Thursday, January 21, 2010

Keyboard Kimura Has Moved

I thought long and hard about this decision, but the time has come for Keyboard Kimura to take a break... though the biting commentaries and educated opinions you've come to expect live on!

I've officially joined forces with Five Knuckles, an emerging and all-star site dedicated to bringing you all the news you need, but also the angles and opinions you don't get anywhere else.

We've also got some tricks up our sleeves, but you'll have to keep hanging out on the site to find out what I'm talking about.

This has been a great launching pad and helped me start down the road to a career in Mixed Martial Arts, so I'm pleased. I'm also extremely thankful for the loyal readers who have become fans...

Come find me at 5K - and while you're there, check out everyone else too!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gray Maynard: Merit Over Marketability

Heading into his Ultimate Fight Night 20 Main Event against Nathan Diaz, Gray Maynard knew that a win over the brash TUF 5 winner would most likely mean a chance to challenge BJ Penn for the Lightweight Title.

Almost immediately after the Split Decision results were read in Maynard’s favor, the speculation started. The Internet lit up with fans and media alike asking, “Who Should Be Next in Line for BJ?” or something of that extent.

For many, it comes down to two men: Maynard and Frankie Edgar.

If those are the two in consideration, there is only one answer, and it’s not “The Answer.”

Yes, Frankie Edgar has the bigger “name brand” win in recent memory, defeating former champion Sean Sherk at UFC 98 in a bout that earned each fighter a Fight of the Night bonus. He collected the same bonus money for his recent submission of Matt Veach on the TUF 10 Finale as well.

While Maynard hasn’t cashed any bonus checks or beaten any former champions, he’s rattled off seven-straight wins in the UFC, and remains undefeated in his career. Included in that list of conquest is one Frank Edgar.

Now, it is well understood that the UFC is a business and fights are made as much on marketability and entertainment value for the fans, but choosing Edgar over Maynard would be an indication that records and results are only secondary.

When the two options are equal in virtually every area, picking the fighter who has the greater connection with the fans makes obvious sense. But when there is a clear deciding variable, like say a head-to-head win, the winner should be the one getting the title shot, shouldn’t he?

First, let me say this: regardless of who fights BJ Penn, they’re going to get beaten. Right now, “The Prodigy” is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the UFC Lightweight division, and it will remain that way until further notice.

Though I understand that Maynard’s style of grinding out close wins and not really having a big connection with the fans plays a part in the decision-making process, overlooking his dominant win over Edgar in favor of a “more marketable” matchup is a mistake to me.

It would be like offering Martin Kampmann a chance at Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight belt, despite the fact that Paul Daley just destroyed him at UFC 103.

If Maynard’s victory over Edgar is less important than how well the UFC Marketing Department can sell the fight, the company risks sending a message that being able to sell yourself takes precedent over results.

Maynard certainly didn't offer up a highlight reel performance or any evidence that he can pry the Lightweight title from the hands of "The Prodigy," but are we really to believe that a man "The Bully" completely dominated would do any better?

The UFC needs to put merit over marketability and do the right thing like Spike Lee.

Give Gray Maynard the next Lightweight title shot.

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UFC / WEC Doubleheader: 10 Things We Learned

1. Ben Henderson, WEC Lightweight Champion

If anyone ever questioned why the newly unified WEC Lightweight Champion rocks the nickname "Smooth," all you need to do is look at this fight.

While Jamie Varner was being Jamie Varner - coming out guns blazing, locking in a guillotine, talking smack - Henderson took everything in stride, popping his head of the submission attempt, shaking off the onslaughts and fixing his hair.

The second Varner offered up his neck... game over.

In one year, Ben Henderson has beaten the very best the WEC Lightweight division has to offer. As the newly unified champion, it's time to start all over again, including a probable rematch with "Cowboy" Donald Cerrone.

2. God Bless the Media...

Josh Gross of Sports Illustrated raised the question of how the WEC lightweights stack up against the remaining 155-pounders in the world.

It pains me that the immediate response from one of the best in the business is to raise such a question. No one is putting Ben Henderson in the Top 10 of the lightweight division worldwide, and it is universally accepted that the WEC 155-pound division is a notch below that of their Zuffa sibling.

So what's the point of instigating such a debate? Obviously, it's the responsibility of the media to ask these kinds of questions, and I get that, but less than 24-hours after Henderson put on a quality performance, we're already looking to hyper-qualify things and detract from his accomplishment.

Yes, the WEC Lightweight division isn't populated with the best in the world. That said, they've put on some great fights and offered up some great finishes in the last year, so why not just be happy with the returns and leave it at that?

3. Maynard Earns Title Shot

Yes, you read that correctly.

I'm getting more in-depth on the subject at (and I'll link the article once complete and posted), but the gist of it is that you can't tell a guy who is unbeaten that a fighter he threw around the cage for 15 minutes is a more worthy contender.

Now, that doesn't mean Maynard won't get bumped in favor of Frankie Edgar, because the UFC is as much about marketing as it is about merit, if not more so at times, it just means that if we're going on results and results only, Gray Maynard should be the next man to have his ass handed to him by BJ Penn.

4. Introducing Evan Dunham

What an outstanding performance for the young, undefeated Oregon native.

Efrain Escudero is a tough kid and was the clear favorite heading into the fight, and all Dunham did was make it through a tough first round to dominate the remaining six minutes and change of the fight, en route to his tenth straight win.

He's now won three fights by three different methods, and showed unexpectedly strong jiu jitsu last night in Virginia.

My colleague Zak Woods asked the question, "How excited are you to see Evan Dunham fight again?" earlier today at Watch Kalib Run.

Answer: Extremely.

5. The Tapping Dichotomy

Today, Efrain Escudero is being questioned for his decision not to tap sooner in his bout with Evan Dunham.

However, you can't blame the kid for trying to gut it out. After all, that's the message we often send.

Jonathan Snowden at recounts the night Renzo Gracie became a hero in his eyes, refusing to submit to a brutal kimura applied by "The Gracie Killer" himself, Kazushi Sakuraba. In the very next line, he says Escudero looked stupid for doing the same thing.

I agree that the TUF 8 lightweight winner needed to tap far sooner than he did, but when the media and fans put Gracie's refusal on a pedestal - or rip on Jamie Varner for his quick tap against Ben Henderson - you can see where the message is mixed, can't you?

Tapping isn't a sign of weakness, and refusing to do so isn't a sign a valor. That needs to be the message we're spreading.

6. "The California Kid" is Back and as Good as Ever

Great performance for Urijah Faber in front of his hometown crowd on Sunday night, earning Submisson of the Night honors for his rear naked choke win over Raphael Assuncao.

While I was skeptical of the performance we would see from the returning former champion, Faber left no doubt in my mind that he is still the dynamic force who ruled the Featherweight division, and a legitimate threat to Jose Aldo's title.

Whether he should be the first to challenge the new champ is up for debate, but that's a whole different article altogether.

7. If Jamie Varner Wants to Box, Give Him Kamal Shalorus

The former lightweight champ has caught some flak for his post-fight comments about Henderson wanting to grapple, not fight. Well, if Varner wants someone to stand-and-bang with, let him go 15 minutes with Kamal Shalorus.

His boxing is thoroughly unrefined, but the former Olympic wrestler hits like a sledgehammer and apparently has a chin make of granite. There wasn't a single minute in his decisive win over Dave Jansen where "The Prince of Persia" stopped coming forward.

Shalorus would hold an edge in the wrestling department, but Varner's more technical boxing and experience would make him the favorite.

The villain of the WEC lightweight division gets an opponent who will give him the fight he apparently craves, while the 32-year-old Shalorus would get a serious step up in competition.

8. Sadollah Continues to Improve and Impress

While the TUF 7 winner looked good in battering Phil Baroni at UFC 106, he was basically fighting a human punching bag after the first three minutes. Last night, Sadollah showed that his hard work and determination are paying off, as he took a unanimous decision from a very game Brad Blackburn.

