STRIKEFORCE: OVEREEM VS. WERDUM Predictions

Posted in Predictions, Strikeforce with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2011 by jaytan716

What a difference a few months makes, huh?

Four months ago, the second-biggest MMA promotion in America, Strikeforce, was still struggling to make their mark on America’s radar. After several attempts to import successful Japanese promoting tactics (the occasional freak show match, talent trades with DREAM, etc.), they set 2011 off with a bang – the Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament.

The eight participants (Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Fabricio Werdum, Strikeforce heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem, Brett Rogers, Antonio Silva, Andrei Arlovski, and Sergei Kharitonov) and subsequent opening round were celebrated by fans and MMA media alike. The WHGP looked to be the closest thing to a legit heavyweight tournament since the PRIDE Fighting Championships 2006 Openweight Grand Prix, which featured Barnett, Overeem, Werdum (in their first match, ironically enough), Fedor Emelianenko, Hidehiko Yoshida, Mirko Cro Cop, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, among others.

Jump ahead to this month and, to say the least, things have changed. Unfortunately, issues of finding a state where Josh Barnett could get licensed (due to being denied a California license in 2009 after testing positive for steroids) delayed the second bracket of opening round matches, not to mention ‘The Sale,’ which could easily have ended up as the death knell to this tournament going forward.

The current Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament brackets

Thankfully, this tournament is still ‘business as usual,’ as UFC President Dana White promised when Zuffa bought Strikeforce in March. That phrase became something of an ironic punchline when Strikeforce staff was let go shortly after the purchase, as well as announcing Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz for UFC 135. Notwithstanding whatever contractual obligations Zuffa is forced to fulfill to Showtime, its wholly possible that Strikeforce’s heavyweights could have been absorbed into the UFC and the tournament scrapped altogether.

Unfortunately, the tournament does have a lame-duck feel to it in light of recent developments, but if nothing else, hopefully we’ll get to see some exciting heavyweight action.

Here’s a breakdown on this weekend’s card, including the second bracket of opening round matches of the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix:

170 lbs. – Nah-Shon Burrell x Joe Ray:  Burrell and Ray’s records are identical (5-1), though Burrell clearly is the striker, with all of his wins coming by TKO / KO. Ray reportedly trains with American Top Team, and splits his wins 3-2 striking finishes to submissions. Ray’s competition has been stiffer, including a third-round KO over 27-13 Chad Reiner.

Prediction: Ray via submission (round one)

170 lbs. – Todd Moore x Mike Bronzoulis: Expect fireworks in this match, as both fighters come in very evenly matched in record. Moore fought in WEC and DREAM, though he didn’t fare well. His last match was a second-round TKO win in November 2010. Moore will be giving up size here, as someone who appears to alter between lightweights and heavyweights, whereas Bronzoulis stands 6’0”. Both men have eight TKO / KO victories to their record, so conventional wisdom would dictate this plays out as a striking match.

Prediction:  Bronzoulis via TKO (round three)

155 lbs. – Brian Melancon x Isaac Vallie-Flag: Bit of an experience difference here, with Melancon sporting a 5-1 record while Vallie-Flag stands at 11-3-1, with fights going as far back as 2003. Even more impressive is that Vallie-Flag, now training at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, has fought 2-3 times since 2006. If experience is on Vallie-Flag’s side, youth could be on Melancon’s, however, as his recent wins were over fighters with up sided records similar to Vallie-Flag’s.

Prediction: Vallie-Flag via submission (round two or three) or decision

155 lbs. – Conor ‘The Hurricane’ Heun x Magno Almeida:  The storyline here is Heun, a grappling talent with high expectations who’s suffered injuries and inactivity in the past two years, against Almeida, a young prospect on a five-match submission win streak, four of which in the first round, dating back to 2008. Heun hit the restart button on his training earlier this year at Jackson’s MMA, and reportedly has been training hard with that team’s usual suspects. His two losses, against KJ Noons in 2010 and Jorge Gurgel in 2009, were incredibly close decisions which I thought he win. This is a gut-check match for the former collegiate wrestler and 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu brown belt. As for Almeida, this marks his ‘big show’ debut, though he has finishes against decent competition in Brazil and California. I’d expect Almeida to stick to his bread-and-butter and try to take this match to the ground. Heun should keep this match standing, as he has against stiffer competition. This match will be broadcast live on HDNet.

Prediction:  Heun via unanimous decision

155 lbs. – Gesias ‘J.Z.’ Cavalcante x Justin ‘The Silverback’ Wilcox: Wilcox is an AKA (San Jose) fighter riding a six-fight win streak. Those wins are mostly decisions on Strikeforce Challengers shows or the untelevised portion of major Strikeforce events.  After an eight-match win streak from 2005-2007, Cavalcante is in fact 1-3-1 since 2008. That said, his losses were decisions to Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Josh Thompson, respectively. Handing Wilcox his first defeat would put Cavalcante back on people’s radar, though Wilcox, as a former body builder and D-1 wrestler, has the strength and pedigree to hold his own grappling with JZ. I expect that to play a major factor in what happens in the cage here. This match will be broadcast live on HDNet.

Prediction: Wilcox via split decision

265 lbs. – Valentijn Overeem x Chad Griggs: This is one of two ‘alternates matches’ to the tournament. Make no doubt, Griggs is dangerous. He summarily dismissed Gian Villante, a rising heavyweight that Xtreme Couture had prepped and built. He also ran Bobby Lashley to the point of exhaustion by round two when they squared off last August in Houston. Overeem’s experience in comparison is on another level, with over 50 MMA fights alone. This elder Overeem (by four years) may have too much jiu-jitsu for Griggs, and though Griggs can take a punch, the guys he’s faced in the past aren’t of Overeem’s striking pedigree. If Griggs can execute a strategy of fighting from the clinch, where Overeem can’t throw long power shots, but also avoid Overeem taking the bout to the ground, that may be a viable strategy. Otherwise, I expect Overeem to be one of the two alternates to this (hopefully) continued tournament.

