Following a decent 5-1 night at Strikeforce: Miami my prediction record now stands at 147-82 (%64.2) overall and 19-6 (%76) in main events. UFC 109: Relentless features a good mix of extremely close fights and very live underdogs, which makes it ripe for betting success. Of course, that mix also makes the outcomes difficult to predict, but that's the way it should be, right?
Event: UFC 109
Location: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
Ranked Fighters Include (USA Today/ SBN Poll):
Randy Couture (#11 LHW), Mark Coleman (#25 LHW), Nate Marquardt (# 2 MW), Chael Sonnen (#5 MW), Demian Maia (#4 MW), Dan Miller (# MW), Mike Swick (#8 WW), Paulo Thiago (#9 WW), Matt Serra (#22 WW), Frank Trigg (#25 WW),
205 lbs: Randy "The Natural" Couture (-450) vs. Mark "The Hammer" Coleman (+300)
All of the UFC's marketing muscle has been spent trying to convince people that this main event is more than just a tune-up fight for one aging wrestler, Randy Couture (17-10), at the expense of another, Mark Coleman (16-9). This fight may have its moments of excitement, but the final outcome should be fairly clear from bell-to-bell.
While it is true that "The Hammer" has made immense contributions to the sport of MMA, beginning with the introduction of ground-and-pound in 1996, his approach to fighting has not evolved enough to keep up with "The Natural" in 2010. Coleman seems to have finally realized that accepting help and guidance from others can be beneficial, as evidenced by his recent enlistment of renowned striking coach, and former Xtreme Couture employee, Shawn Tompkins. Unfortunately for Coleman, this revelation came as a classic case of too little too late, especially since Couture has worked so diligently over the last decade to improve his own stand-up.
Mark Coleman is still extremely powerful, but his takedowns are not as quick as they once were, which will cost him against such a technically advanced greco-stylist. Expect Randy to stuff several takedowns, tire Coleman out, and coast to another decision victory. After that, Couture, who has lost a step himself, will likely be matched with either the winner or the loser of Machida vs. Shogun II. In either case, you can expect Randy's age to finally catch up with him then; just don't bet on it happening right now.
Couture by Unanimous Decision
185 lbs.: Nate Marquardt (-525) vs. Chael Sonnen (+325)
It was announced at yesterday that the winner of this fight is guaranteed a shot at the winner of the Anderson Silva (25-4) and Vitor Belfort (19-8)'s middleweight title fight scheduled for UFC 112. That's great news for Nate Marquardt (29-8-2, 8-2 UFC) who has gone 4-1, with a very questionable loss to Thales Leites (15-3), since his first match with Silva at UFC 73. In that time Marquardt has added a good deal of muscle and a significant amount of punching power, en route to finishing his last three opponents by (T)KO.
At yesterday's press conference, Chael Sonnen (23-10-1) rightly admitted that Marquardt possesses superior striking and submissions, but calmly assured the media that he remains the better fighter. Personally, I would say that last part is a bit of a stretch. The only area in which Sonnen arguably has Marquardt beat is in his wrestling, but Nate "The Great" is a massive MW who trains on a daily basis with MMA's best functional wrestler, Georges St.-Pierre (19-2). Sonnen is a tough, gritty fighter, but those qualities only take you so far against the most elite competition in modern MMA.
Sonnen has been susceptible to submissions in the past, which is bad news for him considering that over half of Marquardt's career wins have come by tap-out. At these odds, however, there is very little value left in a bet on the favourite.
Marquardt by Submission, Rd. 3
170 lbs.: Paulo Thiago (+160) vs. Mike Swick (-200)
Apparently UFC head matchmaker Joe Silva figures if he can't get the trio of top-ten ranked welterweights at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) to fight each other, then he might as well have them all fight the same dude to see where they stack up. Paulo Thiago (12-1, 2-1 UFC) has already split a pair of fights with Josh Koscheck (14-4), a TKO win, and Jon Fitch (21-3), a unanimous decision loss, and now looks to clinch the series against AKA's Mike "Quick" Swick (14-3).
Thiago was blasted by nearly every MMA commentator following his bout with Josh Koscheck for having atrocious striking defense, rudimentary footwork, and sloppy, two-strike combinations. All that was a bit unfair, of course, both because Thiago, a BJJ and Judo black belt, had never claimed he was a striker and because he won that fight with a textbook uppercut, anyway. Another thing we learned from the Koscheck fight is that Thiago can take a shot and keep on coming, which should serve him well against Mike Swick.
Mike Swick is well known to UFC fans for his many career (T)KO's across two weight divisions over the last five years, but he has never demonstrated top-tier skills in any area. His striking, while effective, lacks a serviceable jab and was recently exposed by Dan Hardy (23-6)'s superior boxing at UFC 105. While he has always shown excellent takedown defense, once on the ground Swick faltered against Yushin Okami (23-5) at UFC 69.
