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UFC 104 Predictions: Machida vs. Shogun, UFC vs. Expectations

Let’s not mince words here: this is not a great card and may not be a good show, and there’s a reason the PPV expectations are as low for this as for any recent show and tickets are far from sold out in LA for the live experience. I think we’re really starting to see UFC suffer the bite of running more shows than they have stars to fill, and after so many blow-away cards in recent years they’ve conditioned their audience to expect more than a semi-main featuring Ben Rothwell. This show may do 350,000 or less on PPV, unless Machida Karate is a bigger draw than it seems to be so far or the countdown show really hooks people.

Main card

* Light Heavyweight Championship bout: Lyoto Machida (c) vs. Mauricio Rua

It should be so much more, shouldn’t it? Machida is an undefeated and rarely even threatened champion with surprising charisma and a unique signature fighting style with mystique and the aura of unsolvability; Rua is one of the legendary fighters of PRIDE still in his physical prime at 27 and coming off of two straight wins against name opponents, one of which won KO of the night, the other fight of the night. And yet this is as flat a main event- let alone a title fight- as you’ll see in UFC, expected to do little by current standards on PPV and nowhere close to a sell out live in LA. The reasons aren’t a mystery: Machida is regarded as nigh-invincible and requires a major star to draw against; Rua is perceived as something of another ex-PRIDE washout hurt by the different UFC rules, damaged goods after knee problems, and who’s racked up his two most recent wins against an old man and a shot fighter. All of this is more or less true, and on a deeper level I think many people subconsciously (and some consciously) realize that even if the PRIDE Shogun shows up, he was almost always screwed stylistically against Machida- it’s just an awful matchup for him.

Everything Machida does is based on elusiveness- he’s the epitome of the old boxing maxims to hit and don’t be hit, to make them miss and make them pay. As a striker his head movement is exceptional and his stance takes full advantage of that, keeping his head as far back from the opponent as any fighter. His foot movement is just as good and he’s willing and able to circle, move out, reset, take his time and force a mistake which allows him to counter-strike. Because of the distance he prefers, his grappling experience (including, unusually, sumo) and his innate quickness he’s also exceptionally hard to take down, clinch or grapple with. He’s just plain hard to reach and harder to catch. Shogun is likely not his superior in any great degree on the mat, and in any case does not have the sort of wrestling expertise needed to force the fight there; even if he were willing to try to pull guard or go for sloppy-just-get-it-down takedowns Machida’s movement and ability to maintain balance for striking will make it exceptionally hard for him to do so without leaving himself open to being clobbered with counter strikes in the process. In essence, Machida’s style functions in the way excellent wrestling does for some other fighters, allowing him to choose the level of the fight; and against Shogun he will almost certainly make it a kickboxing match, a type of fight in which he’s never really been threatened. Moreover, even as a kickboxing match it will likely be held at a certain distance, without any opportunity for Shogun to execute the Thai clinch and use knees. Does anyone think Shogun can win a 4 point striking battle?

Even the PRIDE Shogun would likely never have been able to force Machida into the positions necessary to finish him, where stomps or soccer kicks would have been employable. The post-PRIDE, post-knee injury Shogun with some conditioning questions doesn’t stand any better of a chance against Machida in a 5 round fight in a cage where it’s even harder to corner someone than it is in a ring. Machida is the easy pick here, by 2nd round KO. They say a champion isn’t really a champion until he’s defended his title; this is Machida’s chance to continue establishing himself as the dominant 205 pound fighter of his era, and make himself a star.

* Heavyweight bout: Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Fucking Rothwell

Make no mistake: Rothwell is booked here on the assumption that he will lose, as despite a few solid-but-not-overwhelming performances which seemed to belie some of the hype attached to him Velasquez remains one of the heavyweights UFC is counting on to carry the division into the future. Once Shane Carwin was pulled from this slot to face BROCK! at UFC 106, the selection of Rothwell for this slot made that abundantly clear- Velasquez vs. Rothwell adds no buys, so the only future value to be derived from it for UFC is as a showcase for Cain. Rothwell is very, very solid; but he’s the kind of standard off-the-rack journeyman heavyweight who a future star and potential champion should beat, and I’m guessing that after grazing past defeat last time out after Cheick Kongo hurt him repeatedly, Velasquez will have learned his lesson and will use his wrestling to dominate this one from the outset. 3 round decision for Velasquez. He needs to move his head though, because if he stands in front of Rothwell the way he stood in front of Kongo he can easily be dispatched.

