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UFC 96 - Fantasy Preview

Stephen Quinn, UFC - The UFC returns to Columbus for its yearly visit to the Nationwide Arena, and its bringing big guns such as Quinton Jackson, Keith Jardine, Shane Carwin, Gabriel Gonzaga, and a host of other standouts to Ohio for what should be a memorable night of MMA action. Read on for the UFC 96 Fantasy Game breakdown.

By Stephen Quinn

The UFC returns to Columbus for its yearly visit to the Nationwide Arena, and its bringing big guns such as Quinton Jackson, Keith Jardine, Shane Carwin, Gabriel Gonzaga, and a host of other standouts to Ohio for what should be a memorable night of MMA action. Read on for the UFC 96 Fantasy Game breakdown.

MATT BROWN VS. PETE SELL

Both Brown and Sell are known for their entertaining, fast-paced styles, giving this matchup Fight of the Night potential. In a fight that pits two fighters with similar styles, it will be interesting to see who makes the first costly mistake.

At first glance, Brown's 11-7 record makes him an easy guy to underestimate, and some may question what all the hype is about. But with two impressive wins inside of the Octagon over Matt Arroyo and Ryan Thomas, Brown has shown that he has the ability to finish a fight wherever the action may end up. After losing to Dong Hyun Kim in September of 2008, Brown knows that he needs to string together wins in order to move up the division ladder. On Saturday night, he’ll have the ability to do just that.

After going 1-4 in the middleweight division -- with some very close losses -- Sell knew it was time to ponder where he was headed as a fighter. He decided to move down in weight. Thus far, that decision has been a successful one. In his welterweight debut, Sell won a hard-fought decision victory over the always-game Josh Burkman. Now that his days as a middleweight have come and gone, Sell is looking to become a force at 170-pounds.

Because of the groundfighting ability of the Matt Serra-trained Sell, opponents tend to overlook the devastating power in his hands. Do not expect for Brown to be one of those opponents. In this fight, look for Sell to try and bring the action to the canvas. Although he has the ability to end the fight with a single punch, Sell will be more comfortable if the action is on the ground.

On the other hand, Brown will be looking to do whatever it takes to keep the action on their feet. Although Brown is the more polished boxer, he will respect the power of Sell when they engage. In the beginning of the fight, we may be in for a slow start – but one solid punch can change all of that.

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

GRAY MAYNARD VS. JIM MILLER

Both fighters combine for a 20-1, 1 NC record, meaning we are in for a treat when the opening horn sounds.

Maynard, a former All-American wrestler and competitor on season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter, has won four straight fights and is looking to extend his winning ways going after recovering from a hand injury. With notable wins over Frank Edgar and Rich Clementi, "The Bully" has the goods to smother opponents with his hard wrestling takedowns, dangerous ground-and-pound and ever-improving boxing skills. But make no mistake, Jim Miller will be the toughest test of Maynard's young career. After an impressive 2008 that saw him beating David Baron and Matt Wiman, Miller knows that a strong 2009 will move him near the top of his talented division.

Both of these fighters have the ability to keep this fight entertaining for 15-minutes, but at the same time, they have the ability to finish the fight very quickly. For Maynard, expect him to try and keep the fight standing – this is where he will be most comfortable. He does not want to end up on his back.

For Miller, expect him to push the action – waiting for Maynard to throw something wild so that he’ll be able to score a takedown. If he is able to bring the fight on the ground, look for him to stay as active as possible – forcing the referee to allow the action to stay on the ground.

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

MATT HAMILL VS. MARK MUNOZ

At 7-2, Matt Hamill has put together a pretty impressive run since his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, with his only two losses coming to Michael Bisping and Rich Franklin. Losing to those two studs is nothing to be ashamed of. In his latest outing, Hamill beat fellow wrestler Reese Andy. In that fight, Hamill rebounded from a slow start, made adjustments, and finished Andy off in the second round.

When fans first got introduced to Hamill, he was viewed as a one-dimensional wrestler, but each time he enters the Octagon the upstate New Yorker is apparently becoming more and more confident on his feet. If his standup ability catches up to his wrestling, that could mean big trouble for the rest of the division.

Making his UFC debut in the UFC, former NCAA wrestling champ Mark Munoz knows there’s no better way to raise his profile then by putting on an impressive performance come fight time. Munoz has the chance that few have ever gotten – making their UFC debut on Pay-Per-View. With only 5 fights under his belt (5-0), Munoz is eager to show his new peers at 205-pounds that he’s going to be a force.

With both of these fighters having strong wrestling backgrounds, that generally means one thing inside of the Octagon – we are going to see each fighter looking for a knockout. With this being Munoz’s first appearance on the biggest stage in MMA, expect Hamill to try and press the action for the entirety of the fight. Munoz seems heavy-handed when punching opponents on the ground, but Hamill seems to have a considerable edge in the standup striking department, which could prove the difference in the fight.

