Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ultimate Fight Night 20: Main Card Predictions

After going 7-3 (%70) and notching a main event win at UFC 108: Evans vs. Silva, my overall record now stands at 140-79 (%63.9) and 17-6 (%73.9) in main events. Anyone interested in a detailed prediction history can hit me up at with a request. Due to time constrains, I am only predicting the main card at Ultimate Fight Night 20, but unofficially I am taking British Columbia's Rory MacDonald over Mike Guymon by TKO in round two.

The fights air live on Spike TV at 6:00 PM/PST

Main event:

155 lbs.: Nate Diaz (+235) vs. Gray Maynard (-295)

Several Gray "The Bully" Maynard (8-0 1NC, 6-0 1NC UFC) vs. Nate Diaz (11-4, 6-2 UFC) II storylines have been so well publicized that it would be redundant to mention them in detail. For posterity's sake, here are the highlights: they fought once before on The Ultimate Fighter 5; Diaz won by submission; it was an exhibition, though, so it didn't count on their records; Maynard has not been undefeated since, while Diaz lost two times 2009; a Maynard win would likely be earn him a shot at BJ Penn's lightweight belt; yada-yada-yada.

On to the topic at hand, which is handicapping a fight between the 2010 versions of Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz. Unfortunately for Diaz fans, this one does not bode well for the otherwise deservedly cocky young man from Stockton, CA.

Frankly, everything Nate does well is thoroughly neutralized either by Gray's solid wrestling skills or via his remarkable genetic advantages, which are also ideally suited to attack the weakest points of Nate's game.

For example, just like his older brother, Nate Diaz possesses excellent boxing. However, they rarely look for a finishing shot, preferring instead to let the accumulation of punishment take its toll. This strategy works perfectly against opponents who are either unadvisedly willing or logistically compelled to remain standing with the brothers Diaz for extended periods of time. However, Gray Maynard will not have to stand with Nate unless he wants to, which he won't unless he is getting the better of the striking anyway. Besides that, Maynard has a granite chin that has only ever been rocked inside the octagon when Gray slammed his own head into the canvas with the weight of two full-grown men behind it. Most likely, Gray will use his ever-improving strikes primarily to set up his trademark takedowns, which he should be able to land at will on Diaz who has never once demonstrated an effective sprawl.

Normally, being put on his back is a gift for Nate, whose triangle chokes are so tight that he frequently keeps his hands free to make obscene gestures while casually awaiting the inevitable tap. However, Diaz' go-to submission probably won't pay dividends here, the way a late guillotine did the first time around against Maynard. Many have tried to submit Maynard in the time since Diaz managed it on TUF 5, but all have failed. This is partly due to Gray's vastly improved BJJ defense, but it certainly helps that Gray is roughly as strong as a wild boar.

Nope, you just can't teach or hope to train for strength like Maynard's -- call it a simple matter of Gray's anatomy. Okay, that was a horrible joke. In any case, once he's underneath Maynard and realizes he is unable to set up his favourite chokes, Diaz will have little choice but to either take a prolonged beating or hand over his milk money to "The Bully." Perhaps his best hope is that Gray will become overly determined to score a finish and make a crucial error as a result. Unfortunately for Diaz, there are few fighters in MMA patient enough to stick to cautious, yet effective, game plans like Gray Maynard.

Nate Diaz is tough as nails, so a finish is not highly likely, but a Maynard win very much is, which should be good enough to secure a title shot, especially considering it would bring his UFC total to seven in a row. At these odds, a bet in either direction is not quite worth it, but I can understand the appeal of a either small value bet on Diaz or in using Maynard in a multi-fight parlay.

Maynard by Unanimous Decision

Main card (Televised):

155 lbs.: Evan Dunham (+210) vs. Efrain Escudero (-270)

In a classic example of name recognition adding value to a fighter's betting line, Efrain Escudero (12-0, 2-0 UFC) came as an unrealistically massive favourite against Evan Dunham (9-0, 2-0 UFC) who, in truth, is much closer to Efrain's level of both talent and ability than these odds suggest.

Of course, Escudero is the lightweight winner of TUF 8 and handily defeated Phillipe Nover in the finals, who was once compared to Anderson Silva by Dana White. Since then, Escudero also nearly put grizzled octagon vet Cole Miller into a coma with a single strike at UFC 103. However, the lesser-known Dunham has also had recent success in the octagon knocking off both Sweden's Per Eklund and Brazil's Marcus Aurelio in 2009.

Both fighters are undefeated, and with good reason. For one thing, they are both powerful wrestlers with very decent striking. Each also possess finisher's instincts, having ended a combined %81 of their fights inside the distance. Their striking is stylistically different, but equally effective, with Escudero throwing the wilder, more-powerful shots, while Dunham employs a more coy counter-striking approach.

