* Forrest Griffin over Shogun Rua, decision
Since this is our third go-around in the "How Will Shogun Recover From Major Knee Surgery" sweepstakes, let's look back at past history. When Shogun went under the knife for the first time, he looked slow and lethargic in his first fight back --- a choke out loss to, uh, Forrest Griffin. After his second surgery, Rua again looked slow and lethargic in his first fight back against Mark Coleman, but Coleman was also so lethargic by dint of the fact that he's 43 years old and washed-up, so Shogun still won the fight. In Rua's SECOND fight post-surgery, he scored a simple knockout of Chuck Liddell, which doesn't tell us a ton since I think a stiff breeze could've knocked out Chuck during the last two years of his career.
So, in his first fight back from his latest surgery, Shogun was thoroughly dominated by Jon Jones and lost the LHW title. This brings us to this next bout. I honestly can't pick Rua until I see with my own eyes that he's back to being himself, especially when he's facing a tough nut like Forrest Griffin. Say what you will about Forrest, but he's a tough out for anyone not named Anderson Silva. Griffin is just about the last guy you want to face if you have questions about your cardio, since Griffin can easily wrestle and outwork you until you break. If Rua runs out of steam like he did in their first encounter, Forrest will win again. A victory here gives Griffin a three-fight winning streak and probably at worst a #1 contender's match against someone like Dan Henderson or the Lyoto Machida/Phil Davis winner.
* Edson Barboza over Ross Pearson, decision
For almost a year now, the UFC has gone out of its way to make every preliminary fight available to the fans. Most prelims are shown online on Facebook, and two prelims are shown live on Spike TV in the hour leading up to the pay-per-view. This idea of a "pregame show" (and, let's be honest, a last-minute pitch to convince you to order the PPV) is a nice one. Lesser-known fighters have a much larger platform to wow fans rather than just hoping that there's enough dead time on the PPV for their prelim bout to make the cut. Fans get to see more action. The UFC gets a lucrative tie-in with Facebook. Spike appreciates the ratings. It's a win-win-win almost all the way around….except that since Spike obviously wants a good show, they'll pick the most appealing undercard bouts for the live audience. This means that sometimes, you get a semi-dud pushed up on to the PPV card itself.
This is my laboured way of saying that I have no interest in seeing this fight. Ross Pearson is a scrapper and a decent fighter, but his total lack of legitimate potential cools me on his future prospects. Barboza, at least, is a quality prospect and could get himself a nice highlight here if he can stop a tough guy like Pearson, but there are at least two other undercard bouts I'd rather spend PPV money on than this one.
* Stanislav Nedkov over Luiz Cane, KO, R2
There was a time when I thought Cane was going to be a quality LHW prospect, but in hindsight, that three-fight win streak over Jason Lambert, Sokoudjou and Steve Cantwell wasn't exactly murderer's row. Cane was dropped by Rogerio Nogueira and Cyrille Diabate and then saved his job by knocking out Eliot Marshall last spring.
Nedkov is making his UFC debut and I have no reference point for picking the man other than the fact that Cane is fighting for his job and fighting in his home country….and surely not everything will go fight for the Brazilian fans on this evening. The underdog takes this one.
* Brendan Schaub over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, KO, R2
Ugh. Big Nog is an MMA legend. He deserves more than to be unceremoniously knocked out in his home country by a second-tier guy like Schaub. But let's face facts --- Nogueira hasn't fought in 18 months, is coming off surgeries on his hip and both knees, his previously uncrackable jaw has been knocked out twice in his previous three bouts, and he might be the oldest 35-year-old on the planet. Seriously, when Nogueira fought Randy Couture last year, you would've sworn that Nog was the one in his late 40's. This all adds up to a sad end for the legendary Nogueira, finally fighting in Brazil again after all these years. Then again, Nog is also the same guy who recently said he wouldn't want to train with a gay student, so maybe Schaub can punch Nog into the 21st century.
By the way, is everyone ready for the spectacle that is Brendan Schaub, Heavyweight Title contender? I'm not joking --- if Schaub wins here, that's five straight victories. That's more than enough to make him the challenger to the Velasquez/Dos Santos winner, especially in the traditionally shallow HW division. The other alternative is that Schaub faces Frank Mir in a #1 contender's bout, but the rumour mill has Mir facing Brock Lesnar when Brock is eventually healthy enough to fight again. Geez, is there any doubt that either Cain or Junior would just KILL Schaub in a fight? Schaub isn't a bad fighter or anything, but he's clearly not in the class of being a championship contender.
* Anderson Silva over Yushin Okami, KO, R3
As the UFC hype shows have reminded us ad nauseum to drum up interest in this fight, Okami is indeed the last man to defeat Anderson Silva. Sure, it was five years ago and sure, it only occurred since Silva was disqualified for an illegal kick….but still, a win is a win, right? Right? Unfortunately for Okami, Anderson has a long memory, and now he has the opportunity to not just avenge that sketchy loss, but to do it in front of his home fans in Rio. It's very possible the east coast will take less damage from the earthquake than Okami's jaw will take from Silva's punches.
Okay, let's break down how Okami could win this. He's a solid wrestler, which Anderson has had trouble with in the past against the likes of Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson. Okami also has a solid guard and is good at avoiding submissions, unlike Sonnen. While Okami isn't a particularly good striker, he's good enough that he's racked up nine knockouts of his 26 wins and he can at least hang with anyone standing. So, with all this in mind, Okami's best chance of winning the fight is if Silva somehow injures himself on the way to the cage, since there's nothing Okami brings to the table that Anderson hasn't dealt with, and beaten, in better fighters. I see a committed Anderson Silva getting yet another impressive finish (Okami's only been stopped once in 31 fights) in his legendary career.
* Ian Loveland over Yves Jabouin, decision
* Paulo Thiago over David "Not The Star Of Peep Show" Mitchell, decision
* Dan Miller over Rousimar Palhares, decision
* Johnny Eduardo over Raphael Assuncao, decision
* Erick Silva over Luis Ramos, submission, R2
* Thiago Tavares over Spencer Fisher, decision
* Yuri Alcantara over Felipe Arantes, submission, R1…I usually don't talk much about undercard bouts, but man, Alcantara is 11-0 dating back to November 2009. Yeah, that's right, he's fought 11 times in under two years. He was 8-0 in 2010. Yikes. This is Alcantara's first bout in eight months, at least, so it's not like he's running on fumes.