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UFC 98 Preview – Rashad Evans Vs. Lyoto Machida

I will be in Las Vegas this weekend for UFC 98. Originally scheduled to be Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir, and then thought to be Rashad Evans vs. Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans vs. Lyoto Machida for the light heavyweight title is the main event for the card. But there’s also a secondary main event that has been a few years in the making that I’m interested in seeing. Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra might not mean as much today as it did a few seasons ago during The Ultimate Fighter, but the build has been good and it will hopefully be a great resolution to what has been so far, a great feud.

You can see the entire card at Wikipedia’s UFC 98 page.

The FGB squad has predictions for what I consider to be the top three fights. Stevie J from AngryMarks is also back to give us his thoughts.

Frankie Edgar vs. Sean Sherk

Alan: Sherk by unanimous decision
Stevie J: Sherk by unanimous decision
Duan: Sherk by unanimous decision
Cactus Jim: Sherk by unanimous decision
GG: Sherk by unanimous decision

Alan says, “I think Sherk is just too big and powerful for Frankie. I see this being a three round domination leading to a Sherk decision win.”

Stevie J says, “Edgar should probably be a bigger name than he is right now. He’s fought and beaten some of the toughest competition available at 155 – Jim Miller, Tyson Griffin, even Spencer ‘The King’ Fisher, and he’s won Fight of the Night honors in UFC twice. People may knock him for losing to Gray Maynard, but Maynard is quickly developing that Lyoto Machida type reputation for being a guy who makes good fighters look bad by using a style they can’t adapt to, and Edgar quickly rebounded with a win over Hermes Franca anyway.

Despite the steroid rap (and I still don’t buy the tainted supplements theory) Sherk is no joke either. When the only guys you’ve lost to in the last 4 years are BJ Penn and GSP, there’s no reason to hang your head in shame. In fact Sherk only has three losses in his ENTIRE career as a pro fighter, and that dates all the way back to 1999. If Sherk wants to be a contender for the lightweight title again though, Edgar is the kind of fighter he has to go through, and he’s giving up 8 years in age and speed to the younger man in a sport where people age REALLY quick. What’s probably worse for Sherk is that if he does beat Edgar, he’ll have to face BJ Penn again sooner or later, and considering the way Penn tooled him at UFC 84 that’s bad news.

I have three predictions for this fight: 1.) Edgar and Sherk will have a stand-up war that will be shockingly good. 2.) This has better than 50/50 at being FOTN. 3.) Sean Sherk will take a unanimous decision.”

Duan says, “Edgar’s flaws became very evident in his fight with Gray Maynard. He is very reliant on his wrestling base, and he struggles with guys who can challenge him in that department. Sherk is just too physically strong for him to play that game with. Tyson Griffin learned that lesson the hard way at UFC 90, and I see this match up being a mirror image of that one. Sherk will shrug off Edgar’s takedowns and use his far superior boxing to control the fight. Sherk by 3 round shut out.”

Cactus Jim says, “I really like Edgar and can’t recall seeing him in a boring fight. I think he’ll bring the fight, but in the end I just can’t see him getting away from Sherks strength and control. I think it’s a competitive fight, but in the end Sherk’s control will earn him the decision.”

GG says, “I think Edgar has the heart to bring the fight to Sherk, but every time I think about this fight, I think about how much bigger Sherk will be once they get inside the octagon. I think that will be all the difference.”

Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra

Alan: Serra by 2nd round submission
Stevie J: Serra by 2nd round submission
Duan: Hughes by 3rd round TKO
Cactus Jim: Serra by 3rd round submission
GG: Hughes by unanimous decision

Alan says, “I don’t think Hughes is hungry anymore and I don’t think he has the reflexes anymore. I’m confident that Serra wins but I’m not so confident on whether it’ll be a win due to his striking or ground game. So I’ll compromise and say he knocks him down early in the second after owning the stand-up, and then sinks in a rear naked choke for the sub.”

Stevie J says, “It feels like this fight has been YEARS in the making, even though it was only a few seasons ago on Ultimate Fighter when these two were coaches. Every time I think about the fact I’m going to be in Las Vegas to see this fight I get a smile on my face. I think of Matt Hughes comparing himself to a biblical queen and I think of Matt Serra shaking his head and smiling before quipping “He’s a dick!”

There are probably not two people more diametrically opposed in style and personality in their weight class than these men. On paper Hughes is the better fighter, the more accomplished fighter, the more established fighter. In fact to give Matt Hughes his proper due, he along with Forrest Griffin is one of the reasons I am a UFC fan today. Watching Hughes fight Frank Trigg and Royce Gracie changed me from casual fan to “I need to see these shows every month.” On the other hand it’s been well over two years now since Hughes had the welterweight title, and his descent from the top has been STEEP.

Devestating losses to Thiago Alves and GSP suggest to me that he may be at a crossroads in his career, and worse, he may not have a chin any more. Serra’s record isn’t as good on paper and he was only champ for a cup of coffee, but that cup came at the expense of GSP and there are very few people on the planet who can make that claim. That’s why I feel this is a bad fight for Hughes.

