Saturday, October 23, 2010

UFC 121: Kyle and I pick 'em

Tonight's UFC PPV event features a bout between Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and challenger Cain Velasquez for the title. The whole card is pretty good, but this match has understandably generated a lot of buzz. I look forward to watching the fights--and, of course, I hope to make more correct picks than Kyle.

Let's start, as usual, with the undercard, none of which is currently slated to be televised.

Jon Madsen vs. Gilbert Yvel

Mark: Yvel has a ton more experience and has been in the cage with some serious fighters. I believe, though, that he's on the way down, while Madsen is still growing as a fighter. I'm going with the younger, stronger Madsen in an ugly victory.

Kyle: When a wrestler without much stand-up fights a striker without much ground game, anybody might win, but the wrestler usually does. Expect Madsen to throw a few perfunctory punches, take Yvel to the ground, and make him uncomfortable for the next fifteen minutes. Madsen by long slow grind.

Dong Yi Yang vs. Chris Camozzi

Mark: Yang has an unblemished record and knockout power, but he's never faced UFC-caliber competition. Camozzi isn't going to set the world on fire, but he's definitely faced tougher competition. I'm really torn on this one, so I'm going to hope for explosive striking and go with Yang.

Kyle: Neither man has faced enough known quantities for this to be an easy call, but Dongi Yang, coming off eight straight TKO wins, has the more impressive record. Yang to win.

Sam Stout vs. Paul Taylor

Mark: This one should be a striking fan's dream to watch, because both fighters love to throw down. Stout can and will hit Taylor in a far wider variety of ways, however, and that should be enough to net him the victory.

Kyle: Stout is a technician and Taylor is a brawler, but both men will be happy to keep this fight on the feet. This is sure to be a Fight of the Night contender, but in the end I expect Stout's superior technique to carry the day.

Mike Guymon vs. Daniel Roberts

Mark: I'm not at all confident about this match-up, so I'm going with the bigger fighter, Guymon, to win.

Kyle: Guymon's a 36-year-old on the down slope of his career, but he has a lot of experience and has conditioning that belies his age. Roberts is still learning, and I don't think he's learned enough yet. Guymon for the win.

Spike TV is airing two preliminary fights.

Patrick Cote vs. Tom Lawlor

Mark: I fear that Cote is past his prime, but I think he's just enough of a better striker and just good enough at avoiding take-downs to out-punch Lawlor and win by decision.

Kyle: Lawlor is a great entertainer outside the cage, but inside he's a struggling journeyman fighter. He won his first two fights in the UFC, but since then has lost two in a row. Cote's career is longer and has oscillated even more wildly between success and failure: He lost his first 4 fights in the UFC. Then he won 4 in a row, earning a title shot. He lost his title fight against Anderson Silva, suffering a crippling knee injury in the process, and lost his first comeback fight against Alan Belcher. Whoever loses this fight is likely to be sent back to the minors to win a few before fighting in the UFC again. My guess is that Lawlor's going to be the one sent packing. He doesn't have the striking skills to hang with Cote on the feet, and I don't think that he can hold Cote down.

Ryan Jensen vs. Court McGee

Mark: McGee is a crazy-looking dude who won last season's Ultimate Fighter finale after no one gave him much of a shot initially. A former drug addict with an insane work ethic and a frantic pace, he's now facing a real step up in competition with Jensen. That same pace, though, will make him a very tough opponent for Jensen. Add the fact that McGee has been able to train full-time for months and appears to learn very quickly, and you have a formula for victory. McGee for the win, probably late in the first or the second, most likely by submission.

Kyle: All you really need to know about this fight is that McGee is the well-liked winner of the last season of The Ultimate Fighter whose ascension to the UFC caps a personal drama of his struggle against addiction. The UFC has a history of bringing TUF winners along slowly and giving them a chance to build their skills before dropping them into deep water. Jensen has a good enough record to be a credible opponent, but he just wouldn't be there if the UFC expected him to win.

To see the five main-card matches, you have to buy the PPV.

Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Brendan Schaub

Mark: Gonzaga is by far the more experienced fighter, and for a while he looked set to make a run for the title. He hasn't really upped his game, however, while Schaub is looking tougher every fight. I'm bucking the oddsmakers on this one and going with Schaub, probably by KO late in the first.

