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 411mania » MMA » Columns

The Rear Naked Column 07.08.11: UFC Upset Watch
Posted by Samer Kadi on 07.08.2011

As Anderson Silva prepares for a rematch with the last man to "defeat" him, his reign of terror continues to loom large over the middleweight division. Meanwhile, Georges St-Pierre's dominance over one of the sport's most stacked weight-classes has forced the UFC to bring in one of the few elite welterweights not to have had the misfortune of getting handled by the Canadian. Elsewhere, Jon Jones bids to become the first dominant light heavyweight champion since Chuck Liddell when he takes on the man who managed to stop "The Iceman's" legendary title run.

Yushin Okami, Nick Diaz and Quinton Jackson are veterans of the game in every sense of the word. That however, does not make their tasks any less formidable. Nevertheless, upsets are always in the cards and if history has taught us anything, it's never to write any world-class fighter off.

Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami

Headlining the UFC's historic return to Brazil will be the country's finest, as UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva takes on Yushin Okami, in what many believe is a long overdue title shot for "Thunder."

It is hard to put too much stock in their initial encounter, as the entire fight lasted just over two minutes and ended abruptly. Moreover, both fighters have improved considerably since then. In fact, in Silva's case, the improvement saw him to take the sport by a storm. However, "The Spider's" weakness remains his defensive wrestling, which forced him to endure and navigate out of some vulnerable positions in the past. Travis Lutter, Dan Henderson, and Chael Sonnen all had success taking Silva down. Of course, they all ended up getting submitted.

Make no mistake about it however, putting the champion on his back remains Okami's ultimate goal. What separates the Japanese standout from the aforementioned trio is that he's never been submitted in his career. While Okami will hardly rain down punches on Silva the way Sonnen did, or pass his guard and get full mount the way Lutter did, his grappling ability should allow him to see off Silva's submission attempts from the bottom.

The question for Okami is whether he can consistently take Silva down and control him. While his wrestling ability is notable, he doesn't possess Chael Sonnen's shot to where he can suddenly switch levels and rip a double leg. Okami's most effective work comes from the clinch, where he can be quite frustrating to deal with. To do that, Okami needs to get in close-quarters, which is a tough proposition against Silva.

For as improved as Okami's stand-up is, Anderson Silva remains the best striker in the world, and his diversity is second to none. Okami needs to cut off the cage and not allow Silva to use his footwork and counter-punch. Furthermore, in the clinch, "Thunder" needs to immediately press Silva against the fence to prevent him from having any room to maneuver and potentially secure his dreaded muay Thai clinch.

The fight will boil down to whether Okami can take away Anderson's ability to control distance. Demian Maia's takedowns are severely underrated, yet his inability to get the clinch forced him to shoot from out of range and Silva was easily able to evade. Okami has better wrestling than Maia, but the results will be the same if he is not able to zero in on "The Spider."

This fight will be broken down far more comprehensively in the week leading up to the fight. As it stands, Okami has the tools to trouble the Brazilian, and his chin is good enough not to get blown away the moment Silva touches him. That alone makes the fight at least on paper somewhat competitive.

Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz

In perhaps the most anticipated title fight of the second half of the year (though Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos have something to say about that), UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre locks horns with Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz. Deserved or not, Diaz is getting his shot at the belt and he better make it count, as the manner in which St-Pierre has been beating his opponents leaves little room for rematches.

Unlike many of St-Pierre's previous opponents, Diaz will be a threat wherever the fight goes. However, just like many of St-Pierre's previous opponents, Diaz will not have much of a say in where the fight goes. That is the luxury that GSP enjoys over the vast majority of welterweights, in that he is always the one dictating the action and deciding where the fight takes place. As such, Diaz's lack of both offensive and defensive wrestling does not bode well for him.

That however, does not negate the fact that Diaz possesses the offensive arsenal to keep St-Pierre on his toes, both figuratively and literally. Whether it's in the stand-up or on the ground, the champion cannot afford to relax. St-Pierre will look to do what he always does on the feet, and that is to use his jab and leg kicks to control distance and keep his opponent at bay. Diaz's lack of reach advantage (an anomaly for him) and flat-footed stance will play right into St-Pierre's hands. The Stockton kid cannot simply move forward and back St-Pierre up before peppering him with trademark combinations. That approach will see the Canadian do what he does best, and that is to switch levels and shoot for a takedown.

Diaz has been controlled by wrestlers before, and off of his back, he can be a little too comfortable for his own good. It is tough to envision a scenario in which Diaz can successfully play an open guard game with GSP and go for submissions. Unless he can catch him with a guillotine or surprise him with a leg lock, there doesn't seem to be a realistic scenario where the Strikeforce champion can submit a grappler of St-Pierre's caliber from the bottom. The problem is, guillotines and leg locks aren't really Diaz's bread and butter, who generally prefers to go for triangles and armbars from the guard.

Expect this fight to unfold in the same way that most of GSP's title defenses have gone: a dominant performance accompanied by complaints about his inability to finish.

Jon Jones vs. Quinton Jackson

If Anderson Silva took the sport by a storm, then Jones' rapid rise through the light heavyweight ranks was more like a hurricane. His performance against Mauricio Rua all but justified the hype, but the real question is whether he will face a similar fate to Lyoto Machida or finally give the division some much-needed stability. Quinton Jackson has been among the light heavyweight elite for what seems like ages, and he is a handful for anyone in the division, but this couldn't be a worse match-up for "Rampage."

Jackson has always been more well-rounded than people give him credit, as he is a perfectly capable wrestler with boxing skills to boot. However, whatever approach "Rampage" chooses in this fight, it will be negated by Jones. Clinching up in an attempt to go for takedowns is suicidal against the champion, as doing so almost assuredly means Jackson will be the one going for a ride. And while Jackson's takedown defense is quite sharp when he's on his game, Jones has shown that he can take anyone down with relative ease.

Jones' striking still has ways to go, and from a technical perspective, Jackson is definitely the better boxer, but this will mean very little when he can't get past Jones' reach. While he hasn't developed much of a jab yet, Jones knows how to "stay long" and take advantage of his reach by utilizing kicks. In addition, the "Shogun" fight showed that Jones' body work is an absolute terror to deal with. In fact, "Bones" will likely take a page out of Rua's book and do to Jackson what "Shogun" himself did to him in PRIDE.

Plus, when "Rampage" can't get back to his feet after being taken down, he tends to look completely helpless off of his back. This does not make for an enjoyable experience against someone like Jones, who will be more than happy to bury his elbows in Jackson's ribs before wearing him out and unloading to the head. "Rampage's" toughness and otherworldly chin will keep him in the fight longer than your average fighter, but those attributes where equally shared by Rua, and even he had to succumb to Jones' barrage eventually.

Out of the three scheduled title fights, Yushin Okami might possess the best chance to produce an upset based on the stylistic match-up. However, the smart bet will be on all three champions emerging with their belts intact.

That will do it for another week of "The Rear Naked Column". As always, feedback is greatly appreciated. You can send in your comments, e-mails, or you can follow me on twitter right here for all things MMA, video games, sports, and other nonsense.


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