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UFC 39 Preview by Chris Colderley!





Just in time for the forthcoming event, here is a great UFC 39 Preview from Chris Colderley, with breakdowns of the matchups and predictions. Who do you think will win? Read More to see if Chris’ analysis is the same as yours…


Previews and Predictions



UFC 39: The Warriors Return




When the history of the UFC is written, the year 2002 will read like a Dickens novel: “It was the best of times, it the worst of times . . .” Amid concerns over low-buy-rates for PPV events, the departure of lightweight Champion Jens Pulver, and the steroid scandal that resulted in the withdrawal of the heavyweight title from Josh Barnett, the Ultimate Fighting Championship continues to establish itself as a legitimate combat sport. After a successful show at the Royal Albert Hall in the United Kingdom, profiles on Foxs “Best Damn Sports Show Period,” and two stints on Foxs Sunday Night Fights, the UFC is overcoming the recent adversities with renewed prospects.


The UFC 39: The Warriors Return on September 27, 2002 is aimed at directly sorting out two of the problems. Former Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture will face number one contender Ricco Rodriguez for the vacant Championship, and the first round of a 4 man lightweight tournament will be held to establish a Championship match for an upcoming UFC. The remainder of the card features two middleweight bouts, two heavyweight bouts, and a welterweight bout. This card has the potential to deliver one of the best shows ever and, at the same time, solve the remaining problem of buy rates.


Lightweight


After the departure of lightweight Champion, Jens Pulver the UFC has set up a tournament to establish a replacement. This set of matches is reminiscent of the first lightweight tournament put together for the UFC 16. In that tournament, Pat Miletich was established as the Champion after defeating Townsend Saunders and Chris Brennan.


This tourney, again, features the top lightweights of the day, save one: Jens Pulver. Notwithstanding, it should establish a clear Lightweight Champion for the UFC and set up the circumstances for Pulvers inevitable return.











Former Champion, Jens Pulver against Dennis Hallman.



B.J. Penn (5-1-0) versus Matt Serra (11-1-0)


B. J. Penn has earned the nickname “The Prodigy” for the seeming ease with which he seems to master all aspects of combat sports. An accomplished Brazilian Jujutsu competitor, he had demonstrated a sound array of striking skills by scoring KO victories over Joey Gilbert, Din Thomas, Caol Uno, and Paul Creighton. Ironically, with his ample range of submissions he has yet to finish a fight in this fashion. At times, Penn moves through his matches as if he already knows what is going to happen. His only loss to Jens Pulver at the UFC 35: Throwdown, however, demonstrated that he is mortal and can be defeated with a sound game plan.











B.J. Penn finishes from the mount.


If any fighter can match Penns intensity and skill, it is Matt Serra. As a Renzo Gracie disciple he brings a solid range of striking and submission skills to the competition. In the UFC, he has a submission victory over Kelly Dulanty and a decision over Yves Edwards. In his only loss he was KOed by Shonie Carter with a spinning back forearm in a fight he was clearly winning. In his previous matches, Matt Serra has aptly demonstrated the ability to transition from move to move almost seamlessly. At the same time, his decision making in the ring can be rash and ill advised as evidenced by his KO loss to Carter.









Matt Serra tries for a rear choke.


This fight represents all the good things that MMA has to offer: two highly skilled competitors with strong grappling, striking, and submission skills, both capable of being Lightweight Champion. The fight should be a back and forth affair throughout with the fighters exchanging on the feet and transitioning on the ground. Serra should be able to push Penn throughout the fight, but it is unlikely that he will be able to dictate the tempo. Penn can control the first two rounds with strikes and ground fighting. As the fight goes on, Serra will need to take bigger chances, and Penn will use these opportunities to secure his first submission victory by armbar in the third round.


Din Thomas (16-2-0) versus Caol Uno (12-4-2)


This fight is a rematch of a 1999 contest in Japan which Uno won by submission. At first glance one is tempted to ask why these two fighters are part of the Lightweight tournament since both have recent convincing losses to B. J. Penn. If you asked both fighters about their losses to Penn, you would likely get the same answer – they made one mistake at a bad time. The winner will have a chance at redemption and the Championship if they get past this fight. Both competitors are deserving for several reasons: Din Thomas is only lightweight in this group who can claim to have defeated departed Champion, Jens Pulver, while Uno may have given the former Champion his toughest challenge in the UFC to date.


Din Thomas is both a skilled grappler and striker. His major strongpoint is that he is a better grappler than most strikers and a better striker than most grapplers. These abilities give him the capacity to adapt to range of fighting situations and opponents. At the same time, Thomas size allows him to strike effectively from the outside and avoid many submission attempts. Until his loss to B.J. Penn, Thomas had not lost a fight in almost 2 years. With the exception of the first fight with Uno, he had finished all of his opponents by submission or TKO within the first 2 rounds.










