PICKING A FIGHT – UFC FIGHT NIGHT 47

Pardon my absence from the premises as of late fellow Donnybrookers, but with the news of Josh Grispi, the ridiculousness that is War Machine, and the injury to Jon Jones, it’s been a pretty miserable time to write about MMA.

Regarding the War Machine news, I didn’t want to give it more ink than what’s out there. I didn’t have the fight in me to point out to the “alpha male” War Machine fans that nothing screams “alpha male” quite like beating up your girlfriend and then cowardly going on the lam. I didn’t have the pluck to debate people who think Christy Mack’s line of work prevents her from being treated like a human being and not being beaten to near death.   I lost the inclination to hear two sides of the story because if you saw the pictures of what War Machine did to Christy Mack, you know there is nothing about the other side of that story that could have justified him putting hands on the woman he supposedly loves.

There simply wasn’t anything worthwhile to mention regarding the combat landscape.  Even the silver lining of Cathal Pendred donating his portion of Mike King’s forfeited Fight of the Night performance purse to a Children’s hospital wasn’t enough to pull me out of the MMA doldrums.  Though good on Cathal. There’s a reason that guy has a following, and I’m starting to think it has less to do with his fighting abilities and has more to do with him being a good dude.

Yes, this is Cathal Pendred pulling a George Costanza rescuing a beached baby dolphin.

Yes, this is Cathal Pendred pulling a George Costanza and rescuing a beached baby dolphin.

And Robin Williams died.  And the news out of Ferguson, Missouri gets worse and worse. And it just felt like a good time to take a hiatus.

Similarly, the UFC has taken a powder and been on hiatus since July 26, one of the promotions longer breaks in recent history.  For the contingent of fans decrying the oversaturation of UFC events, the last three weeks have been Xanadu.  For everyone else, it’s been shark week, which apparently is just as staged as the WWE. So this Saturday’s free UFC event from Bangor, Maine, live on Fox Sports 1, is a welcome return to form for everyone who watches fights.  Everyone except Maine’s own Tim Sylvia.

In the main event, Ryan Bader locks horns with Ovince St. Preux which does little in the way of advancement with a Bader victory and barely moves the needle with an OSP win. Bader is the favorite, so it will be interesting to see what game plan he implements. Will he stand with the unorthodox of OSP, or will he control OSP on the ground?  For OSP, Bader represents a clear step up in competition, so he shouldn’t expect to Von Flue choke Ryan Bader.  It won’t be that easy.  What everyone should dread the most about this match-up is the likely abundance of references to OSP’s “athleticism” or his being “an athlete.”  They will come fast and furious. Do not make a drinking game out of it, or you will likely not make it out of the second round.

In the co-main, Gray Maynard steps in for an injured Abel Trujillo to take on Ross Pearson.  Maynard may be the bigger fighter, but if Pearson can avoid the takedown and keep things standing, look for Pearson to capitalize on Maynard’s perceived inability to take big shots.  For Maynard, one too many hardline KOs have left many fans wondering if he can still take a shot.  However don’t dismiss Maynard’s ability to give shots, primarily when he shoots for a takedown.  If Maynard gets back to his takedown roots, he could make Pearson’s night a long one.

The Fight Night 47 card also sees the return of Sara McMann, the one-time UFC Women’s Bantamweight contender and Olympic medalist who hopes to rebound after a one-sided shellacking by Ronda Rousey earlier this year.  McMann is the overwhelming favorite for a reason.  She’s a wrestler, and she’s a top flight grappler. Look for McMann to secure the takedown at will and land big shots en route to a referee stoppage.

As always, feel free to come back to ridicule my picks as I am proven wrong.

Picking a Fight: UFC Fight Night 44

Remember the Alamo? If you forgot, it’s in San Antonio and so is the UFC this weekend. Also, I’m in San Antonio this weekend to see the action live.

Cub Swanson takes of Jeremy Stephens in the main event. Kelvin Gastelum looks to build on his UFC 171 performance against Rick Story by locking horns with Alexander Gustaffson’s training partner Nic Musoke.  Joe Ellenberger makes his UFC debut, after 5 other opponents drop out of fighting him. Here’s hoping 6 is the lucky number. Also, here are my picks for tonight:

FIGHT PICKS – UFC 172: Barao VS. Dillashaw

Who are these guys?

Remember when UFC 173 was earmarked for a Chris Weidman Vitor Belfort showdown?  Then, remember when Nevada put an end to TRT and the clock started for when the UFC would have to find a replacement for Vitor who everyone knew would bow out due to the NSAC’s ruling? Then, do you remember this:

Chris Weidman versus Lyoto Machida became the main event fight fans needed, but not the one the MMA gods thought they deserved, as Weidman also bowed out of the fight electing to get knee surgery.  Then, the mad dash for who could fill the PPV’s shoes started. With the majority of the UFC’s champs out due to injury, who could shoulder the expectations of a PPV in a year where PPV buys have seen a dip?  Joe Silva looked down the line at the UFC roster, pointed a wee finder in the direction of Renan Barao and said, “You’re up.”  Barao’s response:

Make no mistake, this is a challenge for Renan Barao on two fronts.  First, he takes on a salty competitor in TJ Dillashaw who has the wrestling base and pace to make a long night for the champ (who lately doesn’t like to see his fights go past the first few rounds).  More than that, however, Barao is being given the keys to a PPV main event (this time, without a brand name competitor a la Urijah Faber) and is responsible for delivering the goods and bringing in the buys.

