fights into his UFC career against guys who aren’t exactly top-level contenders.

As for this fight, Hamill’s going to have a very short night unless he can make Bisping respect his striking, and I’m not sure that he can. If he can trade with Bisping just enough to make the big Brit think about something other than sprawling, then he might be able to scrape out a lay-and-pray decision, but I don’t see it happening. Bisping by TKO in 2.

Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic vs. Cheick Kongo

TRENT: I like Cheick Kongo. And we should all know not to overlook fighters anymore or assume they are just being fed to the beast by now. That being said, Cro Cop has to be f*cking starving right now. Kongo has the ability to crumble Cro Cop but I’m not going to be the dude to pick it. Wait, what has Randy Couture said about this fight? Damn, I’m on my own. Cro Cop by KO in the 1st round. His fights rarely last more than one round.

WONG: It’s hard to say where exactly Chieck Kongo stands in the heavyweight division. His loss to Carmelo Marrero showed some holes in his game, and his majority victory over Assuerio Silva makes me wonder if he’s hit his ceiling. Certainly, it doesn’t get any easier now that he’s facing perhaps the most famous leg in sports after that Beckham guy. Cro Cop could use a nice little highlight reel victory here, and after getting Napaowned by Gabriel Gonzaga, he’s apparently decided to train in a cage, which should help him out in this match. Kongo is not going to go down quietly into that good night (afternoon?), but proper training should carry the last PRIDE Grand Prix champion to the winner’s purse. Cro Cop, KO R2.

JEREMY: This fight is being billed as a “redemption” bout for Cro Cop, but I don’t think beating Cheick Kongo will provide any type of closure for Mirko’s loss to Gabriel Gonzaga. Mirko was put into that fight with Gonzaga to get a good, easy knockout on his highlight reel and to set up a huge fight with Randy Couture in August, and Gonzaga’s stunning knockout of Cro Cop changed all of those plans. The only way Cro Cop gets redemption for that loss is by earning a heavyweight title shot, and beating Cheick Kongo, at least on the surface, doesn’t entitle him to that. There are several heavyweights ahead of Cro Cop on the food chain at this point (at least in terms of wins and losses), including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and possibly Brandon Vera. And of course, if Fedor Emelianenko signs with UFC, he’ll get an immediate unification match, so we’re looking at most likely a year before Cro Cop will get a title shot. A stunning and decisive knockout blow will help his cause, but in the end, he’s still fighting Cheick Kongo, a guy who has zero ground skills and only decent striking skills. Yeah, Kongo is a physical freak of nature, but so is Bob Sapp, and Cro Cop destroyed Sapp.

Mirko Cro Cop is coming into this fight with a chip on his shoulder, and that’s a scary thing to imagine. I don’t think it’ll make it out of the first round, and it might not last more than a minute. Mirko Cro Cop by knockout.

MIKE: I really don’t know about this one. Outside of the obligatory PRIDE highlight reel, I haven’t seen a whole lot of Cro Cop’s fights in their entirety; what I have noticed, though, is that the majority of his opponents have been grapplers. It’s funny, in fact, that all of the keyboard jockeys seem to rip Chuck Liddell for knocking out wrestlers but worship Cro Cop for the same thing, but I digress.

Kongo makes no pretention towards being a grappler: he’s another kickboxer and hates spending any time on the ground, and while he doesn’t have as many fights as Cro Cop, he’s got a pretty similar habit of leaving opponents cold. Yeah, he lost to Carmelo Marrero, but I don’t think that Cro Cop’s going to spend a whole lot of time looking to take him down and establish position. Maybe I’m just feeling contrarian today, but I can’t get over watching Filipovic get brutally knocked out and thinking that it could happen again. Kongo by KO in 1.

Marcus ‘The Irish Hand Grenade’ Davis vs. Paul Taylor :

TRENT: The thing I hate about these roundtables is that there are always fighters I don’t know about. It makes me feel like that guy that always says he has heard of that song or movie or whatever you are talking about when you know he’s lying. I hate that guy. I don’t know who Paul Taylor is so this one is pretty easy for me. And if you say you know who Taylor is, then quit being that guy. You’re lying. Davis by TKO in the 2nd round.

