TORONTO - It’s not often two former UFC champions are betting underdogs on the same card.
But former light-heavyweight kingpin Forrest Griffin and former interim heavyweight titleholder Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira find themselves in that position ahead of UFC 134 on Saturday.
It makes a certain amount of sense for Nogueira, who faces up-and-comer Brendan Schaub, but Griffin has already beaten Mauricio (Shogun) Rua once before. The man can’t get no respect.
But if you want to talk about being behind the eight-ball, ask Yushin Okami. He has got his work cut out for him when he challenges UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in the main event.
Still, anything can happen in this sport. So here’s a look at how the underdogs and favourites can take home the win.
How Okami can win: Decision
Okami’s a great wrestler and physically strong middleweight, but he’s outmatched in every other category. Luckily for him, if Silva has one weakness, it’s takedown defence and Okami has never been submitted in his career.
Okami did struggle getting past Silva’s striking the first time they fought, but he eventually got it to the mat. Since Silva was disqualified rather quickly, we never really got to see how that scenario would play out.
Silva is incredibly slick off his back — showcased by his wins over Chael Sonnen and Travis Lutter — but is a threat regardless of where the fight takes place.
Either way, Okami does have the tools to take Silva down and grind out a decision. But it won’t be pretty to watch.
How Silva can win: However he wants
Silva’s multifaceted attack is tough to train for and even tougher to see coming in the heat of battle. Regardless of how many rounds he has lost or what position you put him in, he can finish a fight in the blink of an eye.
Okami is tough, but he has been bullied by aggressive fighters in the past, something Silva was doing well at the beginning of their first scrap.
The combination of fighting in Brazil, his home country, and the bitter taste left in his mouth from his first encounter with Okami will likely bring out the best in Silva.
This one could be nasty.
How Griffin can win: Submission or decision
Considering Rua’s lack of consistency in the octagon, you’d think Griffin has a good shot at making it 2-0.
Though few things can be taken from their first fight, it’s worth mentioning that Griffin looked very comfortable in the striking exchanges and was doing an excellent job avoiding Rua’s big blows.
His size advantage and superior conditioning also frustrated the former PRIDE star on the mat.
It’s not inconceivable to think Griffin could simply push the pace and wear Rua out again. But he lacks the kind of KO power necessary to lay Rua out cold.
How Rua can win: Knockout or decision.
If Rua’s UFC track record continues to follow the same pattern, the former light-heavyweight champion is going to be in top form Saturday.
Every time he returns to action following surgery, he looks slow and out of shape. However, the second fight removed, he’s back on top of his game.
Following the loss to Jon Jones, Rua has had time to dedicate himself in the gym and get fully prepared.
Griffin is tricky, but he has been caught in the past. If Rua’s healthy and ready to go three hard rounds, he could finish this in spectacular fashion.
Also, you can’t help but feel he’s 100% dedicated to exacting revenge on Griffin.
How Nogueira can win: Submission
In his younger days, Nogueira was light on his feet and displayed sharp striking. But with all the miles on his body, he has appeared quite lumbering during his UFC stint.
Though he did have hip surgery since his loss to Cain Velasquez, which could put some spring in his step, it’s hard to see him dictating the pace against the stronger and more explosive Schaub.
Nogueira’s punching is still crisp and he will likely find his mark on enough occasions, but he doesn’t have the kind of KO power necessary to stop Schaub. He also has a tendency to leave his head straight up and eat a lot of shots. To make matter worse, his once iron jaw has showed signs of deterioration in his last few fights.
But you can never sleep on Nogueira. He’s one of the greatest heavyweights of all time and it only takes one mistake for him to catch you in something nasty.
How Schaub can win: Knockout or decision
Schaub’s striking power, takedown defence and overall athleticism should give him the confidence to be the aggressor and dictate the tempo.
If he was comfortable taking the fight to Mirko Filipovic, it’s unlikely he’ll get jitters standing in front of Nogueira.