As in the Baroni fight, Sadollah showed his strong Muay Thai skills and the stamina to offer up 15 minutes of action without a problem. That said, he also took a few shots along the way and needs to tighten up the defense a little, but it was a good performance nonetheless.

It will be interesting to see where the UFC goes next with Sadollah. The welterweight division is stacked with talent, and while two wins means a step up in competition is in order, the company should be careful with their charismatic fan favorite.

May I suggest someone in the Dong Hyun Kim / Yoshiyuki Yoshida range?

9. Mike Brown Deserves Better

I know I said this is an entirely different article waiting to happen - and it will be, I promise - but watching Faber talk up an all-but-certain title fight with Jose Aldo made it impossible not to address the double standard former champion Mike Brown is now forced to deal with.

Yes, Faber vs. Aldo makes sense on a number of levels, but in terms of "How's that right?" one has to wonder how Brown isn't given an opportunity to reclaim the belt he held for a year - and took from Faber - when "The California Kid" gets the same opportunity every other fight?

Life most certainly isn't fair, and Faber is the wise business decision, but still...

10. Great Job by The Score Sunday Night

Canada's Home for the Hardcore began their partnership with the WEC on Sunday and did a tremendous job.

Before picking up the Versus feed of the fights, Mauro Ranallo hosted an hour-long preview show that introduced a number of the fighters on the card to the Canadian viewers, as well as showed portion of some of fights that setup the night's bouts.

They also ran through a segment outlining the major players in the WEC divisions, something essential for future events. Knowing who to watch for in coming WEC events is what will help grow the brand, and make household names out of stars like Brian Bowles, Miguel Torres and Mike Brown.

Continue reading...

Monday, January 11, 2010

UFC Fight Night 20: Punch Drunk Predictions

To say I need a bounce-back night of picks would be a bit of an understatement.

While going 4-6 at WEC 46 isn't all that bad, I've shown the kind of maddening inconsistency in my forecasting that gets a weatherman fired, and a fighter released.

Thankfully, the UFC offers up an immediate opportunity to rebound from picking up my 100th loss of the Keyboard Kimura era courtesy of Fight Night 20 from Fairfax, Virginia.

Same new format applies - synthesis as well as selections. Hopefully we can do a little better tonight.

Nick Catone (7-2-0) vs. Jesse Forbes (10-3-0)

In a contest between two fighters heading in opposite directions, I don't see a sudden detour in either man's future, making Forbes the choice and Catone the guy who ends up holding a pink slip later in the week.

Catone has faced a couple tough tests in his two UFC contests to date, losing to Mark Munoz and Tim Credeur, but momentum and confidence play a big part in the business of fighting, and Forbes enters off five wins in 2009. He also gets a second chance with the UFC, and I don't expect the Arizona Combat Sports product to stumble a second time.

Gerald Harris (13-2-0) vs. John Salter (4-0-0)

While getting the call late often makes being prepared a bit of a problem, it could also work to your advantage if you focus solely on doing what you do best. Salter is a tremendous grappler and will look to take this fight to the floor from the opening bell. From there, it will be academic.

All the pressure rests on Harris's shoulders, as the former TUF contestant gets a second chance to make a good impression on the UFC brass. A last minute replacement with a somewhat different approach and background than original opponent Mike Massenzio could throw him off.

Kyle Bradley (14-6-0, 1 NC) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (12-4-0)

Even though he lost to Tyson Griffin, dos Anjos showed enough in that fight to make him the favorite last time out against Rob Emerson. He validated that support by chopping "The Saint's" legs out from under him with repeated leg kicks and should do the same here with Bradley.

Mike Guymon (11-2-0) vs. Rory MacDonald (9-0-0)

I went against the Canadian last night, and Mark Hominick made me pay, pulling out an armbar submission against Bryan Caraway. The same won't happen here, as I have been and will continue to be entrenched in the corner of Kelowna's Rory MacDonald throughout his UFC career.

The 20-year-old Canadian has been steamrolling the competition, including stopping veterans Clay French and Nick Hinchcliffe. Guymon is just another veteran standing in the way of the best prospect to come out of Canada since GSP.

Thiago Tavares (14-3-0) vs. Nik Lentz (17-3-1)

Tavares has been out of action for 12 months, while Lentz is coming off an impressive debut win over Rafaello Oliveira in September. While there was a time when Tavares was viewed as a possible title contender, those thoughts went out the window for good when Matt Wiman laid him out at UFC 85.

Lentz is a tremendous wrestler, a base criterion for entrance into Greg Nelson's Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, and will out-muscle his opponent for the full 15 minutes.

Rick Story (8-3-0) vs. Jesse Lennox (11-1-0)

Story is the favorite and the pick in this welterweight bout. His opponents of note - Jake Ellenberger, John Hathaway and Brian Foster - have all shown they belong in the UFC, and so too does Story.

This one has Fight of the Night potential.

Chris Leben (18-6-0) vs. Jay Silva (5-2-0)

Part of me wants to pick Leben, simply because Silva could very well decide to stand with "The Crippler" and for all his shortcomings, Leben still has a lethal left hand.

That said, he has repeatedly proven that he doesn't have the heart to compete in the UFC, from neglecting to train properly heading into his homecoming fight with Jake Rosholt to getting an anabolic edge against Michael Bisping.

Picking Silva has far more to do with my lack of confident in Leben than my opinions of his Brazilian opponent.

Amir Sadollah (2-1-0) vs. Brad Blackburn (17-9-1, 1 NC)

Brad Blackburn isn't going to gas in the first round like Phil Baroni. He's not going to lean against the cage like a human punching bag, giving Sadollah a chance to showcase his excellent Muay Thai.

Amir has the edge in terms of grappling thanks to his Sambo background, but Blackburn has far more experience and has the power to stop Sadollah with one shot, something we've seen happen before.

I like Amir, as a host and as a charismatic figure in the sport. In this fight, however, I like Blackburn.

Tom Lawlor (6-1-0,1 NC) vs. Aaron Simpson (6-0-0)

There are a number of superlatives that get attached to Aaron Simpson and they have revolve around his athleticism and results inside the cage thus far.

There are also a number of superlatives that get attached to Tom Lawlor, though few have anything to do with his in-ring performances to date. That's what happens when you're the Clown Prince of the UFC Weigh-Ins.

Over-the-top outfits and entrances aside, Lawlor has enough wrestling to match up well with Simpson and holds the edge in power. The "A-Train" gets derailed tonight.

Efrain Escudero (13-0-0) vs. Evan Dunham (9-0-0)

We've seen Dunham pick his spots en route to a unanimous decision, and land a powerful right down the pipe to put away Per Eklund, but I can't see either outcome materializing tonight.

Escudero will push the pace and get inside on Dunham, and has the boxing defense to ensure he doesn't get caught. From there, his outstanding wrestling will bring the fight to the floor, leading to some serious ground-and-pound and another win for the TUF 8 Lightweight winner.

Gray Maynard (8-0-0, 1 NC) vs. Nathan Diaz (11-4-0)

A title shot waits in the wings for Maynard should he come through this fight with a win. While that would normally be motivation enough, the fact that he can avenge his TUF 5 loss to Diaz at the same time might deliver us the best Gray Maynard we've seen yet.

"The Bully" is too big, too strong, and too good of a wrestler for Diaz. He's advanced his game a great deal since they met on The Ultimate Fighter, and uses this win to secure his place opposite BJ Penn later in the year.

Punch Drunk Predictions
Record: 139-100-1

Preliminary Fights
Jesse Forbes over Nick Catone - TKO, Round 2
John Salter over Gerald Harris - Submission, Round 1
Rafael dos Anjos over Kyle Bradley - Submission, Round 2
Rory MacDonald over Mike Guymon - TKO, Round 1
Nik Lentz over Thiago Tavares - Unanimous Decision
Rick Story over Jesse Lennox - Submission, Round 2
Jay Silva over Chris Leben - TKO, Round 1

Main Card Fights
Brad Blackburn over Amir Sadollah - TKO, Round 1
Tom Lawlor over Aaron Simpson - Split Decision
Efrain Escudero over Evan Dunham - TKO, Round 1

And in the Main Event of the evening...

