The UFC makes their 2013 return to the Land of the Rising Sun, but with a card suited for FOX's smallest television platform. That isn't to say there aren't interesting fights and notable figures, but it'd also be absurd to compare this to UFC 144 last February.
Can Wanderlei Silva, the former star of PRIDE, use his return to Japan as an excuse to keep his MMA career alive? Will Mark Hunt finally earn enough wins to get a heavyweight title shot? In the new UFC, could Hector Lombard be just one win away from a title shot with Anderson Silva?
I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC on FUEL TV 8: Silva vs. Stann
Where: The Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan
When: Saturday, the five-fight Facebook card starts at 7:30 p.m. ET and the six-fight main card starts on FUEL at 10 p.m.
I'm not entirely certain why this fight is taking place at light heavyweight except that I suppose neither fighter wanted to make middleweight and fly across the planet. Either way, I don't see how this change will affect the outcome. While I'm a little worried about Stann's willingness to brawl, I also respect his ability to strategize and game plan. He knows standing in the pocket with Silva is the likeliest way the Brazilian could win. Sometimes he can be baited to stand there, but I have to think he knows that's suicide against an otherwise very beatable opponent at this point. Stann should be able to stand at kicking range when he needs to and get in and out with punching combinations the rest of time. From there it's either going to be a decision win for Stann or a TKO on the much-diminished chin of the former PRIDE champion.
This might be the toughest fight on the card to pick. There's plenty of reason to think either guy can win. On the one hand, Struve could use his submission prowess to roll over Hunt. The Kiwi is improved defensively off of his back and in guard since his days of fighting Wanderlei Silva in PRIDE, but he's still not particularly great. Struve's offensive, open guard is good by heavyweight standards. Then again, the Dutchman has no real jab and allows powerful strikers to get inside of his reach all the time. Whatever else one thinks of Hunt, his power is not an issue now or ever. I think past will be prologue here and the rally for Mark Hunt will hit a fever pitch.
I really have no idea what's left of Gomi. It's true Sanchez has been in a lot of long, grueling fights and a few beatings, too. But he's so driven, so committed and so unshakeable that I can't see a way Gomi is going to be able to handle it. If anything, Gomi's problem is that he wilts under pressure. His game and declining ability is tailor made for Sanchez to roll here. We can't discount The Fireball Kid's power, which is still there. But we also can't presume that will dictate how this fight goes. This is Sanchez's fight to lose.
Lombard isn't the guy to beat Anderson Silva, but in a three-round fight with Okami, he's definitely the guy. Lombard has absurdly good takedown defense and plenty of striking power/precision to give Okami fits. Besides, Okami isn't as interested in jabbing from the outside as he once was. He might try now and again, but the speed of Lombard is going to be far too much for Okami to handle.
A tough pick, but I'll side with the Brazilian here. He's as inconsistent as they come, largely because of how lopsided his skill set is. That said, if I'm asking myself whether Yahya has the ability to close the distance, get some form of a trip takedown and move to a position where he can submit Hirota, I have to admit he can. And not simply 'can' as it's theoretically possible, but actually probable.
It's been quite some time since a noted grappler gave the Afghan problems on the mat, but I believe the Korean can do it. As long as Kim doesn't get blown out early, his reliance on his takedown and positional control skills is going to be hard for Bahadurzada to defeat.
From the preliminary card: