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Middleweight Free-For-All

This August, top contender Chael Sonnen will finally get his shot at the gang banging thug known as Anderson Silva. Vitor Belfort will get a crack at the winner, likely sometime before the end of the year. Aside from that, the middleweight division is essentially a free-for-all. There are a host of big fights coming up, so I figured why not break ‘em down.

Nate Marquardt v. Rousimar Palhares – UFC 118 – August 28th, 2010

Marquardt was all set to be the next challenger to the title until Chael Sonnen decided to get in the way. Despite the setback, Marquardt is still only two or three wins away from getting his second opportunity to wear UFC championship gold. The first man in his way on the road back to the title is Brazil’s Rousimar Palhares. At this point in his UFC career, Palhares is probably best known for two things: a decision loss to Dan Henderson back in 2008, and for trying to rip of Tomasz Drwal’s leg by holding a heel hook for too long at UFC 111 this past March.

Depending on his performance, the winner of this one could find himself in a number one contender’s bout, so this fight is important for both fighters and for the future of the division. While Palhares has shown lots of promise, I don’t think he’ll be able to dominate a fighter the caliber of Marquardt at this point in his career, so I’m going with Nate to take the W.

Wanderlei Silva v. Yoshihiro Akiyama – UFC 116 – July 7th, 2010

Wanderlei is already a legend in MMA, but he has yet to put together a win streak in his current UFC run. After bouncing back from two consecutive losses with a close decision win over Michael Bisping in February, Wanderlei can finally start working on a win streak if he can get past the highly touted Yoshihiro Akiyama. Despite wins over Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, and Alan Belcher (in his UFC debut), the fight with Wanderlei should be the toughest test of Akiyama’s career.

I like the winner of this one fight the Marquardt-Palhares winner for a title shot. Just seems to make sense. Wanderlei looked very impressive against Bisping so I think this drop to 185 is good for him. Akiyama had some trouble against Belcher and many would argue that he actually lost that fight. Combine that with the fact that Sexiyama will be entering this one with a year of ring rust and I have to go with the Axe Murderer.

Alan Belcher v. Demian Maia – UFC Fight Night 22 – September 15h, 2010

Belcher has been complaining a bit in the media that he’s ready for bigger fights and should be promoted more due to his streak of exciting fights. Belcher’s prayers have been answered as he will next meet Demian Maia, the top BJJ practicioner inMMA, who also happens to be a former title challenger. This one will be the main event on a free Spike show, so it’s about as big a promotional bump that one could receive.

Belcher has only been submitted once in his career — by Kendall Grove back in 2007. His game has improved drastically since then, but we still haven’t seen him in the cage with anyone who has grappling skills anywhere near Maia’s. While both of these guys are becoming more well-rounded as the days go by, this one will still essentially come down to Belcher’s advantage standing on Maia’s advantage on the floor. I like Belcher for a TKO victory.

Yushin Okami v. Mark Munoz – UFC Live on Versus 2 – August 1st, 2010

This will be the biggest fight of Munoz’s young career, no doubt about it. It’s also a fight that could re-solidify Okami as one of the top 185 pounders in the UFC, or could conversely drop him to the bottom of the heap.

Munoz’s strengths are his wrestling and his heavy hands. Okami is a solid wrestler in his own right and in his last bout showed substantial improvement in his boxing. Munoz has a solid future but I can’t bet against the seasoned veteran in Okami.

Michael Bisping v. Dan Miller – UFC 114- May 29th, 2010

Dan Miller has been dealt a rough situation as of late. Personally, he had one child die and has had another come down with an undisclosed serious illness. Professionally, he has dropped two decisions in a row to Demian Maia and Chael Sonnen, and broke his hand in the Maia fight. Bisping is looking to use Miller as a spring board back to contendership after dropping a close decision to Wanderlei  in his last bout.

Both of these guys have a lot to prove here and I expect the resulting fight to potentially be steal the show. I’d like to see Miller win based on his noted troubles recently, but Bisping just seems to me to be too well-rounded and dangerous for Miller.

Alessio Sakara v. Jorge Rivera – UFC 118 – August 28th, 2010

Not too long ago this fight would have been a preliminary bout where the loser likely would have been on the chopping block. Now, after both men have strung together a few victories, this fight is on the main card of a pay-per-view and the winner will achieve contendership status in the 185 pound division. This is the type of thing that makes this sport so goddamn awesome.

Sakara is crisper with his punches, coming from a boxing background, but Rivera has a tendency to land heavy shots while throwing looping punches. This will be a stand-and-bang affair which I believe Rivera will walk out of as the victor.