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MMA’S DIVISION OF DEATH

On December 13, 2013, Georges St. Pierre, the greatest UFC welterweight fighter decided to finally walk away from the sport he loved. This was coming after a very controversial win over Johny Hendricks, who punished the champion for five rounds back in UFC 167. Plenty, including myself, thought Hendricks had won but even if he lost the decision, he can settle for a moral victory having hurt the legend enough to force him into early retirement.

Whether you love GSP’s decision or hate it, I think you would agree he stepped out of the sport at the right time. GSP’s last four fights suggest he absorbed more punishment than his other fights combined (240 strikes absorbed, over 50% of his total strikes absorbed). Hendricks, Condit, Diaz and Shields (all on this list) pounded him more than the dozen who came before.

GSP made the sane proper choice to quit now while he’s ahead because as I would outline, here’s the next 15 guys who have struck me as not only contenders but entertaining and violent brawlers and grapplers. Welcome to the new Welterweight Division. A division filled with knockouts and submissions and wars… THE DIVISION OF DEATH.

BIGG RIGG
Johny Hendricks (15-2, 10-2 UFC)

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Knockouts: 8
Submissions: 1
UFC Rank: #1

The aforementioned Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks is fighting for the title in UFC 170 in his hometown of Dallas, Texas. Big Rig is notorious for arguably the most powerful leftie in MMA today, which floored two former title contenders within seconds. Big Rig isn’t only one of the strongest strikers but is a huge NCAA Division I wrestler. With GSP gone, he’s the favourite to take over the division. He’s the to-be-crowned Alpha Dog in the making.

THE NATURAL BORN KILLER
Carlos Condit (29-7, 6-3 UFC)

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Knockouts: 14
Submissions: 13
UFC Rank: #2

Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit isn’t far behind Big Rig as a favourite to win the division. NBK once engaged Hendricks in a Fight of the Year caliber brawl that saw him lose a razor thin decision. But the Killer out-struck Hendricks (number) and also floored GSP and was a few punches away from winning his belt. Condit may not have GSP or Hendricks’s wrestling pedigree but he is arguably the division’s best striker.

RUTHLESS
Robbie Lawler (22-9, 7-3 UFC)

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Knockouts: 18
Submissions: 1
UFC Rank: #3

Ruthless Robbie Lawler is easily 2013’s Comeback Fighter of the Year. On his second go-round with the UFC, he went on to knock out long-time gatekeeper Josh Koscheck, Strikeforce tough guy, Bobby Voelker and put a beating on a contender and GSP teammate, Rory “Ares” Macdonald. He’ll be facing Bigg Rigg for the championship soon. Lawler has always been a deadly striker but his improvement in takedown defense, precision and game planning has made him reach a new elite level.

EL DIABLO
Nick Diaz (26-9, 7-7 UFC)

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Knockouts: 13
Submissions: 8
UFC Rank: n/a

Although he remains “retired”, whenever “El Diablo” Nick Diaz decides to return to the octagon, he will be an immediate championship threat. The division’s best boxer and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert has fought the best and was both a Strikeforce and WEC Welterweight Champion. His colourful nature makes him a polarizing figure but he’ll earn fans’ and haters’ respect alike with his artistic display of boxing destruction whenever he steps in the octagon.

ARES
Rory Macdonald (15-2, 6-2 UFC)

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Knockouts: 6
Submissions: 6
UFC Rank: #4

With GSP retired, Rory “Ares” Macdonald now stands as Tristar Gym’s and Canada’s top fighter. Growing tired of his old name, Macdonald gave himself his own nickname although his tentative fighting style has led to much criticism. Regardless, Ares has all the tools to be a champion – size, topnotch grappling skills and toughness. He recently lost to Ruthless but he’s only one big win away from  being back in the title picture.