When neither young fighter has, as they say, "learned how to lose" it is always difficult to predict who will solve that riddle out first. That said, I am taking Escudero to win based on the fact that he has a bit more experience and really not that much else. Two things are certain in this fight: 1) it will be one heck of a scrap, and, 2) at these screwy odds, the only cash bet that makes any sense is on Dunham to score the alleged "massive upset."

Escudero by Split-Decision

185 lbs.: Tom Lawlor (+250) vs. Aaron Simpson (-325)

Why is it that the once barely-audible buzz surrounding talented wrestler and all-around smashing machine Aaron Simpson (6-0, 2-0 UFC) suddenly sounds more like a chainsaw than a pager. Seemingly from nowhere, comparisons between the thirty-five-year-old Simpson and another MMA latecomer, some guy by the name of Randy Couture, have become the order of the day. Meanwhile, most predictions for this fight contain words like "decapitate" and "steamroll" to describe what "The A-Train" will do to Tom "The Filthy Mauler" Lawler (6-1, 2-0 UFC).

Many, it seems, currently view Lawler as little more than marginally-talented. Plus, after a series of mildly amusing shenanigans that have included "Filthy" being led to the cage at UFC 100 wearing a collar and choke-chain, he is often treated as if he should just switch over now to his budding second-career as a prop comic. It is seemingly far too easy to forget that Lawler is also a fierce competitor with very decent submissions and an indomitable never-quit attitude. Not only that, but Lawler is also essentially undefeated with his sole recorded loss coming as a result of an illegal knee strike in early 2008.

Did you think I was about to pick Lawler? Not so fast. Sure, he has the skills to turn this into a decent scrap and could theoretically catch "The A-Train" in a submission, but Simpson really is a uniquely gifted athlete, which is one area in which Lawlor is lacking. Simpson brings just too much to the table and should, at the very least, be able to easily utilize his wrestling advantage to dictate where the fight goes. More likely, he'll score late TKO via ground'n'pound.

A bet on Simpson at these odds would probably just be a waste of time, unless you are prepared to dig deep and bet the house, in which case it is both wasteful and risky. Anything more than a small value bet on Lawlor is not advisable either.

Aaron Simpson by TKO, Rd. 3

170 lbs.: Amir Sadollah (-160) vs. Brad Blackburn (+130)

Longtime followers of my picks will remember that I was so underwhelmed by Amir Sodollah (2-1, 2-1 UFC) following his Cinderella run on TUF 7 and subsequent TKO loss to Johnny Hendricks that I actually picked a washed up Phil Baroni to beat him at UFC 106. In hindsight, I shouldn't have given Baroni enough credit to assume he would actually train properly for the fight of his life. That was my bad. However, I still wasn't overly impressed with Sodollah. On the contrary, I was shocked that he was not able to finish Baroni despite being allowed to pretty much pick his shots for the majority of all three rounds.

That questionable striking power will not serve Amir's Muay Thai well against a lights-out boxer like "Bad" Brad Blackburn (15-9-1, 3-0 UFC). The holder of eight (T)KO victories, Blackburn will be looking to end Amir's night early and often. On top of being by far the more devastating striker, Blackburn is also physically stronger, a better wrestler, and much more experienced. Granted, Blackburn also has a reputation for gassing out, but he usually does so after two rounds as opposed to Baroni's customary two minutes.

If Blackburn can't finish Sodollah within the first two rounds he should at least dominate those opening frames. Meanwhile, Amir's dearth of power and the fact that Blackburn has only been submitted once in his career will make a third round comeback unlikely for Sodollah.

If, however, the plucky TUF 7 winner somehow proves me wrong again, I will finally start to give him some more credit. Until then, I feel I have every reason to remain suspicious about the large amount of hype behind a guy with only three pro fights and two wins.

A money bet either way can probably be justified, but I would stick with the underdog here.

Blackburn by TKO, Rd. 2

Under card (May not be broadcast):

185 lbs.: Chris Leben (-170) vs. Jay Silva (+140)
170 lbs.: Jesse Lennox (+205) vs. Rick Story (-265)
170 lbs.: Mike Guymon (+160) vs. Rory MacDonald (-200)
155 lbs.: Nik Lentz (+180) vs. Thiago Tavares (-220)
155 lbs.: Kyle Bradley (+275) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (-350)
185 lbs.: Gerald Harris (-290) vs. John Salter (+230)
185 lbs.: Nick Catone (-200) vs. Jesse Forbes (+160)

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