Real deal predictions
Dan Henderson vs. Vitor Belfort
Eddie: Henderson seems to thrive against physically bigger opposition in the middleweight division. He was flat and uninspired in his rematch with Kazuo Misaki, but then the Team Quest fighter openly admitted he didn't want to compete in another Grand Prix. Motivation won't be a problem for this fight. He's fighting in the States for the first time in eight years in front of friends and family, and he'll want to erase the memory of his last fight. Belfort has been one of those mercurial fighters who is hot one fight, then cold the next. Lately, he's been more cold than hot, leading many to label him the greatest wasted talent in MMA history. The mental game has been his downfall, and he has failed against top-flight competition in recent years. Lately, Henderson has relied on his overhand right, looking like a one-dimensional fighter. If he abandons that strategy and mixes up his attack, I think he'll dominate Belfort. He may not finish the Brazilian, but he'll get back on the winning track. Henderson by Decision.
Josh: On paper this is an exciting clash of veteran fighters. However, Henderson appears to be fading and Belfort is so hit and miss it's anyone's guess what he'll do. Accepting the fact that this probably won't be the case, but hoping they're at their best, I like Belfort. He owns a significant size advantage, can comfortably trade with the American, and contains more than enough ability to stop and score takedowns. I picture the building full of tension as the Brazilian puts Henderson on his back and grinds out a plodding decision. Belfort by decision.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mark Coleman
Eddie: Coleman's freakish win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in February was an anomaly in a career that has been on the downward slide for years. At the age of 42, the first-ever Grand Prix champion is too old to compete with the elite in Pride and hasn't really evolved as a fighter, still relying on takedowns and ground-and-pound. Fedor Emelianenko, on the other hand, may be the best fighter in the history of the sport. While he may not knock people out, he is great at implementing a game plan and imposing his will. He has struggled with a hand injury and hasn't seen the ring in nearly a year, but even with ring rust and even if he gets taken down (which happened in a previous meeting with Coleman), he should be able to counter with his superior ground game and submit the wrestler, like he did over two years ago. Emelianenko by submission, 1st round.
Josh: For the uninitiated, Fedor Emelianenko is the best fighter I've seen during my six years covering mixed martial arts. I'll go one step further: he's the best mixed martial artist ever. Now I know it sounds hyperbolic, but realize MMA is basically 13 years old. See, doesn't sound too crazy. In his day, many considered Coleman the sport's best. But that was a decade ago, and though the former Ohio State All-American wrestler resurfaced in 2000 with an improbable series of victories, it's highly unlikely he can muster enough to topple the Russian. Fedor by submission in round two.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Kevin Randleman
Eddie: A match between two different generations of fighters. Randleman is the old guard, a wrestler who never really evolved, much like his teammate and mentor Mark Coleman. He had a big win over Mirko Cro Cop, but that was two years ago. His recent performances have been spotty, and he's had a lengthy lay-off because of a string of injuries, some life-threatening. Representing the new generation of fighter, Shogun spent most of 2006 on the sidelines because of a freakish elbow injury, but he rebounded with a win over French kickboxer Cyrille Diabate. The Brazilian is a true mixed martial artist, dynamic and athletic. Randleman simply can't compare in the skill department and doesn't possess a comparable arsenal of weapons. If Shogun can weather an early storm, he should finish the fight with aplomb. Shogun by KO (knees) late in the 1st round.
Josh: Physically, few can match Kevin Randleman. Yet a lack of focus plagued the former UFC heavyweight champion, reducing what should have been a spectacular career into a surreal roller coaster ride. "Shogun," a young star out of Brazil's famed Chute Boxe (pronounced shoo-tay box) academy, exploded onto the scene in 2005, putting together an unreal string of victories that led him to Fighter of the Year honors. This could be the fight of the night or a total dud. Considering Randleman hasn't been paid to hit anyone in over a year, I'm leaning towards an all-out war. The American promised someone would get KO'd in the first five minutes. I think he's ambitious. Make it two rounds and I like Shogun to have his hand raised.