THE JUGGERNAUT
Jake Ellenberger (29-7, 8-3 UFC)

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Knockouts: 18
Submissions: 5
UFC Rank: #5

The Juggernaut has been injured as of late and always seems to be overshadowed by the top fighters but he didn’t earn his moniker as an X-Men fan. Juggernaut is a powerful force and has won the majority of his UFC fights by way of knockout. He’s a wrestler by nature but prefers to stand and bang and even the toughest fighters should be weary to go toe-to-toe with The Juggernaut.

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Knockouts: 3
Submissions: 10
UFC Rank: #7

While not as physically imposing or powerful as some of the fighters here, Shields was once the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion and was undefeated for six years. His lack of striking power shouldn’t undersell his prowess as he’s undefeated at welterweight and has wins over four fighters on this list (Condit, Lawler, Woodley, Maia). Shields flies under the radar but he can beat the best at any moment’s notice. PS I gave him the nickname. 😉

THE SUBMISSION DEMON
Demian Maia (18-5, 12-5 UFC)

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Knockouts: 3
Submissions: 9
UFC Rank: #6

I made up his nickname but “Submission Demon” seems apt for the man who’s submitted Chael Sonnen and Rick Story – the latter’s first time being finished. Maia is a large welterweight having fought the best at middleweight before moving down and going on an unbeaten streak before a paper-thin decision loss to Jake Shields. He’s probably the best BJJ grappler in the division.

THE CHOSEN ONE
Tyron Woodley (12-2, 2-1 UFC)

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Knockouts: 3
Submissions: 5
UFC Rank: #11

Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley is on the fast track to winning the welterweight title as he’ll be going against The Natural Born Killer later this year. A wrestler who combines power with speed and athleticism, he’s a force who despite having only fought since 2009 has already beaten some of the big names in the division including Paul Daley, Josh Koscheck and former champion, Tarec Saffiedine.

LIGHTNING
Hector Lombard (33-4-1-1, 2-2 UFC)

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Knockouts: 19
Submissions: 7
UFC Rank: #13

The Cuban version of Hulk aka Hector “Lightning” Lombard finally made the cut to welterweight and it has paid massive (pun intended) dividends in a first-round demolition of former title contender, Nate Marquardt. Lombard’s imposing muscular frame paired with his Judoka expertise and killer power has led him to win 33 of his 39 official fights with majority of those wins coming by knockout.

SPONGE
Tarec Saffiedine (15-3, 1-0 UFC)

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Knockouts: 1
Submissions: 5
UFC Rank: #9

Former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Tarec “Sponge” Saffiedine finally made his much-anticipated debut in a five-round victory over Korean standout, Lim Gyun-Hyu. He didn’t finish Lim but dominated the much larger Korean and kicked his legs to oblivion. Saffiedine is one of the more polished and technical fighters in the division. He won’t have many highlight reel knockouts but he’s as much a contender as most of the ones on this list.

THE IMMORTAL
Matt Brown (18-11, 11-5 UFC)

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Knockouts: 11
Submissions: 5
UFC Rank: #8

Before training in MMA, Matt Brown survived a heroin overdose thus prompting his nickname. He would then dedicate himself to martial arts and make his way to the UFC, where he would again survive a life-altering event, losing three in a row and 4 of 5 matches. That usually spells death sentence for most fighters but not the Immortal. Now a winner of six straight, with five of those coming by KO, the Immortal is in prime position to challenge the best in the division.

HORROR STORY
Rick Story (16-7, 9-5 UFC)

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Knockouts: 4
Submissions: 3
UFC Rank: #15

Once upon a time, Rick “Horror” Story was on his way to a title shot with huge wins over former title challenger Thiago “Pitbull” Alves and even Johny Hendricks. Then an upset loss to Charlie Brenneman and he never seemed to get back in rhythm having a spotty record since. But his most recent domination of Brian Ebersole, a result of training with Tristar has the wrestling standout back in the game. A rejuvenated Horror Story could spell terror for the rest of the division.

