Las Vegas, Nevada – Just two days before Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Brandon “The Truth” Vera, Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida and Ryan “Darth” Bader all compete to be the next challenger for the UFC light heavyweight championship at UFC On FOX (live on FOX at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) three of the biggest icons in the 205lbs division’s history weigh-in with their predictions.
With each man having faced at least one of the UFC On FOX fighters, Hall of Famers Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz break down Rua vs Vera and Machida vs Bader.
Chuck Liddell, former UFC light heavyweight champion, fought Shogun
On Shogun vs Vera: “I like Shogun in this one. I think the incentive to get a shot at his belt will really make him come out all guns blazing and of course he can hit. I know that after he hit me (UFC 97). They both kick very, very hard. I’d love to see them both kick-box in the center of the Octagon, I think that would be a really exciting fight if they go ahead and go that way.
“I remember when Vera was mouthing off about winning the heavyweight title, then coming down to 205lbs and beating me for my belt. He was always nice to me, though, he was just talking himself up. Now he has the chance to fight his way to a title shot. I expect to see the best Vera we’ve seen in a long time, but I think Shogun has this.”
On Machida vs Bader: “Bader has to take him down and not get caught on the way in. That’s going to be the fight right there. After Tito caught him and knocked him almost out, I think there’s a question on Bader’s chin, but he has to take chances to get the win. Bader has to go forward, throw punches and set up the takedown. But I always side with the striker. I’m going for Machida to catch him coming in and stopping him.”
Randy Couture, former two-time UFC light heavyweight champion, fought both Vera and Machida
On Machida vs Bader: “Machida is elusive with a very unique style. From fighting him last year (UFC 129) I know he comes at you from a very different place with his strikes. It is not a boxing or Thai stance like most MMA fighters throw from, it is that karate stance. It is very distracting when you are trying to set up on him because his positioning is always not what you’d expect. Plus he’s a great athlete, a very underestimated athlete with explosive power. For Bader, same as everyone, the real challenge is finding out a way to get to Machida consistently.
“To do that, Bader has to wrestle him as much as possible. Bader is certainly capable of getting his hands on Machida – he’s a NCAA wrestler and – what’s more – he can really hit. Bader has to mix up his takedowns, wrestling along the fence and throw in the right hand; he has to make Machida guess. It is tough to predict how well Bader will do with scoring the takedowns, as Machida has great defense, but that has to be the key for Bader.
“Even Jon Jones – with all that speed and range – couldn’t really hit Machida in their fight. Remember Machida backed up and hurt Jones in that first round. I think Bader needs to get the takedown very quickly in the fight before Machida hits his stride or he will have problems.”
On Shogun vs Vera: “With Brandon against Shogun, first of all, Vera is a very smart and instinctive fighter. He made adjustments very quickly against me in our fight (UFC 105) to make it very hard to take him down. I had to fight the second and third rounds very differently than I planned to because Brandon was so good at adapting.
“He also hurt me very badly with a kick to the liver in the second round. I don’t think Brandon realized how badly he’d hurt me with that kick. He let me off the hook, and I was in great shape and was able to recover. But he can hurt Rua for sure with his strikes.
“Brandon has been on the down and out for a couple of years, but there was a time when people were saying he could win the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles at the same time. But something happened mentally and he went off the boil. Now he’s got a big chance to play spoiler here. He’s got a great set of tools to make the upset. He’s the better wrestler, he can hang on the feet, and he’s got very little to lose. He can let it all hang out and – mentally – be right there, he has a shot.
“Rua is still one of the top contenders for the belt and should be feeling the pressure to impress on the night. But he’s had issues with his knees and you can’t discount that. He has to be favored to win this – he’s the guy with more big wins, championship experience, and he’s the one with serious ambitions of being a two-time UFC champion at the weight. It is Rua’s fight but don’t discount the upset.”
Tito Ortiz, former UFC light heavyweight champion, fought Machida and Bader
On Machida vs Bader: “When I fought him (UFC 84) Machida was still on the way up, no one had really any time to work out and study his style, and it was a very frustrating experience for most of the fight. He throws some very unique strikes, and his wrestling, because of that sumo background, is underrated.
“He’s very dangerous up close, people don’t think about that because he’s so good at range, but let me tell you, that knee to the guts he hit me with was no fun at all. Thankfully I was in shape because that shot really took the wind out of me. He was a little easier to control on the ground and I was able to get him in a triangle. That was in deep, man, but he is very talented and has heart and he fought through it. I think Bader needs this on the ground as much as possible.
“With Bader, I had my way with him (UFC 132). I landed a big shot and tapped him out with a choke, but I think losing like that made him make adjustments and I think he can still be a champion some day. I think Bader could take this.”
On Shogun vs Vera: “This is Shogun’s fight to lose. He has the advantages, he has the experience and he must feel that he can win the title back and won’t want to miss out on that shot. Vera did have a lot of hype on him at one time, but he didn’t live up to that. Now this is his last chance to get into that top level position, and he should be inspired, man. He has to let it all go because his back is against the wall. I used to hate and love that feeling. I know what he’s feeling right now, like he has the world against him, but – at the same time – he can say to the world “Screw you!” by scoring the upset. I think Shogun should win, but Vera winning would be a heck of a story and, if he can do it, good for him.”