Saturday, December 31, 2011

UFC 141: How we fared

Last night's UFC PPV event was a lot of fun, though as we feared, many of the fights went to decisions.

As I noted yesterday, we disagreed on only one picks, so we each had only one chance to win. That chance vanished when one of the fighters, Matt Riddle, proved to be sick and unable to fight. Because we agreed on all the other fights, I'll just report on how we both did.

Let's begin as usual with the preliminary matches, all but one of which we ultimately got to see.

Manny Gamburyan vs. Diego Nunes

We expected Nunes to win via a combination of better striking skills and decent take-down defense, and that's basically how the fight played out. Gamburyan was a game competitor, and he won the second round, but in the end Nunes had enough to score the decision victory.

Dong Hyun Kim vs. Sean Pierson

This second fight also played out almost exactly as we expected it would, with Kim grinding out the decision victory. The one change from our script was that Kim didn't work much for take-downs and instead won via superior striking.

Luis Ramos vs. Matt Riddle

Our only disagreement, and Riddle has to spoil it by getting sick. Ah, well.

Efrain Escudero vs. Jacob Volkmann

The one fight we didn't get to see also went as we predicted. Volkmann was simply too much for Escudero, taking him down and smothering him for two rounds. From what I've read, Escudero came back in the third round, but it was too late.

At the end of the preliminaries, we were a perfect 3-0!

We caught the next two fights on Spike TV.

Danny Castillo vs. Anthony Njokuani

At the risk of sounding both repetitive and egotistical, this was another fight that we nailed perfectly. Castillo took down Njokuani over and over in route to a split-decision victory. I don't know which judge gave Njokuani two rounds, but he or she was watching a different fight than I was.

Ross Pearson vs. Junior Assuncao

Another fight that went to decision, and another correct call for us. Pearson was too much for Assuncao, though Assuncao fought well and had moments in which he looked quite dangerous.

We entered the main card a perfect 5-0 and feeling good about our picks.

The PPV event brought us the big five bouts.

Nam Phan vs. Jim Hettes

That feeling ended with this fight, where we were spectacularly wrong. We expected Phan to win, but instead Hettes utterly dominated him. It went to decision, but the judges called it 30-25, 30-25, and 30-26, making it the most lopsided UFC decision I can recall. Phan only avoided a finish through utter toughness. We were now 5-1.

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Vladimir Matyushenko

We expected Gustafsson to win, and he did, though more convincingly and quickly than either of us expected. With a knock-out in the middle of the first round, Gustafsson has definitely advanced in the light heavyweight ranks.

Jon Fitch vs. Johny Hendricks

Speaking of moving up, Johny Hendricks did just that as he dispatched Jon Fitch with a knockout just 12 seconds into their fight. Everyone knew Hendricks' right hand was powerful, but his left did the trick in this fight. For several seconds, Fitch literally didn't know what hit him. UFC president Dana White has to be happy to have a new contender at 170 pounds.

We were not happy, however, to have called this one wrong. It left us 6-2.

Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone

Wow, were we also wrong on this one! "Cowboy" Donald Cerrone looked sharp for about the first two minutes of the fight. From then on, Nate Diaz utterly and completely dominated him. At times, it appeared as if every single Diaz punch was landing. Diaz's boxing was on a completely different level from Cerrone's. Given how great Nate Diaz looked in his last fight against Gomi and how amazing he was in this one, he may finally have solidified his game. He certainly has to be considered a contender at 155 now. We were down to 6-3.

Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem

We both said this fight would probably finish in the first couple of minutes, and at the 2:26 mark, it was indeed over. Unfortunately, we both picked Lesnar to win via take-down and subsequent dominance. Instead, Brock never shot once, Overeem beat him up with knees, and Brock turtled and waited for the ref to stop the fight. Brock looked like a man who had come to collect a paycheck, which he certainly did. After the fight, he announced his retirement from the UFC.

We ended the night a disappointing 6-4, over .500 but just barely.

As always, don't rely on us for betting advice!

Friday, December 30, 2011

UFC 141: Kyle and I pick 'em

Tonight's UFC PPV event features a fight between two of the biggest and strongest men in the sport, Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem. Kyle's visiting, and we are, of course, watching the fights, so we thought we'd make one final set of fight picks for 2011.