Prediction: Overeem via TKO or submission (round one)

265 lbs. – Daniel Cormier x Jeff ‘The Snowman’ Monson: This is the tournament’s other alternates match. Monson replaces Shane Del Rosario, who withdraw from the match after being hit by a drunk driver. Cormier is a former NCAA Division 1 runner-up and All-American, with a plethora of gold medals in international wrestling tournaments from 2001-2007. Monson is a noted Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and one of the top heavyweight grapplers in the world, having ranked and won numerous tournaments during those same years. To that end, Monson as a close grappling equal, is a more dangerous challenge for Cormier, who rides a 7-0 undefeated streak. Monson is a seasoned 42-11, and has already fought three times this year. In fact, he has a match in France scheduled three weeks before this event. If this goes to the ground, it could be a very interesting scrap, as Cormier might have the grappling to stay on par with Monson. Standing, Cormier could have the advantage.

Prediction: Monson via unanimous decision

155 lbs. – KJ Noons x Jorge Masvidal: The 10-3 (in MMA) K.J. Noons faces Masvidal’s veteran record of 21-6 in Masvidal, a Miami-based former street-fighter. Noons comes off a five-round war with Nick Diaz from last year, while Masvidal rides of a decision win over Billy Evangelista from March. Standing, Noons should be able to pick Masvidal apart, who hasn’t lost by strikes since 2008 (including going the distance with Paul Daley). Masvidal is associated with American Top Team in Florida, so I’d expect him to be polishing his jiu Jitsu for this fight.

Prediction: Noons via unanimous decision or TKO (round two or three)

 265 lbs. – Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers: One of the two opening round tournament matches in bracket #2. Rogers returns to Strikeforce after a quick parlay to beat Ruben Villareal (who’s known for a hard chin) via unanimous decision. After 10 consecutive TKO / KO victories, Rogers got a taste of his own TKO medicine from Fedor Emelianenko and Strikeforce champ Alistair Overeem. Like Andrei Arlovski, this tournament is an opportunity to see if Rogers got his mojo back. Conventional wisdom sees Barnett taking Rogers down and threatening submissions. That may require taking some speed knots from the heavy-handed Rogers, but Barnett should still have his chin. Villareal doesn’t have Barnett’s ground game, so if Rogers’ previous match is any indication of his KO power, hopefully ‘The Grim’ is working on his grappling.

Here’s a nice little “empty arena” match, but also an example of how EVERY pro wrestler, MMA  fighter, and quite frankly, the entire democratic party, should package what they’re selling:

Prediction: Barnett via unanimous decision

265 lbs. – Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum:  This tournament opening-round match has all the makings: a reigning champion enters the tournament, revenge against his opponent over a loss in a previous tournament (PRIDE Total Elimination Absolute in 2006), that opponent dethroning the People’s Champ (Fedor), anxious to prove it wasn’t a fluke win. Overeem is on a roll right now, finishing his last six opponents (nine if you don’t include the no-contest with Mirko Cro Cop. In MMA, he hasn’t recently faced competition the likes of Werdum, though any question about his hand  and legs should view the K-1 World Grand Prix from December, where Overeem finished Gokhan Saki and Pete Aerts in one night (after winning a unanimous decision quarter final match). As “The Man Who Beat Fedor,” Werdum rides high on that accolade, though his career be hot and cold as well. He won his last three, but was TKO’ed prior to that by Junior dos Santos. Before that, he finished Brandon Vera and Gabriel Gonzaga. And prior to that, he dropped a decision to Andrei Arlovski. In their 2006 PRIDE match, Werdum submitted (a smaller, albeit only slightly) Overeem in round two. Will history repeat itself?

Prediction: Overeem via KO (round one)

The Finish

There’s two interesting parts to this weekend’s show. One of course is the question of who advances in the tournament and how do the subsequent matches pair up. The other, which is part of the bigger picture, is what the matches say about these eight fighters’ place and relevance in the UFC.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen four of the UFC’s top heavyweights (Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, Junior Dos Santos, Shane Carwin) compete in matches important enough to have title shot ramifications. And although one match was given Fight of the Night honors while the other one was booed by fans, both were one-sided decisions that left the UFC title picture flatter than expected.  Conversely, only one of the four matches of the first bracket in the WGPH, Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva, went past the first round. In that match, Fedor’s stamina and resolve to surviving punishment was quite similar to Carwin’s.

All of these heavyweights are competitive enough to compete in the UFC, and given the speed at which Strikeforce fighters are being absorbed into the octagon, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the winner of this tournament challenging the winner of Cain Velasquez x Junior Dos Santos in early 2012. That injection of new competition will certainly be a shot in the arm for that weight class. In the meantime, expect more fireworks from Saturday’s behemoths, serving as a reminder of why people were excited for this tournament to begin with.

UFC 129: ST-PIERRE VS. SHIELDS Recap & Results

Posted in Results & Recap, UFC on May 2, 2011 by jaytan716

UFC 129 Post-Fight Press Conference: http://www.ufc.tv/ufc/video/ufc-129-post-fight-press-conference/459

The biggest live UFC event took place last night at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, in front of a reported 55,724 fans for a gate of $12.075 million. The show featured a stacked card of competitive title challenges (Georges St-Pierre defending against Jake Shields and Jose Aldo defending against Mark Hominick) and imaginative marquee matches (Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture).

By the end of the night, however, the lay of the MMA landscape was largely the same, and anti-climactically so. St-Pierre kept his UFC welterweight title and Jose Aldo kept his UFC featherweight title. Nobody distinguished themselves as title challengers on the rise. Lyoto Machida may have produced the most memorable (and bittersweet) moment on the show in knocking out Randy Couture, who’d declared this to be his retirement match regardless the outcome, with a front kick out of nowhere in round two.

However, even the innovation of that kick is shortchanged, as Black House MMA teammate Anderson Silva finished Vitor Belfort with almost the same strike three months earlier. In fact, Machida’s front kick may be overshadowed by the sad fact that it marked the official end to Randy Couture, MMA’s great folk hero, as an active fighter.

