UFC 108 takes the stage tonight from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, looking to silence the critics.
Over the last couple of months, injuries and illnesses have decimated this card, leaving few of the originally planned matches on the card and leading many to describe this event as lackluster, or worse.
While UFC 108 certainly doesn't measure up to the lofty standards of New Years shows gone by - or others from this passed year for that matter - the criticism is somewhat unfounded.
First, it's not like the UFC decided to pull fighters like Brock Lesnar, "Minotauro" Nogueira and Sean Sherk from this card; each of these fighters and countless others have been struck down by injuries that certainly could not have been forecasted.
Additionally, the fact that there is still an event at all speaks volumes about the UFC's commitment to giving fans the best show they can, regardless of unforeseen circumstances.
After all, they could have gone all Affliction and pulled the plug entirely, right?
Preliminary Card Previews
Rafaello Oliveira (9-2-0) vs. John Gunderson (22-6-0)
On a card that features an old school "Striker versus Grappler" style clash as the co-main event, it's fitting that someone representing an old school team makes an appearance, and Gunderson fills that role.
"Quick Guns" is a member of the famous Lion's Den, Ken Shamrock's long-time team that was once one of the most renowned and feared groups in the sport. Now, they come off much like their leader - hanging on by the name alone.
A veteran of the IFL, Gunderson has an edge in experience and has faced tougher competition thus far, having faced off with Ryan Schultz, Wagnney Fabiano and Bart Paleszewski in the past. Of course, each of those three defeated the 30-year-old Oregon native who makes his UFC debut tonight.
Rafaello Oliveiro debuted in August at UFC 102, dropping a Unanimous 29-28 decision to Nik Lentz. After winning the first round, the Brazilian who fights out of Knoxville, Tennessee could not do enough to counter Lentz' strong wrestling.
Originally slated to face Sean Sherk, Oliveiro must take advantage of the change in opponents and claim his first victory inside the Octagon or risk receiving a pink slip come Monday. The lightweight division is too deep at the bottom end for fighters with consecutive losses to keep a spot on the roster.
Mike Pyle (19-6-1) vs. Jake Ellenberger (21-5-0)
Ellenberger announced his presence to UFC fans during his three round battle with Carlos Condit at Fight Night 19 in Oklahoma.
Despite flooring the former WEC welterweight champion on a couple different occasions, the judges scored the fight in the favor of "The Natural Born Killer," though many disagreed. Regardless of the decision, Ellenberger made it known that he has power in his hands, the ability to compete with some of the top competitors at 170 and a motor that never quits.
While the name Mike Pyle may not sound familiar, chances are you've seen him a time or two. He's the guy in the corner of many Xtreme Couture fighters that can be heard shouting encouragement, strategies and curses from the opening bell.
In addition to being a potty-mouthed corner, Pyle is a submission specialist who has earned 15 of his 19 wins by way of submission, including forcing both Jon Fitch and Dan Hornbuckle to tap.
Mark Munoz (6-1-0) vs. Ryan Jensen (14-5-0)
"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" was one of a number of WEC additions who were thrown to the wolves in their debut with the bigger brand under the Zuffa umbrella.
After just five fights - including a win over Mike Pierce - Munoz was sent to the slaughter against Matt Hamill at UFC 96, falling victim to a devastating head kick that left the former All-American and National Champion unconscious.
Since then, Munoz has moved to middleweight, where he looks far more comfortable and better suited. In his debut at 185, the Oklahoma State product earned a win over Nicky Catone.
In all honesty, the lone win Ryan Jensen has earned from four trips inside the Octagon comes with an asterisk. Facing Steve Steinbeiss at Fight Night 19, Jensen latched onto a guillotine. When the ref asked Steinbeiss if he was okay, "The Hooligan" gave the thumbs up.
Somehow, the referee interpreted that to mean Steinbeiss was done, as the fight was called and Jensen earned a very suspect submission victory.
Spike TV Prelims Live Previews
Cole Miller (15-4-0) vs. Dan Lauzon (12-2-0)
The first of the two Lauzon brothers to appear on the UFC 108 card, younger brother Dan makes his return to the UFC riding an eight-fight winning streak, the latest of which was a submission of Bobby "Hood" Green at Affliction: Day of Reckoning in nearly a year ago.
