The main event will put to rest months of instability in the Lightweight class. Sean Sherk won the UFC title when he beat Kenny Florian in October ’06 and defended it once against Hermes Franca but when the CSAC said he tested positive for steroids Sherk was suspended, a decision Sherk fought tooth and nail against like it was itself a title fight. BJ Penn vs. Joe Stevenson was originally an interim title to decide who would be Sherk’s next opponent but when Sherk’s suspension was not overturned and he was stripped of the belt Penn/Stevenson was upgraded to title fight for the vacant belt, a fight BJ won convincingly. Now Sherk is reinstated and looking to reclaim his belt while BJ looks to hold it. This fight is more interesting than some are giving credit. BJ has amazing flexibility and is the youngest American BJJ blackbelt ever while Sherk is arguably the best Lightweight wrestler in the world but neither is thought of as the best strikers in the division.
At Lightweight Penn beat Takanori Gomi, Jens Pulver, and Joe Stevenson among others but none of those have the focused ground-and-pound and conditioning of Sherk.
When Penn was fighting at Welterweight Randy Couture said Penn was almost impossible to take down and if you could you couldn’t hold him down. Matt Hughes failed to take Penn down in the first round of their rematch and paid for it in the second round but Penn’s fatigue in the third spelled victory for Hughes and to this day Penn’s conditioning has been in question. Against Stevenson Penn opened a cut in the first and dominated the ground positions to get a rear choke in the second.
Sherk’s last three opponents have also been BJJ blackbelts. In a similar way to how Penn controlled Stevenson on the ground Sherk dominated Hermes Franca in his most recent fight, winning by judges’ decision after five rounds. If you believe Sherk took steroids there is the question of can Sherk be as strong without them but if you look at the history of steroid abusers and conditioning it is hard to believe Sherk could go five five-minute rounds if he was using. Hermes did catch Sherk with knees to the chin in the first three rounds which could be an issue but Sherk’s strength and conditioning are usually not in question unlike Penn.
It is a little harder to get worked up about Wanderlei Silva vs. Keith Jardine. Wanderlei is more than Zuffa’s trophy of the “Pride war” being the former Pride champion but he is coming off three losses, two by KO. Known for his clinch game and aggression Wanderlei is not to be taken lightly but Jardine is thought of as more precise in his striking as well as having a much stronger ground game. Both fighters’ most recent fights were decision wins against former UFC champion Chuck Liddell with Wanderlei losing and Keith winning his. Wanderlei still has years left in his career but in this fight it is hard to favor him.
This card is also the end of an era as Tito Ortiz makes his last stand when he faces Lyoto Machida. Against opponents that don’t have superior wrestling Tito is a master of pinning an opponent against the cage and going for a cut or decision. Lyoto Machida is very impressive such as his last fight against Rameau Sokoudjou in UFC 79 but there is the question on if he has the ability to stop Ortiz like Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture.
Speaking of Sokoudjou he returns to face Kazuhiro Nakamura. In his UFC debut Sokoudjou seemed intimidated by Machida’s more complex style and didn’t live up to his reputation as an aggressive and powerful striker. Sokoudjou’s opponent Kazuhiro Nakamura is also coming off a loss to Machida, his by decision at UFC 76 where his judo background didn’t help. Nakamura has by far the greater experience but this fight could be the excitement of the undercard.
ATT’s Wilson Gouveia only lost once in the UFC to the aforementioned Jardine, returning this time to face Goran Reljic making his UFC debut. Another one that is hard to get excited over but could be interesting.
The main card is filled out with Thiago Silva vs. Antonio Mendes. Thiago in his most recent fight against the much-hyped Houston Alexander managed to attain mount where he worked for about two minutes with strikes en route to a TKO victory. Not much is known about Medes other than he is making his UFC debut and fought in M-1.
In a recent Rich Clementi update he talked about his fight on the undercard against Terry Etim. Also from the undercard the much-hyped Ivan Salaverry faces Rousimar Palhares. One fight that was omitted by a previous preview is that of Christian Wellish vs. Shane Carvin.