Gray Maynard over Nathan Diaz via Unanimous Decision.

Now touch gloves and come out swinging!

Continue reading...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

UFC Fight Night 20 Fight Analysis

Following up on Sunday's WEC 46 card, the UFC makes a rare Monday night appearance, landing at The Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia for Ultimate Fight Night 20.

The show is a showcase of Ultimate Fighter winners and contestants, as eight of the 22 fighters on the card were a part of the hit reality show. Three of those eight won the whole thing, as Nathan Diaz, Amir Sadollah and Efrain Escudero took home the six-figure contracts at the end of their respective seasons.

Each of those three winners has an interesting night ahead of them, as Sadollah looks to build some consistency against Brad Blackburn, Escudero tries to remain unbeaten against fellow undefeated lightweight Evan Dunham, and Diaz faces top contender Gray Maynard, a man he submitted en route to winning Season 5 two-and-a-half years ago.

Lots to discuss, so let's get to it.

Nick Catone (7-2-0) vs. Jesse Forbes (10-3-0)

Forbes was a member of Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter, and makes his return to the UFC after going 10-2 fighting all over Canada and the US since losing to Matt Hamill.

For Catone, his UFC experience can't get any worse. Unbeaten when he signed with the company, he was originally slated to meet Amir Sadollah in his post-TUF debut, but that didn't happen. Instead, he was beaten by "Crazy" Tim Credeur, and has since taken a second-straight defeat courtesy of Mark Munoz at UFC 102.

Winner sticks around, loser goes home in the first fight of the night. No idea which of these two I'm backing as of yet.

Gerald Harris (13-2-0) vs. John Salter (4-0-0)

Sadollah seems to be a recurring theme for this event, as Harris was eliminated from Season 7 by the then-unknown "murse" despite being one of the favorites to win the show. He most recently claimed the Shark Fights Middleweight title over former WEC competitor Nissen Osterneck.

John Salter comes in as a very late replacement for Mike Massenzio, but has a solid wrestling base and a win over former UFC competitor and BJJ ace Roberto "Spider" Traven. A last minute call-up is usually a tough task, so expectations need to be hedged going into this bout.

Kyle Bradley (14-6-0, 1 NC) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (12-4-0)

The lone win of Bradley's UFC career came in controversial fashion, as many believe his bout with Philippe Nover was stopped prematurely by Yves Lavigne. Prior to that victory, Bradley was beaten up by Chris Lytle and Joe Lauzon.

Rafael dos Anjos is one of the most frustrating fighters for me to watch. He's got talent and an assortment of skills in the cage, but I can't shake the image of him catching Jeremy Stephens' super-telegraphed "Uppercut from Hell" with his face at UFC 91 out of my mind.

He looked great utilizing leg kicks and solid grappling against Rob Emerson last time out, and if he does the same against Bradley, he'll get a bump up in competition. Of course, he could also catch another punch in the mouth and fall like a house of cards.

Mike Guymon (11-2-0) vs. Rory MacDonald (9-0-0)

"The Joker" is a tough veteran who finally gets a chance to compete on the big stage after stringing together five-straight wins on the California King of the Cage circuit. Unfortunately, it might be a short-lived stay, as Guymon is facing an impressive 20-year-old Canadian who has had some KOTC success of his own.

Rory MacDonald is one of the Top 5 prospects in the sport, and has ran through everyone who ever stood across from him in the cage. The supremely self-confident kid from Kelowna, British Columbia recently knocked out former KOTC Light Heavyweight champ Nick Hincliffe in just his second fight at welterweight.

Nine fights, nine stoppages; "The Waterboy" is for real.

Thiago Tavares (14-3-0) vs. Nik Lentz (17-3-1)

Once upon a time, the Brazilian was viewed as a possible title contender in the lightweight division, but then three losses in four fights put a halt on those plans. Now, after a year off, Tavares returns to face a tough wrestler looking to earn his second straight win inside the Octagon.

Since he comes from the same Minnesota Martial Arts Academy as Brock Lesnar and Sean Sherk, you have to know Nik Lentz has a strong wrestling base. If you're not convinced, take a look at Lentz' debut win over Rafaello Oliveira, where the former Golden Gopher won the final two round with takedown after takedown.

Tavares is better on the ground than Oliveira, but a year away from the cage makes it hard to know what kind of performance he's going offer.

Rick Story (8-3-0) vs. Jesse Lennox (11-1-0)

My sleeper pick for Fight of the Night.

Story put on a great performance last time out against Brian Foster, earning Submission and Fight of the Night honors for the battle he ended with an arm triangle from inside Foster's halfguard. He also holds a win over Jake Ellenberger, a fighter who has been extremely impressive to date in the UFC.

Lennox was in a war last time out too, earning a TKO over Danillo Villefort due to a cut from an undetected and unintentional headbutt. Previous to that, the Miletich Fighting Systems product scored a win over Blas Avena in the WEC, and enters on a four-fight winning streak.

Chris Leben (18-6-0) vs. Jay Silva (5-2-0)

Raise your hand if you're sick of Chris Leben.

For the record, my hand is held high. There is no doubting his charisma or his punching power, but "The Crippler" can certainly be questioned on his dedication, integrity and overall interest in being a UFC competitor. The original bad boy of The Ultimate Fighter, Leben could be on his last legs with the company that made him a household name having lost two-in-a-row.

Silva comes in off a loss to C.B. Dollaway in September, a fight he took as a late replacement to an injured Dan Miller. A purple belt in BJJ under Renzo Gracie, Silva has said in the build up to the fight that he's willing to stand-and-bang with Leben.

Apparently, the contents of Silva's cranium can be questioned as well.

Amir Sadollah (2-1-0) vs. Brad Blackburn (17-9-1, 1 NC)

Once again, Amir Sadollah has a very important fight in front of him. His post-TUF debut lasted only 29 seconds courtesy of a Johny Hendricks flurry, and while he bounced back and looked solid in beating Phil Baroni at UFC 106, it was Phil Baroni.

Now the former nurse and Ultimate Fighter gets a tough test in former IFL competitor Brad Blackburn. A win moves him up the ladder and validates some of the promise he showed early and the faith the UFC has shown as of late, while a loss could be catastrophic.

All of which makes Blackburn even more dangerous. The guy has nothing to prove and nothing to lose. He's 3-0 in the UFC and signed a new contract prior to injuring his knee, so a pink slip isn't in his future. A win moves him up the rankings, while a loss isn't all that bad, considering he's been out of action for almost seven months and it came to UFC darling Sadollah after all.

This bout has "trap fight" written all over it for Sadollah.

Tom Lawlor (6-1-0. 1 NC) vs. Aaron Simpson (6-0-0)

Simpson is undefeated, hyper-athletic and very well-respected by his Arizona Combat Sports teammates. He's looked great thus far in his UFC career and is in better shape at 35 than I have been in at any point in my life.

Remembered for his time on TUF 8 and his appearance at the UFC 100 Weigh-Ins as "The Just Bleed Guy," Lawlor is an unquestioned character who doesn't get enough credit for his talents in the cage. That's what happens when you walk out to your last fight with Seth Petruzelli on a leash and "Who Let the Dogs Out?" blaring through the arena.

Efrain Escudero (13-0-0) vs. Evan Dunham (9-0-0)

Someone is leaving Virginia with their first career loss, and opinions are split on whether it will be the lightweight winner of TUF 8 or the kid from Oregon who now trains with Xtreme Couture.

