Saturday, April 10, 2010

UFC 112: Our picks for the slugfest in Abu Dhabi

As I wrote yesterday, I wasn't going to make these picks, but then I found Kyle's in my email inbox and couldn't resist joining in the fun. Sorry mine are so short, but I have now been up a very long time and wanted to write these before crashing. Because Kyle went first, his name appears first.

So, without further ado, let's start with the undercard.

Jon Madsen vs. Mostapha Al Turk

Kyle: Madsen should be able to hold Al Turk down and grind on him long enough to win a decision.

Mark: If Al Turk has a UFC contract a week from now, I'll be amazed. Madsen will never challenge for the title, but he will take down Al Turk and beat on him enough to win this fight.

Paul Kelly vs. Matt Veach

Kyle: Matt Veach is a very good fighter who would be undefeated if he hadn't run into a brick wall named Frankie Edgar. Now Edgar's fighting BJ Penn for the title, and Veach is on the undercard against Paul Kelly. Kelly's a brawler with a puncher's chance, but Veach is more technical and a better athlete. Veach should be able to win the fight standing or on the ground.

Mark: Kelly will be the second fighter of the night to find himself without a UFC contract in a week as Veach manhandles him and wins handily.

DaMarques Johnson vs. Brad Blackburn

Kyle: Johnson has slick submissions, but every fight starts standing and Brad Blackburn won't be taken down easily. Blackburn by fists of fury.

Mark: Everything I read says Blackburn, but I think Johnson is improving and is going to stay alive on his feet long enough to get Blackburn on the mat. From there, it'll be all Johnson. So, I'm bucking the odds and going with Johnson for the win.

If Blackburn KOs Johnson in the first round, I'm going to blame sleepiness for this screw-up.

Nick Osipczak vs. Rick Story

Kyle: This is going to be a war, but I think Osipczak can outwork Story the same way he outworked Matt Riddle at UFC 105. As long as he can stop Story's takedowns, Osipczak should be able to edge out the stand-up fight and get the win.

Mark: Story's going to take down Osipczak, and when he does, things will turn ugly. Story for the win, either by TKO or decision.

Paul Taylor vs. John Gunderson

Kyle: After racking up a 3-4 record in the UFC, with one of those three wins being a split decision, Paul Taylor has decided to follow fellow Brit Paul Kelly down from welterweight to lightweight. He faces submission machine John Gunderson, who would win the fight easily if he had the takedown skills to put Taylor on the ground. He doesn't. Expect Taylor to keep things standing and knock Gunderson out on his feet.

Mark: Gunderson will be another fighter without a UFC contract a week from now, because his wrestling isn't good enough to take down Taylor, and he sure as hell can't box with the Brit. Taylor by either TKO or decision after he pummels Gunderson relentlessly.

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Phil Davis

Kyle: Davis was an NCAA Division I wrestling champion a couple of years ago. Gustafsson wasn't. Gustafsson's going to spend the fight on his back eating elbows from above. Davis for the win.

Mark: The UFC wants to keep Davis undefeated for at least a while longer, and Gustafsson is a perfect match-up for that purpose. He looks credible, but he'll spend the whole fight staring up at Davis. Davis will win, though I'm not sure if it'll be by TKO or decision.

Now, on to the main card.

Kendall Grove vs. Mark Munoz

Kyle: Munoz was also a NCAA Division I wrestling champ, but Kendall Grove has some submission skills off his back, and Munoz doesn't control his opponents as well as you'd expect from a wrestler of his caliber. This fight is unlikely to be as one-sided as Gustafsson vs. Davis. Still, I have to give Munoz a slight edge: he could always get submitted, but he'll definitely be putting the hurt on Kendall Grove from the start of the fight till the end.

Mark: This is one of the trickier fights to call, because each fighter has flaws the other can exploit. Munoz has the power to send Grove to sleep, but Grove has the reach to keep him away and jits skills that Munoz can't handle. Because I saw Kyle's picks before writing mine, and because we agree on so many of these fights, I'm going with Grove, probably by submission.

