Saturday, March 20, 2010

UFC on Versus tomorrow night: Kyle and I try again

Sunday night will bring a UFC show on the Versus network for the first time, and of course I'll be watching it. (Versus already carries the WEC, the UFC's sister organization.) Though this will mean we have to make two sets of picks in one week (the UFC's next PPV is on Saturday the 20th), Kyle and I are up to the challenge. Here's our thinking on tomorrow's fights.

A quick opening note from Kyle: I'll say up front that this is a great card. It's clear that the UFC is really trying to do their bit to establish Versus as a credible viewing alternative, and I don't think that the timing of Versus' return to DirecTV is accidental. That said, I expect this show to be simultaneously one of the highest-rated events ever seen on Versus...and the lowest-rated UFC ever shown on free cable.

As usual, we begin with the undercard, none of which will be on TV unless we get lucky and some of the main card fights run very short.

Jason Brilz vs. Eric Schafer

Mark: Both men will enter with UFC contracts, but I expect only one will still have that contract five days later. That man will be Schafer, who though not a light-heavyweight contender is likely to tap out Brilz.

Kyle: This is a wrestler vs. jiu jitsu match-up that pits Jason Brilz's top-control skills against Eric Schafer's submission wizardry. Schafer's almost certain to end up on his back eating punches, but he's always going to be one triangle choke away from victory. I'm picking him to lock one on and tap Brilz out.

Mike Pierce vs. Julio Paulino

Mark: Paulinho is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unless Pierce drops his hands and dares Paulinho to hit him, he's going to take down Paulinho and dominate him for an easy victory.

Kyle: Pierce and Paulino both have impressive win/loss records (10-3 and 17-2, respectively). But while Pierce has been fighting guys like Brock Larson and Jon Fitch in the UFC, Paulino has been primarily active in something called the Alaska Fighting Championship. I know that they grow 'em Sarah-Palin-tough in Alaska, but the UFC is going to be a major step up in competition for Paulino. Expect Pierce to get the TKO and leave Paulino 17-3.

Brendan Schaub vs. Chase Gormley

Mark: Schaub is a hugely strong beast of a man who displayed very little technique while on The Ultimate Fighter--but then he joined Greg Jackson's camp. Gormley also has very little technique, but he is the lesser athlete and lacks Jackson's tutelage. The combination of greater athleticism and a better training camp will give Schaub the win.

Kyle: Schaub and Gormley are both big men; combined they weigh over 500 pounds. But Schaub is a physical specimen who likes to stand and use his long reach to land punches, while Gormley is a tubby wrestler who'll try to take the fight to the ground. Until Schaub develops better technique to match his raw physical power, he's unlikely to rise to the top of the UFC, but as long as he can stop Gormley's takedowns he should have more than enough to win this fight. Schaub by KO.

John Howard vs. Daniel Roberts

Mark: Howard hasn't won impressively in compiling his 3-0 UFC record, but he has won. Roberts is fighting on short notice. Both lack technique, but Howard has been in the show before, and he's the better athlete. Howard for the win.

Kyle: John Howard is like a pocket-size Brendan Schaub, a physically gifted fighter who relies on his explosive power to carry him through when faced with a more talented opponent. He'll be a big step up in competition for UFC newcomer Daniel Roberts, whose last victory was a beatdown of UFC 4 veteran Anthony "Dan Severn's Ragdoll" Macias. Roberts is reportedly a talented wrestler, though, and Howard showed little talent on the ground in his last fight against Dennis Hallman. Expect this to look like Howard vs. Hallman all over again, only without a gift stand-up at the end that hands Howard an upset. Roberts by takedown-and-grind.

Duane Ludwig vs. Darren Elkins

Mark: As near as I can tell, the only reason Ludwig is still in the UFC is that he loves to stand and trade, and Dana White likes that in a fighter. In this case, though, that approach is probably going to be good enough. Much as I always fear doing this, I'm going with Ludwig, almost certainly via KO or TKO.

Kyle: Duane Ludwig has long been one of the best strikers at 155. Darren Elkins was knocked out 13 seconds into the first round of a minor-league fight in September. Ludwig should have no problem putting the UFC newcomer away.

Eliot Marshall vs. Vladimir Matyushenko

Mark: Poor Vlady. The janitor is a very good fighter whom time is passing by. Marshall showed real improvement in his last fight, and I expect him to look even better in this one. Marshall is unlikely to KO or TKO Matyushenko, but he is going to win this fight.

Kyle: Vladdy's back! This is the third act in Matyushenko's UFC career, but he's been a professional MMA fighter for thirteen years. Matyushenko was beating down Vernon White and Anthony Macias in the IFC while Eliot Marshall was still in high school. Now, Marshall's an Ultimate Fighter vet, and Matyushenko's back in the UFC after cleaning house in the now-defunct IFL. Marshall's a sharp technical striker with takedown defense to counter Matyushenko's wrestling...but Matyushenko's an impassive Russian with the sheer indomitable will to make any opponent feel like he's made the mistake of assaulting Stalingrad. Matyushenko by long Russian winter.

