Saturday, December 5, 2009

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 2 - Our picks for the Ultimate Fighter Finale 10

(Kyle was the first to produce a draft of this one, so I used his text as the main body of this entry, then added my picks for each fight. Thanks, Kyle.)

An event like today's Ultimate Fighter finale really takes the fun out of picking fights. If you look at the betting lines on Bodog, only two of the ten fights have a favorite with less than 2-to-1 odds. Where's the room for insightful analysis? For gameplanning? For guesswork?

Starting at the bottom of the undercard:

Mark Bocek vs. Joe Brammer

Kyle: Bocek should be able to take Brammer down and submit him. This will be Bocek's sixth fight in the UFC, and he's beaten tough guys like Alvin Robinson and David Bielkheden. Brammer's never fought in the big show before, and this will be a major step up in competition for him.

Mark: Bocek should win this one, but the undefeated Brammer has a shot. Still, octagon jitters are likely to swing this one to Bocek, who will win by submission.

Dennis Hallman vs. John Howard

Kyle: Hallman's racked up a lot of wins in his twelve years as a professional fighter. But he peaked years ago, and his style leaves him vulnerable to strikes while he's working for submissions. Expect Howard to pound Hallman out.

Mark: This is one of those classic up-and-comer vs. veteran matches. Hallman certainly has a shot, but I expect him to lose in what will then prove to be his last UFC bout. Howard by decision.

Brian Stann vs. Rodney Wallace

Kyle: It's a battle of North Carolina fighters as Jacksonville's Brian Stann faces off against Salisbury's Rodney Wallace. Zuffa's been trying to put over square-jawed Marine Stann for a while, first in the WEC and now in the UFC, but they're hampered by the fact that Stann's a natural middleweight fighting a class too heavy and by the fact that although his brawling style leads to highlight-reel finishes, half the time Stann's the one being finished. Expect Team ROC's Rodney Wallace to take Stann down and beat him up on the ground.

Mark: From the research I've done, I think Wallace is way better than many people realize, and, unlike Stann, he belongs at this weight class. Wallace, though probably by decision.

Justin Wren vs. Jon Madsen

Kyle: Madsen's a great wrestler. Wren's a great wrestler with great submissions and a twenty-pound weight advantage. Edge to Wren.

Mark: There's always a chance that these two wrestlers decide to spend fifteen minutes striking, but I think eventually Wren will tire of that, take down Madsen, and ground and pound him. Wren by TKO.

James McSweeney vs. Darrill Schoonover

Kyle: This is one of the tougher fights to call. McSweeney's an evasive striker. I expect him to win the stand-up fight. If Schoonover puts him on his back, McSweeney could be in trouble. He'll try to chop Schoonover's legs out from under him to reduce his risk of being taken down. I pick McSweeney to win.

Mark: Schoonover is 10-0 in non-TUF pro fights (the TUF fights don't count against your pro record). McSweeney is 3-4. Schoonover may be distracted because he has go return to military service, but unless that messes with his head, I expect him to take down McSweeney and win there. Schoonover by ground and pound stoppage.

Marcus Jones vs. Matt Mitrione

Kyle: Jones came across as one of the nicest contestants ever to appear on The Ultimate Fighter. Mitrione looked to be one of the stupidest. Mitrione has better stand-up, and has a real chance to finish things on the feet. But Marcus should be able to fight smart, close the distance and get a takedown, at which point he can put his slick submission skills to work. Marcus Jones by tap-out.

Mark: Mitrione is big, fast, and has heavy hands. Jones is the better overall fighter, and once he has you on the ground you're in trouble. Unless he screws up, he should be able to get close enough to Mitrione to take him down and finish him. Jones by submission.

Frankie Edgar vs. Matt Veach

Kyle: This fight is just baffling. Edgar is one of the best lightweights in the world. Veach is a guy who's fought on one Ultimate Fight Night before, earning his biggest win yet over Matt Grice. Edgar should win this one pretty much any way he feels like winning.

Mark: Edgar is fighting one weight class too high. He doesn't finish people, but he's a great fighter. I think UFC Matchmaker Joe Silva picked this fight to give Edgar a shot at finishing and thus create another exciting lightweight title contender. Edgar will win, but it will be by decision.

