Crap, we’re going long on this one, as long (and likely as accurate) as a JaMarcus Russell deep throw. Odds are I’ll end up picking Manny Pacquiao to win one of the undercard bouts.
BJ Penn is unquestionably a star fighter: considered probably the best 155 pounder in the world, he’s one of only two UFC fighters to hold titles in multiple weight classes, he’s headlined PPVs before and has for all his flaws the reputation of a bit of a living legend. He’s special- pound for pound special and one-of-a-kind special, the kind of fighter everyone knows will be in the hall of fame for this sport whenever they get around to building a real one. In Diego Sanchez he has in theory a near-perfect opponent for business purposes: an entertaining fighter with several excellent wins including one over a star (Clay Guida) on television recently, a TUF winner from the early days when that meant something, and a guy who brings an odd, larger-than-life charisma into the bargain. It’s a first-time match as well, which always helps. There’s two problems though which will make the performance of this show on PPV interesting to track: there’s not a great track record of lightweight title fights as headliners on PPV without a major co-main like Griffin-Silva, and virtually no one inside or outside the sport gives Sanchez all that much of a chance. We may not learn anything definitive when the buy numbers for this show come back, but given all the overexposure of late we should have at least some understanding of just how many people are willing to see BJ Penn defend his title. 380,000 buys is the prediction there. As for the fights….
* Lightweight Championship bout: B.J. Penn (c) vs. Diego Sanchez
When two well-trained, professional fighters go at it wearing small gloves in a sport which has produced an amazing number of upsets in its short life, it’s hard for me to ever pick one guy as a 100% mortal lock. Too much can go wrong, too many odd things happen- Vitor Belfort over Randy Couture by cut stoppage in 40 seconds or whatever it was, Frank Mir over Big Nog by staph infection, Matt Serra over GSP by lucky barroom punch, the list goes on from there. So I give Diego the 5% chance, the exact same 5% I gave to Forrest Griffin against Anderson Silva in a prediction post which opened with “Forrest falls head first into a wheat thresher, dies, the end.”
What Sanchez has going for him is activity level and gas tank, and while BJ hasn’t been falling victim to his failings in those areas as much as he used to his problems haven’t disappeared- many people had Florian even or ahead in his fight with Penn at the time Penn choked him out (some 3-0!), on the theory that Penn just wasn’t doing as much as Florian. That line of thinking has it that he seemed worried about gassing out in a five round fight, and thus left himself open to being outworked since he couldn’t go 100% for 5 minutes of every round. I don’t really agree with that, but all you need are two judges who do and for Diego to avoid getting clapped or choked for 25 minutes, and he could steal a sketchy decision that way. Sanchez has never been finished in 25 pro fights, and his two losses were to naturally larger high-end wrestlers one of whom he faced while suffering from a bad staph infection. If Penn can be the first to stop him, that really is a feather in his cap; if he can’t, that’s Diego’s way out.
With all that said, there’s two ways of analyzing a fight: paper qualifications, and comparison of what the fighters actually do. On paper, Sanchez seems a solid matchup; in the cage, well…it’s very hard to figure out what he’s going to do with Penn even if he is going at it in his crazy-go-nuts fashion to try and hustle his way to a points win. He doesn’t hit particularly hard and his striking, while improved, is still a long ways from world class; he’s not as good as Kenny Florian, not as diverse or as powerful, and Kenny got his ass kicked. There’s no way in hell he’s KOing BJ, and I’m not entirely sure he can even hit him hard enough to make Penn respect him. Penn is a masterful counterpuncher with very quick hands, excellent head movement and surprising power, and Diego will give him chances to dodge and counter. The odds are that Diego’s ferocity and aggression will make Penn back up calmly at first, but by the second round he’ll have adjusted to the timing and be smashing Diego repeatedly when he charges in with short hooks when Sanchez’s hands drop. Sanchez strikes seemingly with the belief that he can just physically overwhelm his opponent, and many he can; but Penn is so superior in his technique that every little opening is exploitable to him. He’s got the master striker’s trait of seeming to be moving through time at a different rate than everyone else with an eerie sort of grace and calm, as though he knows what’s going to happen before it happens. Anderson Silva has it, Floyd Mayweather has it, Roy Jones used to have it, and it’s one of the most amazing things to see in action in all of sports. Diego Sanchez has improved his striking, but he could train with the best from now ’til doomsday, and he’ll never have it.
Grappling wise his BJJ isn’t in Penn’s league right now either, and while he’s a good wrestler he’s also been out-wrestled himself before; it’s almost impossible to see him regularly taking BJ off his feet against his legendary sprawl to get points for the takedown, and even if he does he’s in BJ’s guard which is not a great place to be for a lightweight. The idea of Sanchez tapping Penn doesn’t even need to be discussed. So how does he beat him? About all I can come up with is that he would have to fight an ugly, ugly fight- push Penn against the cage, physically muscle him around, use footwork and make him chase, make him sprawl and defend shots, probably even deliberately foul him to be honest. Anything to make him expend energy, get his heart rate up and the adrenaline flowing, and do it early. Write the first two rounds off, hope he slows in the 3rd, 4th and 5th, and try to outwork him from there. It is the slimmest of hopes, especially since it’s not really how Sanchez fights by skill or inclination.
