Breaking down the UFC 106 main card
A recent frenzy of Zuffa-sponsored shows reaches its climax Saturday with "UFC 106: Ortiz vs. Griffin 2," featuring some of the best pure matchmaking that mixed martial arts has seen in some time. It's a bizarre development considering the injuries and reshuffling that gutted this event, but a set of quality matches designed to please even the most demanding palates remains.
At a show headlined by a rematch between heated rivals Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin, the collection of main-card bouts serves as the real selling point. From the grapple-fest starring Karo Parisyan and Dustin Hazelett to the sure-fire clash of the titans between Anthony Johnson and Josh Koscheck, expect plenty of competition for postfight bonuses.
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The breakdown: More than three years removed from their contentious first encounter, the stakes remain very much the same for the rematch. For Griffin, it represents an opportunity to rebound from consecutive losses and re-establish himself as a contender for the light heavyweight title he once held. As for Ortiz, this fight serves as his chance to prove that a fresh round of surgeries have him back to his old, incalculably grating self.
With his 35th birthday right around the corner and more injuries than Evil Knievel already in his file, Ortiz enters this bout as an unknown quantity. That said, if his shots still have some juice in them, he already has proven he can take down Griffin and work the ground-and-pound game plan to perfection.
For all his improvement inside the cage, Griffin still loses his discipline with alarming regularity, and Ortiz will look to prey on that weakness. How long will Ortiz's gas tank hold up as he tries to physically overpower a guy built like the unholy love child of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox? The first time around, Ortiz couldn't sustain his ground-and-pound past the first round and just barely survived two periods of attrition with Griffin. Survival will not be an option if Ortiz gets thrown into that crucible again, and Griffin surely will try to drag him into it.
The X factor: As has been his prefight custom, Ortiz claims to be back to 100 percent and ready to reclaim dominance of a division he ruled for three years. Unfortunately, it has become hard to take those claims seriously considering they're about as believable as the Birther conspiracy theory.
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Assuming Griffin's sanity is no less foolhardy. One has to wonder about the state of mind of a man who willingly traded strikes with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. All of Griffin's UFC success can be traced back to adopting a more conservative fighting style, and if he plans to ignore those facts, he will find himself on the fast track to the second tier.
The bottom line: Nostalgia routinely loses to reality in sports, and this fight will be no exception, as Ortiz will be confronted with the fact that his prime came and went long ago. Expect him to find some success early with ground-and-pound, but the physical strain will be too much when Griffin seizes the upper hand with his striking as the bout progresses. Griffin's vastly improved conditioning will be what secures him the win, a unanimous decision nod.
The breakdown: Proof that difficult circumstances can make for appealing matchmaking, Koscheck and Johnson were hastily thrown together thanks to the injuries and reshuffling that plagued this card. As for the fight itself, the most interesting aspect is whether Koscheck will have the good sense to use his all-universe wrestling for a change.
The double-leg shooting machine of yesteryear seems gone, however, replaced by a fighter who relies more on preternatural punching power that disguises fundamentals better suited to the world of slap boxing. Johnson may be no Sugar Ray Robinson, but he hits just as hard as Koscheck and flat-out dwarfs him, as he does practically the entire welterweight division.
Of particular concern is the reach disparity, considering Koscheck does his best work from up close, where his winging overhand right turns into a battle axe he can use to bludgeon opponents. Getting inside against Johnson will be the challenge of Koscheck's career, one that will involve stepping directly into the ginormous Georgian's wheelhouse. This sport is dangerous enough as it is, and Koscheck will be making a fatal mistake if he thinks it a good idea to brawl with a guy nicknamed "Rumble."
The X factor: This becomes a completely different fight if Koscheck shoots on Johnson, who hasn't shown much of anything on the mat thus far. Koscheck has the wrestling to ground-and-pound anyone not named Georges St. Pierre, which makes his recent love affair with striking all the more puzzling.
For his own sake, let's hope Koscheck's trainers have him locked in a room watching his knockout loss to Paulo Thiago on a permanent loop while Beethoven's Ninth Symphony plays in the background. At this point, the Ludovico technique may be the only hope Koscheck has of coming to his senses.
The bottom line: It won't be pretty for Koscheck if he maintains his guns-blazing approach and runs face-first into the nuclear warheads Johnson stores in his gloves. There should be a minute or two of entertaining violence before Johnson lands something of the fight-ending variety and picks up the "Knockout of the Night" -- provided there are no more weight-cutting follies for him. Consider it more proof that trainers need to start looking to 20th-century English authors for new ideas.
The breakdown: Just in case anyone believed that being an obnoxious loudmouth could never earn someone a UFC contract, Baroni has come back to prove otherwise for the umpteenth time. Exactly why Baroni was brought back seems obvious: to help Sadollah pick up a win in the UFC. He spent months on the shelf, only to lose his formal UFC debut in less than 30 seconds.
Thankfully for Sadollah, Baroni will never be confused with Johny Hendricks and hasn't been the ferocious slugger of old for some time now. The only things that haven't changed about Baroni's style are his perpetually empty gas tank, lackadaisical grappling and wide-open striking defense, none of which bode well considering Sadollah has proven himself a versatile striker with surprising jiu-jitsu skills.
The X factor: The multiple injuries that delayed his debut by nearly a year, compounded by the eventual disappointment of his match with Hendricks, have to be weighing heavily on Sadollah, who may be one loss away from being completely written off.
The pressures of living up to the tag of "The Ultimate Fighter" play out unpredictably, with some rising to the challenge and others fading from the spotlight that once belonged to them. Sadollah has to overcome the mental obstacles that are part and parcel to beating up men for a living.
The bottom line: This will serve as a get-well fight for Sadollah, a man the UFC seems unwilling to sacrifice to the hypercompetitive welterweight division. Look for a solid performance from Sadollah, punctuated by a rear naked choke late in the second round of a one-sided affair. Not bad for a guy who spent most of his time on "TUF" getting teased for his hair.
Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.