Kimbo Slice vs. Houston Alexander

Kyle: Kimbo--no, I just can't bring myself to call him that. Kevin Ferguson and Houston Alexander have a lot in common. They're both brawling streetfighters who could beat the crap out of you or me, but who don't have the conditioning or the grappling skills to compete in the UFC. Despite the fact that they're both over 35, they're trying to transform themselves into real mixed martial artists, and I respect that. That said, this is going to be an ugly and exciting fight. Both guys are going to come out swinging, and somebody's going down in the first round. My guess is that it'll be Kimbo. I mean Kevin. He's been through a hard weight cut to make 215; he's not as fast as Alexander; and he hasn't had as long to adapt his style to the world of MMA.

Mark: If this one gets out of the first round, I'll be amazed. Kyle's analysis is dead on here. I think Dana White has managed to both give Kimbo a fight he can win and yet make sure he loses. Alexander by KO or TKO.

Jon Jones vs. Matt Hamill

Kyle: Jones has looked better and better with each fight. He's an amazing athletic specimen, and now that he's switched to training with some of the best light-heavyweights in the world at Greg Jackson's camp, I expect him to be unstoppable. Hamill doesn't really seem to have improved since he lost to Michael Bisping two years ago. Jones by KO.

Mark: Hamill hasn't changed much as a fighter since his start in the UFC. Jones was an exciting fighter who got smart and moved to New Mexico to train with Greg Jackson's team, one of the very best in the business. Jones should handily win this one by KO or TKO.

Roy Nelson vs. Brendan Schaub

Kyle: Schaub is big, athletic, and a good striker, though he needs a takedown defense other than hanging onto the cage for dear life. There were points in each of Roy's TUF fights where he looked like he might get finished on the feet. In each case he saved himself by taking it to the ground and smothering his opponents with his blubber. Expect Schaub to beat Roy up standing and expect Roy to take Schaub down at will. The big question is going to be whether Schaub can stand up again once Roy Nelson's weight is on top of him. The last three guys couldn't. I pick Nelson to win.

Mark: Nothing about Roy Nelson endeared him to me on the show. Sure, my body is sadly far more like his than Schaub's, but I still didn't like him. He won by using his size to subdue his opponents, and he was a smart fighter, but he also always seemed to greatly overvalue himself. All that said, the only way Nelson doesn't win is if Schaub has developed a take-down defense in the four months since he left the show. I really want to pick Schaub to win, and I hope he does, but I'm going to have to go with Nelson, probably by decision. In this case, though, I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, December 4, 2009

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 1

The purpose of this trip is to have fun while belatedly celebrating Kyle's birthday. Today certainly featured many fun events, including lunch and gelato in the Bellagio, dinner at L'Atelier Robuchon, the Cirque show, Ka, and banana cream pie at Emeril's.

Unfortunately, the day also included a 5:30 a.m. wake-up after two hours of sleep, a long, cramped airplane ride, and many, many hours of work. So, a mixed day, but overall, a good one.

I'd go into more details, but I'm exhausted and still must work more, so perhaps additional information tomorrow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Enjoy the videos. Buy the album.

Blue Rodeo, one of my favorite bands, has put out a new album, The Things We Left Behind. You should buy it. You have no excuses, because it's available on Amazon.

Of course I already have it; I pre-ordered it from their site.

While you're making up your mind, enjoy these two videos of songs from the album.

The first, "One Light Left In Heaven," was a preview video for the album. Jim Cuddy goes all romantic on this one.

The second, "Arizona Dust," is both more playful as a video and as a song.

I wish they would play a show near here, but at least I have the CD.

You should have it, too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Amazon Prime conflict

Amazon's Prime shipping program is an insanely wonderful convenience, particularly for someone who buys as many books, CDs, and DVDs as I do. If you don't know about Prime, it's a simple arrangement: You pay Amazon a $79 annual fee, and just about everything that Amazon sells comes to you with free two-day shipping. There's no minimum order size, so if you see a single paperback or a CD you want, you just order it, it ships the next day, and you have it two days later. Often, it arrives sooner.

I love it.