Couture retired once before, in February 2006, after his KO loss to Chuck Liddell at UFC 57. By that point, people were saying that ‘The Natural’ was too old to stay competitive at the top level (much like people said that Ric Flair, whose 2008 retirement match at WrestleMania 24 was the top draw of that show, was too old to draw in 1991). Couture’s first retirement only lasted a year, when he returned to win the UFC heavyweight title from Tim Sylvia at UFC 68. Couture built a 5-3 record in his second UFC tenure.

This time, however, I believe the retirement to stick. Couture and the sport are at different, more established places in their lives than they were in 2006. At that point, Couture was going through a messy divorce, and didn’t have either the Xtreme Couture clothing / fight team franchise nor the acting career that he has now. He’s also older, and by even his own accounts, his reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Likewise, MMA was less evolved and established in the mainstream than it is now. Stars were needed, especially great ambassadors to the sport like Couture. In 2011, however, the Natural has other projects to move onto, and MMA has a new generation of fighters ready to take the sport to the next level.

Excellent homage to ‘The Natural’: Randy Retires

Despite St-Pierre winning by unanimous decision, the victory continues his streak of one-sided performances which I personally think risks triggering an unfortunate backlash against him. Both fans and many in the sport have expressed frustration over GSP’s matches as champion, labeling his fights as boring, and accusing him of fighting to avoid losing, as opposed to trying to finish his challengers. GSP’s last four title defenses were dominant decision wins that nobody questioned. He outwrestled Dan Hardy at UfC 111 and jabbed Josh Koscheck (UFC 124) and Shields (UFC 129) with expert precision after that. Prior to Hardy, GSP went five rounds with Jon Fitch (UFC 87), who never was close to threatening, and before that muted any offense that BJ Penn could think of before doctors ended the match in round four due to a cut on Penn (UFC 94).

Perhaps just as relevant as St-Pierre’s non-finishes is whether any criticism of him is justified. In six title defenses since 2008, GSP has proven to be an indisputable champion. Presumably, all of his challengers want to beat him and are trying their best during the match. And it being a title match, presumably these challengers are very good, such that perhaps GSP is good enough to beat them, but not finish them. If GSP’s challengers are unable to get control or impose their will over the champ isn’t his fault. He’s doing his job in preventing them from doing so. That’s one reality.

The other reality could be that St-Pierre and his camp value not losing the UFC title more than risking potential loss in order to finish their opponents decisively. For any MMA team at the level of GSP and Jackson’s MMA / Tri-Star Gym, mixed martial arts is a business that rewards owning and maintaining championship titles. By definition, sports and competition is about winning and losing, and in striving for the former, most competitors get farther in implementing strategy into their game plan in addition to simply doing that sport better than their opponents. For better or worse, GSP and their team put together successful strategies that have continuously led to victory.

All this said, the only thing that fans of a defending champion want to see more than their fighter retaining the title is him / her finishing their opponent, which is something St-Pierre hasn’t done since the second Penn fight (or winning the title back from Matt Serra at UFC 69, depending on how you look at it). For whatever reason, St-Pierre chooses to not risk ending up in a dangerous position for the sake of catching and finishing his opponent. This approach has often cause fans to turn withdraw their loyalty and fanfare from other fighters, such as Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping. Of course, GSP has a babyface persona and charm which is equally as effective as his fighting skills, but whether right or not, it’s been proven time and again that it’s better to lose an exciting fight than win a boring one.

Here’s Dana’s opinion about it:

Hosting the UFC in T-Dot for the first time, Canadians can stand proud in going 6-4 over the ten matches in which the were represented. John Makdessi, Jason and Rory MacDonald (no relation), Ivan Menjivar, Claude Patrick, and St-Pierre all emerged victorious. For statistics nerds, it was their best showing on a Canadian event since UFC 97 (Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leites) and UFC 83 (St-Pierre vs. Matt Serra II), respectively, when Canadians went 4-2 over the six matches in which they were represented on each of those cards.

Canadian Jason MacDonald talks about fighting among his countrymen:

Likewise, featherweight challenger Mark Hominick did his countrymen proud in going the distance with champion Jose Aldo. In Aldo’s nine UFC / WEC matches since 2007, the only other person to hang with Aldo to the finish line was Urijah Faber at WEC 48 last year. Hominick, whose wife is due with their first baby in the days after the fight, won a $129,000 Fight of the Night bonus for his efforts.

Bonuses of the same amount also went to Aldo (Fight of the Night), Pablo Garza (Submission of the Night) and Lyoto Machida (Knockout of the Night).

Here’s how my predictions and reality turned out for Event:

145 lbs. – Yves Jaboin (Canadian) x Pablo Garza:
Prediction: Garza via submission (round three)
Result: Garcia via submission (round one)

155 lbs. – John Makdessi (Canadian) x Kyle Watson:
Prediction:  Makdessi via TKO (round one)
Result: Makdessi via KO (round three)

185 lbs. – Jason MacDonald (Canadian) x Ryan Jensen:
Prediction: MacDonald via TKO (round two)
Result: McDonald via submission (round one)

135 lbs. – Charlie Valencia x Ivan Menjivar (Canadian):
Prediction: Valencia via split decision
Result: Menjivar via TKO (round one)

170 lbs. – Daniel Roberts x Claude Patrick (Canadian):
Prediction: Roberts via unanimous decision
Result: Patrick via unanimous decision

170 lbs. – Jake Ellenberger x Sean Pierson (Canadian):
Prediction: Foster via TKO (round one) – EDITORIAL FUCKUP
Result: Ellenberger via KO (round one)

170 lbs. – Nate Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald (Canadian):
Prediction:  Diaz via submission (round one or two)
Result: MacDonald via unanimous decision

155 lbs. – Ben Henderson x Marc Bocek (Canadian):
Prediction: Henderson via unanimous decision
Result: Henderson via unanimous decision

205 lbs. – Randy Couture x Lyoto Machida:
Prediction: Couture via TKO (round three) or unanimous decision
Result: Machida via KO (round two)