Escudero has solid wrestling chops and comes from an emerging camp, the MMA Lab in Arizona, home of WEC star Ben Henderson among others. He showed power in knocking Cole Miller to the canvas before finishing him with some serious ground-and-pound in his last bout, and admitted to wanting to fight Ghandi when we spoke earlier in the week.

Evan Dunham made a splash in his UFC debut, clocking veteran Per Eklund, and followed it up with a Unanimous Decision over Marcus Aurelio. Dunham probably has the edge when the fight is standing, and having a training camp filled with top-quality lightweight wrestlers like Gray Maynard and Tyson Griffin certainly won't hurt his chances in this fight.

Gray Maynard (8-0-0, 1 NC) vs. Nathan Diaz (11-4-0)

Not only is this a rematch of their semifinal battle from TUF 5, but an impressive performance from Maynard all but guarantees his a shot at BJ Penn's Lightweight title. Of course, all UFC guarantees need to be consumed with numerous grains of salt.

Diaz is a very talented fighter and highly opportunistic; if you give him an opening to sink in a submission, your night is over. That's what happened the first time around for these two, just as it did for Melvin Guillard when Diaz submitted him at Fight Night 19.

But the Gray Maynard who lost to Nate Diaz on the Ultimate Fighter isn't the same guy who stands across from him on Monday. Since that time, Maynard has greatly improved his boxing and become more aware of how to use his outstanding wrestling and strength to dictate where fights take place.

He's also beaten far better competition than Diaz, having earned wins over Roger Huerta, Jim Miller and Frankie Edgar, while Diaz was beaten by Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson before stopping "The Young Assassin."

Continue reading...

WEC 46: Punch Drunk Predictions

In the next 36 hours, I'll flip a coin 21 times. I mean....

Beginning tonight with WEC 46 and concluding tomorrow with Fight Night 20 from Fairfax, Virginia, fight fans have the opportunity to enjoy between eight and ten fights free from the comfort of their couches.

Additionally, I get a chance to bring my prediction percentage up over 60% where it belongs.

New to the PDP series, a little more insight to my selections; instead of just telling you who I'm picking, a little explanation as to why I'm going that way might make things clearer... or validate your belief that I don't know my arse from a hole in the ground.


Coty Wheeler (10-2-0) vs. Will Campuzano (6-1-0)

Campuzano got thrown to the wolves in his debut, stepping in to face hard-hitting Damacio Page. He certainly can't have any worse a performance as he did against "The Angel of Death." Wheeler has solid submission skills, but outside of catching a stray limb, he doesn't have the all-around game to hang with Campuzano for 15 minutes if necessary.

Eddie Wineland (15-6-1) vs. George Roop (10-5-0)

Wineland was the first Bantamweight champ in WEC history, and often gets extra credit because of that fact. Grinding out a win over Manny Tapia last time gets him some consideration, but the former Ultimate Fighter contestant Roop gets the nod, as his length will be too much to handle in his debut at 135.

Mark Hominick (16-8-0) vs. Brian Caraway (14-3-0)

This one is ultra-easy, and not in the "Hominick is Canadian, so I'm picking Hominick" angle many of you are probably expecting. My fellow Canadian hasn't fought in over a year and has a serious issue with getting submitted. Caraway, on the other hand, earned two wins in 2009 and has a habit of making guys tap. Canadian or not, Hominick gets submitted.

Wagnney Fabiano (12-2-0) vs. Clint Godfrey (11-1-0)

Three months ago, Fabiano was one of the Top 3 contenders in the Featherweight division. Then Mackens Semerzier submitted him, Jose Aldo won the title at 145, and Fabiano moved to Bantamweight to start again. I have no idea what Clint Godfrey was doing four months ago, and that should be all the information you need to know where I'm headed with this one.

Charlie Valencia (11-5-0) vs. Akitoshi Tamura (14-7-2)

Both are veterans, but Tamura has done better against top competition over his career than Valencia. While the Ontario, California native can proudly say he's hung in there with Brian Bowles, Urijah Faber and Cub Swanson, Tamura has beaten "Lion" Takeshi Inoue, Manny Tapia and Rumina Sato.

Mackens Semerzier (5-0-0) vs. Deividas Taurosevicius (11-3-0)

This has all the potential to be a letdown fight for Semerzier, who enters off his surprising submission of the aforementioned Wagnney Fabiano in October. Though Taurosevicius is a tough veteran, Miguel Torres says Semerzier is the real deal, and who am I to argue with Torres and his fabulous mullet?

Dave Jansen (14-0-0) vs. Kamal Shalorus (5-0-1)

The Iranian wrestler who has shown knockout power is getting a lot of support going into this bout, but not from me. I made the mistake of doubting Dave Jansen last time around, and it won't happen again. My money - figuratively speaking - is on Jansen finding a submission and giving Shalorus his first loss.

Mike Brown (22-5-0) vs. Anthony Morrison (15-7-0)

"Cheesesteak" is tough and has power in his hands, but Brown asked to get back into the cage quickly and wants to get into a rematch with Jose Aldo for the Featherweight title. He might have to wait his turn, but he starts down that path tonight in a fight I don't expect to last very long.

Urijah Faber (22-3-0) vs. Raphael Assuncao (14-1-0)

This just feels like a "Trap Fight" to me. Faber is being looked at as the next challenger to Jose Aldo, and while it could very well happen, Assuncao is a Top 5 Featherweight and Faber hasn't fought in seven months. I'm taking the upset.

Jamie Varner (16-2-0) vs. Ben Henderson (10-1-0)

While this is the first time Varner has stepped inside the cage in nearly a year, it will be the fourth such journey for Henderson. On top of that, "Smooth" has looked every bit his nickname in earning wins over Anthony Njokuani, Shane Roller and Donald Cerrone in that time. Varner is a tough kid and still has a bright future, but the ring rust and Henderson's ridiculous pace get the better of him.

Punch Drunk Predictions
Record: 135-96-1

Preliminary Card
Will Campuzano over Coty Wheeler - Unanimous Decision
George Roop over Eddie Wineland - Unanimous Decision
Bryan Caraway over Mark Hominick - Submission, Round 1
Wagnney Fabiano over Clint Godfrey - Submission, Round 2
Akitoshi Tamura over Charlie Valencia - TKO, Round 2

Main Card
Mackens Semerzier over Deividas Taurosevicius - TKO, Round 2
Dave Jansen over Kamal Shalorus - Submission, Round 2
Mike Brown over Anthony Morrison - Submission, Round 1
Raphael Assuncao over Urijah Faber - TKO, Round 2

And in the Main Event of the evening...

Ben "Smooth" Henderson over Jamie Varner via technical knockout in Round 3 to unify the WEC Lightweight title.

Now touch gloves and come out swinging!

Continue reading...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Urijah Faber: Should "The California Kid" Still Be the WEC Poster Boy?

In a recent interview with Bleacher Report’s Bryan Levick, Lightweight champion Jamie Varner had some choice words for his employers, questioning the seemingly constant push received by Urijah Faber:

It should be called The Urijah Faber show instead of World Extreme Cagefighting. They keep giving Faber all of the big promotional deals, in fact they just hooked him up with Amp Energy Drink. Amp just became the official energy drink of the WEC. I called the WEC regarding Amp about two months ago because a buddy of mine who works with Pepsi told me about it. I asked the WEC to get me on board with them and they said they would see what they could do. Lo and behold Faber got the deal.

Regardless of your personal opinions of Jamie Varner, his comments have merit, though they only present one side of the story.

Yes, as a champion in the WEC and one of a number of talented, recognition-worthy competitors under their banner, it certainly has to be hard to constantly see Faber as the poster boy for the company, including as the star of the trailer for this upcoming event.

In a very liberal sense, it is similar to the Kimbo Slice dichotomy.

Kimbo, like Faber, is a massive draw and highly-marketable fighter. “The California Kid” has regularly pulled over a million viewers to Versus, while no one else has eclipsed the 700,000 mark.