Clay Guida vs. Shannon Gugerty

Mark: Guida has publicly said that he's going to return to his wrestling roots in this contest. I believe his recent losses have made him sincere in that sentiment, which is good, because that's how he'll beat Gugerty. Expect a three-round close decision as Guida holds down Gugerty in route to the win.

Kyle: Guida and Gugerty have both lost two of their last three fights, but Guida's been fighting guys at the top of the 155-lb. division, while Gugerty's been fighting guys at the bottom. Look for Guida to set a pace that Gugerty can't match and hold it until Gugerty breaks.

Now, to the four bouts we should definitely get to see.

James Irvin vs. Alessio Sakara

Mark: Irvin is down a weight class and coming back from injuries and an addiction problem. I figure he's got about three good minutes in him, and then he's going to gas. The problem is, he could beat Sakara in that time. Sakara, though, has improved his game of late, so if he's smart and relies on kicks and movement in the early going, he should be able to triumph over Irvin. I'm going with Sakara, but I can't claim to be confident in my choice.

Kyle: It's been a year and a half since we've seen James Irvin in the UFC, during which time he's been recovering from a torn meniscus. His last fight was against middleweight champ Anderson Silva, who moved up to light heavyweight to knock Irvin out a minute into the first round. Now, Irvin is cutting to middleweight, despite carrying a pretty shredded physique at 205. How the weight cut and the long layoff will affect Irvin are the big unknowns in this fight. He and Sakara will both stand and trade, and while Sakara is more technical, Irvin has heavier hands. This one could go either way, but if I have to pick I'll go with Irvin by KO.

Cheick Kongo vs. Paul Buentello

Mark: Buentello has enough power to have a prayer in this fight, but that's all he has. Expect Kongo to use his better striking, superior athleticism, and longer reach to pummel Buentello and emerge the victor.

Kyle: Like the other fighters on the main card, Kongo and Buentello are strikers known for finishing fights. The difference is that Kongo has greater reach, superior strength, better endurance, and sharper technique. Kongo could lose this fight, but if that happens it's probably because someone snuck up behind him and hit him with a rolling pin while he wasn't looking. Kongo by KO.

Junior Dos Santos vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

Mark: Here's how Gonzaga can beat Dos Santos: Keep his hands up, stay careful, and take him down. Here's what's going to happen: Gonzaga will think he can strike with Dos Santos, and Dos Santos will kick his ass. I expect Dos Santos to knock out Gonzaga before the second round is over, and maybe much earlier than that.

Kyle: There are plenty of people who think that Junior Dos Santos should be replacing one of Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin, Frank Mir, or Brock Lesnar in the tournament for the heavyweight title. (Well, probably not Lesnar, since he actually has the belt.) Instead, Dos Santos is on free TV fighting Gabriel Gonzaga, who was TKOed by Fabricio Werdum, who was TKOed by Junior Dos Santos. Dos Santos is being a good sport, but this is a fight in which he has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Fortunately, he's better than Gonzaga in every area except, perhaps, Brazilian jiu jitsu. Dos Santos should be able to win this fight on the feet, and maybe someday he'll get his heavyweight title shot.

Jon Jones vs. Brandon Vera

Mark: Both of these guys have a shot at one day fighting for the light heavyweight title, and this bout has the potential to be an amazing clash of two great fighters. Only one of them, though, trains with Greg Jackson, and it happens to be the more athletically gifted fighter: Jones. Though this fight really is a tough call, I expect Jones to have the better game plan and execute it well. So, I'm going with Jones, probably via a TKO but possibly by grinding out a decision.

Kyle: Three years ago, Brandon Vera was the Next Big Thing. He won his first four fights in the UFC, all in the heavyweight division, all by KO or submission, culminating in a win over Frank Mir, who's going to be fighting for the belt next weekend. Then, Vera took a year off from fighting, came back to lose two fights in a row, and dropped down to light heavyweight. At light heavyweight, Vera's gone 3-2 with four of the five fights going to dull decisions. Now, Jon Jones is the Next Big Thing. He's 9-1, with his lone loss being a freak disqualification in a fight against Matt Hamill that he was dominating. Jones has looked innovative and explosive in his fights, but he's never fought an opponent at Vera's level. Jones' star is rising and Vera's is falling. The question this fight asks is: Is Jones a strong enough fighter yet to beat as weak a fighter as Vera's become? I'm guessing yes, and from the betting odds, so is everybody else.

Unlike last time, Kyle and I disagree on three fights, so one of us will emerge the winner. Check in Monday to see which of us called more fights and generally how we did.

As always, please do not count on us for betting advice!

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