With all that written, the pick is BJ by 2nd round RNC in a not overly-competitive fight. You know exactly what you’re getting from him these days, and it’s up to other fighters to scale the mountain. Sanchez has the heart and the desire, but he just does not have the skills right now in all likelihood. Penn will likely stun Sanchez at least once with a counter punch in the first against one of Sanchez’s reckless charges, badly enough to make Diego want to try and wrestle; at some point in the second, possible after being hurt again, he’ll probably try a shot which will end up with Penn reversing to top position, and from there it’s a matter of time. It’s very hard to see anyone in the current UFC lightweight division beating Penn.
* Heavyweight bout: Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo
I could be dead wrong on this, but it says here that Frank Mir is an accidental conman. A jovial, often likable, ticket-selling conman rather than a mustache-twirling snakeoil-selling 19th century carnival conman, but a conman nonetheless. His resurgence in UFC is based on three wins: beating Antoni Hardonk on the mat, a guy with infamously little ground game who’s probably about to be released if he hasn’t already been, beating Brock Lesnar in Brock’s pro debut, and beating Big Nog who looked and moved like the living dead in that fight due to health issues. Yes, there’s always an excuse for every loss and a way to devalue every win, but the mitigating factors here are pretty darn compelling especially factoring in the results of the second Brock-Mir fight and what a healthy Nog looked like against Couture. Kongo is a really, really big test for Mir, which will amount to: is Mir physically durable enough and has his striking improved to the point where he can hang with Kongo long enough to find a way to get him off his feet? As a pure striker, Kongo is a scary, scary man: he’s fucking huge, he hits fucking hard, he can fight at almost any range and uses all 8 points effectively. He bullies guys and uses his size. He’s only been KO’ed once (by Gilbert Yvel of all people, 5 years ago) and he takes a shot well, and he has a certain ineffable aura of meanness about him- the way he deliberately fouled Mostapha Al-Turk after Turk fouled him was not particularly sporting, but it got the message across loud and clear. He will run right over a guy who doesn’t make him step back in respect.
Mir, of course, will win a ground battle. Kongo frequently looks lost down there especially off his back and is coming off a loss in which he was taken down, pummeled, taken down, pummeled, and taken down again. But can Mir get it there? Kongo’s sprawl is meh, but Mir hasn’t exactly been using his wrestling a great deal of late and his standing defense against a living opponent has been highly questionable, as has his chin. I started off with this fight thinking Kongo was going to kill Mir dead- he’s never been tapped, and after the better-trained version of Lesnar he’ll easily be the best opponent Mir has faced since his apparent career resurgence began. And yet… if you accept that the UFC version of Cro Cop was nothing close to the Pride version for various reasons, than Mir would be fairly easily the best win of Kongo’s career, a career also dotted with losses to late-stage Heath Herring and Carmelo Marrero. That says something for a 34 year old who’s been fighting professionally in MMA for 8 years and in UFC for 3. In some ways it’s a battle of underachievers. There’s apparently also talk that the otherwise inexplicable booking of this fight was intended as a punishment of sorts for Kongo- setting him up with a decent wrestler and arguably the UFC’s second best heavyweight BJJ practitioner as a means of teaching him through experience that he needs to work on his ground game if he wants to compete at the highest level. I have no idea if that’s strictly true, but if it is it tells you who insiders expect to win this one. It’s a fight which gets more interesting the longer you think about it.
I’ve ended by talking myself into Mir. I have a recurring image of him getting Kongo along the cage, forcing him down, and just dominating from top position and eventually locking in a kimura. Alternately, I can see him going down when tagged by Kongo on the feet in order to induce Kongo to come down after him (the old Nog move) and either sweeping him with ease when Kongo gets too aggressive with his GnP, or else just catching him with an armbar off his back. Let’s say Mir SUB Kongo 1, kimura. And if he does, I’ll stop calling him a con man.
* Welterweight bout: Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce
No one outside the close families of these two fighters gives a tin shit about this one. It’s sad but true. Few fighters with Fitch’s talent have found themselves drifting quite so badly: not good enough to beat the champion, too good to put in with other top contenders lest he prove a spoiler, too well known to bury on untelevised undercards Okami-style, yet too bland and boring as a fighter to promote as a personality or minor draw in featured undercard fights. He’s become the accidental gatekeeper, the guy used to tell just how real possible fluke winners are. He beat Paulo Thiago after Thiago beat Koscheck; but Thiago won a round of that one and looked good enough to ensure that he’s being treated as a real guy and a developing fighter by UFC. Now Fitch draws Pierce, a relatively inexperienced 2 year pro with a college wrestling background who beat the respected veteran Brock Larson last time out by more or less out-wrestling him in a minor upset. Stylistically this should be different from the Thiago fight of course, but functionally it should serve the same purpose and turn out the same result- Fitch, decision.
* Lightweight bout: Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida
Odd fight. Florian is like five Jon Fitches at this point, deader than dead at 155 as a title contender following two title fight losses but still alive as a spoiler since he’s certainly not moving down and couldn’t really be taken seriously moving up. On the upside he’s got a bigger name and personality, so he’s at least usable for 3rd fight on the card type fights like this, especially when the top two fights need a little help. And yet, therein lies the issue: if Guida wins this, him getting the next shot at Penn is a pretty decent bet promotionally and probably even makes some sense sporting-wise given Florian’s ability, but for that to happen Guida has to beat a man most people will make the favorite over him. If Florian wins it’s not as though UFC is screwed in the short term with Frankie Edgar and the Diaz-Maynard winner waiting in the wings, but nevertheless it will have the effect of retarding or killing off a potential 155 pound contender and the most popular one at that. In a division in which Penn is the prohibitive favorite over everyone, that becomes an issue- see what’s happened at welterweight where GSP is reduced to fighting the likes of Dan Hardy. It’s going to be a fun fight to watch, but the matchmaking here is quizzical.