Since his loss to Roy Nelson less than two years ago, Schaub has also brought his overall game together. He’s no longer just a talented athlete with some MMA skills, but rather someone who finds himself flirting with the title mix.
Though the threat of Nogueira’s ground game will no doubt be in the back of his mind, perhaps causing him to commit less to his punches like he did against Gabriel Gonzaga, Schaub should be able to keep the fight standing and at least outwork Nogueira.
But he does have the power to finish the MMA legend.
Koscheck beefs up
Josh Koscheck is expected to make his 185-pound debut at UFC 139.
The former welterweight title challenger announced his return to the octagon via his Twitter account Sunday.
“My next fight is in SAN JOSE cali. [sic] NOV 19th,” Koscheck wrote. “Good chance fighting at 185lbs. :) should know real soon who.”
It has been eight months since Koscheck lost a hard-fought a unanimous decision to Georges St, Pierre at UFC 124 in Montreal.
Though he failed to win a single round on the judges’ scorecards, the four-time NCAA Division-I all-American wrestler showed a ton of heart, fighting with a broken orbital bone courtesy of an early jab from St. Pierre.
Following the bout, Koscheck was unable to fly home to San Jose due to some air pockets that formed in and under his right eye. As a result, the UFC arranged for him to drive down to Boston for corrective surgery.
Masvidal next for Melendez
Gilbert Melendez will defend the Strikeforce lightweight championship against Jorge Masvidal in December.
It’s been a bit of a wait for Melendez, who hasn’t fought since destroying Japanese star Tatsuya Kawajiri in April. The announcement puts to rest rumours that the Team Cesar Gracie member could jump ship to the UFC to challenge the winner of the 155-pound title fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.
Melendez has only lost twice in his nine-year career, dropping decisions to Mitsuhiro Ishida and Josh Thomson. However, he avenged both losses in 2009, stopping Ishida with punches in August before earning a unanimous decision against Thomson four months later.
A win over Masvidal will leave him with little in the way of legitimate title challengers.
But Masvidal is a tough competitor with dynamic striking. In June, he brutalized K.J. Noons for 15 minutes, bloodying the former Strikeforce welterweight title contender en route to a dominant decision victory.
Contenders fight on FOX?
Benson Henderson and Clay Guida are gunning for a spot on the UFC’s inaugural FOX card.
The top-ranked lightweights both feel they’re in line for a title shot, but will settle for a No. 1 contender’s bout on Nov. 12 in Anaheim, Calif.
In an interview with MMA Junkie, Guida’s manager, John Fosco, said the fight makes perfect sense for the FOX event.
“Clay feels that by beating (Anthony) Pettis in such a dominating fashion, that we’ve done enough for a title (shot),” Fosco said. “But listen, the UFC calls the shots, we follow suit, and if they feel that he needs to get in the cage against a guy like Ben Henderson, we will happily get in the cage and make a statement.”
A day later Henderson’s manager, Malki Kawa, said the former WEC champion is more than willing to face Guida.
“Right now, I think Ben Henderson should be in line to fight for the lightweight title, but we’d have no problem beating Clay Guida before we fight for the belt,” Kawa said.
Sonnen seriously wants Silva
Chael Sonnen won’t rest until he gets another crack at Anderson Silva.
Should the former middleweight title challenger beat Brian Stann at UFC 136 Oct. 8, he’ll only accept a fight with Silva next, even if the Brazilian loses his championship to Yushin Okami at UFC 134 Saturday.
“Dana (White) and I are at a crossroads,” Sonnen told Bruce Buffer on the It’s Time radio show. “Dana wants this to be a No. 1 contender’s match and wants me to fight for the championship. I don’t have anything against fighting my friend Yushin Okami, who will be the champion by then, but I have unfinished business with Anderson Silva.
“What I am lobbying for is, win or lose, I will fight Anderson Silva next. Anderson will be working his way back up — or I should say working his way down. I’m going to grab him and beat him up anyway, just for laughs; just on principle. Just for my sheer entertainment, I’m going to go slap that guy around. I don’t need his little tin belt. I’m already the champion.”