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UFC 94:

Lesser-known fighters ready to put on big show

Win by Silva or Machida keeps record intact; sets up likley title shot

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Steve Marcus

UFC light heavyweights Lyoto Machida, left, and Thiago Silva, both of Brazil, pose during a news conference Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at the MGM Grand. The two undefeated light heavyweights will square off at UFC 94 Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

UFC 94 Press Conference

UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, left, of Montreal, Quebec, Canada and lightweight champ B.J. Penn of Hilo, Hawaii pose with their title belts during a news conference Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at MGM Grand. St-Pierre and Penn headline Saturday night's UFC 94 card in a rematch of their first fight, which St. Pierre won by split decision three years ago. While both fighters could likely make the UFC Hall of Fame one day, a win by Penn would make him the first UFC fighter to hold two titles in two different weight classes at the same time. Launch slideshow »

UFC 94

Main event: Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn, UFC welterweight title

When: Jan. 31

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena

Tickets: Sold out

Pay-per-view: $54.95

Sun Special Section

The mixed martial arts world will be watching UFC 94 for the superfight between UFC champions Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn. But what they very well could see Saturday night is a lesser-known pair of fighters stealing the show at the MGM Grand.

“The fight that has kind of gotten overshadowed by this thing, which is another amazing fight, is Thiago Silva and Lyoto Machida,” UFC president Dana White said during Wednesday’s media conference.

“Both guys are 13-0 and undefeated in this sport, which is very, very hard to do — especially in the weight division that they’re in. The 205-pound division is probably the most competitive and exciting division in the sport and always has been, and probably always will be.”

That fact is not lost on the two fighters who know a win will almost certainly launch them to the top of the 205-pound contenders' chart to fight recently crowned light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans.

But both Brazilians also said a bit more hype for their showdown wouldn’t be a bad thing.

“For me it’s always a pleasure to be fighting in the UFC independent of the fact that it’s the main fight or not. It’s always an opportunity for me to show my work,” Silva said.

Machida offered a more forthright answer.

“I like it when there’s a little more anticipation for a fight, it puts a little more pressure out there,” said Machida, whose last win match was a big victory over superstar Tito Ortiz in May 2008 when Penn headlined UFC 84.

“It’s a big fight for both of us so the pressure is still there, even if maybe the fans don’t know it as much. I would like it to be more talked about for sure.”

That’s no problem for UFC commentator Joe Rogan, who had plenty to say in a preview video for the pair’s important showdown.

“It’s a very interesting match-up, I think Thiago Silva being a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Being the type of guy who also has well-rounded skills, I think he matches up very well with Lyoto Machida,” Rogan said.

While Rogan didn’t pick a winner, he broke down each fighter’s key strengths for the more casual MMA fans, which are not familiar with their impressive resumes.

Rogan said the 30-year-old Machida, who unquestionably has higher-profile victories — scoring wins over current or former champs Rich Franklin, Penn and Ortiz — offers a complex defensive style, which utilizes unorthodox karate techniques.

“Machida is one of the most awkward fighters in mixed martial arts. He is a karate stylist and a lot of people think that karate has been proven not to work,” Rogan said.

“That’s because guys in the past only knew karate. But Lyoto Machida is a guy who has all of those karate skills, but also has excellent wrestling, excellent takedown defense, very good jiu-jitsu. But his karate is what makes him very, very difficult to deal with.”

On the other hand, the 26-year-old Silva, is almost the complete opposite of Machida.

“Thiago Silva is a murderer, I mean that guy is a killer,” said Rogan, of the ultra-aggressive native from São Paulo, Brazil, whose four UFC fights haven’t gone past the second round.

“Thiago Silva is a brutal ground and pound specialist, who is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He has excellent Muay Thai skills as well and is a very, very tough fighter.”

In addition to similarly strong BJJ skills, the two obviously share the same nationality, a trait that is becoming harder to avoid as an influx of fighters hail from the country known for its Carnival.

“It’s always better to fight someone from a different country, a different nationality. But in this sport there are a lot of Brazilians who are great fighters in this category,” Machida said.

“Eventually we’re going to have to face each other.”

Which is exactly what White says fans pay to watch — whether they display such sentiment boisterously (like a select group of St. Pierre and Penn fans who got to attend the media conference did when their respective fighter was introduced), or not.

“What always make two guys who are undefeated interesting, other than what great fighters they are and how well rounded they are,” White said, “is one guy is going to walk away a loser at the end of the night.”

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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