MMA is a difficult sport with a lot of variables. So undefeated high caliber fighters are a rarity. That's why UFC 98 is such a treat, in that two fighters with no professional losses are vying for the UFC light heavyweight title in Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. What's more, UFC 98 will also bring us the grudge match to end all grudge matches with Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra.
Get ready, get set, go.
Rashad Evans (13-0-1) vs. Lyoto Machida (14-0): Machida's unique Shotokan karate style has been giving opponents fits for years. He's simply outstanding at staying out of another fighter's range until such time as an opening presents itself. Further, in recent fights he's proven that he has the power to take someone out when those openings occur.
In other words, he's as technical as technical gets on his feet with power to boot. What's more, Machida possesses outstanding takedown defense (see the Tito Ortiz fight), better than average submissions, and really isn't missing anything in his arsenal. Can he win a tough back and forth encounter? Well, that remains to be seen.
You see, he's simply dominated everyone he's fought in the UFC to date.
Rashad Evans received someone of a bad rap on TUF 2, despite winning the show in the heavyweight division when he was one of the smallest contestants. People seemed to question his heart, primarily because of some less than exciting wins on his way to the championship. But then he fought Brad Imes in the finale. In the end, he took some big shots against Imes and proved time and time again that his resolve was unquestionable, as was his toughness. Beyond that, Evans possesses outstanding athleticism, elite wrestling skills, and very underrated stand up, with a lot of power.
Sometimes Evans seems to fall into a lull during matches for short periods of time, however. On top of that, he hasn't shown much in the line of submissions, even if his submission defense is strong.
Rashad Evans vs. Lyoto Machida Prediction: This, of course, is a tough call. First, you have two guys that have not lost before, and the first loss is often the hardest one for opponents to deliver. Evans will likely try to turn this fight into a blood and guts affair. There are three ways he could attempt this. His best option would seemingly be to take Machida down and pound away. But guess is that will be hard for him, as Machida's takedown defense is outstanding. He could also try and work the clinch along the Octagon wall, but Machida may possess a better clinch than him. Finally, he could just try and stand up with Machida, hoping to hit home with a big shot. The problem is that it has been proven very difficult time and time again to do that to the man they call "The Dragon".
Evans could win here. But guess is that Machida just has the stuff to foil his plans.
Lyoto Machida wins via unanimous decision.
Matt Hughes (43-7) vs. Matt Serra (16-5): Matt Hughes has had one of the greatest MMA careers of all-time. What's allowed him to do this are his ground skills. Simply put, he possesses outstanding takedowns, great power, and excellent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills from the top position. In terms of striking, he has never truly been strong. Further, his guard is hard to comment on as he hasn't ended up there very often.
Of course, his skills have looked diminished in losing three out of his last four (two to Georges St. Pierre and one to Thiago Alves). Still, those are perhaps the two best young bucks in the welterweight division, and both are huge.
Matt Serra has underrated striking skills, particularly when it comes to his hands or boxing skills. After winning TUF 4, he got the chance to prove this against Georges St. Pierre and delivered with a TKO victory. Beyond the speed and power in those fists of his, Serra is an outstanding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter. In terms of weaknesses, however, it's hard to ignore that Serra is a small welterweight.
Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra Prediction: The major question here is, can Matt Hughes get this fight to the ground, as he likely won't win a striking battle against Serra. The answer is probably. Hughes won't be dealing with a size or power disadvantage here as he did against St. Pierre and Alves. Actually, he should be the bigger and more powerful combatant by a decent margin. Once on the ground, guess is that he can avoid submissions and pound his way to a decision victory.
But don't count Serra out. He's surprised before. Still, Hughes's 50 MMA fights and power should give him the advantage he needs.
Matt Hughes wins via unanimous decision.
THE REST OF UFC 98
Drew McFedries (7-5) vs. Xavier Foupa-Pokam (20-10): Should be a good fight. McFedries had more time to get ready for this one.
Drew McFedries wins via TKO.
Dan Miller (11-1) vs. Chael Sonnen (23-10-1): Sonnen is the better wrestler, but Miller has the better submissions. On their feet, this is a close fight. Miller just seems like one of those guys we're going to hear a lot about in the future.
Dan Miller wins via submission in round two.
Sean Sherk (37-3-1) vs. Frank Edgar (9-1): Both of these guys have solid technical striking skills, but Sherk seems faster. Both guys are ground and pound specialists, but Sherk just has more experience at the whole thing.
Sean Sherk wins via unanimous decision.
Brock Larson (26-2) vs. Chris Wilson (13-5): Chris Wilson has well-rounded skills. Larson is a killer.
Brock Larson wins via round one submission.
Pat Barry (4-0) vs. Tim Hague (9-1): Barry has awesome striking skills. Hague is a tough guy on his feet as well, but this will be his Octagon debut. Sometimes the nerves get to people.
Pat Barry wins by way of third round TKO.
Phillipe Nover (6-1-1) vs. Kyle Bradley (13-6): Nover is the better striker and more well-rounded athlete. That should carry him through.
Phillipe Nover wins by way of second round TKO.
Krzysztof Soszynski (18-9-1) vs. Andre Gusmao (5-1): Go with a minor upset here, based on Gusmao's ability to hit home quicker with strikes.
Andre Gusmao wins by way of a close decision.
Yoshiyuki Yoshida (10-3) vs. Brandon Wolff (7-3): You never know how someone coming off of a devastating knockout loss, such as Yoshida is, will react. Still, he has the more well-rounded skills here. Expect a somewhat lackluster, yet winning performance.
Yoshiyuki Yoshida wins via third round submission.
Dave Kaplan (3-2) vs. George Roop (8-5): Roop's reach advantage should do wonders for him.
George Roop wins by way of decision.