205 lbs. – Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jason Brilz:
Prediction: Matyushenko via unanimous decision
Result: Matyushenko via KO (round one)

145 lbs. UFC Featherweight Title– Jose Aldo x Mark Hominick (Canadian):
Prediction: Aldo via TKO (round one)
Result: Aldo via unanimous decision

170 lbs. UFC Welterweight Title – Georges St-Pierre (Canadian) x Jake Shields:
Prediction: St-Pierre via unanimous decision
Result: St-Pierre via unanimous decision

The Finish

In a sport where the unexpected often happens, huge landmark victories and all-time classic matches can’t be relied upon to show up for key events like this. Walking away from UFC 129, I felt like the event played out like an average show, and that the most significant memories are the huge gate and Couture’s retirement, both announced before the show itself. Credit is due to Mark Hominick, whose stalwart performance to the end, despite a giant lump on his right forehead the size of a baseball, was rewarded with a nice hefty bonus from which to base his impending newborn’s college tuition. However, in the grand scheme of things, the biggest winner of UFC 129 is Zuffa’s bottom line, with everybody else a far distant second.

UFC 129: ST-PIERRE VS. SHIELDS Predictions

Posted in Predictions, UFC on April 30, 2011 by jaytan716

UFC 129: ST-PIERRE VS. SHIELDS

After long wait, UFC comes to T-Dot, Canada, one of their biggest pay-per-view markets. As such, it only makes sense to book as much of a “Canada vs. the world” as possible (all but two matches – Matyushenko vs. Brilz and Couture vs. Machida, features a Canadian). And who better to headline that show than the 2008 and 2009 Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year, Georges St-Pierre?

For the first time in UFC history, every match on the card will be broadcast in one form or another, with five fights airing on the company’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ufc); you must ‘like’ them before being able to access the live video application, two on Spike TV (check local listings, and of course the five matches on pay-per-view.

145 lbs. – Yves Jaboin (Canadian) x Pablo Garza: Garza was a lightweight who failed to win his way onto season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, but then dropped down to featherweight and is 1-1 in Zuffa cages. His only loss is to Chinese star Tiequan Zhang. Jaboin was on the short end of a barnburner against fellow countryman Mark Hominick in his home country of Canada at WEC 49 (which took place in Edmonton, Alberta), and bounced back with a decision win over Brandon Visher. Garza will have a satirical height and reach advantage on Jaboin, but if Jaboin can stay in the pocket, or attack from the outside, he could possibly do some damage. This match will be broadcast on the company Facebook page.

Prediction: Garza via submission (round three)

155 lbs. – John Makdessi (Canadian) x Kyle Watson:  Makdessi puts his undefeated record on the line against the eight-year, 20-fight veteran Kyle Watson. Makdessi is a solid all-around fighter, with Muay Thai experience and a black belt in jiu-jitsu. He handled Pat Audinwood solidly in his last fight, blocking attacks and striking with unconventional kicks. Watson trains with Matt Hughes’ H.I.T. Squad. He was one of the more experienced fighters on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter (GSP vs. Koscheck), and went to the semi-finals before facing teammate (and eventual winner) Jonathan Brookins. He’s slowed down in recent years, with one fight in 2008 and two in the first five weeks of 2009, before joining the TUF cast in the last half of 2010. My gut feeling is that Watson, though riding a wave, is peaking at this point in his career, while Makdessi is on a rise that won’t stop on this night. This match will be broadcast on the company Facebook page.

Prediction:  Makdessi via TKO (round one)

185 lbs. – Jason MacDonald (Canadian) vs. Ryan Jensen: Both have submission losses to Wilson Gouveia, Jensen via armbar and MacDonald due to elbows. MacDonald has the reach advantage, and always brings a competitive fight. He’s coming off a nasty broken leg from last year. Jensen is a bit of a  journeyman who’s been alternating between wins and losses since 2008. At another point, Jensen was more competitive, with six finishing wins in 2006-2007, but since then, has struggled to recapture the momentum. MacDonald notched up three wins before his broken leg. This match will be broadcast on the company Facebook page.

Prediction: MacDonald via TKO (round two)

135 lbs. – Charlie Valencia x Ivan Menjivar (Canadian): Both men made their pro debuts over a decade ago. In his heyday, Menjivar was the more traveled of the two, first competing in the UFC in 2004, then fighting in Pancrase, K-1, and the IFL, before taking a three-and-a-half year hiatus from the sport in 2007. He went 1-1 in 2010, with a first-round submission win in his first match back and losing a competitive split decision to Brad Pickett in December. Valencia was inactive in 2005, but is 5-4 in the WEC since then. This match won’t necessarily answer whether either man has what it takes to be a champion in 2011, but it could be a competitive match to gauge where each is in their respective careers. This match will be broadcast on the company Facebook page.

Prediction: Valencia via split decision

170 lbs. – Daniel Roberts x Claude Patrick (Canadian): Look for this battle of welterweight jiu-jitsu experts to stay on the feet. Patrick’s only loss took place back in 2002. He’s stayed competitive since 2005 (except for 2007), with six guillotine choke wins over 10 matches. Roberts has nine submissions over his 12 wins, and his only loss coming from a John Howard KO almost a year ago. Patrick trains with Mark Bocek and Sean Pierson, who fight right after him. Of the three teammates, I think Patrick has the best chance of winning. This match will be broadcast on the company Facebook page.

Prediction: Roberts via unanimous decision

170 lbs. – Jake Ellenberger x Sean Pierson (Canadian): Ellenberger replaces Brian Foster, who withdrew due to injury. Ellenberger . . . . Pierson is on a six-match winning streak.   This match will be broadcast in the US on Spike TV.

