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.

I still want to be in Paris

The urge, which I first mentioned in this forum back on November 20, has not left me. At completely random times, I will find my mind wandering to images of the Left Bank at night as seen from Notre Dame. I suspect this strong urge will pass, but until it does, Paris will keep bubbling around in my psyche. Very odd indeed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Age is not a good excuse

In the last few weeks, I've heard people ranging in age from 18 to almost 60 say that something they wanted to do was impossible due to their age, that they were just too old to write or get in shape or learn new skills or reach some other completely achievable goal.

All those statements were complete and utter bullshit.

Oh, sure, there are things you cannot do, like become younger. You're also unlikely to become a world-class athlete starting late in life--but you could still participate in almost any sport. In all the recent statements I mentioned, not once was the task in question beyond the capabilities of the person speaking.

None of us can do everything, but each of us can sure do a lot of things. We just have to be willing to work at them and make the appropriate sacrifices for them. If I don't lose weight, which I certainly need to do, it's because I didn't rank that task high enough in my priority list or wasn't willing to suffer enough for the goal, or both. I have only myself to blame for things I don't accomplish, and that's true for most of us.

I grew up in a Florida neighborhood full of retirees. Some moved there seemingly to die; they did nothing every day, atrophied in mind and body, and vanished. Others stayed constantly busy. You couldn't guess to which of these groups a person would belong by that person's age; some of the most vital were in their eighties and nineties, while some of the sitting dead were in their early sixties.

If a goal is too costly to achieve, or if you're too busy and value the achievement too low for it to be worth seeking right now, fine; we all make those choices all the time. Just don't use your age as an excuse.

The briefcase folds are gone

Someone in Wikipedia-ville caught on and removed the statement Sarah had made about the dewlaps of Brahman cows also being known as briefcase folds. Good on them.

I do hope, though, that the demon lords of wikipedia don't send their storm troopers to Sarah's dorm. That would suck for all involved.

Even though the term is now gone from all but this blog, I encourage writers everywhere to use it when describing dewlaps, particularly the dewlaps of Brahman cows. If enough of us do, perhaps one day we can make it reappear on wikipedia as a legitimate term. Wouldn't that be neat?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Random thoughts from the Las Vegas trip

When your body is causing tears in the seams of your spandex and flesh is hanging out of those openings, it's time to consider abandoning spandex--or at least moving up a size. Or two. Or three.

Glitter does not equal taste.

Comment from a cowboy (the rodeo was in town) to the woman with him upon seeing a pair of low-rise, leopard-skin pajama bottoms: "Honey, you ought to get you some of them sleepin' britches."

It would take me weeks to see everything that interests me in Las Vegas and the surrounding area.

Before those weeks were over, I would explode from all the food I had eaten.

Craftsteak has improved, and I now recommend it.

If you're willing to pay insane amounts, a Japanese A5 Wagyu steak cooked at a place that does meat well (as Craftsteak does) will be the best piece of meat you've ever put in your mouth. (You! Don't go there. Yes, I mean you.)

I'm still amazed at how many people don't know that wait staff and doormen/doorwomen live off tips.

I met my first cab driver who was born and raised in Las Vegas but started driving a taxi only a few years ago.

On any night I've ever been in Vegas, I've seen many groups of women walking around hotels wearing clothing so revealing it would be considered lingerie anywhere else.

I consider this a good thing, though note the opening spandex comment.

Drunk people are way funnier to other drunks than they are to those of us who do not drink. (Yes, I could make this observation anywhere, but I am rarely around drunks anywhere else.)

A scowling Patrick Stewart staring at your bed is not a good thing.

Lest it sound like I'm complaining, I had a great time, and I'd go back next week given adequate money and time. Fortunately for my weight, I'll be home the rest of the month.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 4 - of shoes and airports

You might think that the emotional high point of a day in which you ate lunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon, watched an early evening performance of Cirque du Soleil's Mystere, which was the first Cirque show I saw many years ago, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at perennial favorite, Fix, would be one of those events, but for two of our party, you'd be wrong.

For them, the peak moments involved the acquisition of shoes--not just any shoes, mind you, but the famous (I am told), red-soled, Christian Louboutin shoes.

Jennie found hers at the Christian Louboutin store in the Palazzo's second-floor high-end fashion zone. Lisa's spoke to her from a shop in a similar part of the Wynn casino. Both pairs of shoes found new homes and left behind very happy salespeople.

