Weekend Fight Previews

February 19, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

I look forward to the fights each weekend, which puts me in the minority, I know. What’s more, is that I am equally interested in both boxing and MMA, when surprisingly most people seem to be exclusively loyal to one or the other. This being a big fight weekend, I figured I’d take look at the action coming up and offer a few predictions too.


First, we’ll look at the ones that I won’t be watching. There’s a semi-major boxing pay per view on Saturday, featuring main events from two different cards, with Kelly Pavlik defending his middleweight titles against Marco Antonio Rubio and Miguel Cotto returning to action against Michael Jennings.


It’s not that I’m not interested in seeing these fights; I’m actually quite interested. But not interested enough to shell out pay per view money, in this economy for a couple of fights that will be on HBO or Showtime next weekend anyway. It’ll still be interesting then, even though I’ll already know the winner. Frankly, if it weren’t for boxing replays, it’d be tough for me to justify paying for either of those channels. Besides, the UFC has a free fight night on Spike on Saturday; we’ll look at that too in a bit.


Kelly Pavlik (34-1, 30 KOS) vs. Marco Antonio Rubio (43-4-1. 37 KOS)


Pavlik is back to middleweight to defend his WBO, WBC and Ring Magazine Middleweight titles, against the mandatory challenger and Ring Magazine’s 8th ranked middleweight in Rubio. Pavlik will be looking to bounce back from his unanimous decision loss to Bernard Hopkins in a 170-lb. catch weight fight. On paper, Rubio looks like a good opponent to do that against.


Lightly regarded in the rankings, Rubio, at 28 is 2 years Pavlik’s elder and has the edge in ring experience. He gives only ½ inch in height to the champ, but 4 losses and a draw make his record somewhat suspect. Add in the fact that his opponents haven’t exactly been a who’s who of the middleweight division, and it looks like Pavlik might have gotten off light when Rubio was determined to be the mandatory challenger.


Fights aren’t decided on paper though, and Rubio is riding a 9-fight winning streak that dates back to 2006, including 6 wins by knockout. Pavlik looked bad throughout the fight against Hopkins, and may have to work to get his confidence back. Still, it’s tough to see Pavlik dropping this one.


My Pick: Pavlik by TKO round 6


Miguel Cotto (32-1, 26 KOS) vs. Michael Jennings (34-1, 16 KOS)


In the co-main event of the evening, Miguel Cotto will step back into the ring for the first time since losing his welterweight titles and his claim to the mythical pound for pound title to Antonio Margarito back in July. Cotto, currently ranked by ring magazine as the world’s #2 welterweight behind Shane Mosley, will get a shot at the vacant WBO welterweight title against Michael Jennings, who despite his impressive record, finds himself outside of Ring magazine’s top 10 in any weight class.


Jennings, like Rubio in the other fight, is lightly regarded based most likely his lack of impressive opponents. He’ll have a 2-inch advantage over Cotto, and all of the incentive in the world. As for Cotto, it’s a chance to erase any lingering doubt over an already questionable defeat in the wake Margarito’s banned wraps. I’d be tough to count Cotto out against anyone this week, but this looks like little more than a small test and a confidence booster for the rebounding fighter.


My Pick: Cotto by KO round 9


I’m not sure who is scheduled to air on the under card, but for $45 I’d hope they’d have something else good lined up. Actually, at $45 it’s probably pretty well priced. You’ll get 2 decent fights, although the outcomes look somewhat certain, and likely two knockouts as well.


Also, don’t forget about Friday night fights either. It’s always fun to “find” young fighters and begin watching their careers play out. Every time I think of Hopkins for instance, I think of his old days with the executioners robe on Tuesday and Friday nights.


And the highlight of my sports weekend will be on Saturday night, when the UFC shows UFC 95, semi-live in Spike TV. As a card, it probably wouldn’t stand up too well for pay per view, but when it comes to UFC; those are usually the events that feature the best action.


The last free event that the UFC put on with Spike was brutal, and this one could very well be more of the same. With 5 matches scheduled for the broadcast, and 5 more in the can from the under card, you’re sure to see at least a few great fights.


Joe Stevenson (34-9-0) vs. Diego Sanchez (21-2)


This main event features two fighters with careers seemingly headed in different directions. Both are currently outside of the WAMMA top 10 in the lightweight rankings. Stevenson has lost 2 of his last 3 fights, including a disappointing first round choke out loss to Kenny Florian in his last fight in August. Still, after getting worked over for a round and a half against BJ Penn in Stevenson’s title shot in January of ’08, he seemed to get comfortable, and showed that he’s still got something left. The fact that he has 9 defeats in his career is a testament in itself to his ability to bounce back, but he’ll have his hands full with Sanchez on Saturday night.


Sanchez, presumably unranked at lightweight because this will be his debut there, is currently ranked 7th by WAMMA amongst welterweights, the weight at which he used to fight. (The WAMMA rankings can be confusing. WAMMA considers 146 lbs. – 160 lbs to be lightweight and 161 lbs. – 170 lbs. to be welterweight. The UFC calls 145 lbs. – 155 lbs. lightweight, and 156 lbs. – 170 lbs. welterweight.) Regardless, Sanchez will be looking to solidify his place in the division on the back of Stevenson’s reputation.


Interestingly this will be the first match up between the first two welterweight winners of the Ultimate Fighter reality show. After losing to Josh Neer in his first fight after winning the show, Stevenson quickly dropped to his more natural 155 lbs. to join the UFC’s newly created lightweight division. He piled up 4 wins before falling to Penn in his lone title chance. Sanchez, also probably a natural 155 pounder, stuck around at 170 lbs. for a long time after winning season 1 of the Ultimate Fighter. After suffering back-to-back losses to Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch in 2007, the only losses of his professional career, Sanchez fought back with 2008 wins against David Bielkhaden and Luigi Fiorivanti before deciding to try his hand at 155 lbs.


