UFC 101: What to Watch For

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UFC 101 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the UFC’s first venture into the “City of Brotherly Love,” which is as fight crazy as a city can be. Here are five things to watch for come fight night.

Biggest Little Bout

BJ Penn failed to live up to his potential when he lost his first title shot at UFC 35 against Jens Pulver. However, he’s been at the top of the 155-pound division since January 2008, losing only when he challenged welterweight king with Georges St-Pierre in January.

Challenger Kenny Florian has finished six of his last seven opponents since coming up short against Sean Sherk for the title in 2006 and has been waiting for his title shot since last November.

Given Penn’s last bout in the division—a May 2008 TKO over Sherk at UFC 84—was the highest grossing lightweight fight of all-time and a top-10 pay-per-view for 2008, the fight between a loved-or-hated Penn and home-grown good guy Florian likely makes Saturday’s title the biggest fight in the division’s rollercoaster history.

Silva vs. Griffin

Self-effacing humor won’t help Forrest Griffin against middleweight champion Anderson Silva though. The Brazilian is coming up in weight to meet Griffin, but the heavier man is being pegged as the one to fall. Griffin’s fighting spirit—what has endeared him to fans and earned him top victories against Mauricio Rua and Quinton Jackson — is best put aside for a smart fight, employing leg kicks to keep his distance from the sniper-like Silva and finding takedowns to wear down the middleweight king with his weight.

If the underdog wants to come out on top, he’s got to keep the muzzle on and refuse to engage in a dogfight with Silva, who is at his best counterstriking.

For Silva, it’s business as usual. He’s expecting takedowns (as he told Sherdog.com this week) so he’ll want to sprawl and brawl or catch Griffin with knees. The key strike is closing the distance with an exploding hook to counter Griffin’s leg kicks.

Show Stealers?

Welterweight John Howard is fast and hits hard. Tamdan McCrory looks nerdy but likes to hit hard too—and at 6’4, he can hit from the outside. These two are hungry and have had strong showings in the UFC against Chris Wilson and Ryan Madigan respectively. Both like to stand and trade, so a chin-versus-chin battle is in order. And that’s always fun to watch.

Tough-as-nails lightweights Kurt Pellegrino and Josh Neer plan to test each other’s wills in a potential Fight of the Night. Neer recently brutalized Mac Danzig, while Pellegrino followed up a solid win over Thiago Tavares with a rear-naked choke win over Rob Emerson. Pellegrino has a technical advantage in every department, but Neer’s immense experience fills in those gaps and is backed by a smash-mouth style that earned him the nickname “The Dentist.” The winner continues emerging as a dark horse in the division.

TUF Luck?

Amir Sadollah’s first and only professional MMA came against “The Ultimate Fighter” season seven favorite CB Dollaway. Injury has sidelined him for more than a year (or two whole reality show seasons) ago. He faces the second standout college wrestler in as many fights in Johny Hendricks, a two-time NCAA division I champion at Oklahoma State University. And Hendricks, whose contract was transferred to the UFC after the WEC dissolved its welterweight division, has just as much to prove in the UFC as a returning Sadollah.

On the Move

Kendall Grove was one loss away from being cut from the UFC at UFC 96 in March. He defeated Jason Day that night, marking his second consecutive win. A hot-cold fighter with strong name recognition, “The Ultimate Fighter” season three middleweight winner faces world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Ricardo Almeida. The Brazilian has stated he’s moving to 170-pounds after this bout, so momentum is of the utmost importance for both middleweights.

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