Friday, December 11, 2009

UFC 107 Predictions

My prediction record stands at 120-74 (%61.9) and 15-5 (%75) in main events. The last three UFC cards have been rough for the majority of MMA prognosticators with the average scores hovering around %50 on I'm not making excuses, though. A good number of my missed picks were caused by breakdowns in my own analysis. In retrospect, some of my very worst calls over this stretch were Denis Kang over Mike Bisping, Phil Baroni over Amir Sodollah, Tito Ortiz over Forrest Griffin, and Houston Alexander over Kimbo Slice. If just those four had been picked the other way, I would be loving life right now at %63.9.

According to the SBN/USA Today Poll, Ranked Fighters Include:

BJ Penn (#1 LW) vs. Diego Sanchez (#7 LW), Frank Mir (#4 HW) vs. Cheick Kongo (#17 HW), Kenny Florian (#5 LW) vs. Clay Guida (#18 LW), Jon Fitch (#2 WW), Alan Belcher (#20 MW) vs. Wilson Gouveia (#23).

Main event:

155 lbs.: BJ Penn (-275) vs. Diego Sanchez (+215) For UFC Lightweight Championship Belt

This title fight should be extremely fast-paced and exciting. Please note, I did not say it would be particularly competitive. There will be some thrilling back-and-forth action, but, as the fight wears on, BJ Penn's (14-5-1, 10-4-1 UFC) technical advantages should become apparent. Diego Sanchez (21-2, 9-2 UFC) is a solid, steadily-developing fighter who has recently found his ideal home at lightweight, but close decision victories over Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida do nothing to show me he is ready for a top-tier fighter like Penn. Sanchez' stand-up game is custom-made for highlight reels because he has fairly fast hands, throws decent high-kicks and flying knees, and he always throws caution to the wind; however, his devil-may-care approach will not match-up well against BJ Penn's pinpoint jab. Penn's boxing is so exquisite that world-renowned boxing trainer Freddy Roach singled him out as having the best hands in all of MMA. Sanchez has great BJJ, but it simply pales in comparison to Penn's submissions acumen. Diego's top-game/G'n'P is solid, but does anyone out there believe he can put Penn on his back and keep him there? If you're familiar with the nearly supernatural effectiveness of BJ Penn's one-foot-hopping TD defense technique, you certainly wouldn't assume that a mediocre wrestler like Sanchez can take him to the mat. In the past, BJ has had questionable cardio, which might, at one time, have been a concern against a whirling dervish like Sanchez, but the champ's recent training with fitness guru Marv Marinovich has closed that hole in his game.

Sanchez will come out with his trademark ferocity, but, like a world-class matador, Penn should be able to pick Diego apart and, ultimately, use Diego's own momentum against him to score a brutal finish.

Penn by Submission (RNC), Rd. 4

Main card (Televised):

265 lbs.: Frank Mir (-220) vs. Cheick Kongo (+180)

Settling nicely into his niche as the UFC's most aggravating heel, Frank Mir (12-4, 10-4 UFC) has done a masterful job of getting under Cheick Kongo's (14-5-1, 7-3 UFC) skin in the lead-up to UFC 107. He has riffed on Kongo's poor command of English, his porous ground game, and, puzzlingly, he even ripped on the fearsome French kick boxer's "unrefined striking." Judging by his comments at the pre-fight presser, Kongo is officially pissed. So it's tempting to believe that Mir's mouth has written another check that his butt can't cash, just like he did against Brock Lesnar at UFC 100. However, making that assumption represents flawed logic in at least a couple of respects. First, Mir is absolutely right that Kongo's ground skills are highly suspect. Sure, he's been working hard to close that hole, but will it be enough against a man who is arguably the division's best pure BJJ artist? Secondly, there's Kongo's most critical flaw, at least in my eyes, and it's one that Mir actually failed to mention: despite his height and impressive physique, Kongo is actually a relatively small heavyweight. Kongo weighed in today at 239lbs. compared to a whopping 264.5lbs. for Mir, which most likely represents a significant weight cut. With Mir having added at least 25lbs of pure muscle since his second fight with Lesnar, he should be able to push Kongo around. Even though Mir's takedowns are nothing special, his size and strength advantages, combined with Kongo's lingering ineptness at defending shots, should allow Mir to haul him down more-or-less at will. For as long as the fight stays standing, Kongo has a clear advantage, but Mir's own developing arsenal of strikes should be enough to at least keep him out of trouble so long as he doesn't fall too deeply in love with his stand-up.

