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UFC 114 Predictions: Hand To Hand

It’s a one-match show; but what a match that is. I am stoked, pumped, jacked, psyched, amped, jazzed and ready to go for this one.

Main card

* Light Heavyweight bout: Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans

I’m a big Rashad fan compared to most followers of the sport (who seem to openly loathe the guy), but even I’ll admit that there’s two basic underlying realities here which define this contest: the best possible Rampage is better than the best possible Rashad based on what we’ve seen from each man so far, and Rampage is not a very good stylistic matchup for Rashad at all. Rashad has two basic approaches to winning fights: either he takes you down and holds you there (the Tito Ortiz fight at times, Thiago Silva, Michael Bisping, last bit of the Griffin fight, etc.) or he backs off standing, gives up ground and accepts being outworked in order to time an opponent and blast them with one huge shot (early part of the Griffin fight, Liddell, probably what he was trying to do with Machida, etc.). The problems for Rashad in implementing either of these are numerous. Trying to take Rampage down is a difficult proposition at best; it’s not impossible, but it’s hard to manage, demands a lot of energy investment, and it probably can’t be done consistently enough to base an entire strategy around it especially as Evans has a career tendency for his takedowns to become dramatically less effective as a fight progresses. A straight shot on Jackson is remarkably difficult, and trying to pull his base out against the cage, while doable, isn’t really Evans’ style and isn’t really even all that much more effective. It also adds the danger of getting into a close range clinch-striking battle with Jackson, which is not a particularly smart play. It’s possible in a 3 round fight that Evans could take one round if he got a takedown early and worked top game for 3 minutes or more, but that alone won’t win him the fight. He also runs the risk of exposing himself to being caught and battered on the way in.

For all these reasons and Jackson’s own preferences as a fighter I suspect we’re going to get a largely stand-up affair at distance. This is going to be an interesting duel, probably decided by the matchup of Rashad’s right hand against Rampage’s enormous giant head. Evans will move his head, feint, retreat and move around the cage, trying to draw Jackson out; Jackson will move forward and look to put his hands on Evans, touching him up and winning rounds but probably becoming somewhat frustrated by the unwillingness of Rashad to stand and trade. Expect a lot of talking in the cage. Eventually, Rashad will catch Jackson: Rampage is not the most defensively disciplined fighter, especially moving forward, especially against an opponent he doesn’t entirely respect. The fight will turn on what happens when that punch connects. If Jackson can take it and keep coming, he’s either going to eventually catch Rashad in turn late and KO him, or else win a fairly easy decision; if he can’t, then he… can’t. History says that Jackson’s chin will stand up to just about anything, but history doesn’t always tell you everything in the fight game. Which brings us to the X factor for this fight.

One year ago Quinton Jackson would have been the fairly easy pick in this one, and yet a few days out as of this writing most website polls have fans’ picks split nearly dead even, and the current Vegas line is a pick ’em. The reasons are not secret: Jackson has now spent 15 months away from MMA; he’s been filming a theater-based advertising campaign; and reports and photos of him circulating in the last few months have suggested that for a lot of that time conditioning has not been foremost in Rampage’s mind. The track record of fighters who go through something like this in their lives is not the greatest and it has a tendency to lead to things like, say, Lennox Lewis being knocked out by Hasim Rahman of all people. It’s likely impossible to predict exactly how the layoff will effect Jackson, but I’m willing to bet that it will have some effect- he’s 31 now, he’s been through some wars, he’s spent a lot of time talking retirement; it’s hard to say exactly where his head is at, and he’s asked a lot of his body already over the years, before asking it to shrug off the rust for a big time grudge match. He’s been gambling for a long time, and if you keep gambling eventually you lose.

I am going to pick him regardless, by second round KO. I doubt that Jackson is ever going to be a dominant champion again and I’m not sure he’s going to look all that great here, but he still has major stylistic advantages over Evans. Rampage will gas; but so does Rashad as we saw against Silva. Evans hits hard, but Jackson does as well and seems to have a stronger chin overall. Evans won’t likely be able to use his wrestling anywhere near as much as he’d like, and in a boxing match Rampage is just more fluid, more experienced, more effective. It’s a close and competitive fight and either man could win, but if Rashad does there’s a pretty decent chance that it will say more about Jackson than about him.

On a side note, I’m really glad this has been preemptively declared a #1 contender’s match. Not all of UFC’s recent title challengers have felt like they had much in the way of momentum or justification behind them, but the winner of this is just about a perfect challenger for Shogun. It’s either an intriguing fresh matchup with Rashad, or an interesting five-years-in-the-making rematch with Jackson. Good stuff.

* Middleweight bout: Michael Bisping vs. Dan Miller

Not that I’m going to be arsed to look it up, but this has to be a contender for worst ever semi-main on a UFC PPV, no? Granted it’s the child of Forrest Griffin’s injury, but still. It’s a matchup of a guy coming off of a loss to a big striker vs. a guy coming off of losses to two big-time grapplers, but that’s somewhat deceptive given that Miller was actually out-struck by Demian Maia last time. Yes, a great grappler has a striking advantage through the threat of a takedown, but come on- he got out-struck by Demian Maia. The Miller Brothers at this point strike me as collectively the absolute best of the not-quite-world-class brigade, and while I’m hardly Bisping’s biggest fan, I do think at this point he’s moved himself into the world class category. The lowest echelon of it to be sure, but nevertheless still a cut above where Miller is at this point in his career. I’ll take Bisping by decision.

