Inside Fights Roundtable: UFC 81: Breaking Point

With an ‘interim’ heavyweight title fight and Brock Lesnar’s long-awaited UFC debut on Saturday’s card, UFC 81 is going to take on a proper level of historical importance. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the usual suspects for this week’s roundtable, namely:

Trent Pusey: Inside Fights editor and boxing aficionado.

Kevin Wong: Inside Pulse renaissance man and diaper-changing aficionado.

Mike Nichols: Inside Fights writer who only seems to show up for these damn roundtables.

UFC ‘Interim’ Heavyweight Championship: Tim Sylvia vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Trent: The last thing I want to see is the UFC Heavyweight Title back on The Ogre. Unfortunately, I see things panning out that way. Big Nog didn’t look that great in his last fight against Herring, someone he handled easily twice before in PRIDE. As big and goofy as Sylvia is, he’s also underrated on the ground. Nogueira’s days as a submission machine have come to an end. Sylvia’s reach will be too much for Nogueira, leading to a third round KO for Sylvia. Sylvia, KO R3.

Kevin: Sylvia. Fighting for the “interim” title. Again. Kill me now. We know how Timmy! wins fights–he uses his reach to score points and then play defense and keep his opponent away which generally means that he’s done just enough to win. There’s always the chance for a knockout from Sylvia, but we really haven’t seen that in a while. I guess playing not to lose is a pretty good strategy when you’re 6’8″, but damn, the guy is making Machida seem exciting.

In order to beat Timmy, Big Nog is going to have to take a page from Randy Couture’s book and be willing to absorb some shots in order to get his offence in. Waiting for an opening will not work against this guy – we’ve seen that time and again. You have to keep the big man on his heels, and Nogueira has the ability to do that. I’m hoping that this happens, but let’s just say I have my doubts. Sylvia, decision

Mike: I’m not discounting Nog at all–he’s an amazing fighter with ridiculous skills and a great heart, but his takedown skills have never been particularly outstanding. Trust me, watching Sylvia’s last five fights is right up there with getting an amateur root canal on the pain scale, so I’m not a fan, but he’s enormous and usually very hard to take down. If Nog tries to pull guard, I don’t think Tim’s stupid enough to take the bait. Don’t get me wrong: I’m hoping that he’s stupid enough to take the bait, but I’m pretty sure that he’s not. He also got his sciatic nerve surgically fixed, and if you’ve ever had a sciatic nerve problem or known someone who has, then you know that ‘debilitating’ barely begins to describe how bad it is.

If it turns into a boxing match between Nog and Sylvia, then I couldn’t put money on Nog to win. I’d love to see Nog win by flying armbar or something insane in about 10 seconds, but Sylvia’s going to grind out a decision win. Nog’s jiu-jitsu is unmatched for a guy his size, but I’m not sure his takedowns are enough to get Timmay down, and there’s no way that he can win a fight trading punches with Sylvia. Of course, I said the same thing about Randy last year, so I could be wrong here.

Still, I don’t know if any of you watched Nog’s last fight with Heath Herring, but he didn’t exactly win convincingly. I mean, Herring’s all kinds of familiar with how Nogueira fights, and it was Nog’s first turn in the octagon, but he looked pretty sluggish. I know the guy’s taken some absolutely brutal beatings over the course of his career, and as much as I enjoy watching him fight, I worry that it might be catching up with him, just like it has with Sakuraba. Sylvia, decision.

Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar:

Mike: Funny thing here is that Lesnar’s not really the question mark in this fight. Everybody knows what Lesnar’s going to do: come out with some feeler strikes, get bored, and then try and get Mir to his back. The real unknown here is Mir: what Mir are we going to see? Is he in just average shape, or will he come out ready to go five? Is he finally all the way back (both physically and mentally) from the accident? Is he going to come out swinging? Will he pull guard at the first opportunity? Will he throw everyone a curveball and try to get Lesnar to the mat first?

Yes, Brock’s a freak. Yes, Brock’s a ridiculously good wrestler. Yes, Brock’s huge. But Mir’s been fighting guys who were absurdly large and strong for years, and Lesnar’s only got a win over Min Soo Kim under his belt. If he sticks with it, I think Lesnar’s going to be a human wrecking ball, but putting him up against a former world champ with insane jiu-jitsu in his second professional fight is just a little unreasonable. Mir, submission R1.

Trent: I don’t know if this will be the last fight on the card, but it is certainly the main event. Lesnar is making the biggest debut in UFC history, but Mir is no softball either. I think the UFC has learned from setting up their earlier big debuts with “easy” fights only to see them be unspectacular. Lesnar doesn’t look bad if he loses to Mir, and he will lose to Mir. Lesnar is an acclaimed wrestler, but I see Mir catching Lesnar in an armlock during a grappling sequence. Mir, submission R1.

Kevin: Here we are – the first true test of whether Brock Lesnar is truly the Next Big Thing. Word is that he actually requested to fight Frank Mir, and to be honest I don’t know what to make of that. Mir is a Name Guy, but he’s hardly the Frank Mir that beat Timmy so long ago. Wins over Hardonk and Christison don’t do much for you, and a quick TKO loss to top competition in Brandon Vera doesn’t help matters either. A win over Brock probably won’t do much for Frank, but a loss could spell the end of Mir’s hope of ever becoming a top contender again, so I’d expect Mir to be more than ready for Brock.