* Lightweight bout: Gleison Tibau vs. Josh Neer

I can’t shake the image of Neer being unable to get off his back against Kurt Pellegrino- he’s rarely looked that bad before, but he’s apparently still got God knows what silliness going on in his personal life and is facing a gigantic lightweight who UFC originally wanted to give a shot against Sean Sherk to in this slot. Add in that Neer appeared more irritated by Batman’s fighting style than his own inability to stand up in that fight, and I have to go with Tibau here. Too big, too good on the ground, and I’m not sure Neer’s learned the relevant lesson yet.

* Lightweight bout: Joe Stevenson vs. Spencer Fisher

I actually really like this fight, and while neither of these guys are likely to be title contenders anytime soon this is probably going to be the most fun and action-filled fight of the televised undercard. Stevenson has looked noticeably better of late now that he’s joined Greg Jackson’s camp, he’s younger and he’s faced the better opposition, so he’s my pick by decision in a fight between two guys who somewhat mirror each other; but realistically, these are two guys who can strike, wrestle and grapple and have a well-deserved reputation for action fights, so no matter how it goes it should be fun.

* Welterweight bout: Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida

Poor Yoshida. He’s a solid grappler and a solid fighter who’s faced a good level of competition with decent results, but UFC is for a second time using him as a trial horse/make-this-guy-look-good opponent against a solid or better striker who’s obviously being groomed for larger things. The first time, against Kos Joshcheck, ended with Yoshida suffering one of last year’s fugliest KOs; this time might be even worse. Johnson doesn’t have the mat skills of Koscheck and has been tapped before, but he’s a gigantic welterweight in his near-physical prime at 25 and is facing a smallish welterweight a decade older than him. Yoshida will be hard-pressed to get this one down despite his judo skills, especially as he’ll have to wade in against a talented kickboxer with 8 inches of reach on him, and he’s not noted for his excellent head movement. This could be fun as long as it goes as Yoshida has the warrior’s instinct to engage and force a fight, but he’s almost certainly physically overmatched here. Johnson might be a bit cautious given the opponent’s style and it being his first time featured on the main card of a PPV, so I’ll say he wins by 2nd round KO. Gigantic head kick.

Spike TV card

* Light Heavyweight bout: Ryan Bader vs. Eric Schafer

I hate to say this, but part of me always roots for Red Schafer. He’s a big jowly lummox from Wisconsin where my family has roots, and if he weren’t ginger and were a bit shorter he could easily pass for a cousin of mine. Hell, he even went to college in the town where my mother grew up and my father lived for a time, and he looks facially a lot like my maternal grandfather. It’s frankly a bit disturbing. I’m honestly not sure what to think of his chances in this one- Bader is younger and a better athlete and his wrestling will easily allow him to decide where this one goes, but he’s also coming off of a major knee injury and has a limited track record at the highest level. I’m going to guess we get the rare non-Wang version of a wrestler eschewing his wrestling, as Bader keeps it standing for three rounds as he did vs. Vinny Magalhaes and wins a mildly entertaining toughman contest.

* Heavyweight bout: Antoni Hardonk vs. Patrick Barry

Kickboxing. Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiickboxing. Kick? Boxing! Kickboxing. Not wrestling, not jiujitsu, not judo, not karate, not akido, not kung fu, not tae kwon do, not jeet kun do, not Joe san do, not even SAFTA or ninjitsu. KICKBOXING. That’s what you’re getting and you’d better like it, because that is all these gentlemen do. And I’m all for it, really; it’s a fun striker’s match to kick off the TV portion of the card, there’s apparently some kind of a semi-personal issue on Barry’s part involving him not being regarded as having as much potential as Hardonk when both were students of Ernesto Hoost, and both guys need the win coming off of losses in which they were finished. Barry has the better wrestling in theory with his San Shou background, but he’s lighter, shorter, should probably be a light-heavyweight, and given the background of this one he’s likely to want to prove himself by out-doing Hardonk at what they both do best. That, I suspect, is what will get him knocked out by punches in the first.