WONG: Paul Taylor is a British MMA veteran who made his UFC debut in Manchester, beating (maybe upsetting?) Edilberto Crocota by TKO. That’s all I really know about him, so I guess I’m not “That Guy”. He’s going to have his hands full taking on Marcus Davis, who is on a nine fight win streak since losing to Melvin Guillard at the TUF 2 Finale. At 33, Davis is something of a late bloomer in MMA, and perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of The Ultimate Fighter. But despite his win streak, I don’t think that he can truly be considered among the elite in the welterweight division, but another win here will probably earn him a fight against one of the bigger name fighters, like, say, the loser of the Diego Sanchez/Jon Fitch fight. Maybe even that catchweight fight with Gomi that he had the balls to ask for. Davis, TKO R2

MIKE: If you’re looking for a dark horse in the 170-pound division, look no further. Davis essentially has the best hands in the division by default and has improved by light-years on his submissions and ground game; a win here could finally get him a matchup with a name fighter. Like everyone else in this roundtable, I don’t know Taylor from a hole in the wall, but I see that he’s got a TKO win over Zelg Galesic, who isn’t exactly a walk in the park. He’s obviously got dangerous hands, so I look for Davis to get this fight to the ground and show off just how far he’s come with a submission. Davis by submission, R2.

Houston Alexander vs. Alessio Sakara:

TRENT: No one knew who Houston Alexander was until he rocked Keith Jardine’s casbah in his last fight. And Sakara isn’t fooling me. He sucks. Alexander ought to generate a little more buzz for himself by stopping Sakara early. Alexander by TKO in the 1st round.

WONG: Houston Alexander burst onto the scene by taking out Keith Jardine like he was some sort of redshirt, knocking him out in under a minute. I felt pretty happy in that I gave Alexander respect in my preview of that fight. Then I realized that noone was around, and that was the end of that. Such is the life when you’re unemployed (thankfully, I am working now, or at least I should still be when this is posted. Nice to be at a company that knows how to train you and doesn’t fire you after two weeks because you’re ready to work and not working hard enough. No, I’m not bitter.).

Anyway, Alexander obviously likes to throw leather, and he’ll have a willing opponent in the former boxer Sakara. However, Sakara hasn’t had the best record since arriving in the UFC. His debut match saw him get kicked in the nuts. Since then, he’s beaten an Aussie (Sinosic) and a Canadian (Valimaki… isn’t that some sort of fusion sushi roll?), but hasn’t done well against Americans (What does this mean? I have no idea. Let’s move on). Dean Lister choked him out, and Drew McFedries earned a TKO victory despite fighting on short notice – and note that both guys are now fighting at 185. A fighter as explosive as Alexander could provide huge problems for the Italian, but then again, we only have 48 seconds of footage on which to judge Alexander on, so this is just another test to see if Houston Alexander is for real. Alexander, KO R1.

JEREMY: Houston Alexander rocketed from obscurity to semi-stardom with his thundering and brutal knockout of Keith Jardine earlier this year. Alexander was rocked early in the fight, but like the Incredible Hulk, Alexander seemed enraged at the punches he’d taken, got off the mat and destroyed Jardine to win the fight and catapault himself into fan-favorite-ville. It even earned him his second main-card fight in as many bouts, a privelege usually reserved for guys who are proven top fighters in the UFC.

I’ll be honest: if Alexander comes into this fight and displays the same type of emotion and intensity that he used to beat Jardine, he’s going to destroy Alessio Sakara. If he does it in the same manner, he’s going to be an instant superstar and someone who sells PPV events. I haven’t seen enough of Alexander to assume anything, but I know that he’ll be tough to beat if he’s as pissed off against Sakara as he was against Jardine. Houston Alexander by knockout.

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