This article has been contributed by Mixed Martial Arts Specialist Kyle Norton, who uses a wealth of knowledge of the sport and practical training experience to break it down.

The card for Saturday’s UFC 81 broadcast is as follows:
Frank Mir Vs. Brock Lesnar
Tim Sylvia Vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Jeremy Horn Vs. Nathan Marquardt
Ricardo Almeida Vs. Alan Belcher
Gleison Tibau Vs. Tyson Griffin
Tim Boetsch Vs. David Heath
Marvin Eastman Vs. Terry Martin
Keita Nakamura Vs. Rob Emerson

Before I begin prophesizing the future, let’s take a little trip back in time. It was roughly a year ago that the UFC’s parent company, Zuffa, was in negotiations to buy their largest international rival promotion, Pride Fighting Championships. Many Pride fans, including myself, were opposed to the idea and for good reason. Pride provided a unique mixed martial arts viewing experience that was different from the brand of fights that the UFC produced. The UFC’s president, Dana White, assured fans that Pride would be operated as a separate entity with only some fighter movement between the promotions.Like other fans, this idea delighted me because it meant that Pride would be saved from bankruptcy and now the dream fights that were debated in MMA forums and blogs could come to fruition. Dana White told fans that Pride and UFC fighters would meet once a year for the Super Bowl of mixed martial arts (not so coincidentally, it would take place on SuperBowl weekend). Chuck vs. Wanderlei, Sylvia vs. Fedor, Gomi vs. Sherk, and so on were all in the minds of MMA diehards. As we approach SuperBowl weekend however, nearly one year after Pride’s purchase, we are not treated to these fights. Instead, I will be forced to sit through a fight card that is headlined by a professional wrestler with a phallus tattooed on his chest. I was extremely pleased to see Chuck Liddell finally fight Wanderlei Silva but I am still bitter about Pride being purchased under false pretences only to be dismantled immediately. Now that I have that out of my system, it’s time to get onto a preview of Saturday’s fights.Overall, UFC 81 looks to be a solid but unspectacular card. There are some interesting match-ups and storylines going into this weekend but my concern is with the two main events. Heavyweights have a large tendency to produce slow fights and I see that trend continuing this weekend. Tyson Griffin is on the card though, so there is at least one guaranteed barnburner.

Lesnar vs. Mir
Ex-WWE star, Brock Lesnar will make his UFC debut Saturday night and be fighting for only the second time in his young career. Lesnar is an extremely accomplished amateur wrestler being a two-time NCAA All-American, two-time Big Ten Champion, and the 2000 NCAA heavyweight champion. Lesnar trains out of the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy with former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk so we can safely assume he will be in very good shape and probably on the juice. In his professional debut, Lesnar defeated Korea giant Min-Soo “Mr. Shark” Kim in under 2 minutes with strikes from the top but will have a much more difficult task Saturday.

Lesnar will be in tough against submission specialist and former UFC heavyweight champion, Frank Mir. Mir holds a record of 10-3 (8-3 inside the Octagon) but is somewhat of an enigma. After winning the belt in 2004, Mir was involved in a motorcycle accident and hasn’t looked the same since. He has not looked sharp, going 2-2 since the accident, and has lost to Marcio Cruz and Brandon Vera. In the same stretch, Mir has beaten journeyman Dan Cristison and grappling novice Antoni Hardonk. Mir has all the tools to be a very successful heavyweight but has never fully capitalized on his talents. He is agile and explosive for a big man and a master on the ground.

Lesnar’s best chance of winning this fight is do as so many other wrestlers have done before him; “Lay and Pray” (for a decision). If he is very conservative from the top position and doesn’t give Mir room to move his hips or launch any offense, Lesnar could grind out a decision. On the other hand, Mir needs to be smart on his feet and use his hands to keep Lesnar out of clinch range. Throwing kicks or wild flurries could give the ex-WWE star the opportunity to take the fight to the mat, which could get Mir in trouble. It seems improbable that Mir would be able to take down the NCAA champion wrestler but this bout is an MMA fight and not a wrestling match. If Mir looks for an opening to take Lesnar down, he could very well find himself in the top position on the ground working towards and easy submission victory.

