LAS VEGAS – Unheralded Gabriel Gonzaga shocked the MMA world when he knocked out Mirko Cro Cop with a head kick in April. Now he gets a shot at the UFC heavyweight title, held by Randy Couture. Here is what each man must do to win Saturday night at Mandalay Bay:
Keys to victory
1. Establish the stand-up: Gonzaga is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert who is most dangerous on the ground. Couture needs to keep the fight standing and land enough punches to keep Gonzaga honest.
1. Use his reach:. When they're standing, Gonzaga has an edge in reach. He should use it by jabbing and force Couture to try to shoot to get inside, giving Gonzaga, the jiu-jitsu black belt, the best opportunity to get to the ground.
2. Stay out of the guard: Couture is expert at ground and pound, but he faces a huge risk if he stays in the guard. If the fight hits the ground, Couture should work to pass guard and look for side control to minimize the risk of a submission.
2. Kick to the body: With Couture likely to concentrate on letting his hands go, there will be openings for kicks to the body. If Couture catches one of the kicks and takes him down, it's that much better for Gonzaga.
3. Mix it up: Just like a baseball pitcher who may throw mostly fastballs the first time through the lineup and then mostly breaking pitches the second time, Couture has to keep Gonzaga guessing. If he feints a shot as if he's going to try to take Gonzaga down and Gonzaga reacts, it will create openings for Couture to land punches.
3. Be pyshical: Gonzaga has a distinct height and weight advantage. Whenever he can, he should use those edges. Couture wore down late in fights against Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez because both were bigger and their size took a toll on him.
4. Measure the pace: Even though Couture is in superb condition, he's much smaller and will likely wear down from competing with a man so much bigger. As a result, he has to be certain he has something left in the tank for the final round.
4. Look for submissions: Even if it means taking a couple of punches while down, Gonzaga should be looking for a limb or the neck in order to gain a fight-ending submission.
Rating the fighters
Comparison of champion Randy Couture and challenger Gabriel Gonzaga
Both are OK with their hands, but it's neither's strength.
Couture wins a wrestling match hands down.
Who can forget that Gonzaga kick to Mirko Cro Cop's head?
Gonzaga softened Cro Cop up with his ground and pound.
Couture usually doesn't go down if he doesn't want to.
Gonzaga's chin hasn't really been tested by a big-time puncher.
Gonzaga's strength is his jiu-jitsu.
Couture would prefer a long fight.
No clear advantage here.
Couture a master at improvising during a match.
Gonzaga isn't well known by the public, but is a serious threat. Couture, though, figures a way to win a close decision.