Din Thomas avoids Ihas takedown.



Caol Uno is making his fifth appearance in the octagon. He has victories over Fabiano Iha and Yves Edwards and losses to Jens Pulver by decision and B.J. Penn by KO. In addition, he submitted Rumina Sato in Shooto competition in 1999 and won a decision over Dennis Hallman in 2000. Uno has strong background in wrestling and submission fighting combined with adequate striking skills. He can be very unpredictable and unconventional in his approach, which makes him especially dangerous. Uno is willing to take risks in his fights, but tends to exercise a little more caution than other Japanese fighters.










Caol Uno locks up Yves Edwards.


Since this is a rematch both fighters are familiar with each other and this should eliminate any uncertainties about styles or tendencies. At the same time, both fighters need to reestablish their creditability after losses to Penn. Overall, Din Thomas seems to be in the better situation for this fight. Uno may be a slightly better grappler than Thomas, but his standup skills are considerably less. For this reason, Thomas should be able to defend the takedown and keep the fight standing. He will use this advantage to score a second TKO from a knee.


Welterweight


Benji Radach (11-0-0) versus Sean Sherk (20-0-1)


The Welterweight division is wide open. Current Champion, Matt Hughes has dispatched top challengers Carlos Newton and Hayato Sakurai. New challengers are seriously needed, and the match between UFC veterans, Benji Radach and Sean Sherk should establish the number one contender for a shot at Hughes.


Sean Sherk has a long wrestling career, as well as experience in Shootwrestling and Muay Thai, to draw on. He made his UFC debut against Tito Ortizs prot‚g‚, Tiki, with a victory from a body slam. He also has won tournaments in the Extreme Challenge and the Danger Zone. Theres no secret to Sherks plan – a lot of ground and pound, throws, and takedowns. Sherk has solid conditioning combined with good strength. He also demonstrates exceptional speed and explosiveness in his takedowns. At 5-6″ Sherk is a smaller competitor, but he uses this to advantage by diving under to pull his opposition down with him. Until now nobody has been able to keep the fight standing long enough to hurt him.










Sherk prepares for battle at UFC 36.


Like his opponent, Sherk, Benji Radach has a long career of combat experience. Radach wrestled in the 2001 USA Senior Nationals and has done some amateur boxing. Many of his fights have been won with extremely hard punching. In an interview with Joe Hall of MAXFighting.com, UFC veteran and Radachs training partner, Dennis Hallman claimed that Radach has “more power than Ive seen in any other 170-pounder.” Radach can score from his feet and his wrestling background allows him to avoid most takedowns. On the ground, Radach is patient from inside the guard and can defend submission attempts. This will be his third appearance in the UFC. His first fight ended in the first round after Radach scored several unanswered blows to a downed Steve Berger. (The match was later ruled “no contest” because Radach had been holding the fence while striking). In his second match at the UFC 37.5, Radach scored a unanimous decision over Nick Serra by striking on the feet and on the ground.










Radach strikes a downed Berger.



This fight offers an interesting match up of styles. Both have very strong grappling and wrestling skills. At the same time, Sherk is certainly more comfortable and adroit on the ground, while Radach is the better striker. This should be an extremely close fight with Sherk working for the take down and Radach working to stand up. At times in the Serra fight, Radach showed some difficulty defending the takedown and keeping the fight standing. Sherk should be able to exploit this early and work from the ground. As the fight wears on, and stamina and conditioning become more important, Radach should be able to take advantage and use his striking and takedown defense to score. In the end though, it will be Sherks early takedowns and ground and pound attack that prevail. Sherk by split decision.


Middleweight


Matt Lindland (7-1-0) versus Ivan Salaverry (9-1-0)


Silver medal Olympic wrestler Matt Lindland is making his fourth appearance in the UFC. He has victories over Phil Baroni and Pat Miletich. His only loss was against Murilo Bustamante for the Middleweight Championship. Lindland has exceptionally strong grappling skills and a repertoire of throws. On his feet he is capable of dirty boxing, but he has shown serious vulnerability at points.










Matt Lindland locks up with Murilo Bustamante.


Hooknshoot Champion, Ivan Salaverry of AMC Pankration is returning to the octagon after dismantling Andrey Semenov. Salaverry is capable of scoring both Knockouts and submissions. His groundwork was prominently displayed in his last UFC appearance, and he captured the Hooknshoot middleweight Championship by beating John Renken in less than a minute with a series of vicious kicks.










