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Fantasy Preview - UFC 91

Stephen Quinn, UFC - It’s the biggest card of the year, but there’s more to UFC 91 than the heavyweight championship bout between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar. So if you want to make a statement in your UFC Fantasy Game league, you need to read on for the main card breakdown.
By Stephen Quinn

It’s the biggest card of the year, but there’s more to UFC 91 than the heavyweight championship bout between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar. So if you want to make a statement in your UFC Fantasy Game league, you need to read on for the main card breakdown.

GABRIEL GONZAGA VS. JOSH HENDRICKS

Both of these fighters will enter the Octagon on Saturday with added pressure to win. Hendricks, who is unbeaten in his last 11 fights, will need to remain poised and confident in his UFC debut. Gonzaga, loser of two of his past three, badly needs a victory to keep pace with other contenders in the revamped heavyweight division.

When people think of Gonzaga, they remember the vicious head kick that sent Mirko Cro Cop collapsing to the canvas. Gonzaga entered that fight as a huge underdog and spoiled it for fans who viewed him as easy pickings for Cro Cop. After Gonzaga's surprising victory, many felt he was destined to become a true force in the heavyweight division. Losses to Randy Couture and Fabricio Werdum have altered that perception. Gonzaga rebounded in his last outing, submitting Justin McCully in the first round. Gonzaga now faces the pressure of going 1-3 – a record that would be detrimental to his status of being a force in that division. On the other hand, Gonzaga knows that by stringing together consecutive wins in the Octagon, he will place himself back into the heavyweight title mix.

Although Hendricks is relatively unknown to most fans, he brings an impressive 18-4, 1 NC record into his Octagon debut. The 2007 Arnold Classic Absolute Grappling Champ knows that those skills will be a major factor in the outcome of Saturday’s fight. Prior to becoming a fighter in the UFC, he had been known for his excellent ground game – with ten of his victories coming by submission. But he's never faced anyone with the combination of size and quickness Gonzaga has.

Hendricks will be looking to bring the fight to the canvas, where he can neutralize Gonzaga. That may be easier said than done. Gonzaga is extremely strong and has knockout power in both his hands and legs. In order for Hendricks to set up takedowns, he’ll need to be in the striking range of the hard-hitting, powerful Gonzaga. For Gonzaga, expect him to try and sprawl out of takedown attempts and add another devastating knockout to his highlight reel.

Likely to go the distance? No
Method of Finish? TKO

DEMIAN MAIA VS. NATE QUARRY

With a perfect 9-0 record, Maia is hoping that his hard work and improved stand-up skills will lead him to another victory on Saturday. The Brazilian left his home country to train in Las Vegas to ensure the best possible training for the most important fight in his career, and what might be the toughest stylistic matchup for him -- a very dangerous striker with very good takedown defense.

Quarry (16-2) is healthy and that will put any opponent on their heels (just ask Kalib Starnes about how hard Quarry punches). After a year of being sidelined because of injury, Quarry returned to action by scoring a vicious knockout over Pete Sell. Now riding a two fight winning streak, Quarry is looking to return to the same place he was prior to his injury – number one contender status.

Both fighters will approach this fight differently, so it will be interesting to see which style prevails. For Quarry, he’ll be looking to use his heavy hands to end the fight at any moment with a knockout. Having trained extensively with Team Quest early in his career, expect him to be very difficult to take down. Maia, on the other hand, will probably need to use a more methodical approach. Expect Maia to be patient while standing, exchanging punches and biding his time, waiting for the right opportunity to bring the fight to the canvas, where the former jiu-jitsu world champ is among the best in MMA. If the fight does end up there, Quarry will be looking to scramble back to his feet, where he figures to have a big advantage. If Quarry can keep it standing for most of the fight, he is likely to have his hand raised afterward.

Likely to go the distance? No
Method of Finish? Submission

DUSTIN HAZELETT VS. TAMDAN MCCRORY

Both fighters have to be stoked that their bout, which was originally scheduled for the undercard, has been bumped to the main card, where it is guaranteed to be televised. They learned this only a few days ago, after Amir Sadollah was scratched from the card due to an infection. This gives both Hazelett and McCrory the opportunity to gain exposure to people who may not know much about them.

Fighting out of Cincinnati, Hazelett brings a 13-4 record into his fight on Saturday night, along with some rather unorthodox and slick jiu-jitsu skills (witness his highlight reel armbar win over Josh Burkman). After putting together an impressive three-fight winning streak, Hazelett was getting near the top of the division – until he suffered a TKO loss to highly-touted Josh Koscheck. After getting back into the win column in his last outing, Hazelett is looking to move back up the welterweight ladder.

Not your typical looking fighter, the 6 foot 4 McCrory, who claims he is still a "nobody" even in his hometown in upstate New York, can grab a lot more notoriety with a win over a promising up-and-comer like Hazelett. McCrory is 10-1 overall and 2-1 inside the Octagon and is known for his non-stop punching and intensity.

