Ranked fighters at UFC 105 include: Randy Couture (HW #9), Brandon Vera (LHW #16), Michael Bisping (MW #13), Mike Swick (WW #5) and Dan Hardy (WW #13).
(Rankings According to The USA Today/SBN Poll)
Randy Couture (-120) vs. Brandon Vera (-110)
Odds makers have this as the most evenly matched UFC main event in recent memory. If Randy Couture (16-10, 13-7 UFC) wins it will be by pressing Vera up against the cage, employing some classic Greco-Roman dirty boxing, and eventually scoring with takedowns and some ground-and-pound to seal the decision. If Brandon Vera (11-3, 7-3 UFC) prevails it will be because his own extensive wrestling background neutralized Randy's grappling advantage and allowed "The Truth" to pick Randy apart on the feet en route to a decision win. There's an outside chance that Vera could lock up a fight-ending submission, but if "Minotauro" Nogueira couldn't put Couture away, Brandon's chances seem pretty weak.
Complicating matters, is the fact that both fighters have huge question marks over their heads. At forty-six years old and after two losses in a row, is Randy Couture's body finally stifling his desire to compete at the highest level of MMA? Or will a return to light heavyweight be just what "The Natural" needs to get back in the win column? Does Brandon Vera's heart match his impressive natural talent, or will he break under relentless pressure the way he did against Keith Jardine at UFC 89? Can Vera recapture the swagger of the brash, young finisher who ran roughshod over the heavyweight division in 2006, or will he remain the guy who half-heartedly outpointed Krzysztof Soszynski at UFC 102 in August?
In such an extremely close fight, when my head simply can't wrap itself around the numerous intangibles and variables, I have to go with my heart, which tells me that the great Randy Couture has just enough left in the tank to dispatch a solid, if somewhat unaccomplished, contender like Brandon Vera.
Couture by Unanimous Decision
Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy (+190) vs. Mike "Quick" Swick (-250)
Let me just say that I'm not on board with the winner of this fight getting a title shot because, in my opinion, neither has done enough to warrant a crack at Georges St-Pierre's belt. If #5 ranked Mike Swick (14-2, 9-1 UFC) wins then #13 ranked Dan Hardy (22-6, 3-0 UFC) will be the best welterweight fighter he's beaten on his title run. At least if Hardy wins he will have beaten top-5 competition, but, as it stands now, #21 ranked Marcus Davis is the best welterweight that either he or Swick have beaten. Both won by decision. I'd say the winner should face the winner of Carlos Condit vs. Paul Daley to determine the #1 contender. If that means that John Fitch gets another title shot in the meantime, then so be it.
Oh yeah, the prediction! Well, this should be a very entertaining scrap as both men are known to
throw heat and each has scored half of his wins by (T)KO. Unfortunately, they have only one K.O. loss between them, so neither is likely to be finished with strikes. Ultimately, Swick seems to have the edge just about everywhere with faster hands, more octagon experience, and a more rounded ground game. If Hardy somehow has Swick's number on the feet, I expect "Quick" to counter-intuitively slow things down for a top-control special.
Swick by Unanimous Decision
Michael "The Count" Bisping (EVEN) vs. Denis Kang (-130)
In another competitive match, the face of the U.K. MMA scene, Michael "The Count" Bisping (17-2, 7-2 UFC) takes on one of hardcore MMA fans' best-kept secrets Denis Kang (32-11-1, 1-1 UFC). Every time I decide that one fighter will win, I come up with a compelling counter-argument. Observe: 1) Kang will win because his overall skills are slightly sharper. Yeah but, his execution is often lacking and he's known to make the biggest mistakes in high profile fights. 2) Alright, then Bisping will win because he's fought the tougher competition in the UFC. True, but Kang has more experience overall and, besides, Bisping lost to both championship calibre fighters he's met in the octagon and should probably have lost to Matt Hamill. 3) Fine! Then Kang will win because he is used to fighting overseas and has more knock-out power. Closer still, but Bisping will be fighting in his hometown and Kang hasn't knocked out anyone that could be considered a contender since finishing Murilo "Ninja" Rua in Pride in June, 2006.
If public opinion of Bisping's skills hadn't been, perhaps unfairly, diminished by the devastating knock-out he suffered against Dan Henderson at UFC 100, both fighters would probably be getting even odds. That said, I'll go with the favourite here, not because I think he has a much better chance to win, but because Denis Kang is Canadian and, with all else being equal, everyone north of the 49th parallel knows you always go with the Canuck.