I think these lines should be a bit closer and Kongo's understandable hatred for the trash-talking Mir could give him an emotional edge. In fact, at these odds I'd suggest you at least consider a small bet on Kongo. That said, I'll stick with the former champ for my straight-up pick.

Mir by Submission (Armbar), Rd. 2

155 lbs.: Kenny "Ken Flo" Florian (-220) vs. Clay "The Carpenter" Guida (+180)

Much like the main event, this fight seems closer when you're watching highlight reels, but breaks down pretty lopsidedly when you closely analyze the two fighters' attributes. In this case, it's Kenny "Ken Flo" Florian (11-4, 9-3 UFC) who outclasses Clay Guida (25-10, 5-4 UFC) in most conceivable categories. Kenny has better striking, better submissions, and, though his wrestling is inferior, his elbows from guard are so dangerous that Guida might not have much luck from top-control. I know Guida has revamped his training at Team Jackson MMA in New Mexico, but Florian has also diversified his preparations at Tri-Star Gym in Montreal. Guida's apparent advantage would seem to be physical strength, but the word from Florian's camp is that he is in vastly better condition now than ever before.

It won't be a blow-out, but Florian should be able to score just enough points to win.

Florian by Unanimous Decision

170 lbs.: Jon Fitch (-500) vs. Mike Pierce (+325)

This is an obvious showcase fight for the UFC's premier gatekeeper, Jon Fitch (20-3, 10-1 UFC). He was originally scheduled to fight Ricardo Almeida, then Thiago Alves and, honestly, I would have picked him in either of those matches. So I have no qualms about taking Fitch by whatever-he-wants over a semi-interesting prospect like Mike Pierce (10-2, 1-0 UFC), whose one-sided victory over Brock Larson earned him this fight. The underdog has a classic puncher's chance, but that's it.

Fitch will only marginally raise his stock with a win here, but he's used to that by now. I think he might even get a finish this time.

Fitch by TKO (G'n'P), Rd. 3

265 lbs.: Paul Buentello (-105) vs. Stefan Struve (-125)

A familiar face for longtime UFC fans, Paul "The Headhunter" Buentello (27-10, 3-1 UFC) will return to the octagon after a nearly-four-year absence to fight lanky, Dutch, man-boy, Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve (18-3, 2-1 UFC). I have gone back-and-forth on this one a bit. On the one hand, Struve's brutal loss to Junior Dos Santos must have convinced Buentello that if he pressures Struve with strikes against the cage, the youngster will eventually wilt. Similarily, Struve must have noticed the seven submission losses on Buentello's record and instantly started malevolently rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Ultimately, I'll go with the young-gun in this one believing his well-rounded skills will be just the thing to rudely welcome "The Headhunter" into the UFC's new-look HW division.

I got burned picking against Struve in his last fight and have decided to hop aboard his war-wagon this time, I just hope there are some common Dutch expressions about playing to your strengths.

Struve by Submission (Triangle Choke), Rd. 2

Under Card (May not be broadcast):

185 lbs.: Wilson Gouveia (-105) vs. Alan Belcher (-125)

Given that both are currently ranked fighters at MW, this is easily the best match-up on UFC 107's undercard. These guys surprised everyone at the weigh-ins today, agreeing to fight at a catchweight of 195 pounds, presumably because both had conveniently forgotten that cutting weight is a part of their jobs. Good work, fellas. Anyway, Wilson Gouveia (12-6, 6-3 UFC) has been around a while but has never really struck a chord with UFC fans. His leg-kicks are solid and he possesses knock-out power, but hasn't really secured any career defining victories. He's perhaps best known for being finished via a Tekken-style 7-hit combo from Nate Marquardt at UFC 95. Alan Belcher (14-6, 5-4 UFC) is similarly well-known yet unheralded. He scored a comeback-submission against Denis Kang, though, which showed heart, and gutted out a split decision loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100. I think the right call was made there, even if he does not. It's that righteous indignation, plus the fact that Belcher should have strength and athleticism advantages over Gouveia, that I think will propel Belcher to victory.

Realistically, this is a pick'em fight and I can't endorse a bet on either side of these lines.

Belcher by Split Decision

155 lbs.: Matt Wiman (-340) vs. Shane Nelson (+260)

Shane Nelson's (12-4, 2-1 UFC) octagon record may seem impressive until you realize that he won a split decision over the atrociously bad George Roop and only beat Aaron Riley on an early stoppage before losing their eventual rematch. Basically, Nelson, a Hawaiian protege of BJ Penn, has already hung around the octagon longer than was necessary. An experienced, second-tier gatekeeper like "Handsome" Matt Wiman (10-5, 4-3 UFC) is just the sort of semi-decent fighter needed to expose a pretender like Nelson.