This matchup has Fight of The Night potential. With the styles of both fighters, we should see an action-packed fight. Both of these fighters are comfortable wherever the fight may end up, with McCrory perhaps enjoying an edge in the standup and in the wrestling department, and Hazelett considered to have better jiu-jitsu.

Likely to go the distance? Yes
Method of Finish? Unanimous Decision

KENNY FLORIAN VS. JOE STEVENSON

Since losing to Sean Sherk, Florian has won five straight and cemented himself as the No. 1 contender at 155 pounds. Now the Bostonian's red-hot streak and title shot are at risk as he faces another short and stocky dynamo whose Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo skills are more dangerous than Sherk's.

Things have been going great for Joe"Daddy" Stevenson in recent weeks. Not only is he preparing for the most important fight of his life, but he recently accomplished a goal he’s been working on for years – earning a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. That means both he and Florian enter this match as BJJ black belts, and both men have shown a knack for exploiting mistakes by opponents to finish them on the ground.

Sherk was able to use his takedowns and smothering power to hold Florian down for long periods of time and rip him with elbows. Stevenson, like Florian, is known for his vicious elbows while in the top position, and it will be interesting to see if that becomes Stevenson's preferred strategy in this fight.

In his latest outing, Florian won a unanimous decision over highly-touted Roger Huerta. Florian, who lost in the finale of Season I of The Ultimate Fighter, has continued to improve as a fight. With a 12-3 record, he has blossomed into a first-rate finisher and cerebral fighter who rarely makes mistakes. Though Florian is known for his Muay-Thai arsenal, Stevenson packs a powerful punch himself, and you can expect him to try and neutralize Florian's standing skills by trying to bring the fight to the canvas. If this fight does end up on the ground, this is where it could get extremely interesting and technical.

Likely to go the distance? No
Method of Finish? TKO

RANDY COUTURE VS. BROCK LESNAR

In a fight that some are calling the biggest in UFC history, with the potential to smash UFC pay-per-view records, the legendary Couture will meet the monstrous Lesnar with the UFC heavyweight title on the line.

Lesnar enters this fight with a modest 2-1 record, but don’t let that fool you. The former national champion wrestler has shown signs of becoming a dominant force in the heavyweight division. A win on Saturday night will cap Lesnar's meteoric rise to the top of the MMA ladder. In Lesnar’s first fight inside the Octagon, he seemingly did everything he wanted to against former champion Frank Mir. The Minnesotan impressed with his punching power, knocking Mir to the canvas and then disorienting him with a relentless display of ground-and-pound. It seemed that Lesnar had truly burst into the UFC, but a brief interruption in the action by the referee (due to Lesnar landing illegal strikes to the back of the head) gave Mir a glimmer of hope. A desperate Mir showed that making one mistake in this sport will cost you a victory, as he caught Lesnar in a kneebar.

Lesnar returned to the Octagon and completely owned hard-hitting Heath Herring, a veteran of 40-plus fights who nearly knocked out Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. This was the fight that silenced Lesnar's critics, who contended that the former WWE star was more of a promotional gimmick than a "real" fighter. Not only did Lesnar show improvement in nearly every aspect of his game, he showed that he has the ability to push the action of the fight for its entirety. Now, in only his fourth pro fight, Lesnar has a chance to become the next UFC champion.

Having not fought in over a year due to a contract dispute, Couture will happily resume his usual role of being the underdog. At the age of 45, being the underdog is a role that Couture has learned to accept and thrive in during his fighting career. With an overall record of 16-8, Couture has seen it all inside of the Octagon. Whether it’s fighting Chuck Liddell three times or coming back from retirement to beat then-heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia, Couture will not be caught up in the moment of being the headliner of Saturday’s card.

Although Lesnar is relatively new to the sport and Couture has been in the UFC since 1997, this fight poses many interesting questions. Foremost among them, how will the 225-pound Couture handle being at a nearly 50-pound disadvantage? Sure, Couture was able to physically dominate 265-pound Tim Sylvia, but Lesnar is far stronger and a far superior wrestler. Because of this weight advantage, expect Couture to stay away from the clinch -- perhaps sticking and moving on his feet -- to try and conserve energy. There is a good chance that Couture, who has been boxing since his Army days, believes he can outbox Lesnar, just as he did the 6 foot 8 Tim Sylvia. It is also possible Couture will consistently circle to his right, trying to avoid Lesnar's big right hand.

The biggest difference between these two fighters is simple – experience. Few people are as experienced as Couture or as adept at drawing up a game plan to unravel an opponent. Given his own wrestling pedigree, Couture might dare to try and take down Lesnar and test the big fella on his back. And Couture probably has a few submissions up his sleeve, too, given how long he has been in the game. It will be interesting to see what game plan Couture and his team comes up with to neutralize the size, speed, power, and youth of his opponent.

Likely to go the distance? No
Method of Finish? TKO

Tickets for UFC 91: Couture vs Lesnar, are still on sale. To order tickets, click here.

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