Friday, February 19, 2010

UFC 110: Predictions

February 21st will feature an average Sunday afternoon for most Australians-- shrimp will hit barbies across the nation, surfers will hit the waves at Bondi, and kangaroo meat will hit the spot. But for the UFC's rabid Aussie fan-base at Sydney's Acer Arena, that afternoon will be the greatest moment of their entire lives. Well, it will be pretty close to that, for sure.

Thanks to the combined magic of satellite broadcasting and standardized time zones, UFC fans in North America will receive live video of the event on Saturday, February 20th at 7:00pm PST (9:00pm EST). [Picture Props:]

My prediction record now stands at 153-87 (%63.8) and 20-6 (%76.9) in main events.

Ranked Fighters at UFC 110 Include:

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (#4 HW), Cain Velasquez (#6 HW), Keith Jardine (#16 LHW), Wanderlei Silva (#22 LHW), Michael Bisping (#14 MW), George Sotiropoulos (WW #22), Joe Stevenson (LW #14)

Rankings courtesy of: USA Today/SBN Poll

Main Event:

Heavyweight: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (-110, 3-0 UFC) vs. Cain Velasquez (-120, 5-0 UFC)

When professional oddsmakers offer such evenly matched lines, the odds represent the mathematical equivalent of a shoulder shrug. What I can do is offer three possibilities for how the fight will go:

1) Mostly Stand-Up: If the fight remains upright, Cain Velasquez (7-0) will be at a clear technical disadvantage, but he can make up for it with sheer tenacity. That is to say, (deep breath) Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro/Big Nog" Nogueira (32-5-1) has some of the finest pure boxing in the sport, but can be overly patient in looking for openings. Several of "Big Nog's" past opponents have shown that acting first can put Nogueira on his heels. Once he's backing up, Nogueira has difficulty finding his rhythm as long as the pressure remains constant. Obviously, most of Nogueira's opponents eventually let off the proverbial gas pedal, but no one maintains an all-out assault quite like Cain Velasquez. If Cain holds back for even one moment, he will likely get picked apart. So he would be well advised to throw bombs with controlled ferocity from bell to bell.

2) Mostly Ground: If majority of the fight takes place on the mat, Nogueira will probably find a way to submit Velasquez. Contrary to recent comments made by a certain welterweight contender, submissions from full-guard position are not on their way out in MMA. At least not so long as "Minotauro" Nogueira has any say in it. Sure, Velasquez is a strong positional wrestler and often lands in at least half-guard or even side-control following his takedowns, but giving Nogueira ample time on the mat is like standing still in an open field while a trained sniper assembles his rifle. Not smart.

3) An Even Mix: This is where Cain Velasquez possibly has the most significant advantage. Not only because an up-and-down fight will prevent "Minotauro" from finding his comfort-zone in either position, but because Cain, being the vastly superior wrestler and the most constantly active fighter in the division, would likely score on nearly every takedown and land strikes both first and last in most scrambles and short exchanges.

This fight is pretty tough to handicap, but Velasquez' tenacity and wrestling advantage will make it very difficult for Nogueira to win by decision. A submission victory for Nogueira a distinct possibility, but I am willing to bet that Velasquez has developed his mental game and submissions defense enough to successfully execute an extremely disciplined, takedown-heavy game plan. In fact, I even think there is value in a bet on Velasquez at the current lines.

Velasquez by Unanimous Decision

Main Card (PPV):

185lbs.: Michael Bisping (+125, 8-2 UFC) vs. Wanderlei Silva (-155, 2-4 UFC)

After browsing the internet for UFC 110 predictions, one could logically conclude that Wanderlei Silva (32-10-1) is the same beast he was in PRIDE circa 2001-2003. The average breakdown for this match goes like this: "My longtime personal hero "The Axe Murderer" is way too awesome and cool for that jerk Bisping to handle. Wand by early KO as Bisping goes down harder than he did against Henderson." Of course, most of these writers know that Wanderlei was also KO'ed by Dan Henderson (25-7) three years ago, but can't help basking in the image of Wanderlei Silva unleashing a holy terror of strikes.

