Saturday, January 2, 2010

The first fight picks of 2010: UFC 108

Kyle and I, along with other friends, of course, will be watching this show together tonight at my house, so we'll know at the same time who made the better picks. Here, in the usual order from the bottom of the card to the top, are our selections.

The undercard is always tough to call, but we always take the challenge.

Rafaello Oliveira vs. John Gunderson

Mark: Gunderson is an undersized lightweight, so I expect Oliveira to push him around in route to a victory.

Kyle: Both fighters are submission guys. Gunderson's never fought in the UFC before, while Oliveira fought once three months ago and lost to Nick Lentz. Gunderson has more fights overall, but Oliveira's a bigger fighter. The odds favor Oliveira, but I'm going to pick Gunderson to win because I like his record better.

Mike Pyle vs. Jake Ellenberge

Mark: Ellenberger comes out like a crazy man, then gases. If Pyle could weather the early storm and be in better shape, he'd be able to beat Ellenberger, but I don't see that happening. Ellenberger to win.

Kyle: I expect Ellenberger to maintain a faster pace than Pyle and avoid submission attempts on his way to a decision victory.

Mark Munoz vs. Ryan Jensen

Mark: The oddsmakers have Munoz as a strong favorite, but I like Jensen's work ethic enough that I'd like to pick him to win. The problem is, I can't. Unless Munoz screws up and stays standing, he should be able to grind out a decision against Jensen, so I have to go with Munoz.

Kyle: Munoz always looked a little soft at 205 in his WEC fights, so coming down to 185 should feel like home for him. Ryan Jensen has decent hands, but Munoz should be able to smother him and outwork him for the win.

Dan Lauzon vs. Cole Miller

Mark: When two guys with great ground games face one another, the result is often a slugfest. I expect that here, with Miller ultimately taking the fight.

Kyle: At 18 years old, Dan Lauzon debuted in the UFC three years ago against Spencer Fisher. He looked impressive for the first minute of the fight, but didn't pace himself, gassed quickly, and got TKOed. He lost another fight three months later, but since then has racked up an impressive eight-fight winning streak. But the UFC hasn't done Lauzon any favors in matching him up with veteran fighter Cole Miller. Miller's a slick submission specialist who came up through The Ultimate Fighter reality show and has since beaten Leonard Garcia, Jorge Gurgel and Junie Browning. To some extent, both fighters are their own worst enemies: if Lauzon gets nervous and burns himself out again, he'll lose, but Miller has a history of sacrificing position to attempt low-percentage submissions and leaving himself vulnerable. I pick Lauzon to win, because I think that he's learned his lesson and I don't think Miller has learned his yet.

Martin Kampmann vs. Jacob Volkmann

Mark: In this battle of double-n last-name fighters, Volkmann will need to use his wrestling skills to win, but I don't think he can be effective against Kampmann, which means he's in trouble. I expect Kampmann to sprawl and brawl his way to a KO or, more likely, TKO victory, though Volkmann is tough enough that it could also go to the judges. Any way it goes, however, my (virtual) money is on Kampmann to win.

Kyle: Kampmann is one of the best welterweights in the world. Volkmann has had one fight in the UFC, which he lost to Paulo Thiago. Expect Kampmann to knock Volkmann out standing.

We tend to do better on the main card; let's hope that trend continues.

Duane Ludwig vs. Jim Miller

Mark: Ludwig has a definite striking edge, but should Miller be able to get him on the ground, Miller should be able to dominate. I don't think Ludwig will be able to stop Miller's takedowns, so I'm picking Miller to win this one.

Kyle: Miller's only two career losses are to Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar, and he could make an argument that he's the fourth best lightweight out there behind those two and B. J. Penn. Duane Ludwig has been hit-or-miss throughout his career, never able to translate his top-notch striking skills into success in the MMA arena. Expect Miller to put Ludwig on the ground and punish him there for the win.

Joe Lauzon vs. Sam Stout

Mark: Unless Joe Lauzon has lost a lot of IQ points in the last year and gained a much better striking game, he will use every trick he knows to get this fight to the ground. He'll succeed, and then Sam Stout will be in trouble. Lauzon should win, probably by submission.