Kyle: Schaub is an explosive knockout artist. Gonzaga is a giant gorilla with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. The fight is going to hinge on Gonzaga's ability to get Schaub to the ground. Unfortunately take-down defense is Schaub's Achilles' heel: On The Ultimate Fighter he showed a surprising inability to keep his feet, clinging to the fence for dear life and later admitting that he'd rather have a point taken away for doing so than spend the fight on his back. That attitude might be enough for him to eke out a win on The Ultimate Fighter, but not in the big show. Gonzaga by ground-and-pound.

Matt Hamill vs. Tito Ortiz

Mark: Part of me sees this one going this way: When this fight is over, and Hamill's hand is raised in an ugly decision victory, expect Tito to reveal an injury that he had been hiding in all his previous statements that he was a hundred percent.

Another part of me sees it like this: Tito will bring his usual strong conditioning to the fight, and coupled with his size advantage, he'll wear down Hamill enough to grind out a decision victory and prove that he's not quite done yet.

After much backing-and-forthing, I'm going with Tito by psych-out, as Hamill, his former Ultimate Fighter student, fails to be able to get nasty enough to win.

Kyle: It's not the years, it's the mileage. Ortiz is only a year and a half older than Hamill, but he's had more than twice as many fights, and more than twice as many surgeries. He used to explode into double leg take-downs like a miniature Brock Lesnar. Now he plods around the ring, a sluggish striker with no knockout power. Except for the even older and more damaged Ken Shamrock, Ortiz hasn't finished an opponent since 2001. He hasn't won a unanimous decision since 2004. Hamill's a slow grinder who throws strikes with more power than technique, leaving himself gassed in the later rounds. This isn't going to be a pretty fight, but in the end, Hamill should be able to do more damage and get the decision win.

Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago

Mark: The far stronger Thiago should convince Sanchez that it's time to return to 155. Expect Thiago to wear down Sanchez for three rounds and grind out a decision victory.

Kyle: Thiago and Sanchez come from very different backgrounds but actually have pretty similar skill sets. They're both well-conditioned athletes with pretty good hands and even better jiu jitsu. Thiago's a little bit bigger, though. His striking is a little bit crisper. His submissions are a little bit slicker. Wherever the fight goes, I expect Thiago to outwork Sanchez and use his superior technique to win the day.

Martin Kampmann vs. Jake Shields

Mark: Another close fight, but this time I'm going with the oddsmakers and choosing Shields by dominating wrestling skills.

Kyle: Watching Shields, who normally fights at 170, manhandle Dan Henderson, who normally fights at 205, was an eye-opening experience. Kampmann has good take-down defense for a striker without a wrestling background, but I don't expect him to be able to keep his feet against Jake Shields. The only wild card in this fight is whether Shields' conditioning and speed are going to suffer from his going up in weight to fight Henderson and then coming back down again. I'm guessing that Shields, like most accomplished wrestlers, has done enough weight-cutting in his life to know how to do it without hurting his own performance too much. Shields by top control.

Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez

Mark: However this fight goes, expect it to be awesome. Velasquez is an amazing striker and possesses awesome cardio. He also has far more ways to beat Lesnar than Lesnar has to finish him. What he doesn't have, though, is the ability to stop Lesnar from taking him down or the ability to get up every time Lesnar does. Once on top of him, Lesnar will grind him down and either get the TKO or a submission victory.

Kyle: The UFC heavyweight belt is the biggest prize in the most prestigious organization in mixed martial arts. Lesnar holds the title, and Cain Velasquez wants it. Both men come from wrestling backgrounds. Both men were NCAA Division I All-American wrestlers in college, which Lesnar capped with a Division I championship. But Lesnar has relied on his explosive take-downs and crushing top control in the Octagon, while Velasquez has developed top-notch technical boxing to complement his surprising agility and relentless conditioning. Lesnar's at least twenty pounds heavier and much, much stronger than Velasquez. But despite the unnatural speed of his shot, I just don't see him holding Velasquez down if he gets him to the ground. This fight will be decided on the feet, and for all Lesnar's power, he can't match the pinpoint accuracy of Velasquez's striking. Velasquez for the win, either by decision or by knocking out a tired Lesnar in the later rounds.

Tune in tomorrow to see how we fared and, as always, don't rely on us for betting advice!

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