As always, we start with the preliminary matches, which may not end up being broadcast anywhere other than on Facebook.

Manny Gamburyan vs. Diego Nunes

Mark: For Gamburyan to win, he has to take down Nunes. Nunes will use kicks and strikes to make that very difficult and ultimately to secure the win.

Kyle: This is how stacked the UFC 141 card is: Two of the best Featherweights in the world, both arguably in the top ten, both of whom have beaten former champion Mike Brown, are fighting in a match that isn't even going to be televised. Nunes came up short in his last fight against Kenny Florian. Gamburyan has dropped two in a row, first a title shot against Jose Aldo, and then a close decision against the always-game Tyson Griffin. My guess is that Gamburyan isn't going to be able to take Nunes down, and Nunes has the reach and technical striking skill to punish Gamburyan standing. Look for Nunes to hand Gamburyan his third loss in a row.

Dong Hyun Kim vs. Sean Pierson

Mark: Kim is going to grind away at Pierson with strikes and take-downs and suffer very little damage in the process. In one of the evening's more one-sided fights, Kim will win handily, though probably by decision.

Kyle: Kim and Pierson both have very impressive records, but Kim's includes wins over Nate Diaz, Matt Brown, and Amir Sadollah. Pierson hasn't beaten any opponents that notable. Kim's going to be a big step up in competition for Pierson, and I expect the Korean judoka to be more than he can handle. Dong Hyun Kim for the win.

Luis Ramos vs. Matt Riddle

Mark: The oddsmakers are leaning toward Riddle, but I'm going with Ramos via better wrestling. Expect him to make it a long night for Riddle and grind out the victory.

Kyle: Riddle's the younger man and has a five-inch height advantage over Ramos. That should be enough to give him the edge he needs in the striking department. Riddle for the win.

Efrain Escudero vs. Jacob Volkmann

Mark: Escudero took the fight on short notice and will regret that decision. Volkmann will take him down repeatedly and emerge the victor.

Kyle: Despite winning season eight of The Ultimate Fighter, Efrain Escudero was cut by the UFC after missing weight and making poor showings in several fights. He's gone 5-1 in other organizations since he was cut, and an injury to Volkmann's scheduled opponent, T.J. Grant, has given Escudero a second chance in the big show. Don't expect it to last. Volkmann has beaten better fighters than Efrain Escudero, and he should be able to send his opponent packing back out of the UFC.

The long relationship between the UFC and Spike TV is ending after this year, when the UFC moves to Fox and its various stations. For this event, however, Spike is still televising two undercard fights.

Danny Castillo vs. Anthony Njokuani

Mark: Anthony Njokuani is a great striker who's fun to watch, but Danny Castillo knows that as well as anyone, so he's not likely to spend much of the fight on his feet. Njokuani hasn't shown much take-down defense, so I expect him to spend most of the match on his back wishing he were standing. The result will be a win for Castillo, probably by decision.

Kyle: Castillo is taking this fight on three weeks notice, after an injury to Njokuani's previous opponent, Ramsey Nijem. That said, Castillo has looked a lot more impressive than Nijem in his last few outings. Look for him to use his superior wrestling to tie Njokuani up and smother his Muay Thai. Castillo by wrestle and grind.

Ross Pearson vs. Junior Assuncao

Mark: Pearson was undersized at 155 but still did pretty well there. He should fit very nicely into the featherweight division. Junior Assuncao is a decent fighter, but Pearson should have the edge in most areas. Pearson for the win, probably by striking.

Kyle: Ross Pearson is awesome. Expect him to turn this into a brawl and bludgeon Assuncao senseless with his hands of stone.

To see the top five fights, you have to buy the UFC PPV.

Nam Phan vs. Jim Hettes

Mark: Hettes overcame his Octagon jitters to beat Alex "Bruce Leroy" Carceres in his first UFC appearance, but he didn't look very impressive doing it. Now, he's taking a step up in competition. He certainly can win by submission if Nam Phan gets sloppy, but that's his only way to win. Phan can win on points or by striking, and as long as he stays off his back, he should be fine. This fight won't be very exciting, but Phan should walk away with the decision victory.