Kyle: Creepy Joe Lauzon looks like a Nosferatu and Sam Stout looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, but MMA isn't a beauty contest. Lauzon's a fantastic technical submission specialist who's as good as any fighter in the sport at coming up with a solid gameplan and sticking to it. Stout, like Ludwig, is a relatively one-dimensional striker. Lauzon's been vulnerable before to fighters who surprise him and take him out of his gameplan, but I don't think Stout has any surprises in him. Lauzon should be able to take Stout down and tie him in knots for the win.

Paul Daley vs. Dustin Hazelett

Mark: The last time I checked the odds on this fight, they were dead even. Hazelett's definitely better on the ground, where he has awesome submission skills, while Daley has the striking edge and definite knockout power. The obvious key question is whether Daley can avoid Hazelett's takedowns. Though Daley has been on a roll over the last few years, I'm still choosing Hazelett to survive the standup battle long enough to take down Daley and submit him.

Kyle: Like Miller vs. Ludwig and Lauzon vs. Stout, this is a striker vs. grappler match. Striker vs. grappler fights always hinge on the takedown skill of the grappler vs. the takedown defense of the striker. In this case, I think Hazelett's takedown skills are more than a match for Daley's defense. Hazelett by submission.

Junior Dos Santos vs. Gilbert Yvel

Mark: This should be a fun fight to watch, as two heavy-handed strikers go at it. I don't expect it to last very long, though, because Dos Santos is a heavier, taller, faster, younger, better-rounded version of Yvel. All those advantages should lead to a KO or TKO by Dos Santos sometime in the first or second round; Dos Santos for the win.

Kyle: Yvel and dos Santos are both capable strikers, but dos Santos is fifteen pounds heavier, two inches taller, eight years younger, and better with his hands. Dos Santos by knockout.

Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

Mark: When I first saw Rashad Evans as a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter, I couldn't stand him. I thought he was a showboating jerk. He won the heavyweight division, however, and he did so despite being a natural light heavyweight (or even possibly a middleweight), so he clearly had talent. Then, he joined Greg Jackson's camp. Since that time, he's gotten better and better as a fighter. After watching him as a coach on the most recent season of TUF, I've also become impressed by how much he appears to have grown as a person. He'll enter Saturday's main event with more skills and a better game plan than Silva, and that should translate to the win. The biggest danger for Evans is the temptation to stand and trade with Silva no matter how well he's doing; should he go that route, his odds of losing go way up. With Greg Jackson in his corner, though, Evans should be able to resist that temptation and use his superior wrestling skills when appropriate. So, I'm going with Evans.

Kyle: Evans recently lost his first fight--and the UFC light heavyweight belt--to current champion Lyoto Machida. Machida's previous fight had been a victory over Thiago Silva, who came back to beat Evans' teammate Keith Jardine in August. So there are all kinds of interesting storylines going into this fight. Evans is a counterpuncher with fast hands. Silva is a devastating and aggressive striker. If Evans fights smart (and with coach Greg Jackson behind him, I expect him to) he'll apply his long-ignored wrestling skills, take Silva down, and control him on the ground. Evans for the win.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Up In the Air

A group of us headed out Wednesday to see Avatar in Dolby 3D. For some of us, it was to be the second viewing; for others, the first. When I was four from the front of the ticket line, a sold-out announcement blasted over the loudspeakers.

Rather than turn around and go home, we chose the movie that was both interesting to us and at about the same showtime: Up In the Air. I'd wanted to see it, but for no particular reason I still entered it with relatively low expectations.

I left having liked it very much indeed. I found myself identifying far too much with some of Clooney's travel patterns, something I suspect most frequent fliers will do. Though he occasionally smirked when he should not have done so, overall his performance was wonderful and moving.

Vera Farmiga, as Alex, a woman for whom Clooney falls, was a revelation to me: sexy and hot and intelligent and incredibly attractive in a wonderful performance worthy of all the possible supporting actress nominations. I wasn't familiar with her work before, but I will watch for her now.

The movie's biggest fault was its ending, which was not satisfying precisely because it could not be given the characters involved. I've talked with friends who said they felt Clooney's character did not learn anything, but after much thought I've decided that I disagree with them. He did learn, and he was a different man, at least inside, at the end--or so, perhaps, I choose to believe.

I definitely recommend this one, and I'll be surprised if Clooney and Farmiga don't earn Oscar nominations (they're already up for the Golden Globes).

Thursday, December 31, 2009

May your 2010...