Prediction: Foster via TKO (round one)

170 lbs. – Nate Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald (Canadian):  MacDonald dominated King of the Cage Canada over the past several years, going undefeated until losing via TKO in the third round against Carlos Condit. Diaz, the younger brother of Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz, won season five of The Ultimate Fighter at lightweight. He moved up to welterweight at UFC 111, and has since gone 2-1 at that weight class. Generally, Diaz has stayed competitive / victorious at welterweight at tougher competition than MacDonald. Likewise, MacDonald has only gone into the third round twice in 12 matches, whereas decisions are nothing new to Diaz. In the irrelevant trivia department, the always dangerous Diaz has lost via decision every January for the past three years. This match will be broadcast in the US on Spike TV.

Prediction:  Diaz via submission (round one or two)

155 lbs. – Ben Henderson x Marc Bocek (Canadian): Bocek introduces Henderson to “The Show” in this battle of jiu-jitsu experts. Henderson of course was on the receiving end of 2010’s infamous “Showtime Kick” in the last round of the last match of the last WEC ever. What gets overshadowed is that Pettis-Henderson was a back-and-forth match that was a challenge to call even going into that last round. In Pettis, Cerrone, Varner, and Shane Roller, Henderson’s opponents have been a level above Bocek’s (notwithstanding Jim Miller). Donald Cerrone was the first to address the question of whether WEC lightweights could hang in the UFC. Expect Henderson to confirm Cerrone’s answer. This match will be on pay-per-view.

Prediction: Henderson via unanimous decision.

205 lbs. – Randy Couture x Lyoto Machida: If Machida was fighting someone other than Couture, I’d say the story here was two fighters at crossroads in their careers. However, Couture has been at these crossroads for the past four years, and now very confidently states that win, lose, or draw, this is his last hurrah. Machida won the UFC light heavyweight title from Rashad Evans almost two years ago and everybody said “Karate is back,” but he didn’t have the long-term reign that people expected. He won a unanimous decision over Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua which was close enough that UFC decided to book a rematch – which Rua snatched emphatically with a first-round KO. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Machida lost a close split decision to Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson that even Jackson thought Machida won. Subsequently, Machida looks bad in some ways that he doesn’t deserve (Jackson), and better in other ways that he also doesn’t deserve (the first Rua match). But more than any of this, Machida’s style hasn’t evolved since he got to the UFC (or to America, for that matter). Couture is a master strategist of deconstructing a fighter’s style and finding the backdoors and loopholes. The worst thing for Machida is to fight the same fight he’s done since 2006. Clearly, Machida has knockout power (ask Rashad Evans). And at Couture’s age, a chin isn’t something that gets better with time. But if Couture can push Machida into the later rounds, that’s where Couture will be better and Machida will be weaker. This match will be on pay-per-view.

Prediction: Couture via TKO (round three) or unanimous decision.

205 lbs. – Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jason Brilz: Brilz comes off almost a year-long layoff after his impressive-but-denied effort against Antonio Rogerio ‘Minotoro’ Nogueira. Most felt the Nebraska wrestling coach won that fight. At 25-5, Matyushenko is a veteran whose rep is largely unknown by modern fans. He’s in his third stint in the UFC, with a current 3-1 record to show for it. Both fighters have impressive college wrestling pedigrees. Against someone of Matyushenko’s experience and current streak, the time off is a very real factor in Brilz’ come back. As the wrestling somewhat cancels itself out, we could see an awkward, unconventional striking match. This match will be on pay-per-view.

Prediction: Matyushenko via unanimous decision

145 lbs. UFC Featherweight Title– Jose Aldo x Mark Hominick (Canadian): As a part of Team Thompkins, Hominick had a great first-round TKO win against George Roop. He hasn’t lost since 2008. That said, Aldo hasn’t lost since 2005, and has finished all eight of his matches from 2008 to now. I’d like to say this is Aldo’s time, although it’s time (i.e. ring rust) that could be the single determining factor in this match. Aldo has been on the shelf since a neck injury in November 2010 sidelined him off UFC 125. In the end, I expect Aldo to show up ready. This match will be on pay-per-view.

Prediction: Aldo via TKO (round one)

170 lbs. UFC Welterweight Title – Georges St-Pierre (Canadian) x Jake Shields: In interviews, GSP has chastised MMA media for writing Shields off. Nicely promoted, Champ. Indeed, this is Shields’ last kingdom to conquer, and his own personal mix of wrestling and jiu-jitsu is unique and effective. Moreover, when it comes to examples of fighters keeping their tunnel-vision focus on a goal, you couldn’t find many better examples than Shields. However, Team GSP knows how to build a strategy to ensure not losing. Georges prevented Josh Koscheck from shooting in by closing his eye early in the match, and although GSP may not land the same shot on Shields, I think the only way this match goes to the ground is if GSP decides to take it there. If Shields is able to get GSP to the ground, I wouldn’t expect it to be for long. This match will be on pay-per-view.


Prediction: St-Pierre via unanimous decision

The Finish

I picked these matches one by one, without thinking about home field advantage. In that I’m predicting only three wins for the Great White North out of 10 matches, I apparently don’t have much faith in the Canadians. In my defense, they have won fewer matches in recent events, but this being Toronto’s UFC debut, things could be different.

Past Canadian UFC events:

UFC 58: USA vs. Canada (in Las Vegas) (Canadians went 4-for-8 in eight matches)

UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2 (in Montreal) (Canadians went 4-for-6 in 11 matches)

UFC 97: Redemption (Anderson Silva x Thales Leites) (in Montreal) (Canadians went 4-for-6 in 12 matches)

UFC 113: Machida vs. Shogun (Montreal) (Canadians went 1-for-7 in 11 matches)

UFC 115: Liddell vs. Franklin (Vancouver) (Canadians went 1-for-3 in 11 matches)

UFC 124: St-Pierre vs. Koscheck 2 (Montreal) (Canadians went 4-for-7 in 11 matches)

Canadian fans love their MMA, and, more impressively, they KNOW their MMA. Coupling this with the fact that this is the UFC’s debut in Toronto, expect the crowd heat to only bolster this already stacked show. With two fiercely strong champions defending and an imaginative match like Couture-Machida, there’s a little something for everybody here. Between the matches and the crowd excitement, expect this to be one of the UFC’s most historical nights.