Amazon's Prime shipping program is drowning me in cardboard and shipping materials, wasting untold gallons of shipping fuel, and increasing my carbon footprint enormously. It also (all too often successfully) tempts me to make dumb impulse purchases. (No, I'm not including in this category Recon 2023; that one could be a winner. Maybe.) Yes, I know all of these bad aspects are the result of my use of the program, and I could wait to bunch orders, shop locally more often, and so on, but Amazon's great prices and this insanely fast gratification, coupled with the huge lack of free time in my life, make it irresistible.

I hate it.

How do I resolve this conflict? Right now, I don't; I just order whenever I feel like it, and I try to take small solace from the fact that our household recycles everything we reasonably can.

It does, though, often bother me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How do you react

to this trailer for Recon 2023: The Gauda Prime Conspiracy?

If you're most people, you laugh at the bad acting, the dumb plot, the terrible costumes, and the weak special effects.

If you're me or Kyle, who showed it to me, you note that Edith Labelle, a former UFC "ring girl," is one of the stars, accept that you watched Cyborg Soldier just for Rich Franklin, and know that, yes, you must watch this bit of SF tawdriness.

I've already ordered it on Amazon. It'll be one of the late-night films when Kyle next visits.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The art of raising prices without raising prices

I'm always amazed when businesses create new offerings that amount to ways to take more of your money for basically the same old product. I'm even more amazed when I agree to such scams.

Today, Southwest Airlines amazed me.

A group of us are heading to Las Vegas this weekend for the UFC's Ultimate Fighter Finale 10 (and lots of other fun stuff). We're flying on Southwest, in large part because it has the only direct, nonstop flight from here to Las Vegas. Today, Southwest emailed me that if I wanted to get to register for my boarding position 36 hours in advance--as opposed to the usual 24--I should sign up for the new EarlyBird Check-In feature. I did--and in the process had to pay an additional ten dollars per flight. So, Southwest raised my ticket cost by twenty bucks without ever changing the price.

Sure, I could have saved money and not opted for this feature, but then my boarding position would have been terrible, because everyone else who wanted a good seat would have already signed up. On Southwest, if you don't have a good boarding number, you can find yourself in a middle seat between Bubba the retired pro wrestler, who's now on disability due to excessive girth, and Grandma Liddly, whose Tourette's will be better soon and who is transporting a five-pound-bag of limberger cheese--a bag that has now burst open--to the home where her axe murderer son is under constant care.

I admire this particular scam, because it is such an effective trap, even though I also hate it. In any case, from now on, when I fly Southwest, I'll be paying ten bucks extra per flight.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Talking about writing

Ask most writers, including me, about a published work, and as long as the question is at all intelligent and not rude, they will talk until either you stop them or some basic sense of social decency kicks in. We all spend so much time living in the worlds of our fiction, and we're all so desperate for love and approval, that our own published work is one of our favorite topics.

So, why do so many writers, most especially including me, avoid talking in any substantive way about work in progress?

Part of the answer is that we want you to experience the story or novel as it is, with as few preconceptions as possible. The more we describe a scene or plot arc or other variable, the less likely the listener is to be able to come to that part of the piece cleanly.

Another factor is that we are aware of how whiny we sound. As I draw closer to the end of the first draft of Children No More, those around me on a daily basis are hearing more and more often my very real concerns that the book is too slow, too emotional, too this, too that--a self-indulgent bit of stupefyingly boring twaddle that no one should have written. Even though all those concerns are very real in my head, I know they sound like whining to anyone listening. I know they get boring and annoying fast. I know the listeners have no useful options, because they haven't read the work and I won't let them (because it's not done), and so, believe it or not, I try to minimize this activity.

Why do I do it all? Why don't I shut up entirely?

Weakness. People ask, and instead of staying quiet, I let my weakness overcome me, and I talk. Sometimes I do it even when no one has asked. No excuses.

Finally, one of the very most important reasons not to talk about a work in progress is that it is just that: in progress. It is changing, and anything we said on one day might have to change on the next. In my case, every draft improves the book, and sometimes in significant ways, so what I might say midway through the first draft might not apply at all to the final version.

So, given all of this, what can you expect from me in the future?

Probably more of the same. I'll keep trying to improve, but I'll also almost certainly keep screwing up. Sorry about that.


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