Josh Barnett vs. Pawel Nastula
Eddie: Barnett is coming off a disappointing loss to Cro Cop, but he definitely raised his stock by making it to the finals of the Open Weight Grand Prix. The Baby-Faced Assassin should be regarded as a Top-3 heavyweight, and he should be too much for the smaller judo player. Nastula has looked better in recent outings, but Barnett will have the distinct advantage on the feet and his catch-wrestling style, tailored to MMA, should prove superior to Nastula's world-class judo. Barnett by submission in the 2nd round.
Josh: Let's see. An in-his-prime former UFC champion who holds wins over Randy Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Hunt and other top names fighting a 1-2-0 promising Polish judoka. Doesn't sound fair, does it? Josh Barnett should have his way with Pawel Nastula, assuming he's not feeling any lingering effects from the recent PRIDE OWGP tournament. Barnett stops the Olympic champion in round two.
Joey Villasenor vs. Robbie Lawler
Eddie: You can see why PRIDE created this match-up, which promises fireworks as both fighters like to stand and bang. Both come from great camps and are pretty evenly matched. Villasenor was unlucky in losing a decision to Ryo Chonan in the PRIDE Bushido Welterweight tournament. Lawler is coming off a loss as well, an exciting back-and-forth bout with Jason "Mayhem" Miller in the ICON promotion. It may come down to who has the better punching accuracy in the first round since it's pretty much a given that both will come out swinging. Someone will get caught and dropped. Villasenor by TKO in the 1st round.
Josh: Nice clash of young 185-pounders. Lawler has the name, having been showcased by the UFC on The Best Damn Sports Show, Period! in 2002. Villasenor, a King of the Cage champion, toiled on smaller cards throughout the U.S. before finally getting his shot in PRIDE, where he was controversially out-pointed by Japanese fighter Ryo Chonan. Both men are fairly active and both employ a finish-first-ask-questions-later style. That makes for fun fights. Villasenor is the more dynamic mixed martial artist, and he should score with knees and kicks before stopping the Iowan in the third period.
Phil Baroni vs. Yosuke Nishijima
Eddie: Growing up, Baroni, known as the New York Bad Ass, wanted to be a pro boxer. Now he gets to face one in the PRIDE ring. Nishijima was a solid but not world-class boxer in his time, compiling a 24-2-1 record and collecting cruiserweight titles in three different organizations. He made the transition to MMA last year like so many other Japanese athletes before him. Basically, he was thrown to the wolves, losing to veterans Mark Hunt, Hidehiko Yoshida and recently Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos. However inauspicious his MMA beginnings, he has a shot at beating Baroni who will no doubt want to test his hands. I just don't see Baroni doing the smart thing and taking Nishijima to the ground. Baroni has yet to show he has decent submission skills anyway. In other words, this will be another stand-up fight for the American fans. A resurrected Baroni was on a tear before losing to Misaki in the welterweight tournament. He'll be plenty motivated to showcase his skills in front of an American audience again. This one should resemble Baroni's war with Ikuhisa "The Punk" Minowa. I see Baroni getting caught by a more technical striker. Nishijima by TKO in the 2nd round.
Josh: On the surface, this looks like a mismatch. Baroni has 16 fights — most of which have been tough — versus Nishijima's three. But Baroni, who fancies himself a capable boxer, can still lose if he decides to strike with the former WBF Cruiserweight champ. This is why MMA is still in it's infancy; a veteran like Baroni stands a realistic shot of losing to a fighter who's yet to win a pro MMA bout. To avoid becoming Nishijima's first victim, Baroni has to mute his ego and take the fight to the floor, where his chance for victory — either by pounding the Japanese fighter out or snatching a submission — greatly increases. That's why I think the American wins in the third round.