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!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Repo Men

I had a good time watching Repo Men, and sections of the movie were simply awesome. The sexual surgery scene, for example, was sufficiently kinky that Cronenberg would have been proud to have shot it. Despite the good stuff, though, the movie ended up being another empty-calorie snack that was occasionally tasty and good enough to spike the blood sugar for a bit, but not delicious enough to make you count it a memorable mental meal.

Okay, I pushed that food analogy way too far. No more of that.

The central flaw of Repo Men is a failure to commit. One minute, it wants to be a character study. The next, it's a sweeping social commentary (with a very vague and very easy bad-guy company). A few seconds later, it's a gory action fest. While it's certainly possible for a movie to be all of these things and a complete success, Repo Men instead alternated among them and never managed to pull them all together into a coherent whole.

The foreshadowing of the ending was also so obvious that anyone who regularly reads science fiction will see the footage and instantly know how the movie will end.

Despite my misgivings, though, I have to recommend you see this film for at least the following three reasons:

* the sexual surgery scene I mentioned
* Forest Whitaker's performance
* the fight scene in which Jude Law takes off his coat and pulls out his knives

Just expect to come away craving a truly complete film sometime in the next few hours.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Want to know the kind of dork I was?

A couple of small events today brought Neil Diamond to my attention, and from there my mind jumped back in time to high school. Here's a quick sample of the kind of dork I was then.

I had one close friend, my best friend. He was the kind of best friend I thought would be with me forever. He's not around anymore, sadly--a long story. But then he was always around.

We played basketball together, sometimes in full five-on-five pickup games, often just the two of us. We both loved it. We gave it everything we had, and we were pretty good for two 5'8" guys.

When we were getting ready to go to a rec center and play, or to go outside and run or workout or just shoot at the hoop on my garage, we would spin some psych-up tunes. For a long stretch, we would play the two songs I've attached here, sometimes together, sometimes just one of them. We'd sit on the floor of my room, in our shorts and t-shirts and sneakers and headbands, close our eyes, spin or palm or just fiddle with our basketballs, and we'd dive into the music. Neither song is great, but each has moments of change--the end of the instrumental part in the Neil Diamond, the uptick in the Cat Stevens--that were turning points for our concentration.

We went out when we knew we'd lose. We went out when the gym was new and we had to fight to get a game. We went out sometimes when we knew bigger guys we had beaten were gunning to beat us up. We took punches for each other. We bled together. We had each other's back. We had each other. And we always had the music, this music and many other songs.

Two high school dorks, sitting on the floor, listening to music pretty much everyone thought was dorky, the air around us crackling with the intensity you normally see only in young people, bobbing our heads, psyching up, and going out to take on the world together.

Want to know one more little not-so-surprising secret? I'm still that intense, alone at night, with my music, and sometimes at other times. I've just learned to hide it better. Most of the time.

Neil Diamond, from the Hot August Night album, the first two songs.

Cat Stevens, "Crab Dance," for years available only as a 45

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Old habits

Jennie called to my attention this recent boingboing post on this book about the art of manliness. The post mentioned two terms that quite charmed me:

"Snotter, or Wipe-hauler. A pickpocket whose chief fancy is for gentlemen's pocket-handkerchiefs."
The whole idea that one might even consider calling oneself a snotter or a wipe-hauler just makes me smile.

As I was enjoying these terms, I realized that one of the reasons I so liked them is that I carry a cloth handkerchief every day. I always have. My mother taught me that a gentleman should always have a handkerchief on him, and my allergies made the handkerchief's presence quite useful on many occasions. I still carry one today, though now thanks to allergy shots and deviated-septum-repair surgery, I need it rarely.

Most men, though, do not. The habit is fading away and will soon be gone. I can't say that it's any particular loss for humanity, but it will render terms such as those above even more obscure than they already are.

I should note that I do not iron my handkerchiefs, nor are they of the finest quality or even entirely white after years of use, so any snotter who indulged his fancy with my pockets would no doubt shake his head in disgust at the sad state of gentlemen today. So go many things, not in a bang but in a slow unraveling.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Want to read Children No More?

Not only read it, mind you, but read exactly the manuscript that Toni accepted?

Well, you can, and right now...but it will cost you.

Years ago, Jim Baen started a nifty program: eARCs. An ARC (Advance Reading Copy) is a printed copy of a book that publishers sometimes make for distribution to reviewers, bookstore buyers, and so on. An ARC is typically only partway through the editing process; the book still could change. The eARC is an electronic ARC, an eBook version, that is exactly the book manuscript that Baen purchased from the author. It hasn't been through copy-editing or final page proofs, so it will be different from the final version. (In my case, the copy-editing and page-proof-review steps typically result in me making about 500 small changes to the book.) In fact, the only way to ever read exactly this version of the book is to buy the eARC.

Jim figured that eARCs were mostly for people who really wanted the book early, so he priced them accordingly: six months before publication, they cost $15 (as the Children No More eARC does now); at four months out, the price drops to $10 (or so; I'm not positive); and then it drops again at two months out.

So, though Children No More doesn't go on sale in bookstores until August, you can get a copy--and without DRM, which neither Baen nor I support--right now by ordering it here.

If you choose to buy it, you have my gratitude. I hope that you enjoy it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In praise of Toni Weisskopf

Toni Weisskopf is the Publisher of Baen Books and its most active editor. She is also my editor. At a party once, I heard her talking to a young woman who wanted to be a writer. I wandered over and commented that Toni was good at developing beginning writers. Toni responded, "If by developing you mean, 'Keep your fucking hands off my prose,' then I suppose I am." That comment nicely summarizes the attitude she encounters from me regarding my work. I strive to earn that attitude by delivering only manuscripts that are ready for copy editing and the rest of the production cycle. I've made that point here and on panels at SF conventions.

With Children No More, I again tried to do that, and I thought I had succeeded.

Toni responded with about half a dozen very gently worded questions and suggestions--as well as with a note that she would print the book as it was if I didn't think her comments were appropriate.

Having stated my attitude publicly, I feel honor-bound to announce here (and on future panels) that every single one of Toni's comments was right on target and to acknowledge my debt to her. She spotted two small continuity errors, and her other suggestions were excellent ones that I promptly addressed. The book is better for her input.

Thanks, Toni.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In case you want to read more of my yakking

Head on over to Watch the Skies, where a nice guy named Eric did a short interview with me. I don't think I said anything earth-shattering, but I do wish I had that super power tonight.

Eric's group made One Jump Ahead their discussion book of the month. That makes me quite happy; I love it whenever folks are reading my books.

In other news, the weather forecast for tonight is dark, with continued dark until near the morning, at which point we anticipate some light.

(Yes, for those of you caught the Hippy Dippy Weatherman reference, every now and then, I do miss George Carlin.)

The goddess-seeking whack job is back

and this time he's written a book! I mentioned this guy about nine months ago, but I haven't thought much about him since then. Tonight, though, Sarah brought his site to my attention again, and the moment I saw it, I knew that all other blog topics would have to wait.

When we last visited with our goddess-seeking hero, he claimed to be working on a book. I have to give him credit for honesty on that front, because now he finished this important work and is offering it as an ebook. Check it out here. Scroll down a bit for a larger image of the cover. It is truly amazing.

I'd like to think this site was all a crazy pomo irony mash-up, but I don't believe it is; I think the guy is serious. That only makes it both weirder and funnier.



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