The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) makes its return to Japan this weekend with a stacked card on “free” television. “UFC on Fuel TV 8″ takes place Saturday, March 2, at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. There’s a long history of amazing MMA and combat sporting events in Saitama, and there’s something special about seeing the UFC holding events there and helping to revive the mixed martial arts scene in Japan. And it’s also quite fitting “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva is in the main event. Now, on to the picks…
Wanderlei Silva (34-12-1, 1 NC) vs. Brian Stann (12-5)
UFC ODDS: Silva +190 vs. Stann -230
DENNY HODGE: Wanderlei Silva in Japan is simply special. He isn’t the fighter he used to be, but he will not disappoint in this fight with Brian Stann. Stann’s deficiencies on the ground will not be tested as this fight will likely stay standing. If Stann loses his patience and brawls he is in trouble. I believe he will stay technical but will still find trouble in close against the clinch and knees of “The Axe Murderer.” Look for some exciting exchanges, but expect Silva to connect with a murderous combination and put Stann away, igniting the crowd in the process like he has done so many times in the past. Silva by TKO.
BRIAN FURBY: Brian Stann
JAN GAETJENS: This fight is kind of a lose-lose situation for Stann. If he wins, he’s done the MMA equivalent of kicking a beloved childhood pet; if he loses, it will probably be on account of an flurry of precision guided violence rendering him unconscious. Wanderlei is a legend, and a big part of the reason I, and millions of others, got so interested in MMA in the first place, but the reality of life in this sport is that, no matter how willing the mind, the body can only endure so much. The Axe Murderer has literally sacrificed his bodily wellbeing to help get this sport where it is today, and for that, win or lose, he should be applauded. Wandy plays it like he did against Bisping, working in 15 second bursts, and finds Stann’s off switch. Silva by (T)KO
JACK BRATCHER: There’s a lot of talk about this possibly being Wanderlei Silva’s farewell fight if he should lose. And with top-10 fighters like Jon Fitch getting cut, it would seem hard to justify keeping Silva around considering his record in the UFC — however, putting on exciting fights goes a VERY long way in the UFC, so all bets are off when it comes to a guy like Wanderlei Silva. It’s also hard to imagine Wanderlei Silva losing in the main event IN JAPAN, his spiritual MMA home if you will, where he rose to mythological status fighting in Pride. Wanderlei and Brian Stann have a recent common opponent in Michael Bisping. Wandy got a unanimous decision over him in Dec. 2010. Stann is coming off a unanimous decision loss to him in Sept. 2012, his most recent fight. Wandy went 0-1 in 2012, dropping a decision to Rich Franklin. There’s also been some question as to Wandy’s chin. If you look at the two guys Stann has lost to recently, it’s been Bisping and Chael Sonnen. I believe it was Bisping’s footwork, movement and technical striking that led him to outpoint Stann, and of course it was Chael’s wrestling. Another fairly recent common opponent with Silva and Stann is Chris Leben. Leben KO’d Silva, and Stann TKO’d Leben. Both those bouts were in 2011. That fight more than any other tells me the story of what’s going to happen here. Wandy nor Stann use great movement or much in the way of footwork, it’s primarily (not entirely) get in there and let em fly and see who’s left standing. At this point in their careers I have to believe Stann’s chin is going to hold up better. Unless Wand changes things up and comes in with an entirely different look, I have to believe Brian Stann takes this via TKO.
KELVIN HUNT: Wandy is coming off the long layoff. The fight is at LHW where he’ll be undersized. He throws looping punches. Stann throws straight punches with dynamite in them. Stann via TKO
Mark Hunt (8-7) vs. Stefan Struve (29-5)
UFC ODDS: Hunt +155 vs. Struve -175
DENNY HODGE: Stefan Struve has been known to have some slow starts, and has also shown the tendency to stand and bang with heavy-handed guys. Neither of those scenarios will work out for him against Mark Hunt. It would be nice to see Struve finally master keeping foes at bay with his length, but we may not see that just yet. I expect Hunt to come out fast looking for a quick finish, but the resiliency of Struve will overcome a fast start by Hunt. Struve will eat some shots, then pull guard and put Hunt away. Struve by submission.
