Sunday, October 25, 2009

UFC 104 pick recap: We sucked at the undercard

Last night's fights should have taught all readers of this blog a valuable lesson: don't ever use Kyle or my fight picks as the basis of any bets. While we did okay on the main card, we sucked on the preliminary fights.

Speaking of which, let's recap that undercard:

Yushin Okami vs. Chael Sonnen - We both chose Okami, and we were both wrong. Sonnen dominated the guy in route to a unanimous decision victory.

Pat Barry vs. Antoni Hardonk - We both chose Hardonk, and again we were both wrong. Barry won by TKO.

Jorge Rivera vs. Rob Kimmons - Kyle called this one, as Rivera won by TKO in the third. I incorrectly picked Kimmons.

Ryan Bader vs. Eric Schafer - We both correctly chose Bader to win this one, though he did it via decision.

Kyle Kingsberry vs. Razak Al-Hassan - We both thought Al-Hasan would win, and instead he lost a split decision. We did think it would be close, so we got that right.

Chase Gormley vs. Stefan Struve - Again, we agreed on our selection--Gormley to win--and we were wrong, as Struve submitted Gormley in the first.

So, at the end of the undercard, Kyle had gone 2-4, while I was a lowly 1-5.

In the all-important battle for victory in our three differences, Kyle is now ahead by 1.

Fortunately, in the main card I carried the day:

Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida - Johnson KO'd Yoshida a mere 41 seconds into the fight, justifying my faith in him--and handing Kyle a loss.

Joe Stevenson vs. Spencer Fisher - This one went pretty much as we expected, with Stevenson winning. Kyle was confident of a finish from the top, while I thought it would be that or a decision, and Stevenson did indeed pound his way to victory.

Josh Neer vs. Gleison Tibau - Tibau handed me the picking-the-fights victory over Kyle by winning a unanimous decision over Neer. Neer was always the more energetic, and by the end he had a lot more gas left than Tibau, but Tibau's take-downs carried the day for him.

Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Rothwell - We both chose Velasquez, who dominated the fight and ultimately won via TKO. I do think the referee stopped the fight early, because Rothwell had posted with his hand and was standing when the ref called the match, but I believe Velasquez would have won in time.

Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua - We both chose Machida to win, and he did, so we were right. That said, I think Shogun was robbed. From where I sat--and Joe Rogan sure agreed, as did many of the fans--Shogun won at least three of the rounds, maybe four. Shogun did more damage, was more aggressive, and fought an amazingly smart and patient fight. His game plan--punish Machida's legs and body--worked superbly, and at the end I expected him to win.

I considered this to be quite a weak card, but I came away having enjoyed the fights a great deal. Shogun showed how to beat Machida, and I expect every smart light heavyweight to be ramping up their leg-and-body-kick practice.

As for Kyle on the picking front, he'll have to improve his game as well--though mine was frankly nothing to brag about. The final tally for us both:

Mark: 6-5
Kyle: 5-6

I passed Kyle a draft of the above entry for his comment. He offered this short essay, which I think is insightful and accurate. Enjoy.

This card was a lesson in the limits of knowledge. I'd looked at the FightFinder records of all the fighters on the card. But two of my bad picks--Chase Gormley vs. Stefan Struve and Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida--I knew were wrong as soon as I saw the fighters in the ring. The winners in those fights were just bigger men, with eight inches or more of reach advantage over the losers.

I almost picked Ben Rothwell over Cain Velasquez, too, based on their records. But once I'd watched Rothwell's fight against Andrei Arlovski, I didn't think he'd have any answer for Velasquez's control on the ground. I changed my mind, but still thought it would be close.

Even fighters like Velasquez that I thought I knew well surprised me on this card. The fact is that fighters are always learning new skills; suffering new injuries; having good days or bad. We only get to see them fight for fifteen minutes at a time every four to six months. That's a really coarse instrument by which to measure their skills.

The careful and conditioned Mauricio Rua who fought Lyoto Machida to a stalemate last night wasn't the same man who gassed against Mark Coleman last year or the same man who overwhelmed Ricardo Arona with a whirlwind of attacks in Pride four years ago. The Shogun that we saw last night is a match for anyone at light heavyweight. Apparently the UFC's going to give him an immediate rematch against Machida. I expect that fight to look nothing like the fight we saw last night.

Cain Velasquez struggled against Cheick Kongo back in June. He tried to box more than he should have, and his transitions between striking and grappling looked awkward and telegraphed. But against Ben Rothwell, Velasquez used strikes to set up takedowns. He controlled Rothwell completely on the ground. His strikes were accurate and unceasing. Most people criticize the stoppage, but I don't have a problem with it. Rothwell wasn't going to win. He was just going to suffer more traumatic brain injury. Velasquez's performance was flawless, and he's ready to move up to face Antonio Nogueira, Frank Mir, or Junior Dos Santos.

Anthony Johnson also just gets better and better. I thought that he and Yoshida were on the same level. Johnson demolished Yoshida in forty seconds. Although Johnson lost to Rich Clementi in the UFC two years ago, he's progressed far enough that I'd expect him to win a rematch. Like Velasquez, he deserves a step up to fighting top-five competition. I'd love to see how he'd do against Josh Koscheck, who combines a similar mix of wrestling, striking skills and explosive athleticism.

After five years spent toiling away in smaller shows, Chael Sonnen has really stepped up his game over the last couple of years as he's made the transition from the WEC to the UFC. His performance last night was, in a way, more impressive than Johnson's 40-second knockout or Velasquez's wrestling domination. Sonnen also showed dominant wrestling. But he did it against a top-ten fighter with a strong wrestling base. He also outstruck Okami standing and outworked him throughout. Sonnen sustained the pace of a lightweight, always moving forward, always working, for a full fifteen minutes. He's ready for Nate Marquardt or Dan Henderson.

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