STRIKEFORCE: DIAZ VS. DALEY Recap & Results

Posted in Results & Recap, Strikeforce on April 10, 2011 by jaytan716

I’m not sure what’s the sadder aspect to the Strikeforce sale – that one company now dominates 90% of the worldwide MMA market, or that it’s most qualified competitor, after years of toiling for casual fans’ respect on its own terms, is now hitting its stride and receiving the attention it’s deserved all this time.

On Saturday, April 9th, the group I’m still considering Coker & Company debuted in San Diego with a lineup of celebrated and respected international competition going against three homegrown Strikeforce stars, including title defenses by Nick Diaz and Gilbert ‘El Nino’ Melendez, and a qualified last-minute replacement in ‘The Dean of Mean,’ Keith Jardine.

What I feared would play in disappointment produced three spectacular first-round finishes and a sloppy but compelling and controversial draw that sets the stage for a storyline rematch. Diaz, defending his Strikeforce welterweight (170 lbs.) title against Paul ‘Semtex’ Daley, triggered more anticipation and debate than any other recent Strikeforce main event. Many believed that Daley, an undeniably dangerous striker, had the speed, power, and striking accuracy to vanquish Diaz, who has become a company star over the last two years by walking to the anti-hero beat of his own drummer. The end result was one of the most exciting rounds I’ve seen all year, with the outspoken and unapologetic British kickboxer dropping the champ several times and threatening him more than any other of Diaz’s    title challenges.

The card was also highlighted by a lightweight title defense by Gilbert Melendez and the U.S. return of DREAM lightweight champion Shinya Aoki. Both fighters renewed their awareness level among fans with dominant first-round finishes. Aoki seemed to have his old emotional charm back, in tears after his victory due apparently to the recent birth of his son, who he wasn’t able to see due to training for this fight. Melendez dispatched of Aoki’s DREAM colleague (and former opponent) Tetsuya Kawajiri handily, throwing punches and elbows for the TKO win. ‘El Nino’ is one of Strikeforce’s few homegrown stars, and as the merger between the UFC and Strikeforce continues over the coming months / years, he’ll be someone the larger casual audience will embrace the most.

Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi fighting Keith Jardine was another illustration of the controversy behind takedowns and the current scoring system. Jardine wrestled Mousasi to the ground several times in the first and second rounds, which is the only argument for giving the Jardine those rounds. However, the Dean of Mean didn’t advance position or threaten with finishing in any of those situations. What’s more, Mousasi didn’t even look worried at any point, appearing somewhat bored before shrimping out and getting back to his feet seconds later.

This points to judges’ overvalue of takedowns in a match where the most damage was done in the stand-up game. In many peoples’ eyes, including a majority of judges, takedowns are a fundamental benchmark in MMA, almost the grappler’s equivalent of a striker’s knockdown. Both are easy and empirical to identify and account for. However, what really matters in a fight is the follow up, and how effective those benchmarks are in allowing a fighter to advance or finish.

One school of thought is that takedowns and knockdowns, even if ultimately ineffectual in a fight, can be the tie-breaker for a round that is otherwise close to even (in terms of damage and landing, I thought Mousasi was clearly ahead). The other school of thought is that takedowns should require more control of the opponent or position advancing before it really affects the score (this is less of a controversy with knockdowns, perhaps as the visual act of a knockdown looks more commanding and damaging than any given takedown).

I tend to lean towards the latter belief, that not all takedowns should be equal. Of course, even then, the degree to which a fighter needs to control or advance position is always going to be subjective between judges as well.

I gave each round to Mousasi 10-9, and a 30-27 win in the end. Jardine scored multiple takedowns in the first and second, which likely held weight in the judges’ eyes, but I didn’t think he did enough with them relative to Mousasi’s stand-up dominance during the rest of those rounds.

Mousasi was also docked a point in round one due to an upkick to the head while Jardine was on his knees in Mousasi’s guard. Whether it was intentional or accidental is up for debate – Mousasi likely didn’t mean to throw the kick, but it looked like he had a clear view of Jardine being on his knees. Jardine seemed to recover without too much difficulty, and it being a first offense, issuing a warning wouldn’t be unreasonable. But referee Mike Beltran deducted the point, which resulted in a 9-9 first round, by my score. Even given that, I saw Mousasi winning 29-27.

The other three televised matches ended in first-round finishes, resulting in a show budgeted for 2 ½ to three hours ending almost an hour early. Keep in mind Showtime controls the production and running time of Strikeforce shows, which presumably will be the case for as long as Strikeforce broadcasts on the channel. I question whether this is something that is going to be rectified anytime soon under the Zuffa regime.

In a dichotomy of target audiences, extra time was filled with episodes of Inside NASCAR and Nurse Jackie.

Here’s how my predictions and reality turned out for Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley:

155 lbs. – Shinya Aoki x Lyle ‘Fancy Pants’ Beerbohm:
Prediction: Beerbohm via TKO (round three)
Result: Aoki via submissioin (round one)

205 lbs. – Gegard Mousasi x Keith Jardine:
Prediction: Jardine via TKO (round two or three)
Result: Technical / Majority Draw (29-27 Mousasi, 28-28, 28-28)

155 lbs. Strikeforce Lightweight Title – Gilbert Melendez x Tatsuya Kawajiri:
Prediction: Melendez via submission (round two) or unanimous decision
Result: Melendez via TKO (round one)

170 lbs. Strikeforce Welterweight Title – Nick Diaz x Paul Daley:
Prediction: Diaz by submission (round two or three)
Result: Diaz by TKO (round one)

The Finish
If my tone and perspective on Strikeforce’s recent string of excellent shows sounds backhanded and glass-half-empty, the quality of this show should be reiterated.

Tonight, the only drawback to Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley was that we didn’t get more. The matches were imaginative and felt like they had a larger relevancy – of Strikeforce taking on the world. And certainly all of them were exciting to watch and difficult to predict.