BRIAN FURBY: Mark Hunt
JAN GAETJENS: Here are the facts: Mark Hunt is short; Mark Hunt’s endurance level is a relative unknown; Mark Hunt is pushing 40 years of age. Meanwhile, Struve will enter the Octagon with a seven foot frame, a 10” reach advantage, and an ever-improving skill set on his feet and on the ground. Struve by submission
JACK BRATCHER: Can the resurgence of Mark Hunt be stopped by the 7-foot Stefan Struve? (Yes, he really is listed as 7-foot). And Hunt, well, he’s not even 6-foot. Hunt is coming off wins over Chris Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell in 2011, and Cheick Kongo in 2012. Struve fought three times in 2012, finishing Dave Herman, Stipe Miocic and Lavar Johnson. Prior to that he submitted Pat Barry. Struve, at only 25, is on his way to becoming one of the best heavyweights in UFC history. His finishing ratio is outstanding, having only gone the distance ONE time in his ENTIRE 30-FIGHT CAREER! That’s incredible. He is 9-3 in the UFC, with his three losses being JDS, Roy Nelson and Travis Browne. I really like Mark Hunt, and it’s cool to see him back fighting in Japan too — and to be honest, this is a hard fight to pick for me. I’m really leaning toward Struve because of his well-roundedness. But Hunt is such a DOG and the man has some serious power. I just feel like he’s going to catch Struve with something. Struve has great submissions, and could definitely catch Hunt in something, I just don’t think he’s going to get that chance. Hunt wins via knockout.
KELVIN HUNT: Hunt (no relations btw) is coming off a very long layoff. He has as puncher’s chance in this fight and that’s about it as long as Struve doesn’t fight with a dumb gameplan (which he is certainly capable of)…if the fight goes to the ground Struve has the advantage there as well. Struve via decision or submission.
Takanori Gomi (34-8, 1 NC) vs. Diego Sanchez (25-5)
UFC ODDS: Gomi +240 vs. Sanchez -300
DENNY HODGE: Takanori Gomi is coming in riding a two-fight win streak after finally opening up his offense against Mac Danzig. He will the advantage on the feet in this one, but Diego Sanchez is as tough as they come. He won’t be easy to put away, and will survive the early onslaught of Gomi before implementing his smothering and pressuring style. Sanchez will score inside with dirty boxing, knees, and body shots, and will wear Gomi down with the constant threat of takedowns. In the end Sanchez will outwork Gomi and earn his first win since dropping back down to 155. Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision.
BRIAN FURBY: Takanori Gomi
JAN GAETJENS: By all accounts Gomi’s cardio has improved by leaps and bounds, but evading the takedowns and top control of Sanchez is more than enough to neutralize any steps up in conditioning by Gomi. It’ll be the same story as always for the Fireball Kid: 1st round KO, or live long enough to get worn out. Sanchez by decision
JACK BRATCHER: Holy crap, they resurrected Diego Sanchez from under some New Mexico rock! Where the hell has this guy been? Diego fought once in 2012, losing a decision to Jake Ellenberger. Gomi fought and won twice in 2012; a split decision over Mac Danzig and a TKO over Eiji Mitsuoka. Something about Gomi fighting in Japan in the UFC makes me think he can’t lose. He hasn’t lost in Japan since 2009 when he got submitted by Satoru Kitaoka in Sengoku. I’ve heard some disparaging stories about Diego over the last year or so to makke me think he hasn’t been in a good place mentally. How that plays into this fight remains to be seen, but I have to go with Gomi via decision.
KELVIN HUNT: Sanchez is coming off a pretty long layoff but has always had very good cardio so I don’t think it’ll be a big factor…however, him going back to LW is a small concern depending on how his weight cut goes. He has a granite chin and Gomi has a puncher’s chance. I think the first round is competitive and Sanchez begins to overwhelm Gomi in the second and third rounds to win a decision or stop him via TKO late.
Yushin Okami (29-7) vs. Hector Lombard (32-3-1, 1 NC)
UFC ODDS: Okami +175 vs. Lombard -210
DENNY HODGE: There will be no secret gameplans in this fight. Yushin Okami will want to close distance and put Lombard on the canvas, while Lombard will want to stand and bang. Okami is very proficient at getting inside and putting opponents on their back, but Lombard isn’t going to be so easy to get to the mat as both guys have Judo backgrounds. Okami will get a few takedowns but won’t be able to smother Lombard from the top like he usually does. Look for Lombard to get back to his feet and engage on the feet, grinding out enough of an edge to get the nod on the cards. Lombard by decision.