To be fair, the shoes did look amazing on the two of them. In the taxi home from dinner, Lisa and Jennie created a shoe taxonomy that defined Lisa's as awesome and Jennie's as weaponized awesome. From the uninformed perspective of a guy capable of judging only whether the shoes looked good on the person wearing them (and my judgment in even those cases is probably suspect), I have to admit their classifications seem fair.

As Kyle observed, none of us had ever seen either of them (or any other woman, for that matter) speak with such unrestrained lust about anything else.

Today is, by comparison, rather less interesting and eventful, which is as I like travel days to be: wake up too damn early after too little sleep, check out, taxi to airport, wait and work on the floor at the gate, fly, go home, work, settle back into life. When a trip ends thusly, I considered myself blessed.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 3 - Kyle won the picks war again

We both did another lousy job of picking yesterday's UFC fights. Our only excuse is that many of the fights took surprising turns. In the end, Kyle emerged victorious. Here's the run-down, again going from the bottom of the card to the top.

Mark Bocek vs. Joe Brammer

We both called Bocek by submission, and he indeed won with a rear naked choke in the first round.

Dennis Hallman vs. John Howard

This fight was actually two battles in one. For the first two rounds and about 4:30 of the second, Hallman was in control, dominating on the ground and though not doing much damage, still clearly winning. With about 30 seconds to go, though, and Hallman on top on the ground but accomplishing nothing, the ref stood them up. Howard rushed in, Hallman forgot he was there to wrestle and avoid striking, and Howard knocked out Hallman with five seconds to go. Amazing.

We both picked Howard, and we were wrong almost the entire fight, but when it counted, Howard came through, and we both notched another correct pick.

Brian Stann vs. Rodney Wallace

We both chose Wallace to finish this one, so we were both shocked and concerned that we might have blown this one when Greg Jackson and some of his coaches walked out with Brian Stann. We were right to be worried, because Stann fought intelligently, dealt well with Wallace's take-downs, and pulled off the unanimous decision victory. Stann gave us our first wrong pick of the night--but not, alas, our last.

Justin Wren vs. Jon Madsen

We both chose Wren, and when the fight ended, we were both confident we had made the right choice. Unfortunately, the judges disagreed with us in what I believe was a terrible decision, and Madsen won. I had said there was always a chance that these two wrestlers would decide to box all night, and they did. Bad choice, Wren--and now we have two wrong selections.

James McSweeney vs. Darrill Schoonover

Kyle went for McSweeney, and I opted for Schoonover. I was wrong: McSweeney won by TKO in the third.

I now have three wrong; Kyle holds strong at two.

Marcus Jones vs. Matt Mitrione

In the post-fight interview, Matt Mitrione said he had "retard strength," and he showed his power tonight by knocking out Jones in the second. I'm not at all a fan of Mitrione, but he is a big, strong man who earned this victory.

Kyle is now down three, and I'm down four.

Frankie Edgar vs. Matt Veach

Edgar looked like he belonged in a lower weight class than Veach, and Veach clearly won the first round, but none of that mattered in the end as Edgar took over in the second ultimately submitted Veach. Only Gray Maynard should be ahead of Edgar in the line for a chance at the winner of next week's Penn vs. Sanchez lightweight title bout.

Oh, yeah: We called this one.

Kimbo Slice vs. Houston Alexander

We were both wrong about this fight in two significant ways: We expected Alexander to win, and we expected a slugfest. Instead, Kimbo won by decision in easily one of the worst fights I've seen in a while. Alexander ran from Kimbo most of the night, punishing his legs with kicks and staying safe. Both men gassed, and the referees gave the decision to Kimbo.

I'm now down five; Kyle, four.

Jon Jones vs. Matt Hamill

We both chose Jones, and he was indeed winning, dominating Hamill--until he hits Hamill with an illegal downward elbow strike and loses by disqualification. Somewhere along the way, Hamill appeared to have dislocated his shoulder, so we never saw the fight we'd hoped to see. Expect a rematch.

Meanwhile, though, I've now gotten a full six wrong, and Kyle has five incorrect.

Roy Nelson vs. Brendan Schaub

Nelson let us both finish on a high note as he beat Schaub. To our surprise, he knocked out Schaub in the first. I don't expect Nelson to be able to hang with the serious UFC heavyweights, but he's now under UFC contract.

Final tally: Kyle, 5-5; Mark, 4-6.

As always, the most important lesson of our picks is that you should never make bets based on them.


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