Tonight's UFC PPV was supposed to offer a main event pitting the heavyweight champ, Brock Lesnar, against the undefeated challenger, Shane Carwin. Brock took ill, very ill, and ended up having minor (they say) abdominal surgery. Carwin used the time off to have some long-postponed knee surgery. Dana White thus had to scramble to fill the card with a worthy replacement, which proved to be the return of Tito Ortiz in a rematch with popular fighter, Forrest Griffin. All this drama yielded a card far weaker than the original but still one well worth watching--which is what we'll be doing tonight.
As we have done with several, though not all, of the recent UFC events, Kyle and I are going to make our picks. Last time, we sucked; let's hope we're more on the money this go-round.
We'll take the fights from the bottom to the top, saving the main event for last.
First, the undercard.
George Sotiropoulos vs. Jason Dent
Mark: Both of these guys are Ultimate Fighter alums who aren't ready for a main card. Sotiropoulos is dropping to lightweight for the first time and should be the bigger man. The Australian should win this one, probably via submission but possibly by decision. Either way, Sotiropoulos should have a winning lightweight debut.
Kyle: Both fighters have a history of winning by submission, but Sotiropoulos is on another level. When the fight hits the ground, he flows like mercury. Look for him to tie Dent into a human pretzel and win a submission victory.
Caol Uno vs. Fabricio Camoes
Mark: The oddsmakers are all over Uno, giving him a large edge over UFC newcomer Camoes. I think they're wrong. Camoes is going to be much bigger than Uno, show surprising striking skills, and surprise a lot of people by pulling off the victory, though whether by decision or submission, I'm not sure.
Kyle: Six years ago, Caol Uno was fighting for the UFC lightweight title. Now he's lost three of his last four fights.and he's on the prelims fighting a guy who's never been in the UFC before. Camoes has won seven fights in a row, but Uno is going to be a big step up in competition for him. Expect Uno to neutralize Camoes' attacks and hang on for a decision victory.
Brock Larson vs. Brian Foster
Mark: Larson lost his last fight, but I think he'll back in fine form tonight. He will simply overwhelm Foster, take him down at will, and ultimately either submit him or win a decision.
Kyle: Larson by whatever he chooses to finish the fight with.
Kendall Grove vs. Jake Rosholt
Mark: Kendall Grove has the motivation of fighting to stay in the UFC, but I don't think that will be enough. Rosholt is too strong a wrestler. He'll find a way under Grove's reach advantage, take Grove down, and probably win via decision, though a late-fight submission is also a possibility. Either way, Rosholt wins.
Kyle: Grove has lost three of his last five fights, and I see no reason why he should win this one. Look for Rosholt to use his superior wrestling to take Grove down and work to a submission victory.
Ben Saunders vs. Marcus Davis
Mark: If either of these two fighters hits the ground, it'll be because he slipped or was knocked out. They'll stand and trade, where Davis is better and will pull off the decision. This one could get fight of the night honors, because Dana loves to award guys who stand and trade.
Kyle: Davis is a heavy favorite here. He fought Mike Swick to decision a year ago, while Swick recently knocked Saunders out. But I'm picking Saunders to win. Like Swick, Saunders is tall for a welterweight. He's 6' 2" to Davis' 5' 8". Both men are stand-up fighters, and I think Saunders is going to be able to use his superior reach to punish Davis from the outside.
And now to the main bouts.
Amir Sadollah vs. Phil Baroni
Mark: Baroni swears he's a new man, but I don't buy it. I think the UFC created this fight to get Sadollah back on the winning track. Unless Sadollah screws up and lets Baroni tag him early, Baroni will gas, and Sadollah will win by submission sometime after the first round.
Kyle: There are a lot of unknowns in this fight. Sadollah tore through tough competition to win his season of The Ultimate Fighter before being laid out by an early punch in his first real UFC fight. Baroni has beaten down some top middleweights with his heavy hands, but is known for wearing himself out early and fading in the later rounds. Does Sadollah have a weak chin, or did his last opponent just get lucky? Will Baroni be weak from cutting all the way down to welterweight? I pick Sadollah to weather the early storm, take it to the ground and beat Baroni there--but it's all going to hinge on whether or not he can survive the first round.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Luis Cane
Mark: It's always risky betting against a Nogueira, but I'm doing exactly that in picking Cane to win in what will be his welcome to the top ten fight. He's going to push Nogueira hard, keep it standing up, and ultimately win by TKO or KO.
Kyle: Cane has beaten Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Sokoudjou has beaten Nogueira, so if fighting skill were a well-ordered set you'd expect Cane to beat Nogueira. But the real world doesn't work that way. Nogueira is an experienced veteran who's beaten some of the best fighters in the world and he'll be well-versed in Cane's strengths and weaknesses. I expect him to get Cane down and pull off a submission victory.
Paulo Thiago vs. Jacob Volkmann
Mark: Volkmann is an undefeated wrestler who trains in the Minnesota home of such other great wrestlers turned MMA fighters as Sean Sherk and Brock Larson. Thiago is probably more well rounded, but I see Volkmann winning by decision after spending a lot of time holding down Thiago. That said, Thiago pulling off a submission victory wouldn't surprise me, but I have to pick, so Volkmann it is.
Kyle: Thiago's a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert. Volkmann's a former NCAA wrestler. Expect Thiago to spend most of the fight on his back, but to try to use his BJJ skills to keep from taking damage, to reverse the position, and to secure a submission victory. I think he'll pull it off. Thiago to win.
Josh Koscheck vs. Anthony Johnson
Mark: I hate having to call this fight. It's a classic striker vs. wrestler battle, with Johnson, the striker, having a big size and reach advantage. The oddsmakers give it to Johnson, but Koscheck has a clear path to victory: take him down, hang out there a while, repeat. The fight I want to watch is the one in which Koscheck can't do that and Johnson wins, so I'm going with my desires, not my head, and choosing Johnson by KO or TKO.
Kyle: I think that Johnson takes this. He and Koscheck are both huge 170-pounders with explosive power. Koscheck undoubtedly has a stronger wrestling pedigree. But he's adopted a sprawl-and-brawl style over the last couple of years that I think plays to Johnson's strengths. Look for Johnson to use his superior speed and reach to win it on the feet.
Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz
Mark: Griffin and Ortiz are both huge light heavyweights. Ortiz is, as you'd expect, doing all the talking ahead of the fight, and he's pointing to his injury-free status as proof that he is back. I've been an Ortiz fan off and on through the years, but I see him losing tonight. He's still running his own training camp, when he should be working with others to challenge him. His game is still what it used to be, when Griffin's has evolved dramatically. Griffin by decision, with a small shot at a TKO.
Kyle: Two and a half years ago, Tito Ortiz beat Forrest Griffin in a controversial split decision. Tito went on to trounce a geriatric Ken Shamrock twice, then lose to Chuck Liddell, fight Rashad Evans to a draw and lose to Lyoto Machida. When he walked away from the UFC in May of 2008, his stock was at an all-time low.
But while Tito's been away from fighting, events back in the Octagon have made him look better. Griffin, Evans and Machida have all gone on to win the Light Heavyweight belt, and only Shogun has done as well as Tito did against Machida. Tito used his long layoff to get his back fixed and says that he's now stronger than he's ever been.
I pick Tito to win this one. Tito's consistently underrated, but he's as good as any fighter in the 205-pound shark tank. If he's in shape, Tito should be able to consistently put Griffin on his back and ground-and-pound his way to victory.
Kyle and I disagree on quite a few of these fights, so we'll be cheering for opposite sides on several occasions tonight. I'll report back tomorrow on how we did.