UFC 121 Lineup Set; Boxing Lineup Set to End Disappointing Year

11-Bout Lineup Finalized for UFC 121

by Brian Knapp (bknapp@sherdog.com) Look at sherdog.com for the latest in mma news
Former lightweight title contender Diego Sanchez (pictured left) will meet the world-ranked Paulo Thiago in a featured matchup at 170 pounds at UFC 121 “Lesnar vs. Velasquez” on Oct. 23 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. UFC officials recently finalized an 11-bout lineup for the event, which will air live on pay-per-view.

Sanchez will carry a two-fight losing streak into the match. Based at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M., the 28-year-old last appeared at UFC 114 in May, when he dropped a unanimous decision to the unbeaten John Hathaway at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1, Sanchez owns notable victories over reigning Sengoku middleweight champion Jorge Santiago, current Strikeforce welterweight kingpin Nick Diaz, former Strikeforce lightweight titleholder Clay Guida and two-time UFC lightweight title challenger Kenny Florian. He has been finished only once — by former two-division UFC champion B.J. Penn — in 25 professional appearances.

Spawned by the Constrictor Team, Thiago has not competed since June, when he lost a unanimous decision to Martin Kampmann at UFC 115. Wins over Minnesota Martial Arts Academy standout Jacob Volkmann and American Kickboxing Academy thoroughbreds Mike Swick and Josh Koscheck anchor the 29-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt’s resume. Thiago has secured more than half (eight) of his 13 career victories by submission. He has never lost consecutive fights.

A heavyweight title match between champion Brock Lesnar and undefeated challenger Cain Velasquez will headline UFC 121, along with a pivotal welterweight showdown between former Strikeforce titleholder Jake Shields and the world-ranked Kampmann. The event will also feature a light heavyweight tilt pairing Tito Ortiz with Matt Hamill and a heavyweight matchup pitting “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 finalist Brendan Schaub against Gabriel Gonzaga.

UFC 121 “Lesnar vs. Velasquez”
Saturday, Oct. 23
Honda Center
Anaheim, Calif.

UFC Heavyweight Championship
Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez

Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann
Paulo Thiago vs. Diego Sanchez
Tito Ortiz vs. Matt Hamill
Brendan Schaub vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
Court McGee vs. Ryan Jensen
Patrick Cote vs. Tom Lawlor
Michael Guymon vs. Daniel Roberts
Sam Stout vs. Paul Taylor
Dongi Yang vs. Chris Camozzi
Gilbert Yvel vs. Jon Madsen


The Dan Rafael Blog      Dan’s insightful comments and much more can be found on http://espn.go.com/sports/boxing

By Dan Rafael

Weak 2010 picks up steam in fall fight frenzy

Boxing doesn’t have an offseason, but it might as well have had one this year with the virtually desolate schedule in September and October. Thankfully that will change in November and December, when HBO and Showtime finally justify their subscription rates as we go from famine to feast. It’s been a very weak year for both networks overall, but it looks like they’ll both finish strong with a slew of important — and potentially exciting fights — in the final two months of the year.

Instead of fights stacked up every week, I would have liked to see them spread out a bit, and I don’t love that HBO and Showtime will go head-to-head three times. But I guess that’s what the DVR is for.

Here are my thoughts, with a prefight grade of each card, on the packed seven-week stretch from Nov. 6 through Dec. 18. During that stretch, the networks (either on their regular service or pay-per-view), serve up fights every week except Dec. 4, which will be filled by a very solid Top Rank pay-per-view card.

Nov. 6
Network: HBO
Card: Zab Judah faces Lucas Matthysse in a junior welterweight title eliminator, and Robert Guerrero meets Golden Boy stablemate Vicente Escobedo in a lightweight fight at Newark, N.J.

