Saturday, February 25, 2012

UFC 144: Kyle and I pick 'em

For tonight's PPV event, the UFC returns to Japan's Saitama Super Arena, the home of many great Pride fights. Kyle and I are making our first picks of 2012, so with any luck, we'll start off the year with a lot of wins.

The UFC will stream one preliminary fight on Facebook but may not broadcast it otherwise.

Tiequan Zhang vs. Issei Tamura

Mark: Tamura will be the hometown favorite, but he took the fight on two weeks' notice and has never fought in a cage. Expect Zhang, UFC's sole Chinese fighter, to win in a short, intense match.

Kyle: I don't know much about either of these guys. Tamura is 6-2, with two split-decision losses. Zhang is 15-2 with two unanimous decision losses, one in the WEC and one in the UFC. Zhang has been in the big show before and has fought a higher level of competition, so I'm inclined to give him the edge here. Tiequan Zhang by decision.

You can see the next four fights for free on FX.

Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso

Mark: This one is likely to go the distance, as two very skilled fighters go at it in an early candidate for fight of the night. Mizugaki, however, has fought much better competition and is stronger technically, so he will emerge with the decision victory.

Kyle: Mizugaki has lost every other fight for his last eight, and is due to lose this one. Cariaso has lost every other fight for his last four, and is due to lose this one. But the guys Mizugaki has lost to are a bantamweight murderer's row: Miguel Torres, Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber, and Brian Bowles. Cariaso has faced less stiff competition. Expect him to drop another one and Mizugaki to pull off a decision win.

Riki Fukuda vs. Steve Cantwell

Mark: Steve Cantwell was strong in the WEC, but in the UFC he discovered that he was too small for 205 and then not skilled enough for 185. He's lost four in a row, and after this fight, he'll be looking for work elsewhere, because Fukuda is going to punish him for 15 minutes, have the Japanese fans screaming, and emerge with the victory. With any luck, Cantwell will find a home in Strikeforce, where he will instantly be a solid contender in that promotion's far weaker middleweight class.

Kyle: That Cantwell is fighting in the UFC at all is something of a miracle. After winning his first fight in the UFC he's now lost four straight, and dropped out of two others on short notice for medical reasons. Look for Fukuda to give Cantwell his fifth straight loss and send him packing out of the UFC.

Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee

Mark: Yamamoto is a legend on the way down, but he'll notch another victory tonight. Expect him to take down and ultimately submit Lee.

Kyle: Five years ago, Yamamoto had racked up one of the most impressive win records in the lighter weight classes, beating names like Bibiano Fernandes, Genki Sudo, Caol Uno, and Royler Gracie. Since then, he's gone 1-4, including two losses in the UFC. British fighter Vaughan Lee has looked more impressive in recent years, but against much weaker competition. Yamamoto may be past his prime, but he should still have enough in the tank to avoid Lee's submissions and win via ground-and-pound.

Takanori Gomi vs. Eiji Mitsuoka

Mark: The Fireball Kid is past his peak, and Mitsuoka has the tools to beat him. Mitsuoka, however, took the fight on short notice and hasn't competed at this level in the past. In a fight that could go either way, I'm siding with Gomi.

Kyle: Takanori Gomi is another former up-and-comer who showed champion-caliber talent five years ago but has had trouble keeping up as he's gotten older and the sport has evolved. Like Yamamoto, though, Gomi faces an opponent who seems picked to get him back on the winning track. Eiji Mitsuoka is a 36-year-old fighter who signed up on three weeks' notice to replace the injured George Sotiropoulos. Expect his conditioning to be questionable and his skills to be inferior to those of the Fireball Kid. Gomi for the win.

For the first time in my memory, the UFC has scheduled seven fights for the PPV.

Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon

Mark: Pettis is the odds-on favorite to win this match. He's certainly the more creative striker, and he has a solid ground game and cardio for days. I'm bucking the odds, though, and going with Lauzon. I think the toughest IT guy around is going to hang long enough with Pettis on their feet to take Pettis down, and then Pettis will learn just how good Lauzon's submission game is. Lauzon FTW.

Kyle: I'd love to see Joe Lauzon win this--we computer science majors have to stick together--but I just don't believe it's going to happen. Lauzon is a smart fighter who comes up with a gameplan for each opponent and has the discipline to stick to it. Given the chance, he looks fantastic. But he's struggled against fighters who take him off plan, and Pettis is inventive and unpredictable enough to give Lauzon fits. Pettis wins this one on the feet.

(Mark: Finally, our first disagreement--and I'm the one bucking the odds!)

Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski

Mark: Hioki is the favorite to win this fight, probably by taking down Palaszewski and either submitting or ground-and-pounding the American. I'm again going against the odds, however, because Palaszewski is on a roll and Hioki showed very little in his tepid victory over George Roop. Expect Palaszewski to out-strike Hioki en route to a TKO victory.

Kyle: Highly-ranked Featherweight Hatsu Hioki is a ground-fighting specialist. If you were designing a fighter to beat him, you'd want a striker with a strong wrestling base who's hard to take down. That doesn't describe Palaszewski, a Polish import who missed the sharpening of the American college wrestling experience. Palaszewski's a tough guy with no quit in him, but he's going to find himself taken down and smothered. Hioki by top control.