Much like older brother Joe, Dan is a submission specialist, though his recent winning streak has been littered with stoppages due to strikes.
Another half of a fighting brother tandem will be standing opposite Lauzon, as Cole Miller returns, looking to bounce back from a loss to Efrain Escudero on the initial Prelims Live show for UFC 103.
"Magrinho" usually relies on his submission skills as well, which means we could very well be looking at a stand-up war in the making. Much like Rafaello Oliveira earlier on the card, Miller is in need of a win to solidify his status with the company.
Despite a solid pedigree and fighting out of American Top Team, Miller has yet to take that next step and become a real threat in the lightweight division, and continued inconsistency will have him looking for a new place of employment.
Martin Kampmann (15-3-0) vs. Jacob Volkmann (9-1-0)
Both fighters enter off losses, Volkmann suffering the first of his career at the hands of Paulo Thiago just five weeks ago at UFC 106, and Kampmann being the victim of bad decision making in his UFC 103 bout with Paul "Semtex" Daley.
Volkmann showed some flashes of talent and potential in his bout with Thiago, most notably securing a D'Arce choke from his back against the BJJ black belt and Brazilian police officer. Fighting out of Minnesota Martial Arts, the man nicknamed "Christmas" can earn a late belated present in the form of his first UFC win tonight.
Don't let Martin Kampmann's performance last time out fool you; "The Hitman" is still a legitimate contender in the welterweight division. Boasting an impressive combination of striking and submissions, Kampmann played with fire and got burned against Daley, choosing to stand with the striker, instead of taking the fight to the ground where he held a huge advantage.
Though he doesn't have a large an advantage on the canvas this time around, the Xtreme Couture trainee does have an edge in the stand-up, and has shown the power necessary to finish this fight during his middleweight days.
Main Card Previews
Junior dos Santos (9-1-0) vs. Gilbert Yvel (36-13-1, 1 No Contest)
The heavily-tattooed "Hurricane" Yvel is as lethal a striker as exists in the heavyweight division today. At 33, the former RINGS, Pride, and Affliction competitor (amongst others) has stopped Valentjin Overeem, Cheick Kongo, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and most recently Pedro Rizzo, utilizing an array of finishers including strikes, head kicks and flying knees.
Oh yeah - he's a little bit crazy too, having been disqualified for biting an opponent and for eye gouging Don Frye. He also KTFO'd a referee once.
All of that adds up to a dangerous challenge for Junior dos Santos, the Black House heavyweight who somehow is repeatedly passed over by Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez in future champion discussions despite possessing a more impressive resume.
For his debut, "Cigano" sent Fabricio Werdum packing, riding an uppercut all the way to Strikeforce. For an encore, the Brazilian overwhelmed up-and-comer Stefan Struve, needing just 54 seconds to finish the fight. From there, dos Santos pummeled Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, forcing the former Pride superstar to verbally submit.
While we've only seen dos Santos stand thus far, expect to see how legitimate his brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under "Minotauro" Nogueira is this time around, as going to the ground is poison for Yvel.
Jim Miller (15-2-0) vs. Duane "Bang" Ludwig (19-9-0)
"Bang" Ludwig is a tough veteran who has been in there with some top talents over the years, including holding wins over Jens Pulver, Jonathan Goulet and Yves Edwards. That said, how much can you expect from a guy coming in on no more than two weeks notice?
This is a serious statement fight for Miller, whose two losses came to Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar, the 1 and 1A of title contenders at 155. Originally scheduled to face Tyson Griffin, and then Sean Sherk, Miller needs to put on a dominant performance against Ludwig to solidify his standing in the stacked lightweight division.
Routinely beating up lesser opponents will keep you employed, but it won't earn you any title shots, so Miller needs to show he's ready to face either of his injured potential opponents and move into the upper ranks.
Joe Lauzon (18-4-0) vs. Sam Stout (14-5-1)
The fact that Sam Stout is just 25-years-old doesn't seem real. It feels like he's been around forever, probably because his classic battles with Spencer Fisher live forever on highlight reels and UFC specials galore.
