Sunday, January 6, 2008

WEC 2008 Championship Forecast

Loyal Kodiak MMA readers (I think we’re up to three now) know that I love me some WEC. Here are some title fights I'd love to watch (and that I think are likely to happen) in '08:

Paulo Filho vs. Bryan Baker: Filho didn’t look like one of the world’s best middleweights when he met Chael Sonnen at WEC 31 last month, but that didn't stop him from catching Sonnen in a fight-ending armbar. Many people believe that Filho edges out Anderson Silva as the best middleweight in the game, and with good reason. He's as good a jiu-jitsu player as there is in MMA, and he's got heavy hands. Against Filho, even the smallest mistake will cost you; just ask Sonnen.

At 6'3" Bryan "The Beast" Baker is a big middleweight who brings solid wrestling and excellent judo to the cage. And he loves to strike. He's picked up two wins in as many fights with the WEC and is poised to make a run in the WEC's wide open middleweight class. Against Jesse Forbes at WEC 30, Baker shook off some big shots, slammed Forbes, avoided damage on the ground, and ground-and-pounded his way to a TKO win. Great fight. One more win should put Baker in a position to challenge Filho for the belt.

Urijah Faber vs. Jens Pulver: Pulver has found a new home in the WEC's exciting featherweight class, and it seems that 145 is where the former UFC lightweight champ belongs. Lil’ Evil is 8-0 at (or below) 145 lbs., with 6 KO and 2 submission wins. At WEC 31, Pulver took on the younger, red hot Cub Swanson, and after a veritable war of words, it was Pulver who emerged victorious via Rd. 1 choke. Featherweights now have to worry about Jens’ knockout power as well as his submission skills.

Urijah Faber is one of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters and is coming off an absolutely dominant 2007 campaign. His athleticism, skill, and aggression are overwhelming, and he only seems to be getting better. He’s an active, dominant champion who knows that Pulver is waiting for his shot. I’d be shocked if this match doesn’t happen within the next few months.

Brian Stann vs. Doug Marshall: The undefeated Brian Stann, a U.S. Marine Infantry Officer, is clearly the top contender at 205 lbs. He fought three times last year, picking up three brutal first-round TKOs. He has tremendous power and has been honing his MMA skills with the Xtreme Couture camp. WEC fans can expect big things from him this year.

Doug “Rhino” Marshall might not have the size or brute strength of the younger Stann, but he’s as ferocious and aggressive as any WEC 205-pounder. Known as a brutal, free-swinging power puncher, Rhino returned in May after being sidelined for nine months and recorded a stunning first-round KO over Justin McElfresh. At last month’s WEC 31, Rhino took on the previously undefeated Ariel Gandulla and showed that he's more than just a big puncher. Rhino stopped the American Top Team fighter in the first round, this time with a slick arm bar. A title defense against the popular Stann seems inevitable.

Rob McCullough vs. Ed Ratcliff: “Razor” Rob has been on a tear. He’s been undefeated since ’04, and most recently, he smoked Rich Crunkilton in the first round with devastating kicks and punches at WEC 30. Before that, he punched Kit Cope into submission (smashed up Cope’s ribs), knocked out Ryan Healy and Randy Hauer, and nearly sent Olaf Alfonso’s jaw into the men’s room. Razor Rob strikes with an efficiency and a power that is unmatched by any other lightweight.

Ed “8mm” Ratcliff is a dangerous young lightweight who picked up two impressive TKO victories last year over the heavy-handed Alex Karalexis and the previously undefeated Johnny Sampaio. Ratcliff is a decorated martial artist who cut his teeth in MMA as part of Ken Shamrock's Lion's Den. The explosive young Ratcliff is undefeated (6-0) and has shown that he loves to strike. Ratcliff vs. Razor Rob would be striker vs. striker. No complaints here.

Chase Beebe vs. Miguel Torres/Charlie Valencia: Beebe, the reigning bantamweight champion, is a tough, nasty little bastard with great wrestling and grappling skills. In March, he dominated Eddie Wineland en route to the 135-lb. title. Six months later, Beebe took on challenger Rani Yahya (who dropped down from 145 lbs.) in what turned out to be an exciting grappling match. Yahya worked furiously in the first round to submit the resilient Beebe, who weathered the storm, outworked Yahya, and punished him for the remainder of the fight to retain his championship.

I know that Torres (18-1) only has one win in the WEC, but damn did he look good. The 26-year-old Chicago native had a huge fan base at WEC 30, where he choked out Jeff Bedard midway through the first round. He made a seamless transition from an armbar attempt to a triangle choke that finished Bedard. Very slick. Torres seems to be the total package and is expected by many to make a run at the belt in '08.

Charlie Valencia is a great wrestler with a crushing right hand. Remember, it was that right hand that caught a very game Antonio Banuelos and dropped him, and it was also the right hand that rocked Ian McCall at WEC 31. Valencia lost to Brian Bowles in June but rebounded with the dominant win over McCall. Valencia pulled out all the stops against McCall: precision and power punching, punishing slams, and a lightning fast guillotine choke. Valencia has the skills, athleticism, and experience, and one more quality win should make him a top bantamweight contender.

Carlos Condit vs. Brock Larson: Again? Yup. Condit is far and away the best welterweight in the WEC and can beat you on his feet or on the ground. I'm impressed with his skills every time I see him fight. Guys like Blas Avena and John Alessio have fought well recently, but I still think that Larson is better than them. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old Condit has the striking, wrestling, and submission skills that should keep him at the top of the WEC's 170-lb. division for a long time.

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