Barao is a beast  at 135. Despite the fact he was referred to as the interim champ for almost a year before the term “interim” was rightfully excised, Barao has put on some pretty quality finishes in a division that, while thin, is made up of legit threats.  He’s also put on some quality celebratory dances. His record at 32-1-1 is undeniable, and his skills have been called ruthless, calculating, and vicious.

Yet, he is likely the least known of the UFC’s pantheon of champions.  The chatter leading up to fight week has centered mostly on the UFC’s inability to market Barao on the basis of his record and skills, that they simply don’t translate to the casual MMA fan.  The promotion believes that Barao’s bonafides speak for themselves, and in theory, they should, especially in sports.  Unfortunately, talent doesn’t always equal popularity, and popularity doesn’t guarantee talent. I can’t name you one Katy Perry song, but I know who she is thanks in part to her team of publicists, agents, and marketing coordinators.  How is it then that Barao, who is clearly talented, doesn’t have the notoriety of his fellow champions, especially considering how long it’s been since he last lost a fight?

The fact is, Barao is a killer in the cage.  He’s not a superstar.  And, he shouldn’t have to be. He just needs to keep winning.  The fans will find him.  Because of the way he’s been ending fights his last few outings, I think after this weekend, he’ll be easy to spot. He’ll be the guy with the raised hand… and, probably, doing that dance.

Also Starring…

Aside from an intriguing main, the co-main has a come-hither feel with Daniel Cormier getting the competition he finally deserves at 205 in Dan Henderson.  Make no mistake: this is the fallback to the main for a reason.  Hendo is a legend.  He could have stopped fighting in 2011 after his war with Shogun, and his place in the MMA books would have been more than secured.  But Hendo loves the competition, even if it’s clear the competition is getting away from him.  I don’t want to count Hendo out.  I’ve said as much before.

Unfortunately, Daniel Cormier is simply the present and future of this sport.  He’s good on his feet, he has phenomenal defense, and his ground work is obviously exceptional.  So many people balked at the notion of DC getting an immediate title shot at 205 simply because he had never fought at 205 (completely oblivious to his maulings of Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, and Bigfoot Silva at 265).  Well, DC critics, after Saturday, there won’t be much of an argument left to stand on.

Whenever two Olympic-caliber wrestlers get together, rest assured they will do anything but wrestle and look  try to out-strike each other.  I see DC being too fast for Hendo and too smart to get lured into a brawl.  DC should be able to dismantle Hendo’s H-Bomb; however, he should be wary of the same spinning back fist that sent Wanderlei to the canvas in Pride.

It’s Clobbering Time!

As if the main and co-mains weren’t enough to get fight fans bobbing in their seats, the Robbie Lawler/Jake Ellenberger matchup is simply a fight fan’s dream and nightmare wrapped up in one.  Lawler and Ellenberger are battle-tested, tough, crowd pleasing, and more than anything else, extremely likeable.  It’s so hard to route against either man. It’s like watching The Thing battle The Hulk.

Lawler is coming in with a quick turnaround after losing to welterweight champ Johny Hendricks in March.  That short layoff and the fact that Lawler was so close to winning the title could give him the edge he needs. It could influence his pacing, and if he can keep Ellenberger at the end of his jab and turn this into a 15-minute fight, he has a chance, as Ellenberger has shown that when the fights go the distance, he has a tougher time getting the win

All things being equal, however, I see Ellenberger as a small step faster than Lawler and dictating the pace early.  The faster Ellenberger fights, the more dangerous he is.  Also, the fact that he’s used to taking on bigger opponents at 170, like Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields, shows he has the power to brawl with bigger guys like Lawler.

What I predict is that Lawler/Ellenberger will win Fight of the Night honors, hands down.  However because of the competitors involved, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these guys pocket a performance of the night bonus as well.

As always, feel free to come back to ridicule my picks as I am proven wrong.

FIGHT PICKS – UFC Fight Night 40: Brown VS. Silva

To understand what a truly devastating opponent Matt Brown is, simply read the love note by the mighty Chuck Mindenhall to Matt Brown. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It’s odd that after the mini-welterweight tournament that was UFC 171 had concluded, two names were missing from the list of next possible contenders to Johny Hendricks—Matt Brown and Dong Hyun Kim. The Stun Gun has long since been forgotten, but Brown was simply a victim of an injury preventing him from one of the most anticipated match-ups in Matt Brown versus Carlos Condit.

