It's the start of a New Year and my official prediction record has been on an upswing over the last couple events. It currently sits at 133-76 (%63.6) and 16-6 (72.7%) in main events. My main event record took an unfortunate hit last time out at Strikeforce: Evolution (Dec. 19th) when Scott Smith scored yet another of his signature come-from-behind KOs. The card at UFC 108 has been so ravaged by injuries that many of the fights were only scheduled in the time since that Strikeforce event. Overall, the prediction difficulty here is around average and there are, I believe, a few spots on the card where a bet is advisable.
205 lbs.: "Suga" Rashad Evans (-200) vs. Thiago Silva (+160)
The Brazilian, Silva, needs to stay patient, maintain a solid defensive stance and look for openings to strike. Thiago failed to do this against Lyoto Machida last January; instead, he ran right at "The Dragon" and received a first-round KO for his troubles. At UFC 108, openings should readily present themselves because Rashad's wild, looping of overhand striking leaves him open to straight-counters far too often. This was shown in Rashad's fight with Lyoto, in which Evans often initiated exchanges only to be literally beaten to the punch. To summarize, the shortest distance between to locations is a straight line, Silva can take advantage of this by utilizing his tighter, more technical striking to pick his shots and make Evans pay for every mistake he'll inevitably make.
For Rashad, his chances of success diminish for as long as the fight stays on the feet. That's not to say Rashad isn't a talented striker: his KO of Chuck Liddell at UFC 88 is an enduring highlight reel, not to mention his epic headkick finish of Sean Salmon at UFN 8. To be sure, Rashad's slick, almost comical, head movement and flashy footwork are impressively athletic, but they're not particularly technical. He clearly packs some speed and power in his hands, given that he first made a name for himself by knocking around heavyweights like Brad Imes, but a fearsome striking specialist like Thiago Silva is another beast entirely. Rashad's best chance for success lies in using his striking mainly just to keep Silva honest while looking to set up big takedowns.
In recent years, Rashad has strayed from his wrestling roots and now would be a good time to get back to basics. Yes, Silva is a BJJ black belt, but he isn't known for scoring big submissions so Rashad should be able to stay out of trouble on the mat. I'm willing to assume that Rashad's head trainer, Greg Jackson, tasted enough humble pie when Thiago Silva opened a can on his other star-pupil, Keith Jardine, at UFC 103 to learn that standing with Thiago is a recipe for disaster. Knowing that, he will likely implore Rashad to mix up his attack. Silva's camp, American Top Team, is no joke either, but ultimately I believe Rashad's athleticism can carry him to victory once again as long as he doesn't try to beat Thiago at his own game.
Having said all that, I see way too much variance in this fight to recommend any bets at these odds.
Evans by Unanimous Decision
Main card (Televised):
170 lbs.: Paul "Semtex" Daley (-115) vs. Dustin McLovin" Hazelett (-115)
Professional oddsmakers have this fight as a statistical deadlock. It's easy to see why. Each fighter is a rare, modern example of a more-or-less one-dimensional fighter who is having success at the highest level. The only way to do that is to be among the very best in the world at your area of expertise.
Paul Daley (22-8-2, 0-1 UFC) is an English fighter who came up through the ranks as a teammate of current WW number-one contender Dan Hardy. He is a truly fearsome striker with over %85 of his wins by way of strikes, including one submission due to a body punch. In his octagon debut at September's UFC 103, Daley put a serious hurting on Martin Kampmann, a respected kickboxer in his own right, resulting in a TKO victory for "Semtex." On the other hand, %60 of Daley's losses have come by way of submission. Dustin "McLovin" Hazelett (12-4, 5-2 UFC), couldn't be more different. A crafty, creative, and unorthodox jiu jitsu practitioner, Hazelett has won multiple "Submission of the Night" awards and has scored %75 of his victories by way of submission. Half of Hazelett's loses have been (T)KOs.
Hazelette's striking is ever-improving, as was shown early in his fight with Josh Koscheck, but there's very little to be gained from standing with Daley for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Similarly, Daley will be very determined to avoid getting caught in Hazelett's horizontal web of pain. One other variable worth considering is the fact that Hazelett hasn't fought in over a year, while Daley has competed five times in that span, going 4-1. Though it's tempting to go with the hot hand, my gut tells me that Hazelett is experienced enough to at least avoid being finished and skilled enough to lock in a submission at some point.
If I were you, I wouldn't get my hard-earned money caught in the middle of this unpredictable style-clash.