I take it as given that Clay Guida can and will take down Kenny Florian. He’s limited as fuck, but within those limits he’s a very strong competitor and he has the virtue of staying close to his strengths, a bit of an anti-Wang. I also strongly doubt that Florian will be able to tap him off his back- Guida seems to be improving in the area of submission awareness, and if he’s a blanket he’s at least a heavy one. Florian’s best stuff off his back is sweeps rather than submission attempts, and I’m seeing Guida stuffing most of that before it starts. If not, he’s in trouble; he’s almost never on his back and there’s not much to say about him when he is, and Florian will tap him if they end up in that position. In some ways then, the dynamic of this fight is a re-run of Guida vs. Sanchez: can Florian, in the Sanchez role, do enough damage while they’re standing to win rounds before he gets taken down? MMA judging being what it is there’s sadly no chance he’ll win a fight off his back despite the likelihood of his elbowing the living shit out of the top of Guida’s head in this one, much as Sanchez did (and was unable to win a round so doing). Florian isn’t as dynamic and hyper-aggressive a striker as Sanchez which could work against him as his slower and more technical style may be easier for Guida to shoot against, but his sweeping ability may make up some of that difference making this more of an up and down fight than Guida-Sanchez.
I’m going to end up going with Florian in this one. I hate (hate hate HATE) the “he has too many weapons and/or ways to beat you” line because it often tells you nothing at all about a fight, but in this case it has some slight validity- standing Florian is stronger and his kicks give him range over a pure boxer like Guida, he’s not helpless off his back, his footwork is probably good enough to frustrate some of Guida’s shot attempts by denying him proper angles to shoot from, and he’s going to have chances to finish the fight in a way which Guida does not have, and which his close adherence to his style doesn’t afford him. Florian would be easily the best win of Guida’s career so far; Guida would be a solid to pretty good win for Florian. Florian RNC 3.
* Heavyweight bout: Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve
…On the main card? When Gouveia and Belcher is on the untelevised portion? Queer. I honestly don’t know what to make of Struve at this point- I picked against him last time and was wrong, I think I picked against him previously and was wrong, and I (obviously) am having trouble getting past how unbelievably bad he looked against Junior Dos Santos. Time is proving kind to that loss however given how good Dos Santos has looked and how well Struve has rebounded from it, to the point where he almost seems a little like an MMA Amir Khan- hyped prospect with a memorable trait (for Khan his amateur medal, for Struve his enormousness) who suffered a brutal early loss in a step up fight, only to rebound and look impressive since then. I’m going to take him here, on the theory that he’s probably as good a striker as Buentello is at this point and almost certainly superior on the ground; throw in his physical freakishness and 14 year age advantage, and he’s the pretty easy pick. Hard to figure out how Buentello ended up on the main care of a UFC in 2009, frankly.
* Middleweight bout: Alan Belcher vs. Wilson Gouveia
This should be a good one, a damn good one really. Both guys are coming off of high-profile losses, Belcher at UFC 100 and Gouveia to Nate Marquardt in something of a 185 pound eliminator, and are at the stage where they need to prove something. Gouveia is 31; either he starts stringing together wins which will get him money fights, or time’s going to catch him from behind half way there. Belcher is only 25 but he’s already slipped towards gatekeeper/trial horse status, being used as such for both Yoshihiro Akiyama and Denis Kang in their UFC debuts and going 1-1 in the process. He’s on the cusp of having to go re-prove himself in Strikeforce or somewhere. On the ground they’re likely to largely nullify, Gouveia being better but not better enough to get the tap on a survivor like Belcher, and I suspect it’ll likely be mostly a standing affair in any case. Gouveia does gas, but I suspect he’ll win the first two with more precise and heavy striking and top game, and then hang on in the third for the decision win. Belcher really is a talent, but his development seems to have stalled of late.
* Lightweight bout: Matt Wiman vs. Shane Nelson
It’s a good thing I don’t watch many of these at home anymore, because if this makes TV on a set I own I’d be throwing bottle caps, shoes, junk mail, all kinds of crap at the screen. Shane Nelson makes me angry ever since I had to suffer through his last fight live, and Matt Wiman has an almost perfect chickenshit heel face/name combination. A loathsome matchup, this. Wiman’s lost his last two but against better opposition than Nelson’s ever faced, so I’ll take Wiman. Decision.
