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UFC 97 Anderson Silva vs Thales Leites Preview and Predictions
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The UFC gears up for its second installment in Montreal on April 18th, in front of an already sold-out crowd. Although the event was in jeopardy early on by the Quebec Athletic Commission due in part to the Strikebox debacle this past February, the UFC is back on course, to put on another great show in front of the Montreal natives. Although the card doesn’t boast Canada’s favorite son Georges St. Pierre, big names with big future implications on several divisions are set to hit the Bell Centre.
With Canadians galore gracing the card, every bout appears to be a crowd pleaser.
On the preliminary card, an intriguing matchup with Pride and Dream veteran, former top 10 Middleweight Denis Kang is set to take on the hard nose Xavier Fouka-Pokum.
Denis, the Vancouver native has struggled as of late, going 2-3 in his last 5 bouts, against top flight competition. In his UFC debut, he initially was able to control the pace of the action against Veteran Alan Belcher. What looked to be an easy victory looming ahead, with Kang landing solid combinations and mixing it up with takedown’s, winning him the opening frame, it was in the second where Belcher (garnering an abnormally large Johnny Cash Tattoo on his left arm) was able to capitalize on a poor shot by Denis, securing a guillotine choke, and clinching the victory.
Citing a lack of time to prepare for the bout due to an ankle injury, Kang will get his second shot for a successful UFC win when he fights fellow Canadian Fouka-Pokum, who will serve to be a tough and sturdy test for Kang. Although not having fought as many big named opponents as Kang, the French Parisian remains a solid striker, garnering 11 wins by way of TKO/KO. Yet with that said, the Snake Team members’ weakness appears to be against ground savvy Jujitsu specialist. Undoubtedly, Kang being a very competent Jujitsu practitioner will look to implement a cautious standup game, mixing it in with takedowns, and locking in a fight ending submission before the bouts end in order to secure his first victory inside the Octagon, and spoiling the debut for his opponent.
The Crow is back!
David Loiseau makes his long anticipated return to the cage, when he takes on TUF 3 Middleweight Runner Up, Ed Herman. David has racked up three straight, since being ousted from the UFC following consecutive defeats to former Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin, and TUF Alum Mike Swick. Training with the likes of longtime friend Georges St. Pierre, as well as Greg Jackson’s own Nate Marquardt and Champion Rashad Evans, the sky is the limit for “The Crow”. With a solid Taekwondo background, Loiseau has a versatile standup game, including spinning back kicks and vicious elbows that almost always find their mark.
Ed Herman has had a string of bad luck, dropping his last two bouts after having successfully finished his last 3 opponents in the UFC; he will look to get back on track. Herman trains out of Team Quest, which boasts big names such as Dan Henderson, “Mayhem” Miller and the always tough Matt Lindland. Primarily relying on his wrestling base, “Short Fuse” has developed well rounded grappling skills, adding Jujitsu to his arsenal. Although there is a discrepancy between Loiseau and Herman with well roundedness, this should prove to be an interesting fight as it is staged to be a grappler vs. striker matchup. Look for David to shake off any takedown attempts by Herman with his improved defense, mixing up his striking effectively, with an array of kicks and punches finding their mark and putting a Short Fuse, on Herman before the bouts conclusion.
Moving on the to main card, and the first televised bout of the evening Former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion Brian Stann meets IFL Veteran and TUF personality, Krystof Soszynski. Stann, a decorated Marine Lieutenant has seen his fair share of action in his time serving in Iraq, and uses his memories and experiences to fuel him in his fights, always upholding the honor of his country. Normally a fan favorite, he’ll be entering into unfamiliar territory when he faces Canada’s own “Polish Experiment”. A former body builder turned fighter, Soszynski appears to be the clear favorite. Having the experience in his career, along with a well rounded game; “The All American” Stann will be over whelmed early. His only chance will be a decisive one punch blow ending the bout, as Soszynski has garnered 8 victories by way of submission in his 16 wins. The move to Greg Jackson’s camp will prove to be too little too late, as Krystof will take the fight to the ground, locking in his trademark kimura to finish the bout in the 2nd round, spoiling the UFC debut for the marine.