Terry Etim vs. Rafael Dos Anjos

Kyle: I like Rafael Dos Anjos because he beat Robert Emerson, and I don't like Robert Emerson. I think Dos Anjos can win the stand-up game, and if he can't he should be able to take Etim down and win the fight on the ground. Dos Anjos by takedown and submission or knockdown and submission.

Mark: Etim won't be able to stop Dos Anjos' take-downs, and that inability will give Dos Anjos the victory. The only question is whether Etim will last three rounds and lose by decision (unlikely) or get submitted earlier (more likely).

Matt Hughes vs. Renzo Gracie

Kyle: This is going to look like every Matt Hughes fight ever. See Matt Hughes. See Matt Hughes throw a couple of ineffectual strikes. See Matt Hughes take his opponent down. See Matt Hughes pass his opponent's guard like it's not even there, pin him in a crucifix position, and batter him with elbows until the referee stops the fight. In the words of Matt Serra, "Matt Hughes is a dick. A very talented dick."

Mark: Renzo Gracie is already talking about moving down to 155. He should have made that cut earlier and not decided to take on Matt Hughes. By the standards of the best modern fighters, Hughes doesn't have a lot of tricks, but what he does--take you down, beat on you--he does very well. Expect him to win by TKO in a fight that Gracie will regret after about the first minute.

BJ Penn vs. Frankie Edgar

Kyle: BJ Penn is an 11-to-1 favorite in this fight. He's bigger than Frankie Edgar. He's a better striker. He's a better wrestler. And he's much, much better at jiu jitsu. Edgar's a great fighter, but if he wants a championship belt he should go off to the WEC and challenge Jose Aldo for the 145-pound title.

Mark: Frankie Edgar is a small 155-er who needs to drop to 145. BJ Penn is both a great size for the weight class and better than Edgar in every single way. Expect Penn to be licking Edgar's blood off his gloves before this one is over. The most interesting question about this fight is not whether Penn will win--he will--but whether he'll stay at 155 or move up to 170. I hope he stays at 155, because waiting for him at 170 is a world of pain he cannot handle: GSP.

Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia

Kyle: Demian Maia is an absolute jiu jitsu wizard, but he's going to eat a lot of punches and kicks trying to get Anderson Silva to the ground. As Silva showed in his last fight against Forrest Griffin, the more aggressively an opponent pursues him, the more quickly that opponent is going to get knocked out. But as he showed in his previous fight against Thales Leites, he's also perfectly willing to let a reluctant grappler hang back and lose on points as Silva steps in to land a couple of strikes per round. This is a lose-lose situation for Maia. Expect him to fight manfully, but lose quickly.

Mark: I can't name anyone at 185 who is likely to beat Silva, but I can at least name some fighters who would be interesting to watch in a context with The Spider; Vitor Belfort, Silva's original opponent, comes immediately to mind. Maia is not on that list. I expect him to try to take down Silva, and shortly thereafter, I expect to see him knocked out on the mat. Silva will win this one early and easily.

Check with me Sunday to see how we did and, as always, don't use us for betting advice.

Friday, April 9, 2010

On the road again: Spain, day 8

Note to self: Always carry a reliable alarm clock, maybe two, to international locations. Why? Because our room lacked a single visible clock. Thus, I had to rely on the hotel for an early morning wake-up call. Never mind that the hotel had been completely reliable in all previous such calls; I'm too paranoid to trust anything I don't control the night before a plane. Take that fact, add too much late-night caffeine, and mix with a full measure of my usual nighttime demons, and you have a sure-fire no-sleep cocktail. I might have gotten an hour of slumber, but I doubt it was that much.

So, morning came entirely too early, and with it the long transit process began. Everything proceeded as one would expect, though I was amazed to find the same woman who always seems to be in the check-in line in front of me, her travel woes requiring infinite explanation, to be in Barcelona as well as U.S. airports.

The least pleasant surprise of the morning was the additional security for U.S. passengers: A man with almost no English searched me manually (and I must say was rather gentle, perhaps too much so; did he wink?), and then completely unpacked my briefcase. This latter act may not sound like much, but that would be only because you've never seen how much I carry in my briefcase.

