The next stop on the UFC’s global expansion, the Octagon will be erected in the Las Vegas of Asia for UFC: Macao. With a card full of Asian talent and some highly competitive match-making, this is a can’t miss event and one we can all see for free as well. Our main event is between two old lions of the Middleweight division as former UFC champion Rich Franklin faces former Strikeforce champion Cung Le. We’ve got plenty of ground to cover, so let’s dig in to this exquisite card and see how all the pieces fit together. Now, onto the fights!
Rich Franklin vs. Cung Le: A fitting match-up of two old guard fighters makes for a great main event, as Rich Franklin takes on Cung Le. Franklin is a fighter who is much better than he’s been giving credit for, as one of the best boxers of his era in the UFC and a sound tactician everywhere the fight goes. Having displayed a warrior’s heart against Wanderlei Silva in his last fight with a five round decision, we know he still has the drive, but his body remains a question mark at this stage of his career.
Cung Le is no spring chicken himself, but the San Shou fighter still has a few rounds left in him. Using his non-conventional arsenal of kicks and deft karate punches, Le has flattened the competition in his MMA and kickboxing career and can strike at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, his style of fighting is better suited to younger men, and his endurance in the last several years just isn’t up to the rigors of heavy kicking attacks and lunging strikes.
This is a fight almost guaranteed to play out standing and both man’s takedown defense should trump the other’s takedowns. While Le has better one-shot power early in the fight, Franklin is a bit more durable at this point and has the better pacing of the two. I see Cung Le having a good first round, a poor second round, and being outright finished in the 3rd as he wilts under the strain and Franklin uses the opportunity to switch to a higher gear and TKO the former SF champ.
Thiago Silva vs. Stanislav Nedkov: An interesting pairing in the Light Heavyweight division, as the precision attack of Thiago Silva goes against the brute force of Stanislav Nedkov. Silva has been a main-stay at 205lbs for years, and while he’s made it deep into the division, one can appreciate his honest effort and top-notch skill set. Fighting similar to a heavier version of Thiago Alves, Silva uses sharp muay thai and some tremendous power to batter the competition, but a sometimes soft chin and lack of a high gear have cost him marquee fights despite his talent.
Nedkov, despite being under contract with the UFC for two years, has only managed to find his way into the cage once due to injuries and visa issues. This leaves us with a lot of questions about Nedkov at the top-level as the bar has steadily moved upwards while he’s staying on the sidelines. What we know about Nedkov is he’s incredibly tough and has ungodly punching power, though his boxing is rough to say the least. While he holds a BJJ black belt and some wrestling credentials from Eastern Europe, how these things compare to the world stage is largely unknown.
This is a case of Silva needing to be careful and picking his spots as Nedkov swings for the fences and hunts for elusive takedowns. While I have no doubt the Silva that fought Gustafsson would beat the Nedkov that fought Cane, we have no idea what Nedkov has been working on in his downtime, and could come into this fight with some bold new facets to his game. Being as he appears to be training with the same camp as always in his native Bulgaria, I can’t imagine we see a different fighter. In this case, if Silva plays his game well he can pick up where Cane left off, placing a methodical beating on Nedkov for the eventual TKO win.
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Paulo Thiago: Korean born fighter Dong Hyun Kim will look to rebound from his bizarre injury loss to Damien Maia, taking on another BJJ specialist in Paulo Thiago. Kim is a rough match-up for anyone at Welterweight, bringing a tremendous reach, a large arsenal of strikes and MMA functional judo that few are ready for. This makes Kim deadly at positively every range and allows opponents no safety in the fight, particularly if trapped under Kim’s crushing ground and pound.
Thiago brings a unique blend of skills as well, using a highly unorthodox boxing game and elite-level BJJ that has made him a mid-level contender in the division for years. While his boxing game is fundamentally wrong, he packs a lot of power into his oddly angled punches and can take a serious punch as well, allowing him to live with his porous defense. It’s his matwork that makes him shine though as a smooth transitioner with an arsenal of choke attacks.
This is a tight match-up, but Thiago’s aforementioned boxing is highly susceptible to straight punches, which Kim can provide in spades. Using his length on the feet and crushing the distance when Thiago closes to strike, Kim can work his two most effective ranges here. I’m not sure which of the two can dominate the mat, but Kim’s base should allow him to only hit the ground on his own terms and keep Thiago from sweeping once he’s on top. It won’t be easy, but Kim should be able to pull off the decision by virtue of ground and pound and superior punch count.
Takanori Gomi vs. Mac Danzig: An interesting fight to say the least, Gomi will need his pin-point striking to be on-line early as he takes on the relentless Mac Danzig. Both men have a huge depth of combat knowledge to draw on here, but Danzig is a fitter and physically healthier version of Gomi in many regards. While Gomi has the better chance of ending this fight inside the distance, Danzig gets my nod for being able to control the pacing, stay away from Gomi’s thunderous punches and grab a decision win.
Tiequan Zhang vs. Jon Tuck: China’s one and only major export hasn’t fared as well as many felt he would, but Tiequan Zhang will give it one last shot in his home nation, taking on TUF 15′s Jon Tuck. Tuck is a legitimate threat on the mat and an all-around talent, but Zhang may have his number in terms of his lightning strikes and his own submission savvy. It’s a close bout, but at 34 years old, I don’t expect Zhang to make changes in the gym and close holes that have shown themselves thus far. Tuck brings a bit more enthusiasm to the fight game at this point, and I see him working a smart game to out-point or KO the Chinese fighter.
Yasuhiro Urushitani vs. John Lineker: Ultra-talented Yasuhiro Urushitani will face brawler John Lineker, in one of the better pairings of the evening. Yasuhiro brings professional boxing level hand to the cage, complete with some of the best footwork you’ll see at 125lbs. This is a major contrast to the chin-down approach of Lineker, who packs huge power into his small frame and has iced more than a few dangerous foes. In a game of cat and mouse, Urushitani has the smart defense and smarter offense to tag Lineker and grind down the fighter to grab a convincing decision win.
Riki Fukuda vs. Tom DeBlass: Looking to rebound from a disappointing short notice performance against Cyrille Diabate, Tom DeBlass will drop a weight class and make for foreign shores, taking on Japanese sprawl and brawler Riki Fukuda. While I’d like to back the tough and dedicated DeBlass in this one, dropping a weight class and fighting a high-paced fighter isn’t always a great idea, especially overseas. DeBlass does have the skills to make this a fight, but Fukuda’s ability to better control the pace, and more importantly, push that pace, makes him a favorite in my book.
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Jeff Hougland: Another fight from the lost UFC 151 card, Mizugaki and Hougland finally get to square off in Macau. While Hougland has a decent muay thai and submission game, Mizugaki is highly underrated in his own skills. A decent American prospect, Hougland isn’t equipped to deal with Mizugaki’s crippling power and ability to suffocate him on the mat.