The Ship Be Sinking

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UFC 112 Predictions: Frankie Goes To Abu Dhabi

It’s the third UFC in two weeks, but hey, Relax. You may attribute the earliness of this post to my indescribably loathsome neighbors, who think lily-white rapping to the dulcet tone of a badly-struck bongo drum in the backyard under my window is just the thing at 3 AM. I am now awake one way or another, so I may as well be productive. Blame them if this is less coherent than usual. On to it.

Main Card

* Middleweight Championship bout: Anderson Silva (c) vs. Demian Maia

I’ll say this for Maia: he’s got a better chance than Frankie Edgar. Being Frankie Edgar is like having the second nut flush in Texas Hold’Em, where BJ Penn is holding the nut flush- no matter what happens or what comes on the board, you’re more or less just plain dominated. Maia at least has a card he can draw to against Andy, so to speak, and it is this: as Shane Carwin proved last week against Frank Mir having an overall skills deficiency is no hindrance to victory if you have A) a massive advantage in one particular area and B) an effective gameplan for forcing the fight to take place in that area. I have no doubt that Demian Maia is substantially superior to Anderson Silva on the ground, and that if they roll for long enough he can and will tap Andy; the question is, does he have anything like an effective gameplan for forcing that scenario?

I really strongly doubt it. Maia looked good last time out in a surprisingly standup-focused affair against Dan Miller, but that means just about nothing for this fight. If Maia stands with Andy he’s going to be destroyed in under 3 minutes if Andy’s even half-trying no matter how much better he’s gotten with his standup; he’ll simply never be good enough to truly compete there, he’s not a good enough athlete nor has he dedicated himself to that area of the sport the way Andy has for years on end. His standup can only be utilized momentarily as a prelude or set up to his takedowns, and here we have issues. While Maia has shown excellent trips and throws in close (the one on Chael Sonnen stands out), it is a mystery to me how he could possibly get close enough to Silva to consistently employ any of those. Silva’s stand up relies on and demonstrates an eerie, extremely high level control of range and timing which was probably demonstrated to its fullest extent in the Forrest Griffin fight. He’s always been great at it and is actually getting better it seems. People simply don’t get in close with him unless he desires it or they have the skill profile of a Dan Henderson, and that’s not what Demian Miaia brings to the table. To this point in time he hasn’t demonstrated the type of skills which will allow him to close the gap on Silva without leaving himself unsustainably open to strikes. His best chance may actually be to play possum, try to induce Andy to come forward and close the distance on his own to “finish” him, and try to get a clinch and throw from there. That might work once.

Additionally, the closest thing Maia has seen to Silva in the UFC so far is Nate Marquardt and while I tend to agree with the idea that quick KO’s don’t always mean a lot it’s still hard to say that Maia did much in that fight to make you confident of his ability to challenge a far superior version of the same basic fighter. Throw in the facts that Silva is naturally larger and likely stronger and has a reach advantage of over 5 inches, and it’s abundantly clear that Maia is simply facing far too large a stylistic and physical gap to give him much chance of utilizing his situational skill advantage to the full. And if there’s any tactical inference to be drawn from Marquardt vs. Maia, it’s from the fact that Maia actually went into that fight looking to strike at first and it was that mentality plus the giant holes he left open which led to him being blasted out of there. That, plus his focus on/acceptance of striking against Miller, makes it easy to see him overestimating his competitiveness on the feet early and getting quickly banhammered before he even starts looking for the takedown.

Wild card: Andy is nuts. He should win this by 1st round KO and that is my pick, but I think we all remember (and would like to forget) what happened the last time he faced off with a fellow Brazilian who was a highly-regarded BJJ practitioner. There is a chance that Andy will lose his mind and do a 25 minute Capoeira demonstration, albeit mitigated by Demian Maia being a competitor and likely to force the fight in a way which Thales “buttscoot” Leites never did. If I’m UFC, this fight does not go on last- I don’t want to run the risk of leaving that as the sour last image in everyone’s mind when I know I have a crowd-pleaser of equal status on the card in Penn/Edgar.

* Lightweight Championship bout: B.J. Penn (c) vs. Frankie Edgar

Frankie Edgar can’t win this fight.

Let’s be clear: I give him the same 5% chance I give any top UFC fighter against any other top UFC fighter which is a product of hard punches being thrown in tiny gloves, but on some level when that 5% chances pays off it’s simply a fluke. The guy scoring it wins the fight in the same way as the sucker with the right numbers wins the lottery; it’s a triumph of fortune more than skill or talent. Frankie Edgar is every bit a worthy challenger, he deserves this shot and I’m happy to see him get it because he’s one of the better 155 pound fighters in the UFC, but he’s simply so far behind BJ Penn in every meaningful area that unless he’s become a completely different fighter in the time since he last fought, there’s just no way he can come out of this with a victory other than by a massive fluke. He’s a very good technical boxer; BJ Penn is the best in MMA and has a shatterproof chin. He’s a solid BJJ practitioner; Penn is a legendary prodigy and former world champion. He’s a very good wrestler; Penn has arguably the best takedown defense in the entire sport. What on earth is Frankie going to do with this man? How do you gameplan for someone that’s better than you in every area?

