This column highlights five past bouts from fighters competing on this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 56. These fights represent some of the highest moments in the careers of their respective participants, and should serve to pique your interest heading into the event. 1. Mauricio Rua vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – PRIDE Critical Countdown 2005 Upcoming Bout: Mauricio Rua vs. Ovince St. Preux
Realistically, this entire list could be made up of Shogun’s fights. The two Dan Henderson bouts (even though both were losses), the UFC title run that saw him go through Chuck Liddell and Lyoto Machida, and of course his 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix performances, which comprised one of the single greatest years in MMA history. The number of memorable moments Shogun has produced in MMA is exceeded by a rare few.
Personally, while the first Henderson fight was undoubtedly a classic, this is my favorite Shogun fight to go back and watch. Rua was simply a different fighter back in 2005, and in Nogueira he found a counterpart willing to match him move for move. This fight contains one of my favorite sequences in any MMA fight. Within about a 45-second span: Nogueira drops Shogun, they brawl with each fighter rocking the other, Shogun gets a takedown, Nogueira goes for the always awesome kimura-to-armbar transition from his guard, and Shogun defends while simultaneously kicking him in the head on the ground. It’s exactly what I love about MMA. This fight in general just encompasses every area of the sport, and everything happens at a high-level for 20 minutes. If you haven’t seen it already, I’m not sure what to tell you. If you have, you already know that you should go watch it again.
2. John Lineker vs. Alptekin Ozkilic – UFC Fight Night 45 Upcoming Bout: John Lineker vs. Ian McCall
I’m going to try to highlight fights that are a bit further in the past (for instance, Shogun/Nogueira instead of Shogun/Henderson), but this one calls for an exception. In a calendar year which has seen some great title fights (Hendricks/Lawler, Weidman/Machida, and Aldo/Mendes spring to mind), a lot of other fights have gone overlooked. That should not be the case with this flyweight gem from July. Lineker’s style has always been that of a guy who loves to brawl, but has the technical acumen to make it look beautiful. Against Ozkilic, conventional wisdom would have seen Lineker defending takedowns all night, but the wrestler decided to engage the Brazilian on the feet. What resulted was one amazing fight. Lineker is just bad enough on defense that Ozkilic was able to land a ton of shots of his own, but in the end the power strikes of this Saturday’s co-main eventer was too much. In a different year, this could have been a ‘Fight of the Year’ contender, but in 2014 it’s simply a great fight which will be overlooked by many.
3. Ian McCall vs. Jussier da Silva – Tachi Palace Fights 8
Upcoming Bout: Ian McCall vs. John Lineker
It’s hard to believe that the flyweight division hasn’t been in the UFC for three years yet. While far from box office draws, the division consistently puts on excellent fights (see #2), and it’s one of the few divisions where the old definition of “UFC caliber” still remains (ironic, since it’s one of the newest). Before the 125ers ever graced the Octagon however, their biggest stage in North America was the oddly square-shaped cage of Tachi Palace Fights.
Jussier da Silva had inherited the title of #1 flyweight in the world by virtue of his win over BJ Kojima in Shooto, but he would not hold the title for long. In the first round of his bout with WEC veteran Ian McCall, Formiga used his unparalleled scrambling ability to take the back and hold it for the duration of the period. In the second, McCall was able to make adjustments to avoiding grappling too much with the Brazilian, and began to take control of the fight on the feet. The third was more of the same, and suddenly there was a new top flyweight in the world.
McCall will look to work his way back to that status against John Lineker, in my most anticipated bout of the weekend.
4. Leon Edwards vs. Shaun Taylor – BAMMA 16
Upcoming Bout: Leon Edwards vs. Claudio Silva
Whether you’re backing Leon Edwards or Claudio Silva in their bout on Saturday, this fight gives you some hope (and it’s also a fun one to watch). Edwards’ supporters should be worried with how he can find himself on his back, especially facing a fighter who will undoubtedly want to take this to the ground. Silva’s backers should be even more concerned with how hard Edwards hits, and how many times he was able to rock Shaun Taylor with single strikes in this bout. Taylor showed some serious heart by getting dropped in all three rounds and pulling himself off the canvas to continue (Edwards also showed some serious Barnatt-ing after dropping Taylor in the first), but there’s only so much the brain can take. If Silva is hesitant to go for takedowns, or is unable to score them, he’s going to be introduced to the heavy left hand that Edwards landed so often on Taylor, and I don’t see his night lasting too long.
5. Thomas Almeida vs. Cody Williams – Legacy FC 15
Upcoming Bout: Thomas Almeida vs. Tim Gorman
Thomas Almeida is yet to make his UFC debut, but he also has a plethora of fights I could have chosen to feature here. I decided on this one because Cody Williams’ striking style will be similar to what Tim Gorman brings to the cage. You can see that Williams found some success with it, but Almeida showed a good chin and quickly made some adjustments to get the upper hand in the exchanges. This was also a less refined version of Almeida.
That said, there’s nothing unrefined about the finish to this fight. Even notoriously boisterous Michael Schiavello was quieted by Almeida’s skills.