THE ACE
Lim Hyun-Gyu (12-4, 2-1 UFC)

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Knockouts: 9
Submissions: 2
UFC Rank: n/a

Too early? The Korean standout is relatively new to the UFC but already has two Fight of the Night awards along with two big knockouts. He most recently took Saffiedine to a five-round war that nearly saw him upset the former champion despite having his legs all-but kicked off. Lim is unranked in the division but with more polish, he’s sure to shoot up the rankings.

RUKUS
Brandon Thatch
(11-1 2-0 UFC)

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Knockouts: 8
Submissions: 3
UFC Rank: n/a

Brandon “Rukus” Thatch may be a relative unknown to the casual UFC fanbase but he shouldn’t be for long. Though just having two UFC fights, he’s won both by stoppages. He’s the first to KO Justin “Fast Eddie” Edwards  and just the 2nd to finish Paulo Thiago. Get this: 100% of the Karate master’s victories have all come by round 1 stoppage. Rukus is still new and thus unranked within the UFC but will look to keep his killer ways through 2014.

Watch for these other Killers:

Kim “Stun Gun” Dong-Hyun, Ryan LaFlare, Kelvin Gastelum, John “The Hitman” Hathaway, Mike “Quicksand” Pyle, Erick “Indio” Silva

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14 EXPECTATIONS FOR THE MMA WORLD IN 2014

14. UFC and MMA in general will “struggle” with TV ratings and PPV buys continue to decline or holding steady

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The loss of the two biggest stars in the MMA world in Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva coupled with injuries to other stars (Cain Velasquez, Anthony Pettis) and the increasing number of UFC events could mean even more oversaturation of MMA.   

13. All current UFC Champions will retain their titles in 2014

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Ronda Rousey is indomitable. Jon “Bones” Jones will reign supreme. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson only keeps getting better. And Chris Weidman is only going to build on his back-to-back mauling of Anderson Silva. I don’t see any current UFC champions dropping their belts in 2014.

12. Jessica Penne and Michelle Waterson wage war in a rematch for the Invicta Atomweight Title with Penne regaining the title in what will be the best women’s fight outside the UFC

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The Penne and Waterson title fight early in 2013 was an underrated classic. When the two meet again in the inevitable rematch, they’ll put on another classic that will have talking heads look to recognized female atomweights for the UFC.

11. Ben Askren dominates One FC going undefeated in 2014 and finishing all opponents and strengthens his status as the “Best Fighter outside the UFC”

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He almost contemplated retirement after briefly being unemployed but the wrestling star is back. Askren will take advantage of the relatively unknown division and dominate every opponent he faces until One FC can sign a higher-level talent.

10. B.J. Penn finally retires after suffering his fifth loss in seven games and third consecutive loss to Frankie Edgar

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B.J. Penn will make an emphatic return to the UFC scene on The Ultimate Fighter 19 and he’ll make more noise inside the octagon against Frankie “The Truth” Edgar. But it won’t be enough as he’ll lose a close decision to which he will then announce his retirement to the applause and admiration of millions.

9. UFC continues aggressive international expansion focusing on Asia: Mainland China and Southeast Asia particularly

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With the UFC’s debut in Singapore, the rest of Asia may soon follow. Events in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Mainland China may happen. Outside Asia, Mexico’s a strong possibility.

8. Tecia Torres wins the The Ultimate Fighter 20 and the UFC’s Inaugural Women’s Strawweight Title narrowly defeating Barb Honchak in the Finals

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Carla Esparza and Joanne Calderwood seem like popular choices to win TUF 20 but I think it’s the “Tiny Tornado” Tecia Torres who’ll be winning it all despite being the smallest fighter making for one of the better underdog stories this year.

7. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson becomes the UFC’s main breakout star

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Mighty Mouse was the only UFC champion to go 3-0 in 2013 and punctuated it with a huge knockout as an answer to critics of his stopping power. He’s looked better as he keeps fighting and the world will put the flyweights on the grid for good.

6. Michael Chandler recaptures Bellator Lightweight Title from Eddie Alvarez in conclusion to trilogy and main event to Bellator’s first PPV

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Chandler and Alvarez will go at it for the third time and will put on another amazing fight. Chandler will outlast his rival in a close decision to reclaim the belt as they headline Bellator’s first PPV.

