Archive for April, 2011

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.

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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.