(Mark: And then there were two--again with me defying the odds!)

Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch

Mark: Okami is one of the best middleweights in the world, and Boetsch is relatively new to the weight class. To win, Boetsch has to both get the better of striking exchanges and then take down Okami. Neither is going to happen. Okami is unlikely to finish Boetsch, but Okami will walk away the winner.

Kyle: Okami and Boetsch have similar skill sets. They're both boxer-grapplers, though Boetsch comes from a Division I wrestling base, while Ok-ami is a judo expert. They're both going to look to use their striking to set up takedowns and ground-and-pound. You have to give Okami the edge, though. In his six years with the UFC, he's lost only to Rich Franklin, Anderson Silva, and Chael Sonnen--a past Middleweight champ, the current Middleweight champ, and possibly the next Middleweight champ. Boetsch has had a hit-and-miss career. Look for Okami to win in front of the hometown crowd.

Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields

Mark: Sexyama desperately needs to win this bout. He's fighting in front of a crowd that loves him, and he's lost three in a row; he will come out ready for action. Jake Shields is also highly motivated, having lost two straight fights for the first time in his career.

What will make the difference is the game plan, and Shields will have a better one. He will play it safe, take down Sexyama whenever he can, and ultimately carry the day, probably by decision.

Kyle: In three losses and one split decision win, Akiyama has yet to demonstrate that he has the skills to hang with any UFC-caliber opponent, much less a top-ten Welterweight like Jake Shields. Shields is going to put on a grappling clinic, and Akiyama is going to look like a Japanese rag doll. Shields by submission.

Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo

Mark: If past audience reactions are any indication, the Japanese MMA fans love to see big men slug it out. This fight will give them just that. Hunt is a tough dude with heavy hands and a rock of a chin, but Kongo will be just too technical, too powerful, and too tall--Kongo has an eight-inch reach advantage--for him. Neither man has shown great cardio in the past, but as they begin to fade, Kongo's skill and reach advantages will come to the fore and result in a TKO win.

Kyle: This fight is likely to end up being a straight kickboxing match, and Hunt's K-1 background and heavy hands will serve him well. Kongo is favored, having KOed former K-1 fighter Pat Barry only a year ago. But I think a punch or two from Hunt will have Kongo looking for a take-down. If he can keep it on the feet, Hunt should be able to win by strikes.

(Mark: Three disagreements--and this time, it's Kyle going against the odds.)

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Ryan Bader

Mark: Rampage has fought all of the best at 205, and he's beaten most of them. A powerful striker with true knockout power and a strong wrestling base, he's at his best when fighting men his size who want to stand and trade punches.

Bader brings a great wrestling background to MMA but, as Kyle and I were discussing the other night, almost never uses it. He's going to try to stand with Rampage, and he's not quick enough to do it.

Expect Rampage to win, probably by TKO in the second.

Kyle: Bader exploded into the Light Heavyweight top ten with wins over Keith Jardine and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. But neither of those fighters has looked as impressive since losing to Bader, and Bader himself went on to drop back-to-back fights against Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz. I think Bader was overrated and will prove to be out of his depth against Jackson's boxing technique and sheer punching power. Bader has a chance if he can put Jackson on his back, but despite Bader's strong college wrestling record, he hasn't shown an ability to apply his wrestling skills in the context of an MMA fight. Jackson by knockout.

Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson

Mark: Ben Henderson is an extremely skilled fighter with great cardio who's also one of the bigger, stronger men fighting at 155. He's been on a tear of late, and now he has a shot at the lightweight strap.

The problem is, he has to fight Frankie Edgar for it. Edgar is one of the smaller lightweights, a man who doesn't have to cut much weight to hit 155. Like Henderson, he's a cardio machine. Insanely quick, he dances around the cage, darting in to land a strike and then angling away before his opponents can catch him. He is also, as he's shown in his last two fights against Gray Maynard, composed entirely of heart and toughness.

As good as Henderson is, Edgar is better, a champion at the top of his game who will successfully defend his title once again.

Kyle: Edgar is an Energizer Bunny with fists of stone. Henderson's a fluid fighter who's usually able to stay relaxed and push the pace, but I don't think he's going to be able to match Edgar's tempo. As the fight moves on into the championship rounds, Henderson, like B. J. Penn and Gray Maynard before him, is going to find himself falling a step behind. That's when Edgar will do enough damage to show. Edgar by decision.

With three disagreements, there's no way Kyle and I will tie, so when I report back tomorrow, one of us will have opened 2012 with a prediction win. Tune in then to see which of us it is!

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


Brian Derrick said...

It's not too late to change your opinion about the Benson fight. He's a buddy of mine, and loves Sci-Fi. And I introduced your books to him!!

Mark said...

I think he's an awesome fighter, Brian, and I expect he will be the Lightweight champ one day. As much as I hope he likes my books, though, I have to stick with Edgar in this one. Still, I wish him luck.

Mark said...

Well, Brian, you were right, and I was wrong. Please relay my congratulations to Benson; he was awesome!


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