Salaverry works for an armbar/triangle



Both fighters have something to prove. Lindland needs to prove that he is again a legitimate contender after a convincing loss to Bustamante at the UFC 37. In a similar fashion, Salaverry needs to cement his position as a legitimate top contender. In his matches against Phil Baroni and Murrillio Bustamante, Lindland looked exceptionally vulnerable on his feet allowing his opponents to score several knockdowns. At the same time, he had difficulty adapting his fighting style to meet new challenges as the fights progress. These weaknesses play into Salaverrys strengths. He can be a devastating striker and his repertoire of skills gives him a range of choices in the fight. As in his victory against Semenov, Salaverry will become stronger as the fight progresses allowing him to finish out Lindland by TKO in the third round.


Dave Menne (35-4-1) versus Phil Baroni (5-1-0)


This fight offers an interesting match up of styles and personalities. Former Champion, Dave Menne is returning to octagon after losing the title to Murillo Bustamante at the UFC 35. His experience draws on a broad range of tools: he has strong submission and striking skills as well as a solid takedown and ground defense. He adapts a methodical approach preferring to control the fight rather than take big risks. He has been accused of being boring, but 30 plus wins in MMA competition speak to his effectiveness.










Dave Menne trades with Gil Castillo at UFC 33.



Phil Baroni is quite the opposite of Dave Menne, both inside and outside the ring. He is a ferocious fighter with strong striking and grappling skills. He has scored victories over Curtis Stout at the UFC 30 and Amar Suloev at the UFC 37. While he has much less experience than Menne, he has demonstrated his ability to push top-level competition, especially in his only loss to Matt Lindland at the UFC 34. In his interviews and statements he brings the same level of intensity, and would even make Vince McMahon proud.










Baroni finishes Suloev with strikes.



The outcome of this fight could hinge on several factors. Menne, like Stella, needs to get his groove back. In his loss to Bustamante and his controversial match against Robert Ferguson, Menne was unable to control the fight as he normally does. Another unimpressive performance could be disastrous. Baroni, on the other hand, has much to gain from this fight. A victory will almost surely result in a Number contender match with the winner of Salaverry and Lindland. This fight should remain in the standing position with both fighters trading punches and kicks. Menne may take it to the ground to slow the fight down, but he wont stop Baronis aggression and ferocious punching. Baroni by TKO in round three.


Heavyweight


Pedro Rizzo (11-3-0) versus Gan McGee (10-1-0)


Pedro Rizzo is one of the most experienced fighters in the UFC. He has demonstrated exceptional striking power in KO victories over Vernon White, David Abbott, Tre Telligman, Andrei Orlovski, and former UFC heavyweight Champion, Josh Barnett. He has also forced Richard Heard, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, and Dan Severn to submit from punishment. Two of his three losses were to Randy Couture. The other loss was to Kevin Randlemen at UFC 26.










Rizzo fights Couture for the Championship.



At 6-10″ and 300+ lbs., Gan McGee is one of largest fighters to compete in the UFC. McGee trains in kickboxing and is a former California Wrestling Champion making him a threat on his feet and on the ground. He is the IFC Super-Heavyweight World Champion and has only one loss coming at the UFC 28 to Josh Barnett where stamina was a problem.


When Rizzo fought Barnett everyone expected the fight to go to the ground. There is good reason to expect that McGee will heed the speculation and take the fight to the ground. Even though McGee will enjoy a substantial reach advantage, he will not be able to overcome Rizzos superior footwork and movement. Rizzo, on the other hand, is facing an arduous task. While his striking is superior, he can be too vigilant at times allowing his opponent to control the action. His ground game can be very conventional and innocuous. And, he bleeds like crazy! For these reasons, the match up favors McGee: Referee stoppage in round 2.


Tim Sylvia (15-0-0) versus Wes Correira (7-2-0)


When Heavyweight fighter Frank Mir first appeared in the UFC, almost everyone was excited about the prospect of new blood in this division. The stir he created was considerable. Imagine the potential of two new, upcoming heavyweights. While Sylvia and Correira arent exactly green, this will be the first opportunity for many UFC fans to see them fight.


Tim Sylvia, 6-foot-8, 270-pounds, is a member of the Miletich Fighting Team. He is a veteran of the IFC, Extreme Challenge, and the winner of the Super Brawl 24: Return of the Heavyweights. Sylvia uses his long reach and solid takedown defense to keep his opponents at bay and execute his rather potent stand-up game. As a result, Sylvias fights almost always end by TKO in round one.