As Jon Fitch showed against GSP, you don’t. You just lose. Once upon a time with Penn there was the hope that if you took him into the later rounds he’d gas and you could pick him off, but after 3 rounds with Sean Sherk, 4 rounds with Kenny Florian and 5 rounds with Diego Sanchez in which Penn won every round and ended up finishing all of those men that concern just doesn’t seem relevant anymore at lightweight. I have great respect for Frankie Edgar’s durability, resilience and submission avoidance and I’m going to go out on a limb and say he goes all five, but he’s got no chance here. Penn by decision, 5 rounds to none. Keep a special watch out for Penn’s uppercut against Edgar’s earmuff guard and lazy head-ducks. If Penn runs the right uppercut behind his jab to make Edgar move and put his head on a platter, he could finish this the way Juan Manuel Marquez did Juan Diaz (hat tip to Mike Caughlin’s 5 Star Radio for that insight).

* Welterweight bout: Matt Hughes vs. Renzo Gracie

What the boss says goes, and this time out what the boss says is that he wants his personal BJJ teacher fighting on the first card in his country. I have no doubt that Renzo Gracie fully deserves all his many accolades as a pioneer and teacher and in the past as a competitor, but he’s a 43 year old man who hasn’t competed in MMA in over 3 years- he’s simply not here on his merits as a fighter in 2010. If Matt Hughes has half the motivation for this one that he had for Matt Serra (and that is an “if”) he wins this going away. I can’t say that this fight won’t entertain me, but I’m left with a vague sense of the disreputable when I think about it- like milk two days past the expiration date, it’s just a bit… off. It’s almost a legitimate fight, and not quite a freak show. Hughes, decision. Blah.

* Lightweight bout: Terry Etim vs. Rafael dos Anjos

Interesting little fight here. I really like Terry Etim and have for a while- he’s got decent wrestling for a Euro to go with his BJJ expertise, he’s a physical handful at 6’1 and 155 in the cage, he’s only 24 but already has 16 fights and nearly 5 years of experience- a true young veteran as well as a prospect. Dos Anjos is in many ways similar with the Muay Thai/BJJ profile trending towards the BJJ end of things, limited power, young age (Dos Anjos is 25), a lot of experience (also 16 fights), a few losses against bigger-name opponents (Rich Clementi and Gleison Tibau for Etim; Tyson Griffin and Jeremy Stephens for Dos Anjos). On paper there’s not a lot to choose between them on those bases. So I’ll end up taking Etim for two reasons: I think neither guy is likely to finish here, but he’s more aggressive which helps with judging; and in a fight in which the stand up is likely to be point-striking, Etim’s decent jab and 6 inch height advantage should enable him to dominate range and pile up the points. Etim by decision.

* Middleweight bout: Kendall Grove vs. Mark Munoz

Wow, it’s bootleg Brandon Vera vs. Jon Jones. I sometimes think they deliberately put Grove on Anderson Silva’s undercards to either humiliate or motivate him, because if he had half of Silva’s knowledge of how to control range and distance using footwork and reach, he’d be a scary, scary man. But he doesn’t, so he’s not, so instead he’s… Kendall Grove. Some TUF winners are considered great successes, some are considered busts, but Grove… he’s barely considered. No one has much in the way of strong feelings for the guy. He’s clearly good enough to be in UFC and clearly not good enough to be considered anything like a contender. He lists at age 27 which for someone with his physical gifts is young enough to be a prospect still, but it feels like he should be a 35 year old veteran given that he’s been in UFC forever (3 1/2 years) and never seems to get appreciably better or worse from fight to fight. Munoz meanwhile, while older by five years and with less than half as much experience, actually is something of a prospect- a former NCAA D1 wrestling champion and BJJ purple belt, he’s begun to show off a well-rounded game featuring some scary GNP.

What you think of this fight probably depends on how well you think Munoz compares to Jake Rosholt. Rosholt managed to get inside on Grove at will and got the takedown without much trouble, and while he is a better on-paper wrestler than Munoz it’s not a massive difference- there’s reason to expect that Munoz can get the takedown in this one. The trouble for Rosholt came when he demonstrated once again his inability to adjust to major aspects of MMA, in this case submission recognition, which got him triangled straight out of the UFC. If Munoz has adjusted to make that a developed part of his game in a way which Roshot never has, he wins this by GNP finish in the second; if he hasn’t, he’ll get choked out too. At this point I have more faith in Munoz’s commitment to well-roundedness than I do in Grove’s chin, so I’ll take Munoz KO 2 (GNP). It may happen that Grove’s inordinate length (which he uses MUCH more effectively off his back) may confuse Munoz and leave him vulnerable to being caught, but Munoz has looked so much more physically dynamic at 185 that I think his athleticism may just overwhelm Grove. Honestly, I’m more interested in this than any other Kendall Grove fight I can recall.