But in terms of performance and abilities, Kimbo is nowhere near as skilled or accomplished as countless fighters earning far less and achieving far more.

While Faber is a former champ and a much-higher caliber fighter than Kimbo, those who advocate a fighter getting by on their merits more than their marketability could come calling if Faber were to lose on Sunday.

There is no question that the pride of Sacramento is the most well-known fighter on the WEC roster, and as charismatic and marketable a figure as the sport has to offer. But heading into Sunday’s fight with Raphael Assuncao, Faber has fought four times over the last two years, splitting those bouts down the middle.

The losses came to Mike Brown, while the wins came over Jens Pulver.

Yes, both of them.

As much as some Faber fans want to play the “What If Game” with Faber’s two defeats to Brown, the former Featherweight champ twice-removed has yet to get by the once-removed champion, and there are no indications that he ever would.

That brings us to his victories from the last 730 days, give or take.

Fair or not, the general consensus on Jens Pulver at this stage of his career is that he is passed his best before date. Many believe that his first fight with Faber – a fight which Faber won by unanimous decision – was the last great fight of “Little Evil’s” impressive career.

It’s hard to argue the opposite, as that bout was the beginning of the current four-fight losing streak that sent Pulver back to Iowa to re-evaluate his fighting future.

As a fan, I’m glad he’s making a return in March. As an objective journalist, I don’t know how much he’s got left in the tank, though I hope he proves me and everyone else wrong.

Getting back on topic, will pushing Faber as “The Face of the Franchise” continue to make sense should he suffer another defeat on Sunday night?

His two wins would have come over a fighter who is 1-6 in his last seven fights and widely thought of as finished, and he would slip to #3 in the division, at most, behind Assuncao and a guy he hasn’t been able to beat in two attempts.

Though he would still be the most recognizable name in the company, a number of fighters could make the argument that the time to pass the marketing torch has come.

Current featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo is emerging as a bona fide star after collecting four wins and numerous Fighter of the Year awards in 2009.

Former champ Mike Thomas Brown holds a pair of wins over “The California Kid,” yet still spends the occasional weekend answering the phones and working the front desk at American Top Team. Some it comes from enjoyment, but a few extra dollars in the man’s pocket on the marketing side might change things.

Miguel Torres, Brian Bowles, and a trio of lightweights in Varner, Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone would all rank above Faber in terms of recent performances, yet remain a great distance behind in terms of the push they receive.

Though Faber certainly did a great deal of legwork during the early years of the company and is now reaping the rewards, star power comes and goes based on wins and losses, and a loss Sunday would certainly take some of the shine off of the WEC poster boy.

Backing Faber makes perfect sense from a business standpoint.

But with a growing number of emerging talents with brighter futures and better records in recent months, the WEC could be hitching their wagon to the wrong horse.

Should Faber win – and many believe he will – he still has a couple of difficult draws on the horizon, beginning with Jose Aldo, a fighter who just made quick work of Faber’s arch enemy, Mike Brown.

Only time will tell if the WEC is doing the right thing in putting their promotional dollars behind Faber over guys like Aldo, Brown, Torres and Varner.

Of course, a guy who has been on the shelf for almost a year to the day should probably focus on winning his fight and returning to relevance then wondering why he isn’t getting a bigger marketing push.

Both guys can gain some amount of vindication Sunday night. They could also get caught with a literal and metaphorical punch in the mouth.

Now you’ve got two more reason to tune in.

Continue reading...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Champions Collide: WEC 46 Fight Card Preview

By now, just about everyone knows my stance on the WEC.

For those who don't, the quick version is this: World Extreme Cagefighting routinely puts on the best night of fights the industry has to offer, making them nothing short of awesome.

Somehow, the live gate numbers and television viewership continues to slide, but all of that could - nay, should - change this weekend, as WEC 46 hits the Arco Arena in Sacremento, featuring the Lightweight Title Unification bout between Jamie Varner and Ben "Smooth" Henderson.

While that fight alone should be enough to get fans interested, the card also features the return of hometown hero Urijah Faber, a speedy return to the cage for former Feathwerweight champ Mike Brown, and a number of other intriguing matchups.

Additionally, this card marks the debut of the WEC on The Score in Canada, giving my fellow Canucks no excuse for missing this loaded lineup of fights.

Coty "Ox" Wheeler (10-2-0) vs. Will Campuzano (6-1-0)

Both fighters enter off losses from October's WEC 43 in San Antonio, Texas. Wheeler dropped a unanimous decision to veteran Charlie Valencia, while Campuzano was quickly submitted by Greg Jackson-trainee Damacio Page in his debut with the company.

This matchup suits both fighters far better.

Wheeler is a submission specialist who was simply outclassed against Valencia, a strong wrestler who has faced some of the WEC elite over the years. The second time under the bright lights should be an easier night for Campuzano as well, who will be motivated to quickly bounce back from the first loss of his career.

Eddie Wineland (15-6-1) vs. George Roop (10-5-0)

While Roop is the more recognizable name thanks to his time on Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter, Wineland is the more experienced of the two.

The first Bantamweight champion in WEC history, Wineland is looking to build on his decision victory over Manny Tapia at WEC 43 and put himself back into consideration at 135 pounds. Originally scheduled to face the oft-injured Rafael Rebello, the Indiana native will instead have to contend with the debuting former member of Team Mir.

After getting cut by the UFC, Roop earned the Rage in the Cage Featherweight title, and drops to 135 for the first time. Standing 6-feet, the Team Tompkins fighter will certainly pose an difficult task in the Bantamweight division, a place where Miguel Torres is viewed as "big for the division."

Torres stands 5'10".

Mark Hominick (16-8-0) vs. Bryan Caraway (14-3-0)

"The Machine" returns to the cage for the first time since defeating Savant Young all the back at Affliction: Banned in July 2008.

Since then, he was forced to withdraw from a fight with Deividas Taurosevicius earlier in the year - you guessed it, WEC 43 - and now faces a late replacement for fellow Canadian Yves Jabouin in the debuting Caraway.

Though making his maiden voyage into the WEC waters, Caraway comes from a solid camp - Victory Athletics - and is riding a three-fight winning streak. His last lost came at the hands of Wilson Reis, the highly-regarded Bellator competitor who needed the full 15 minutes to secure the win.

Of his 14 career wins, 12 came by way of submission, something Hominick has had trouble with in the past.

Wagnney Fabiano (12-2-0) vs. Clint Godfrey (11-1-0)

Fabiano makes his debut in the Bantamweight division after teammate and close friend Jose Aldo earned gold at 145 in November.

Additionally, the former IFL Featherweight champion suffered just the second loss of his career last time out, tapping to a triangle choke from the ground courtesy of Mackens Semerzier. The combination of a loss and looking to make an immediate impression in a new division doesn't bode well for late replacement Clint Godfrey.

Anyone who can put together an eight-fight winning streak certainly has talent, regardless of where they are competing. The key for Godfrey will be getting settled early, and Fabiano should afford him that time, provided the newcomer doesn't offer up a limb to the BJJ black belt.

Charlie Valencia (11-5-0) vs. Akitoshi Tamura (14-7-2)

Two battle-tested veterans of the WEC Bantamweight division meet for the first time. Over their careers, the two have faced a laundry list of top competitors in the lighter ranks, including Urijah Faber, Brian Bowles, "Lion" Takeshi Inoue, Dominick Cruz and Rumina Sato.

Both come in off hard-fought wins, Valencia as mentioned before over Coty Wheeler, and Tamura over Manny Tapia in his debut at 135 pounds in April of last year.

Expect this to be a serious grappling match with Tamura looking for submissions at every opportunity. The winner of this bout will get a bump up the ladder and inch closer to contender status in the deep Bantamweight division.

Mackens Semerzier (5-0-0) vs. Deividas Taurosevicius (11-3-0)

"Mack da Menace" pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the year in his WEC debut, submitted Wagnney Fabiano via triangle from his back.

