Saturday, July 3, 2010

UFC 116: Kyle and I pick 'em

Tonight's UFC PPV event features two of the biggest, baddest men in MMA: Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar, and Interim Heavyweight Champion, Shane Carwin. Both will cut significant weight to make the 265-pound maximum for their class.

We, of course, will gather to watch the show. Here's how Kyle and I think it will go. We disagree on only two fights, so it's up to Madsen vs. Vemola and Akiyama vs. Leben to decide which of us emerges the winner tonight.

First, the fights that will hit TV only if the main card runs short on time.

Jon Madsen vs. Karlos Vemola

Mark: The UFC will have to be desperate to televise this fight, which should consist of many minutes of Madsen taking down Vemola and pounding on him. Madsen FTW, either by TKO or decision.

Kyle: Karlos Vemola comes into the UFC like Shane Carwin two years ago: a massive physical specimen with an unblemished record of knocking out his opponents in the first round. But Carwin was an NCAA Division II wrestling champion. Vemola's been fighting in Europe, and his ability to control position against American wrestlers is an open question. Madsen is a good entry-level wrestler to measure Vemola against. He's competent at what he does, but he lacks the explosive speed that makes Brock Lesnar such a threat to top heavyweights. My guess is that Vemola will be able to stuff Madsen's takedown attempts and get a KO.

Daniel Roberts vs. Forrest Petz

Mark: Roberts by taking down Paulino until Paulino makes a mistake big enough to cost him a submission loss--or until the clock runs out and the judges give Roberts a unanimous-decision victory. [CORRECTION: Paulino was out a while ago, and I messed up by including him here. I'm still going with Roberts.]

Kyle: Petz is the better striker. Roberts is the better grappler. Petz has a history of questionable submission defense that makes me think that this is a bad fight for him. I expect Roberts to put him on his back and get the tap.

Dave Branch vs. Gerald Harris

Mark: Harris could screw up and give Branch a free arm, but short of a mistake that basic, nothing else is going to stop Harris from beating the tar out of Branch.

Kyle: Branch has a chance of getting a submission off his back, but Harris' superior striking and wrestling should allow him to dominate the fight. Harris by beat-down.

Kendall Grove vs. Goran Reljic

Mark: Though he's never going to be a title contender, Grove is good enough to win against a decent number of middle-of-the-weight-class fighters, including this one. Expect Grove to use his longer reach, better conditioning, and vastly superior ground game to beat Reljic handily.

Kyle: Grove has already screwed over Reljic once. By badmouthing Spike TV, he managed to get his fight bumped off the free preview slot on that network, costing himself and Reljic sponsorship money. In the fight, Grove is going to add injury to insult. His freakish reach makes Grove a difficult puzzle for anyone to solve at 185. I just can't believe that a guy coming off a decision loss to C.B. Dollaway has the solution. Kendall Grove for the win.

Spike TV will then broadcast live two of the fights.

Ricardo Romero vs. Seth Petruzelli

Mark: Now that Dana has cut Kimbo, I believe he must have decided it was time to cut--again--the man who beat him, Seth Petruzelli. So, he handed Petruzelli to Romero, whose wrestling game will be just good enough for him to win via repeated take-downs and beatings. Next week, expect Petruzelli to be looking for a new home.

Kyle: In 2006/2007, Seth Petruzelli had two fights in the UFC and lost them both. Since then, he's strung together four wins, including a KO of Kimbo Slice. Like Kimbo, though, Petruzelli just isn't up to fighting at the level of the UFC. Romero for the win.

Brendan Schaub vs. Chris Tuchscherer

Mark: This one feels like a tune-up match for Schaub, one that gives him a big enough opponent that it might look like he had to work to win. Tuchscherer will try to take him down and may even succeed once or twice, but in the end, Schaub's greater strength, power, and conditioning will lead to a win, probably by KO or TKO.

Kyle: This fight is like a sneak preview of the main event, as Brendan Schaub trains with Shane Carwin and Chris Tuchscherer helped Brock Lesnar prepare for his championship fight. Tuchscherer is, like Madsen, a plodding wrestler with questionable conditioning. If he can hold Schaub down for three rounds, he might be able to eke out a decision, but it's more likely that Schaub will stuff his take-downs and knock him out.

Finally, the pay-per-view show will bring us these five matches.

Kurt Pellegrino vs. George Sotiropoulos

Mark: I like both these guys, and this should be a fun fight to watch. Both are on winning streaks, and both are edging toward being title contenders. Both have great ground games. Sotiropoulos' jiu-jitsu, though, is just enough better than Pellegrino's that we can expect him to win via submission.

Kyle: Sotiropoulos by superior grapple-fu.

Stephan Bonnar vs. Krzysztof Soszynski

Mark: When these two first fought, a head butt cut Bonnar and led to a stoppage. Bonnar was losing, but he was game to continue. The UFC quite reasonably gave him this rematch. The problem is, Bonnar does one thing--stand and hit--and he doesn't do it as well or with as much power as Soszynski. Expect Soszynski to win via either TKO due to another cut on Bonnar or a decision.