The London, Ontario native and former Keyboard Kimura Interview Series participant has been patiently waiting since September for an opportunity to get back into the cage, as many will remember his fight against Philippe Nover was canceled on the day of the fight due to Nover suffering a seizure.
Stout has an iron jaw and enough power in his hands to change the course of the fight with one punch. That said, the chances of Joe Lauzon allowing this fight to remain standing longer than it absolutely has to are slim and none.
Coming back off major knee surgery, Lauzon has been out of the cage since defeating Jeremy Stephens in February. 5-1 over his six fight career with the UFC, Lauzon is in a similar position to Jim Miller, in that he needs to cement his place as an upper tier fighter, and a win over the tough-as-nails Stout would certainly help.
The biggest question heading in, of course, is how the extended time off will affect the Massachusetts native. We've seen guys like "Shogun" Rua have a difficult time in their first fight back off a similar surgery, so expectations and impressions of Lauzon tonight must certainly be tempered.
Dustin Hazelett (12-4-0) vs. Paul Daley (22-5-2)
The easiest preview of the card, as a classic "striker vs. grappler" battle shapes up in the co-main event.
While his striking has certainly improved during his time in the UFC, Dustin Hazelett is and always will be a submission specialist. A BJJ black belt under Jorge Gurgel, Hazelett will enjoy a four-inch height advantage in addition to his serious edge if the fight goes to the ground.
Unfortunately, all fights start standing and Paul Daley showed in his UFC debut that he likes to stand-and-bang.
Bravado and build-up for the fight aside, Daley knows that his best chance to secure another win is by knocking out "McLovin," and he'll look to stay as far away from the floor as possible. Of his eight career defeats, five have come by way of submission.
One thing that hasn't been discussed much in regards to this fight is where a win will put either of these fighters.
Daley would have two solid UFC wins and probably have earned himself a date with someone in the Josh Koscheck / Mike Swick range, while Hazelett would extend his winning streak to three and put himself at the top of the second tier of talent.
Rashad Evans (13-1-1) vs. Thiago Silva (14-1-0)
Both men lost to Lyoto Machida in 2009, Silva in January, a fight that propelled Machida into the title fight with Evans in May, where he took Rashad's belt and his soul, according to his mom.
While there is no denying the lethality of Thiago Silva's strikes, one thing that often gets overlooked is the trouble he's been in throughout his UFC career.
Yes, he clobbered Antonio Mendes, but the Brazilian kickboxer rocked the ATT product right off the bat in that bout, and failed to finish.
When he beat Houston Alexander, "The Assassin" was the guy who had just stopped Keith Jardine and Alessio Sakara. Now he's the guy who lost to Kimbo Slice by continually circling the outside of the cage.
Many will tell you James Irvin was winning their bout before blowing his knee, and Silva needed nearly two full rounds to stop Tomasz Drwal, a middleweight.
Can he knock Evans out with a single shot? Absolutely, but he's shown a vulnerability to a well placed punch and good gameplan in the past.
What compels fighters to ignore their greatest strength on a regular basis?
Rashad Evans, like many others, is a wrestler who has fallen in love with his striking. Trying to out-counter the best counter-striker in the company led to a devastating knockout at the hands of Lyoto Machida.
Now, Evans needs to get back on track after spending the last number of months involved with Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Chances are we'll see the fight with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson regardless of the outcome of this bout, but entering on a win would help put some steam back into the rivalry and turn the grudge match into a #1 contender fight capable of headlining a summer show.
Punch Drunk Predictions
Rafaello Oliveira over John Gunderson - TKO, Round 2
Mike Pyle over Jake Ellenberger - Submission, Round 1
Mark Munoz over Ryan Jensen - TKO, Round 2
Dan Lauzon over Cole Miller - Split Decision
Martin Kampmann over Jacob Volkmann - TKO, Round 1
Junior dos Santos over Gilbert Yvel - Submission, Round 1
Jim Miller over Duane Ludwig - Unanimous Decision
Joe Lauzon over Sam Stout - Submission, Round 2
Paul Daley over Dustin Hazelett - TKO, Round 1
And in the Main Event of the evening...
"Suga" Rashad Evans over Thiago Silva by TKO, Round 2.
Now touch gloves and come out swinging!