Tomorrow night the UFC returns to The Land Down Under for its second event in the island nation with UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch, a stacked card with several potential title contention positions on the line. In the main attraction, former UFC Lightweight and Welterweight Champion “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (16-7) takes on American Kickboxing Academy stand-out Jon Fitch (22-3) in a barn burner match-up that will decide who moves closer to a shot at the welterweight belt that seemingly is a perpetual staple of “Rush” Georges St. Pierre’s (21-2) wardrobe. The co-main event pits the face of MMA in the UK, “The Count” Michael Bisping (20-3), against dangerous knockout artist “El Conquistador” Jorge Rivera (18-7) in a match-up that will determine a top contender spot in the 185lbs. division. Additionally, Australian-born southpaw “KO” Kyle Noke (18-4-1) welcomes The Ultimate Fighter 11 alum Chris Camozzi (14-3) in his UFC main card debut while dangerous striker “Lights Out” Chris Lytle (30-17-5) faces off against fellow seasoned veteran Brian Ebersole (39-13-1). Also on the card is Australian native and The Ultimate Fighter 6 alum George Sotiropoulos (14-2) looking to keep his undefeated streak in the UFC alive as he takes on the dangerous German kickboxer Dennis Siver (17-7) in a bout that will move the victor one step closer to taking on the winner of “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (13-1-1) and “The Bully” Gray Maynard (10-0-1) in their championship rubber match. Let’s take a closer look at this high-stakes main card bout.
At First Glance: When putting the most dangerous kickboxer in the lightweight ranks against the division’s top submission grappler, one naturally could expect a classic chess match of style vs. style. But, throw in the idea of the winner getting a title shot, and spectators are in for an exhilarating treat. German kickboxing champion Dennis Siver has parlayed his skill set into mixed martial arts nicely. He made his MMA debut seven years ago – the last four of which have been spent primarily in the UFC, where he has earned “Knockout of the Night” honors twice, and “Submission of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” bonuses once apiece. Tomorrow night, he steps into the Octagon against hometown hero, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist George Sotiropoulos. The Australian is a former protege of famed BJJ trainer Eddie Bravo who is now under the tutelage of several Grappler’s Quest champions as well as BJJ black belt and All-American wrestler Eric Jetton. As of late both men have shown not only why they belong in the UFC but why they belong among the top-ranked lightweights in the world. However fighting in the UFC isn’t all about sharing the honor of being a top ten, as these battle-tested warriors must also face their fellow top competitors to stake their claim as the next title contender. Come tomorrow night, these two men will do just that.
In Depth: Sotiropoulos is coming into his own as of late, which is made particularly evident by the seven-fight winning streak he rides into his main card bout against Siver. In his past three fights he out-wrestled and out-grappled seasoned veterans “Daddy” Joe Stevenson (31-11) and “Batman” Kurt Pellegrino (16-5), and submitted “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (19-6) with relative ease at UFC 123. The same could be said about Siver, who is probably the most powerful kickboxer in the lightweight division. Siver though has shown a developing submission game in addition to his lethal striking striking – two of his last five wins have come via submission, one of which was over TUF Season 9 finalist Andre Winner (12-5). Siver also has recent wins over seasoned veteran and fan loved “The King” Spencer Fisher (24-6) and the always dangerous British slugger Paul Kelly (11-4), by decision and TKO, respectively. Each man has his strengths and weaknesses: the grappler naturally feels more comfortable on the mat and will utilize his superior powerhouse takedowns to make sure it ends up there, and the striker wants to keep it standing where he has a good chance of connecting with a well-placed jab or uppercut to his opponent’s jaw when he goes for the shoot. This bout will be won simply by whose gameplan is most effective and able to nullify his opponent’s strengths, and thus, his own downfall. Siver knows he’s a dangerous striker and he’s got a level head on his shoulders – he is not going to try and grapple with Sotiropoulos and hope to win, but rather will try to break him with punches and kicks. Contrarily, Sotiropoulos is a much different story. Although his Jiu-Jitsu rivals that of much of the best competitors in the 155lbs. division, the fight still starts on the feet, which is Siver’s playing field. If he plays into Siver’s strengths, the Aussie will have his winning streak snapped and his night ended in short order.
Wild Card: Sotiropoulos shows several traits likened to an early-career BJ Penn: flexible limbs, slick submissions, and a strong pace that doesn’t let up. Though he doesn’t have near the knockout power Penn wields, he will have to set up his takedowns with strikes in order to get the fight in his favor – on the mat, in other words. Several early leg kicks and takedown fakes from the Aussie could put Siver on edge enough to make him particularly vulnerable of being taken down and finished with a quick submission, as in four of his total seven losses Siver has played the three-tap symphony. Sotiropoulos is highly skilled and fares well even against dominant strikers, as he has the ability to determine the timing of his opponent, shoot, and take him down to the mat where he essentially determines the remainder of the bout, whether it be controlling his adversary until the final bell or finishing him with any of the submissions in his arsenal. Should Siver play into Sotiropoulos’ strengths and let himself be backed into the cage, he likely will meet the same fate as most of the BJJ specialist’s previous opponents.
The Verdict: In a clash of styles, it largely comes down to who is the better all-around fighter and more effectively nullifies his competitor’s strengths. Dennis Siver holds the distinct advantage of each round starting in his court: standing up. That in combination with his high fight IQ typically plays in Siver’s favor. Case in point his “Submission of the Night”-winning bout against Andre Winner where just past the halfway point of the first round he rocked Winner with a powerful punch and pounded on him until he opened up, then locked on a Rear Naked Choke and tapped out the former TUF contestant. Siver in this fight may not try to submit the BJJ black belt, but instead finish him with strikes – peppering his body and head with powerful jabs, hooks, and uppercuts, and punishing Sotiropoulos with leg kicks to slow him down, then finish the match with one crushing punch. He will test Sotiropoulos’ chin, but for Siver it likely will become a matter of connecting with that one solid blow. Siver via TKO, Round 3.