– UFC 57 Preview: Babalu vs. Mike Van Arsdale

By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly
Until recently the UFC light heavyweight division was lacking serious competition for either Chuck Liddell or Randy Couture, but now the weight class is starting to fill up with legitimate contenders and at UFC 57 two of those top competitors will square off when Renato “Babalu” Sobral takes on Mike Van Arsdale.

Renato “Babalu” Sobral, who originally trained under UFC legend Marco Ruas, will be attempting to take yet another step towards a possible showdown for the light heavyweight title when he steps in against Van Arsdale. Very few fighters over the last few years can boast the kind of record against the level of competition that Babalu has faced and done so without tasting defeat, but that’s exactly what he has accomplished.

Unfortunately for Babalu, the lasting image that the casual fan of the UFC will remember is the highlight knockout he suffered at the hands of current light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell. What many fans have missed is the impressive list of wins that Babalu has racked up since that loss.

Over the last few years since the Liddell fight, Babalu has regained his confidence and has been a force ever since. His performance in the IFC Global Domination 205lb tournament in 2003 has gone down as one of the gutsiest and most awe inspiring performances of recent past. Not only did Babalu fight and defeat three opponents that night, but he did so against three of the top fighters in that weight class.

His most impressive victory that night, looking back on it, may have been his third round submission win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who as every fan knows is now the current Pride Grand Prix champion and touted as possibly the best pound for pound fighter in the world. The win for Babalu put him into the finals where he defeated Jeremy Horn, and that has been the only loss that Shogun has suffered in his career.

With a win in this fight Babalu will have made the long hard struggle back to the top of the ranks of the UFC, but his opponent, Mike Van Arsdale, is definitely no slouch and will give Babalu everything he can handle and more.

Mike Van Arsdale has said that at this point in his career he is only interested in fighting top competitors and if he’s not fighting the best of the best, he’d rather retire. That’s an extremely strong point of view as many fighters in organizations around the world seem to be fed easier fights to allow them to notch a few extra wins on their record, but Van Arsdale is adamant that he only wants to fight for #1.

When Van Arsdale lost to Randy Couture at UFC 54 he was dealing with an as of yet unnamed injury but still managed to bring the fight to the legend and held his own until he was caught in an anaconda choke in the third round forcing him to submit. But with strength and determination, Van Arsdale is coming back, this time healthy and with a renewed interest in claiming a world championship title.

Van Arsdale’s normal training camp is with the American Kickboxing Academy, but after his submission loss to Couture, the former wrestling champion sought out Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Nathan Marquardt to help him prepare for his next fight. Along with Marquardt came the tutelage of MMA guru Greg Jackson and his team in New Mexico. Apparently Jackson has been working Van Arsdale to the point of exhaustion in building him up for this fight and it will be interesting to see if the change of training and scenery helps Van Arsdale to regain his winning edge.

While not many fighters can match Van Arsdale on pure wrestling skill, Babalu is a very accomplished grappler who has represented his home country of Brazil in many wrestling competitions. Babalu does have good stand-up and is just about the most resilient fighter going in the 205lb division today. Van Arsdale on the other hand is more comfortable taking his opponents down and pounding them.

With his wins over Trevor Prangley and Travis Wiuff, Babalu has been able to beat some very good fighters with wrestling backgrounds, but did struggle when he took on a very powerful wrestler in Kevin Randleman, whose style is similar to Van Arsdale’s.
The line on this fight has Babalu as a heavy favorite but this could be the upset special that everyone is looking for. Van Arsdale is a very strong fighter who when healthy can go for three full rounds and push the pace the entire time. With a better gameplan and submission defense in place with Jackson and Marquardt in his corner, Van Arsdale has more than a good chance to walk out victorious.

Will Babalu make his claim at a title shot or will Mike Van Arsdale defeat who he considers one of the top fighters on the planet? Watch UFC 57, when these two warriors will battle it out for a possible shot at the winner of Liddell/Couture 3.