* Welterweight bout: Johny Hendricks vs. Ricardo Funch
I ended up buying into Jake Rosholt just about the time he definitely proved against Kendall Grove that he was not ready for prime time, so perhaps my judgment on the Team Takedown crew is not the best; but I like Hendricks, like him a lot in fact. He’s far too reckless and overconfident which leads to him giving up takedowns despite an excellent wrestling pedigree (2 time national champion), but he’s got athletic gifts which so far have more than made up the difference. Good gas tank, strong, quick, and more than anything else he has the God-given unteachable power of the punch. He’s got *WHUMP* power, bone-snapping power, Julio Cesar Chavez power- take your heart power. It’s a one-shot eraser he can hit at any time against almost anybody from a variety of angles, and if he’s a Wanger he’s closer to a Josh Koscheck “so skilled it’s almost not Wanging” sort of Wang than some of the more career-destroying varieties out there. All I know about Funch is that he’s an undefeated newcomer out of Team Link with no particular buzz on him. I may be wrong on this, but I think Hendricks has the chance to be special, and while he’ll have to adjust and improve to reach all of that potential I think even at this stage of his development it’ll probably take more than Funch to take advantage of the openings he leaves. Hendricks KO1, horrifying right uppercut of death.
Now watch him Takayama-takedown himself into an armbar in the first.
* Middleweight bout: Rousimar Palhares vs. Lucio Linhares
I always like a good grappling battle on the card, and with luck this’ll make PPV just for the variety. Palhares is younger and very, very skilled (even gave Dan Henderson a run, doing better than Bisping in losing a decision) so I’ll take him by decision.
* Welterweight bout: DaMarques Johnson vs. Edgar Garcia
Garcia, KO. UFC seems to have all but given up on Johnson, not that I would argue.
* Welterweight bout: Kevin Burns vs. TJ Grant
Fun fact: Wikipedia lists Burns’ win over Rumble Johnson as “TKO (Eye Poke)” Additional fun fact: Grant once fought a guy called “Elmer Waterhen” according to Wikipedia; of course, by the time I hit post that may well have been changed to “Amanda Huginkiss” or “Hugh G. Rection” or something similar, for all I know. And yes I’m making dick jokes because there’s not a lot to say about this one. Grant, decision? Yes, let’s say so.
I have no idea why this post is so long. Let’s end it here- this should be a fun show.
Because he saved that fucking show. This was enough of an experience that it’ll probably get a few posts, so here’s some initial reflections just on the show itself (bear in mind, I have no idea what made TV):
First off, it must be said, this was one of the worst UFCs in God knows how long until the main events, and I’m sure not all of that came across on PPV. The undercard was just an ocean of endless low-action decisions, some of them botched by the judges (more on that below), with a few fuck-finishes thrown in for good measure. This show was no good; this show sucked. It was dildos, it was very poor. It was….
And that is why I love Andy Silva, because when he dropped the hammer of Thor on Forrest- never my favorite guy- and finally looked like the doom-of-the-living fighter he used to be, the place came unglued and it was magic. One of those great, great memorable moments that makes a 20+ hour sleepless round trip to Philly worth while. When they showed the replay footage of that last jab which finished poor Forrest off, I’m sorry, but I cackled like a madman. 3 hours of pent up tension from a grotesque and disappointing undercard all let out in one go, when one of my least favorite fighters collapsed to the canvas like a toy robot with its batteries suddenly removed. Epic, glorious, superior. Silva saved the whole fucking show with that performance, and given that he turned around my first live UFC from “I hate life” to “YEAH AWESOME”, I can’t even be mad about his previous performances anymore. Come back Andy, all is forgiven!
– The Baba O’Riley video is absolutely everything it’s cracked up to be. They’ll never show it on TV because it’s become this legendary live-events-only thing and the rights fee would be pretendous, but my God would that thing make some fans for life if you opened a network show with it.
– In the first bout, Villefort vs. Lennox, the finish was all fucked up. It was a good competitive fight (which Philly began booing literally 8 seconds in…) which could have gone either way, but Villefort caught an unintentional headbutt while going for an armbar and the fight was stopped due to a cut. Trouble was, the cut was ruled to have come from a punch so it was called as a shady TKO victory for Lennox. If they’d made it to the cards either guy could fairly have won; I thought it was even, with Villefort edging the 3rd. I’d actually like to see a rematch as it was one of the better undercard fights.
– Roop vs. Sotiropoulos was just one-sided, as George S. was the far superior grappler and largely ran over Roop.
– Riddle vs. Cramer was…ugh. Not the worst fight ever, but Riddle just took him down, and laid on him, and punched him a little…and laid on him…and changed position slightly…and punched him once….and laid on him….and my eyes glazed over…and he laid on him…..
Cramer had a guillotine early on, but it was arm-in and a hard finish, and after that he didn’t have another good position until Riddle slipped on a kick attempt early in the third. Not much happened, but Riddle did use an armbar attempt from the bottom to set up a sweep, so he’s starting to learn some skill to go along with his hugeness.
– Leites vs. Sakara was an abortion. It actually wasn’t quite the sort of fight I was afraid it would be, but it was in fact equally bad in a different way. Both guys did very little but if anything Sakara stunk the joint out even worse- he was on his bike for huge chunks of the fight, fleeing into the night like he’d stolen something from Leites. Leites sorta kinda woulda coulda tried to chase him, but he’d throw these idiot high kicks that never had a prayer of connecting, or else he’d do these weird hopeless shots from far, far outside that really only worked once or twice, and other than a few brief moments on the ground he didn’t do anything either. The crowd booed this to death and the ref actually called time in the third to tell both guys to stop fucking dancing and fight. And then to top this off, the judges completely fucked up the decision because as bad as Leites was, Sakara was twice again. So he had our second godawful fight of the night concluding with our second fuck finish of the night.