5. GSP, Brock Lesnar and Nick Diaz do NOT return to the UFC or MMA

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They will make more buzz than most active fighters in 2014 thanks to social media and endless “rumour” talks but none of GSP, Brock Lesnar or Nick Diaz will be making a comeback to the octagon for this year.

4. No “Superfights”

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Talk of a Jose Aldo vs Anthony Pettis fight or the Anderson Silva vs Roy Jones fight will flood the Internet but neither will actually transpire. Aldo and Pettis have to defend their titles and are injury prone. Silva will return to action but against a fellow mixed martial artist, not a boxer.

3. Ronda Rousey defends belt three times in 2014 and talks of retirement resurface

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Rousey’s toughest test in 2014 is Sara McMann but after she overcomes her she’ll continue to dominate the division while having a part-time gig in Hollywood. The dreaded “R” word will come up again as many could say she doesn’t have anything left to prove.

2. Anderson Silva returns with a vengeance; finishes non-title opponent in emphatic fashion

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Anderson Silva will make his comeback of the year in the form of a huge knockout or submission. News of his demise would be greatly exaggerated as Spider will prove he’s still a force to be reckoned with.

1. Jon “Bones” Jones becomes the UFC’s P4P King and PPV King

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With GSP gone and Anderson Silva done for most of the year, it’ll be Jon “Bones” Jones who’ll headline the most top-selling UFC PPVs especially if and when that rematch with Alex Gustafsson transpires. He’ll also solidify his spot as the UFC’s #1 P4P king.

One Punch: Dan Henderson’s Most Important Fight

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Tonight’s UFC Fight Night 32 will put two of mixed martial arts’s biggest icons: Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort against Dan “Hendo” Henderson, a rematch from their Pride fight in 2006. Let’s state the obvious that this fight is a must win for both fighters especially since both are still as dangerous as any young gun and are still vying for a title shot. But for Hendo, this is do or die. This is his most important fight. He has to beat Vitor Belfort. His entire career depends on it.

Divergent Paths

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Both Hendo and Belfort have a combined 29 knockout wins in their careers. All of Belfort’s wins in the UFC have come via finish. That’s right. Out of the 12 UFC opponents he has beaten, he has submitted two and knocked out ten. The Phenom has looked phenomenal, excuse the bad pun, as of late. Thank a little TRT exemption – but his last two wins, both spectacular finishes against middleweight contenders, Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold means he’s on a path of destruction back to contendership (listed #2 ranked middleweight by UFC.com).

Hendo in contrast has lost his last two fights by split decision to former light heavyweight champions, Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. A lot of the naysayers may think Hendo’s on a downtrend and retirement may be in the horizon but Hendo stated he has no plans of and wants to fight for at least two more years. That’s plenty of time to get back into title contention.

Before Hendo lost his last two fights, he was Jon Jones’s next opponent until his injury infamously made history by cancelling the first ever UFC 151. This and being on a two-fight losing streak pretty much has Hendo on the back end of a short line of contenders for another shot. But one punch can change everything. One knockout can change Hendo’s fortunes for good. But he has to be the one pulling it off.

Turning Back Time: 2011

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Hendo is only two years removed from a magnificent 2011, which was arguably his greatest year since his Pride days. In 2011, Hendo knocked out highly-touted Black House prodigy, Rafael “Feijao” Calvacante to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship. He followed this up with come-from-behind knockout of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, the first time the great Russian has been felled mid-fight by strikes.

And as an encore to the year, Hendo engaged Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in what many pundits and fans alike have called one of the greatest fights in MMA history. He would win the war by unanimous decision.

Hendo would go 3-0 for the year, which would earn him the aforementioned title shot against Jones. But it’s worth noting that his wins have come with asterisks. Cavalcante as highly regarded as he was isn’t a top ten light heavyweight at least not in the UFC. Fedor was on the downswing of his career coming off of two losses and several fight metrics had him losing to Rua.