Preliminary card

* Middleweight bout: Yushin Okami vs. Chael Sonnen

We’re about to find out if you can scream and snore at the same time, because this one could be scary-boring. People have complained about it being banished to the televised-under-no-circumstances undercard, and I can understand the pure sports argument against that decision; but I weep no tears personally over missing this. Maybe, if we’re lucky, their wrestling will mutually negate and it’ll be charmingly sloppy boxing. But I doubt it. Okami, by genocidally boring decision, ensuring that he gets the loser of Henderson-Marquardt in a fight which no one on earth will want to see.

* Middleweight bout: Jorge Rivera vs. Rob Kimmons

Ehhh, Kimmons, 2nd round submission. 9 years is big age gap.

* Light Heavyweight bout: Kyle Kingsbury vs. Razak Al-Hassan

Combined, they’ve lost their last three fights. What? I’ll take Kingsbury just because I hate taking a guy in his first fight back after a bad injury, and I tend to default to picking Trunk Slamchest-style wrestlers.

* Heavyweight bout: Stefan Struve vs. Chase Gormley

I’m sure there’s a good explanation of this somewhere, but I’m personally not entirely clear of why Stefan Struve is in the UFC or why if he is going to be kept on the roster at this point in time he’s fighting on the untelevised undercard of a non-European show. He’s not a bad fighter at all- he’s got wonderful physical gifts and a fighter’s heart- but at 21 he’s clearly years away from his athletic peak or from developing a truly rounded and multifaceted game. He’s also not selling one additional ticket in LA. Gormley has an undefeated record in addition to a vaguely unsavory-sounding last name, but he’s not fought in 17 months. Hard one to call. I don’t think Struve has learned to use his range yet, so I’ll pick Gormley to wrestle him down and ride him to a decision.

Fun fact: In 20 pro fights, Struve has faced men from 14 different nations and three continents. This man needs to be put in JCVD-style low-budget action movies where he kickboxes with dinosaurs or something. Or maybe he can buy the Knicks?

Also, on a side note for anyone who knows me personally, I have finally been successfully peer-pressured into joining farcebutt or facebite or Facebook or whatever it’s called under my full name (Brendan Welsh-Balliett), so feel free to friend me or whatever it is you do on there. I’m still very much figuring it out, and am as likely to accidentally launch nukes at Russia as I am to find you first.

October 20, 2009 Posted by | MMA | , , , | 1 Comment

Boxing/MMA Conversion Chart, Pt. 1

All-Brock and MMA week continues! This one’s just for fun, but feel free to use it for barguments. I’ll do the current UFC champs plus a few others. Part 2 on Monday.

1. Brock Lesnar converts to Wladimir Klitschko.

Similarities: They’re both gihugic slow-moving white things with offensive games defined by massive power and minimal technical fluidity. Both have nicknames which reflect that- “Vanilla Gorilla” and “The Ukrainian Robot”. Both are substantially larger than much of their competition. Both have careers defined in some respects by what they’ve not done: Brock proving his success over time and against diverse competition, Klitschko proving himself against another heavyweight who would be considered top shelf from a historical perspective and not just in the current debased heavyweight division. Both are from foreign countries, Klitschko from the Ukraine and Brock from the Midwest. Both have had the reputation of being headcases (of different sorts) at various times in their careers. Both ultimately labor in the shadow of another: Klitschko under Lennox Lewis, the last great heavyweight champion who he never fought and cannot equal, Brock under Fedor Emilianenko who is, and will be, considered by many fans the true heavyweight champ until he retires or someone beats him. Both have developed dramatically as fighters in the course of their careers, yet both still have a whiff of vulnerability to them- Brock to submissions and Wladimir to a big power puncher, which is why Brock compares better to Wladimir than to Vitali (along with Vitali having fought Lewis).