Lowdown: Judah’s second fight since returning to the 140-pound division is the story here. At that weight, Judah can once again become a serious factor with a big performance. He’s fighting the undefeated, and untested, Matthysse, who is a knockout artist with quick hands. It could be explosive and a sleeper fight of the fall. The winner sets himself up for a major fight in a loaded division. Guerrero-Escobedo is interesting. Guerrero can position himself for a title shot in a third division. Escobedo can live up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of the 2004 Olympics. Grade: B

Nov. 6
Network: Showtime
Card: Juan Manuel Lopez defends his featherweight belt against Rafael Marquez, and Super Six World Boxing Classic newcomer Glen Johnson meets Allan Green in a Group Stage 3 bout in Las Vegas.

Lowdown: Lopez-Marquez has the makings of a classic Puerto Rican-Mexican rivalry fight. They’re both offensive fighters with a penchant for dramatics. But how much does Marquez have left at his age and after so many wars? If Marquez isn’t used goods, he could push Lopez in an exciting fight. If Lopez wins, hopefully it moves him a step closer to the featherweight fight so many want to see against Yuriorkis Gamboa.

Johnson, who replaced the injured Mikkel Kessler in the Super Six, and Green can both advance to the semifinals, but only with a win and need help from the other Group Stage 3 outcomes. The match is decent but doesn’t do much for me. However, it was necessary to keep the tournament afloat once Kessler withdrew, so I won’t complain. Besides, it’s nice to see Johnson, who will drop down from light heavyweight, get the opportunity. Couldn’t happen to a better guy. Green looked horrible in his Group Stage 2 loss and is basically fighting for his career. Grade: B+

Nov. 13
Network: HBO PPV
Card: Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, once again hosts pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, who faces Antonio Margarito for a vacant junior middleweight title. Also on the pay-per-view: Kelly Pavlik meets Bryan Vera at super middleweight, Guillermo Rigondeaux faces Ricardo Cordoba for a vacant interim junior featherweight belt and welterweight prospect Mike Jones faces Jesus Soto Karass.

Lowdown: Margarito’s reputation is forever stained because of the hand-wrap scandal he was involved in. Many don’t think he deserves to have a license or reap the massive payday he’ll get. But any time Pacquiao fights, it’s important. He’s the best on the planet right now, and he’s going for a record-extending eighth divisional title, even if it’s just a vacant alphabet trinket for which Margarito has no business fighting. Despite all the controversy about Margarito getting this huge stage, and if you can put aside that we didn’t get Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather Jr., it has a chance to be a pretty exciting fight.

Top Rank also has put its best foot forward in constructing a worthy undercard for a change. It’s about 100 times better than the garbage that promoter Bob Arum served up as the undercard for Pacquiao’s last fight against Joshua Clottey in March. Former middleweight champ Pavlik will fight for the first time since losing the title in April when he faces Vera, who has pulled past upsets but probably will be outgunned. But for a Pavlik comeback fight on an undercard, it’s a reasonable match. Rigondeaux goes for a belt in only his seventh pro fight, but he’s not a normal fighter. He’s perhaps the greatest amateur ever and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He’s stepping way up in class compared to his first six pro opponents to face Cordoba, a former titlist with vast pro experience. This is a very interesting fight. Jones is also taking a decent step up but should be heavily favored against Soto Karass. Grade: B+

Nov. 20
Network: HBO
Card: Sergio Martinez makes his first defense of the world middleweight championship against Paul Williams in Atlantic City, N.J.

Lowdown: Other than fights involving Pacquiao or Mayweather, this is the most significant fight of the year. It matches top-five pound-for-pound fighters in a rematch of an epic 2009 slugfest, which Williams won on a debatable decision. I was ringside and had Martinez winning close. That came one fight before Martinez beat Pavlik for the title. It took forever to put this sequel together, and I’m hopeful it will be worth the wait. On paper, it doesn’t get better than this. Grade: A+

Nov. 27
Network: HBO
Card: Juan Manuel Marquez, one of the sport’s elite champions, defends the lightweight world title against interim beltholder Michael Katsidis, one of the great action fighters of our time. Also, Andre Berto defends his welterweight belt against Freddy Hernandez, and Celestino Caballero jumps up to junior lightweight to face Jason Litzau.

