With E3 2011 right around the corner, THQ is finally taking the lid off the third installment of their UFC Undisputed video game franchise. THQ and the UFC officially announced the game today with a January 2012 release date.

“UFC Undisputed 3 is on track to deliver an incredible virtual MMA experience unlike any other,” said Danny Bilson, Executive Vice President, Core Games, THQ.  “This product is intense, engaging and highly competitive while still being extremely accessible, making it a must-have for millions of UFC fans, traditional fighting game enthusiasts and more casual sports fans around the world.”

“We are excited to launch UFC Undisputed 3 in January 2012 and expect it to be the best version yet,” UFC President Dana White said.  “We’ve added two new weight classes and several new features to the game that will bring UFC fans closer to the Octagon than ever before.”

So what separates this game from previous iterations?

Well, for starters, a certain Japanese promotion many of you fondly remember as PRIDE FC is being virtually resurrected in the game. It’s unclear exactly how the PRIDE will be incorporated, but PRIDE matches are expected to feature the theatrical atmosphere and the vicious PRIDE rule set the promotion is remembered for. Additionally, Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros will provide the commentary for PRIDE fights and digital incarnations of PRIDE legends in their prime will be available. In other words, you want the younger, nastier version of Wanderlei Silva? The hungrier, power slammin’ version of Rampage Jackson? The “right leg hospital, left leg cemetery” version of Mirko Cro Cop? You got ’em.

Furthermore, UFC Undisputed is adding the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, just like the UFC did earlier this year. In total, the roster is expected to swell to more than 150 playable fighters.

As for the game mechanics, the UFC Undisputed team is adding a more accessible control scheme that sounds similar to EA Sports MMA’s. For instance, with the grappling system, players will be able to make transitions by pressing up and down on the analog stick instead of making quarter and half-circle turns. Veteran players, however, will be happy to know that the original control scheme that many of them have mastered will remain, which will allow them to pull off more advanced moves than newcomers using the alternate scheme.

Major tweaks are also being made to the submission system. Instead of twirling the analog stick like a madman, players will engage in what Gamespot describes as a “cat-and-mouse mini-game” involving an onscreen octagon image with blue and red lines on the perimeter that must be matched up to pull off the submission. Additional tweaks have been made to the striking system such as the ability to knock down your opponent with leg kicks. There’s balance in that however as players will also have the ability to check leg kicks and in rare occasions even break their opponent’s shin ala Corey Hill with a perfectly timed check.

Gamespot has more details in their hands-on preview.

Below, UFC Undisputed producer Nevin Dravinski gives a short interview on the game.