– Howard vs. McCrory was a perfectly fine and fun wrestling match, but a bit hard to take by this point as it was obvious that neither guy was going to finish. Howard deserved the win, but in fairness McCrory looked totally blown up in the 3rd and may have just hit the wall at 170. His future’s clearly at middleweight, as he’s a very young guy and looked more filled out and mature that ever before tonight.
– I hated Pellegrino vs. Neer far more than I hated Leites vs. Sakara. I just have no words for how much I hated this fight. Mostly it was just the wrong kind of fight in the wrong position on the wrong card I think, because it wasn’t THAT bad; I’d just had enough lay-and-pray, obvious-2-minutes-in-it’s-going-to-the-cards type of fights on the evening. Neer did not look like the guy who tooled Mac Danzig, and I wonder if his legal/substance issues are catching up with him or distracting him. Hope he can get those sorted out.
– Big Dog and the other guy was a better fight, and I’m glad to say that my total lack of faith in Kendall Grove has once again been rewarded with a performance commensurate with my estimate of his potential. How a 6’6 middleweight can have absolutely zero control of distance as a striker I have not a clue. Ultimately this one just seemed to boil down to: he couldn’t keep Almeida off of him, and he couldn’t keep it standing once Almeida got close. From there he was outworked, and there you are. Grove LOOKS like a guy who should be a tough package for anyone, but he just doesn’t have the skills or the mental approach to take advantage of his physical gifts.
– Hendricks and Sadollah, well…look. Was it stopped early? A lot of people will tell you yes because Hendricks wasn’t landing solidly in his final flurry, but all my instincts say Sadollah was OUT. He visibly tried to stand up twice after he went down and couldn’t get his legs under him, and if you’re the referee you’re looking at a guy taking unanswered shots in a vulnerable position which he doesn’t seem able to get out of. It wasn’t the best stoppage of all time, but to my mind it’s not an outrage. I thought the screwed up cut determination in the opener was a far worse offense, since there it gave a TKO win to the wrong guy as a result of a foul instead of going to the cards where the fight was in the balance, whereas here Sadollah was getting his ass kicked and the only question was whether that had happened long enough yet or not.
– Riley vs. Nelson got booted up from the unteleviseds for timing reasons and ended up screwed by the decision as it was another fight where it was obvious 2 minutes in that only one guy could win and he almost certainly wasn’t going to be able to finish, so the crowd tuned out almost immediately. About halfway through a pretty decent fight broke out on the lower level which honestly had more action than 70% of the undercard, so of course that got the crowd’s attention as well. Bit of a clusterfuck.
– Andy and Forrest was touched on above, but I’ll add that word going around after the show was that Forrest had a broken jaw which accounted for his sprinting from the ring like that. No confirmation, just rumor. Ed Soares apparently almost got into a fight with the crowd as well, which I missed and just read about now at home. The more details I read, the weirder this show seems. It was very Philadelphia.
About Anderson’s performance, what else can you say really? He just destroyed Forrest, either breaking his will or his jaw and eradicating him in the first round of a fight where Forrest may not have landed a single meaningful offense maneuver. If he wasn’t taking Forrest seriously, you know what? Maybe he didn’t need to. That was one of those performances which establishes both that stylistically it’s an awful matchup for one guy and great for the other, but also that those two guys as fighters are in completely different classes. I cannot imagine Forrest winning a rematch in any way now; outclassed barely does it justice. Silva has this weird thing going in which he was first a babyface who no one was that into and wasn’t a draw, then he was a heel that no one was into because of his awful fights, but he almost became this weird anti-hero tonight; he treated Forrest with outright disrespect in the cage, motioning him up and shaking his hands after he’d knocked him down and just acting like a giant prick…and then he got huge, huge cheers after the fight. Some of it may have been timing, some of it may have been some nice touches he threw in acknowledging the initial boos, but whatever it was I think this may just have finally made him at least something of a real star as opposed to just a truly great fighter.
– And the main event…was actually really, really good and the best overall fight of the show I thought. I honestly think the story of the fight was that at least one of two things occurred:
1. Kenny saw how GSP used clinchwork to tire Penn out, and decided to replicate that strategy without being able to make it anywhere near as effective.
2. Kenny got clocked hard in the first round and just went blank, retreating to a safety first mode either from instinct or because he felt overwhelmed.
For what it’s worth, and I may be alone here, I had it 3-0 BJ entering the 4th. Florian got a lot of clinches but did so little with them, most of his kicks were blocked, and Penn was obviously landing the much, much (MUCH) harder blows. They were close rounds, but in none of them would I rather have been Kenny Florian than BJ Penn. Florian seemed very afraid to pull the trigger on his strikes and not even all that eager to roll despite a few nominal takedown attempts, and seemed to my mind (obviously I couldn’t hear corner advice) to be essentially using the clinch because nothing else seemed to be working to him, and doing so at least partially nullified what BJ could do. And yet, even in those clinches, Penn landed very hard uppercuts and sharp elbows as the clinch broke and I got the sense that Kenflo was actually wearing down faster than Penn was. Obviously once Penn got top position it was over; the only surprise to me was how vicious his GNP looked- those short elbows just destroyed Florian.
Anyway, more on this later. The crowd dynamics of this one were at least as memorable as the fights themselves.
No in-depth preview this time; I’ll be attending my first live UFC for this one, and will probably be back Monday with comments on the live experience. Format stolen from Wikipedia because I’m lazy.