Now, former Bantamweight champion Miguel Torres' training partner has to live up to the inflated expectations that come with such an impressive and unexpected win, and he'll have to do it against a tough challenger in Taurosevicius.

In addition to being a hard name to say and spell, the Lithuanian former IFL fighter is a tough man to beat, as only Ryan Schultz and Frankie Edgar have been able to accomplish the task in the last three-plus years.

A veteran of the tough New Jersey fight scene, Taurosevicius is a Renzo Gracie protegee and managed to shake off the ring rust to claim a split decision win over Javier Vasquez in his WEC debut.

Dave Jansen (14-0-0) vs. Kamal Shalorus (5-0-1)

Two undefeated wrestlers go head-to-head in this one, and you know what that means: Stand-up War!

While it doesn't always come to pass, Jansen will need to be careful if it does, as the 32-year-old Iranian Shalorus dropped Will Kerr with a series of punches in his WEC debut just two months ago.

That said, Jansen, a Team Quest fighter, was equally impressive in his first appearance with the company, earning a hard-fought decision over veteran Richard "Cleat" Crunkilton in October to run his record to a perfect 14-0.

Shalorus is a former Olympian with great freestyle wrestling, and while his striking is somewhat erratic and sloppy, he clearly has the power to put people away. Just ask Will Kerr.

Mike Brown (22-5-0) vs. Anthony Morrison (15-7-0)

Anthony "Cheesesteak" Morrison is a tough fighter out of Richmond, Virginia, and comes into this fight off a win over former UFC competitor Alvin Robertson.

In addition to Robertson, Morrison has faced Micah Miller, Jim Miller and fellow WEC 46 competitor Deividas Taurosevicius during his career.

All that said, I wouldn't want to be Anthony Morrison for one minute on Saturday night.

The idea of facing an angry, eager-to-return Mike Brown fresh off losing his WEC Featherweight title isn't exactly an enjoyable Sunday night.

His loss to Jose Aldo was the first in four years for the American Top Team front desk clerk, and the fact that he approached Reed Harris to get on this card should signal to everyone that the blue-collar Brown will be looking to remind everyone why he was very recently considered the best 145-pound fighter in the world.

Urijah Faber (22-3-0) vs. Raphael Assuncao (14-1-0)

"The California Kid" makes his long-awaited return, and in his backyard nonetheless.

Despite having lost two of his last three fights, and only faced two opponents in the last two years, Faber is still the biggest draw and biggest name in the WEC, though Jose Aldo is poised to eclipse him in 2010.

While Faber is certainly the favorite heading into this bout, does he deserve to be? Not to disrespect the former champ - or Jens Pulver - but he's 2-2 over the last two years and both wins came over a fighter (Pulver) many have written off for dead.

Saturday night, Raphael Assuncao will be standing across from him and the Atlanta-based Brazilian is no joke.

The lone loss of his career came to well-respected veteran Jeff Curran and was more than three years ago. Since then, Assuncao has six-straight wins, including back-to-back decision victories in the WEC.

As recently as October, Assuncao showed he has the gas tank to go 15 minutes with a quick and dynamic striker, outpointing Yves Jabouin. Meanwhile, Faber has been on the shelf since June and no matter what the leader of Team Alpha Male says, there is no replacement for being in the cage in a real fight.

Jamie "C-4" Varner (16-2-0) vs. Ben "Smooth" Henderson (10-1-0)

Two men enter with belts and only one will walk out wearing the unified WEC Lightweight strap.

After a full year out of action, Varner returns, finally healthy and ready to defend the title he's held since defeating "Razor" Rob McCullough in February 2008.

The Arizona Combat Sports product is a gritty, hard-working competitor who uses a wrestling base to set up his game. Though more of his victories have come by way of submission, Varner had been on a TKO tear before the Cerrone fight, stopping three-straight opponents with strikes.

All said said, stepping into the cage after a year off to face Ben Henderson is a tall order.

A two-time former NAIA All-American wrestler, Henderson has an endless supply of energy, as witnessed in his Fight of the Year with Donald Cerrone, and enters this fight running as hot as a fighter can, having earned nine-straight wins.

Amongst those victories are stoppages against rising star Anthony Njokuani, standout wrestler Shane Roller and the split decision win over Cerrone that earned him the Interim Lightweight title.

While Varner has been resting and recuperating, Henderson earned three victories in 2009 and should be considered the favorite heading into Sunday Night's Main Event...

Continue reading...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

UFC 108: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

1. Rashad Evans MUST Use His Wrestling

Over the first two rounds, the former light heavyweight champion kept Thiago Silva off balance, blending his quick hands with powerful takedowns. The first ten minutes of the bout were all Evans, and the frustrated look on Silva's face said it all.

Two things in Round 3 seemed to stop Evans' approach: first, Silva actually stuffed a takedown attempt, and secondly, the Brazilian began taunting Rashad as if the former Michigan State star had been avoiding him all night. Don't worry, we'll get to that soon.

For whatever reason, Evans stopped utilizing his tremendous shot, and nearly lost the fight as a result. Silva landed a heavy-handed counter that rocked Rashad, though he failed to capitalize and the former champ came away with a unanimous 29-28 decision.

The Rashad Evans from the first two rounds is a fighter who can be successful again in the UFC light heavyweight division. His great wrestling base combined with the speed and power of his hands can keep opponents guessing. But when they don't have to guess and Evans decides to stand-and-trade, he's playing with fire.

Last night, he almost got burned.

2. Thiago Silva Deserves All the Criticism He's About to Receive

Let me start by asking how a guy can be down two rounds, walk into the center of the cage and taunt his opponent the way Silva did Evans?

Dude, you had done absolutely nothing up until that point and you're gesticulating to the crowd and Evans as if he needs to bring the fight to you? In the words of Keyshawn Johnson on NFL Countdown, "C'MON MAN!"

What makes it even worse is that once Silva connected with a counter right that gave Evans a severe case of the rubber legs, Silva pounced... for like 12 seconds. Then he backed away, caught his breath, and gave his dazed and confused opponent all the time he needed to regroup enough to secure the victory.

Welcome to life as a dangerous, but fatally flawed gatekeeper. Keith Jardine will be happy to show you around.

3. Nothing Like Spoiled Fans Who Have to Bitch About Everything

Gotta love that there are scores of fans out there this morning calling Rashad Evans everything from a coward to boring and back again following his win over Thiago Silva.

This is what kills me about some fans of this sport and makes me want to shake them violently. Even after a solid night of fights, they have to find something to bitch about.

While we all love watching a slugfest, that 30-second stretch in the third round showed why Rashad Evans trading punches all night long with Thiago Silva was a horrible idea.

Do these same people who are calling Rashad a coward for not boxing with Silva all night say the same about GSP when he drags everyone to the ground over and over and over again?

4. Worst. Idea. Ever.

Let's say you're Dustin Hazelett.

You're set to face a guy nicknamed after a Special Forces explosive who everyone knows is lethal on his feet, and suspect on the ground. While your striking has improved, you're still much, much better on the ground, as you own a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.

When you're the grappler in a "Grappler vs. Striker" matchup, why in the name of everything right in the word would you think that standing with the striker and not even trying to bring the fight to the ground would be a good approach?

That's right - it isn't, it wasn't and it never will be.

Did you think everyone was just clowning when they told you standing with Paul Daley was bad for your health?

5. Daley vs. Koscheck is Going to be Fun

My colleague Brian Oswald opined that this fight needs to happen following Dana White's comments at the post-event press conference last night.

With just about everyone else in the welterweight division otherwise occupied, there is a very good chance that the dangerous Daley and always game Koscheck will meet in the very near future, and it's going to be awesome.

First, the war of words is going to be extremely entertaining. Both are championship-caliber smack talk artists and have never met a microphone they didn't like. While it won't get personal like Dan Hardy and Marcus Davis, expect some bon mots from both men.