Lesnar will try to take this fight to the ground early but may have trouble doing so. Mir is a good grappler in his own right and has much more experience with takedowns and strikes. If Lesnar does score a takedown, it could be a big mistake. Mir has a very good guard, which was evident when he submitted Tim Sylvia from his back. Look for Mir to get top position at some point by takedown or sweep, pass Lesnar’s guard like a hot knife through butter, and submit him quickly in the second round.

Sylvia Vs. Nogueira
The co-main event of UFC 81 is former heavyweight champio Tim Sylvia taking on former Pride champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the “interim” Heavyweight Championship. The curious aspect of this fight is that current heavyweight champion Randy Couture has stated his intent to wait out the remainder of his UFC contract but the UFC has not yet stripped him of the title. Why this fight is not for the real belt is beyond me and I’m curious as to Zuffa’s reasoning.

Tim Sylvia is not the most exciting or popular fighter in the UFC but is very talented and hard to defeat. He trains out of Miletich Martial Arts with Matt Hughes and holds a 24-3 record (16 KOs) with all three loses coming to champions (Mir, Arlovski and Couture). Sylvia has been horrendously boring in his last four bouts since knocking out Andrei Arlovski in 2006. Any loss Sylvia takes is dangerous for his career because the only thing keeping him in the UFC is the fact that he wins. The 6’8”, Sylvia uses his reach well to keep opponents at his range and he has underrated takedown and submission defense as showcased in his fight with Jeff Monson.

Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira has an impressive 30-4-1 record with his only losses coming to the unbeatable Fedor Emelianenko, former Pride middleweight and light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson, and top 5 ranked Josh Barnett. Nogueira’s victory column is a who’s who of top heavyweights over the past 5 years (Marc Coleman, Rico Rodriguez, Mirko Cro Cop, Heath Herring, Sergei Kharitonov and Enson Inoue). “Minotauro” has left his former home, Brazilian Top Team, and now trains with Anderson Silva at Black House in Rio de Janeiro. He is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and has great hands, training yearly with the Cuban National Boxing Team.
Nogueira can win this fight anywhere at any point via submission or knockout. He can submit Sylvia from the top or bottom and has knockout power in both hands. On the other hand, Sylvia has the uncanny ability to shut down talented fighters like Nogueira and coast to decision wins while inflicting almost no damage and driving fans insane. I definitely don’t see Nogueira getting stopped in this fight. He is next to impossible to finish (he has never been KO’d or submitted) and Sylvia has not show any killer instinct in close to two years. Look for Nogueira to get this fight to the ground frequently and do some serious damage with strikes while looking to pass. Nogueira may have trouble finishing the reluctant-to-engage Sylvia but I see him coming out of the fight with the decision victory, nonetheless.

Horn Vs. Marquardt
The always game Jeremy “Gumby” Horn, steps in on short notice to fight Nate “The Great” Marquardt after top Nova Uniao fighter Thales Leites broke his hand in training. Horn has a ton of experience with over 100 professional fights (some are not included in his record). He has a 79-16-5 record and is willing to take a fight anywhere at any time. He has beaten some great fighters with wins over Forrest Griffin, Josh Burkman, David Loiseau, Dean Lister, Vernon White, Gilbert Yvel and Chuck Liddell, but has never been able to win a meaningful title. Horn is most dangerous on the ground, as his nickname “Gumby” would hint at, but he also possesses good striking. He trains out of his gym Elite Performance but is also a frequent guest at Miletich Fighting Systems.

Former King of Pancrase, Nate “the Great” Marquardt is a product of Jackson’s Submission Fighting with trainer Greg Jackson. Marquardt is a very solid all around fighter as most of Jackson’s athletes are but he is strongest on the ground. Nate “the Great” is a perennial middleweight contender but may have missed his chance to wear the belt when he was suspended for high levels of Nandrolone following his decision win over Ivan Salaverry in September 2005. In the time it took for Marquardt to be reinstated and climb back to the top of the middleweight standings, Anderson Silva has taken the middleweight division by storm and looks next to unstoppable. Silva decimated Marquardt in August of 2007 and is a terrible match-up for “the Great.”