TRT or Retirement?

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Since his injury in 2012 and bowing out of the title fight, Hendo just has not looked the same. He certainly didn’t seem as explosive in both his fights against Rashad and Machida and has looked slower and more sluggish. Being permitted a TRT exemption isn’t good news, it’s more concerning. But should Hendo decide to undergo it, would it make a big difference?

TRT users indeed report “increased alertness and well-being, increase in lean muscle mass and concomitant decrease in body fat” (source: Gan EH, “A UK Epidemic of Testosterone Prescribing 2001-2010) . It has certainly helped the resurgent Vitor Belfort as he has looked like a new man, arguably at his best ever since he’s fought professionally. It’s also helped Chael Sonnen as he submitted Rua within just a round. But it didn’t really help either man against Jon Jones.

A reinvigorated Hendo could definitely end up like Vitor Belfort. There’s no guarantee but should Hendo lose to Belfort, and should he lose badly (as in first T/KO loss), maybe retirement is a better path?

Does Hendo want to fade away like other greats before him: Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson and the abovementioned Fedor Emelianenko?

Hendo is a man of great pride and he has aged gracefully. I’m sure he as well as any of his fans believe he’s capable of putting on even more fights but what if he isn’t? As a Hendo fan, I would hate to see him get trashed on his way out of MMA.

One Punch

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One punch. Sometimes that’s all it takes to end a fight. And it can happen at any moment against anyone. It happened to Anderson Silva against Chris Weidman, the greatest mixed martial artist of his time flattened by a punch. Hendo and Belfort are both familiar with the power both possess. Whether it is Hendo who uncorks an “H Bomb” and floors Belfort or the Phenom finally accomplishes what over 30 fighters couldn’t and that is to stop Hendo in his tracks with punches (or a kick).

If Belfort loses, he’d be slightly derailed from his hopes of another title shot (since the fight is taking place at light heavyweight, he will still be technically unbeaten at middleweight since losing to Anderson Silva). But if Hendo loses, this could put him on the verge like what Frank Mir is currently facing.

If Hendo wins however and if he does so in spectacular fashion, he’ll be back in the hunt since the only men who have beaten Belfort in the UFC are or will be in the Hall of Fame. One punch could change Hendo’s fortunes: back in title contention or one step closer to retirement or the purgatory of the gatekeeper status.

As such, this would be Hendo’s most important match. It isn’t for a title. It isn’t of the same magnitude as the Fedor or Anderson Silva fight and it likely isn’t Hendo’s last. But it could very well be one that would define his legacy. One punch: Hendo goes back on the road to the title… or the road to the end.

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UFC Fight Night 30: Enter the Dragon

*Betting Odds courtesy of MMA Mania

Lyoto Machida (-360) vs Mark Munoz (+300)

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Former Light Heavyweight Champion and karate master Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida makes his middleweight debut against Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machin” Munoz. Machida comes in as a late replacement to Michael Bisping who pulled out due to an eye injury. Munoz has won three of his last four with his defeat coming to new Middleweight Champion, Chris Weidman. The winner of this fight will make a strong case for a title shot in the division’s short but growing list of contenders.

Machida Wins: if he stops Munoz’s takedowns and keeps the fight standing; Machida has fought and defeated a lot of wrestlers so Munoz’s skillset isn’t anything new. His biggest challenge may be to finish the fight as his fighting style tends to be iffy with judges as his last two decisions have revealed.

Munoz Wins: if he is able to take Machida down and neutralize him long enough to prevent him from scoring points on strikes; Phil Davis won a disputed split decision against him by simply taking him down enough times to win the judges and Munoz could benefit from the same tactic. It’s a tall task to say the least but the only other option is to Stand and Wang.

My Pick: I liked Munoz’s chances of dragging Bisping to a decision victory but The Dragon presents a steeper challenge. Munoz has never fought a striker of Machida’s caliber while wrestlers are a dime-a-dozen to Machida. I give Munoz plenty of credit in making this a dangerous fight for Machida but it’ll be The Dragon who comes out arms raised: Machida by unanimous decision.

