Published April 07, 2010
The United Arab Emirates is preparing to host the Ultimate Fighting Championship for the first time ever, as UFC 112 takes place in the newly built Concert Arena in Abu Dhabi this Saturday night.
The stacked card will mark the UFC's promotional debut in the Middle East.
The show is highlighted by a title-fight twin bill featuring the UFC's middleweight and lightweight champs, in addition to the debut of a Pride legend seeking retribution against a future UFC Hall of Famer.
Here's a breakdown of what to expect come Saturday night:
Anderson Silva (25-4) vs. Demian Maia (12-1)
When Vitor Belfort pulled out of his fight against Silva, the UFC scrambled to find a replacement to challenge for the title. With Chael Sonnen sidelined, the UFC went to the next best option.
Enter Demian Maia.
Maia, a second degree Brazilian jiujitsu black belt, was touted as the next big thing in the division.
At UFC 102, a devastating 21-second knockout by Nate Marquardt spoiled some of the hype surrounding Maia. Since then, however, he earned a unanimous decision victory over Dan Miller.
Not quite in consideration for a crack at Silva, Maia was in the right place at the right time. He was ready, willing and able to challenge for the prestigious 185-pound crown in Abu Dhabi.
Some have already forgotten Maia's sensational triangle choke submission against Sonnen, the current No. 1 contender, in February 2009. He recorded the 11th win of his then-unbeaten streak and his fourth "Submission of the Night" bonus.
The 2007 Abu Dhabi champion is still one of the sport's most decorated grapplers. That being said, he will need to dig deep in his bag of tricks to take Silva's belt. His wrestling will need to be the best it has ever been.
Maia needs to take this fight to the ground as quickly as he can. Silva too possesses a BJJ black belt, but Maia is a slicker submission specialist.
Silva, though, is the most proficient striker in the game. His accuracy, footwork and killer instinct is unmatched. He is expected to outclass his fellow countryman in this title defense.
Silva, who trains alongside Lyoto Machida and the Nogueira brothers, is in the prime of his career. Expect him to steamroll through Maia in the first round, in which case he can start preparing for potential showdowns with Belfort and Sonnen later in the year.
B.J. Penn (15-5-1) vs. Frankie Edgar (11-1)
After decimating Diego Sanchez at UFC 107, Penn proved that he is indeed the greatest lightweight to ever compete in the sport.
A BJJ black belt under Andre Pederneiras, "The Prodigy" appears to be ready to make another run at 170 pounds, given his dominance of recent opponents at lightweight.
Under Marv Marinovich, Penn has worked extensively on his conditioning. His gas tank, the only tool lacking in his repertoire, is now ready to go five rounds, which he proved against Sanchez.
Penn faces a new challenger this Saturday night, but the outcome is unlikely to be any different.
Edgar, a member of Renzo Gracie Combat Team, is a tough customer for any fighter at 155 pounds. Aside from a single setback versus Gray Maynard in April 2008, Edgar has toppled all his competition, including Matt Veach, Sean Sherk, Hermes Franca, Spencer Fisher, Mark Bocek, Tyson Griffin and Jim Miller.
The BJJ purple belt has showcased vastly improved boxing skills in recent outings, particularly when he picked apart Sherk at UFC 98 last May.
That being said, Penn is one of the best boxers out there. He will likely outclass Edgar if this fight stays standing. "The Answer" will be in even bigger trouble if it goes to the ground, where Penn is most dangerous.
If he wins, Penn will probably make another push for the welterweight title. There is a long list of adversaries for "The Prodigy," including Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Dan Hardy. If they suffer the same fate as his lightweight opponents, it may not be long before we witness a third clash between Penn and Georges St-Pierre.
Matt Hughes (43-7) vs. Renzo Gracie (13-6-1)
Neither man is a stranger to high profile fights. Fans are in for a treat when these welterweight legends collide at the Concert Arena.
Hughes, an NCAA Division I All-American wrestling standout, has captured the 170-pound title twice during his storied career.
The H.I.T. Squad founder has beaten a who's who of top fighters in the sport, including Carlos Newton, Hayato Sakurai, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg, Georges St-Pierre, B.J. Penn and Matt Serra.
This bout marks the second time Hughes will confront a member of the legendary Gracie family inside the octagon.
At UFC 60 in 2006, Hughes schooled UFC pioneer Royce Gracie at his own game. Hughes nearly locked in a fight-ending armbar before finishing Gracie with strikes in the opening frame.
When Renzo Gracie debuts for the UFC this Saturday night, he will try to avenge a loss for his family.
A 6th degree black belt in BJJ, Gracie is on a three-fight winning streak, beating Frank Shamrock, Carlos Newton and Pat Miletich in recent years.
Having been inactive since February 2007, the 43-year-old may be joining the UFC too late in his career. Gracie signed a six-fight contract, so he will be tested against some of the best the welterweight class has to offer.
Though Hughes is no longer dominating the division like he once was, the 36-year-old is still a top-10 fighter at 170 pounds. His wrestling skills and submission awareness should be sufficient tools to control Gracie in this legendary match-up.
Terry Etim (14-2) vs. Rafael Dos Anjos (13-4)
Now riding a four-fight winning streak, Etim is a legitimate lightweight prospect.
The 24-year-old native of Liverpool, England is a well-rounded mixed martial artist who trains under Colin Heron and Marcelo Brigadeiro. In seven UFC appearances, Etim has netted three "Submission of the Night" bonuses, in addition to recording an impressive unanimous decision win over Sam Stout in October 2008.
Anchored at Evolve MMA, Dos Anjos is a BJJ black belt under Roberto Correa de Lima. The submission ace is coming off back-to-back wins over Kyle Bradley and Rob Emerson.
Although he presents a danger on the ground, superior strikers have outclassed Dos Anjos in the past.
Much like his vulnerability was exposed against Tyson Griffin and Jeremy Stephens, Etim should tactically pick the Brazilian apart with strikes to prevail on judges' scorecards.
Mark Munoz (7-1) vs. Kendall Grove (11-6)
Since a knockout loss to Matt Hamill in his UFC debut, Munoz has been working diligently at Black House MMA to fix holes in his game. He has also dropped to 185 pounds, a division that definitely suits him well.
Now 7-1, Munoz has toppled Nick Catone and Ryan Jensen since losing to Hamill in March 2009. The NCAA Division I wrestler is dangerous wherever the fight goes. In addition to a world-class wrestling base, Munoz boasts a purple belt in BJJ and has proven to have legitimate knockout power inside the octagon.
Munoz has trained with the middleweight champion leading up to his title defense in the main event.
Grove, meanwhile, has spent time training with Penn, who will also be defending his title at UFC 112.
A BJJ and Muay Thai practitioner, Grove won the third season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show and went on to achieve mixed results in the UFC.
Grove, 27, dropped bouts to Patrick Cote, Jorge Rivera and Ricardo Almeida, while defeating Alan Belcher, Jason Day and the late Evan Tanner.
In his most recent fight, Grove surprised powerful wrestler Jake Rosholt by locking in a triangle choke, forcing him to submit in the first round.
That win was perhaps the best indication of what fans might expect to see when Grove meets another wrestler on Saturday night. However, Munoz is continually evolving and he has knocked out a handful of opponents with his fists of fury.
The former pupil of Urijah Faber should be able to intelligently defend Grove's submission attempts, while implementing a solid gameplan by utilizing his wrestling to control the tempo. He should prevail by decision.
Ariel Shnerer is a programming manager, producer and editorial supervisor at The Fight Network, the world's only television channel dedicated to covering combat sports. He manages the world's only fight news ticker, as well as TheFightNetwork.com