With UFC 89 just one day away, and airing live and for free on SpikeTV, MMARising.com breaks down the fight card, which is headlined by a middleweight showdown between Chris "The Crippler" Leben and England's Michael "The Count" Bisping.
Elsewhere, light heavyweight fights pit "The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine against Brandon Vera and "The African Assassin" Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou against Luis "Banha" Cane.
Beginning with the main event of the evening, we have yet another homecoming for England's own Michael "The Count" Bisping, as he takes on dangerous striker Chris "The Crippler" Leben.
It's no secret that Leben will be looking to keep the fight standing, but whether Bisping goes for takedowns remains to be seen. He may try to stand and trade with Leben, which may or may not work out well. Leben is known for his ability to take incredible punishment and deal out just as much in return. Terry Martin found that out the hard way. Just when he seems out, one punch changes the fight. Bisping must be constantly wary of Leben's thunderous left cross.
Bisping is a fairly skilled wrestler, but looked poor in his light heavyweight bout with Rashad Evans. His takedowns can be excellent when he commits, but Leben isn't the easiest fighter to take down. Bisping might get caught up in the crowd and try to knock Leben out, but such a result is doubtful. Even though Leben has a tendency to fail in the big fights, I think that Bisping will fight a foolish fight and try to stand and trade. That will result in an upset knockout that sends the English fans into a riot. Prediction: Leben by KO late in round one.
Moving along, we have a light heavyweight bout between "The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine and Brandon "The Truth" Vera, both of whom desperately need an impressive victory.
This fight could really go either way and depends entirely on which fighter lands the first big shot. Vera's chin is still relatively untested, while Jardine's has repeatedly failed him as of late. If Vera is able to connect with a head kick, it's likely lights out for Jardine. However, if Jardine can fight a smart battle and pick his spots, he will frustrate Vera and possibly force him to make a mistake.
Even though Vera's past three performances have been subpar or, in the case of the fight with Reese Andy, extremely poor, Jardine's chin seems destined to be his downfall. After huge wins over Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, the brutal KO losses to Houston Alexander and Wanderlei Silva have all but erased the triumphs for Jardine. He may defeat Vera, but I don't see it happening this time. Prediction: Vera by KO in round two.
The next fight is another light heavyweight showdown, as "The African Assassin" Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou faces Luis "Banha" Cane in a classic striker vs grappler bout.
This fight will be entirely decided on whether or not Cane can get the fight to the ground. Though Cane's striking is actually quite good, he is no match for Sokoudjou on the feet. Sokoudjou's crushing power and speed will make Cane's night a short and painful one. By contrast, if Cane can get Sokoudjou down and keep him there, he'll likely have no trouble in quickly submitting the native of Cameroon.
Cane is certainly the more well-rounded of the two, but Sokoudjou's vicious knockout power has already claimed the likes of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona. I think that Cane will do well to keep Sokoudjou from doing much damage early on, but Sokoudjou will land a knockout punch sometime in the second round. Prediction: Sokoudjou by KO in round two.
Moving away from the highlight-reel knockout bouts, we have a contest between a pair of fast-paced welterweights, as "Relentless" Paul Taylor battles the ever-tough Chris "Lights Out" Lytle.
No one can question the heart of either fighter, especially Lytle after his bloodbath defeat to Josh Koscheck, but both have struggled when faced with top competition. Both fighters have adopted fan-friendly and exciting styles, but each lacks the takedown defence to compete with skilled wrestlers. In this bout, the fight is likely to stay on the feet for most of the duration.
As long as Lytle can avoid being cut badly enough to warrant a stoppage - which has to be pretty badly after he survived the Koscheck massacre to the final bell - he should be able to grind out a hard-fought decision victory. He may even stop Taylor later in the fight, but Taylor is a tough fighter to finish. This one is likely to go to the judges, with Lytle getting the close win. Prediction: Lytle by Unanimous Decision.
Next is another welterweight bout between undefeated Englishman Paul "Tellys" Kelly and "The Irish Hand Grenade" Marcus Davis.
Kelly has not competed since the beginning of the year in a war with Paul Taylor, but he's looking to make a big impact with a win over Davis. Conversely, Davis is coming off of a defeat to Mike Swick and needs a win to get back on-track. Kelly's striking is fairly good, but he was losing the standup battles with Paul Taylor and had to take the fight to the ground in their bout. That should signify that Davis, a former pro boxer, will have a sizable advantage should the fight stay standing.
This is likely to be reminiscent of the bout between Davis and Swick, though hopefully considerably more entertaining, and Kelly will pin Davis down and prevent him from doing anything. I don't see either fighter getting a stoppage here, but it could happen. Prediction: Kelly by Unanimous Decision.