* Lightweight Championship bout: B.J. Penn (c) vs. Kenny Florian
Ah yes, the Prodigy and the Winner, the Beej and Kenflow, guy-who-hates-the-media vs. guy who works on ESPN’s MMA show, Boston vs. Hawaii, orthodox vs. southpaw, natural heel vs. natural face, awesome talent vs. incredibly hard work. If one of these guys is a Democrat and the other a Republican, I would not be surprised; it’s a good bet one’s a Coke man and one for Pepsi as well. Other than being similarly-sized human beings they come to this fight with little in common and very different stories and styles, which to me is utterly fascinating. I absolutely love this fight, and while I freely acknowledge that Griffin and Silva is the big draw on this show, this is the fight which holds the most interest for me by far.
Stand up wise, it’s an interesting contrast. As a boxer alone, BJ Penn actually is probably the best I’ve seen in MMA; he’s become almost scarily good for a guy who first last and always will be known as a jiujitsuman, skilled at all the little tricks. His chin is excellent, it’s rarely tested as his head movement is so good, his jab has become terrifying of late, and he’s got enough power to hurt even granite-chinned types like Sean Sherk (yes, a knee KO’ed him, but punches set it up). He has a wide variety of punches in his arsenal including a nasty uppercut, and he throws them all in a defensively responsible fashion. His major weakness is simply that he’s just a boxer; there’s few if any kicks in his back of tricks, so he’s somewhat one-dimensional. Florian, meanwhile, is a lefty Muay Thai guy with awesome footwork, and if there’s a striking style out there to beat Penn standing, he’s it- his movement is good enough to keep out of Penn’s grasp and fight going forwards or backwards, he throws sharp elbows and cuts people, and he’s developed a nasty kicking game to legs and body which seems to wear guys out. He comes in at odd angles, and his kicks probably give him a functional reach advantage. Not good news for Penn. If Florian lacks something, it’s power- his official record has him with only 3 wins by KO- one a cut and another a 7 second fluke- and he doesn’t seem to have the ability to really hit and hurt top-level opponents. But his strikes tell over time, and now he’s got 5 rounds to work with.
On the ground, well, one guy’s BJ Penn and if the other isn’t GSP, the result is pretty clear. Penn’s jiujitsu is legendary, and no more need be said. Florian’s very good but if they’re rolling for any length of time the best he can hope to do is survive and either get an escape when BJ tries something, or else stall it out for the standup.
So what happens? The X factor here is as always Penn’s conditioning, and despite the bag of mouth emanating from Penn’s camp I assume the usual BJ Penn will show up: deadly as fuck for 2-3 rounds. To win this fight Florian needs to keep it standing, move, point-strike his way to winning one of those rounds and then hope or cause BJ to gas so he can take the last two. I don’t put much faith at all in Florian winning this fight on any kind of stoppage; Penn doesn’t cut much, he’s got a great chin, all jokes about his heart aside he’s shown the ability to grit his way through even when blown up, and Kenny’s not a megapowerful striker. There’s always the chance he whacks BJ with a head kick unexpectedly or knees him to death when he’s gassed, but I wouldn’t put money on it. For Penn to win, he either needs to be seriously in shape for once or he needs to get it to the ground and keep it there, and in either case he has to be prepared or adjust in the cage to Florian’s movement and odd angles. If it takes him too long to get comfortable, or he expends too much energy chasing Kenflo around, he will be in serious danger of losing the fight by just not being able to do enough to win rounds; he survives when gassed, but often does so by becoming passive, languishing in clinches and failing to move.
In the end, I have to pick BJ- he’s more talented, I think he’s going to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder for this fight given what happened last time out, and at some point in the early rounds I expect them to end up on the ground. My hunch is that Penn draws Florian in and cracks him with a big uppercut, follows him down and eventually gets the RNC while Florian’s still stunned. Call it the 2nd.
Side note: speaking of BJ, it’s past midnight here as I finish this up, and it sounds like two of my neighbors are just finishing something else up in the yard. Good on them.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin
Griffin falls into a wheat thresher, dies, the end.
Seriously, this is not a great matchup for him if he fights like a doofus, which he may. People picking him have been saying that Silva is vulnerable to the takedown especially from the clinch, and from top position Griffin can GNP his way to winning rounds and possibly a TKO. Maybe. On the feet those same people are saying that Griffin is MUCH larger, that he’s durable, that he’ll engage a Silva who hasn’t looked great of late and make him exchange with a larger, stronger man. Maybe. They’re throwing in that Silva hasn’t looked impressive in a while, that his last three opponents were respectively a coward, a joke as a challenger at this level, and a junkie, and that he lost the first round to Dan Henderson in their first fight. Arguable. And I would agree that if Griffin decides he wants to win above all, uses his chin to get past the initial flurries and ground Silva and punches steadily but cautiously from that position, he can definitely win this thing. But.
But folks he’s got to fight Anderson Silva for 5 rounds. For a decent portion of that it’s going to be standing- Silva’s not that easy to clinch, he moves well, and if he thinks he needs to dipsy-do dodge and stink the joint out to avoid that takedown he will. And while they’re standing, well: no one’s ever been able to consistently compete favorably with Andy from that position and he’s a counter-striker facing a guy who will come towards him and give him opportunities. Forrest is going to catch an almighty ass-whipping in this one even in the scenarios where he wins, and at the end of the day in 5 losses in his pro career Griffin’s been KO’d three times, including last time out by a naturally smaller man. In a lot of ways Silva offers the same challenges that Keith Jardine did, except that Andy’s bigger, a much better athlete, a more skilled and disciplined striker, and a more naturally vicious finisher. I think Anderson Silva wins this by TKO, I think it’s competitive only in spots, and I think it lasts until the 3rd round only because I suspect Andy’s still going to fuck around a bit out there and Forrest, whatever else you can say about the guy, is insanely physically tough.