...find you happy and healthy and employed

...bring you many moments of great joy

...introduce you to at least ten movies and ten CDs and ten books that touch and move you

...shower you with hugs and kisses from people who love you

...give you meals that comfort you and also food that makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about eating

...teach you new things about yourself--but without the pain that so often accompanies such lessons

...make you laugh until you hurt

...make you cry with happiness and joy

...let you experience the wonders of both giving and receiving random acts of kindness you art that astonishes you

...give you the courage say "I love you" often and with meaning to those you love--and to fully appreciate the honest affection when they say it to you

...usher you and those you love safely into 2011

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Coming to a Balticon near you

Though none of this is yet set in stone, I thought I'd let readers of this blog be among the first to know that it's now extremely likely that at next spring's Balticon I'll be doing two different performances that I hope will be both fun and raise some money for RIF, Balticon's favorite charity.

The first is a reprise of the Liars' Panel, which I'll be moderating again. Last year's was a big success, and I'm hoping to raise even more money in 2010.

The second and, to me, more exciting news is that I'll be debuting there a new spoken-word show, the one I've mentioned previously here: Wake Up Angry, Wake Up Horny. This time, the con is hoping to give me an evening slot, which would be more appropriate given that the material will again definitely be for adults and not kids. I'll be selling t-shirts for this and the previous show there, and all profits will again go to RIF.

When I've worked out the kinks in this show, which will be all or nearly all new material, I'll have about two hours of tested stuff. At that point, my hope is to stitch them together (I'm designing them to work well as a unit) and perhaps try to mount a one-person show wherever I can find an interested venue.

Of course, writing and work take priority, but I'm determined to become a better and better spoken-word performer.

I'll plug these performances again when we're closer to the con, but I thought I'd break the news here. If you're going to be at the con or live in the area, please come by and catch both shows. I'm pretty darn sure you'll laugh and have a good time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A funny thing happened in the shower the other day

No, it wasn't that. Nor that; just don't go there.

What happened is that I was thinking about the part of Children No More that I was about to write, visualizing it and hearing the dialog, and suddenly I realized, hey, that character would have wanted X earlier. That realization meant that the character would have done Y, which would have ultimately led to Z, and suddenly the basic plot of the fifth Jon & Lobo book hit me. Of course, laying the groundwork for that book required some small patches here and there in Children No More, but those changes cost me only half of a night's writing session--and they improved CNM by addressing the shortcoming that had initially struck me in the shower.

The title hasn't come to me yet, and I certainly will have a lot of plotting to do, but it's kinda cool to know the basics of the book I'm going to do after the book I'm going to do next (after I finish the current one).

I thought you'd want to know.

Now, go squeegee your third eye clean from those initial images; you don't want them bothering you later.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Saturday night, after a lovely sushi dinner, a group of nine of us trundled off to see Guy Ritchie's take on Sherlock Holmes. I liked it a great deal, but I didn't love it, probably in part because my expectations were so very high that the film had very little chance of meeting them.

First, a quick run-down of some of the many strong points. London looked amazing, with every set and CGI'd backdrop quite splendidly grimy and yet still lovely and impressive. Both Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were excellent, infusing their characters with depth and enough craziness and affection for one another to make them consistently interesting. Downey did an especially good job of showing us the madness and loneliness and overwhelming boredom that so plagued Holmes. The story functioned as it should, taking us to the mystic side and then ultimately, in proper Holmesian fashion, showing us the rational world behind the mystery. Guy Ritchie's typical odd cuts worked well, as did the occasional dive into Holmes' mind as he analyzed and visualized a sequence of actions before beginning it.

The main weakness, at least to my taste, is that Ritchie pushed the superhero angle too far--a complaint I did not expect to make. Though I'm a big fan of this side of the consulting detective, I also see Holmes as not quite the super-fighter and action hero that Ritchie portrayed here.

Still, that is a quibble about a delightful film that I quite enjoyed and that I encourage you to see.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gaslight Anthem

Jennie turned me on to this band, and I've liked or loved every song of theirs that I've heard so far. I can't wait to listen to their CDs, which I've just acquired.

While checking them out, I naturally ran across and watched several times the following video. The song is great, and of course Bruce Springsteen's appearance is a huge bonus. What struck me most about Springsteen's performance is how happy he appeared to be, rocking out with these guys for the sheer joy of it.



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