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

GABRIEL GONZAGA VS. SHANE CARWIN

The stakes are going to be high when these two enter the Octagon on Saturday night. Carwin has his biggest opportunity yet to show the MMA world whether he is a pretender or a top contender. Gonzaga has a golden chance to jump back into the heavyweight title picture.

The first thing that people think of when they see Gonzaga is a vision in their head of his devastating one kick knockout of Mirko Cro Cop. Entering that fight, Gonzaga was widely seen as a steppingstone to the former PRIDE star, but that one kick instantly legitimized him and struck fear in opponents, who now had to worry about Gonzaga's striking and his world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills. After toppling Cro Cop, Gonzaga seemed to be headed towards a shot at UFC gold. But his luck inside of the cage didn’t go with him into his next two fights. Gonzaga went from beating arguably the most feared striker at the time at his own game, to losing two consecutive fights. To his credit, he didn’t get beat by guys coming up in the division. Rather, his losses came to Randy Couture and Fabricio Werdum. But to Gonzaga’s credit, he has taken the challenge by storm since then – beating both Justin McCully and Josh Hendricks before the judges could have a say in it. With a win on Saturday, Gonzaga will put himself right back into the thick of a very talented division.

Not only is Shane Carwin unblemished in his MMA career (10-0), but he has yet to let a fight go past the 5-minute mark. With his wins over Christian Wellisch and Neil Wain in the UFC going a combined 2:15, Carwin knows that this fight is likely to go longer than both of those previous outings combined. Although his opponents to date have been lesser-known, Carwin did what was most important – he won in convincing fashion. Beat Gonzaga on Saturday and the buzz on Carwin will certainly be amped up a few notches.

This fight should be an interesting one. Carwin knows that he will need to push the pace on Gonzaga – trying to wear him down. This is much easier said than done. If Carwin plans to push the action towards Gonzaga, then he’ll be in range for a possible knockout. For Gonzaga, he may look to bring this fight to the canvas. This may come as a surprise to people who cannot get the vision of Cro Cop folding to canvas by the way of a powerful head kick, but Gonzaga has the ability to submit any opponent.

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

KEITH JARDINE VS. QUINTON “RAMPAGE” JACKSON

When he knocked out Wanderlei Silva in December, Jackson cinched the chance to regain the UFC light heavyweight title. All he had to do was wait a few months for the champ, Rashad Evans, to rest up and get into tip-top shape. But Jackson refused to wait. He didn't want to be inactive and away from the cage for that long. So he gambled big -- risking his guaranteed title shot by accepting to fight Keith Jardine.

The Jackson-Jardine main event on Saturday night pits two of the marquee 205-pounders in the world against each other. Each man has the ability to end the bout with one punch. Each man owns wins over some of the biggest names in the sport. This fight could have been billed as, "the winner gets Rashad," but Jardine's close friendship with the champ (and the fact that both fighters train together under Greg Jackson) seemingly prevents that from happening. Jardine and Evans have indicated in the past that they have no intentions of competing each other in a fight. Unless they waver on that stance, a Jardine win simply pushes him near the top of the division and pads his stellar resume.

With an impressive 29-7 record, Jackson is accustomed to big fights. He's fought Ricardo Arona, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva (three times), Chuck Liddell (twice) and Forrest Griffin, among others. Jackson was a superstar in the PRIDE organization, has held the belt in the UFC and is eager to get back to the top of quite possibly the deepest division in MMA. After losing his title to Forrest Griffin in July of 2008, winning that belt has been his main priority.

Fighting out of Albuquerque, N.M., Jardine knows the importance of putting on a good showing when he and Jackson square off. It’s easy to look at Jardine, who has a 2-2 record in his previous four fights, and think he doesn’t belong among the elite in the division. But wins over Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin, who are both former champions, prove that Jardine is capable of beating any fighter on any given night. And for good measure he followed up those signature wins by beating highly regarded Brandon Vera in his last outing.

On paper, people may think that Jackson should have little trouble with the season two contestant of The Ultimate Fighter. But the Greg Jackson-trained fighter poses a serious threat inside of the Octagon with his unorthodox fighting style. Look for Jardine to keep this fight standing – using his impressive kicks to disrupt any attempt at a Jackson takedown (remember: Griffin bothered and hurt Jackson with leg kicks and it will be interesting to see if Rampage has learned how to check or counter those kicks more effectively since then). But Jardine will have to be careful – a poorly timed kick will land him on his back. If the fight does go to the canvas, expect Jackson to use his power and cardio to wear Jardine down – trying to have the referee stop the action. And although Jardine is underrated in the submission department, Jackson has shown time and again that he has the strength to get out of nearly any submission.

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

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