Ross Pearson (+120) vs Melvin Guillard (-140)

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The co-main event pits explosive strikers, Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson against Melvin “The Young Assassin” Guillard. Pearson is on a roll with two TKO wins and Guillard off of a big KO of his own. Both fighters have striking backgrounds:  Pearson in Taekwondo and Guillard in boxing. Whatever happens, this fight will have some fireworks.

Pearson Wins: if he uses his Judo/BJJ background to tap out Guillard or keep the fight on the ground, away from his greatest strength: his punching power. He can also catch Guillard in the right spot and knock him out. Pearson has KO power (5 KO wins) but standing and banging with one of the division’s most lethal strikers doesn’t favour the Brit.

Guillard Wins: if he engages Pearson in an all-out brawl and avoids his submission attempts; Pearson has big knockout power but Guillard may be the strongest puncher in the lightweight division (20 KO wins). A toe-to-toe showdown with the brawling Brit favours the more heavy-handed American.

My Pick: This is a bad stylistic matchup for Pearson who I feel will want to put on a show for his people. He’s tough as nails having only been knocked out twice in 21 fights but Guillard’s power is on another level. Pearson could submit Guillard alternatively but not before Guillard can put his hands on him: Guillard by round 1 TKO.

 

Jimi Manuwa (-170) vs Ryan Jimmo (+150)

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A battle of hard-hitting heavyweights pits the undefeated Jimi “Posterboy” Manuwa against Ryan “Big Deal” Jimmo; Manuwa has won both his UFC fights by way of knockout and may be the next big prospect in a division desperately looking for contenders. Jimmo on the other hand is 2-1 with the UFC with a spectacular seven-second knockout of Anthony Perosh. There’s good chances someone gets flattened and whoever does it could be joining the division’s top ten sooner than later.

Manuwa wins: if he keeps the fight standing and bangs with Jimmo; he runs the risk of getting knocked out by a heavy-handed Jimmo but he’s easily the more explosive of the two. None of his opponents have made it to a decision and 12 of his 13 wins have come via KO. He has a BJJ background but he’d be hard-pressed to use it against the bigger wrestler.

Jimmo wins: if he is able to control Manuwa on the ground or up against the cage like he did in his last fight against Igor Pokrajac. Jimmo is a dangerous striker but if he’s outgunned, he’ll utilize his wrestling and hope to grind his opponent out to a decision win; boring, but effective.

My Pick: I’d like to believe Manuwa keeps his undefeated and stoppage streak going but Jimmo is a hulking wrestler who’ll keep Manuwa down and keep him there lest he tags him with a few good hits for a surprise TKO win: Jimmo by unanimous decision.

BEST OF THE REST

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Norman Parke (-155) vs Jon Tuck (+135)

Stormin’ Norman Parke going up against Jon “Super Saiyan” Tuck; two tough submissionists who are relatively new to the company. Tuck has some power in his fists but Parke looks like a kid raised from stone. This could be a sleeper Fight of the Night contender. Norman Parke via split decision.

Alessio Sakara (-220) vs Nicholas Musoke (+180)

It’s about time “Legionarius” Alessio Sakara got back on the win column. His explosive striking ability will be a rough welcome for UFC newcomer, Nicholas Musoke. The Swede has the looks of a legit fighter but Sakara will come in like a rabid dog fighting for what could be its last meal. Alessio Sakara via round 2 TKO.

Phil Harris (+315) vs John Lineker (-380)

John Lineker wants a title shot should he get by hometown boy, Phil Harris. The Englishman is a crafty BJJ expert but Lineker is one of the bigger flyweights having fought to as heavy as lightweight. His explosive power has yielded him 3 straight wins and he’ll keep rolling this Saturday. John Lineker via round 1 TKO.