For years, I’ve seen MMA promotions come and go, all trying so hard, too hard, to figure out their own identity while simultaneously trying to replicate for themselves the lightning-in-a-bottle luck that Dana White and the Fertittas had in building the UFC.  Tonight’s event is the ‘MMA alternate choice’ that promoters have wanted to discover. Of course, its not something that you create instantly overnight, so it’s a relief that MMA and ‘the other big group’ finally got to this point. Hopefully we’ll get it for a little while longer.

Putting the larger picture aside for a moment, Strikeforce fans can look forward to finally resuming the heavyweight WGP tournament. Perhaps people will point to the four-man heavyweight tournament from three years ago that the UFC produced, which resulted in Brock Lesnar winning the UFC heavyweight championship, but again, the Strikeforce product has an international element that gives it a more universal tone. If the first leg of that tournament and tonight’s show is any indicator of things to come in the rest of 2011, casual fans just learning about Strikeforce now are going to catch the promotion at the peak of their game. And not a second too soon.

In the meantime, we’ll all have to settle for this Canadian show I keep hearing about at the end of the month. Who knows? It might actually be good too.

STRIKEFORCE: DIAZ VS. DALEY Predictions

Posted in Predictions, Strikeforce on April 9, 2011 by jaytan716

Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley

No matter what Dana White or any Zuffa-Strikeforce-Showtime executives say, its difficult-to-impossible to avoid looking at future Strikeforce events as lame-duck ceremonies. This is the first major Strikeforce event after the announcement that the UFC’s parent company has bought the Scott Coker-created fight promotion, the last viable competition to the UFC.

Setting that aside, Diaz vs. Daley has its own interesting identity. Whether intentional or by coincidence, the top matches here have a certain Strikeforce vs. The World theme to them, with almost all the televised matches showcasing a Strikeforce star against a foreign competitor who’s made his name in an organization other than this.

Due to the limited time between this piece and showtime (the proverbial one, not the channel), here’s a quick rundown of the televised matches on Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley.

155 lbs. – Shinya Aoki x Lyle ‘Fancy Pants’ Beerbohm: Aoki is the eccentric jiu-jitsu wiz from Japan whose big claim to fame, besides a very powerful family backstory and some impressive submission wins, are the loud, bright-colored tights he wears in his matches. And he’s the DREAM lightweight champion. Beerbohm is also known for his tights (hence the nickname). Beerbohm is a more well-rounded fighter, boasting as many striking finishes as submission wins. However, Aoki’s ground game is no joke, as he holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo. Aoki’s team must be aware that Beerbohm’s conventional strategy is to keep the fight standing, so they’re either going to have a counterstrategy for that or Aoki will stand and bang, which, in a classic example of it’s-so-crazy-it-just-might-work, is something a fighter like Aoki might try. Moreover, between the rules, the country, and the fighting stage (cage, not ring), Beerbohm has home field advantage.

The good of Shinya Aoki (his catchy theme song ‘Baka Survivor’ and energetic walkout is at 2:01):

. . . and the bad (in 2009, Aoki faced last-minute replacement Mizuto Hirota, breaking his arm in a hammerlock and uncharacteristically gloating over it. After the fight, Aoki blamed his overexcitement for his actions):

Prediction: Beerbohm via TKO (round three)

205 lbs. – Gegard Mousasi x Keith Jardine: Mousasi was initially slated to fight Mike Kyle, who withdrew due to injury. In steps the heavy-handed and seasoned vet Keith Jardine, who earned some admirable respect in his post-Ultimate Fighter UFC career until four straight losses forced him out. Jardine always comes to fight, and has faced tougher competition in the last several years than Kyle, or Mousasi, for that matter, has, which, in some ways, makes Jardine a more dangerous opponent. Mousasi has only gone the distance four times out of 34 matches, which would indicate that this match could be a scappy barnburner. Mousasi has finished a fair share of veterans, TKOing strikers like Gary Goodridge, Sokoudjou, and Renao Sobral, and submitting Tatsuya Mizuno and wrestler Jake O’Brien.  In that regard, age will play a factor, in that Jardine’s 35-year old reflexes will  have to be as sharp as those of the 25-year old Mousasi.

Prediction: Jardine via TKO (round two or three)

155 lbs. Strikeforce Lightweight Title – Gilbert Melendez x Tatsuya Kawajiri: Melendez outclassed Shinya Aoki for five rounds last year and Aoki submitted Kawajiri within two minutes shortly thereafter.  This sport is rarely as simple as that, and Kawajiri hardly tried to escape Aoki’s leglock, but this match is far too much on Melendez’ proverbial home turf. Kawajiri hasn’t fought in a cage or under Strikeforce rules, it’s his first fight outside of Japan, and between Melendez’ wrestling, familiarity with the environment, and the ephemeral support and pride of fighting in California, Melendez is far too great of a challenge for the Crusher’s first fight on U.S. soil. I expect a better showing by Kawajiri than he displayed in his Aoki match, but in the end, I don’t see Melendez losing.

Prediction: Melendez via submission (round two) or unanimous decision

170 lbs. Strikeforce Welterweight Title – Nick Diaz x Paul Daley: At first glance, this is a very interesting fight, as Daley’s combined punching speed and power should put him towards the top of the list of hardest-hitting strikers in MMA. However, Daley’s ground defense is penetrable, as Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, and Nick Thompson proved. Diaz is a Cesar Gracie black belt, and beat hard-hitters like Smith, Frank Shamrock, Evangelista ‘Mr. Cyborg’ Santos, and Scott Smith in the standing game. I see Diaz wearing Daley’s cardio out for a few rounds, then engaging him on the ground to finish. That said, Daley has never been afraid of an opponent’s wingspan or staying in his pocket. If there’s somebody that could dethrone Diaz, it would be Daley. But it’ll have to happen early.

Prediction: Diaz by submission (round two or three)

The Finish

There’s been a great buzz about this show in the past several weeks, and it especially nice to see such a strong anticipation for a Strikeforce show, particularly after headlines about the sale. I haven’t heard anybody talking about it, but I think this show could be something of an audition for how long much support Zuffa will put behind Strikeforce for the next year or two. If matches play out flat (not that the lineup has those symptoms, but neither did it in Nashville last year), that could inspire the UFC to speed ahead to those interpromotional / absorption dream matches on the horizon.