* Welterweight bout: Amir Sadollah vs. Johny Hendricks
S’dollah dollah billl y’all! Amir’s so cute you want to put him in your purse and take him home, if you have one, but I do not and frankly I’ve somehow become completely sick of this guy despite the fact that the reason I’m sick of him is that he NEVER FUCKING FIGHTS. It’s been over a year since the last time he’s gotten in there and he’s pulled out of two previous fights, and despite that he’s all over UFC advertisements and such. I recognize this bothers me more than it should, but what can you do?
Anyway, this one is going to turn on how good Amir’s grappling actually is because he’s facing a 2 time national champion wrestler who WILL take him down. What gives me pause is that Hendricks trains with a guy he wrestled with at OSU, Jake “watch the guillotine” Rosholt who’s so far demonstrated exactly zero standing defense, head movement, or meaningful grappling acumen beyond wrestling so far in his short career. I don’t have strong memories of Hendricks from his first two WEC appearances (at least one of which wasn’t shown on TV, and the other may not have been either) so it’s hard for me to judge from him directly, but it’s a worry. On the other hand Amir tapped out CB Dollaway and Matt Brown to make his reputation; Brown’s tapped in 5 of his 7 career losses, and Dollaway’s tapped in his only 2, so all we know for sure is that Amir is death to shitty grapplers from Ohio. Meh. Let’s say Amir hangs around long enough to tap Hendricks with an armbar from the bottom.
* Middleweight bout: Kendall Grove vs. Ricardo Almeida
I don’t buy Kendall Grove. Don’t even rent him, frankly. But Big Dog hasn’t looked all that great since his comeback and had no real business losing to Patrick Co-fucking-te by decision last year. On the other hand, he just lost his way and then a decision in that one- Grove got KO’d by the same guy about a year previously. The MMAth here doesn’t really add up for either guy. I throw up my hands. In their respective primes on their best day Almeida taps Grove quicker than instantly, but the Brazillian’s now 32, his two comeback wins are over a guy who never won a fight outside of Alaska and another guy who’s lost 3 of his last 4 on his way out of the UFC, and he just hasn’t looked that good. An 8 year age gap. I’m taking Almeida- that’s how little I buy Kendall Grove. Taps him in the 2nd, say RNC.
* Lightweight bout: Josh Neer vs. Kurt Pellegrino
Another bout which invites MMAth-type analysis. Both fought Nate Diaz, both lost, Neer by split decision and Pellegrino by triangle. Both fought Mac Danzig and won, although at radically different points of their and Danzig’s career. Both fought Joe Stevenson, Pellegrino losing a decision and Neer winning one. Both will be having their 9th (!) UFC fight on this show, but Neer’s piled those up in a year’s less overall experience and somehow has nearly twice as many fights listed on the records I’m working from as Pellegrino- despite being 4 years younger. Pellegrino’s 5-3 in the UFC; Neer is 4-4. It’s actually quite good matchmaking in that both guys have an all-actions rep and there’s nothing obvious to pick a winner off of, and whoever takes it will start to get some steam on them as a result. I’ll take Neer, just because he seems meaner and more determined, seems to believe in himself more and is younger; he’s been doing some stupid stuff recently though, so if his attention is divided he could easy lose this. Should be one of the better fights on the show.
* Lightweight bout: Shane Nelson vs. Aaron Riley
A rematch of an apparently infamously crap stoppage which went untelevised at UFC 96 (“the forgotten show”) and won by Nelson. Meh. I’ll say Riley is motivated and takes it on the rematch. Decision.
* Welterweight bout: Tamdan McCrory vs. John Howard
For no better reason than that he seems intensely creepy I’m not a McCrory fan, but I’ll still pick him here since he’s probably more talented and gihugic for the weight. Decision.
* Middleweight bout: Thales Leites vs. Alessio Sakara
Christ. This one pisses me off. Tallest Ladies puts on one of the most shamefully reticent performances in recent UFC history because he’s afraid to engage with a striker, so here he is selected as an injury replacement to face… a pure striker. Blah. My hope is that he redeems himself with a (vastly) more aggressive performance, because there’s absolutely zero reason he shouldn’t choke Legionarius out here. Let’s say second round, arm triangle. If this is 3 more rounds of his last performance I’m going to be furious.
* Welterweight bout: Matt Riddle vs. Dan “Non-Dairy” Cramer
Riddle. He’s a goofy muppet, but he’s a big, strong goofy muppet. 3rd round KO?
* Lightweight bout: George Sotiropoulos vs. George Roop
Give me Sotiropoulos in this one. RNC, 2nd.
* Welterweight bout: Jesse Lennox vs. Danillo Villefort
Two guys, 22 fights listed on the records I’m working off of, 1 decision result between them. Should be fun at any rate- I’ll take Villefort simply on suspicion that he’s more skilled and has a better pedigree. Let’s say triangle from the bottom.