Brown is on a 6-fight win streak finishing all but one of his last 6 opponents.  Despite the ranking of those 6 opponents, 5 finishes in the UFC is nothing to sneeze at.  What makes Brown successful is that he is not afraid to let his fists go.  In Silva, he meets a man who will gladly oblige in a brawl.

Much has been made of Browns status as an underdog considering Silva’s recent losses.  On paper, this matchup should be tighter especially considering Brown has been on the injury shelf and Silva is coming off a violent (if not controversial) KO the hands of Dong Hyun Kim.  At the end of the day, while not the exceptional quality matchup of the original Matt Brown/Carlos Condit fight, Brown/Silva should be very entertaining.

As far as “of-the-night” performances, I imagine that the main event of Brown/Silva will likely see competition from Erik Koch & Daron Cruickshank.  The smart money is on Koch, the Roufus Sport stand out from Milwaukie, considering his level of competition and his veteran status with stints in the UFC and WEC. I expect fireworks, and I’m sure the majority is right in picking Koch, but I’ve got Cruickshank by upset

As always, feel free to come back to ridicule my picks as I am proven wrong.

FIGHT PICKS – UFC 172: Jones VS. Teixeira

Finally giving Glover the attention he deserves.

The last time a UFC champion had a title defense was February 22 of this year when Ronda Rousey defeated Sara McMann at UFC 170, and the last time a title was on the line was in March at UFC 171 when a new welterweight king was crowned.  Since UFC 171, and in between UFCs 170 and 171, there have been six events total where the stakes were high, but the hardware was out of the picture.  Tomorrow, Jon Jones, one of the few uninjured UFC champions, will take to the cage to face Glover Teixeira, a man who hasn’t lost a fight since Chuck Liddell was the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion—three years before Jon Jones started his MMA career.

It’s no secret that Jones is the overwhelming favorite.  The big question going into Saturday’s light heavyweight showdown is whether or not any effects from Alexander Gustafsson’s mauling of Jones—either mental or physical—will linger. Leading up to the fight, Jones has been distracted, making excuses, and generally circling the wagons in his camp.  However, there has yet to be an opponent to have his hand raised against Jones when the fight is over.  Only Gustafsson has made Jones look human.  However, as Chris Weidman showed the world, once you make an MMA idol look human, once you’ve made a god bleed, other fighters smell the blood in the water. There’s no un-ringing that bell.

Glover Teixeira has been easy to overlook fight week, especially with the intense media glare reflected off of Jones, Dana White’s fetish for putting his foot in his mouth, and Hurricane Rousey. But make no mistake, Teixeira is a unique challenge for Jones.  As I mentioned yesterday, if Gustafsson represented a physical challenge (in terms of genetic gifts), if Machida represented a stylistic challenge, and if Shogun represented the veteran challenge, no one has yet to represent the challenge of brute power that Teixeira will issue.  We’ve seen Jones get hit and keep coming against Machida, but Machida didn’t have Teixeira’s power.  We’ve see Jones get hit repeatedly against Gustafsson, but Gustafsson didn’t have Teixeira’s power either. Of course, Teixeira has to get close enough to utilize that power

Given everything I’ve seen from both men, I think Jones still has the advantage and the arsenal to make quick work of Teixeira.  That being said, I’m picking Teixeira in the upset. Jones has proven he can get taken by surprise. Vitor Belfort caught him in a bad armbar.  Gustafsson surprised an 80% Jones and sent him to the hospital.  If Teixeira can surprise Jones, I think he might be able to pull off the improbable.  One of the few occasions I’m letting my gut overrule my brain.

In the co-main, Phil Davis has been trying too hard the last two weeks to stay relevant outside of the cage in the 205-pound picture.  He’s trying so hard to poke the bear that is Jon Jones, the only thing people are discussing about his opponent Anthony Johnson is whether or not Johnson will make weight.  The problem is that neither Johnson or Davos are doing much to sell their own fight.  Unlike the main event, this matchup should play out exactly as the betting lines expect.  Davis is the superior wrestler and has had a better quality of opponents while Johnson has been learning to adjust to his new weight class.  With Davis’s focus on Jones instead of Johnson, there is an outside chance that Johnson could level Davis; however, I’ve already got my upset pick set in stone.

As for the rest of the undercard, look for Jim Miller to have a stellar performance against a late addition in Yancy Medeiros. Miller is a handful for most everyone in the 155 pound class, and his armbar against Fabricio Camoes was so beautiful, it belongs in the  Louvre. I only hope he returns to Bad Moon Rising as the walkout song of choice.  The Hollies was a nice change up in his last out, but whenever I hear CCR I no longer think of American Werewolf in London.  I think of Jim Miller.

Solid card up and down.  I expect Isaac Vallie-Flagg and Takanori Gomi to be a fun fight and for Benavidez and Elliott to go a hard three rounds. As always, feel free to come back to ridicule my picks as I am proven wrong.

My “of the night” predictions:

  • Fight of the night – Joseph Benavidez/Tim Elliott
  • Performance of the night 1 – Jim Miller
  • Performance of the night 2 – Glover Teixeira