All this said, I’m looking forward to all of these matches, and I expect that fighters will rise to the occasion to give fans some very memorable moments.


Geekweek Live Interview

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2011 by jaytan716

29 minute mark:

http://justin.tv/geekweek/b/282250133

Enjoy.

J

UFC FIGHT NIGHT 24: NOGUEIRA VS. DAVIS Recap & Results

Posted in Results & Recap, UFC on March 24, 2011 by jaytan716

The UFC continued its christening of new U.S. markets with their first foray into Seattle, WA, Ultimate Fight Night 24, and on that night, fans continued to see the rise of a new generation of fighters: tall, lean, muscular wrestler with long limbs that lend to a longer striking reach and grappling abilities.

On the heels of Jon Jones’ historic capture of the UFC light heavyweight title, collegiate wrestling champions Phil ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Davis and Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson executed dominant performances against their respective opponents, demonstrating the adage that striking and submissions are crucial skills to finish an opponent, but wrestling is the key to controlling where the fight takes place.

Fans were also treated to a particular surprise with the rematch of Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung (more popularly known as the ‘Korean Zombie’). Many were expecting a barnburner of fists, as the two demonstrated in their first match, though rematches rarely play out similar to the first encounter (pardoning Brian Bowles vs. Damacio Page). Zombie succeeded in giving us another historic moment, however, winning by submission via Twister, a spinal lock popularized by 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu founder Eddie Bravo, for the first time ever in the UFC.

Unfortunately, Zombie’s Twister finish was likely lost on casual fans who surely didn’t recognize the move, but it also likely reminded those same fans who their favorite Korean fighter is (as if they really know any others), and also gave them something new to like about him.

One undercard match in particular, Michael McDonald x Edwin Figueroa, is absolutely worth going out of your way to watch. This battle of UFC debuts (McDonald has one WEC fight from November last year) was broadcast on the UFC Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/ufc) and was a fantastic display of ground skill on McDonald’s part, defense on Figueroa’s part, and heart and sportsmanship on both men’s part. McDonald really had the advantages on paper, but Figueroa took the bout on a week’s notice and did a fantastic job in surviving (and even transitioning out of) some very close submissions. Announcer Joe Rogan interviewed both men after the fight, with fans cheering Figueroa very audibly. Keep your eye out for these two young guns.

Here’s how my predictions and reality turned out for Ultimate Fight Night 24:

155 lbs. – Nik Lentz x Waylon Lowe:
Prediction: Lowe via TKO (round one)
Result: Lentz via submission (round three)

To watch the match for free, click here: http://www.ufc.tv/ufc/video/ufc-fight-night-nogueira-vs-davis-prelim-waylon-lowe-vs-nik-lentz/375

185 lbs. – Aaron Simpson x Mario Miranda:
Prediction: Miranda via (surprising, out-of-nowhere) submission (round two)
Result: Simpson via unanimous decision (30-27,30-27, 30-26)

170 lbs. – Johny Hendricks x Anthony “TJ” Waldburger:
Prediction: Hendricks via TKO (round one)
Result: Hendricks via TKO (round one)

265 lbs. – Christian Morecraft x Sean McCorkle:
Prediction: Morecraft via TKO (round two)
Result: Morecraft via submission (round two)

135 lbs. – Michael McDonald x Edwin Figueroa:
Prediction: McDonald via TKO or submission (round one)
Result: McDonald via unanimous decision (30-27 across the board)

170 lbs. – John Hathaway x Kris McCray:
Prediction: Hathaway via TKO (round two)
Result: Hathwaway via split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

145 lbs. – Alex Caceres x Mackens Semerzier:
Prediction: Caceres via TKO (round one)
Result: Semerzier via submission (round one)

265 lbs. – Mike Russow x Jon Madsen:
Prediction: Madsen via submission (round three)
Result: Russo via TKO / doctor’s stoppage (round two)

145 lbs. – Leonard Garcia x Chan Sung Jung:
Prediction: Jung via unanimous decision
Result: Jung via submission (round two)

170 lbs. – Amir Sadollah x DeMarques Johnson:
Prediction: Sadollah via TKO (round two)
Result: Sadollah via submission due to elbows (round two)

170 lbs. – Dan Hardy x Anthony Johnson:
Prediction: Hardy via submission (round two)
Result: Johnson via unanimous decision (30-27 on all cards)

205 lbs. – Antonio Rogerio Nogueira x Phil Davis:
Prediction:
Davis via decision
Result: Davis via unanimous decision (30-27 across the board)

UFN 24 Winners Press Conference: Davis and Johnson

UFN 24 Winners Press Conference: Sadollah and Jung

The Finish

On TV, the Key Arena audience was one of the more vocal and opinionated televised crowds that I’ve heard in a long time. And to no surprise, as Seattle is continually among the top pay-per-view buy markets for the UFC. Moreover, Washington State has one of the longest histories of MMA in the U.S., having produced early pioneers and veterans of the sport like Matt Hume, Maurice Smith, Dennis Hallman, Ivan Salaverry, and the ever-outspoken Strikeforce heavyweight Josh Barnett.

UFN 24 felt very much like a night of young stars of tomorrow showcasing their continued evolution. Amir Sadollah’s striking was on point against Demarques Johnson. Anthony Johnson and Phil Davis’ grappling control of Dan Hardy and Antonio Rogerio Norgueira, respectively, demonstrated the biggest factor (wrestling) in the UFC’s next big main event, George St-Pierre vs. Jake Shields, as most see the Shields, the self-proclaimed ‘American Jiu Jitsu’ specialist, giving St-Pierre, a wrestling late-starter but fast-learner, a run for his money on the ground.

Kudos to UFC for showing five matches on Facebook, giving fans the chance to see newcomers (like McDonald vs. Figueroa) to the promotion.

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