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UFC 166 MAIN CARD PREDICTIONS (AND MORE)

*Betting Odds courtesy of MMA Mania

Heavyweight Championship: Cain Velasquez (-200) vs Junior Dos Santos (+170)

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The greatest heavyweight trilogy of this generation; Cain Velasquez and Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos are the two most prominent heavyweight fighters today and both appear destined for Hall of Fame careers. JDS knocked Cain out the first time and Cain answered back with a five-round ass-whooping. Both fighters have immense knockout power (over 80% of their wins by KO) and their only losses in the octagon have come against each other. Who wins the rubber match?

Cain Wins: since he is cerebral. His striking is precise and on point and he’ll control the action with relentless takedowns and constant pressure. Overshadowed by his 10 KO wins is his NCAA Division I wrestling pedigree. This man outwrestled  a much bigger Brock Lesnar. His cardio is the best in the division and if the fight goes the distance, odds are in his favour.

JDS Wins: if does not over train and if he can hit Cain in the right spot within the first few rounds. He’s done it before and he can do it again. JDS may be the heavyweight division’s best striker in terms of his power and versatility. If anyone can pull a knockout out of their ass it’s him. If he improves his cardio he’ll hang with Cain though he shouldn’t risk leaving it to the judges as Cain is the more efficient fighter.

My Pick: Cain’s calm calculating demeanour reminds me of the great Fedor Emelianenko; fighters like him dissect their opponents and JDS would know his best chance to win is by knocking Cain out quickly and not trying to “out technique” him. If it goes the distance I see Cain winning but I’ll go with the spectacular and pick a Junior Dos Santos Round 3 TKO to cap off one of the greatest heavyweight fights.

Daniel Cormier (-600) vs Roy Nelson (+450)

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A battle of the heavyweight division’s premiere fat guys! Daniel Cormier is undefeated (12-0) in his short MMA career. He’s a decorated NCAA Division I and Olympic wrestler and a close training partner to Cain Velasquez. Roy “Big Country” Nelson is a Shaolin Kung Fu fighter with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. All of his UFC wins have come by knockout and he has never been finished. Ever. DC is expected to move to light heavyweight regardless of the outcome and Nelson is coming off a loss to Stipe Miocic. A big win here would still boost either fighter’s stock immensely.

Cormier Wins: if he keeps his distance and neutralizes Roy Nelson’s greatest advantage: his punching power. Cormier is a small heavyweight and is lighter on his feet. He has knockout power but prefers to wear his opponents out. Nelson showed in the Miocic fight, he can gas quickly. Cormier can either outwrestle Nelson or force him to overexert himself en route to a decision.

Roy Wins: if he catches Cormier with one of his punches. That’s right, just ONE PUNCH. His last 3 wins were all round 1 knockouts. He is no slouch in the ground either and other than having a BJJ background, he is over 25 lbs heavier than Cormier. Despite being a huge underdog, I like Roy’s chances of pulling off the upset.

My Pick: this fight is closer than people may expect. Cormier is the big favourite to win but Roy may be the strongest and toughest fighter he’s faced and has a BJJ background. I’ll fall in line and take the safe pick: Cormier will out-point Roy Nelson, keep away from him and take him to a snoozer unanimous decision win. Nah. Sign me up for a Roy Nelson surprise knockout in round 2.

Gilbert Melendez (-800) vs Diego Sanchez (+550)

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A battle of Mexican stars pits former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, Gilbert Melendez against The Ultimate Fighter original series winner, Diego “The Dream” Sanchez. On paper, this fight is a huge mismatch. Melendez is a top 5 lightweight in the world while Sanchez is barely scratching the top 20. His last fight, a controversial decision win over Takanori Gomi doesn’t help his case. Melendez is coming off a razor-thin split decision loss to former champ, Benson Henderson. As an additional storyline: both fighters were once sparring partners and have a storied history together. This match is ten years in the making.

Melendez wins: if he takes Diego to the ground and neutralizes him. Standing and counter-striking Diego seems like a good choice as he is more technical but Sanchez will just eat your punches to give his own and this is the danger Melendez faces. He doesn’t want to be on the wrong end of a decision. He can prevent Sanchez from scoring points by grinding him out and holding him down.