Second, the fight itself will be violent.

If they stand? Fireworks.

On the canvas? Ground and pound fireworks.

If they fought this fight after jumping out of an airplane? Aerial fireworks.

This would be a tremendous third fight on the UFC 112 show from Abu Dhabi, tentatively featuring Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort in the main event, and Matt Hughes vs. Renzo Gracie in the two hole.

6. Sam Stout Looked Great. Period. End Sentence.

A lot of people are adding "but you have to remember that Joe Lauzon was coming off knee surgery blah blah blah blah blah" on the end of that sentence this morning, and that is unfair to Sam Stout.

Yes, Lauzon was seeing his first action in 11 months and we've seen in the past that fighters coming back from that kind of injury (torn MCL) need roughly 18 months to get back to full strength (example: Shogun), but let's not take anything away from Sam Stout.

The London, Ontario native - and friend of Keyboard Kimura - weathered an early storm, one which included a wild, diving kimura attempt, to pick apart Lauzon for the final two-and-a-half rounds.

Was Lauzon tired? Absolutely, but doesn't detract from the crisp boxing and precision attack Stout delivered.

Interesting to see where each fighter goes from here.

7. Tweet of the Night

Next time you find yourself saying "Just give Striker X a year or two to work on the ground game...", think of Bang Ludwig. He's had nine.

That bit of wisdom courtesy of Sherdog's Jordan Breen, summing up the Jim Miller submission of Duane "Bang" Ludwig as succinctly as possible.

By the way: Miller did exactly what he had to do, and his comments at the end of the fight were 100% on point.

8. What More Does dos Santos Have to Do?

A full-length version of this point is coming soon, but the abridgment goes like this:

In four fights, "Cigano" has laid out Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop and Gilbert Yvel.

Say what you want about each of those four fighters, but cumulatively, there isn't a single heavyweight in the UFC who has put together a four-fight run as destructive and impressive as dos Santos has delivered.

9. Really Cole?

The reverse triangle / kimura combo submission of Dan Lauzon was pretty nice, but should you really be running over to the cage, shouting to Dana White, "I told you I'd kick his ass?"

After all, the guy (Dan Lauzon) did floor you and have you on the ropes at one point.

Turns out the American Top Team member had no recollection of getting dropped by Lauzon.

Maybe next time you have a little humility and wait to watch the replay before making yourself look like an idiot on live television.

All the awesomeness of your submission and great show of sportsmanship after the tap went out the window with your ill-advised words to White.

Sidenote: I really want to know what Dana's reaction was. If it were me, the words, "Sure thing, Slick" would have been all I could muster without bursting into laughter.

10. For a Lackluster PPV, We Saw Nine Quality Fights

While there was no way to know this going into the broadcast, anyone who invested $49.99 from the comfort of their own home last night (example: me) got to see nine entertaining bouts, although watching the Prelims Live special on Spike meant you saw four of those fights twice.

Still, just as a couple of the supposedly "lackluster" cards from the UFC Fall / Winter schedule had done before it, UFC 108 delivered some great performances, a number of stoppages and a quality broadcast all things considered.

Would it have been even more awesome if the scads of fighters originally slated to compete on the card could have been involved? Absolutely, but you can only play the hand you're dealt, and the UFC came through with a nice hand last night if you ask me.

Continue reading...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

UFC 108: Full Card Preview and Predictions

UFC 108 takes the stage tonight from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, looking to silence the critics.

Over the last couple of months, injuries and illnesses have decimated this card, leaving few of the originally planned matches on the card and leading many to describe this event as lackluster, or worse.

While UFC 108 certainly doesn't measure up to the lofty standards of New Years shows gone by - or others from this passed year for that matter - the criticism is somewhat unfounded.

First, it's not like the UFC decided to pull fighters like Brock Lesnar, "Minotauro" Nogueira and Sean Sherk from this card; each of these fighters and countless others have been struck down by injuries that certainly could not have been forecasted.

Additionally, the fact that there is still an event at all speaks volumes about the UFC's commitment to giving fans the best show they can, regardless of unforeseen circumstances.

After all, they could have gone all Affliction and pulled the plug entirely, right?

Preliminary Card Previews

Rafaello Oliveira (9-2-0) vs. John Gunderson (22-6-0)

On a card that features an old school "Striker versus Grappler" style clash as the co-main event, it's fitting that someone representing an old school team makes an appearance, and Gunderson fills that role.

"Quick Guns" is a member of the famous Lion's Den, Ken Shamrock's long-time team that was once one of the most renowned and feared groups in the sport. Now, they come off much like their leader - hanging on by the name alone.

A veteran of the IFL, Gunderson has an edge in experience and has faced tougher competition thus far, having faced off with Ryan Schultz, Wagnney Fabiano and Bart Paleszewski in the past. Of course, each of those three defeated the 30-year-old Oregon native who makes his UFC debut tonight.

Rafaello Oliveiro debuted in August at UFC 102, dropping a Unanimous 29-28 decision to Nik Lentz. After winning the first round, the Brazilian who fights out of Knoxville, Tennessee could not do enough to counter Lentz' strong wrestling.

Originally slated to face Sean Sherk, Oliveiro must take advantage of the change in opponents and claim his first victory inside the Octagon or risk receiving a pink slip come Monday. The lightweight division is too deep at the bottom end for fighters with consecutive losses to keep a spot on the roster.

Mike Pyle (19-6-1) vs. Jake Ellenberger (21-5-0)

Ellenberger announced his presence to UFC fans during his three round battle with Carlos Condit at Fight Night 19 in Oklahoma.

Despite flooring the former WEC welterweight champion on a couple different occasions, the judges scored the fight in the favor of "The Natural Born Killer," though many disagreed. Regardless of the decision, Ellenberger made it known that he has power in his hands, the ability to compete with some of the top competitors at 170 and a motor that never quits.

While the name Mike Pyle may not sound familiar, chances are you've seen him a time or two. He's the guy in the corner of many Xtreme Couture fighters that can be heard shouting encouragement, strategies and curses from the opening bell.

In addition to being a potty-mouthed corner, Pyle is a submission specialist who has earned 15 of his 19 wins by way of submission, including forcing both Jon Fitch and Dan Hornbuckle to tap.

Mark Munoz (6-1-0) vs. Ryan Jensen (14-5-0)

"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" was one of a number of WEC additions who were thrown to the wolves in their debut with the bigger brand under the Zuffa umbrella.

After just five fights - including a win over Mike Pierce - Munoz was sent to the slaughter against Matt Hamill at UFC 96, falling victim to a devastating head kick that left the former All-American and National Champion unconscious.

Since then, Munoz has moved to middleweight, where he looks far more comfortable and better suited. In his debut at 185, the Oklahoma State product earned a win over Nicky Catone.

In all honesty, the lone win Ryan Jensen has earned from four trips inside the Octagon comes with an asterisk. Facing Steve Steinbeiss at Fight Night 19, Jensen latched onto a guillotine. When the ref asked Steinbeiss if he was okay, "The Hooligan" gave the thumbs up.

Somehow, the referee interpreted that to mean Steinbeiss was done, as the fight was called and Jensen earned a very suspect submission victory.

Spike TV Prelims Live Previews

Cole Miller (15-4-0) vs. Dan Lauzon (12-2-0)

The first of the two Lauzon brothers to appear on the UFC 108 card, younger brother Dan makes his return to the UFC riding an eight-fight winning streak, the latest of which was a submission of Bobby "Hood" Green at Affliction: Day of Reckoning in nearly a year ago.

Much like older brother Joe, Dan is a submission specialist, though his recent winning streak has been littered with stoppages due to strikes.

Another half of a fighting brother tandem will be standing opposite Lauzon, as Cole Miller returns, looking to bounce back from a loss to Efrain Escudero on the initial Prelims Live show for UFC 103.