A win here would likely put either fighter right into the thick of the division, and would likely leave either guy a win or two away from a lightweight title shot. Look for this one to happen mostly on the ground. Standing up would work to Sanchez’ favor, but he likes to ground and pound, and will have a tough time staying away from his instincts to shoot. Stevenson is strong on the ground, and technically sound, but likely on the downside of his career, and somewhat overmatched in this one.


My Pick: Sanchez by TKO (strikes) round 2


Dan Hardy (20-6-1) vs. Rory Markham (16-4)


Admittedly, I don’t know much about either fighter in this match up. Hardy is from England, and this being an English venue, I’d have to think he’s the favorite. Hardy is a Thai boxer, with a blue belt in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and despite his 6 losses has won 9 of his last 10 fights dating back to 2006, and is currently on a 5 fight winning streak. He won his UFC debut at UFC 89 in October, with an unimpressive split decision over Akihiro Gono.


Markham is also a little known fighter who seems to prefer the stand up game. He also won his UFC debut, on fight night in July with a spectacular knockout kick over Brodie Farber in the first round. Markham is on the second of a three-fight deal with the UFC and has won 4 of his last 5 fights since 2007.


Look for this one to be mostly a stand up war, with Hardy trying to work his disciplined Thai boxing technique to punch from the clinch and “dirty box”. Markham on the other hand will be looking to keep space between the two of them and work his unorthodox kicks.


My Pick: Hardy by KO round 2


Nate Marquardt (30-8-2) vs. Wilson Gouveia (12-5)


Marquardt is a well rounded, all around fighter who is currently the WAMMA’s 5th ranked middleweight. He’s had 8 fights in the UFC since 2005 with his only losses being a first round KO against UFC Middleweight and consensus pound for pound champ, Anderson Silva, and a controversial split decision loss to Thales Leites in which Marquardt dominated, but lost 2 points from the referee.


Gouveia is a 30-year-old Brazilian Ju-Jitsu specialist who has also won 6 of 8 fights since he joined the UFC in 2006. Gouveia was active in 2008, going 3-1 in 4 fights. He picked up a rare KO win against Jason Lambert in January, lost on punches to Goran Reljic in May, bounced back to submit Ryan Jensen in September with a second round arm bar, and capped it off in December with a first round submission win against Jason McDonald on strikes.


I’m guessing that Marquardt will look to keep this one standing. He’s good on the ground, but nowhere near the class of Gouveia. If Gouveia can take it to the ground, he could be able to grind out a win. Hopefully, Gouveia won’t be distracted by the success that he’s had throwing punches lately, and will stick to what he knows best, otherwise it could be a short night for him.


My Pick: Marquardt by TKO round 3


Demian Maia (10-0) vs. Chael Sonnen (23-9-1)


It appears that Sonnen is being thrown directly to the wolves in his UFC debut and looks to be little more than fodder for rising sensation Demian Maia. With that said, luck more than anything, has seemingly stood between Sonnen and success. He missed out on chances at the WEC’s middleweight title on a number of occasions before the division was folded, and now will be fed right to the lions in his UFC debut.


Maia has been a walking highlight reel since debuting in the UFC in October of 2007. Maia stepped onto the scene with 3 straight “submission of the night” victories, and followed up with a first round choke out of Nate Quarry in November. His Ju-Jitsu is as smooth as they come, and is his bread and butter. But his stand up game is exciting and unpredictable too, and almost equally as dangerous. It would seem that a match up with Anderson Silva is on the horizon.


My Pick: Maia by Choke Round 1


Josh Koscheck (14-3) vs. Paulo Thiago (10-0)


Since beating Diego Sanchez in April of 2007, Koscheck’s career has been shiftless.  A ground and pound fighter, with a scrappy yet unscientific standup game, all Koscheck wants to do is to please the fans. Instead, after dropping a unanimous decision to George St. Pierre in August of ’07, Koscheck labored through wins over Chris Lytle and Dustin Haslett before dropping a decision to Thiago Alves in October of 2008. He followed it up in December by scoring the knockout of the night against Yoshiyuki Yoshida.


Thiago is an undefeated Brazilian Ju-Jitsu artist who will be making his UFC debut. Previously he was fighting under the Jungle Fights promotion out of Brazil. It’s safe to say that he’ll be looking to get this one to the ground as quickly as possible. Given Koscheck’s sloppy style and tendency to get winded, it shouldn’t be that difficult. The nerves inherent with his UFC debut could be a problem though, and Koscheck is fighting with his back to the wall in many respects. Still, it’s tough to bet against an undefeated Brazilian.


My Pick: Thiago by Submission – Armbar round 3


Here are the rest of the fights that aren’t scheduled for broadcast. If the live fights go quickly, you’re liable to see at least one or two of these too.


Terry Atim (11-2) vs. Brian Cobb (15-4)

My Pick: Cobb by Choke round 2


Junior Dos Santos (7-1) vs. Stefan Struve (20-2)

My Pick: Struve by Choke round 1


Mike Ciesnolevicz (17-3-1) vs. Neil Grove (7-1)

My Pick: Grove by KO round 2


Per Ecklund (15-3-1) vs. Evan Dunham (7-0)

My Pick: Dunham by Choke round 2


Paul Kelly (8-1) vs. Troy Mandaloniz (3-1)

My Pick: Kelly by Decision


Enjoy the fights.