I was never so happy to have allowed the full three hours in the airport for an international flight.

I'm on the plane now, working after a brief doze. No airplane bandwidth is on offer on American's transatlantic flights, and I consider that to be a great loss. Still, it is not anything I can affect, so I will deal with the accumulated work later.

Every time I get to fly First Class, which we're doing this trip thanks to my many accumulated frequent flier miles, I wish again that I was wealthy enough to do this all the time.

No flight status, however, will save you from a late plane, an altered departure time, and huge lines at Immigration. We had all of those, which led to a lot of fast, sweaty walks and frustrating waits in queues. By the time our plane from Barcelona landed, our initial two-hour window to take-off was down to 90 minutes. We hit every kind of delay, including bad information from airline officials, but we still made it to our plane before they closed the door.

As frequent fliers will guess, what happened next was both frustrating and common: an announcement that we'd have to sit on the tarmac for quite a while due to a taxiing delay.

Still, when the plane leapt into the air, we were on it, and that's what counts in the end.

We arrived smelling like 23 hours of baked ass, but long showers--in my case, first hot and then several cold minutes to wake me fully--fixed that.

My plans for the evening are simple: a little food, a little socializing, a little work (which all too frequently turns into a ton of work), and then a lot of sleep.

I shall enjoy my 37 hours at home.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

On the road again: Spain, day 7

We slept, as usual, a great deal in our lovely chilled and dark bedroom, then awoke to greet a gray, also chilled day. We wandered the now roaring Mercat Boqueria, which is a great market indeed. We ultimately lunched at a small restaurant there, a place with chairs that let us get out of the crowd but still observe it. People watching in a big city is always fun, but it's particularly interesting in large outdoor markets like this one, where the expectations of the visitors seem to vary as much as their nationalities and bearing.

We have to get up insanely early tomorrow morning to begin the long travel process, so no late blogging or email for me.

I will, as one would expect, be very sad to leave. I'll miss having so much time with Scott, and I'll also miss Spain, Gaudi, Spanish ham, the view of the Mediterranean that greeted me each morning, a culture that eats late, sleeping late, and so much more.

On the other hand, I'll be happy to be home, to know the language almost everyone speaks, to be among family and friends, and so on.

On the third tentacle, I am sad in advance because I get to be home for only about 36 hours. I have to leave the house insanely early Sunday morning to fly to San Francisco. Now, normally, I greatly enjoy my trips there. I have some good friends in the Bay area, SF is a great town, and I am always happy to visit it. This trip, though, for reasons I really cannot explain (and may never be able to explain; it's a work thing), I am likely to be booked essentially 24 hours a day and never be able to have free time. I do not expect to have any time to myself that isn't dedicated to work, nor am I likely to get to see my friends at all, which sucks, but so it goes. On the scale of bad shit I've faced in my life, this really doesn't appear, so I have no real right to complain further.

When I next write, it will be from either a plane to the U.S., a plane in U.S. skies, or home.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On the road again: Spain, day 6

This morning began far earlier than normal for this trip, because we wanted to try the supposedly awesome hotel buffet. Try it we did, and it was indeed awesome. Nothing starts your day better than scrambled eggs with truffles, Iberian sausages, Jamon Iberico, fresh fruit, fresh bread, a wide selection of local cheeses, and so on.

We hit the aquarium today, and it was a fun time. I've always disliked snakes, and that dislike transfers without my conscious thought to eels, but at the same time I find both types of animals fascinating. This place had a lot of eels. Both fun and skin-crawly to see. I also enjoyed watching the sharks swimming overhead and up to the walls of the glass walkway. Their eyes had that "I'd eat you if you opened that wall" look that sharks always possess; I was quite glad for the wall.

We walked, played on our various electronics devices, had ice cream, and ultimately wandered parts of La Rambla before sitting down to an unexpectedly cheap dinner. The meal was so inexpensive because my mushroom risotto entree, which was yummy, featured a surprise appearance by an unlisted ingredient: a piece of broken glass. I found it while chewing a mouthful of food, but fortunately I extricated it without damaging it or me. Its mere presence triggered a subdued but multi-management-level Spanish rendering of the Monty Python dirty fork skit, by the end of which we paid for less than half our meal. I never asked for anything, mind you, other than a replacement dish.

