The UFC comes to Canada for the first time in the organization's history on April 19, one year after Matt Serra shocked the world by defeating Georges "Rush" St. Pierre for the UFC Welterweight Championship. Now, Serra travels to the Bell Center in GSP's home province of Quebec to defend his title.
Are UFC fans north of the border excited about the Canadian debut? Well, they purchased 21,000 seats in 24 hours and sold the event down, so let's answer that with a resounding YES! And they should be excited. In addition to the main event, this card has several middleweight fights that could play a role in shaping the future of the division and some other intriguing matchups as well. Are you ready?
Georges St. Pierre (15-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC)
Let's start at the beginning. After winning "The Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback," Matt Serra won the unenviable prize of facing then welterweight champion "GSP" after the latter destroyed perhaps the greatest welterweight in UFC history, Matt Hughes.
Serra went into the fight without anyone getting him much of a chance. In one of the most shocking upsets in UFC history, he scored a first round TKO victory in dominant fashion and became the UFC welterweight champion of the world. In December, 2007, Serra was slated to fight Hughes but had to pull out because of a back injury. GSP took his place in an interim title fight and completely dominated Hughes, scoring a second round submission by verbal tap.
Although Serra and GSP were initially respectful of one another, Serra took offense to GSP's comments a month or so after Serra defeated him where he said that he took the fight lightly because he felt he could beat Serra and that he was facing several personal challenges at the time. Since then, the two have engaged in an ongoing war of words that make for a side note to a fight rich with interest.
GSP looked unbeatable in his recent fight with Hughes and is the most talented, well-rounded welterweight in the world. He has great stand-up, phenomenal conditioning, top notch submissions and has the best MMA-style wrestling in the division. Serra, on the other hand, is a powerful striker (just ask GSP) and has incredible BJJ skills.
Even though Serra won the first fight and he is the current welterweight champion, he has not fought in a year, is coming off an injury and has to travel into hostile territory in GSP's backyard to defend his title. I don't see him doing that against a highly motivated, fully prepared GSP. Then again, neither myself nor any of the MMA experts out there gave him any chance to beat GSP the first time.
Can lightning strike twice and prove that Serra simply has GSP's number or will GSP show his hometown Canadian fans and the rest of the MMA world why he is widely considered one of the three best pound for pound fighters on the planet?
If Serra loses, the rumor is that he will then fight Matt Hughes, a fight that was supposed to happen back in December. After that, I would expect him to move down to his natural weight class, lightweight, and be a force to be reckoned with in that division.
Rich Franklin (24-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC)
If this fight were announced 18 months ago it would have been of little interest. Rich was on top of the middleweight world with a 7-0 UFC record and Travis was 1-2 in the UFC and wondering if he would get another fight. Then a guy named Anderson Silva came along and changed everything. He brutally demolished Rich on two separate occasions and has left many questioning the effect of those losses on Rich's heart and spirit as a fighter.
Travis, on the other hand, rejuvenated his career by winning The Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback. He earned the title shot against Silva but failed to make weight, rendering the fight a non-title affair. Travis actually had Anderson mounted in the first round and probably won that round. Then, he gassed and was submitted by Silva in round two.
In this fight, Rich is the superior striker and should have a significant advantage in size, strength and conditioning. Travis, one of the top-3 submission middleweights in the UFC, is phenomenal on the ground and has a significant advantage when it comes to submissions.
Rich trains BJJ with well-known instructor Jorge Gurgel, but cannot afford to turn this into a submission affair since that is the only place that Travis can win the fight. If Rich can avoid his submissions he will have no problem scoring the victory, but the question is can he avoid them? We're about to find out!
Kalib Starnes (10-3-1 MMA, 2-2 UFC)
Nate was one of the true standouts on the most talent-laden season of The Ultimate Fighter, season one. A freak accident during a training session prevented him from having a chance to compete as the show went on. After TUF, he won his first three fights, all in the first round, and earned himself a title shot against the then middleweight champion Rich Franklin.
Nate was on the wrong side of a highlight reel knockout and disappeared from the UFC for almost 2 years, having major back surgery in the interim. He came back and scored an impressive third round knockout over Pete Sell and now seeks to do the same to Starnes. Nate has outstanding conditioning and heavy hands.
When Kalib first came on the scene he had strong submission skills, but was lacking in the stand-up game. To remedy that, he started traveling to Florida to train with former pro boxing standout Howard Davis.
When he defeated Chris Leben by unanimous decision it was apparent that his striking skills were significantly improved. I still think Nate holds an advantage in both the striking and conditioning departments and if he stays out of Kalib's submissions, I see him winning the fight.
Michael Bisping (15-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC)
It always adds something to a fight when the bad blood starts to flow. MacCarthy dropped this bomb in an interview with Yahoo UK:
"I loved this fight when it was offered it to me. I really don't think Bisping is anything at all, I don't see anything he does well. He's average. I'm just not impressed or excited by anything he does. His wrestling isn't good, his striking isn't good, his BJJ isn't good - he's just an average fighter with a big name because the UFC is in England.
I think he's probably the most average fighter in the whole UFC who has a big name. I've watched his fights closely. He hasn't got that much talent or ability, but I will say he's mentally a tough guy. He's a tough guy with a reputation, but I honestly don't see anything in him."
Of course, Bisping responded:
"I suppose he is trying to convince himself that he does belong in there, and I imagine he thinks he is being clever, trying to play mind games and 'get into my head.' Some people think if you get someone mad then they won't perform as well. Congratulations Charles. You succeeded in pissing me off by not only disrespecting me, but all of my previous opponents.
If you think this is a good thing, wrong. You have made a big mistake by making this personal. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not someone to be messed around when I'm pissed. So I will see you on the 19th when I will bring all of my 'averageness.' Just hope your ready for this mediocre fighter, because make no mistake my fat little friend, I'm ready for you!"
War of words aside, probably the most interesting subplot in this fight is that it marks Bisping's first UFC fight at middleweight, a division that I have always felt was better suited for him. Even though he compiled an impressive 4-1 record at light heavyweight, he was always at a significant size disadvantage.
It will be interesting to see how much of his strength and impressive striking skills he will maintain after the cut to 185. McCarthy has excellent submission skills setting up an interesting chess match when this hits the floor ... Bisping's ground and pound vs. MacCarthy's BJJ.
Mac Danzig (18-4-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC)
Danzig captured The Ultimate Fighter season six championship when he defeated housemate Tommy Speer at the finale in December, 2007. What makes his accomplishment all the more impressive is that season six was devoted to the welterweights and Danzig, a true lightweight, had to topple 15 other UFC hopefuls with a significant size advantage over him.
This fight marks his first test in the UFC in his natural weight class. He is a well-rounded fighter with good standup, good wrestling, great submissions and a world of mental toughness. With 23 MMA fights, he has a significant edge in experience over his opponent in this matchup.
Bocek, a decorated BJJ black belt with impressive grappling and submission skills, has significant competition experience in grappling and jiu-jitsu competitions and a solid MMA record. His one loss was at the hands of lightweight stud Frankie Edgar. That said, I see Danzig winning this fight and beginning to establish himself as a player in the lightweight division.
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