The first undercard fight, which should most definitely be airing on the main card, is a welterweight bout between veterans Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy and "The Japanese Sensation" Akihiro Gono.
Little is known about Hardy in North America, but he has won eight of his last nine fights, with the lone defeat via disqualification due to an accidental groin strike against highly-touted Yoshiyuki Yoshida. Gono, on the other hand, is a legend and his flamboyancy has already earned him many fans outside of Japan.
Hardy will obviously be looking for the knockout, while Gono can potentially finish the fight anywhere. His brutal armbar of Tamdan McCrory proved that and then some. As long as Gono can avoid the punching power of Hardy, it's his fight to lose. If Hardy connects with a big bomb, Gono could be in serious trouble. Gono should take this fight, as long as he fights intelligently. Fortunately for him, he nearly always does. Prediction: Gono by Submission late in round two.
Next up is yet another fight that should be on the main card, as undefeated heavyweights Shane Carwin and Neil "Old Skool" Wain both look for the knockout.
Carwin has won all nine of his fights by knockout or submission. Wain has won all four of his fights by knockout. If this fight gets out of round one, it would be truly shocking. What remains to be determined is which fighter lands the haymaker knockout punch first. If Carwin's 44-second destruction of Christian Wellisch at UFC 84 was any indication, Wain could be in for a rude welcome to the UFC. However, Wain should not be counted out and could just as easily be the one landing the fight-ending punch. Regardless, this ends fast. Prediction: Carwin by KO early in round one.
The next fight is a lightweight bout between two fighters who can't seem to keep up any positive momentum, as Jess "The Joker" Liaudin meets David Bielkheden.
Liaudin looked great in quick UFC victories over Dennis Siver and Anthony Torres. Then he was brutally knocked out by Marcus Davis and lost a second decision to Paul Taylor. Bielkheden surprised many by holding his own against Mitsuhiro Ishida in PRIDE, but lost his UFC debut in the first round to Diego Sanchez. Both desperately need a win to stick around in the talent-rich division.
Though Liaudin's chin isn't the best, he should be able to prevent Bielkheden from doing much damage. Having said that, if Liaudin makes a mistake, Bielkheden is more than skilled enough to take advantage and finish the fight. In this case, I think that Liaudin takes this in somewhat of an upset. Prediction: Liaudin by Unanimous Decision.
The next bout is a battle between two exciting lightweight fighters, as Sam "Hands of Stone" Stout takes on Terry Etim.
Stout, the reigning TKO Lightweight Champion, is coming off of a disappointing Split Decision loss in front of the Canadian fans at UFC 83, and would surely like nothing better than to spoil Etim's homecoming. Both fighters lost their last fights by decision to the resilient Rich Clementi, and Etim likely needs a big win if he's going to remain in the UFC. He has now lost two in a row after winning his first ten fights.
Ironically, all of Etim's victories came by submission or TKO, while both losses were by decision. His strong submission skills could prove to be very difficult for Stout, but Stout has been diligently working on his wrestling and takedown defence. The striking edge is decisively in Stout's favour, while Etim's submission game is far beyond anything that Stout is capable of. If Stout can keep the fight standing, he should win fairly easily. Prediction: Stout by TKO in round two.
Next up is another lightweight bout, featuring two of the top unknown fighters in MMA today, with David Baron taking on Jim Miller.
Baron, while a complete unknown in North America, has torn through the competition overseas. He has defeated Dan Hardy twice and is coming off of the biggest win of his career when he defeated Hayato "Mach" Sakurai by submission in May. His lone defeats in 18 bouts came by decision to Per Eklund and submission to top-ranked Takanori Gomi, but he survived much longer with Gomi than most.
Miller, on the other hand, has been a journeyman of a number of North American promotions, and has wins over Bart Palaszewski, Muhsin Corbbrey and Chris Liguori (twice). His lone career defeat in 18 bouts came by decision to top UFC contender Frankie Edgar. Obviously, both fighters are very skilled, even if their fanbases are still just growing. Either way, the fight is likely to go to the ground quickly and end with a first-round submission. In this case, especially after the monumental upset over Sakurai, the edge has to go to Baron. Prediction: Baron by Submission in round one.
The final fight is a lightweight bout between the aforementioned Per Eklund and Samy "The Dog" Schiavo.
Eklund's record is impressive, but his lone notable victory to date came over David Baron. Schiavo has really never defeated any noteworthy opponents and has come up short against any mid-level talent that he has faced. As a result of that, this fight should go the way of Eklund, who will look for an arm submission early on. Prediction: Eklund by Submission in round one.
UFC 89 airs live on SpikeTV at 3:00 P.M. Eastern and Noon Pacific on SpikeTV in the United States and Rogers SportsNet in Canada.