The conventional pick in this fight is Mike Swick by TKO, and I have to stick close to that this time. I briefly considered taking the Brazillian in an upset, but, ultimately, Paulo Thiago hasn't accomplished enough in the octagon to justify that kind of faith in his skills. Nonetheless, I do expect an extremely close fight and a flyer bet on Thiago makes enough sense at these odds.
Swick by Unanimous Decision
185 lbs.: Demian Maia (-450) vs. Dan Miller (+300)
Dan Miller (11-2, 3-1 UFC, 7 subs) recently received his black belt from Jamie Cruz, so there will officially be two BJJ masters in the octagon when he squares off with Demian Maia (11-1, 5-1 UFC, 8 subs). Of course, that's a bit like saying Tiger Woods and Mike Weir are equally skilled because both were winners at Augusta National. Yes, it's impressive that Miller has earned the highest honour that a BJJ practitioner can aspire to, but that doesn't make him likely to submit Maia who is arguably MMA's very best submissions artist.
Nonetheless, Miller may be able to use his BJJ skills defensively and, by combining them with his top-notch wrestling abilities, could conceivably keep Maia at a distance, forcing a striking match that could earn him a decision win. Considering Maia's recent 21-second KO loss to Nate Marquart at UFC 102, a Miller win by (T)KO can not be ruled out either. Quite simply, if Maia doesn't get a firm hold of Miller at some point, his path to victory diminishes to almost nothing. Luckily for Maia, he's not only a BJJ specialist, but also an Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) grappling champion.
Only if Dan Miller fights a perfect fight and successfully thwarts almost all of Maia's takedowns does he stand a legitimate chance of winning. The thing is, all of that is fairly plausible. So, while I will take Maia straight-up, based on his otherworldly grappling, I heartily recommend a small value bet on Miller at these absurdly long odds.
Maia by Submission, Rd. 2
170 lbs.: Matt "The Terra" Serra (-155) vs. Frank "Twinkle Toes" Trigg (+125)
This fight has been sufficiently hyped via the razor-sharp verbal barbs that Matt Serra (9-6, 6-6 UFC) and Frank Trigg (19-7, 2-4 UFC) have launched at one another over the last several weeks, but, when the cage door closes, we will still be stuck watching a fight that is unmistakably low in divisional impact.
Both fighters lost their last bouts, although Serra's decision loss to Matt Hughes (43-7) at UFC 98 was more closely contested than Trigg's first-round KO loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 103. Though both Trigg and Serra fighters are well past their primes, Frank Trigg appears to have lost slightly more of a step. For example, "Twinkle Toes" has scored unanimous decisions in his last three wins despite owning a career finishing rate in wins that remains at nearly %75. So he is clearly not the finisher he once was.
Trigg's best option is to use superior wrestling to take the fight to the ground and pound Serra out. That strategy is fraught with dangers, however, as Serra is a BJJ black belt who, though he hasn't scored many recent submissions, has made a lot of noise in the media about going for a sub in this fight. Even if Serra doesn't submit Trigg on the mat, "The Terra's" grappling prowess will enable him to limit incoming damage and force frequent stand-ups. On the feet, Serra has a notable advantage based on the concussive power of his right hand.
After the UFC cut him in 2005, Trigg put together a masterful 7-2 stretch of fights to make his way back to the octagon. Unfortunately for "Twinkle Toes," he seems to have used the last gasps of his considerable talent getting back to the big show, only to become a human highlight reel for Serra, who has just a little bit more left to give.
A bet on Serra at these odds is fairly reasonable. In my books, he stands as a slightly bigger favourite.
Serra by Submission, Rd. 2
Under card (Live on SpikeTV):
155 lbs.: Mac Danzig (-500) vs. Justin Buchholz (+325)
The final live fight on SpikeTV will see super-vegan and Ultimate Fighter 6 winner Mac Danzig (18-7-1, 2-3 UFC) squaring off against kicking-machine Justin Buchholz (8-4, 1-3 UFC). After his last three consecutive UFC fights ended in heart-wrenching defeat Danzig briefly considered walking away from MMA, but he's back this Saturday to take one last shot at glory. Danzig's betting-line may have benefited from his superior name-recognition, but he does have all the skills needed to deal with Buchholz.
The key to victory for Danzig is his wrestling, which should allow him to secure advantageous positions with relative ease. Once the scrap hits the mat, Danzig is a master at capitalizing with either triangles or rear naked chokes. Should Danzig elect to stand, his slick counter-striking will likely be enough to overcome Buchholz's kicks and occasional flurries.
At these odds, a non-bet is probably the way to go.
Danzig by Submission, Rd. 1
155 lbs.: Melvin "The Young Assassin" Guillard (-105) vs. Ronnys Torres (-125)
A devastating striker with a propensity to wilt under submissions pressure, Melvin Guillard (22-8-2 1NC, 5-4 UFC) needs no introduction to UFC fans. His opponent, Brazilian Ronnys Torres (14-1, 0-0 UFC) is currently riding on an eight fight winning streak that includes five submissions and a win over Luiz Azerado (12-8), who is famous for having once defeated Anderson Silva in "The Spider's" very first fight back in 2000.