I don't dispute that Wanderlei might smash Bisping into oblivion, but relatively few seem willing to accept that Bisping, the owner of 12 career (T)KO's, could also finish Wanderlei, who has been KO'ed three times in just his last six fights. Not to mention that Bisping's superior reach, better hand-speed, and greater ability to control range should give him an edge in scoring points. Plus, this is Wanderlei's first fight at 185lbs., so there is no telling how he will look at this new weight until we actually see it.

Wanderlei may have a slightly better chance of finishing this fight, but I am willing to stick my neck out and state that Bisping has a better chance of winning. That said, I would not recommend any bets here as there is too much potential for variance to justify chasing the small potential payouts.

Michael Bisping by Split-Decision

205 lbs.: Keith Jardine (+135, 6-5 UFC) vs. Ryan Bader (-165, 3-0 UFC)

This is one of the most unpredictable fights on the entire card because TUF 1 veteran Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine (15-6-1) tends to do one of two things in his fights. He either herky-jerks his way to a close decision, or gets knocked out early. Nine of his eleven UFC fights have ended in one of these two outcomes. Undefeated TUF 8 winner Ryan "Darth" Bader (10-0), a former NCAA Div. I wrestler out of Arizona State University where he helped win three Pac-10 Championships, definitely has the power in his hands to knock Jardine out, but not the striking savvy to hang with "The Dean" for three full rounds. Therefore, Bader's best bet is to take Jardine to the ground. Of course, that only adds another layer of unpredictability to the fight given how rarely we have seen Jardine's ground game.

I will take Bader here on the hunch that his stand-up defense has improved since his underwhelming win at UFC 104 and because, after his most recent flash knockout at UFC 102, Keith Jardine's chin now looks more suspect than ever. Still, given Bader's massive experience disadvantage, I can't recommend a cash bet on him. If anything, there may be some value in Jardine's underdog line, especially if last-minute betting shifts it even further into the positive numbers.

Bader by TKO, Rd. 2

155 lbs.: Joe Stevenson (-250, 8-4 UFC) vs. George Sotiropoulos (+190, 4-0 UFC)

George Sotiropoulos (14-2), the only Australian on the main card, is a well rounded fighter who was eliminated from the TUF 6 tournament due to an eye poke from Tommy Speer (13-4). Sotiropoulos has finished all four of his UFC opponents to date, and has only lost twice in his entire career-- once by decision in his fourth fight and once via questionable DQ against Shinya Aoki (23-4, #2 LW). UFC fans are very familiar with what Joe Stevenson (31-10) brings to the table. He is a former title contender and has looked great since joining Greg Jackson's camp ahead of is last fight, in which "Daddy" dominated Spencer "The King" Fisher (23-5) en route to a second round submission (due to strikes).

Stevenson is easily the superior wrestler in this fight, but Sotiropoulos creates some difficult challenges of his own. For one thing, George is several inches taller, which should help him to work behind the jab, as well as providing extra leverage to facilitate his slick arsenal of submissions. Sotiropoulos' lanky limbs should also help him to tie Stevenson up if Joe "Daddy" lands in his full-guard following a takedown. Both fighters hold BJJ black belts, but Stevenson has historically relied too heavily on the guillotine choke, while Sotiropoulos has proven himself effective with a wider variety of subs. Stevenson has also shown a tendency to make poor decisions when a fight is not going his way, as he did in the Kenny Florian (12-4) and Diego Sanchez (21-3) fights, while Sotiropoulos always remains composed.

Stevenson represents a massive step up for Sotiropoulos, but the hometown boy knows this could be his best chance to grab an inside track toward title-contendership and I believe he has just the right amount of skill to pull it off. One thing I know for sure is that there is still significant value in George's line, though that has been diminishing fast. Sotiropoulos was originally pegged at +285, but a mountain of money has since come in on him to win, which pushed him back down to +190.