Kang by Split Decision
Matt "The Immortal" Brown (-150) vs. James "Lightning" Wilks (+125)
Wrestler and submissions-ace James Wilks (9-2, 1-0 UFC) may have won The Ultimate Fighter 9's welterweight tournament, but the field was fairly weak. The runner up, DaMarques Johnson has a 9-7 record against, other than Wilks, only relatively unknown, low-level competition. Records aren't always what they seem, though. Take Matt Brown's (10-7, 3-1 UFC) unimpressive 58.9% win ratio, for example. It doesn't show that he's one of the most improved fighters of the last year, nor does it indicate how easily he obliterated tough-as-nails Pete Sell in his last fight. A lot of myth and hyperbole surrounds Matt Brown, some claim he's actually a highly-advanced MMA android sent from the year 2067, but he backs most of it up with his performances in the octagon. It's possible that Wilks could out-wrestle Brown, but "The Immortal" put on a grappling clinic with undefeated, welterweight prospect Dong Hyun Kim not too long ago in a razor close loss, so I think he'll be able to handle "Lightning" on the mats long enough to put fist to face with devastating results.Brown by KO, Rd. 2
Ross "The Real Deal" Pearson (+165) vs. Aaron Riley (-205)
It wouldn't be right not to pick a single Brit on the main card at UFC 105. With that in mind, and also the fact that Ross Pearson (9-3, 1-0 UFC) appears to be a younger, possibly better version of grizzled veteran Aaron Riley (28-11-1, 2-2 UFC), I'll take the upset here. Riley has been made the favorite mainly, I think, because his work rate is incredible and he's fought much tougher competition than Pearson. However, Riley holds noticeably few signature victories and seems to come up short whenever he reaches the pinnacle of the sport as he did against Eddie Alvarez, Spencer Fisher, Chris Lytle, Robbie Lawler, and Yves Edwards. Now, Riley's extensive record and numerous losses to name-fighters also mean his body has paid a toll that could slow him down enough for a surging young gun like Pearson to impose his will. Basically, I'm willing the bet that Ross Pearson really is "The Real Deal."
Pearson by Unanimous Decision
John "The Hitman" Hathaway (-250) vs. "Relentless" Paul Taylor (+190)
Here we have undefeated, blue chip prospect John Hathaway (11-0, 2-0 UFC) against a guy in Paul Taylor (10-4-1, 3-3 UFC) with undeniable upside, but who has yet to find and consistency inside the octagon. Sure, Taylor has an electrifying style and superior stand-up, but his highly suspect grappling and weak takedown defense will make for a long night against a lead blanket like "The Hitman."
Hathaway by Unanimous Decision
Terry Etim (-450) vs. Shannon Gugerty (+300)
It's a shame that Terry Etim (13-2, 4-2 UFC) has been buried on another European under card, because he's quickly developing into one of my favourite young fighters to watch. He's known as a submissions specialist, but Etim put the lightweight division on notice about his improved striking when he finished Brian Cobb with a textbook headkick at UFC 95. Shannon Gugerty (12-3, 2-1 UFC) is also a solid prospect, but won't be able to submit Etim here and has no answers for the lanky Brit on the feet.
Etim by TKO, Rd.3
Matthew Riddle (-300) vs. Nick "Slick" Osipczak (+240)
Ultimate Fighter 9 contestant Matt Riddle (3-0, ditto UFC) could develop into a really great fighter one day-- maybe even a contender. Right now, he's still a bit green, but it helps that he's a massive 185lb'er who's fearlessly aggressive and impossibly strong. It has also been handy that the UFC, recognizing the twenty-three-year-old Riddle's need for development fights, has given him a fairly easy road thus far. That path gets no tougher in this fight against undefeated, if somewhat uninspiring, U.K. fighter Nick Osipczak (4-0, 1-0 UFC). Also a contestant on T.U.F. 9, Osipczak is reasonably skilled everywhere, but definitely lacks the wrestling base to stay off his back against Riddle. The Manchester fans may want to nip out for a pint during this one because it probably won't be pretty for the "Slick" Brit.
Riddle by Unanimous Decision
Paul "Tellys" Kelly (-450) vs. Dennis Siver (+300)
A former kickboxer, Denis Siver (14-6, 3-3 UFC) has a reputation for powerful striking, but his submission ability has been somewhat underrated. In fact, Siver has scored eight career submissions including a rear-naked choke in his last UFC fight, which took place in his native Germany. Unfortunately for Siver, he's not the best wrestler and has never been known to set a pace that's comparable to the frenzied work-rate of the U.K's best ground-and-pound'er Paul "Tellys" Kelly (9-1, 3-1 UFC). Siver's constant potential to end this fight by KO makes for a decent value-bet on the underdog, but, for a straight-up pick, I'll go with the steadily-improving Limey over the perpetually-gatekeeping Kraut.
Kelly by Unanimous Decision
Jared Hamman (-160) vs. Alexander "The Mauler" Gustafsson (+130)
Alexander Gustafsson's (8-0, 0-0 UFC) record is filled with early finished, but is utterly devoid of any quality opponents. Jared Hamman (10-1, 0-0 UFC), meanwhile, has tangled with a few recognizable names and boasts an even higher (T)KO rate. That superior experience, combined with his status as the odds favourite, is enough for me to pick Hamman. At 6'5", Gustafsson is the much bigger man and is also known to incorporate ground-and-pound into his arsenal. That size and grappling superiority could enable "The Mauler" to get around Hamman's strengths, but I just can't pick someone that inexperienced in his UFC debut.
Hamman by KO, Rd. 2
Andre Winner (-500) vs. Roli "The Crazy Cuban" Delgado (+325)
Andre Winner (9-3-1, 0-1 UFC) has clear wrestling, clinch work, and striking advantages over his underdog opponent, Roli Delgado (6-4-1, 1-1 UFC). Then again, if "The Crazy Cuban" gets this fight to the mat he'll be a major threat to submit Winner. On top of that, Winner hasn't won a pro fight in almost two years. I'll go with Winner here based on the assumption that the odds makers see something I'm missing, but I might just throw a bit of cash down on Delgado with primo paying odds like these.
Winner by Unanimous Decision