Kyle: Soszynski and Bonnar have become everything they're going to be in the UFC: mid-level fighters with more heart than technique who swing for the fences and put on an entertaining show. Soszynski has a slight edge in boxing talent and a large edge in knock-out power, though, and that's going to make all the difference as he beats up Bonnar on the feet.

Chris Lytle vs. Matt Brown

Mark: UFC matchmaker Joe Silva knows that Lytle will bring the fireworks. Brown's the same way. Expect these two to slug it out for three rounds, walk away bloody, and watch as the ref raises Lytle's hand in a decision victory. If oddsmakers are putting odds on the Fight of the Night, this one has to be an early favorite.

Kyle: Seriously, I don't care. Can we watch Lesnar vs. Carwin already? Fine, then. Lytle.

Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Chris Leben

Mark: When Wanderlei Silva was fighting Yoshihiro Akiyama, I was stoked about this fight. Then, Silva had to pull out, and Leben, to his credit, agreed to take the fight--despite having fought just two weeks earlier. I don't like Leben, but I have to give him credit for trying. That's all he'll do, though, because Akiyama would beat him when he's at his best--and he's nowhere near that.

Kyle: Leben by being a huge steroid freak. I know that he's only two weeks out of his last fight, but come Saturday night, Leben's going to look like he's a full weight class above Akiyama. He's going to be hard to move, and he's going to have more power standing. Besides, I'm sure the steroids have helped him recover from his last fight.

Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin

Mark: This fight was already as huge as its two combatants, and then when Fedor tapped last week, it became the battle for the unofficial crown of best heavyweight anywhere. I like Carwin better, and I want him to win. He's got more pure knock-out power than Lesnar by far, and he's brought in Greg Jackson to refine his game. He's also got less ring rust, because he's fought in the past few months, while Lesnar has been out for a year.

The problem is, I think Lesnar is going to win. I suspect it will be by ground-and-pound following one or more take-downs.

I actually hope to be wrong on this one.

Kyle: This fight's not going out of the first round. The question’s going to be whether Lesnar will be able to use his incredible speed to take Carwin down and pound him out, or whether Carwin will be able to tie Lesnar up standing and use his dirty boxing to get the KO. Either way, it should be an exciting as hell 3 minutes. The UFC hasn’t had this many pounds of angry beef in the cage since they instituted weight classes. In the end, much as I'd like to see Carwin win, I think Lesnar's speed will be too much for him. Lesnar by ground and pound.

Check back tomorrow, and I'll tell you how we did. As always, don't use us for betting advice!

Friday, July 2, 2010

How I file my books

Somewhat to my surprise, several correspondents have asked how I file my fiction books. (Non-fiction is another matter entirely, and I won't get into it now.) So, I'll explain how my filing system should work.

I keep paperbacks and hardbacks separate for a very simple reason: space. I can and do cram more paperbacks into a given wall space than hardbacks. So, I use separate, custom-built shelves for each.

Within a given book type, I file fiction by author regardless of genre. This approach is partly a political question--I hate the notion that an author's genre defines her--and partly a practical choice; after all, when James Lee Burke has Dave Robicheaux talk with ghosts, did he fall into fantasy, or was he still working in mystery?

In an ideal world, the books of each type for a given author would be in chronological order of first appearance, but with the number of books I have and the very little free time I have, that's just not practical.

The hardback fiction shelves start in one part of the house and then flow in a winding pattern that I find sensible but few others do through two other rooms.

Well, that's how it's supposed to be. Right now, new shelves in one room hold new acquisitions awaiting merging with the main collection, and fiction overflows every spare surface in the bedroom.

Non-fiction is in worse shape.

Anthologies are their own thing--but again I keep the paperback ones on different shelves than the hardback editions.

The key points of my system are simple: separate paperbacks from hardbacks to maximize bookshelf density, and file by author regardless of genre.

To those who asked: now you know.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

In defense of body modification

If you're an American, the odds are good that you're at least to some degree a practitioner of body modification. Braces, teeth whitening, LASIK surgery, earrings, waxing, shaving--pretty much everyone I know, including the most straitlaced people, does or has done something to modify his or her body. Despite that, however, I routinely have to listen to people bash others for their modifications:

I can't believe he pierces that!

Her tits are obviously fake.
and on and on.

I usually listen and say nothing. After all, we're all entitled to our opinions.

The problem is, many times the folks saying these things are unaware that they're hurting the feelings of someone else in the room: the woman with breast augmentation, the man who secretly uses face cream that is supposed to alter his skin, the woman who had breast reduction, the guy with the earring (I'm one of those), the woman who plumped her lips, the couple who have matching split tongues.

I think it's time for us all to be a bit more sensitive on this topic. I know some people modify their bodies for the wrong reasons: insecurity, fear of age, and so on. Some, though, do it because they think it looks good and they don't mind altering their bodies. Similarly, some folks buy sports cars and fancy watches and expensive books for reasons that are at least arguably wrong. Yes, in some situations we may mock those folks, but if we do, it will either be away from them or with the understanding that we're choosing to attack them to their faces. People ridicule the body mods of others without thought and without ever realizing they've just hurt someone they call a friend.

