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Fantasy Preview - UFC 87

Stephen Quinn, UFC - The biggest mixed martial arts card of the Summer of 2008 hits Minneapolis’ Target Center this Saturday night. But who will emerge victorious in the pivotal bouts between Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch, Heath Herring and Brock Lesnar, and Kenny Florian and Roger Huerta? If you want to get the inside edge in your UFC Fantasy Game league, you need to read on…
By Stephen Quinn

The biggest mixed martial arts card of the Summer of 2008 hits Minneapolis’ Target Center this Saturday night. But who will emerge victorious in the pivotal bouts between Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch, Heath Herring and Brock Lesnar, and Kenny Florian and Roger Huerta? If you want to get the inside edge in your UFC Fantasy Game league, you need to read on…

GEORGES ST-PIERRE VS JON FITCH

Saturday night’s main event is a highly intriguing contest between the two best 170-pound fighters in the world.

St-Pierre, the UFC welterweight champion, has been described as the future of MMA. Fitch, winner of 15 straight, may not be as dynamic, flashy and charismatic as the champ, but he has the physical skills and mental toughness to dethrone him.

GSP has always wanted to be known as the best fighter in the world. But he has always been at his best when he's a challenger. Can he show the same fire as champion?

At one point, St. Pierre infamously dropped to his knees and pleaded to UFC management for a chance to fight for the welterweight title. At UFC 65, St-Pierre was given just that. However, he needed to go through Matt Hughes to become the champion. St. Pierre prevailed and many presumed that he would be the champion for years to come. But nothing is certain in the fight business. In St-Pierre’s first title defense, he fought The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale winner Matt Serra. Going into the fight as a huge underdog, Serra stunned UFC fans by beating St-Pierre. Being the fighter that he is, St-Pierre returned to the Octagon by beating Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes, before eventually dismantling Matt Serra to reclaim UFC gold. In his fight with Serra, people questioned if the pressure of fighting in front of his own countrymen would cause him to crumble, but his performance in Canada that April night showed that St-Pierre is mentally stronger than some people may have once thought. But on Saturday night, St-Pierre will be trying to accomplish something he has yet to do in his career – defend his title.

A win for Fitch, meanwhile, would double his pleasure. Most importantly, he would leave the Octagon as the new UFC Welterweight Champion, but it would also mark his ninth straight win in the Octagon -- which would set a new UFC record.

Since making his UFC debut in October of 2005, Fitch has yet to taste defeat, with noteworthy wins over Luigi Floravanti, Thiago Alves, and Diego Sanchez. The Purdue wrestling standout has patiently and quietly waited for his chance at UFC gold. While many division one wrestlers who make the transformation into MMA are one-dimensional, Fitch has transformed into a very well-rounded fighter.

Both Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch are athletic, have a strong wrestling background, and have the ability to adapt to any situation that they are put into.

In St-Pierre’s previous three fights, he has shown the ability to truly out wrestle wrestlers. In these fights, St-Pierre has also shown his ability to keep his opponents on their backs, so it will be interesting to see if Fitch can scramble back to his feet if St-Pierre takes him down. Fitch, who has continued to improve on his standup, will need to land punches in order to bring St-Pierre to the canvas. If GSP does end up on his back, Fitch will be in the driver’s seat. If the fight does stay up, GSP should enjoy the advantage in that department.

Likely to go the Distance? No
Method of Finish? TKO

HEATH HERRING VS BROCK LESNAR

He was a four-time all-American wrestler, and then a WWE superstar. Now Brock Lesnar wants nothing more than to become a UFC champion. But to move closer to the promised land of MMA, he must go through Heath Herring on Saturday night. Since signing with the UFC, Lesnar, to his credit, has only wanted to fight the best fighters possible. During his first test, against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir, Lesnar showed everything you would expect from an inexperienced fighter brimming with exceptional potential. In that fight, Lesnar truly dominated the former champion for the majority of the fight, seemingly doing everything and anything he set out to do. But when fighting a championship caliber opponent, the momentum of a fight can swing in an instant. After being submitted by Mir, Lesnar was quick to point out that he still had things to learn, but it’s clear that his potential is endless.

Fighting out of Las Vegas, Nev., Heath Herring is no stranger to fighting marquee fighters in big fights. That is exactly what he’ll be doing once again when the Octagon gate closes on Saturday night. Herring made a name for himself in PRIDE by fighting the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (who he lost a decision at UFC 73), Fedor Emelianenko, and Mirko Cro Cop. Although coming up short in those fights, Herring showed what it takes to compete with the best fighters in the world. Now Herring is looking to build on his last fight inside of the Octagon, where he beat standup specialist Cheick Kongo. Two consecutive wins inside of the Octagon will put him in line for a future shot at the title.