Kyle: Jimy Hettes, who struggled on the feet against novice striker Alex Caceres in his last fight, is going to find himself in deep water if he stands and trades against Nam Phan. His best chance is to drag Phan to the ground and submit him, but Phan has enough grappling skill to make that a difficult proposition. Phan by knockout.

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Vladimir Matyushenko

Mark: I have a soft spot for the resurgent Matyushenko, in part because of his classic Russian demeanor and in part because he has one of the least glamorous nicknames in fighting, "The Janitor." He's also on a roll, having won four of his last five fights--with the only loss coming to Jon Jones. All that said, Gustafsson is younger, stronger, a better striker, and still improving enough in his wrestling to stay off his back most of the time. Those skills should let Gustafsson emerge with the victory.

Kyle: My heart says Vladdy, but my head says that Gustafsson is younger, has better reach, and is a more technical striker. Matyushenko's best chance is going to be to try to get Gustafsson to the ground and beat on him, but that's going to be hard to do to the man who beat Matt Hammill into retirement. Gustafsson for the win.

Jon Fitch vs. Johny Hendricks

Mark: Watching Jon Fitch fight is frequently as exciting as watching instructional training videos, but it can also be as informative. The man is a wrestling and grinding machine. Hendricks also has great wrestling credentials, and he's a better striker, but he isn't ready for the relentless, slow beating that Fitch will put on him. It'll take all three rounds, and it'll be another decision victory that Dana White will hate, but this one will end with Fitch's hand in the air.

Kyle: Jon Fitch has lost one fight in the last nine years, and that was against dominant welterweight champ George St. Pierre. Hendricks has good wrestling chops, but he's never shown the same command of MMA grappling that Fitch has. Look for Fitch to impose his will, wear on Hendricks, and do just enough damage to keep from being stood up. Fitch by yet another decision.

Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone

Mark: Since his departure from the WEC and his commitment to Greg Jackson's camp, Donald Cerrone has been on a tear. Nate Diaz has also been doing well and improving his game, particularly his striking. Cerrone, though, is a better Muay Thai fighter and a stronger grappler. Diaz has the edge in submission skill, but unless Cerrone gets sloppy, he should be able to get away from Diaz should he make the mistake of staying too long on the ground with him. This one should be very entertaining but end with Cerrone moving into the top tier of the UFC's lightweights.

Kyle: In the battle of the UFC bad boys, Cerrone looks to cap a dominant year that's already seen him rack up four UFC wins. Diaz has been less consistent, both in his choice of weight class--he goes back and forth between lightweight and welterweight--and in his win/loss record, as he's gone 1-2 so far this year. Cerrone just keeps getting better, and Friday should give him an opportunity to show his new skills, using his heavier hands to batter Diaz on the feet and earn the win.

Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem

Mark: As Kyle and I have discussed, this fight will go one of three ways: Overeem tags Lesnar hard in the first two minutes and follows up for the knee-and-fist TKO victory, Lesnar takes Overeem down in the first two minutes and follows up for the ground-and-pound or submission victory, or the two fighters make it out of the first round and then spend twenty more minutes looking like two gassed old men flailing at one another. Though the oddsmakers favor the first outcome, I'm going with Brock by beastly take-down and subsequent finish.

Kyle: When 530 pounds of lean beef collide in the Octagon Friday night, one of three things is going to happen: Overeem will land a solid punch in the first two minutes that knocks Lesnar out; or, Lesnar will take Overeem down early, secure position and pound him to a pulp; or, the fight will last more than a couple of minutes, in which case both men will gas, technique will go out the window, and it's going to be long and ugly. Of those options, I'm inclined to think that Lesnar gets the takedown and smashes Overeem's face in. No opponent Lesnar's faced has managed to keep from being taken down yet, though some have managed to get up again. Nothing in Overeem's background suggests that he'll be better at avoiding Brock's takedowns than the NCAA champion wrestlers that Lesnar's faced in the past. Brock by ground-and-Hulk-smash.

Unfortunately, we disagree on only one fight, so which of us emerges victorious rests solely on the Riddle/Ramos fight. The oddsmakers are with Kyle, but I'm still betting on Ramos.