Guillard has revamped his game under the tutelage of MMA super-coach Greg Jackson down in New Mexico, but picking "The Young Assassin" to defeat a world-class BJJ fighter is like predicting paper to defeat scissors. Barring an early KO for Guillard, Torres takes this one and makes a successful debut splash in the UFC.
The lines have been tilting quickly as money pours in on Torres, but I would still suggest a wager on a win for the Brazilian, even at these slightly less favourable odds.
Torres by Submission, Rd. 2
Preliminary Card (May Not Be Broadcast):
155 lbs.: Rob Emerson (-130) vs. Phillipe Nover (EVEN)
The top of the undercard features two former TUF'ers, both on two-fight losing streaks, looking to keep their jobs with an impressive victory when The Ulitimate Fighter 5's Rob Emerson (8-8 1NC, 2-2 1NC UFC ) meets TUF 8 finalist Philipe Nover (5-2, 0-2 UFC). Although his footwork has historically been slightly plodding, Emerson's stand-up is highly decent. He packs considerable power, possesses a solid chin, and has top-shelf takedown defense. Phillipe Nover has notched three submissions in five career wins and his stand-up was once compared, by UFC President Dana White, to that of Anderson Silva, but that talk was very premature. Nover has had recent trouble with fainting spells, which he attributes to poor weight-cutting techniques, so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself at UFC 109.
Emerson, for all his failings, has more Octagon experience, appears to be in better physical condition, and has allegedly gone back to square-one with his new training camp. Emerson seems to be on the cusp of finally putting it all together, but it's much harder to get an accurate read on where Nover's game stands. For that reason alone, I will take Emerson here, but I don't recommend a bet on this highly volatile fight.
Emerson by Split-Decision
205 lbs.: Brian "The All American" Stann (+215) vs. Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis (-275)
This is collegiate wrestler Phil Davis (4-0, 0-0 UFC)' octagon debut, but the oddsmakers are nonetheless favouring him very heavily against Brian "The All American" Stann (8-2, 2-1 UFC, 5-1 WEC). Sure, Stann somehow looks like a more cartoonish version of American Dad, but that is not the reason to count him out in this fight. No, the real reason to pick Davis here is that Stann has not demonstrated any takedown defense or grappling ability in his ten career fights, which should mean that an accomplished NCAA Div. 1 champion like Davis will be all over him like a schoolyard bully.
A bet on Davis makes a good deal of sense even given the low potential pay-out and the fact that "Mr. Wonderful" has yet to go through the dreaded "octagon jitters."
Davis by TKO (G'n'P), Rd. 3
265 lbs.: Tim "The Wrecking Machine" Hague (+160, CAN) vs. Chris Tuchscherer (-200)
Alberta's Tim "The Wrecking Machine" Hague (10-2, 1-1 UFC) has changed-up his training camp since suffering a seven-second KO loss to Todd Duffee (6-0) at UFC 102, while Brock Lesnar's training partner, Chris Tuchscherer (17-2, 0-1), has gone back to the drawing board following a first-round TKO loss to Gabriel Gonzaga (11-4). Both fighters are physically massive heavyweights and each has numerous (T)KO wins on his resume, which means two things. One is that the fight could be short and, the other is that, if it goes longer than one round, conditioning could become a significant factor. Tim Hague has been rocked by a punch in each of his past two UFC fights, which has many international fans questioning his ability to take a shot, but Canadian fans, who have seen him in several wars, have reason to view that as a mere statistical anomaly.
Ultimately, the fight should come down to which fighter has the deeper gas tank and that appears to be Tim Hague. I am taking the underdog straight-up in this one, which means that logically I have to recommend a cash bet on Tim Hague as well.
Hague by Unanimous Decision
265 lbs.: Rolles Gracie (-550) vs. Joey Beltran (+375)
As recently as Feb. 1st, Rolles Gracie (3-0, 0-0 UFC), a member of the legendary first-family of MMA, was scheduled to fight English brawler Mustapha Al-Turk (6-5, 0-2 UFC) at UFC 109. When that fight feel through due to injury, the UFC quickly secured the services of Joey "The Mexicutioner" Beltran (10-3), who is best known for defeating Houston Alexander (9-6) by second-round TKO just three weeks ago. Beltran has considerably more experience than Gracie, and has defeated several big names at heavyweight, including UFC veterans Wes Combs (14-4) and Sherman Pendergarst (11-16). Beltran has also scored nine of his ten wins by (T)KO, making this a classic striker vs. grappler match.
It's difficult not to pick Gracie here because the UFC is positioning him to take a serious run at contendership, but Beltran's history of knocking opponent's silly, combined with his vast experience advantage, makes a bet on "The Mexicutioner" the only reasonable wager at these odds.
Gracie by Submission, Rd. 2