Preliminary Card

* Light Heavyweight bout: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Phil Davis

Didn’t I tell you Euros to learn to wrestle? LEARN TO WRESTLE, or Phil Davis is gonna getcha. Davis, decision, pins him flat and holds him there.

* Lightweight bout: Paul Taylor vs. John Gunderson

Fun fact: Paul Taylor has won Fight of the Night honors on three occasions- all losses. This plus being a Britisher is how a 30 year old with no ground game and a 3-4 UFC record hangs around. I’d be lying if I said I knew much of anything about Gunderson beyond what basic research can tell, so I have decided that in a fine display of gutlessness I am actually going to go get up and flip the coin I keep for such purposes to determine the pick. Gunderson gets heads. Let’s pause while I do so.

And we’re back. Coin says Paul Taylor. Why not? Tie goes to the guy who creates good fights.

* Welterweight bout: Nick Osipczak vs. Rick Story

Love it. Story is a solid prospect with a 9-3 record at age 25, a wrestling base and a hilariously over-detailed wikipedia page which he or his family or team have obviously been working on themselves; Oh Ship Shack (hereafter referred to as “The Shack”) is an equally intriguing prospect, also 25, with a background in professional gambling and kung fu. How can you not love this one? I would feel more comfortable picking this if I’d seen Matt Riddle vs. The Shack since this fight basically turns on just how much better The Shack has gotten at defending himself from wrestlers since DaMarques Johnson humbled him on TUF. It’s a real hard fight to call. I love the Shack’s attitude and approach to fighting, the confidence he brings to the octagon; and yet, as I’ve written before, when in doubt I default towards picking the wrestler. I’m going to go with Story on that basis, but I am not confident in this one and I won’t be sad if I’m wrong.

* Welterweight bout DaMarques Johnson vs. Brad Blackburn

I’m tempted to pick neither. Johnson’s supposed to win, so I’ll take him out of faith in Joe Silva. Blackburn also looked indescribably bad last time out vs. Amir Sadollah and was beaten unmercifully for 15 minutes while looking like he didn’t want to fight anymore- not a good sign.

* Lightweight bout: Paul Kelly vs. Matt Veach

A well-conditioned Veach should really win this, but he’s coming off the first loss of his pro career against Frankie Edgar in which he demonstrated about 3 minutes’ worth of gas. It’s probably not an accident that in 12 pro fights and 11 wins he’s gone the distance exactly once, but I’ll say he has enough here to get the win with GNP at some point.

* Heavyweight bout: Jon Madsen vs. Mostapha Al-turk

How is this fight happening, exactly? Sleepy alien head Madsen is a quasi-nothing prospect, a TUF guy with a decent wrestling base who’s already 30 with only 3 pro fights, going life-and-death with Justin Wren. Al-Turk is a 36 year old journeyman with a 6-5 pro record who was brought into UFC to be a job guy for Mirko Cro-Cop, and has somehow spun that out into a 3 fight UFC career in which he’s been squashed by Cheick Kongo (subbing for Cro-Cop), squashed by Cro-Cop (subbing for the real Cro-Cop), and is now back again despite having been uncompetitively 0-2 in his UFC career so far with zero upside. What am I missing here? I don’t really know why either of these guys are in the UFC, and yet somehow at least one of them still will be on Sunday. I guess I’ll take Madsen; I’m utterly unenthused by him, but Al-Turk has looked like he doesn’t even want to be in there at times in the UFC.

Not sure if this is a good, bad or indifferent thing, but this is yet another UFC where the undercard stuff is honestly more intriguing than the main events. UFC has three divisions now where it looks like it’s going to require either an all-time colossal upset or an act or God or the passage of several years for the champion to be beaten, and that has a tendency to suck the air out of these shows after a while if you’re watching more for sport than starpower. The skill level in, say, Oh Ship Shack vs. Story isn’t anywhere near what an Anderson Silva brings to the table, but the competitiveness of the matchup more than makes up the difference to me. Still, this show has several major stars on it and is coming off of the attention drawn back to the sport by 111, so it should do well on PPV. The buyrate will be interesting to see given that it’s the rare loaded overseas show for UFC, and the combination of Andy and BJ did huge business the last time they both headlined the same card.


April 6, 2010 - Posted by | MMA

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