"Magrinho" usually relies on his submission skills as well, which means we could very well be looking at a stand-up war in the making. Much like Rafaello Oliveira earlier on the card, Miller is in need of a win to solidify his status with the company.

Despite a solid pedigree and fighting out of American Top Team, Miller has yet to take that next step and become a real threat in the lightweight division, and continued inconsistency will have him looking for a new place of employment.

Martin Kampmann (15-3-0) vs. Jacob Volkmann (9-1-0)

Both fighters enter off losses, Volkmann suffering the first of his career at the hands of Paulo Thiago just five weeks ago at UFC 106, and Kampmann being the victim of bad decision making in his UFC 103 bout with Paul "Semtex" Daley.

Volkmann showed some flashes of talent and potential in his bout with Thiago, most notably securing a D'Arce choke from his back against the BJJ black belt and Brazilian police officer. Fighting out of Minnesota Martial Arts, the man nicknamed "Christmas" can earn a late belated present in the form of his first UFC win tonight.

Don't let Martin Kampmann's performance last time out fool you; "The Hitman" is still a legitimate contender in the welterweight division. Boasting an impressive combination of striking and submissions, Kampmann played with fire and got burned against Daley, choosing to stand with the striker, instead of taking the fight to the ground where he held a huge advantage.

Though he doesn't have a large an advantage on the canvas this time around, the Xtreme Couture trainee does have an edge in the stand-up, and has shown the power necessary to finish this fight during his middleweight days.

Main Card Previews

Junior dos Santos (9-1-0) vs. Gilbert Yvel (36-13-1, 1 No Contest)

The heavily-tattooed "Hurricane" Yvel is as lethal a striker as exists in the heavyweight division today. At 33, the former RINGS, Pride, and Affliction competitor (amongst others) has stopped Valentjin Overeem, Cheick Kongo, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and most recently Pedro Rizzo, utilizing an array of finishers including strikes, head kicks and flying knees.

Oh yeah - he's a little bit crazy too, having been disqualified for biting an opponent and for eye gouging Don Frye. He also KTFO'd a referee once.

All of that adds up to a dangerous challenge for Junior dos Santos, the Black House heavyweight who somehow is repeatedly passed over by Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez in future champion discussions despite possessing a more impressive resume.

For his debut, "Cigano" sent Fabricio Werdum packing, riding an uppercut all the way to Strikeforce. For an encore, the Brazilian overwhelmed up-and-comer Stefan Struve, needing just 54 seconds to finish the fight. From there, dos Santos pummeled Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, forcing the former Pride superstar to verbally submit.

While we've only seen dos Santos stand thus far, expect to see how legitimate his brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under "Minotauro" Nogueira is this time around, as going to the ground is poison for Yvel.

Jim Miller (15-2-0) vs. Duane "Bang" Ludwig (19-9-0)

"Bang" Ludwig is a tough veteran who has been in there with some top talents over the years, including holding wins over Jens Pulver, Jonathan Goulet and Yves Edwards. That said, how much can you expect from a guy coming in on no more than two weeks notice?

This is a serious statement fight for Miller, whose two losses came to Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar, the 1 and 1A of title contenders at 155. Originally scheduled to face Tyson Griffin, and then Sean Sherk, Miller needs to put on a dominant performance against Ludwig to solidify his standing in the stacked lightweight division.

Routinely beating up lesser opponents will keep you employed, but it won't earn you any title shots, so Miller needs to show he's ready to face either of his injured potential opponents and move into the upper ranks.

Joe Lauzon (18-4-0) vs. Sam Stout (14-5-1)

The fact that Sam Stout is just 25-years-old doesn't seem real. It feels like he's been around forever, probably because his classic battles with Spencer Fisher live forever on highlight reels and UFC specials galore.

The London, Ontario native and former Keyboard Kimura Interview Series participant has been patiently waiting since September for an opportunity to get back into the cage, as many will remember his fight against Philippe Nover was canceled on the day of the fight due to Nover suffering a seizure.

Stout has an iron jaw and enough power in his hands to change the course of the fight with one punch. That said, the chances of Joe Lauzon allowing this fight to remain standing longer than it absolutely has to are slim and none.

Coming back off major knee surgery, Lauzon has been out of the cage since defeating Jeremy Stephens in February. 5-1 over his six fight career with the UFC, Lauzon is in a similar position to Jim Miller, in that he needs to cement his place as an upper tier fighter, and a win over the tough-as-nails Stout would certainly help.

The biggest question heading in, of course, is how the extended time off will affect the Massachusetts native. We've seen guys like "Shogun" Rua have a difficult time in their first fight back off a similar surgery, so expectations and impressions of Lauzon tonight must certainly be tempered.

Dustin Hazelett (12-4-0) vs. Paul Daley (22-5-2)

The easiest preview of the card, as a classic "striker vs. grappler" battle shapes up in the co-main event.

While his striking has certainly improved during his time in the UFC, Dustin Hazelett is and always will be a submission specialist. A BJJ black belt under Jorge Gurgel, Hazelett will enjoy a four-inch height advantage in addition to his serious edge if the fight goes to the ground.

Unfortunately, all fights start standing and Paul Daley showed in his UFC debut that he likes to stand-and-bang.

Bravado and build-up for the fight aside, Daley knows that his best chance to secure another win is by knocking out "McLovin," and he'll look to stay as far away from the floor as possible. Of his eight career defeats, five have come by way of submission.

One thing that hasn't been discussed much in regards to this fight is where a win will put either of these fighters.

Daley would have two solid UFC wins and probably have earned himself a date with someone in the Josh Koscheck / Mike Swick range, while Hazelett would extend his winning streak to three and put himself at the top of the second tier of talent.

Rashad Evans (13-1-1) vs. Thiago Silva (14-1-0)

Both men lost to Lyoto Machida in 2009, Silva in January, a fight that propelled Machida into the title fight with Evans in May, where he took Rashad's belt and his soul, according to his mom.

While there is no denying the lethality of Thiago Silva's strikes, one thing that often gets overlooked is the trouble he's been in throughout his UFC career.

Yes, he clobbered Antonio Mendes, but the Brazilian kickboxer rocked the ATT product right off the bat in that bout, and failed to finish.

When he beat Houston Alexander, "The Assassin" was the guy who had just stopped Keith Jardine and Alessio Sakara. Now he's the guy who lost to Kimbo Slice by continually circling the outside of the cage.

Many will tell you James Irvin was winning their bout before blowing his knee, and Silva needed nearly two full rounds to stop Tomasz Drwal, a middleweight.

Can he knock Evans out with a single shot? Absolutely, but he's shown a vulnerability to a well placed punch and good gameplan in the past.

What compels fighters to ignore their greatest strength on a regular basis?

Rashad Evans, like many others, is a wrestler who has fallen in love with his striking. Trying to out-counter the best counter-striker in the company led to a devastating knockout at the hands of Lyoto Machida.

Now, Evans needs to get back on track after spending the last number of months involved with Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Chances are we'll see the fight with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson regardless of the outcome of this bout, but entering on a win would help put some steam back into the rivalry and turn the grudge match into a #1 contender fight capable of headlining a summer show.

Punch Drunk Predictions
Record: 128-93-1

Preliminary Card

Rafaello Oliveira over John Gunderson - TKO, Round 2
Mike Pyle over Jake Ellenberger - Submission, Round 1
Mark Munoz over Ryan Jensen - TKO, Round 2
Dan Lauzon over Cole Miller - Split Decision
Martin Kampmann over Jacob Volkmann - TKO, Round 1

Main Card

Junior dos Santos over Gilbert Yvel - Submission, Round 1
Jim Miller over Duane Ludwig - Unanimous Decision
Joe Lauzon over Sam Stout - Submission, Round 2
Paul Daley over Dustin Hazelett - TKO, Round 1

And in the Main Event of the evening...

"Suga" Rashad Evans over Thiago Silva by TKO, Round 2.

Now touch gloves and come out swinging!

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