Here goes nothing. The UFC is finally trying its hand in the Asian world outside of Japan, albeit with a very 'soft opening'. Sure, they're in China, but they're not really in China or at least a part of China that really serves as a watershed moment for converting that market into one hospitable for the UFC.
But they're trying and the road is long. First attempts are usually never the best attempts. And Saturday's card is filled with fighters from the world of Asian MMA. It's the beginning of something different, something new and frankly, something intriguing.
Can Rich Franklin get past Cung Le's unorthodox strikes to get one last shot at a title? Is Zhang Tiequan going to get brutally knocked out again? Will Dong Hyun Kim take a step to becoming a legitimate welterweight contender? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's card.
What: UFC Macao: Franklin vs. Le
Where: Cotai Arena, Macao, China
When: Saturday, the four-fight Facebook card starts at 7:00 a.m. ET and the six-fight Fuel card starts at 9:00 a.m ET.
Rich Franklin vs. Cung Le
Franklin has an interesting task ahead of him. He needs to find a way to keep the fight at relative boxing range or in the clinch. That means working around Le's side, crescent and spinning back kicks. I suspect he'll do it. Franklin never gets credit for his ability to strike at angles, pivot off and find the angle again. He's actually rather adept at it and his southpaw stance is part of the reason.
I expect a reasonably competitive first round. And Franklin is known for taking a bomb or two in fights that go the distance (think Loiseau and Wanderlei SIlva fights, among others). But among his muscle memory, physical conditioning and calmness through experience, he almost always recovers. Le just won't be able to put him away. Franklin, however, will slowly chip at him.
Stanislav Nedkov vs. Thiago Silva
This one might be closer than we expect. Nedkov has been on a long layoff and was taking a beating before miraculously stopping Luiz Cane. Silva is generally a higher caliber fighter with more well-rounded skill set, but he, too, is hittable. This would could adopt a really chaotic flair to it. Ultimately, though, Silva's willingness and ability to save himself with takedowns and trips will probably be the difference maker. Anything could happen - seriously, this one could be a show, folks - but Silva deserves to be the favorite.
Mac Danzig vs. Takanori Gomi
I may live to regret this, but I'm calling the upset here. Everyone who has been paying attention knows Gomi is almost a shell of the once PRIDE lightweight champion. Where he was once a loopy but accurate striker, he's mostly loopy now. His vaunted takedown defense has been overcome. He just doesn't seem to be there. But one thing he hasn't lost is his power and a good portion of his speed. He doesn't always put it to good use, but it's there. If Danzig plays it smart, he'll hunt for the takedown and the finish. But Danzig himself has a weakness: he's susceptible to big power punchers with good hand speed. Less so than he used to be, but if you can deliver a big punch in the pocket with good speed, chances are Danzig's going to get tagged sooner rather than later. Sure, Gomi's game leaves a lot to be desired, but he might just have the one trick up his sleeve that Danzig falls for.
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Paulo Thiago
This card has been criticized for lacking relevant fights among noteworthy figures. While that's somewhat true, it's not here. Kim vs. Thiago is an excellent fight between two welterweights who could prove to be something more and important to the division. I've never been as high on Thiago's striking as others have, although I acknowledge it works well enough. When it's all said and done, though, Kim will use his vastly superior takedown ability to control this one. Thiago's own skills will prevent the submission or being blown out, so I expect this one to go the distance. But short of eating a big punch, I don't see how Kim gets controlled or submitted.
Zhang Tiequan vs. Jon Tuck
Zhang is just terrible. Tuck is a prospective talent, too, but he's at least got a stoppage win over top Filipino fighter Eduard Folyang. That's more than I can say for Zhang.
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Jeff Hougland
Hougland has respectable grappling talents and what skills he lacks he often makes up for in hustle. That sounds like a charity compliment, but it's not. The problem is he's facing a fighter in Mizugaki who is hard to hurt and perhaps more importantly, hard to move. He's a better wrestler than Hougland, has faced better competition and has the type of stifling submission defense to take away Hougland's biggest weapon. Throw in a decent jab and it's hard to see a way the American wins.