UFC 104 predictions

Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida defends his UFC light-heavyweight title against former PRIDE star...

Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida defends his UFC light-heavyweight title against former PRIDE star Mauricio (Shogun) Rua. (UFC Photo)

NEIL SPRINGER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 1:07 PM ET

Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida defends his UFC light-heavyweight championship for the first time as he faces 2005 PRIDE grand prix winner Mauricio (Shogun) Rua tonight at UFC 104 in Los Angeles.

Will the 'Machida era' be over before it starts or is this going to be the first successful defence in a long title run?

Also, former IFL heavyweight (Big) Ben Rothwell takes on undefeated prospect Cain Velasquez.

Anthony Johnson (7-2) vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida (11-3)

On paper, Johnson has the attributes necessary to give Yoshida a very rough evening.

Not only is he a huge welterweight, but he's also a superior striker and has serious knockout power. His reach advantage will also keep the judoka at a distance, making it difficult to take the fight to the ground.

Should Yoshida get in close and clinch, he'll likely have a hard time with Johnson's size and strength.

If Johnson plays it smart, he can completely nullify Yoshida's strengths. However, if he gets reckless, he'll find himself on his back and could get submitted.

I predict Johnson's striking will simply be too much for Yoshida.

Prediction: Johnson by first-round KO/TKO.

Joe Stevenson (30-10) vs. Spencer Fisher (23-4)

As with every striker vs. grappler match, the winner will be the fighter who can dictate the tempo and determine where the fight takes place.

Stevenson's key to victory will be to stand with Fisher just long enough to get the fight to the ground. Once there, he will need to grab a submission or retain top control as long as possible.

Fisher needs to keep his distance and pick the proper moments to land his shots. If he plants his feet too long while striking, Stevenson will catch him off-balance and take him down.

Though Fisher continues to improve against grapplers, he will have trouble with Stevenson's tenacity.

Prediction: Stevenson by decision.

Gleison Tibau (19-6) vs. Josh Neer (25-8-1)

Tibau will need to take this to the mat as soon as possible. Though Neer is no slouch on the ground, he will find himself out-classed in the grappling exchanges.

Neer's crafty when he's on, though. He will also have no problem out-striking Tibau.

If this hits the canvas, Tibau will either earn a submission or decision victory. Conversely, if the two fighters stay upright, Neer will deliver a knockout or receive the judges' nod.

Prediction: Tibau by decision.

Cain Velasquez (6-0) vs. Ben Rothwell (30-6)

While Velasquez's wrestling skills looked great against Cheick Kongo, that fight exposed the obvious holes in his stand-up game. Also, he couldn't finish the fight with his ground-and-pound, instead riding out a unanimous decision.

It's these flaws that Rothwell will look to take advantage of tonight.

A talented kickboxer with solid takedown defense, Rothwell has what it takes to give a guy like Velasquez his toughest fight to date.

However, as one-dimensional as Velasquez can be at times, he remains effective at securing the takedown and controlling his opponent. Rothwell will need to hurt him early if he hopes to take this. If not, he's in for a hell of a night.

Prediction: Velasquez by decision.

Lyoto Machida (15-0) vs. Mauricio Rua (18-3)

Though Machida has quickly found himself on the list of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the world, there are still many unanswered questions that surround him.

Can he take a punch from a top striker? Can he defend against submission attempts from a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt? Will he be able to go 25 minutes?

Fortunately, tonight we may get the answers to some of these questions.

Undoubtedly, Rua is one of the best strikers in the light-heavyweight division. If anyone can test Machida's chin, it's him. However, actually landing punches will be a challenge in itself.

Though some will argue that a Chute Box black belt doesn't mean much in the BJJ world, Rua's ground game shouldn't be taken lightly. If Machida finds himself on his back, he'll have to work hard to avoid taking any serious damage or getting submitted.

Cardio is a question mark for both men at this point. While Rua appeared to be in great shape against Chuck Liddell, he finished the bout too early to get a sense of how well he is conditioned. Machida scored the biggest win of his career against Rashad Evans, but did look a bit tired towards the end of the bout.

Knowing Rua's style, he'll aim to finish it quickly. Unfortunately, he runs the risk of getting caught or tiring himself out.

Expect Machida to wear Rua down and then finish him mid-way through the fight.

Prediction: Machida by third-round submission.


Videos

Photos