Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tonight's UFC 104: Handicapping the fights

Once again, Kyle and I are going to try our hands at predicting the results of tonight's MMA bouts. I'll report tomorrow on how we did.

I'll take them in order from the top of the card to the bottom.

The main card fights:

Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

Mark: Shogun is an emotional fighter who gained a significant number of his victories from soccer (and similar) kicks. Machida preys on emotion in his opponents, enticing them to make errors, and those kicks are illegal in the UFC. Though Shogun has a puncher's chance to catch Machida, it's a slim one due to the way Machida leans back. Shogun has a decent chance of surviving the first round and a tiny one of finishing the second, but I'll be stunned if he makes it out of the third.

Kyle: Shogun is a tailor-made opponent for Machida. His dubious record in the UFC is built on victories over 39-year-old Chuck Liddell and 44-year-old Mark Coleman. The last time Shogun beat somebody under 35 was February 2007. Shogun is an aggressive striker who constantly moves forward and counts on accurate combinations to keep his opponent too off-balance to respond. Machida is a precise counterpuncher who doesn't get off balance. I expect this one to look like Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin, with Machida in the Anderson Silva role.

Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Rothwell

Mark: Unless Velasquez has improved mentally a great deal since the fight with Cheick Kongo, he's going to make some mistakes. That means Rothwell has a chance of tagging him--not a big chance, but a chance. If Rothwell doesn't, however, then Velasquez is going to take Rothwell down repeatedly, beat on him, and ultimate win via either TKO (my hope) or a decision (my fear). So, Velasquez it is.

Kyle: This fight is a lot less clear. Velasquez has fantastic wrestling skills and an undefeated record. Rothwell, despite being the same age, has been fighting professionally three times as long and faced stiffer competition. Rothwell's also got about thirty pounds on Velasquez. He'll try to keep the fight standing, use his weight, lean on Velasquez and wear him down. Velasquez will try to take Rothwell down and ground and pound his way to victory. I pick Velasquez to edge out the victory, but it could go either way.

Josh Neer vs. Gleison Tibau

Mark: Neer took the fight on short notice and has been training in the middle of nowhere with a camp of no particular renown, probably at least in part because of his scrapes with the police. With a good camp and adequate prep time, he would be my pick, but he had neither, so I'm going with Tibau instead. I expect Tibau either to submit Neer early or grind out a dull decision. This one, though, is close and hard to call.

Kyle: Neer has beaten Joe Stevenson and Melvin Guillard. Tibau has lost to Joe Stevenson and Melvin Guillard. So my money's on Neer... though since Neer is currently serving a seven-year suspended sentence for DUI and fleeing the police, I'd really be happier to see him lose. What do you have to do to actually get sent to jail these days?

Joe Stevenson vs. Spencer Fisher

Mark: I don't expect this fight to be exciting unless Stevenson gets a bad attack of the egos and the stupids. Assuming he sticks to the game plan Greg Jackson will have crafted for him, Stevenson should take down Fisher and grind out a decision, maybe even a ground-and-pound victory.

Kyle: Fisher's on a three-fight winning streak while Stevenson's been losing to top competition lately. But styles make fights and as long as Stevenson remembers that he's not a boxer I think he'll be able to take Fisher down at will. Look for Stevenson to finish from the top.

Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida

Mark: Johnson is bigger (especially after failing to make weight by six pounds), stronger, a better striker, and the proud owner of a huge reach advantage. Unless Yoshida can get him down and keep him down long enough to submit him, Yoshida is in for a very long night. The only factor that gives me pause is that Yoshida trained for two weeks with Greg Jackson, but it was only two weeks. Johnson by TKO or KO.

Kyle: This is another tough fight to call. Both fighters have fast hands and explosive power. Expect punches in bunches and whoever lands a clean strike first to walk out the winner. If forced to pick, I'll go with Yoshida.

And now, we venture into large stretches of terra incognita with our predictions for the preliminary bouts:

Yushin Okami vs. Chael Sonnen

Mark: Okami is the better fighter in just about every area and has fought tougher opponents than Sonnen. I like Sonnen, but he's over-matched here. Neither man is likely to finish, so this will be a long and quite possibly dull three rounds. When it finishes, though, Okami will emerge with the win, most likely via decision.

Kyle: Between them, Okami and Sonnen have had 27 fights go to decision, which is why this match between top-ten middleweights is on the undercard. Sonnen looked good in his WEC fight last year against an addled Paulo Filho, but Okami has been doing well against a higher level of competition in the UFC. Expect Okami to pull off a lay-and-pray victory.

Pat Barry vs. Antoni Hardonk

Mark: This fight should be short and exciting as two kick-boxers with minimal ground games pound on each other until one falls. I'm betting Barry will fall, and Hardonk will emerge the winner.

Kyle: Hardonk by TKO.

Jorge Rivera vs. Rob Kimmons

Mark: As an old guy, I like to root for the older guys in fights, but I can't believe in Rivera enough to do it this time. Expect Kimmons to take him down and submit him.

Kyle: Rivera because (a) he's done passably well against a higher level of competition in the UFC and (b) I like seeing guys my age getting by.

Ryan Bader vs. Eric Schafer

Mark: Unless someone feeds Bader a stupid pill right before fight-time, he'll take down Schafer immediately and then smother him. Schafer has a chance to submit Bader, because Bader is still young and inexperienced, but the more likely outcome--and the one I'm picking--is Bader winning. Whether Bader will win by holding down Schafer for three rounds or pounding him out is harder to call, but Bader should take it.

Kyle: Bader's a powerful wrestler. He'll take Schafer down and either pound the hell out of him or get triangle choked. I expect the former.

Kyle Kingsberry vs. Razak Al-Hassan

Mark: Unless the winner in this match pulls off the victory in strong style, we won't see him again in the UFC. The loser is definitely out of The Show. These guys are likely to beat on each other and so have an exciting match, but because the fight will go that way, it's hard to call. That said, Al-Hasan is my pick.

Kyle: Both fighters are coming off losses. The loser probably won't be seen in the UFC again for a while. I give Al-Hassan the slight edge.

Chase Gormley vs. Stefan Struve

Mark: Struve is huge, and he has a big reach advantage, but I still expect Gormley to close the distance, take Struve down, and pound out the win.

Kyle: Gormley. He's undefeated. He beat Eric Pele last year. And he's got fifty pounds on Stefan Struve. Gormley was originally supposed to be fighting Ben Rothwell on this card, so being pushed down into the prelims is a bit of a demotion for him.


Kyle and I disagree on only three fights, so the margin of victory for either of us won't be big. Tune in Sunday to find out which of us will carry the prediction day.

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