Breaking down the UFC 109 main card
The better-late-than-never concept will face its stiffest test yet at UFC 109 on Saturday. For those of you into trivia, the headlining bout of Randy Couture versus Mark Coleman was originally scheduled for UFC 17 -- yes, UFC 17 -- before a Couture injury set the table for Pete Williams to score one of the defining knockouts in MMA history.
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That was more than 10 years ago, back when the UFC couldn't even fill civic centers made of plywood and duct tape. Quantum leap to today, when Couture and Coleman will fight in comfier confines, but the stakes are even higher than they were in '98.
The rest of the main card isn't quite so prone to nostalgia but makes up for it with a high violence-probability quotient. Whether it's the world's most dangerous real estate agent, Chael Sonnen, taking on Nate Marquardt or Paulo Thiago trying to claim his second American Kickboxing Academy scalp from Mike Swick, 2010's latest MMA fix should keep us all mellow until at least Monday morning.
The breakdown: The inclination here is to write this fight off as a case of the UFC cashing in on the names of two legends on the wrong side of age 45. And to a certain extent, that's a fair point. But both Coleman and Couture are coming off of wins against guys more than a decade younger than them, so maybe this is just a fair fight.
A fight is exactly what Coleman wants to avoid, as his game hasn't evolved much since the days when he helped make ground-and-pound a revolutionary concept. Coleman's bout with Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100 showed his striking limitations, and his grappling remains stuck in the late '90s.
What "The Hammer" does have going for him is Bill Brasky-level strength and a bench-pressing double-leg shot that has been known to level small cities. Neither of those attributes will intimidate Couture, though, who practically wrote the bible for using Greco-Roman wrestling in MMA. But unlike Coleman, Couture has spent much of his career developing the striking and grappling knowledge to complement his wrestling base.
Being a decent striker with a grasp of basic fundamentals is an incalculably huge advantage in this fight for Couture. For instance, Coleman doesn't really set up his takedowns. Once upon a time, Coleman was spry enough to blast a double-leg from a mile away, but he just can't move like he used to, and his boxing is too slow and sloppy to serve as an effective segue to a takedown.
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Even the worst-case scenario for Couture -- Coleman blasting a vintage double-leg of doom -- isn't all that bad because "The Natural" excels at stuffing takedowns and immediately transitioning to the clinch. That's a place Coleman doesn't want to be. The last thing he needs is to get sucked into one of Couture's dirty-boxing clinics.
Finishing skills are a necessary component of any modern fighter's repertoire, and that is where the biggest disparity lies in this fight. Coleman's ground-and-pound is his only offensive weapon. He has neither the power to finish Couture with it nor the conditioning to use it effectively for 15 minutes. Not a good sign considering Couture will put a strain on Coleman's gas tank from the first minute.
The bottom line: For as long as Coleman's lungs hold up, this should be an entertaining wrestling match. Once he starts wilting, though, this fight will be all but over. Too much striking from Couture and too little conditioning from Coleman will net Joe Rogan's hero a TKO win late in the second round.
The breakdown: With Dan Henderson long gone and Vitor Belfort already lined up to face incumbent middleweight champion and destroyer of souls Anderson Silva, Marquardt and Sonnen enter this fight just a win away from getting dibs on a title shot. The obvious question central to the bout: Can Sonnen put his stultifying top control to work against one of the division's most dynamic fighters?
Unlike the vast majority of wrestlers in MMA, Sonnen seamlessly transitions from one takedown attempt to another and is deft at employing everything from double-legs to crotch-lift slams. While Marquardt has shown stout takedown defense before, Thales Leites took him down multiple times in their contentious bout at UFC 85, and Sonnen's wrestling makes Leites' look like spastic flailing.
Historically, the problem for Sonnen has never been scoring takedowns. His issue has been keeping his limbs from getting mangled by competent grapplers. Marquardt has never been much of a guard player, but he does know how to create space and escape to his feet.
That is where this fight takes a bad turn for Sonnen. His simplistic striking game will get him knocked out if he tests his luck. The predictability of Sonnen's striking, which consists of simple one-two combos and telegraphed leg kicks, plays right into the hands of Marquardt, who has developed into a dangerous counterpuncher.
Throwing telegraphed strikes got Demian Maia knocked into another dimension in his fight with Marquardt at UFC 102, and Sonnen will do no better if he can't hold Marquardt down. Limiting your options that much against someone as versatile as Marquardt rarely ends well, and Sonnen has been known to trip at the finish line.
The bottom line: Marquardt has too much skill for Sonnen to overcome the difference with pure top control. The road getting there may be rough, but Marquardt will eventually catch Sonnen in a bad spot on the feet and bust out a "Street Fighter"-style super-combo for the finish.
Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.