Set to be the biggest event in the UFC‘s history, the UFC 129 card features two world title fights, one in the welterweight division between UFC champion Georges St-Pierre and Jake Shields, and the other in the featherweight division between champion Jose Aldo and surging contender Mark Hominick. Fan favourites like the retirement-bound Randy Couture and former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida fill out a stacked card that also features the return of former WEC champion Ben Henderson.
Where most major UFC events have attendances hovering near the 15,000 to 20,000 mark, UFC 129 will be the first UFC event to be held in a full scale stadium. The Rogers Centre will play host to a sold-out crowd of 55,000 UFC fans, making it not only the biggest event in UFC history, but the biggest event in North American MMA. Calling it their super bowl, the UFC has pulled out all the stops to announce their arrival in Ontario with their ‘Takeover Toronto Plan’, which included a two-day UFC Fan Expo along with the usual media rounds of Q&A’s, weigh ins, press conferences and open workouts, giving Canadian fans an unprecedented look into the UFC ahead of its biggest card of all time.
Georges St-Pierre vs Jake Shields
UFC Welterweight Championship (170 lbs/77 kg)
While Georges St-Pierre fought his way to the top of the welterweight division in the UFC, challenger Jake Shields was busy doing the exact same in every promotion outside the UFC, becoming the EliteXC welterweight champion and Strikeforce middleweight champion in the process. Despite openly desiring to fight one another in their days as parallel champions, the UFC’s stance on cross promotion always prevented the two from meeting earlier in their careers, a road block that was eliminated last year when Shields vacated his Strikeforce middleweight title, defected to the UFC and established himself as the number one contender after a tough fight with Martin Kampmann.
Currently on the longest winning streak in his career with eight consecutive wins, UFC welterweight champion St-Pierre is at the top of his game and shows no signs of slowing down. His last five title defenses have been such dominant performances that he has not lost a round since reclaiming the title over three years ago, an incredible feat when considering the level of competition St-Pierre has faced during his current title reign. St-Pierre’s constant evolution as a fighter is his greatest strength, giving him the ability to threaten in every department to a scary degree. His standup is phenomenal, his wrestling is excellent despite not coming from a wrestling background, and his overall pace, rhythm and conditioning will, as always, be on point come fight night.
But in his latest challenger, St-Pierre will take on one of the most dominant fighters to come from outside the UFC. Shield’s self-coined style of ‘American Jiu Jitsu’, made up of fast, explosive takedowns and high-level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu courtesy of a Cesar Gracie black belt, represents a new challenge and a legitimate threat to St-Pierre’s throne as UFC welterweight champion. But for all of Shield’s accomplishments outside of the octagon, many have their doubts about his abilities when matched up with the higher calibre fighters in the UFC. Shields attributed his disappointing split-decision win in his UFC debut against Kampmann to weight cut issues and debut jitters. By all reports though, Shields made weight far easier this time around and with his debut behind him, he will have nothing on his mind but the title.
Ultimately, the fight will come down to who succumbs to the pressure first. Both St-Pierre and Shields fight at a dizzying pace and neither is the type to let a mistake go unnoticed. St-Pierre has a huge advantage in the standup game against Shields and if history is anything to go by, he will try to use his advantages against his opponents rather than play them at their own game. It’s been a good strategy so far, but not many have been able to keep Shields in the standup game when he didn’t want to. Shields’ best chance at dethroning St-Pierre is to get him to the ground early and often, avoiding the high level striking St-Pierre is certain to employ, and looking for a submission. Shields has the unquestionable advantage once the fight hits the floor in his ability to control and attack with his jiu jitsu — the only question is whether he can get the fight to the mat at all considering St-Pierre’s excellent takedown defense.
– Key for St-Pierre: Keep the fight standing and avoid takedowns.
– Key for Shields: Take the fight to the mat and look for a submission.
José Aldo vs Mark Hominick
UFC Featherweight Championship (145 lbs/66 kg)
On the topic of dominant champions, José Aldo has gone on an absolute tear in the featherweight division, finishing seven of his last eight opponents with a ferocious striking game during his tenure in the WEC. After a neck injury sidelined his intended UFC debut, Aldo is looking to begin his title reign in impressive fashion against hometown favourite Mark Hominick.
