UFC 102 predictions

Randy Couture (right) drops Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 en route to winning the UFC heavyweight...

Randy Couture (right) drops Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 en route to winning the UFC heavyweight championship. At UFC 102, Couture faces former PRIDE heavyweight title holder Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. (UFC photo)

NEIL SPRINGER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 12:57 PM ET

MMA legends Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira square off in the UFC 102 main event that has more implications on their respective retirements than the heavyweight title picture.

Though Couture has continually laughed in the face of Father Time, the 46-year-old UFC Hall of Famer only has so many more fights left in him. A devastating loss tonight could bring about his second retirement quicker than we thought.

Oddly enough, more focus seems to be on whether Nogueira, who is 13 years Couture's junior, will soon be calling it quits. Following Nogueira's loss to Frank Mir at UFC 92, many speculated that all the punishment he has endured over the years has finally caught up with him.

Though he claims to be in great shape, Nogueira has not been the same fighter since entering the UFC.

Brandon Vera (10-3-0) vs. Krzysztof Soszynski (18-8-1)

If Soszynski doesn't get this to the mat quickly, Vera will take him apart in the striking exchanges. Since Vera has a very good defensive ground game, simply turning this into a grappling affair doesn't guarantee victory for Soszynski.

Soszynski will need to deal some significant damage before attempting a submission. If not, Vera will either sweep or stall until the ref stands them both up.

This could all be moot, however, as Vera will most likely apply a conservative game plan, avoiding the takedowns and picking his shots.

Prediction: Vera by decision.

Nate Marquardt (28-8-2) vs. Demian Maia (10-0-0)

For Marquardt's sake, I hope he's been working on his takedown and submission defense. Not only is Maia as skilled a BJJ practitioner as there is in MMA at the moment, but he's a far better wrestler than he seems to get credit for.

Every one of Maia's opponents know his game plan beforehand, but so far no one has been able to stop him.

Marquardt can pick him apart in the stand-up exchanges, but I see Maia getting this to the ground before securing the inevitable submission.

Prediction: Maia by first-round submission.

Chris Leben (18-6-0) vs. Jake Rosholt (5-1-0)

Leben better look to end it early or it could wind up being a really long night.

If he can get his hands off early, he'll either put Rosholt away with a flurry of punches or one big shot. However, if Rosholt takes him down, Leben will be eating ground-and-pound for dinner.

Prediction: It's a crap shoot, but I'll go with Leben by first-round KO/TKO.

Keith Jardine (14-5-1) vs. Thiago Silva (13-1-0)

The outcome of this fight will most likely be determined within the first couple minutes.

Jardine needs to use his unorthodox style to weather the early storm or risk getting knocked out. The key to his success will be to apply a strategy similar to what led him to victory over Chuck Liddell -- avoid any serious shots and deliver lots of hard kicks to the legs and body, taking the wind out of his opponent's sails.

If he sticks to this game plan, he will either earn a late stoppage or decision.

Prediction: Jardine by third-round KO/TKO.

Randy Couture (16-9-0) vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (31-5-1)

There's a lot of concern and speculation surrounding Nogueira's condition going into this fight.

Though some are making too big a deal of his loss to Frank Mir -- he was hindered by both a knee injury and staph infection, after all -- the question remains: how much longer can he keep fighting?

You would have a tough time naming someone who has taken more punishment in his career than Nogueira. Sooner or later, all those wars add up.

Rumours have also been circulating that he's been getting knocked out repeatedly during his training camp. However, these should be treated as unfounded -- for now.

That said, even if he's not in the best physical shape, Nogueira's technique on the ground could be enough to earn him a win. If, however, he does show up in great condition, this will be a very competitive fight.

But there's no question that Couture will be in excellent shape. As long as he can keep the pressure on, bully Nogueira and avoid any serious mistakes, he will earn a decision.

Prediction: Couture by decision.


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