Differences: Brock has actual top-level competition to define himself against; he’s also got a chin and a much more memorable personality.

2. Lyoto Machida converts to Arthur Abraham or Iron Boy Ivan Calderon.

Similarities: All three men are defined by the near-insoluble defensive puzzles they pose for opposing fighters- Machida’s movement and control of distance, Abraham’s perfect high guard, Calderon’s movement and technical perfection. All three have underrated offense, and Abraham and Machida share the quality of not necessarily hitting often, but hitting surprisingly hard when they do open up. All three are undefeated. All three are probably not as big of stars as their talent theoretically warrants, though Machida appears to be growing into it. Machida and Abraham share a common experience of narrowly getting past a better-known fighter in battles they easily could have lost- Abraham against Edison Miranda in their first fight, Machida against Tito Ortiz. None of the three is American or speaks English as their native tongue, and all three began their careers outside the US.

Differences: Machida has power Calderon can only dream of; Abraham has been tested in a fight and proved he could win a war in a way Machida never really has (Tito nearly finished him with that triangle, but was otherwise outclassed); Machida has easily the biggest collection of names on his resume; unlike the other two, Calderon at 34 is in the twilight of his career, especially for such a small fighter.

3. Anderson Silva converts to Manny Pacquiao.

Similarities: Or he did, back when he could be bothered to show up to his own fights. Back then he was, as Pacquiao is now, essentially the perfect striker in his sport: remarkably quick, eerily accurate, calm and composed, and able to effectively throw essentially every strike available to him with bone-jarring power. Both are or were masters at controlling distance and pace in a fight, both are or were ferocious finishers, both have cleaned out large swathes of their respective divisions at various times and now have to look outside of that comfort zone to find real challenges. Both are non-American and have become stars in the US despite limited English. Both have a few early losses in their careers not indicative of their peak abilities, often by odd or non-repeatable methods: Pacquiao at 18 to an 11-4 fighter, Silva to the infamous Ryo Chonan flying heel hook, etc.

Differences: Everything Silva has done in his last two fights. God those sucked. By contrast there really doesn’t exist a bad Pacquiao fight, even when he was pitted against lesser competition like Jorge Solis or David Diaz- there’s a level of professionalism which separates the men, with Silva much more given to the sort of histrionics and open disrespect of fellow fighters that brings to mind many of the stereotypes about Brazilian professional athletes. Silva is 4 years older than Pacquiao, and perhaps starting to show signs of a decline which Pacquiao is not. Pacquiao has also faced the much, much tougher competition in his career- and thus has more great wins, and also more very close fights, than Silva.

4. GSP converts to Floyd Mayweather, Jr..

Similarities: Both are preposterously great athletes who began training at very young ages and as mature professionals are defined by quickness and versatility, able to out-think nearly all of their opponents and often make even the very best (Ricky Hatton, Jon Fitch) look clownishly inept by comparison. Both have more power than you sometimes expect or remember, both are huge stars and major draws, both have immense natural charisma, both have had several career-defining fights (Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra) go in their favor. Both have headlined or co-headlined the single largest-drawing PPV shows in the history of their respective sports, and both will be regarded as the second-most important figure in drawing those numbers. Both are considered by some to be pretty boys without the stones to mix it up, even though both have long since proved against fighters like Fitch and Jose Luis Castillo that that’s total nonsense. Both are expert at forcing their opponents into unfavorable positions, GSP with his wrestling and Mayweather by forcing opponents to come to him as aggressors and leave themselves open for counterpunching.

Differences: GSP is most likely just entering his prime while Mayweather is finishing a period of squandering a large chunk of his, as he spent years farting around against the Henry Bruseles, Carlos Baldomir, Sharmba Mitchell (the aged version) and Chop Chop Corley types of the boxing world. GSP is probably a closer comp to the Mayweather who was coming off defeating Jose Luis Castillo for the second time at age 26.

More of these Monday.

July 17, 2009 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | , , , , , | Leave a comment