I have friends with every single one of the mods I mentioned. As with all such things, I have my own opinions. (For example, I think augmented breasts frequently look awesome, and some piercings and tattoos are amazing.) Those opinions don't matter, however, when it comes to someone else's body; only that person's opinions matter then.

By the way, the prejudice against these changes is likely to vanish in a generation or two. People my age care a great deal more about such things than most younger folks.

Until that day, however, I have decided not to sit quietly any longer. If I hear you mock someone for an alteration that I know someone else in the room also has, you can expect me to call you on it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Another tasting menu at Herons

We enjoyed a wonderful tasting menu at Herons relatively recently, so normally I would not have gone back there so soon. When I learned, though, that the place was about to close for two months for remodeling, I knew we had to make one more visit. We did so tonight.

I'm very glad we did.

The food was even better than before.

Chef Scott Crawford and his Chef de Cuisine, whose name I am embarrassed to admit I did not catch when he came out to chat with us, created a delicious menu that blended items from their normal menus with some dishes they created for us that evening. Check it out (and sorry about the shadows; it's late, and I was in a hurry with the picture).

Every single dish was yummy. The worst was better than most food you'll get at most restaurants, and the best were top-drawer.

Stand-outs abounded. For example, the quail came in two small tender chunks that were so perfectly prepared that I thought the menu might have peaked then. The sous vide pork belly, though, topped it easily; flavorful and rich and perfectly crusted, it was a dream.

The short ribs were even better. I've never tasted short ribs as good. Period. They were rich but not overly so, flavorful, not chewy--simply amazing.

All three dessert courses--yeah, we went there--were wonderful.

I can't say enough good things about the food.

The service, though, is the gaping weakness in Herons' game. The front-of-house staff simply can't keep up with the food. A dozen or more restaurants in this area provide better service when Herons is on its game, and our service tonight was sub-par, to be kind. I sincerely hope that they use the next two months to train the staff in everything from basics--serving and removing sides, dark napkins for those with dark pants or skirts, getting the water right, silverware placement, and on and on--to those touches a great place must provide, such as knowing the menu items and not simply reading the menu text when presenting a dish.

That said, it was still a superb meal. When Herons reopens, save your money, call them, tell them I sent you, ask them to prepare a special tasting menu, and then enjoy a meal you won't forget. You'll pay a dear price, but it's worth it. These guys can cook.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In case you were wondering

This is what profiteroles with truffled chocolate ice cream look like. Note the slice of truffle on the whipped cream.

This is what Sarah looks like as she's preparing her A Year In Prose entry. You owe it to yourself to read this week's.

Or, does she look like this?

Or both?

My money's on both, because all writers feel that way at least some of the time.

In other news that isn't news, you need to listen to this John Hiatt song.

With faith settled, we also need loyalty. For that, we turn to another John, whose cover of this great song I dearly love.

Finally, though I've blogged it before, we all need this for and in each other and, most of all, in ourselves. Sing it, Preacher Hiatt, sing it.

Yes, we do.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Knight and Day

Critics are divided about this movie, as the 53% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes suggests. I'm not at all conflicted: It was big fun, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Tom Cruise may be a full-of-himself tool in real life, but in this movie he managed to be everything the director wanted: action hero, slightly crazed renegade, and romantic, all with a self-deprecating attitude that made him quite appealing. Cameron Diaz had to spend much of the movie screaming and being helpless, but she kept her character interesting and growing throughout the film. The action sequences were sufficiently over the top that several times the CG was way too obvious, but that's acceptable for a summer action flick.

Knight and Day is also probably the best date movie of the summer so far, with a little something for everyone. I expect that attribute to lead to big box-office numbers for it over the next few weeks.

If you're in the mood for summer action fun, don't miss this one.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saint Jacques does it again

I've sung the praises of Saint Jacques, a Raleigh French restaurant, here before. After dinner there last night, I must once again declare this fine place one of the very best in the Triangle area.

Because our group had sampled almost everything on the standard menu, I asked if the chef would be willing to come up with a few new things for us. He was, and every single one we tried was excellent. Many took advantage of some summer truffles that they had just received. I ordered three of the specials, none of which were on the menu--and all of which should be.

My first course was steak tartare, which came with some delicate toasted baguette slices and a small side salad. It was rich and flavorful and generally a fine implementation of the dish.

My second was stronger: a house-made pasta with a sauce of mushrooms, peas, and bacon. Wow, was it great! These folks excel at sauces, as any great French place should.

My main course was every bit as strong: four perfectly cooked scallops, each capped with a truffle slice, that surrounded a Parmesan and asparagus risotto. As good as the scallops were, the risotto was better; it was as perfectly prepared and delicious as any I've ever tasted.

Several of us went for the same dessert, the night's feature: profiteroles stuffed with dark chocolate truffled ice cream. Mixing truffles with ice cream sounded like a risky move, but it was also too interesting a dish to resist. I am so glad I ordered it. The chocolate and the truffle went together perfectly, with neither overwhelming the other. Wow.

If you live anywhere near Raleigh, rush to Saint Jacques while the summer truffles are still available. You'll be very happy you did.


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