UFC 97 picks Vegas-style: Liddell and Rua fight for their UFC lives

Every fighter hits that crossroad late in his career when it might be time to hang it up. Dana White is hinting that Chuck Liddell is there. Is the 39-year-old washed up? Is it becoming dangerous for "The Iceman" to step into the cage? He gets a stiff test here against Mauricio Rua but that's only if "Shogun" can solve his stamina issues. If Liddell gets streamrolled, it's going to be tough to push him as a high level fighter in the future. The same goes for Rua if he gets bombed by Liddell, who has lost 3-of-4. The pressure is on.

UFC 97 is a deep card with lots of betting action staring us in the face. Watch Cage Writer and RawVegas' Dave Farra breakdown the top of the card:

UFC 97 odds (Venetian Resort Hotel Casino):

Cage Writer's official picks come later in the week:

Thales Leites (+350) v. Anderson Silva (-500) - UFC Middleweight championship
Silva looks like he is ready for a serious rumble. He's been in business mode for the last two days in Montreal and actually weighed-in well below the 185 limit at 182. The guess here is that the all criticism after the Patrick Cote fight at UFC 90 really focused "The Spider". Leites absolutely has a shot if he can get the fight to the ground but how do you do that? Silva is great with his spacing and is devastating throwing from different angles. There's no official play on this one. Silva, who is looking to go 9-0 in the UFC, is the pick but Leites (14-1, 5-1 UFC) might be worth a few bucks with such long odds.

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (+150) v. Chuck Liddell (-180) - Light heavyweight
It's amazing to see how far Rua's star has fallen in the minds of many fans. Was Pride a farce? Has he lost his motivation? Maybe the knee injuries have sapped much of his explosiveness. He did appear to be in better shape at the weigh-in. A 2005 Shogun may have been a pick'em against Liddell. Rua (17-3, 1-1 UFC) is also in the unenviable position of also facing a fighter with his back against the wall. Liddell (21-6, 16-5 UFC) has had to listen to fans, media and even Dana White suggest that he's finished. He should be fired up and has the advantage in terms of finishing power but the price is too big.

Brian Stann (+130) v. Krzysztof Soszynski (-160) - Light heavyweight
Stann, a graduate of Navy and Marine who served in Iraq, is a tremendous story but this may be too early for a fight on this level. Kudos to Stann (6-1) for taking his training to another level by working with Greg Jackson but his gas tank is still a worry. He's a puncher but does he have the power to blast out a big light heavy like Soszynski? Soszynski (16-8-1) has more ways to win the fight and his southpaw stance may be a difference maker. Too much, too soon for Stann.

Nate Quarry (-115) v. Jason MacDonald (-115) - Middleweight
We're not sure why the UFC keeps putting Quarry in with ground fighters. He is a marketable and entertaining guy but he's being set up to fail. Quarry (10-3, 5-2 UFC) was submitted in just 2:13 against Demain Maia in his last fight. MacDonald is no Maia but he is a top level submission artist. It may take a while but once it gets to the ground Quarry is in trouble. Keep in mind Quarry is 37 years old. His last "real" win came against Pete Sell. And think about how bad Sell looked his last time out facing Matt Brown. Remember, Sell was ahead on the scorecards in that fight against Quarry. It won't matter after his KO loss at the hands of Wilson Gouveia, MacDonald will be smart enough to stay away from striking.

David Loiseau (-120) v. Ed Herman (-110) - Middleweight
This is tough one. Herman is unpredictable and prone to silly mistakes on the feet and the ground. The problem here is Loiseau's focus. He went through a rough patch in 2006 when he got smashed by Rich Franklin and then lost two more fights. If it's the Loiseau from 2005, a striking dynamo, then he walks over Herman, but that guy is gone. Loiseau looked a little soft at the weigh-in. We'll fire on the mild upset with "Short Fuse" Herman.

David Bielkheden (+250) v. Mark Bocek (-330) - Lightweight
Bielkheden didn't make weight (157) but he looked ripped. It must be a tough cut for the Swede. Unfortunately it doesn't matter. Bocek is a beast on the ground and gaining confidence with each fight. If Bielkheden (13-6, 1-1 UFC) hits the mat, and he will often, it's just a matter of time for the black belt Bocek to pull off a submission.

Antoni Hardonk (+220) v. Cheick Kongo (-300) - Heavyweight
The big boys clash in this one. Both are excellent kickboxers so it'll be interesting to see how Kongo approaches this one. He may try to wrestle more but Hardonk's ground game isn't bad. Kongo should be able to finish this one on the feet but Hardonk is dangerous.

Steve Cantwell (+200) v. Luiz Cane (-250) - Light heavyweight
Cane looks awkward and his physique is unimpressive but the guy kicks and hits like a mule. Cantwell, 22, has a shot to pull the upset because his striking is dangerous but if he can't take Cane out early, the fear is that he may gas in the second round. The UFC may have a problem soon with Cane. He's a no-name but he's starting look like a top 10 fighter.

Eliot Marshall (+120) v. Vinny Magalhaes (-150) - Light heavyweight
This one could be all about the mind game. If Marshall comes out with confidence, he has the complete game that could take out Magalhaes. Vinny's striking still needs a lot of work but is his jiu-jitsu good enough to school a solid ground fighter like Marshall? Marshall needs to rough up Vinny early on and he can win this one.

Xavier Fouka-Pokam (+325) v. Denis Kang (-450) - Middleweight
Kang spoke like an angry, focused dude during the week. He was embarrassed by the loss to Alan Belcher in his UFC debut. Even worse, it was by submission. Kang wasn't healthy (broken ankle at the start of training camp) for that one. This time around, he's had a full training camp. He knows there's some urgency here. Pokam doesn't appear to have the game to hang on the ground.

T.J. Grant (+200) v. Ryo Chonan (-250) - Welterweight
Grant, making his UFC debut, is solid on the ground with 12 submission wins but can he finish a top level guy like Chonan? If Grant were more proficient on the feet I'd pick him for the upset simply because Chonan (15-9, 1-2 UFC) has looked lackluster in his UFC fights. If "The Piranha fights like he did in the third round against Brad Blackburn it should be an easy win. He won't so it'll be tighter and too tight to lay this kind of number.

Sam Stout (-115) v. Matt Wiman (-115) - Lightweight
Stout (13-5, 2-4 UFC) fights are all the same. If he stays off the ground, he's a tough guy to beat on the feet. Wiman (10-4, 4-2 UFC) should try to get him to the mat but I'm not sure that "Handsome" always fights with a plan or his strengths in mind. We'll roll with the more well-rounded guy in Wiman but it won't be a shocker if he's get bludgeoned on the feet.