BRIAN FURBY: Hector Lombard
JAN GAETJENS: Lombard’s first UFC victory was unfortunately overshadowed by Rousimar Palhares’ failed drug test, but it signaled a return to the kind of rampaging style Lombard has the potential to unleash. His hands are not to be trifled with. It’s just a shame we’re only now seeing him on the big stage at age 35. Lombard by (T)KO
JACK BRATCHER: Fun fight. I love this fight. Yushin Okami fought three times last year, scoring wins over Alan Belcher in December, Buddy Roberts in August, then a loss to Tim Boetsch in February. Lombard also suffered a loss to Boetsch last year, but rebounded with a big KO win over Rousimar Palhares in December. Okami’s loss to Boetsch is his only loss EVER in Japan. And he fought there quite a bit before his UFC days. So, I know Lombard is supposed to be the Second Coming and all, and I’m as hyped on him as anyone. He’s an animal and maybe the closest thing to Mike Tyson we have in MMA — except he can also submit you, which makes him even more dangerous. But something tells me Okami in Japan is going to be able to deal with him and grind out a decision win using his wrestling. He had been working quite a bit with Chael, for what that’s worth. But, he’s never been submitted and I think he’ll be able to avoid the big punch KO from Lombard — call me crazy — and I may well be, but I feel superstitious about the Japanese fighting in Japan. Actually, it’s not just superstition, there’s something to be said for these guys not having to deal with the jet lag. Of course, Lombard could knock him out with one shot, that’s entirely possible, but I’m gonna take a chance and go with Okami via decision.
KELVIN HUNT: IF Okami can get out of the first round. He has a chance. Lombard usually has very good takedown defense. If he can avoid takedowns he should knock Okami out or outpoint him for the decision win. However, if his cardio isn’t on point..I could see Okami winning an ugly fight.
Mizuto Hirota (14-5-1) vs. Rani Yahya (17-7)
UFC ODDS: Hirota -115 vs. Yahya -115
DENNY HODGE: Yahya’s proficiency on the ground is evident if you look at his record. 17 wins, 15 submissions… that pretty much says it all. Mizuto Hirota will score on the feet, but Yahya will exploit the power shot attempts, and duck under them to get the fight to the mat. From there he will do what he does best. Yahya by submission.
BRIAN FURBY: Rani Yahya
JAN GAETJENS: Hirota isn’t a neophyte on the ground by any stretch, but Yahya’s arsenal on the ground will be too much. Yahya by submission
JACK BRATCHER: Hirota is a former Deep, Cage Force and Sengoku champ making is UFC debut here. He lost a decision to Pat Healy in Strikeforce last year in his USA debut. All his other fights have been in Japan. Hirota has won 8 fights by knockout, 6 by decision. He’s lost 1 by submission, 4 by decision. Rani Yahya is primarily a submission fighter, having won 15 of his 17 victories via submission — the other 2 by decision. Yahya has lost 2 fights via knockout, 1 via submission and 4 via decision. There’s no doubt Yahya has faced the tougher competition, I like Hirota’s more well-rounded game, but at this point in their careers I have to go with the fighter with more high level experience. Rani Yahya via submission. I do feel bad not picking the Japanese fighter to win, and I may eat crow because of it.
KELVIN HUNT: Yahya via submission or decision.
Dong Hyun Kim (16-2-1, 1 NC) vs. Siyar Bahadurzada (21-4-1)
UFC ODDS: Kim +230 vs. Bahadurzada -290
DENNY HODGE: This fight will display a serious contrast of styles as Kim will want to get the fight to the ground as fast as possible, while Bahadurzada will look to explode and earn another quick finish. Kim will have trouble closing the distance in this one as Bahadurzada will maintain his spacing to get off on the feet. Bahadurzada will find the opening he’s looking for as Kim gets desperate to get the fight to the mat, and the results will be brutal. Bahadurzada by TKO.
BRIAN FURBY: Siyar Bahadurzada
JAN GAETJENS: Bahadurzada may be a relative newcomer to the UFC, but he’s a seasoned veteran who only continues to improve. Assuming the Blackzilians curse hasn’t befallen the 28 year old Afghani, I like the prospects of Bahadurzada’s stock continuing to rise. Bahadurzada by (T)KO
JACK BRATCHER: Siyar Bahadurzada is a scary fighter from Afghanistan who knocked out Paulo Thiago in the first round in his UFC debut last April. I’m surprised really that Kim is such the underdog here and all my cohorts are picking Siyar the Great. Especially considering Maia has TWO losses in the UFC and one was due to a rib injury and the other was from Carlos Condit. I like the fact Kim is fighting in Japan. He’s fought quite a bit in Japan and has yet to lose there. I like his experience advantage against high level competition and I like his wrestling. Bahadurzada may have the power advantage in the striking but he also tends to get a bit sloppy from what I’ve seen. Kim has better technique from what I can tell and uses more kicks. Kim via decision.
KELVIN HUNT: Interesting fight here. If Kim can close the distance and get the take down….he takes it…if Siyar can keep his distance and land bombs…he puts Kim away….Siyar hasn’t fought in nearly a year which concerns me….but I’m going with him to take Kim out via TKO.
DISCLAIMER: This card could very well be my all time worst picks. I realize that. However, that does say something about the match-ups on this card — on paper at least, they all seem very competitive.