Boasting some of the most talented, well-known, and exciting fighters in the world, the light heavyweight division is the lynchpin of the UFC. It also happens to be one of the deepest, with several fighters looking to catapult themselves into the title picture. On May 24th at UFC 84: Ill Will, in Las Vegas, the true contenders will be determined, as the division looks to be sorted out with an array of critical light heavyweight fights.
In addition, rivals BJ Penn and Sean Sherk will try and settle the score in the main event, for the lightweight championship. These two have had bad blood for months and the mudslinging has intensified as the bout nears. Penn has been critical of Sherk since he was stripped of his title due to steroid allegations. Sherk has retaliated by disrespecting Penn’s lifestyle and motivation.
UFC 84 is establishing itself as a card with major stars, serious title implications, and what could be the end of the UFC/Tito Ortiz era. The winner of the grudge match between Penn and Sherk will capture lightweight supremacy. A title shot likely looms for the winner of Keith Jardine versus Wanderlei Silva in what is being touted as a fight with the potential to be highly explosive. And Tito Ortiz looks to cement his legacy, as he prepares for his fight against up and coming star Lyoto Machida, who wants to solidify his place amongst the elite. None the less, UFC 84 has the potential to be the event of the year.
In his rematch against Matt Hughes in 2006, BJ Penn gassed out in the third round and has vowed never to allow that to happen again. Since losing that bout, Penn has looked like a man possessed. With seemingly renewed vigor and dreams of further bolstering his resume, Penn has won his last two bouts in dominating fashion. As Penn has accumulated two victories in a row, he has made it perfectly clear he is fighting for an eventual shot at redemption against Georges St. Pierre. To earn that opportunity, he needs to first get past the former lightweight champ Sean Sherk.
Since dropping down from welterweight, Sherk has consistently imposed his will on his opponents. He is a proficient wrestler with fluid takedowns and possesses explosive bursts of speed. Physically, Sherk may have no rival within the UFC. He is one of the pound for pound strongest men in the organization and prides himself on his intense training regimen.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Sherk is going to try and implement the same game plan he uses in the majority of his fights. Sherk will look to take Penn down and overwhelm him with his ground and pound. Hermes Franca was taken down at will in Sherk’s last bout and he won in decisive fashion. Expect Sherk to try and force the fight into the later rounds and put Penn’s cardio to the test. The longer the fight goes, the better Sherk’s chances are, because Penn’s conditioning has often been criticized and called into question.
Unfortunately for Sherk though, Penn has incredible take down defenses and being a black belt in jiu-jitsu, is also relaxed as well as dangerous from his back. Penn doesn’t mind standing either. He has heavy hands and possesses a stout chin. Penn is simply too skilled for Sherk and will give him fits wherever the fight goes. Penn will pick Sherk apart on his feet and decide where he feels comfortable taking the fight.
Prediction: BJ Penn via TKO round three
Love him or hate him, the outspoken Tito Ortiz elicits massive amounts of both fan and media reaction. Ortiz is marketing this bout as if he isn’t fighting just Machida, but Dana White and the entire UFC organization as well. Interestingly enough, this match will be one of the defining moments of his career regardless of the outcome. He is being matched against one of the elite fighters in the division and someone whose style is perplexing and hard to decipher. Furthermore, Ortiz has reached a crossroads in his career, not having gained a meaningful victory in several years. And after being one of the faces of the UFC for over 11 years, Ortiz has announced this will be his last fight in the octagon. Ortiz desperately needs to reestablish himself as a credible superstar with a solid performance, so he can once again become relevant in the sport he helped build.
In order to achieve victory, Ortiz must defeat a skilled and wily veteran. Lyoto Machida is the best fighter most casual fans have yet to hear of. He has notable wins over Rich Franklin, Stephan Bonnar, BJ Penn, and Rameau Sokoudjou. Machida fights with a unique and awkward style, which often frustrates his opponents. With a base in karate and a background in a variety of other disciplines, Machida is very dangerous. Although Machida lacks one-punch knockout power, he is a methodical fighter who is patient and gets better as the fight wears on. Thus far, Machida is undefeated in both his UFC and professional career and quickly moving up the light heavyweight ranks.
It will be critical for the Huntington Beach Bad Boy to establish the tempo early, because Machida is a notoriously slow starter. Ortiz will have the strength advantage and should use that to take Machida down as frequently as possible. Throughout his career, Ortiz has been at his best when smothering his opponents with ground and pound. He will need to adhere to this strategy in order to win against Machida. Ortiz has stood with some of the best punchers in the world and is fully aware that Machida is not a power puncher. However, he is accurate and crafty as he showed in his last bout against Sokoudjou. It would be in his best interest to pick Ortiz apart on his feet.
Despite the consensus that Ortiz is a shadow of his former self and that Machida is a rising star, Ortiz has more riding on this fight. Fans should witness a motivated Ortiz who is going to attempt to thrill the crowd. Ultimately, Ortiz will be able to disrupt Machida’s striking and punctuate the end to a great career in the UFC.
