If sports were a pie, rivalries would be the fruit filling. Competition is entertaining but when two fighters genuinely dislike each other as much as Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans do it bumps the fun meter up a few notches. The feud between 2 of the top light-heavyweights in the world started brewing inside the cage at UFC 96 after Jackson defeated Evans’ training partner and close friend, Keith Jardine. Evans came into the cage where they got nose-to-nose and incidentally were dubbed as the next opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter reality TV series. During the show, they cranked up the heat and the trash-talk escalated. The main event clash is expected to be one of the best fights we’ll see this year but the card leading up to it isn’t exactly a snore-fest either.
After a brief stint at lightweight that saw “Nightmare” Sanchez win a Fight of the Night vs. Joe Stevenson, a Fight of the Year (as voted by many) vs. Clay Guida, and a shot at the world title vs. BJ Penn, he’s now back at welterweight and looking to make a similar climb to the number one contender spot. At 23-3, Sanchez has proven to be able to hang with elite fighters with notable wins over Kenny Florian, Karo Parisyan, and Nick Diaz, as well as the aforementioned Guida and Stevenson. The TKO (cut stoppage) loss to Penn has the former Ultimate Fighter winner more motivated than ever.
Hathaway has yet to face a fighter of Sanchez’ caliber but Hathaway has also yet to lose a fight. This will be a great measuring stick for the 22 year-old English fighter whose most recent win was a dominant performance over Paul Taylor at UFC 105, improving his perfect record to 12-0. He’s proven to be versatile as well, scoring 5 knockouts, 3 submissions, and 4 decisions. Winning a big fight like this would be huge for his younf career.
Nogueira was very impressive in his UFC debut, a knockout of Luis Arthur Cane less than 2 minutes into the first round at UFC 106. Those that have followed the career of “Little Nog” weren’t the least bit surprised by the domination after seeing him defeat the likes of Alistair Overeem (twice), Dan Henderson, and Kazushi Sakuraba during his days at Pride FC. Nogueira is 18-3 overall and can win a fight from anywhere. Known best for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he’s certainly no slouch when it comes to boxing as he’s won medals in both the Pan Am Games (bronze) and the South American Games (gold). Devising a game plan for a fighter who’s this complete is a task that few have figured out.
Brilz, like Hathaway, is also taking a huge leap up in competition. At 18-2, he’s been very impressive but hasn’t faced the same league of fighters as Nogueira. Props to him for taking this fight, especially on short notice after Forrest Griffin was forced off the card due to injury. Brilz has a strong wrestling pedigree and still coaches at his Alma-mater, University of Nebraska-Omaha. Since signing with the UFC in 2008 he's gone 3-1 with the promotion, his lone loss suffered at UFC 103 to Eliot Marshall. His most recent fight was a unanimous decision victory over Eric Schafer.