Saturday, September 25, 2010

UFC 119: Kyle and I pick 'em again

I'm on a bit of a slide, but I'm hoping to rebound with a victory over Kyle in our competition to pick the most fights correctly. Tonight's UFC pay-per-view event doesn't have the strongest card, but it's good enough that a bunch of us are gathering to watch the show.

As usual, we'll begin with the undercard, most of which we're unlikely to get to see. Kyle's picks appear first because he's the reigning champ.

Steve Lopez vs. Waylon Lowe

Kyle: Lowe's the better athlete, which should be enough of an edge for him to overpower and control Lopez. Waylon Lowe for the win.

Mark: Lowe won't have first-time-in-the-UFC jitters, and he's probably better at every aspect of the game than Lopez, so he should win this one handily.

T.J. Grant vs. Julio Paulino

Kyle: Grant's superior grappling skills should serve him well against a brawler like Paulino. Grant by submission.

Mark: Grant is simply the better fighter and will use his skills to dominate this match-up. The only question is whether Grant wins by a stoppage or points.

Mark Hunt vs. Sean McCorkle

Kyle: Hunt is a Pride has-been who's lost his last five fights. McCorkle is undefeated, but has never fought anybody you've heard of. Both men typically walk around at a well-padded 300 pounds, but have gone on a diet to make the heavyweight division's 265 lb. upper limit. This fight's going to be a bizarre slugfest, but beyond that it's hard to call. My guess is that Hunt's experience against world-class opponents will tell, and that he's going to earn his first win since 2006.

Mark: The taglines for this fight write themselves: the undefeated guy, McCorkle, who's never faced a serious competitor, versus the has-been, Hunt, who's fought some of the best. Hunt has the advantage, however, of not only having faced real competition, but also having the second most rock-like head on the card (after Mitrione's). Hunt should win in a fight that I can't believe will last two full rounds.

Thiago Tavares vs. Pat Audinwood

Kyle: Tavares has only won one of his last four fights, but he's a poor stylistic match-up for Audinwood. Audinwood's best talent is his jiu jitsu, and Tavares is going to outclass him in that area by a significant margin. Look for Tavares to give Audinwood a rude welcome on the floor of the Octagon.

Mark: Audinwood hasn't lost a fight yet, but he also hasn't fought in the UFC. Tavares is going to give him a rough welcome to The Big Show and emerge with the win.

Two of the undercard fights will appear on Spike, so we'll definitely catch them.

C.B. Dollaway vs. Joe Doerksen

Kyle: Dollaway's a strong wrestler, but he hasn't made as smooth a transition to the world of MMA as his Arizona State teammate, Ryan Bader. Dollaway doesn't pace himself well and tends to leave himself open to submissions. Doerksen is a workmanlike fighter who's not likely to ever be a title contender, but a guy with 58 professional fights has to have learned something along the way. Doerksen by submission.

Mark: Dollaway has made a lot of errors, notably in conditioning and submission defense, in his transition from wrestler to MMA fighter. I believe, though, that he's learning from those errors and will use his superior skill set to beat Doerksen in a boring decision.

Matt Mitrione vs. Joey Beltran

Kyle: Matt Mitrione is a large man of rare physical gifts whose huge frame and genial indestructibility make him a tough match for a fighter with Beltran's limited skill set. Beltran's not going to be able to take Mitrione down, and trading punches with Mitrione is going to be like trading punches with an Easter Island moai. Mitrione by ogrishness.

Mark: In what promises to be a human example of rock 'em, sock 'em robots, expect the robot made of tougher stuff to win. That would be Mitrione, whose entire body is as tough as Cabbage's head. Mitrione by demolition.

The five bouts on the main card feature two fighters, Evan Dunham and Ryan Bader, with perfect 11-0 records.

Melvin Guillard vs. Jeremy Stephens

Kyle: Jeremy Stephens is a tough, tough man. But Melvin Guillard is a coiled spring of muscle waiting to explode, and in coach Greg Jackson he's finally found a trainer who can point him in the right direction. Guillard and Stephens have similar styles, but with some Jackson-imposed discipline Guillard is unlikely to make the mistakes that have snatched his defeats from the jaws of victory in the past. Guillard by KO.

Mark: This card offers two fights in which I want to be wrong. This is one of them. I don't like Guillard. I'd like to see Stephens stop his recent ascension. I just don't see it going that way. Guillard has always been a freak of nature with an absurd amount of talent. Now, he has Greg Jackson guiding him and teaching him discipline. Guillard FTW, probably by KO or TKO.

Evan Dunham vs. Sean Sherk

Kyle: Sherk is a 37-year-old former champion who's been out with injuries for 16 months. Dunham is a 28-year-old undefeated up-and-comer whose career has taken off like a rocket with wins over Marcus Aurelio, Efrain Escudero, and Tyson Griffin, all while Sherk was away. Dunham's a better striker than Sherk and a better grappler than Sherk. Nonetheless, I'm picking Sherk to win. Sherk has the conditioning of an Energizer Bunny and wrestling skills that Dunham can't hope to match. I expect him to put Dunham on his back and feed the younger man elbows until the bell rings.

