Monday, January 11, 2010

Ultimate Fight Night 20: Review

I went a below-average 2-2 (%50) on the night, bringing my overall prediction total to 142-81(%63.7) and 18-6 (%75) in main events. I willingly admit that I underestimated Amir Sodollah and heartily congratulate him on his decisive victory over "Bad" Brad Blackburn. That said, I stubbornly retain some lingering concerns about the young Iranian.

Besides that, my analysis was very strong, if I don't say so. This was so even in my other defeat in which Evan Dunham taught Efrain Escudero a valuable lesson in the dangers of the deadliest sin. Speaking of Pride, though, please allow me to take a minute to boast about my betting night. I was nearly flawless with tidy wins on solo Rory MacDonald and Evan Dunham bets, plus a three fight parlay of Gerald Harris, Aaron Simpson, and Gray Maynard to win. My only loss was on Jay Silva to beat Chris Leben, but that was more of a flyer bet, anyway.

My detailed thoughts on the main card and full-card results can be found below.

Gray Maynard Def. Nick Diaz By Split-Decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)

It turned out closer than I expected, but Gray Maynard pulled out another decision to retain his perfect UFC record, and padded my already-solid main event predictions record in the process. So, I can't complain too much about the stress he put me through in the process. The real difference from my analysis was that I thought Maynard would mix in some of his vaunted wrestling skills, but he chose, instead, to demonstrate his massively improved striking. Gray's head movement was reminiscent of his trainer, Randy Couture, and his hands were clearly packing K.O. power with sniper precision. That combination would have been enough to beat most fighters decisively, but Nate Diaz has certain advantages in a pure striking match, like his ridiculous reach, stupendous durability, and years of boxing training. Nonetheless, Maynard was able to neutralize those advantages en route to a richly deserved decision win. I just thought he might have made things easier on himself by mixing in a slam or two. Of course, then he would have ended up in Nate "No Hands Triangle" Diaz' guard and risked being submitted, so I can understand "The Bully's" reasoning.

The other story here is that the UFC's absolute worst nightmare came %100 true. Gray Maynard won in fairly pedestrian style and without adding a much-needed dramatic finish to his highlight reel. That makes Gray pretty difficult to market against the lightweight champion, BJ Penn. Meanwhile, the only other viable option, Frankie "The Answer" Edgar, has a glaring loss to Maynard on his record. Perhaps, Zuffa can woo Shinya Aoki from DREAM/Strikeforce to face "The Prodigy," though that seems pretty unlikely. Failing all else, they can either move BJ up for a showcase fight at welterweight, or try to convince a welterweight contender to drop down for an immediate title shot, Josh Koscheck perhaps?

Then again, the UFC could also just give Maynard the title fight, anyway. It's not as if fans won't always tune in to see "The Prodigy" fight, even against an opponent with limited hype. There should really be no problem marketing everyone's favourite demented blood-lick'er, especially if the match goes down on at the much-anticipated Abu Dhabi card (UFC 112, April 10th), as is rumoured.

Evan Dunham Def. Efrain Escudero By Armbar, Rd. 3

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be right. Well, actually it did pay big-time via my cash bet on Evan Dunham, which I recommended in my predictions post. What I mean, though, is that knowing Dunham was being pathetically underrated by oddsmakers was, not quite enough for me to pick him straight-up against Efrain Escudero, Mexico's favourite TUF 8 winner. It sure was close, though. Going into the third round, each undefeated youngster had one round in the bank, at least in my books. Then when Efrain opened the third with a guillotine attempt it looked like he might pull it out, after all. That is, until Dunham escaped the choke, scored a trip to initiate a scramble, then transitioned flawlessly from a triangle to an armbar that finished the match.

Unfortunately, Escudero clearly did suffer from never having "learned how to lose." He left the octagon to seek immediate medical attention due to a severely injured arm that did not need to be damaged at all. It was only Efrain's refusal to tap that caused the potentially serious injury. One sincerely hopes the damage won't affect his career too negatively, but, if nothing else, this fight's aftermath should stand as an example to undefeated up-and-comers of the dangers inherent in not tapping. The clothing line may be right that "Jesus Didn't Tap," but when you're helplessly probably should just go ahead and do it, anyway.

Aaron Simpson Def. Tom Lawlor By Split-Decision
(28-29, 29-28, 29-28)

In another gratifying case of personal vindication for this writer, though this time without the bitter taint of failure, Tom "The Filthy Mauler" Lawlor put up much more of a fight against Aaron "The A-Train" Simpson than just about anyone else predicted he would. To listen to the numerous pro-Simpson doomsayers go on about how Lawlor was going to get completely blasted, you would think "Filthy" wasn't a talented, physically massive, and essentially undefeated middleweight. Well, guess what, he proved he was all those things at UFN 20. Not only did Lawlor put up one a heck fight in defeat, he used better striking than anyone, besides possibly his striking coach, had ever seen from him to utterly dominate the first round. Not only that, but in the mind of one judge and the hearts of many of the assembled fans, he even can lay claim to having "won" the fight.

Ultimately, though, Aaron "The A-Train" Simpson proved his many yay-sayers right. What he really showed was nearly unbelievable durability and incredible mental toughness en route to winning the last two rounds on two cards to secure the split-decision win. Lawlor vs. Simpson was easily the fight of the year in my book, despite the fact that we're only about two weeks in, of course.

I can not wait until either one of these guys fights next. In fact, why not have them fight each other again? I have certainly heard worse ideas in my time.

Amir Sodollah Def. Brad Blackburn by Unanimous Decision

The main card did not start well for my picks, but, my analysis was not as far off as the unanimous 30-27 scores for Amir Sodollah would suggest. For one thing, Brad Blackburn did put up a very respectable fight for the first two rounds. In the first round, Blackburn had his moments and only lost it so clearly due to the knock down Sodollah scored late. In my admittedly biased opinion, Blackburn could even have been awarded the second frame. "Bad" Brad also survived a third-round mauling, just as I predicted he would if the fight went the distance. By failing to finish Blackburn when he had him clearly rocked with a flying knee, Sodollah demonstrated once again that he may lack finishing ability.

On the other hand, I promised to give Amir credit if he proved me wrong twice in a row, so here it comes: his leg kicks looked fast and powerful once again, and Mike Goldberg was right to point out how impressive it is when Sodollah uses his push-kicks, essentially a leg jab, as a serious offensive weapon. Ultimately, Amir Sodollah proved once again that high-quality, eight-point, muay thai striking will almost always trump straight-up boxing. Despite my lingering concerns with regard to Amir's finishing ability, he should feel great about his performance. At 3-1, it is clear now that Sodollah deserves his place in the octagon.

Quick Results

Main Event
***Gray Maynard Def. Nate Diaz By Split Decision

Main Card
---Evan Dunham Def. Efrain Escudero By Armbar, Rd. 3
***Aaron Simpson Def. Tom Lawlor By Split Decision
---Amir Sodollah Def. Brad Blackburn By Unanimous Decision

Chris Leben Def. Jay Silva By Unanimous Decision

Rick Story Def. Jesse Lennox By Unanimous Decision
(***)Rory MacDonald Def. Mike Guymon By Armbar, Rd. 1
Nik Lentz vs. Thiago Tavares Ruled a Majority Draw (Lame)
Rafael dos Anjos Def. Kyle Bradley By Unanimous Decision
Gerald Harris Def. John Salter By TKO, Rd. 3
Nick Catone Def. Jesse Forbes By Split Decision

*** Correct Picks --- Incorrect Picks () = Unofficial Pick

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