|ESPN.com: Mixed Martial Arts||[Print without images]|
|Randy Couture faces another young talent Saturday, but he has made a career of overcoming odds.|
Mixed martial arts on free television serves as the universal dinner bell for anyone who enjoys well-regulated violence, and this Saturday on Spike TV, UFC 105 hits the Manchester Evening News Arena in Manchester, England. With a main event starring UFC legend Randy Couture and the uber-talented Brandon Vera, fans have the only reason they need to park themselves in front of the biggest television they can find when the bell rings.
Throw in a welterweight title eliminator, the formal debuts of "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 9 winners and the return of England's favorite fighting son, Michael Bisping, and the top-tier fireworks are booked.
Randy Couture versus Brandon Vera
The breakdown: Welcome to time-warp mode, as Couture tries to replicate the success of his 2003 cutdown to light heavyweight, which included two title reigns. Couture's quarry, Vera, simply wants to reclaim his blue-chip status by capping his 2009 campaign with what would be a career-changing win.
The fight essentially comes down to Vera's ability to use his reach and wrestling to force Couture out of his usual ground-and-pound mode. Simply put, Couture can't keep up with Vera while on his feet, and his usual dirty-boxing strategy seems fraught with danger considering Vera's unique combination of wrestling and Muay Thai.
Couture has the advantage in experience and fight IQ, both of which have given Vera problems in the past; the latter seems to rely more on talent than strategy to win. Everyone knows Couture will step into the cage with a sound strategy. Whether his body will be as sharp as his mind is an open-ended question.
The X factor: Courage under fire has proven to be a rare intangible inside the cage, and if past history is any indicator, Vera is not the guy you want in a foxhole with you. Time and again, Vera's well-hyped talent has been overshadowed by his inability to work through the inevitable difficulties that come with fighting angry men for a living.
Barring some absurdly easy knockout, Vera will be put to the test, and Couture is a man who has broken many a will before. For better or worse, the MMA world will find out exactly what Vera has underneath all that bravado.
The bottom line: A litany of practical reasons why Vera will win this fight exist, and none are more compelling than his opponent's being 46 years old. That said, Couture's entire career has been built on defying the odds, and Vera is notorious for his high-stakes failures. Take Old Man Couture in a three-round decision that will lead to a fresh round of hyperbole from Joe Rogan.
|For Dan Hardy to please the home crowd, his patience and counterpunching will be key.|
Mike Swick versus Dan Hardy
The breakdown: Swick and Hardy, who have distinguished themselves in a division rapidly running out of contenders, meet in a title eliminator with a somewhat masochistic prize: a shot at welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. The style clash in this bout will depend largely on how Swick approaches Hardy, who has proven lethal as a striker but lacks the same mystique on the mat.
Although most of Swick's success has come as a striker, he has shown the intelligence to throw changeups at the opposition. Remember when he adopted a wrestling-centric approach against Marcus Davis at UFC 85? That versatility and Swick's willingness to use it may determine just how much of Hardy's vaunted striking the locals will get to see.
The X factor: There won't be much Hardy can do if Swick starts shooting for his legs, but the mohawked Brit has shown himself to be a gifted counterpuncher and Swick has the habit of getting wide with his fists. Both bode well for Hardy, who needs to use his jab to force Swick to set up his takedowns with punches.
Those punches will give Hardy the time he needs to measure his counters and perhaps force Swick into exchanges for which he isn't prepared. Hardy has the equal measures of patience and aggressiveness necessary to make the strategy work; it boils down to staying focused between takedowns.
The bottom line: It won't be pretty, but Swick will take an uneventful decision fueled by savvy strategy and tactical ground-and-pound. Prepare to keep your sound system on low, because the chorus of boos will be loud enough to shatter glass.
Michael Bisping versus Denis Kang
The breakdown: Bisping and Kang are talented middleweights who saw anticipated title runs go up in smoke. Now they face each other for a chance to reboot their stalled careers. Considering this fight from a talent perspective, Kang -- who has the edge on the feet and on the mat -- has Bisping's number.
Although Bisping remains a solid all-around fighter, he lacks anything overwhelming in his offensive repertoire and mostly relies on his high work rate to wear out opponents. Kang, however, may not give him the chance to do anything except get run over.
The X factor: The worries of Kang fans are twofold because he often comes into fights appearing disinterested and, even when he gives it his all, his propensity for bone-headed mistakes has cost him before. The longer Bisping extends this fight, the better his chances get.
The bottom line: Flip a coin. Every Kang fight has become a game of probability, with one side of the coin representing his million-dollar talent and the other his lukewarm results. This time around, we'll say Kang takes a decision, if only because Bisping no longer inspires confidence.
Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.