Mark: Dunham is getting better every fight. Sherk is certain to carry a lot of rust into the cage with him. Dunham has better overall skills, and I think he can handle the shots that Sherk can muster today. I don't expect a finish in this fight, but I do think Dunham will emerge the victor--and probably by winning all three rounds.

Chris Lytle vs. Matt Serra

Kyle: Four years ago, Serra and Lytle fought for a title shot, and Serra won a close split decision. Since then, Lytle's fought 11 times in the UFC and become a regular Fight of the Night bonus winner. Serra's fought four times, looking more and more technical even as Lytle has become more of a brawler. The bad habits that Lytle's acquired in going for Fight of the Night bonuses will serve him poorly against Serra. Serra's not going to make any stupid technical mistakes, and he's going to out-point Lytle on the feet for the win.

Mark: Lytle is the favorite in this fight, but I don't buy it. He's fought more often than Serra, but he's just not as smart a fighter. On the ground, Lytle is good--but not as good as Serra. Either man certainly could throw a lucky punch--ref. Serra's victory over GSP--but I don't expect that to happen. Instead, look for Serra to win, probably by decision.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Ryan Bader

Kyle: Foreign fighters tend to struggle in the UFC against the smothering control of powerful American wrestlers, and there may be no more powerful American wrestler in the light heavyweight division than Ryan Bader. Nogueira may or may not be a better striker than Bader. He's certainly better at jiu jitsu. Neither of those factors is likely to be relevant. Bader's going to take Nogueira down at will and smack him for the fifteen minutes it takes to win a decision.

Mark: Here's how this one will go: They strike. Bader takes down Nogueira and controls him for a while, maybe hits him once of twice. They stand. Repeat for 15 minutes. Watch the ref raise Bader's hand in unanimous decision victory.

Frank Mir vs. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic

Kyle: Mir is a fast, fluid grappler who's recently fallen in love with boxing, as demonstrated by a knockdown of Cheick Kongo and a KO of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Filipovic was once the most feared striker in the sport, but has slowed with age. Expect Mir to come out throwing punches and Filipovic to fade throwing kicks. Unless Mir manages to break a hand and a foot on Crocop's head--as Pat Barry did in the Croatian's last fight--Mir should be able to win this one standing.

Mark: I want to pick Cro Cop to win this fight. I really do. Mir is usually a dick, and it would be very cool to see Cro Cop have a last hurrah. It's also possible for Cro Cop to win, because Mir's ego is almost certainly going to lead him to test his stand-up against the Croatian's. While he's doing that, Cro Cop could nail him. Despite all that, though, I have to go with Mir, because he has more ways to win and has become a good enough striker that I don't think Cro Cop will be able to knock him out. This is the second fight about which I would love to be wrong.

Kyle and I disagreed on only two fights, so we'll be watching those two very closely. Check back tomorrow to find out if I've regained my winning ways or Kyle has piled up another victory.

And, as always, don't use us for betting advice!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Travelin' Man

If you've never checked out my appearances page, you may not know that the next couple of months are going to be chock full of travel. Because that page doesn't even include all my trips, I thought I'd run down the list.

Portland, OR - Sept. 27 to Oct. 1

This is a work visit, but if any SF folks are interested in getting together one evening, I'd try to make it happen.

San Francisco, CA - Oct. 13 to Oct. 20

Mixing writing and work, I'll be attending Bouchercon and also visiting clients. Again, I should be able to swing a free evening sometime.

Columbus, OH - Oct. 27 - Nov. 1

World Fantasy Con is the reason for this journey, but Columbus also offers the promise of Jeni's ice creams. If I'm not in the hotel, that's probably where you can find me.

I can't tell you yet - Nov. 14 - Nov. 20

Okay, the truth is that I could tell you; I just won't. Not yet. You'll have to wait. What I'll be doing, though, is awesome, and it will relate to some cool news. More on it in a month. Or so.

Or maybe not. I may just do the picture-from-the-hotel-window thing and see if you can guess.

One more trip--a quick visit to Las Vegas--is still possible this year, but it's not settled yet. When it is, I'll let you know, so Las Vegas fans can chime in.

Man, I'm already tired just looking at this list!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Radio Boy

Today, the fine folks at The State of Things on WUNC-FM, a local PBS affiliate, were kind enough to have me on their show. Producer Alex Granados did the initial prep work with me and managed to make the multiple phone calls and email threads as fun as they reasonably could be. Host Frank Stasio was as nice and caring and skilled as frequent listeners would expect him to be. So, I was prepared when I arrived, the show went smoothly, and I had a good time doing it.

I appeared on two segments. On the first, we talked about Children No More and some of my own related childhood experiences. You can listen to that one here.

