Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Jon Jones (UFC Light Heavyweight Championship)
This is just one of those fights where there are so many different things that legitimately can happen for either fighter to come out on top. "Shogun" is by far the more experienced and accomplished fighter. He's fought and beaten a who's who of huge names in the sport during his seven year career, and the areas he's great in are weaknesses for his 23-year-old challenger.
At the same time, his main weakness is the biggest strength that Jones brings to this fight: his wrestling. Shogun will be on his back in this fight, there is little doubt in my mind about that. The key for him will be how well he can avoid damage on the ground and get to his feet to take advantage of the very real edge he has in the striking game.
Then there's the question of his knee and whether his claims of it being 100% are true. If he doesn't suffer any ill effects from the 10-month layoff, and he can find ways to continue getting back to his feet without having problems with his knee than he can show Jones adversity that none of Jones' previous opponents were able to show him.
For Jones, the key will be getting Shogun down and keeping him there without leaving himself open to Shogun's advanced jiu jitsu game. If he can defend against submissions and keep Shogun planted on his back in this fight, he'll be able to finish it by TKO by utilizing the vicious ground and pound game we've seen from him. If Shogun is able to avoid staying on the ground for extended periods of time, he can beat up the young phenom on the feet.
I love this fight. It's such an exciting stylistic matchup and there are so many things that could happen in this fight that no one knows just what we're in for. Ultimately, as much as I love watching Jones fight and know just how confident he is coming into this particular bout, I can't help but think this is his "GSP vs. Hughes I" moment. It won't be anywhere close to the end of the line for him, and Jones will be the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion in the future, it just may not be in the cards on Saturday night.
PREDICTION: Shogun via TKO in the second round
Urijah Faber vs. Eddie Wineland (Bantamweight)
The longtime face of World Extreme Cagefighting makes his long-awaited UFC debut against a former Champion in his own right in Eddie Wineland. However, for as much success as Wineland has had throughout his career and his current four-fight winning streak, if Faber's at his best on Saturday night this is simply a fight he will not win.
Faber looked fantastic in his bantamweight debut against a very tough fighter in Takeya Mizugaki. Though he hasn't been on as big a stage as this, he knows the bright lights. He's not going to be affected by the higher profile of this fight, and he'll be out to make this a quick and impressive debut to UFC fans.
PREDICTION: Faber via submission in the first round
Nate Marquardt vs. Dan Miller (Middleweight)
Marquardt has been one of the most well rounded fighters in the entire sport for some time, and is more than capable of defeating any fighter on the UFC's middleweight roster on any given day. Dan Miller, while a talented and scrappy fighter, has had a tough time with elite competition, and has been unable to defeat a top 10 fighter when matched up against one.
Add to those factors the fact that Miller jumped up from a curtain-jerking bout with Nick Catone to step up to this one on a week's notice, and it's a tall task for Miller to be truly competitive in this fight. Marquardt desperately needs an impressive performance after the disappointment in his last fight against Yushin Okami, and he'll be out to make a statement in this one as well. Miller's game, but Marquardt is simply the better fighter.
PREDICTION: Marquardt via TKO in the first round
Brendan Schaub vs. Mirko Cro Cop (Heavyweight)
Schaub, outside of the knockout loss he suffered to Roy Nelson in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter's 10th season, has looked very impressive inside of the Octagon. The 28-year-old is still young in his MMA career, but he possesses a very high level of athleticism, an always improving striking game and a lot of power.
Mirko Cro Cop has been in a perpetual state of retirement consideration over the last couple of years of his career, and after a wholly uninspired performance against Frank Mir last September that resulted in a knockout loss, this fight could mark the final nail in the coffin of the former Pride superstar's career.
Simply put, Schaub is simply too big, too fast, and too strong for the 2011 version of Mirko Cro Cop, and he'll look to make a run towards bigger and more relevant competition later in 2011.
PREDICTION: Schaub via TKO in the first round
Jim Miller vs. Kamal Shalorus (Lightweight)
Miller received a lot of criticism in some areas due to a string of decision victories in the UFC ahead of his last fight. Taking on a hot prospect in Charles Oliveira, Miller went ahead and shut people up with a first round submission victory in what was a beautiful kneebar that he slapped on out of nowhere.
Entering his 10th fight in the Octagon, Miller has won all but one of his fights in the UFC, the sole loss coming to #1 contender Gray Maynard by decision. His only other career loss came at the hands of UFC Champ Frankie Edgar, also by decision. He's the real deal in this division, and a much higher level of competition for Shalorus than anyone he met in the WEC.
While Shalorus technically remains undefeated into this UFC debut, his last two fights justifiably could have been losses for him. A split decision to Bart Palaszewski and a bogus draw against Jamie Varner does not put him on the level of Jim Miller, and in front of a hometown crowd Miller will give Shalorus a rude introduction to the top levels of the lightweight division.
PREDICTION: Miller via submission in the second round
======PRELIMINARY CARD QUICK PICKS=======
* Eliot Marshall over Luiz Cane via unanimous decision
* Edson Barboza over Anthony Njokuani via TKO in the first round
* Mike Pyle over Ricardo Almeida via unanimous decision
* Kurt Pellegrino over Gleison Tibau via unanimous decision
* Joseph Benavidez over Ian Loveland via TKO in the first round
* Erik Koch over Raphael Assuncao via submission in the second round
* Nick Catone over Constantinos Phillipou via unanimous decision
======MMATORCH CONFIDENCE PICKS AND BETTING CONTEST PICKS=======
12 - Faber - sub rd. 1
11 - Jim Miller - sub rd. 2
10 - Schaub - TKO rd. 1
9 - Marquardt - TKO rd. 1
8 - Benavidez - TKO rd. 1
7 - Barboza - TKO rd. 1
6 - Pyle - dec.
5 - Catone - dec.
4 - Koch - sub rd. 2
3 - Marshall - dec.
2 - Shogun - TKO rd. 2
1 - Pellegrino - dec.
$200 parlay on Shogun, Marshall, Pyle
$200 on Shogun
$400 on Pyle
$200 on Marshall