Coming off an impressive TKO victory against former teammate George Roop, Hominick is riding a five fight win streak into the UFC and looking to cause a major upset against Aldo, who comes into the fight a heavy favourite. It’s going to be a tough road towards that upset for Hominick though, as Aldo has all his bases covered and even trumps Hominick in many of his own strengths.
If Hominick can keep the pressure up and hang in there with Aldo’s blistering speed, his chances may improve as the fight goes into the later rounds where Aldo has never really been tested. However Aldo’s ability to wear down opponents with his ferocious leg kicks and sheer striking volume may prove difficult to overcome. Fight of the Night? I think so.
– Key for Aldo: Wear Hominick down and look for the KO.
– Key for Hominick: Take the fight to Aldo and look for opportunities late in the fight.
Lyoto Machida vs Randy Couture
Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs/93 kg)
After announcing his retirement earlier this week, UFC Hall of Famer Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture is looking to go out on a high against former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in a classic styles clash that pits Couture’s Greco-Roman wrestling pedigree against Machida’s elusive striking game.
Coming off the first two losses of his career against Mauricio Rua and Quinton Jackson, Lyoto may not exactly be fighting for his job yet, but he’s already very well on a slippery slope. Despite his recent losses, Machida is still one of the best in his division and will look to use his defensive and elusive karate style striking to counter-strike against Couture while remaining outside of Couture’s takedown or clinch range. Machida’s style is often seen by judges as a lack of aggression, one of the key judging criteria in MMA that led to his loss to Rampage. Whether this means we’ll see a stylistic change-up from the overly-defensive, often boring karate he’s used in the past is the question, and if this one goes to the judges, timidity and a lack of aggression isn’t something they look favourably upon.
Couture will look to do the opposite, stifling Machida in close quarters and taking him into his own world, where he’ll have a hard time escaping. Couture is no slouch in the standup department but will have more success by taking Machida down and roughing him up on the ground, something not many people have managed to do. Machida has only really fought one wrestler of Randy’s calibre in Rashad Evans, who was more content to stand with Machida and ended up getting knocked out, a mistake Couture is too smart to make.
– Key for Machida: Stay active and aggressive, keep distance and avoid the takedown.
– Key for Couture: Close the distance with strikes and look to clinch and get the fight to the ground.
Vladimir Matyushenko vs Jason Brilz
Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs/93 kg)
Matyushenko and Brilz are the type of fighters the UFC love to spotlight. Both men are excellent fighters, have tremendous heart and always put on a show. Scheduled to fight at UFC 122 before injury sidelined Brilz, the rescheduled match-up gives both fighters a big promotional push on the biggest stage of all. Both fighters are wrestlers who possess powerful hands. Their skill sets are relatively similar and a win by either will propel them far up the somewhat shallow light heavyweight ladder.
Matyushenko will have more success if he utilizes his wrestling and puts his ground and pound into the equation, just like he did against Alexandre Ferreira in his first round TKO win last November at UFC 122. With his strong chin and mental toughness, Matyushenko will be a tough man for Brilz to put to sleep in the standup and will instead look to pick Matyushenko apart on the feet, deplete his suspect gas tank and, if that fails, look to take him down and do a little wrestling of his own.
Key for Matyushenko: Take fight to the mat and look for ground and pound.
Key for Brilz: Wear Matyushenko down and push the pace.
Mark Bocek vs Ben Henderson
Lightweight Division (155 lbs/70 kg)
In the crowded lightweight division, it only takes one loss to slip from the top. Ben Henderson knows this all too well, getting seemingly lost in the shuffle following his WEC title loss to Anthony Pettis, and the subsequent merging of the WEC into the UFC. Looking to show that his impressive title run in the WEC was no fluke, Henderson is looking to take out one of the rising stars in the UFC’s lightweight division in jiu jitsu ace Mark Bocek. Coming off an impressive submission of the night win over Dustin Hazelett, Bocek will try to assert his dominance in the division and propel himself into the contender picture with another impressive win.
Henderson should use his size advantage over Bocek to control the standup and if the fight goes to the mat, maintain positional control and not get stuck in the quicksand that is Bocek’s ground game. Bocek’s strengths lie in his submissions, with seven of his nine career wins a result of them — most notably his rear naked choke, which he’ll be hunting for all night against the lanky and submission-prone Henderson.
– Key for Henderson: Keep the fight standing and use his size to maintain control.
– Key for Bocek: Take the fight to the mat and fire off submissions and stay out of bottom position, as Henderson is the much larger fighter and likely to outweigh Bocek on fight night.