Commentary

What to watch for at UFC 90

Patrick "The Predator" Cote isn't showing up for just a paycheck when he enters the cage at UFC 90. The middleweight contender would like nothing more than to upend heavily favored Anderson Silva when they meet on Saturday.

Originally Published: October 23, 2008
By Michael Woods | Special to ESPN.com

The UFC invades Chicago on Saturday with Anderson Silva, the sport's top pound-for-pound practitioner, headlining the event. Here are some talking points on UFC 90.

1. Weight and see

Flip-flopping between weight classes is seen as a potential career killer in the fight game, as the wear and tear on the body while an athlete goes from mega to mini, or micro to maxi, can lead to losses of energy and muscle (and just plain losses).

We'll see how 33-year-old Anderson Silva (22-4) handles the flop back to middleweight after his most successful foray into the light heavyweight class. Silva showed that he brought his power with him up north when he handed James Irvin a first-round knockout loss on July 19.

Will the force in his fists come back down with him, when he has to cut from 206 to the 185-pound class to face Canadian Patrick "The Predator" Cote (14-4)?

Best guess is yes; Silva's lightning-quick hands shouldn't be affected by his division hopping. Silva's manager, Ed Soares, says his guy has little trouble slicing off the excess when he needs to hit 185.

"He [Silva] walks around at 220 when he's not in camp," Soares said. "He cuts weight pretty easily; it's just cutting back on the carbs and going to camp a little bit earlier."

Soares makes it sound so easy, and that's no surprise, as Silva makes it all look effortless, doesn't he?

2. Minute man

The smart money is rolling in on Silva, and why not? He took 61 seconds to demolish Irvin in July.

But the 28-year-old Cote will not likely get steamrolled in such fashion in Chicago; he owns solid kickboxing skills and his chin endured solid whacks in a loss at UFC 50 (against Tito Ortiz in October 2004) and against Chris Leben in August 2005. He's a smart, sometimes too cautious fighter, so he won't be pulling an Irvin and getting stopped before people come back from the concession stand with their hot dogs.

But a cautious approach won't get the job done against Silva, whose last clear-cut defeat came in 2004 to Ryo Chonan via a flying heel hook. It'll take that sort of technical wizardry to give Silva his first UFC blemish.

Still, Cote's ace cornerman, Boston Muay Thai sensei Mark DellaGrotte, gives Cote a solid chance at pulling the upset.

"In camp, he keeps saying he's going to 'pull a Matt Serra,' an upset," DellaGrotte said. "He's going to make it an ugly fight and he's not intimidated, like some of Silva's opponents have been coming in [versus Silva]."

3. Squash the injury bug

There are three days until UFC 90 unfurls, and UFC honchos are hoping that no other fights come apart because of injuries.

Goran Reljic had to pull out of his match with 13-1 Thales Leites two weeks before Saturday's event after he hurt his back. Diego Sanchez, set to face Thiago Alves (15-3), pulled out with a busted rib soon after.

Looking on the sunny side, there's not much (if any) drop-off as far as match quality, since Josh Koscheck (11-2) subs for Sanchez in a battle that's regarded as an eliminator to meet welterweight king Georges St. Pierre.

Koscheck is a more competent fighter than Sanchez at this point in their careers, and that switches Alves, who rides a six-fight win streak, from the favorite to the underdog on Saturday. Don't take my word for it? Ask Koscheck. "Alves is fighting Josh Koscheck, and I'm a lot better than Diego Sanchez," Koscheck said. "I pose a lot of threats in the cage, and Alves has only two weeks to prepare for me; that's how I look at it."

One thing is for sure, Koscheck's ego remains healthy…

4. Shark is bait?

It'll be a clash of the young blood versus the old guard when Tyson Griffin clashes with Sean "The Muscle Shark" Sherk in a lightweight eliminator scrap. Will the UFC brass tell you they hope the 25-year-old Griffin (12-1) gets the best of Sherk (32-3-1), a 35-year-old who debuted in 1999, when Griffin was debating who to bring to the junior prom?

No; they love Sherk, who is a low-maintenance vet who happens to be the best-conditioned athlete in the organization. But the Shark was chewed up when he faced off with UFC lightweight champ B.J. Penn at UFC 83 in May, and most feel he doesn't match up well stylewise with Penn. This renders a Penn-Sherk rematch a less-than-appealing option. So a Griffin win would fit in the grand scheme of things, from a booking standpoint.

Fans don't care as much about that as they do about seeing another good scrap.

Wrestler versus wrestler might not make for a scintillating duel, unless Griffin moves away from his recent win-first, look-good-later mentality.

5. Waiting Werdum

Think Fabricio Werdum sometimes wishes the UFC and MMA were just a teensy bit more like the mixed-up, title-littered world of boxing?

In the UFC heavyweight ranks, the focus is on Brock Lesnar versus Randy Couture, who tangle in the pay-per-view event of the year on Nov. 15 at UFC 91, and Antonio Noguiera versus Frank Mir, who tangle at UFC 92 on Dec. 27, with the winner to meet the Couture/Lesnar winner sometime in 2009.

Werdum (11-3-1) is on the outside looking in, trying to figure out how he figures into the mix.

Coming off two straight stoppage victories (over Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 80 and Brandon Vera and UFC 85), all Werdum can do is show his newly aggressive style and steamroll fellow Brazilian Junior Dos Santos (6-1), a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt who is in over his head against a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with Octagon experience, to boot. That figures to happen, but there exists the possibility that Werdum, rumored to be a little antsy that he has to play the waiting game, could overlook the greener Dos Santos, and pay the price.

Michael Woods, the managing editor of TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.

Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.