Hazelett by Submission, Rd. 2
155 lbs.: Joe "J-Lau" Lauzon (-300) vs. Sam "Hands Of Stone" Stout (+240)
"McLovin" isn't the only non-threatening-looking fighter returning at UFC 108 from a year spent on the sidelines. No, indeed, as former computer-programmer Joe "J-Lau" Lauzon (18-4, 5-1 UFC) is back as well. Joe Lauzon, who was once considered a top-5 contender at lightweight, is a fairly well-rounded fighter, but it's on the mat that he really shines. He says his knee has been fully rehabbed and that he's ready to get back to his winning ways.
In his way is Canadian kickboxer Sam Stout (14-5-1, 3-4 UFC) who has had a rocky career in the UFC, but always seems to be on the verge of breaking through to another level of competitiveness. Watching Stout fight is often like watching a dominant AAA pitcher getting repeatedly called up to the majors and pitching decent games but never quite putting it all together. It's undeniably inspiring, usually exciting, but ultimately a bit sad all at once. One of these days, Stout may develop his skill-set enough to break into the world's top-25 lightweights. I just have a hard time believing that road begins at UFC 108 with an upset over the always-dangerous "J-Lau."
The fact is, Joe Lauzon has a halfway decent chance of out-striking Stout straight-up, and he has such a clear grappling advantage that a miracle KO seems to be Stout's only hope. However, given that Stout has yet to score a UFC finish by way of strikes, that prospect seems unlikely. Even at these odds, a bet on Joe Lauzon seems reasonable to me.
Joe Lauzon by Unanimous Decision
155 lbs.: Duane "Bang" Ludwig (+325) vs. Jim Miller (-500)
A victim of the injury shuffle, Jim Miller (15-2, 4-1 UFC) had two other opponents scheduled to meet him at UFC 108 at one time or another. First, it was fellow-contender Tyson Griffin, then an intriguing match was inked against former LW champion Sean Sherk. Ultimately, what Miller ended up with is an easier fight, at least on paper, against longtime MMA stalwart and returning UFC veteran Duane "Bang" Ludwig (19-9, 0-1 UFC).
This fight has to go better for Ludwig, a decent striker and career journeyman, than his octagon debut at UFC 45 in which he suffered an 11-second KO to Canadian fighter Jonathan Goulet. That said, Ludwig's 8-5 record since that time does little to convince me that he has the goods to challenge a dominant wrestler and top-tier contender like Miller. Miller will most likely avoid the majority of Ludwig's strikes, score a lightening-quick takedown, and score an early finish by submission or TKO via ground-and pound.
Even at these odds, a bet on Jim Miller makes some sense, perhaps as part of a multi-fight parlay. The fact is, a Miller victory here is as close to a sure thing as you're ever likely to see in the UFC.
Miller by TKO (G'n'P), Rd. 1
265 lbs.: Junior "Cigano" Dos Santos (-350) vs. Gilbert "The Hurricane" Yvel (+275)
In yet another example of a lesser-known fighter entering the UFC due to the injuries that battered UFC 108, grizzled veteran, walking controversy, and Muay Thai wrecking machine, Gilbert Yvel (36-13-1, 0-0 UFC) will make his long-overdue octagon debut. Unfortunately for "The Hurricane" he will have to deal with surging HW contender Junior Dos Santos (9-1, 3-0 UFC), who is fresh off literallt punching Mirko "Cro-Cop" blind at UFC 105. Both are technical strikers, but Dos Santos is taller, more muscular, younger and probably a better grappler thanks to his years of training under "Minotauro" Nogueira.
Yvel's Affliction: Day Of Reckoning loss to Josh Barnett exposed his vulnerability to solid a ground attack. Dos Santos must have watched that fight on endless repeat during his training, so he should know what to do in case things don't go his way in the stand-up. Personally, I don't think it will even come to that.
A bet on Dos Santos seems fairly solid even at these seemingly prohibitive odds, but Yvel is always a threat so a flyer bet on him might make sense as well.
Dos Santos by TKO, Rd. 3
Under card (Guaranteed To Air on SpikeTV):
170 lbs.: Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann (-300) vs. Jacob Volkmann (+240)
In a match-up of fighters who each dented my prediction record in their last outings, Danish destroyer Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann (15-3, 6-2 UFC) meets Midwestern wrestler Jacob Volkmann (9-1, 0-1 UFC). I had high hopes for Volkmann in his octagon debut against Paulo Thiago, but his striking proved surprisingly rudimentary and his submission wrestling, while impressive in its creativity, proved less dominant than I expected. At the same time, Paul Daley's dismantling of Kampmann on the feet forced me to significantly lower the stock I can put in "The Hitman's" striking.