Apparently TROLLS~ got into the UFC101 media conference call today and asked BJ Penn if he got his nickname during his days in gay porn. I really shouldn’t laugh, but this is the same guy who apparently announced later in the call that he would never speak to Sherdog again because of things said in their FORUMS. He may be the most trollable man in the sport.
Best moment was apparently after they booted the gay porn troll, the next question was asked by Franklin McNeil who opened with “I have a followup….”
Back with the second installment of these.
5. BJ Penn converts to Juan Manuel Marquez.
Similarities: Technically excellent and physically unimposing fighters who’ve fought their careers out slightly in the shadow of an important rival, in Penn’s case GSP and in Marquez’s, Pacquiao. Both as a result have something of a public reputation as whiners. Both are far from imposing physical specimens, and thus rely on a perfection of technique to achieve results- both are amazingly accurate strikers, and Penn adds his famous jiu jitsu while Marquez is the more varied puncher. Both are probably first-ballot hall of famers who’ve somehow always seemed a half-step behind the top 2 or 3 P4P guys in their eras.
Differences: Penn has a sort of perpetual fog of disappointment around him, a sense that he’s not getting the most out of his career whether through lack of conditioning, or lack of improvement, or insistence in fighting at weights which don’t suit him. Marquez by contrast has probably accomplished now more than had been expected of him early in his career, and there’s really no fight you can point to and say conclusively that Marquez beat himself in through lack of preparation. Penn has fought all over the place weight-wise and sought out the big fights, while Marquez has seemed content at times to hang around at one weight and fight scrubs instead of seeking out career-defining superfights. Oddly enough though, when he does have those fights Marquez has shown the heart of a lion in coming back from adversity (recovering from 3 first-round knockdowns against Pacquiao, for instance) in a way which Penn never really has.
6. Randy Couture converts to Bernard Hopkins.
Similarities: The inspiration for this list and the most obvious comparison, it’s two old men who’ve won multiple titles in multiples weight classes and succeeded far past the age of 40, beating up younger men despite being counted out and written off again and again. Both are possessed of brilliant insight into their respective sports and have demonstrated it as excellent TV analysts, both retain far more of their youthful quickness and endurance at this age than they have any right to, both hit harder than they’re expected to and can be counted on for one unexpected knockdown in a thrilling decision victory (vs. Tarver, vs. Sylvia, etc.), both are really good wrestlers, both have a remarkable understanding of positioning and timing, both have a knack for suckering opponents into fighting their fight. Both (if Hopkins vs. Adamek is made) are likely to win their next fight despite being older than things like weather and the moon. Both have fought just about everyone with a nametag in their weight range at one time or another. Both have retired on occasion, and neither has ever meant it. Both have headlined huge shows, and both are regarded as one of, if not the, foremost fighters of their era.
Differences: One’s Sub-Zero, the other’s Scorpion; they’re palette swaps of each other for all intents and purposes, with biography the only serious difference. Couture was a military man and amateur wrestler who was obviously great from the start (“The Natural”), winning the UFC heavyweight title in his 4th pro fight. Hopkins was a criminal who did prison time (5 years), and who lost his pro debut before dropping down in weight and becoming what he became. If you want to really look for something, Couture is more beloved while Hopkins is more respected; Couture has also won more total titles, while Hopkins dominated middleweight in a way Couture never quite did at any weight class.
Fun Fact: in all the furor over this horrible pro wrestler invading UFC, it’s fun to remember that Randy Couture’s first UFC opponent was this guy.
A few other quicker ones, which are more provisional:
7. Cain Valasquez converts to Jorge Linares
Similarities: Both are fantastic young prospects with awesome reputations and a strong measure of early pro success, marred by one crucial flaw. In Linares’ case, he can’t stay healthy enough to fight consistently; in Velasquez’s, he’s got a chin about which people are starting to ask serious questions after Cheick Kongo cracked it twice. Neither guy is so far exactly a killer KO artist either.
Differences: A vast weight difference, and most importantly simply that each guy is early enough in their career that we don’t really know what they’ll become.
8. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua converts to Miguel Cotto
Similarities: Both have been dominant fighters in their division and at times considered the best regardless of who held the actual titles, and both are defined as fighters by their offense. Both had serious setbacks due to physical injury, Cotto from the illegal and disgraceful beating he received from Antonio Margarito’s loaded gloves, Shogun from a long series of knee problems which kept him out for over a year. Both may be walking into a buzzsaw next time out against Manny Pacquiao and Lyoto Machida, though there are people who are picking both men as underdogs. Both have records with very few goobers, derelicts, butt-scratchers and humanoids on them. Both had a good win last time out, but with real questions attached- Cotto about his durability, Rua as to whether the guy he beat was any good any more.
Differences: Rua has a much better and longer track record against top, top, top opposition; however that record is also suspect for a reason Cotto’s can’t be, given the switch from PRIDE rules to UFC.
9. John Duddy and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. convert to Kimbo Slice
Similarities: Vaguely ethnic drawing cards whose fame has come from means other than actual in-ring accomplishments, and who owe the careers they have to shrewd promotion and matchmaking. None are really any good, and all either are likely to or already have folded against the first serious opposition they faced.
Differences: Kimbo’s a lot more famous than those other too goofs, and he’s also shown a resilience as an attraction which they haven’t by getting himself on TUF. Heard anything about Duddy recently since the Billy Lyell fight? Me neither.