* Heavyweight bout: Todd “Duffman” Duffee vs. Mike Russow

You have to appreciate Smash Deadlift here: he’s young, has a ridiculously funny and memorable look, a surprising amount of genial meathead charisma, seems smarter than he initially lets on, and at 24 he’s already a technical holder of the UFC’s fastest ever KO record. If Bash Rockthrust is able to develop skills-wise, he has a really good chance to be a major star in a few years. Still, UFC’s heavyweight division at this point is a bit like an amusement park ride, except the sign out front instead of asking about height reads “you must be able to wrestle this well to do anything” intead. Then it has a picture of… pretty good… wrestling. Hm, metaphor kinda died there.

Anyway, this is a test to see if Crush Forklift is also Todd Goodsprawl, whether Duffee can be expected at this point in his career to be able to handle a decent wrestler. He’s got no background in the sport, but he’s still young, at a good camp for wrestling (Xtreme Couture) and seems to have the kind of God-given athletic tools which are a prerequisite to making a latecomer at least passable at the art. I’m going to say that Flex Steelpecs between the athleticism and an apparently solid mental approach has probably progressed fairly well in this area, and that UFC- knowing his star potential- will not intentionally book him above his level this early. Duffee by KO2.

(Butch Flexmuch, Meat Beefslap, Dunk Gunfist, Roll Fizzlebeef– make your own, it’s fun!)

* Light Heavyweight bout: Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jason Brilz

Poor old MiniNog. Through no fault of his own he finds himself dropped from the semi-main position against a very beatable opponent which might have catapulted him to title contention, down to just another main card fight against a near-unknown. He’s listed at -800 for this one, which tells you what Vegas thinks about the matchup. And I don’t really disagree. Nog by armbar in the first.

* Welterweight bout: Diego Sanchez vs. John Hathaway

Ah, John Hathaway- the rare English fighter who relies on takedowns, and probably the only UFC competitor in history whose fighting background is in rugby. I don’t have a huge sense of him beyond his being solid in most areas with a few good wins on his record (Rick “let me tell you my life” Story, Paul Taylor) and a surprising amount of wrestling for a Brit. Diego Sanchez- even coming off a loss, even back at 170 which is the wrong weight for him- is light years past anyone Hathaway has faced before, and given his own wrestling skills is probably a really bad matchup for him as well. Diego by decision; could be a good fight, could be a baaaaaad fight.

Preliminary card (Spike TV)

* Welterweight bout: Amir Sadollah vs. Dong Hyun Kim

Interesting little fight. Sadollah has looked better of late- legitimately good against Brad Blackburn- and there are people out there who think the world of the Donger. I’ll take Sadollah, I guess; he’s done marginally better against their common opponent, and while I think he lacks the athleticism to ever be a top-level fighter I admire his mental strength and character in the cage. He’s the proverbial tough out. Decision.

* Lightweight bout: Efrain Escudero vs. Dan Lauzon

Lauzon got run out of his camp by his own brother for not training hard enough and he’s coming off of a loss. Escudero should use wrestling to keep it standing and just box Lauzon down; call it a decision. Odd choice for a Spike fight in some ways, despite Escudero’s TUF status; Cane vs. Diabate will likely be a fun stand up battle and Cane has something of a name. Oh well.

Preliminary card

* Lightweight bout: Melvin Guillard vs. Waylon Lowe

And on the 9th day, God created the eternal conflict: Melvin Guillard vs. grapplers. Lowe is a multi-time DII wrestling national champ; Guillard is a dynamic striker with 8 career losses- 7 by submission. There’s no real rhyme or reason to Guillard’s results against grapplers: he beats Gleison Tibau and Ronnys Torres and loses to Nate Diaz, Rich Clementi and Joe Stevenson, all in the space of his most recent seven fights. He’s got the tools physically and technically to be something important if he ever finds consistency, but as things stand he’s basically Paul Daley plus hair bleach. There are both worse and better things to be. He’s looked more focused of late, so let’s take him here by 2nd round KO. Wouldn’t bet on it though.

* Light Heavyweight bout: Luiz Cane vs. Cyrille Diabaté

Geezus. Catch a falling star time here, as Luiz Cane plunges from a featured spot on the UFC 106 card to a not-even-on-Spike slot on this show. Getting humiliatingly outclassed as a striker on your feet by a guy known for his BJJ will do that, I suppose. I’m guessing this is basically booked to be a check on Cane: either he can use his on-paper BJJ black belt to adjust to fellow strikers and expand his game, or else he can improve his striking enough to beat other very good strikers, or else he can’t and will likely either be booted farther down the card with an ordinary loss here or cut outright with a bad one. Cane really did look atrocious last time out, and in particular showed total inability to adjust to MiniNog’s southpaw stance; that does not bode particularly well for him adjusting to Diabate’s inordinate length (6’6) and adds to the picture developed in some of his other fights of a guy with one speed and one plan. The book odds for this one strongly favor Cane; if you’re a betting man, I might put some sly money on Diabate. Fuck it; I’ll pick him outright. I just really don’t like what we saw mentally from Cane last time out. Decision.

* Lightweight bout: Aaron Riley vs. Joe Brammer

Ah, Joe Brammer, the most confused man in the sport. Last time out he was sponsored by neo-Nazi fashionistas; this time, he’s apparently sponsored by a person or company called Fight Pastor, which offers training and ministry to fighters. No word on whether they’re going to try and work a feud with those Jesus Didn’t Tap guys. I don’t care at all about this fight and neither do you, so let’s just say Riley by greater experience and move on. Decision.

* Middleweight bout: Ryan Jensen vs. Jesse Forbes

Ehhhh, Forbes by whatever.


May 28, 2010 - Posted by | MMA

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