Against Volkmann, Kampmann is likely much better on the feet, but slightly over matched on the ground. That said, Kampmann's own formidable submission skills are likely advanced enough for him to at least avoid being finished on on the mat. Based mostly on his longer history of UFC success, I give an extremely slight edge to Kampmann here, but I believe Volkmann has a much better chance of winning than these odds suggest. As such, I recommend a small value bet on Volkmann, but I'm taking "The Hitman" straight-up.
Kampmann by Split-Decision
155 lbs.: Cole "Margrino" Miller (-165) vs. Dan "The Upgrade" Lauzon (+135)
It's almost as if the UFC's head matchmaker is testing the resolve of Dan Lauzon (12-2, 0-1 UFC) to fight in the octagon. In Dan's debut at UFC 64, when he became the youngest fighter ever to appear in the UFC at 18years-4months old, he fought perennial gatekeeper Spencer Fisher who was having absolutely none of it, en route to a first round TKO. Joe Lauzon's little brother has since gone 8-1, but he hasn't fought any elite competition in that time. Cole Miller (15-4, 4-2 UFC), a solid gatekeeper in his own right, will look to remind "The Upgrade" what life is like at the top of the food chain. "The Upgrade" just can't seem to draw an inexperienced opponent.
Following a devastating KO loss to Efrain Escudero in his last fight, Miller knows the result of Saturday's contest could determine whether he still has a job in the UFC for 2010. As such, I predict he'll harness that desperation and utilize his experience advantage to shut down Lauzon's power. I am tempted to go out on a limb and pick "The Upgrade," but I'm jut not ready to write off Cole Miller who has impressed me in the past with legit top-tier skills.
Miller by Submission, Rd. 3
Under card (May not be broadcast):
185 lbs.: Mark Munoz (-350) vs. Ryan Jensen (+275)
After their attempt to market Mark Munoz (6-1, 1-1 UFC) as the LHW wrestler of the future melted down via a rare KO finish from Mark Hamill, the UFC was understandably happy to see "The Phillipine Wrecking Machine" drop to 185lbs. and score a narrow victory over fairly soft competition in Nick Catone. So much so that they are apparently willing to toss Munoz another skill-building fight against the hot-and-cold Ryan Jensen (14-5, 1-3 UFC) who has never been to a decision in his career.
Actually, I think this fight is a fair bit more closely matched than these odds suggest, which makes a bet on Jensen somewhat tempting, but, for now, I am willing to put enough stock in the UFC's scouting team to believe that Munoz really does have at least enough of the goods to defeat the likes of Jensen.
Munoz by Unanimous Decision
170 lbs.: Mike Pyle (+115) vs. Jake Ellenberger (-145)
In my opinion, it is very arguable that Jake Ellenberger (21-5, 0-1 UFC) should have won in his recent split-decision with welterweight contender Calros Condit at UFN 19. He impressed fans and media alike on that night, which explains why he is listed as the favourite here even against a respected submissions specialist Mike "Quicksand" Pyle (19-6-1, 1-1 UFC). Both have fought several well-known opponents, but, while neither guy should be confused with a top-contender, Pyle has fought more of them at this point. I'll take his experience advantage and submission acumen here in the odds upset over Ellenberger's explosiveness and KO power.
Considering I'm picking the underdog straight-up, would be remiss not to also recommend a money bet on Pyle. So, I do. So there.
Pyle by Submission, Rd. 3
155 lbs.: Rafaello "Tractor" Oliveira (-200) vs. John Gunderson (+160)
I ended up with egg all over my face when I more-or-less guaranteed a victory for Rafaello Oliveira (9-2, 0-1 UFC), who shares my surname, in his octagon debut. That fight ended up as a clear-cut decision loss to Nik Lentz. That said, I am very reluctantly returning to the well in this fight against John Gunderson (22-6, 0-0 UFC). He had a losing record in his run in the IFL and his biggest career victory arguably came over Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett in 2005. Of course, my reluctance stems from the fact that Oliveira's short record is littered with wins over such luminaries as the 0-5 Fabio Fabio, the 3-7 Beau King, and the 12-11 John Mahlow.
Now that he has shaken off the octagon jitters, I will once-again take "Tractor" Oliveira hoping he will squeak by Gunderson here. Admittedly, however, I don't know nearly enough about Gunderson to recommend a bet on Oliveira at these odds.
Oliveira by Unanimous Decision