When it broadcasts live from Sydney this Saturday at 7:00pm/PST, UFC 110: Nogueira vs. Velasquez will become the first UFC event held outside of North America and Europe since Zuffa first acquired the company in 2001.
Besides rewarding the UFC's strong Aussie fan-base, which sold out Sydney's 21,000 capacity Acer Arena in two hours, UFC 110 was seemingly designed to help Zuffa grab attention in Japan, with three former PRIDE superstars, Mirko "Cro-Cop" Filipovic (25-7-2), Wanderlei Silva (32-10-1), and Rodrigo "Minotauro Nogueira (32-5-1), all set to appear.
Sydney, Australia is relatively close to Japan and shares a similar time zone with Tokyo, which should help, but the Japanese market has proven notoriously difficult for the UFC to crack. In an effort to access it, Zuffa has secured a broadcast television deal there. Now, with UFC 110, they have assembled a fight card that no serious Japanese MMA fan could resist. That's especially true since their longtime heroes, "Cro-Cop," Wanderlei, and "Big Nog," are all approaching the twilight of their respective careers. All three former PRIDE stars have extensive records, but are reaching a point at which physical wear may be overtaking the benefits of vast experience. Each is also entering his mid-thirties, which has fans across the world wondering how many elite-level performances they have left to give.
Mirko "Cro-Cop" vs. "Big" Ben Rothwell-- High-Kick Up, Wayyy Up
There was a time when Mirko "Cro-Cop" was the most feared striker in MMA's heavyweight division. Now Mirko finds himself off the contenders' radar and returning from a lackluster third-round submission (strikes) loss to Junior Dos Santos (10-1) at UFC 103. After that fight, Mirko admitted that he no longer had the drive to compete, so it is a bit surprising to see him back so soon. That said, it is at least encouraging to hear he has begun training a bit smarter:
"To be a successful fighter now you have to go to a camp. For all my career I (was) training at home, sparring with friends who were there to help me as a friend, doing me a favor. They were not A-class fighters. It was a mistake...It was a handicap I should not have given myself. In Croatia, we do not have big camps like in other countries, but I was not willing to go away to train...Now, I am making myself do this...I wish I had done this a long time ago. I went to Holland to train with K-1 fighters for over a month for this fight...These are sparring partners who want to knock me out in sparring."(Props: MMAJunkie.com)Whether a single proper training camp will be enough to defeat Ben Rothwell (30-7) remains to be seen, but the match should at least play to Mirko's strengths. At 6'5" and 265lbs, physical size is Rothwell's greatest advantage, but his striking, while historically effective, is not "K-1 level." That should provide Mirko with plenty of exploitable openings. The more relevant question, however, is how well Mirko can still take a shot after being literally punched blind in his last fight.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Michael Bisping-- Warning: This Fight May Be Closer Than It Appears
The co-main event at UFC 110 features Wanderlei Silva, the most beloved fighter in PRIDE's history, against Michael "The Count" Bisping (18-2) who many UFC fans just love to hate. The risk is that blind support for Wanderlei will lead fans to overrate his remaining skills, while disdain for Bisping could simultaneously cause them to focus too much on his recent KO loss to Dan Henderson (25-7). In fact, many are viewing this as a potentially easy win for Wanderlei, when, in reality, both fighters have clear paths to victory.
Wanderlei's strategy is rarely in doubt, especially against an underpowered striker like Bisping-- he will look to close the pocket and throw bombs. If Bisping gets rocked, or even briefly stunned, Silva will swarm him in a repeat of his devastating finish of Keith Jardine (15-6-1) at UFC 84. Of course, that was also the only win of Silva's current UFC tenure dating back to December, 2007. It is also worth noting that Wanderlei recently underwent plastic surgery to remove scar tissue from around his eyes and nose in an attempt to make him less susceptible to cuts.
Bisping can win this fight by following Rich Franklin (25-5)'s blueprint from UFC 99-- avoid Wanderlei's power whenever possible and score often with leg-kicks, jabs and crisp combinations from outside the pocket. Bisping should be pretty comfortable with this game plan, having already used it to perfection against Chris Leben (19-6) at UFC 89. "The Count" showed renewed-focus in his second-round destruction of Denis Kang (32-12-1) at UFC 102 and will now look to exorcise the remaining demons from the Henderson fight by defeating another powerful puncher in Silva.
The main event at UFC 110 features Brazil's "Minotauro" Nogueira, a former PRIDE heavyweight champion who recently defeated Randy Couture and twice took, consensus best heavyweight of all time, Fedor Emelianenko (31-1) to a decision. "Big Nog" who is famous for his spectacular submissions and an uncanny ability to absorb punishment, will square off with talented youngster Cain Velasquez (7-0), whose "Brown Pride" tattoo makes clear his deep connection to his Mexican heritage.
Cain is well-known for powerful takedowns, whirlwind ground-and-pound, and punches that don't necessarily pack a wallop, but get the job done with volume. Despite not being known to hit very hard, Velasquez has scored TKO's in six of his seven victories. That is something Nogueira will have to respect especially after an accumulation of blows from Frank Mir (13-4) led to Minotauro's first ever TKO loss at UFC 92. That said, Nogueira has made a career of weathering storms and blames his loss to Mir on a severe staph infection. Assuming that's a fair assessment of the result, this fight with Velasquez should be considered the first true test for a healthy Nogueira against an elite heavyweight since he defeated Josh Barnett (24-5) at Pride: Shockwave 2006.
The biggest questions going in are whether Velasquez will dare to put Nogueira on his back, given the very real threat posed by Nogueira's jiu-jitsu game from bottom position. If it does stay on the feet, Nogueira may have an advantage due to his refined boxing, but a hungry young scrapper like Velasquez could prove difficult to outmaneuver for three rounds.
None of the big three PRIDE stars has an easy opponent, which means Acer Arena could potentially play host to the end of more than one legendary career at UFC 110. Nogueira, who is coming off a win, is the least likely to end his career on Saturday, but, with a loss, even he would be only one win above .500 in the UFC at 3-2. Both "Cro-Cop" and Wanderlei, on the other hand, are already below .5oo in the UFC and another convincing loss would make either fighter a tough sell in the future. The main card also features a great lightweight bout between surging contender Joe "Daddy" Stevenson (31-10) and local, Aussie hero George Sotiropoulos (11-2), as well as the ever-reliable Keith Jardine (15-6-1) who will look to avoid a three-fight losing streak in a fight against undefeated wrestler Ryan Bader (10-0).
Official Full Card:
Event: UFC 110
Date: Saturday, Feb. 21, 2010, at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view (PPV)
Location: Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia
265 lbs.: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Cain Velasquez
Main Card (Televised):
185 lbs.: Michael Bisping vs. Wanderlei Silva
205 lbs.: Keith Jardine vs. Ryan Bader
155 lbs.: Joe Stevenson vs. George Sotiropoulos
265 lbs.: Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic vs. Ben Rothwell
Under Card (May not be broadcast):
205 lbs.: Elvis Sinosic vs. Chris Haseman
205 lbs.: Stephan Bonnar vs. Krzysztof Soszynski
170 lbs.: Brian Foster vs. Chris Lytle
185 lbs.: CB Dollaway vs. Goran Reljic
205 lbs.: James Te Huna vs. Igor Pokrajac