Tuesday, April 3, 2007

UFN Brings Japanese and Competitive Angle to UFC

By Derek Callahan

A live installment of the UFC’s Ultimate Fight Night is headed straight for the Palms Casino Resort’s Pearl Concert Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada this April 5th. The card is armed to the teeth with talent that the UFC picked up recently through The Ultimate Fighter and less recently through the old long-shot system.

There’s also a heavy international tint to this card, with four Japanese fighters rounding out a nine-bout event. On paper it isn’t the most ground breaking event that the organization has had, but as fans settle into the new landscape that the UFC has plowed for the sport, it becomes easier to pick and choose what talent to support and what to let drift off to less prominent venues.

Starting at the top, at least one fighter in the main event shouldn’t be getting the rub anytime soon. The words Joe and Stevenson have become synonymous with consistency and all he had to do was start his career at age 16 and slog through a hit list that includes Jens Pulver, Edwin Dewees and most recently, Dokonjonsuke Mishima. Unlike boxing, professional mixed martial artists who have been giving and taking punishment since high school don’t always age at an exponential rate. Stevenson is just now in his prime and ready to enjoy it. If one of his more recent victims in Yves Edwards wasn’t able to keep him at bay and out-strike him, there isn’t much of an indication that Melvin Guillard will be able to either. While Guillard is stronger than Edwards, he isn’t technically sharper on his feet and Stevenson is still stronger to boot. Although he’s also surging with two straight wins (Rick Davis and then more impressively, Gabe Ruediger) Guillard’s tools may not be what’s needed to fix the mess he may find himself in if he isn’t able to land on Stevenson early and often.

Now that Stevenson is through with Mishima, the Japanese import will get another shot in the Octagon against Kenny Florian. Coming off of a loss to the new UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk, Florian finds himself in a must win spot if he still wants to be considered in that spot up top with the likes of Sherk, Stevenson and despite some recent skids, Edwards. So it’s crunch time for Florian and Mishima is a tough test. Din Thomas once told me that when he fought him, Mishima “felt like steel.” That sums up the cagey veteran, who won’t be an easy comeback for Florian. Both coming off losses, the fight seems more important for Florian because with under 10 fights still, each loss is that much bigger a percentage of his career. Mishima has lost to the best and is still here and that’s could be his biggest asset going into this fight.

Drew Fickett fights Keita Nakamura and the big question here is, can the Japanese UFC sophomore hit another rear-naked choke? Nakamura has won 13 fights in his time, and earned seven submissions. All of them have been executed the rear-naked way, but now that he begins to step up in competition it may not be so straightforward. It sure looks like Nakamura can snake his way around anyone, but that consistency also might mean over-reliance on a single move. That could be as devastating for a fighter as a go-to move can be essential. And for Fickett, it’s an interesting time to go about getting a win. 2-2 dating back to his miraculous rear-naked choke (see, he can do it too) win over Josh Koscheck, round out Fickett’s last four, but a loss last December to Karo Parisyan, was a blow for any hopes of significant advancement in the near future. A win can have him one step closer to navigating what have been choppy waters, but a loss will maroon Fickett among the rest of the almost-heirs to the welterweight division.

The rest of this card has potential bright spots through seeing how some have developed. Antoni Hardonk has another chance to show increasingly polished skills against Justin McCully. Hardonk is perfect in the UFC thus far, with a TKO win over Sherman Pendergarst last November. He’s had only limited time to plan for McCully, a late replacement for original opponent Frank Mir. The tacit courtesy that last minute-replacements get another fight for their efforts, win or lose, hasn’t flown in the UFC so if McCully -- who won twice in 2006 after a three year absence -- wants to see this type of stage again, he will need desperately to look good against the favored Hardonk.

It took a while for Forrest Petz to really catch on as someone to watch because the lighter weight divisions have always been so stacked, from the likes of a dominant stalwart like Matt Hughes all the way to a durable do-it-all like Chris Lytle. Petz seemed like more of an outskirts type of contender, but he has a chance to work his way in against Kuniyoshi Hironaka. An old win over Nick Diaz is equally impressive as a new win over Renato Verissimo. A loss to Jon Fitch can surely be chalked up to the fact that he had to fight Jon Fitch, a formidable welterweight thus far 5-0 in the UFC.

Seth Petruzelli is coming off of a close loss to Matt Hamill from back in October. ‘The Silverback’ is fighting out of Orlando, FL and is continuing his 205-pound campaign against Wilson Gouveia. Gouveia, who in another life beat Jon Fitch, further exposed Wes Combs in his last outing. It was a win that the American Top Team light-heavy was in desperate need of after a one-sided loss to Keith Jardine two bouts ago.

The card is rounded out by Rich Clementi taking on Roan Carneiro, a lightweight who claims his favorite technique is the anaconda choke. ‘No Love’ was impressive on Spike TV, but submitting Ross Pointon in his first bout of ’07 announced his presence with optimism. A likable veteran, it’s good to see him back in this type of competitive environment where credit is given where credit is due.

Thiago Tavares is the only undefeated fighter on the card and that goose egg will be tested by Naoyuki Kotani. He’s lost to Clementi, Yves Edwards and other talented lightweights but does hold the experience card over his opponent. Whether or not the natural skills that have taken Tavares to such a sterling record will hold up against Kotani is another story, but a win for either of them would be a big help to carving out the landscape of fringe contenders in the lightweight division.

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