Sam Stout (13-5-1) vs. Matt Wiman (10-4-0)
Stout needs a win here or he can kiss his UFC contract goodbye. They tend to not like it when you lose three in a row. If he can keep the fight standing and chip away at Wiman, he can win. However, Wiman will probably get him to the ground to punish him for 15 minutes.
Prediction: Wiman by decision
Ryo Chonan (15-9-0) vs. TJ Grant (13-2-0)
I'm not too familiar with Grant, but 12 of his 13 victories came by way of submission. This should be an interesting challenge for him as Chonan is notoriously difficult to submit -- the only person to succeed so far Paulo Filho.
Chonan has shown in the past that he can be dangerous with his stand-up. Expect Chonan to avoid the ground game and control the tempo of the fight.
Prediction: Chonan by decision
Mark Bocek (6-2-0) vs. David Bielkheden (13-6-0)
Bocek has great submissions, but he's going to run into problems with Bielkheden's size, strength and skill on the ground.
Once on top, Bielkheden will either finish Bocek with his ground-and-pound or open him up enough to grab a submission.
Prediction: Bielkheden by first-round KO/TKO
David Loiseau (18-8-0) vs. Ed Herman (14-7-0)
It's good to see David Loiseau back in the UFC. Hopefully he's cleared out the cobwebs that caused him to get cut in the first place. When 'The Crow' is on, he can be one of the most exciting fighters in MMA.
If Herman can get the fight to the ground and punish Loiseau, he'll earn a TKO or decision victory. However, I expect Loiseau to keep the fight standing or work his nasty elbows on the mat for the win.
Prediction: Loiseau by second-round KO/TKO
Jason MacDonald (21-11-0) vs. Nate Quarry (10-3-0)
Quarry can't afford to let this fight hit the ground. If he keeps it standing, he can finish MacDonald, but 'The Athlete' will most likely secure the takedown.
Once they're on the ground, Quarry is toast.
Prediction: MacDonald by first-round submission
Denis Kang (31-11-1) vs. Xavier Foupa-Pokam (20-9-0)
Before walking head first into an Alan Belcher guillotine choke, Denis Kang looked slicker than a greased up Georges St. Pierre. Tonight, he gets a chance to impress with a victory over 'Professor X.'
If Kang can avoid getting hurt in the stand-up exchanges, expect him to use his superior wrestling and submission game to secure the win.
Prediction: Kang by second-round submission
Eliot Marshall vs. Vinicius Magalhaes
The battle of the BJJ black belts.
Though they've never fought in MMA, they competed against one another in a grappling competition with Magalhaes winning on points (You can watch their match here).
Marshall has been training with Greg Jackson, so he will no doubt have a good game plan. However, Magalhaes will most likely give him trouble on his feet.
Prediction: Magalhaes by decision
Steve Cantwell (7-1-0) vs. Luiz Cane (9-1-1)
Cantwell is very well-rounded and probably the better technical striker, but he's going to have a hell of a time weathering Cane's storm. If Cantwell can make him over-anxious, he can catch him, but Cane will probably overwhelm him.
Prediction: Cane by first-round KO/TKO
Cheick Kongo (13-4-1) vs. Antoni Hardonk (8-4-0)
Though Hardonk has solid striking ability, he can't afford to stay standing with Kongo for too long. He's got to the get fight to the ground early and wear his opponent out. Conversely, if Kongo keeps it standing, Hardonk could get knocked out for the first time in his career.
I suspect Kongo will put the big man away.
Prediction: Kongo by second-round KO/TKO.
Krzysztof Soszynski (16-8-1) vs. Brian Stann (6-1-0)
A continuing theme for this event -- Soszynski doesn't want to stand and trade too long with Stann. His best bet is to take this to the ground, but that's easier said than done against Stann.
Prediction: Stann by first-round KO.TKO
Chuck Liddell (21-6-0) vs. Mauricio Rua (17-3-0)
We generally have an idea of where Chuck Liddell is in his career. He's not quite as fast as he used to be, but he still shows up in great physical shape.
If the Mauricio Rua of old shows up tonight, you can expect a violent KO win for the Brazilian. However, following his two lackluster octagon appearances so far, I have my doubts.
It's a toss up, but I'm a Shogun believer.
Prediction: Rua by second-round KO/TKO.
Anderson Silva (23-4-0) vs. Thales Leites (14-1-0)
I would like nothing more than to see Leites shock the world -- it would go down as one of the biggest upset in MMA history -- but I just can't see him doing it.
Leites has great ground skills, but he's going to get torn apart in the stand-up exchanges.
BJJ practitioners like to argue that nine out of 10 fights go to the ground, but 10 out of 10 fights start standing up. And last I checked, 10 was the higher number.
Prediction: Silva by first-round KO/TKO
Live coverage of UFC 97 begins Sat., April 18 at 8 p.m. EST.
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