On the feet Serra can rock that vulnerable chin, and on the ground he’s a Renzo Gracie black belt, and Hughes has been tapped by the likes of BJ Penn before. The only way Hughes wins is to shoot in for a takedown and hold Serra down for three rounds… and if he was quick enough to do that he wouldn’t have eaten the shot from Alves that left him out cold. I’m not saying Hughes will embarass himself in this fight, but I do think that all other things being equal including age and weight, Matt Serra has his number and this one doesn’t get out of round two.”

Duan says, “I think this should be Hughes last fight regardless of the result. He has nothing left to prove in the sport, and it’s time for him to move on. That result depends entirely on what Matt Hughes shows up. I have no doubt that Matt in his prime would completely overwhelm Serra. However, Hughes has never looked like the same fighter since dropping the title to St. Pierre. Losing the belt really seemed to steal his hunger. He has lacked his usual intensity, and seems content to just run down the remaining dates on his contract. Is the rivalry with Serra enough to motivate him one last time? I think it will be. Hughes beats him up and stops him with ground and pound in the third round.”

Cactus Jim says, “Hughes has been getting his gym off the ground and has probably been plowing the fields getting ready for spring planting. Like Chuck Liddell, I think age has caught up with Mr. Hughes. His reflexes aren’t what they used to be and although he’s still got great strength and cardio I think Serra picks him apart on the feet and when Hughes resorts to a takedown that Serra catches him in a sub and we’re done in 3.”

GG says, “I can’t imagine that either guy will be fighting much longer. Both are former welterweight champions who are on the downside of their careers. I’m so unsure about who Matt Serra really is, other than the fact that he’s a game fighter who will give it his all in every fight. He caught GSP and knocked him out in the biggest upset of all time. He could definitely do that here as well.

However, I’m going to say that Hughes is focused for this one fight, dominates it because of his strength and wrestling advantage, and retires. I think he’ll control Serra, though I think there’s a great chance he gets caught and will be on the verge of being submitted at least once.”

Lyoto Machida vs. Rashad Evans

Alan: Evans by 2nd round TKO
Stevie J: Evans by decision
Duan: Machida by 2nd round TKO
Cactus Jim: Evans by 4th round TKO
GG: Evans by 4th round TKO

Alan says, “Rashad by left hook KO in the second round as Lyoto circles to his right following coming in with a combo (thanks to Mike Coughlin and his hundreds of hours of tape watching this week for pointing out that Lyoto does this every time without exception). Greg Jackson will be aware of this tick, no doubt about it. However the caveat is that Lyoto may be so elusive that he can evade even that. In which case he may be able to stick and move for 5 rounds, but I don’t bank on it.”

Stevie J says, “Oddsmakers must hate this one. Two guys who don’t lose. Two guys who are often the underdogs against their opponents and win anyway. Now these two guys face each other in the Octagon for the title. It’s a complete mystery to call this one, because Machida’s unorthodox striking and stance make him impossible to hit, yet Evans wrestling background has been superbly complemented by knockout power in his striking people once doubted that he had. DESTROYING Chuck Liddell should have ended those doubts, and yet the problem for Evans is being able to land that shot on Machida, who is as slippery as they come without being rubbed in grease.

I go back and forth on this fight, I’ve played it out in my head a dozen times, and at the end of the day what some people may consider a lackluster main event is a fight I’m really excited to see just because it’s so damn hard to figure out. Having seen each guy win a decision in my head multiple times, I’ve decided this one is just a pure coin flip, and since I’d rather not do that I’m going with Evans just because I like him more. That’s it. No better reason than that.”

Duan says, “I believe that the once mighty light heavyweight division is now undergoing something of a transitional period. Most of the guys who built the division are no longer a factor. UFC really needs someone to step up and establish themselves as the top dog in the weight class, and I feel that a win here for either guy could do that for them.

Despite remaining unbeaten, Rashad Evans has never truly impressed me in his UFC tenure. I just don’t believe he is the best 205 pound fighter in the world. He has never looked convincing, and I don’t believe he can win this fight.

No one can deny that Lyoto Machida has been convincing since signing with the UFC. Is he boring? Yeah a lot of the time he is, but he is also damn effective. In six trips to the octagon he has barely been touched. He just completely outclasses everyone he is matched up with, and I think that trend is set to continue. Evans won’t be able to cope with his movement and unorthodox striking style.

It’s probably a brave call to pick Machida inside the distance, but that’s what I’m going with. Lyoto picks him apart standing and stops him in the second round.”

Cactus Jim says, “Although Evans took forever to get a KO in the Octagon, he’s had some pretty impressive ones since his first. I think he stays patient, times Machida for a few rounds, and takes him out in the 4th”

GG says, “I’ve been going back and forth with this one. Last week, I was predicting a Machida decision victory in a boring fight. When I called into The Angrymarks Podcast last week to chat with Paul Lazenby, I simply thought Machida would be the patient one and make Evans bring the fight to him. I’ve changed my mind.

Evans is patient too. It might be a game of chicken. But because of Evans’ fast hands and great footwork, I think he’ll be able to feint a lot and lure Machida into his striking zone. I don’t think this will be uncompetitive though. I think Machida will get his shots in too. But I think Evans is going to be too fast, and if all else fails, he can always rely on his wrestling. I think he gets to him in the fourth.”

There are our picks and we will see on Saturday how the fights turn out.

I will be live from the MGM and have live coverage of all the fights (including the dark fights) as long as my phone gets a connection. Check back here on Saturday night for live coverage.

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