Ultimate Fighting Championship 82 is such a deep card that former rising welterweight stars Josh Koscheck and Diego Sanchez are both unscheduled to fight during the live portion of the pay-per-view telecast and may not make the broadcast at all.
In addition, former UFC heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski is tabbed to fight on the dark card, though for potentially different reasons than Koscheck and Sanchez. The two welterweights are victims of superior depth in their weight class and their own recent failures, while Arlovski is reportedly stuck in the middle of a contract dispute with the UFC.
This is perhaps the most highly debated UFC matchup since another Silva fought Chuck Liddell at UFC 79. However, the circumstances surrounding this fight couldn't be more different than that classic. While Wanderlei Silva and Liddell both needed a win badly to end losing streaks, Saturday's bout features two fighters at the top of their games. Anderson Silva is the reigning UFC middleweight champ, while Henderson is the last PRIDE champ in that promotion's equivalent weight class.
So, who will win? Fans and pundits have debated the finer points of the matchup since it was first announced. Will it be the man who prefers the Muay Thai clinch (Silva) or the man who prefers the Greco-Roman clinch (Henderson)? The man with the rock solid chin (Henderson) or the man who accurately targets his opponents' chins with his strikes (Silva)? Wrestling (Henderson) or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Silva)?
Henderson clearly has the tools to defeat Silva and is easily his toughest UFC opponent thus far in the promotion's weakest division. But I have a general rule when it comes to predictions: pick the hot champ unless he's fighting someone who has beaten him fairly recently. Therefore, Silva, whether he has fought tailor-made opponents or not, gets my vote. He has all-around skill and has owned the Octagon for a year-and-a-half. Let Henderson come in and take the Octagon from Silva and I, too, will become a believer in the PRIDE champ's legendary chin.
Whatever the outcome, this fight should be a fine display of MMA. And, assuming it lives up to the hype, expect a rematch very soon.
Prediction: Silva wins by TKO in the third round
In a division that boasts very few contenders, this bout may determine the No. 1 contender for the title (assuming the Silva-Henderson bout doesn't warrant a rematch.) Okami isn't well-known but he's steady, even if unspectacular. A big, strong guy, his favorite tactic is to take the fight to the ground and go to work there.
Okami's last shot at being the No. 1 contender came last year against former champ Rich Franklin at UFC 72. Okami almost pulled off a submission victory, even though he didn't appear interested in fighting until the third round. The Okami loss forced Franklin to experience the now-annual ritual of using his face as target practice for Silva's knees at UFC 77.
Tanner is a very familiar name to old-school UFC fans. A former middleweight champ with an 11-4 record, Tanner hasn't fought since 2006. At 37, Tanner has overcome personal obstacles, including a battle with alcoholism, to make it back to the Octagon. With Tanner's personality and name-recognition, it wouldn't be difficult to imagine UFC President Dana White crossing his fingers in hopes of a Tanner victory in this bout, thus setting up a more compelling title fight. The edge in experience certainly goes to Tanner, but can he shake off cage-rust, the effects of hard-living, and age in his first fight back?
Maybe the UFC will catch a break, and a much-needed story will emerge from the middleweight division Saturday night.
Prediction: Tanner wins by submission in the third round
Herring has had a rough go of it in the UFC, coming out 1-2 in the promotion. In his last fight, at UFC 73, he appeared to have finished off Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira before Nogueira pulled off a comeback similar to his UFC 81 comeback against Tim Sylvia.
Kongo is a sculpted French fighter who is 4-1 in the UFC and riding a two-fight victory streak. His last fight was a unanimous decision victory over Mirko Cro Cop's shell at UFC 75. In that fight, Kongo clinched with Cro Cop and wore out the Croatian by pressing him against the cage. Kongo adhered admirably to a strategy that appeared intent on preventing Cro Cop from acquiring enough distance to launch his vaunted head kicks.
This bout should be a striker's duel with the winner potentially sitting in the number one contender's spot (or maybe set up for a fight against Fabricio Werdum) in the weak heavyweight division.
Prediction: Kongo wins by unanimous decision
Arlovski is a former UFC heavyweight champ and a fighter easily identifiable with the UFC. So why is he fighting in the dark portion of the card at a time when the heavyweight division is suspect at best?
Speculation centers around the fact that this is Arlovski's final fight on his contract, and that he and the promotion have not come to terms on a new one. Therefore, as the assumption holds, he is being placed on the dark card against a fighter who is known for extinguishing any potential flame of excitement in the Octagon with his lay-and-pray tactics.
Furthermore, the hope on the UFC's part is that a loss, or subpar performance, by Arlovski will render his market value so low that he will re-sign with the UFC. While I can't blame the UFC for such tactics on a purely business level, it's a horrible decision for TV viewers.
If Arlovski isn't motivated for this fight, maybe the UFC knows what it's doing after all. If he is motivated, though, and delivers in spectacular fashion, which promotion will he fight for next?
Prediction: Arlovski wins by TKO in the second round
There's one reason why welterweights Sanchez and Koscheck are both fighting on the dark portion of the card as well: Fitch. The UFC appears to have favored middleweights in this card and placed only one welterweight bout on the live portion of the telecast. Among Fitch, Sanchez, and Koscheck, the choice was an easy one.
Fitch may not be as well-known to UFC fans as the other two, but he's been around for a while has done very well. Owning a 7-0 UFC record, with four of those bouts won by stoppage, he earned the nod for primetime exposure at UFC 82 after defeating Sanchez by split decision in his last fight at UFC 76.
A win on Saturday should put Fitch, a strong wrestler, in the No. 1 contender's position in the welterweight division and he would likely face the winner of the UFC 83 Georges St. Pierre-Matt Serra title fight.
Fitch's opponent, Wilson, is a well-rounded fighter making his UFC debut. While Wilson is a journeyman with a good record, he trains with some of the best in the world at Team Quest in Portland. This should be a very fine tactical fight indeed.
Prediction: Fitch wins by unanimous decision
Pramit Mohapatra is the founder of FightTicker.com. He can be reached at Pramit.Mohapatra@gmail.com.