Next, the last ever WEC Light Heavyweight Champion Steve Cantwell takes on rising contender Luiz Cane. Steve “The Robot” has had an extensive kickboxing background in his young career, while always improving on his ground game, which proved evident in his UFC debut against Razak Al-Hassan, winning the bout by an elbow bending armbar. Luiz is coming off of a big KO win over former top 10 ranked Sokoudjou, ending the bout with an unforgiving right hand to the chin. “Banha” will be the larger of the two coming into the bout, and that may very well be the difference maker. While both matchup well standing up, look for Cane to use his size and strength to fend off any takedown attempts from the WEC star, and making him pay with knees and punches while coming in, garnering his 10th KO victory, and his 3rd straight in the octagon, inside of the first round.
In come in the big boys, the heavyweights where rising contender Cheick Kongo meets Dutch Kick boxer Antoni Hardonk, in a pivotal matchup. Kongo comes off a crushing first round win against the overwhelmed Mustapha Al-Turk. All of Mustapha’s takedown attempts were thwarted with big fists to the face, by way of his 6’4 Frenchman. While Kongo’s strongpoint is his standup, he’s made leaps and bounds in his wrestling, which proved evident (albeit a split decision loss) against Heath Herring, constantly using effective sweeps and takedowns in order to stifle the standup game of “The Texas Crazy Horse”. Hardonk having fought in K-1 and garnering several Kickboxing titles has solely relied on his standup game since being in the UFC. Going 1-2 in his first 3 bouts in the octagon, the Dutchman has since racked up 3 straight, all by way of TKO. Though most would be anticipating a standup fight, Cheick will use his improved wrestling since training with the Wolfslair in the U.K., to control the action on the ground, and use a steady dose of ground pound en-route to a safe unanimous decision victory.
Now, the Co-Main Event, pitting the Icon that is Chuck Liddell against Former Number One Light Heavyweight Mauricio Rua. Both men are looking to impress in their next bouts, while the two are coming off of essentially losses. Though Shogun was successful in his last bout at UFC 93 against an over the hill Mark Coleman, he looked only a shell of a man that was dominating everyone overseas. Having wins over the likes of Alistair Overeem, Ricardo Arona and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Rua hasn’t been able to duplicate the same success in the UFC. While Liddell remains to be arguably the biggest star in MMA today, he’s gone 1-3 in his last 4 bouts, two by way of KO, with his last fight being the most devastating loss of his illustrious career. A swift “Iceman” trademark overhand right by Rashad Evans has left a lasting impression on fans, questioning Liddell’s longevity in the sport and whether he is still relevant in today’s game. Rua being a former teammate and good friend of Wanderlei Silva will use his fellow Brazilian’s own experiences against the Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, dissecting his weaknesses in order to improve his chances. This match is a toss up, if Rua comes in good shape for three rounds, he will win the fight with his speed, athleticism and great standup game by way of decision, but if he comes in gassing after the first round (i.e. Forrest Griffin and Mark Coleman), you can expect Chuck to pressure him constantly, capitalizing on a fatigued “Shogun” with a right hand to the jaw, putting an end to the hype train that is Rua and making his run back to the top.
Finally, the Main Event of the evening, arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter and unquestionably the best Middleweight in the world Anderson Silva will meet his fellow countryman, Brazilian Jujitsu Black Belt Thales Leites. “The Spider” has been on a tear since joining the UFC ranks, with his first foray into the cage lasting only a mere 49 seconds into the bout against the seemingly iron chinned Chris Leben, by way of KO. The Nova Uniao product, Thales has emerged as a top contender, gaining 5 consecutive victories since his unsuccessful UFC debut against Martin Kampmann, the only blemish on his otherwise flawless record. Leites, a prized Brazilian Jujitsu black belt under Andre Pederneiras (who has also trained the likes of BJ Penn, Vitor Ribeiro and Jose Aldo to his credit) will look for his biggest win of his career, cementing his legacy and being the first to defeat Silva, who is looking for a record 9th straight victory in the UFC. Silva is no slouch in the ground game, though most analysts will say his sole weakness is in his jujitsu, it’s hard to argue his versatility as he holds a Black Belt under the Nogueira Brothers. Though his last performance was some what uncharacteristically what most have come to expect of Anderson with him showing less aggression, Thales is the perfect opponent to display his full arsenal against. With limited standup ability, compared to Anderson, look for Silva to maintain the distance with his long reach, looking to capitalize on any mistakes that Leites gives him, ending the fight in traumatizing fashion inside of the first round via, as Joe Rogan would say, “…a ballet of violence”.
(Photo courtesy of Combat Lifestyle)