Lowdown: You can gorge on Thanksgiving dinner and then gorge on this mostly tasty tripleheader. Marquez-Katsidis is the main course and is, on paper at least, a fight of the year candidate. Both have been in several outstanding fights, and their styles mesh perfectly. I can’t wait for this one.

Berto-Hernandez is a dog. Al Haymon, Berto’s adviser, has manipulated, leveraged and bamboozled HBO into overpaying and coddling Berto for years, and it continues here. HBO is paying $1.25 million for trash. Hernandez is a hardworking fringe contender, but ask yourself this question: If Berto wasn’t with Haymon, would HBO even consider this fight? Nobody of consequence in the strong featherweight division will even speak Caballero’s name, so he’s moving up in weight to face Litzau, who isn’t blessed with the best skills or chin but always comes to fight. This one could be interesting for as long as it lasts and will tell us a lot about Caballero, who is on most pound-for-pound lists. Grade: A-

Nov. 27
Network: Showtime
Card: In Group Stage 3 of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham hook up in Helsinki, Finland, for a vacant super middleweight belt on this split-continent telecast. (Froch-Abraham will air on same-day tape delay.) Also, Andre Ward defends his super middleweight belt against an opponent to be determined at a U.S. site, most likely Oakland, Calif. — Ward’s hometown.

Lowdown: Ward was supposed to fight 2004 U.S Olympic teammate and good friend Andre Dirrell, but Dirrell dropped out of the tournament in a surprise announcement Thursday because of neurological issues. Ward will still fight, but it has not been determined if it will be a formal tournament bout. The Super Six has had its share of issues with cancelations, delays and general uncertainty. Froch-Abraham was already postponed once, and Ward-Dirrell was postponed once and is now canceled. But this should still be a solid show.

Ward has already secured a berth in the semifinals, so his fight will have no bearing on the tournament standings. However, securing a quality opponent is going to be tough because the field of available contenders is awfully thin. Still, Froch-Abraham is a tremendous fight with a lot at stake — a vacant title and a semifinal berth that is there for either to grab. How can it be anything but a grinding, physical battle? On paper, it’s probably the best fight of the round-robin portion of the tournament. Grade: B

Dec. 11
Network: HBO
Card: Amir Khan defends his junior welterweight belt against interim beltholder Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas. The undercard is not finalized, but junior welterweight contender Victor Ortiz is penciled into the co-feature. HBO will air highlights of junior middleweight contender James Kirkland’s undercard fight against an opponent to be named.

Lowdown: Khan-Maidana is one of the most anticipated fights in the sport in one of boxing’s hottest divisions. The fight is a de facto semifinal at 140 pounds with Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley Jr., who likely will fight Jan. 29, in the other half of the unofficial bracket. Khan has speed and skills, not to mention Freddie Roach in his corner, while Maidana has aggression and power going for him. Some will point to Khan’s shaky chin as his potential downfall, but don’t be shocked if he outclasses Maidana, who can no longer complain that Khan is ducking him. Ortiz, who could potentially loom for the winner of the main event, could face former titlist Andriy Kotelnik, who gave Alexander fits in tight loss in August, or South Africa’s Kaizer Mabuza. Kirkland, who was on the verge of a title shot, returns after spending 17 months in prison. Grade: A

Dec. 11
Network: Showtime
Card: Buoyed by the positive response to its super middleweight tournament, Showtime put together a four-man tournament featuring top bantamweights. In this semifinal round, Yonnhy Perez defends his title in a mandatory rematch with Joseph Agbeko and Vic Darchinyan faces Abner Mares at Leon, Mexico.

Lowdown: Props to Showtime for the tournament love. This card has two quality matches that should produce a lot of fireworks and fun. Perez outpointed Agbeko in a very exciting and competitive fight to win his title in October 2009. The rematch figures to be more of the same. Darchinyan, a former flyweight and junior bantamweight titlist, lost to Agbeko in a July 2009 title bout, but he’s one of the biggest punchers pound for pound and usually in fan-friendly fights. Mares, who drew with Perez in a really good fight in May, is naturally bigger and 10 years younger than Darchinyan (24-34). Both fights figure to be entertaining and competitive. Can’t ask for more than that. Grade: A

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