Of course, the fact that we agree means nothing; we've both been wrong plenty of times in the past.

Tomorrow, I'll report back on how we fared this time.

As always, don't rely on us for betting advice!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

Like most of the good movies I've seen this holiday season, Tintin was enjoyable but not as good as I had hoped given the reviews and word-of-mouth feedback I'd heard.

The film was certainly pretty to watch. The combination of stop-motion and normal CG animation produced a lovely result, with many details (hair, facial expressions on some characters) that were topnotch.

I saw the 3D version, but I found the 3D unremarkable, neither distracting from nor particularly enriching the movie.

The story was also fun, with a solid quest, a wide variety of locales, and a great deal of action.

As with Mission: Impossible, however, Tintin fell short of my goals for it in large part because it was so very predictable. The smaller steps in its plot were actually less formulaic and more interesting than those in MI, but like MI it could have used some tightening.

As I've thought more about this problem, I've come to believe that there are two basic ways to solve it. One is to cover the formulaic plot with so much style that the style itself becomes an object of interest, a factor that distracts you from thinking too much about the story and thus from realizing you know what is going to happen next. The other option is to tighten the story so it operates as a finely tuned velocity exercise, hurtling from one event to the next so quickly and with so little distraction that you never have time to get your bearings and realize that you could have predicted the outcome.

As I've said of so many other recent films, I did enjoy Tintin, and I can recommend it--but with the reservation I noted.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mission: Impossible, Ghost Protocol

I wanted to love this movie. I'm a long-time fan of the Mission: Impossible movies and even the old TV series. I loved Brad Bird's work as director on Ratatouille and The Incredibles. I was in the mood for fast-paced action. I figured this one to be the one sure film of the holidays for me.

I did enjoy it, but I didn't love it.

Three factors stopped the movie from being all it could have been.

The first was Tom Cruise's performance. The charm and humor he used to great effect in Knight and Day never appeared here. Instead, he showed two looks: the quick smile, and the scowl. Both are fine, but eventually you want more from a performance.

The second was how little the film surprised us. From the first time each character appears, you know who the character will be and how he or she will act. The plot jets down a completely telegraphed plot line. I don't mind knowing the good guys will win, but it would be nice for at least some of the details of the victory to be surprises.

The final weakness came from some combination of the writers and Bird: Each scene ran a little too long, as if they always wanted to put just one more obstacle between the good guys and the next stage of the plot. I'm all for making things difficult, but in this movie I found myself repeatedly wanting to advance to the next key event.

Despite these issues, I did, as I noted, still enjoy the movie as the brainless thrill ride it is supposed to be. I might even watch it again one day, if only to see if my first impressions hold.

I just didn't love it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My favorite art book publisher

is Taschen. These folks produce amazing books on a wide variety of subjects. I collect as many of them as I can reasonably manage--which is far from their complete catalog, given the insanely high prices of many of them.

To get a sense of their range, consider that they've produced a brilliant book on DC Comics, a fabulous volume of the complete works of Michelangelo, a fascinating book on the life and works of porn star Vanessa del Rio, and a history of the heyday of the American circus, to name but four random books from my collection.

That collection, by the way, has grown so big and generates so much interest from visitors that Gina and I are working to set up an area in my office bookshelves dedicated to Taschen.

If you're not familiar with these folks and their great books, check them out. You'll know what to ask for come next Christmas.

Monday, December 26, 2011

When you see cupcakes this weird...

...what do you do?

If you're me, you buy them, two each in chocolate and white cake.

When it comes time to eat them, however, you recruit help. Let others go first. It's only prudent.

In this case, no one on the volunteer team would try a whole cupcake. Instead, they split them.

As Sarah's expression may tell you, everything above the chocolate bit is frosting.

She couldn't finish half a cupcake before the sweetness level became too high.

I've yet to try a bite, but the remaining cupcakes aren't going anywhere, so there's time.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

If you celebrate this holiday, I hope yours is magical and joyous.

If you don't celebrate it, please don't take the wish as a religious affront, for I do not mean it as such. I still hope you have a magical and joyous day.

Now, I'm out! Back tomorrow.


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