You never do know what Wiman will show up, but even a "Reasonably Attractive From A Distance" Matt Wiman (his joke, not mine) would do the trick here. It's just too bad the oddsmakers know it as well.

Wiman by Unanimous Decision

185 lbs.: Rousimar Palhares (-340) vs. Lucio Linhares (+260)

The hate-train stops here, I actually think either of these fighters could one-day make significant inroads in the UFC's MW division. Rousimar Palhares (9-2, 2-1 UFC), who once took Dan Henderson to a decision, is a highly skilled submissions fighter. His truly massive upper body and below-average height for the division can make him look a bit cartoonish, but, don't be fooled, this guy is a little wrecking ball in the cage. His opponent, Lucio Linares (13-4, 0-0 UFC) is a veteran of M-1 Global's traveling, nationalistic, MMA road show. He has gone 6-2 under their banner, winning his last five in a row. He is nearly as versed in submissions as Palhares, but probably has slightly stronger striking.

I think this line should have been set a great deal closer, making a bet on Linhares very enticing. That said, I'll go with the more proven commodity in Palhares for my straight-up pick.

Palhares by Submission (Heel Hook), Rd. 2

170 lbs.: Ricardo Funch (+325) vs. Johny Hendricks (-500)

Someone's "O" has to go, which is exciting for us even if an undercard appearance against a debuting fighter was not what stand-out-wrestler-turned-solid-striker Johny Hendricks (6-0, 1-0 UFC) had in mind for his next match after deflating the sails of TUF 7 winner Amir Sodallah at UFC 101. Hendricks would do well to note the plight of fellow Team Takedown fighter Jake Rosholt and remember that any UFC loss can result in being cut. His opponent, Ricardo Funch (7-0, 0-0 UFC) brings more to the table than just a humorous name, he's a knock-out artist with a perfect record. While it's true he's fought exclusively in regional promotions, there's just no way of knowing how good he is until he squares off with an elite fighter.

Again, this line should clearly be set closer, but Funch's odds are suffering from the "Who the heck is that dude?" effect. Nonetheless, I'll take Hendricks here because his top-tier wrestling should give him an airtight fallback plan if Funch's punches prove too intense.

Hendricks by TKO (G'n'P), Rd, 2

170 lbs.: DaMarques Johnson (+190) vs. Edgar Garcia (-250)

Once again, this line could probably have been set a tiny bit closer, making a bet on TUF 9 finalist DaMarques Johnson (9-7, 0-1 UFC) a reasonable course of action. Then again, it's also easy to see why oddsmakers would be down on his chances. Johnson's record inspires zero confidence and his sloppy performance against James Wilkes at the TUF 9 Finale exposed numerous holes in Johnson's game, especially in the grappling department. His opponent, Edgar Garcia (7-1, 0-1 UFC) isn't much of a grappler either, but he looked better in his own UFC loss. In fact, many observers felt Garcia should have won that split-decision loss to Brad Blackburn. Expect plenty of striking here.

To my mind, neither fighter is likely to make a serious run at contendership, but Garcia has shown much more upside so I'll give him the nod.

Garcia by TKO, Rd. 3

170 lbs.: Kevin Burns (EVEN) vs. TJ Grant (-130)

In one for the my-how-the-mighty-have-fallen file, former red-hot Canadian prospect and all-around submissions wiz TJ Grant (14-3, 1-1 UFC) finds himself buried at the bottom of a UFC undercard in what is most likely a loser-leaves-town match against Anthony Johnson's former whipping boy, Kevin "The Fire" Burns (7-3, 2-2 UFC). TJ, who is undoubtedly eager to reclaim the cache he once had with the hardcore fans, has surely been hard at work improving his game since getting tackle-stomped by Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 100. "The Fire," meanwhile has been busy trying to convince anyone who will listen that he's no longer an investment banker, but a full-time fighter. I hope he kept an office reserved at Wells Fargo, that's all I can say.

Bottom line: Grant is intent on taking his MMA career to the next level and has the skills to do it, while Burns needs to be extinguished now in order to make room for more legit fighters. I think Grant should easily be more heavily favored than this, meaning a bet at these odds is a steal in my books.

Grant by Submission (Armbar), Rd. 1

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