As for Brock, well, he’s training at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, so let’s hope that he didn’t take any of Sean Sherk’s supplements. All kidding aside, there are some pretty good fighters there and I don’t think that Brock is taking this fight lightly. If he’s truly prepared, he should make quick work of Mir. If Mir survives the initial flurry and this fight goes longer than three minutes, you’re probably looking at the former UFC champ getting his hand raised. Lesnar, TKO R1

Nate Marquardt vs. Jeremy Horn

Trent: Speaking of grappling sequences, don’t expect much standup in this one, which reminds me of the Bernard Hopkins-Winky Wright boxing matchup. The casual fan won’t appreciate this one, but a true MMA fan will want to see the gameplans play out. Horn has the experience edge over anyone he gets into the cage with and that always helps. I have no reason to pick Marquardt, so I’m going with Horn by unanimous decision. Horn, decision

Kevin: This will not be a fight that the casual fan will like. Both guys are ground specialists so I’m expecting a technical fight on the mat. Horn is back in the UFC after an absence due to his buddy Rich Franklin being the champion. With Anderson Silva now holding the belt, I’d expect Horn to be the next in line for a title shot should he be victorious. Yes, the talent at 185 is just that thin – why else would they (apparently) be holding a 32-man tourney for The Ultimate Fighter 7, and replace Alan Belcher with Rob Yundt?

Marquardt hasn’t fought since getting frakked up by Anderson Silva. It’ll be interesting to see how the loss (his first since 2004) will affect him here. He’s got all the tools to put him back among the top contenders in the middleweight division (again, this is not a huge accomplishment). I’d expect that he should be able to maintain top control on the ground here, but the question is whether he can avoid the submission attempts that Horn is likely to throw at him. Marquardt, decision

Mike: I’ll be interested to see what Marquardt does here, because he was willing to stand and trade with Joe Doerksen, whose style isn’t that different from Jeremy Horn’s (except that Horn’s a lot better at it). At the same time, he was also willing to go to the ground from on occasion with Dean Lister, whose grappling and subs are supposed to be even better than Horn’s. I was drinking the Marquardt Kool-Aid for the Silva fight, which means that I’m already a complete idiot, but I don’t think that Nate’s going to lose this one.

Much respect for Horn, who’s definitely a fighter’s fighter, but Nate needs a win, and I think he’s willing to use his big, fluffy blanket skills and put the paying audience through hell in order to get one. A replay of the Doerksen fight would be the best-case scenario here, but I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. Marquardt, decision

Ricardo Almeida vs. Alan BelcherRob Yundt

Kevin: Almeida hasn’t fought in 3 and a half years (a lifetime in MMA), and it’s pretty much a given that most of the UFC’s current fanbase won’t know who the frak he is. And now, Alan Belcher is out, and Alaskan Rob Yundt steps in at virtually the last minute. Yeah, I asked myself that same question. So now I’m forced to go the Trent route and pick Almeida by default because the guy at least is a recognizable name. Almeida, submission R1

Trent: This is who? vs. what? for me. Yundt’s name reminds me of Robin Yount…that guy had a sweet mustache. Almeida seems like a familiar name, but the judges in my memory disagree. I like to picture Ricardo as a Latin heartthrob, and I figure a guy like that could beat Robin Yount. Almeida, TKO R1.

Mike: I know that Almeida’s practically a legend in grappling circles, and Renzo Gracie black belts don’t exactly grow on trees, but I would much rather have seen Almeida fight a guy with Alan Belcher’s versatility. To be fair to Yundt, I don’t know a damn thing about him, other than that going through life named Yundt is probably difficult enough without being asked to fight on short notice. Yundt’s undefeated–but then, so was Jason Reinhardt a couple of months ago–but I can’t ignore Almeida’s pedigree, with wins over Minowa, Sasaki, Misaki, Marquardt, and Chonan. Almeida, submission R2

Tyson Griffin vs. Gleison Tibau

Mike: At this point, I’m this close to calling Griffin “Instant Classic,” considering that he had not one (Frank Edgar), not two (Clay Guida), but three (Thiago Tavares) fight-of-the-year candidates in 2007. As a reward, the UFC’s given him an opponent who’s a slight half-step down in Tibau, an American Top Team fighter with the requisite jiu-jitsu skills. Griffin’s pretty large for a lightweight, and Tibau’s had trouble in the past against larger and stronger fighters. Expect Griffin to come out, get the early takedown, grab a sub reasonably early, and finally get to take a couple of rounds off for a change. Griffin, submission R1.

Trent: Not sure if this makes the PPV card but I don’t see anything else worthy and the UFC usually carries 5 fights. Tyson is one of my favorite lightweights and always puts on a good show. Tibau looked good against Etim in his last fight, but Griffin’s activity will earn him a unanimous decision. Griffin, decision.

Kevin: As Trent noted (OK, he didn’t quite, but let’s just pretend), this is probably the most likely candidate to be a “swing” bout. Two more mid-to-upper level lightweights going to war, and likely putting on a good show. As with many other fights at 155, the fighters are about even so you should expect the bout to go to the judges. Which isn’t a bad thing, but I would like to see a fighter elevate themselves a bit more with a decisive stoppage victory. If I were betting on this fight, I would actually put money on Tibau because the line is ridiculous, but since I’m predicting victories only, I’ll go with Griffin, who seems to have thrived under the tutelage of Extreme Couture. Griffin, decision