Saturday, December 12, 2009

UFC 107: Picking the winners

Or not. I'm hoping I do significantly better than the last few times, but I've definitely been riding the fail train in picking for a while now.

A week ago, I watched the fights live in Las Vegas. Tonight, I'll watch them on DVR'd replay after my company's annual Seasonal Celebration. The ease with which we can hop about the world is always interesting.

Kyle and I disagree on only two fights this card, and one of the disagreements is a pick I made just to be contrary, so neither of us can win this one by much.

As usual, we'll go from the bottom of the card to the top. First, the undercard.

Kevin Burns vs. T.J. Grant

Mark: Burns has struggled against guys with great boxing skills, but he won't face that problem with Grant. Grant should have a submission skills edge, but Burns has shown that sort of paper advantage doesn't faze him. I have to give the nod to Burns.

Kyle: Burns has his back up against the wall after back-to-back losses to Anthony Johnson and Chris Lytle, but I'm picking him to win this one. He's done badly against strikers, but Grant is a submission guy. Burns can handle submission guys. His first win in the Octagon was a surprise victory over BJJ black belt Roan Carneiro, and I think Burns has the skills to win the ground game again against Grant.

DaMarques Johnson vs. Edgar Garcia

Mark: Garcia will win by KO, with Johnson leaving the UFC right afterward unless he somehow impresses before going down. Garcia's striking will be just too much for Johnson.

Kyle: Both fighters are coming off losses, so we might not see the loser of this match in the UFC again. Johnson looked impressive in his bouts on The Ultimate Fighter, but folded under pressure from James Wilks in the finale. He probably has a better ground game than Garcia, but lacks the ability to get the fight there. Garcia, on the other hand, is just a KO machine: of his seven wins, five are by KO or TKO. Expect him to add a sixth by finishing Damarques Johnson.

Rousimar Palhares vs. Lucio Linhares

Mark: I really want to go with Linhares here, because Palhares has never thrilled me, but I think the combination of Octagon Jitters for Linhares and better BJJ skills will lead to a Palhares win.

Kyle: Palhares is a more than 3-to-1 favorite in this fight. He's beaten guys like Ivan Salaverry and Jeremy Horn in the UFC while the only guy Linhares has beaten that I've even heard of is Sean "I may or may not have thrown that fight" Salmon. Even so, I'm picking Linares to win. Fights between jiu jitsu guys usually turn into sloppy boxing matches, and I don't see why this one would be any different. Linhares has six wins by KO or TKO. Palhares has none. Look for Linhares to stuff takedown attempts and swing for the fences.

Johny Hendricks vs. Ricardo Funch

Mark: Fans love matches between undefeated up-and-comers, and this is one of those. Hendricks is better both on his feet and on the ground, though, so he should win.

Kyle: Both fighters enter the cage undefeated, but Hendricks has faced tougher competition. He's coming off a first-round KO of Ultimate Fighter winner Amir Sadollah and as a two-time Division 1 wrestling champion he should have no problem keeping the fight on the feet. I pick Hendricks to win.

Shane Nelson vs. Matt Wiman

Mark: These guys are likely to get nasty with each other, but neither is likely to finish the other. Wiman is better in just about every facet of the game, so expect Wiman to win the decision.

Kyle: Nelson lacks the skills to finish anyone except other Ultimate Fighter also-rans. Wiman should send him packing out of the UFC.

Wilson Gouveia vs. Alan Belcher

Mark: Expect fireworks in this one. These guys have a shot at Fight of the Night, and they have to know it. Belcher is a little better and likely to be in better shape, so I have to pick Belcher by KO or TKO.

Kyle: This should be a brawl on the feet between two decent strikers who aren't afraid to trade. Again, both men are coming off losses, so their UFC careers are in jeopardy. I give the slight edge to Belcher, since I think that his conditioning is better. Gouveia failed to make weight for this bout, which suggests that his training hasn't quite come together as planned.

From here we enter the main card.

Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve

Mark: The betting lines are even here, because Struve brings in the better ground game and a very long reach. Buentello wants to bang. If Struve had showed more boxing skills in his fights, I'd go for him without hesitation, but Buentello is a crafty veteran who just has to stay off his back and ultimately knock out Struve. I was all set to pick Buentello, but I noticed that Kyle did, and we have to disagree on something on the main card, so I'm going to take a chance and choose Struve.

Kyle: This is as close to a pure striker vs. grappler match as you're going to find in modern MMA. Buentello wants to keep the fight on the feet and knock Struve out; Struve wants to get things to the ground and choke Buentello until he taps. I give the edge to Buentello. He hasn't tapped to a submission since 2001. He should be able to stuff Stuve's takedowns and use his superior stand-up skills to win the night.

Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce

Mark: Pierce was so impressive in finishing off Brock Larson that I'm tempted to pick him, but as much as I want to go with this underdog, I can't. Fitch has stayed in the cage with GSP for five rounds; unless he's looked past Pierce, he should dominate the relative newcomer. I don't, however, expect a knock-out or decision, so Fitch should win, but probably by decision.

Kyle: Fitch by annihilation.

Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida

Mark: Guida has amazing conditioning, a never-say-die attitude, and is fun to walk. He is and will remain about five guys away from the title. Florian, on the other hand, is an amazing fighter cursed to have B.J. Penn above him. Florian will win, and probably via submission in the third.

Kyle: Guida is a solid 155 pounder who's struggled against top-ten compeition, with losses to Tyson Griffin, Roger Huerta and Diego Sanchez. Florian is a great fighter who hasn't lost to anyone at lightweight except champions Shean Sherk and B. J. Penn. Guida will come in tough and with a fighter's heart, but Florian's superior technique and gameplanning should win the day.

Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo

Mark: Kongo is a powerful puncher with a very strong upper body, so he has a puncher's chance of knocking out Mir. Mir, though, looks the best he has since before the motorcycle accident, and in every way but striking is a far superior fighter to Kongo. Velasquez showed how to beat Kongo without finishing him; I expect Mir to follow that gameplan but then finish Kongo. Mir to win, and probably by submission.

Mir's biggest problem with this fight will come after it, because if the Tennessee Athletic Commission runs drug tests, it'll be very interesting to learn if Mir got a little help adding twenty pounds of muscle in less than six months.

Kyle: Between his July fight with Brock Lesnar and his December fight with Cheick Kongo, Mir has somehow packed twenty pounds of muscle onto his frame. Given his now 25-pound weight advantage over Kongo and Kongo's notoriously weak takedown defense, Mir should have little trouble bullying his opponent to the ground and finishing him there. How he'll fare if the Tennessee Athletic Commission does drug testing is a more interesting question.

B.J. Penn vs. Diego Sanchez

Mark: The wild card with B.J. Penn is his mind, not his talent. If he's been focused in training and cares about this fight, he will win it going away. When he's on his game, there's no one better at 155. Period. Diego Sanchez has to hope that Penn didn't take him seriously, didn't work much on his conditioning, and makes a stupid mistake when Sanchez takes him down, because Sanchez will definitely have amazing conditioning and be trying for take-downs. That hope, though, is likely to prove to be unfounded, because I think Sanchez is the kind of loudmouth that pisses off Penn. So, I pick Penn to win, and even though no one has ever knocked out or submitted Sanchez, my guess is that Penn will do it by submission.

Kyle: B.J. Penn is a transcendent athlete, like Mike Tyson or Lance Armstrong or Michael Jordan in their primes. Since he moved to lightweight, no one in the division has even made him work hard. Sanchez will try to use his superior conditioning to set a pace that Penn can't match and wear him out. But he won't be able to take Penn down and Penn's excellent use of his jab is likely to make boxing with him a frustrating experience for Diego Sanchez. Expect a long night for Diego, with B.J. Penn walking away with the belt once again.

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