Prediction: Tito Ortiz via Unanimous Decision
Wanderlei Silva may be the better fighter skill wise, but defeating Keith Jardine will be a difficult task. Silva is one of the most celebrated athletes in MMA history. He became legendary in Japan for amassing an incredible win streak in the now defunct PRIDE organization and always being a part of electrifying fights. Despite having a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Silva is well known for being a vicious striker who is willing to take a punch in order to give one. This strategy, although entertaining, is also detrimental to his success at times.
Keith Jardine poses the same style difficulties to Silva as did Chuck Liddell. Because Silva is undersized (listed on the UFC website at 5’11), bigger opponents often have reach advantages on him. Against Liddell, Silva was unable to get inside on him. Expect Jardine to use his long jab and ferocious leg kicks to keep Silva at a distance. It’ll be crucial for Jardine to keep away from Silva’s muay Thai clinch. Silva albeit powerful, is small in stature compared to his light heavyweight contemporaries so he must find a way to get inside where he can inflict the most damage.
A tactic that would serve Silva well would be to shoot for the occasional take down. Jardine will be expecting a standing battle and by taking him down, it could throw off his game plan. Furthermore, when in-close, Jardine would not be able to use his size as an advantage. With Jardine on his back, Silva could choose to rain down punches or attempt to slap on a submission.
This bout has major implications for both fighters. Jardine is coming off a hard fought victory over Liddell (he also beat Forrest Griffin in late 2006). Stringing together wins of that magnitude would most likely earn him a title shot. Silva on the other hand, is looking for his first meaningful win in some time. He has lost three of his last four and is in dire need of an impressive performance. If Silva was to lose, a drop in weight to the middleweight division would be seemingly inevitable. This match could easily end up being the fight of the night. Both combatants like to bang and the fight might wind up with a knockout. If the always exciting but sometimes stubborn Silva refuses to adapt his game plan, it could be a quick night for him. Whichever strategy he chooses to employ, the fact remains the bout should be exciting.
Prediction: Keith Jardine via TKO round two
This bout is intriguing because it might reveal whether or not the UFC has unearthed the newest light heavyweight sensation in Reljic. Hailing from Croatia, Reljic is a 23-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who is currently 7-0 in his MMA career. It will be his debut fight in the UFC and a win over the established Gouveia would prove he belongs.
Since his initial UFC loss to Keith Jardine, Gouveia has strung together four respectable wins. He is coming off a come-from-behind, spectacular knockout of Jason Lambert, at UFC 80. While Gouveia also has a black belt in BJJ, he is more than comfortable on his feet.
Both fighters are well versed in submissions and BJJ so it will be interesting to see whose ground game is more developed. Despite the similarities, Gouveia has a destructive left hoot that he throws with wreckless abandon. He is not opposed to keeping the fight standing and has a tested chin. Reljic has won five of his previous seven fights via submission so expect him to try and take Gouveia down. Whoever is able to implement their strategy will obtain the win. Reljic is young with a high talent ceiling but ultimately, Reljic’s lack of experience in the octagon is considerable and will be hard to overcome.
Prediction: Wilson Gouveia via TKO round two
Thiago Silva thrust himself into the spotlight after the emphatic TKO of Houston Alexander. The 25-year-old Brazilian fighter who trains with American Top Team has continually garnered interest and hype as he has slowly begun to ascend up the light heavyweight ranks. Currently undefeated and 3-0 in the UFC, Silva has shown his explosive striking. He also boasts a well rounded Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu base. Even as a young fighter, Silva has proven his composure because he has great control and can transition into a submission when on his back (as he showed in a fight against Dave Dalgliesh which can be seen here: Video
Antonio Mendes is making his debut with the UFC and many expect him to be a showcase for Thiago Silva to display his skills. Still, Mendes is on an eleven fight win streak and hasn’t lost since 2004. He is a Thai boxer who has managed to KO or TKO eight of his opponents.
Initially, Silva had been rumored to be fighting Rashad Evans, who would have been a fantastic opponent to gauge what level Silva is really on. But when Mauricio Rua dropped out of his fight with Chuck Liddell, Evans stepped up in leaving Silva without an opponent. Mendes was brought in to fill the void and Silva will want to push the pace immediately.
Silva is an effective striker who will tap into his arsenal against Mendes. He will continue to move forward and the fight should be over quick.
Prediction: Thiago Silva via KO round one
-In an attempt to inject talent into a suddenly lacking heavyweight division, the UFC signed three potential superstars, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez , and Shane Carwin. This influx of talent may have future implications in t he heavyweight division. On the undercard of UFC 84 Shane Carwin will make his debut against Christian Wellisch. Carwin is a decorated wrestler and physical specimen. The development and progress of those three prospects could very well determine the future of the division.
-If Wanderlei Silva loses and decides to drop in weight, many intriguing opponents await him. Michael Bisping, Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin, even a possible rematch with Dan Henderson would be must see action. More exciting even, would be a showdown against titleholder Anderson Silva. That match would be a huge main event for the UFC and a dream fight for MMA fans.