Wesley Coreirra has solid boxing skills, the ability to withstand an opponents attack, and has to power to end the fight quickly. In Superbrawls 22, 23, and 24, he scored three TKO victories, as well as TKO victories over Aaron Brink at Shogun 1 and Kauai Kupihea at Force Fighting Championships 1. He continues to improve his fighting skills, especially his ground game through his association with Grappling Unlimited. He has generated 14 straight wins and is ready to move on to tougher competition.


This fight was supposed to be the final of the Super Brawl 24 Tournament. Unfortunately, Coreirra injured his hand in the semi final and could not continue. Anytime you have two strikers of this caliber in the ring, some serious exchanges can be expected. Both fighters could come out flying and either is more than capable of scoring a KO. Sylvia, however, has the added advantage of the Miletich factor. As a result, he will have a sound game plan that allows him to set up for a finish. Sylvia should be able to use his height advantage to control the clinch and score with close elbows and knees. The end will come quickly with Sylvia scoring a first round TKO from knees.


Heavyweight Championship


Randy Couture (7-3-0) versus Ricco Rodriguez (9-1-0)


Former Champion, Randy Couture is returning to claim the title he lost to Josh Barnett at the UFC: Worlds Collide. Semantics aside, Couture is still the Champion. Couture is part of the second wave of wrestlers that invaded MMA in the late 1990s. He has a UFC tournament victory and Championship victories over Maurice Smith and Kevin Randleman. Perhaps, his greatest accomplishment was his victory over a seemingly invincible Vitor Belfort at the UFC 15. Before his loss to Josh Barnett, Couture claimed back-to-back victories over Pedro Rizzo: one by controversial decision and one by Referee stoppage. Unlike many of his wrestling contemporaries, Couture has shown his ability to adapt and assimilate new styles quickly (hence the nickname, “the Natural”). He almost arm barred Kevin Randleman and left a few welts on the legs of striker, Pedro Rizzo.










Couture faces Rizzo in defense of the heavyweight Championship.



Ricco Rodriguez has finally made it to the top of the MMA heavyweight division. He won an Abu Dhabi submission title at 19 years old, had three straight victories in the Pride Fighting Championships, was the King of the Cage heavyweight Champion, and has four straight victories in UFC competition. He has wins over top contenders such as Gary Goodridge, Pete Williams, John Marsh, Andrei Orlovski, and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. Rodriguez combines a strong wrestling background with a range of submission skills. In the past, Rodriguez has worked with the Machado brothers, Mark Kerr, and Kasushi Sakuraba. Currently, he trains with Tito Ortiz and Team Punishment.










Ricco Rodriguez grounds and pounds Tsuyoshi Kohsaka.


The strong grappling and wrestling backgrounds of the competitors leads to the expectation that much of this fight will take place on the ground, but the deciding factor will be the standup game. Since training with Maurice Smith, Randy Couture has improved his striking substantially. Rodriguez, at the same time, has shown some vulnerability on his feet. Against Orlovski, for example, he was rocked before taking control in last round of the fight. Couture can use his experience to strike from the outside and chop down the bigger fighter with leg kicks. When the fight gets close expect Couture to draw on his Greco-Roman wrestling background to dominate the clinch and score with dirty boxing tactics. As the fight continues, Couture should be able to wear Rodriguez down with strikes and score a fourth round TKO by referee stoppage.



To summarize the predictions:



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B.J. Penn over Matt Serra by Submission (Armbar) in Round Three



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Din Thomas over Caol Uno by TKO (Strikes) in Round Two



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Sean Sherk over Benji Radach by Split Decision



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Ivan Salaverry over Matt Lindland by TKO (Strikes) in Round Three



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Phil Baroni over Dave Menne by TKO (Strikes) in Round Three



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Gan McGee over Pedro Rizzo by TKO (Cut) in Round Two



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Tim Sylvia over Wesley Coreirra by KO (Strikes) in Round One



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Randy Couture over Ricco Rodriguez by TKO (Strikes) in Round Four



The UFC 39 is the boost needed to overcome the problems of 2002. By the time 2003 arrives a heavyweight and a lightweight Champion will be in place, Tito Ortiz will have returned to the UFC to defend his light heavyweight belt, several Championship bouts in the middleweight and welterweight divisions will be established for the upcoming year, and several young, exciting fighters, like Robbie Lawler, Benji Radach, Frank Mir, Tim Sylvia, and Wesley Corriera will be on the horizion for the future. In the end, everyone – fans, promoters, fighters, and owners – should see the almost infinite possibilities for MMA. Appropriately, the review of this show also closes like out Dickens novel: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.”



-Chris Colderley is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at
mailto:colderley@hotmail.com






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