For the third time in as many years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is headed back to Columbus, Ohio. Live from the Nationwide Arena on Saturday, March 7, UFC 96 looks to borrow a little bit of the Columbus MMA magic that made UFC 68 and UFC 82 so successful.
At UFC 68, Randy Couture stole the show when he came out of retirement and handily defeated Tim Sylvia to win his third UFC heavyweight championship. At UFC 82, middleweight champ Anderson Silva made an emphatic case for being the best fi ghter in the universe by choking out PRIDE champion Dan Henderson.
UFC 96 has a lot to live up to if it wants to be compared to its Columbus predecessors. No titles will be on the line at UFC 96, however, there are some great match-ups that will go a long way in determining the pecking order in each division.
Quinton Jackson vs. Keith Jardine: Light-Heavyweight
The favorable perception of UFC 96 is contingent on Rampage Jackson and Keith Jardine living up to their billing as a couple of the top light-heavyweights in the world. Jackson’s game plan will be to overwhelm Jardine with devastating punching power the same way Wanderlei Silva and Houston Alexander did. Jardine, under the guidance of MMA guru Greg Jackson, will look to utilize his herky-jerky boxing while delivering powerful leg kicks to Rampage’s thighs and midsection ala Forrest Griffin.
If Rampage wins, look for him to be next in line to fi ght Rashad Evans for the light-heavyweight belt. A victory for Jardine would put him a win away from a potential title fi ght. There’s a lot on the line for both men, but then again, there always is.
Shane Carwin vs. Gabriel Gonzaga: Heavyweight
Carwin puts his perfect 10–0 record on the line against a very well-rounded Gonzaga. In fact, all of Carwin’s 10 victories have been fi rst-round stoppages. If Gonzaga can escape the onslaught of round one, look for him to use his ring savvy and BJJ to wear Carwin down.
Matt Hamill vs. Mark Munoz: Light- Heavyweight
Both men have impeccable wrestling credentials. Hamill is a three-time Division III national champion. Munoz is a two-time All-American and a one-time Division I national champion. Wresting pedigrees of this nature often negate each other. Look for this bout to be settled by the better boxer. Gray Maynard vs. Jim Miller: Lightweight Expect Miller to bring an aggressive pace and tough BJJ against Maynard, who is considered by many critics to be nothing more than a “lay n prey” wrestler. Maynard knows he needs an entertaining fi ght to win back the naysayers, but a victory is a victory in my book.
Jason Day vs. Kendall Grove: Middleweight
The reach of Grove could prove costly early on. Day needs to fi nd a way to get his guard working and end it with an arm bar.
Mike Patt vs. Brandon Vera: Light-Heavyweight
Vera has lost three of his last four UFC fi ghts. He needs a win to stay relevant.
Ryan Madigan vs. Tamdan McCrory: Welterweight
Madigan is making his UFC debut and wants to prove he belongs with the big boys.
Tim Boetsch vs. Jason Brilz: Light- Heavyweight
One way or another, Boetsch is going to go down swinging—in victory or defeat.
Matt Brown vs. Pete Sell: Welterweight
Brown is too likeable to root against him.
Shane Nelson vs. Aaron Riley: Lightweight
Riley is always entertaining, but you’ll need a ticket to see him fi ght this time.