The dinner appetizer, by the way, was pan-fried cheese stuffed with Jamon Iberico. Wow, that was good!

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I will miss Spanish ham when I'm home.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On the road again: Spain, day 5

Today was Gaudi day, with many worthwhile hours spent wandering La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. The best part of being on this trip is getting to spend so much time with Scott. The second best part has been seeing so much of Gaudi's work.

From the pictures I had seen before, I was tempted to think of some of the work as too much, or too emotional, or too something. To some degree, that's still a temptation, because his work is so over the top so often--and yet, having seen it in person, I cannot help but feel that I was in the presence of a soaring genius, of the kind of divine madness that let him see the whole and every detail all at once, that caused him to always mimic the natural while simultaneously perfecting the mathematical. Moving and silly, grand and playful, local and universal, organic and mathematical--his work, particularly La Sagrada Familia, constantly embodies opposites. That cathedral today joined my short list of favorite buildings in the world.

Interestingly, yesterday as we tip-toed around a service in progress in a lower chamber, we also got to experience the acoustics, the moments of prayer and song characteristic of so many ceremonies, and the space proved highly functional as well as amazing to see.

I can imagine many people hating the place for its strangeness and its many unusual choices and interwoven styles. I, however, fell for it completely. The Park Guell also charmed me, as did the house where Gaudi lived and worked for over two decades. His intentionally rough stonework throughout much of the park was a commercial disaster at the time, but now its genius is evident.

I owe Scott a lot for choosing this city and for having an interest in Gaudi.

In more mundane news, we've discovered a local ice cream chain that we quite love, and every day we eat Jamon Iberico at least once. Damn, but I will miss the view of the Mediterranean, the amazing Spanish ham, and getting to be with my son so much. I am a lucky man.

Tonight, as we left the restaurant laughing after a dinner of beef and Jamon Iberico appetizer--we were in a meat mood--the hostess said, "You are father and son, si?" We nodded. She motioned toward first Scott's face and then mine. "Like photocopy, si?" She smiled. We smiled. Scott and I are different people, each his own person, but it's nice to be so obviously his father.

As I said, I am a lucky man.

Monday, April 5, 2010

On the road again: Spain, day 4

After another intense and lengthy sleep, we headed uptown to see Gaudi's famous La Sagrada Familia. The majestic cathedral was more amazing than all the pictures and descriptions I've seen of it. We're going to spend more time at it tomorrow.

We walked the city a great deal, ate a very odd late lunch of pasta with ham, cheese, and hot dog--yes, hot dog--and generally had a very good day.

At my insistence, we walked down to the water and put our hands in the Mediterranean. I know it's silly, but I felt we had to do it. I'm glad we did.

Tomorrow, more of La Sagrada Familia and, I hope, some significant time at Gaudi's Park Guell.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On the road again: Spain, day 3

Traveling with a teenager who's exhausted from too many late nights filled with homework and way too much jet lag is perfect for me, because I'm always exhausted, too. I'm not going to say exactly how many hours we stayed in our beds, but I will note that we hit double digits. It was great.

A magnificent storm filled half the sky as we headed over to the carnival for a quick snack of sausage and soda. It passed over us as our food came, so we enjoyed the rain from the protection of the vendor's awning. People were milling about and laughing and singing and pointing at the rain, turning the hard shower into a small party. When the rain let up enough that we'd get only partly soaked on the walk to our hotel, we headed back.

As the dark gray clouds passed and the rain stopped, a beautiful rainbow plunged into the Mediterranean; the view from our room's windows was perfect.

Shortly thereafter, we set out for La Rambla and the old town. The Concierge suggested we taxi but allowed as how we could walk, so we walked. We found our way there and strolled up the famous street. We chose a tapas place largely by the size of the crowd inside and enjoyed a very tasty dinner there. Spanish ham really is everything you've heard it is.

We're trying to adjust our clocks, so we'll probably crash a bit earlier tonight than last night.

Tomorrow, barring awful weather, we see some Gaudi!


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