Sotiropoulos by Submission (Armbar), Rd. 3

Heavyweight: Mirko Filipovic (2-3 UFC) vs. Anthony Perosh (0-1 UFC) ***Odds Not Available at this time.***

Mirko "Cro-Cop" Filipovic (25-7-2 1NC) was set to face Ben Rothwell (30-7) before the latter pulled out with an illness at the last-minute, creating an opportunity for Australian Anthony "The Hippo" Perosh (10-5) to step-in. Given that Perosh is a submissions expert with the majority of his losses by (T)KO, and Mirko is a (T)KO master who has been submitted only twice (once by "Big Nog" in 2003 and once due to strikes at UFC 103), I see no reason not to pick Mirko here.

"Cro-Cop" is not what he once was, but he isn't about to lose to a guy calling himself "The Hippo."

Filipovic by TKO, Rd. 1

Under card (May not be broadcast):

205 lbs.: Stephan Bonnar (+140, 5-5 UFC) vs. Krzysztof Soszynski (-175, 3-1 UFC, CAN)

Everyone remembers Stephan "The American Psycho" Bonnar (11-6) from his epic fight with Forrest Griffin (17-6) at the TUF 1 finale, but "The American Psycho" has fallen on hard times of late. His last win came in October of 2007 and he has lost two clear-cut decisions since returning from injuries and a steroid suspension in early 2009. Nonetheless, Bonnar remains a very real threat to Canadian submissions specialist Krzysztof "The Polish Experiment" Soszynski (18-9-1). For one thing, Bonnar has never been submitted and, for another, his muay thai striking is more varied than Soszynski's traditional boxing.

Still, I will take Soszynski based on superior strength and conditioning as well as his distinct grappling advantage. A bet on Soszynski at these odds is risky, but not necessarily ill-advised.

Soszynski by Submission (Kimura), Rd. 3

170 lbs.: Brian Foster (+140, 1-1 UFC) vs. Chris Lytle (-170, 6-9 UFC)

UFC fans know Chris "Lights Out" Lytle (27-17-10) from the many thrilling striking matches he has been in over the years, but one thing Lytle has never been known for is takedown defense. That fact haunted him when he fought Matt Hughes (43-7) at UFC 68, a fight Lytle lost by unanimous decision after spending the entire fight getting pummeled from above. For that reason, I have reservations about picking Lytle to defeat one Hughes proteges in Brian Foster (13-4), who fights like and actually even looks a bit like a younger, faster version of Hughes. Foster utterly dismantled a savvy veteran in Brock Larson (26-4) back at UFC 106 and, even though Lytle's submissions from guard are decent, they shouldn't be anything Foster can't handle.

This is my third underdog pick at UFC 110, but you only get so many chances to catch a promising wave before others spot it. I think Foster has the goods to do big things at 170lbs. and would definitely endorse a bet at these odds.

Foster By Unanimous Decision

185 lbs.: CB Dollaway (+140) vs. Goran Reljic (-215)

I have never been a fan of C.B. Dollaway (9-2). It is not because I think he is among the worst fighters ever to compete in the UFC, it's just that I am certain he will never be considered among the best. So it frustrates me that he continues to hold onto a coveted roster-spot. If the undefeated Goran Reljic (8-0) weren't coming off a long layoff following back surgery, I would be extremely confident in his chances. As it stands, I am only reasonably convinced he will win. Reljic is strong enough to stop C.B.'s takedowns, skilled enough not to fall prey to one of Dollaway's Peruvian neckties, and is a decent enough striker to put a serious hurting on C.B. standing up. I wouldn't bet on Reljic at these odds, especially not knowing how the layoff has affected his skills, but I will make him my straight-up pick.

Reljic by Submission, Rd. 1

205 lbs.: James Te Huna (-165) vs. Igor Pokrajac (+135, 0-1 UFC)

Igor Pokrajac (21-6) is a shameless lackey of Mirko "Cro-Cop" with no real business fighting in the octagon, while James Te Huna (11-4) is a New Zealander who probably doesn't belong there either, but is getting his shot because the UFC is passing through Oceania for the first time. I'll take Te Huna because he looks like a fully grown bruiser and, heck, I might just slap a shiny nickel or two down on him while I'm at it.

Te Huna by KO, Rd. 1

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