One thing we learned from Lesnar’s first fight inside of the Octagon was the speed he possesses. It is rare to see a 265-pounder with so much agility. It will be interesting to see how Herring adapts to that. Expect Lesnar to try and bring the action of the fight to the ground – trying to ground and pound his way to victory. Although Lesnar showed glimpses of a strong standup game, expect Herring to try and keep the action off the ground – keeping Lesnar out of his comfort zone.

Likely to go the Distance? No
Method of Finish? Knockout

KENNY FLORIAN VS ROGER HUERTA

These fighters need little motivation going into Saturday’s co main-event. Both men know that the winner will likely be rewarded with a title shot.

Kenny Florian, a contestant on season one of The Ultimate Fighter, is potentially one fight away from achieving what he set out to accomplish as a contestant on TUF 1. While on the show, Florian didn’t strike anyone as flashy or having a great deal of skill, but he has truly molded himself into one of the top lightweights in the world. After losing in the TUF1 finale to Diego Sanchez, Florian has mounted an impressive 7-1 record, with his only loss coming by decision to former lightweight champion Sean Sherk. In his fight with Sherk, Florian won over fans with his fighting spirit. Although he emerged on the short end of a bloody lopsided fight, Florian relentlessly battled for the entire 25 minutes. With his ability to fight and never-say-die approach, Florian possesses everything it takes to become a champion in the lightweight division.

Fighting out of Minneapolis, Minn., Huerta will be fighting in the city he currently calls home. Huerta has climbed the lightweight ladder by notching six straight wins inside of the Octagon. Now, Huerta - who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated last year - knows that one more win will put him in line for a shot at the title. Huerta’s most impressive victory came at the expense of Clay Guida. In what was possibly Fight of the Year in 2007, Huerta showed that he has the heart to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat.

With the razor sharp elbows of Kenny Florian, the last place Huerta wants to be is on his back, where he might be punished those with elbow strikes. Florian has also taken his Muay Thai to the next level by working at Sityodtong gym in Boston, Mass.

Huerta will be looking to use his speed and strength to neutralize Florian's offense, and knowing the exceptional ground and pound of Florian, expect Huerta to try and bring the action to the ground – where he will use ground and pound of his own. If Huerta does enter the guard of Florian, he will need to be leery of the exceptional jiu-jitsu of Florian.

Likely to go the Distance? No
Method of Finish? Submission

JASON MACDONALD VS DEMIAN MAIA

Canadian Jason MacDonald is looking to build on his last outing inside of the Octagon, where he fought in front of his countrymen and looked impressive during a TKO over Joe Doerksen. At age 33, MacDonald knows that the time is now to move his way into a shot at the title. In his previous fights, he hasn’t been able to consistently string together multiple wins, but he is confident that will all change come Saturday night. The last time MacDonald put together two consecutive wins was in 2006, when he beat Ed Herman and Chris Leben.

Maia, a world champion in jiu-jitsu, is now trying to make his mark in the UFC. At 2-0 in the UFC and a perfect 8-0 overall, Maia is well on his way to eventually becoming a true contender in the middleweight division. In his wins over Ed Herman and Ryan Jensen, Maia has shown his world-class submission skills – with neither fight making it out of the second round.

MacDonald is well aware of the ground game that Maia possesses, so expect him to try and keep the fight off the ground. He will need to keep his distance while landing shots – keeping Maia off his game plan. In order for Maia to bring the action to the ground, he will need to strike with MacDonald – trying to set up takedowns. If Maia does end up in top position, MacDonald will be trying to stall the jiu-jitsu specialist – forcing the referee to bring the fight back to the standing position. But given MacDonald’s own submission prowess, don’t expect him to get too rattled if he ends up in situations that would trouble most fighters.

Likely to go the Distance? Yes
Method of Finish? Split Decision

MANNY GAMBURYAN VS ROB EMERSON

Fighting since the age of 17, Gamburyan impressed a lot of people by reaching the finale of season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter. Although small in stature, early in his fight with Nate Diaz, Gamburyan was forced to call the fight due to a shoulder injury. Since returning from injury, he has looked extremely impressive – beating both Nate Mohr and Jeff Cox in the first round.

After struggling in the early part of his career, Rob Emerson has evolved into a different fighter and he is unbeaten in his last six fights. Emerson also competed in The Ultimate Fighter 5 season finale, and was involved in potentially the most bizarre finish to a fight in 2007. In his fight with Gray Maynard, both fighters were rendered unable to continue at seemingly the same time, thus making the fight a no contest.

With a relentless fighting style, Gamburyan will be looking to bring the fight to the canvas once the Octagon gate closes. If he does enter the guard of Emerson, expect him to try and use his cardio and strength to end the fight. Emerson may try to use his distinct reach advantage standing in pursuit of a knockout.

Likely to go the Distance? No
Method of Finish? TKO

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