After a break, professors Michael Struett (North Carolina State University) and Stephen W. Smith (Duke University) joined us in the studio for a discussion of child soldiers today. (You can hear it here.) Each brought a different perspective to the discussion, which ranged from the International Criminal Court to experiences with African child soldiers. Frank did a good job of involving all of us, and I enjoyed listening to Michael and Stephen.

Many folks have asked me how I thought the show went. The truth is that I have no clue. I enjoyed it while I was doing it, but I don't know how I sounded, and I don't have the time (or inclination, truth to tell) to go back and listen to myself. So, I'm afraid you guys will have to tell me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Town

is one of those films that divides crowds. If you don't like movies filled with people you would never want as friends, you will hate this one. If, on the other hand, you don't need any of the characters to be good, then you'll find The Town to be a satisfying entertainment.

At its core, this is another of those "bad guy turns good through the love of a good woman" stories that you have to suspend disbelief to swallow. Why does the obviously educated bank manager love the rock-breaking Boston roughie? Whatever do they talk about? Don't ask; just accept that they're together.

Once you do that, though, the plot will carry you along at a suitably fast pace, and the ride will be fun. All the actors deliver strong, if occasionally scene-chewing, performances. Ben Affleck is a solid lead and has a great physical presence (though the fact that after one initial shot of his sculpted body he spent the rest of the movie in over-sized clothes annoyed some of the women in our group). Rebecca Hall uses her character's understandable vulnerability to almost--almost--sell the relationship with Affleck. Jeremy Renner creeps up the screen in every shot, and Jon Hamm's FBI agent is almost as much a thug as Renner.

The Town is good enough that I raised some critical objections--something I would never bother to do with, say, Machete, which I still loved for its bad campy self--but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Definitely check it out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You need to own this

Ryko has just released a new comedy bundle, Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection, and you need to buy it stat. In fact, you should probably go to the store his long-time supporters have set up and buy the t-shirt bundle there. Yes, I did, even though I have all the previously available Bill Hicks material.

Come to think of it, when the new biopic, American: The Bill Hicks Story, becomes available in the U.S., you need to pick it up as well. (For a quick take on this film, which debuted at SXSW, check out this Wired article.

I've mentioned before that I was fortunate enough to see Hicks perform live once here in Raleigh. I was at the Sycamore Hill Writers' Conference, and we all went to a local comedy club just to catch whatever acts were playing. Hicks was the headliner. Seeing him made me realize, as few comedians do, just how intensely intelligent and important stand-up comedy can be. I doubt I'll ever do a show a tenth as good as his routine appearances, but I aim to keep trying.

Of course, he was also vulgar and offensive and at best R-rated, which I mention in case you don't want to hear that kind of performance; I don't want to steer you wrong.

Hicks died of pancreatic cancer when he was only 32 years old. He's been dead about 16 years, and yet his reputation keeps growing. If you don't know him, try this collection. If you do, you should already know that you need it.

Monday, September 20, 2010


is not a throat condition or a new, misspelled enterprise form the search giant. Rather, Guglhupf is a promising new (at least to me) restaurant in Durham where we ate the other night.

The place began as a bakery and still provides baked goods, but now it also includes a cafe. The setting is lovely, particularly this time of year: a courtyard with an interesting roof overhang surrounds most of the two-level, glassed interior dining space. We ate outside, and for most of the meal, it was lovely. Near the end, the mosquitoes found me and began consuming me, but until then I greatly enjoyed being outdoors.

The dinner menu definitely shows the place's German influences, but the food is not heavy. Everything we sampled was at least good, and a few things, notably the appetizer of two small lamb chops, were downright delicious.

Neither the kitchen nor the service is quite up to the restaurant's ambition, however, as some dishes never came together, and the servers were frequently a bit confused--though always nice.

As it is today, Guglhupf is worth a visit and will deliver quite a good meal. If it can grow to keep up with its menu, it will deserve consideration for a spot on any local's restaurant rotation.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A friend's songs

Earlier tonight, my friend, Eric, held his belated birthday party. As part of it, he sang some songs as his regular accompanist, Sue, performed the piano part. All of the pieces were humorous, and he did a very good job with them. We all laughed a lot, applauded, and generally had a good time listening. I'm glad he sang them.

As the party was moving to the eating stage, I was struck that in a far broader sense we are all listening regularly to the songs of our friends: the ups and downs of their lives, the mostly level days between, the incidental notes of small, friendly contacts. I'm lucky enough to have a group of friends who have been hanging out together for a very long time now, with newer folks occasionally joining and even more occasionally staying. Dealing with each other is, of course, annoying from time to time--I know I'm not the easiest friend to have--but in the end, sharing the world with friends is one of life's greatest treats.

So, Eric, I have to thank you not only for the party and for over three decades of friendship, but also for this reminder of how much friends matter.

On a related note, I must brag again on my daughter. Read this recent piece of Sarah's, and you'll know I'm right to be proud. Damn.


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