This fight could really go anywhere. Both fighters are confident in all aspects of the game and are capable of getting the fight there. On the feet, both fighters are good but not outstanding. Marquardt may have the advantage solely based on the camp he comes out of. When the fight hits the ground, I don’t foresee either fighter being submitted so it will be important to get top position and do damage. Look for this fight to be very tight through the first two rounds with Marquardt taking control in the third to take a close decision.

Almeida Vs. Belcher
Returning from a long hiatus, Ricardo “Cachorrao” Almeida will fight the ever improving Alan “the Talent” Belcher. Almeida last fought in 2004, defeating Ryo Chonan by decision. The Renzo Gracie product was considered a top 10 middleweight before his departure from mixed martial arts competition with wins over Ryo Chonan, Nate Marquardt, Kazuo Misaki, and Ikuhisa Minowa. “The Big Dog” is a black belt under Renzo Gracie and is very skilled on the mat. One of the most interesting aspects of this fight is that a win by Almeida could lead to an interesting rematch of his 2003 fight with Nate Marquardt which ended in controversy. Almeida held on to his fight-ending guillotine choke for a few extra seconds after Marquardt tapped out which lead to both corners storming into the ring.

Across the Octagon from Almeida will be Alan “the Talent” Belcher who trains under 4-time world kickboxing champion Duke Roufus. Roufus has trained many kickboxing world champions and it shows up in Belcher’s performance. Belcher has very powerful and accurate striking at range and is extremely dangerous in the clinch, as shown when he punished Kalib Starnes in his last fight with knees from a double collar tie. Belcher doesn’t have the most sterling record inside the Octagon (3-2) but has improved by leaps and bounds in every appearance. He looked extremely confident in his last two fights and at only 23 years-old could be a title contender in the future.

Almeida will surely have some ring rust and “the Talent” is not the type of fighter to give his opponent time to get their feet wet. Almeida is a talented fighter but this is just a bad match-up for his first fight in the Octagon and first fight in close to four years. If Almeida can survive an early onslaught and get the fight to the ground, Belcher could be in a lot of trouble. Having said that, look for Belcher to get a big win in the first round via TKO and continue his way up the middleweight rankings.

Tibau Vs. Griffin
In what is sure to be yet another slobber-knocker on Tyson Griffin’s highlight reel, the young Xtreme Couture fighter takes on American Top Team product Gleison Tibau. Griffin has been involved in three fights that should be, at the very least, considered for Fight of Year in 2007. At only 22 years old, Griffin has a lot of experience and is a very dangerous wrestler and grappler. What may be Griffin’s biggest asset is his non-stop motor and amazing cardio. Griffin is unrelenting in his attack and has the ability to break down the will of his opponents.

Gleison Tibau fights out of American Top Team under Ricardo Liborio (BJJ) and Howard Davis Jr. (Boxing). Tibau comes from a very strong camp with a wealth of talented lightweight training partners such as Thiago Alves, Din Thomas, Marcus Aurelio, Gesias Cavalcante, Yves Edwards, and Marcelo Garcia. Since losing to Nick Diaz in his UFC debut, Gleison has gone undefeated in his last four fights. Tibau is a very strong grappler and his striking has improved a great deal since joining ATT.

This is a significant fight for both pugilists with potential title implications. Neither fighter can afford to lose in the ultra-competitive lightweight division and a win could go a long way to securing a title shot. Without a doubt, Griffin will test Tibau’s takedown defence and cardio with relentless pressure and takedown attempts. Gleison has never fought someone who will come at him the way that Griffin will, and Griffin has beaten Thiago Tavares, who is a similar style of fighter as Tibau. Look for fireworks in this fight with Griffin walking away with a ground and pound TKO in the third round.

This article has been contributed by Mixed Martial Arts Specialist Kyle Norton, who uses a wealth of knowledge of the sport and practical training experience to break it down.