Diego wins: if he can prevent Melendez from controlling him on the ground or if he can avoid trying to “out-point” Melendez. Gil is a crafty fighter and manages to capitalize on any kind of opening. Sanchez needs to find the controlled aggression that has led to his previous wins. Melendez will get his shots but so long as Sanchez dictates the pace of the fight he should have a good chance at scoring an upset.

My Pick: Despite the difference in rank, this fight may be the most even in the main card. Not only does Diego have warrior spirit, a granite chin and a strong BJJ game, he has familiarity with Melendez. On top of that, he is a vet of close decision wins and seems to get the benefit of the doubt. Melendez is the better fighter but don’t underestimate the Dream in pulling off a colossal upset: Diego Sanchez via (controversial) split decision win.

Gabriel Gonzaga (+175) vs Shawn Jordan (-210)

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A clash of two heavyweights looking to get in the top 10 of the division; Gabriel Gonzaga, long-time UFC vet has won 3 of his last 4 fights by stoppage since he returned from hiatus in 2011. Shawn “The Savage” Jordan has also won 3 of his last 4 fights by stoppage. A big win from either fighter would have them just outside the top 10.

Gonzaga wins: if he doesn’t stand and bang with Jordan and wears him out with constant pressure from his grappling. Gonzaga is the superior grappler. He has 11 wins by submission (2nd all-time next to Frank Mir) and has a 4th degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Jordan wins: if he can outlast Gonzaga’s grappling and avoid his submission attempts. If he keeps the fight standing, he’s likely to knock him out. Jordan is the superior athlete and tough as nails. He took everything Mike Russow emptied on him and finished him in the second round.

My Pick: Safe choice is to give it to the more experienced Gonzaga to grind Jordan out en route to a (boo-fest) decision win. If his cardio holds up, the chances are even better. But Jordan’s a favourite for a reason. It’s hard to avoid a savage’s hands for all 15 minutes. A Jordan punch can floor Gonzaga at any time: Shawn Jordan by Round 1 KO.

John Dodson (-340) vs Darrell Montague (+280)

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Flyweight contender John “The Magician” Dodson welcomes Darrell “The Mongoose” Montague to the UFC. Dodson’s only loss in the octagon came against champ, Demetrious Johnson in a fight that saw him floor the champion repeatedly. Montague on the other hand is an enigma and hasn’t fought any high-profile fighters outside Ian McCall. Dodson either gets himself back in title contention or Montague makes a titanic statement.

Dodson wins: if he keeps the fight standing and whips Montague with his arsenal of missiles. Dodson is looking like another Greg Jackson success story and there’s no real indication of him slowing down. His superior athleticism also makes you wonder just what else this kid can do.

Montague wins:  if he grounds Dodson and keeps him from utilizing his greatest strength: his striking. Montague would have to live in a dark cellar in Laos not to be aware of Dodson’s power. He is also a relative unknown and hasn’t been in the spotlight long so he can use that to his advantage..

My Pick: It all depends if the striker can keep the fight standing or the wrestler can push the fight to the ground. Whoever does which will more likely win. I don’t know much about Montague but he could be the next big thing in the flyweight division. I’ll give him a lot of credit but for now, it feels like a John Dodson round 2 TKO.

UFC Fight Night 29 Main Card Picks!!

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DEMIAN MAIA (#4) VS JAKE SHIELDS

I see this fight going in two directions: the first (and one I’m praying for) is going to be a major treat for jiu-jitsu fans as Shields and Maia, two BJJ black belts and premiere grapplers go into a grappling war of the ages.

In 48 combined fights neither fighter has been submitted. They’re both aggressive and wear out their opponents to a scorecard win or a submission (19 combined submission victories). Height, reach and age are all pretty identical.

Of course the second (worst-case) scenario is both – well aware of each other’s expertise – decide to rely on their… not-so-exciting stand-up games. Shields despite having a kickboxing background leaves much to be desired in his striking and Maia (though improved) has rarely shown a penchant for standing and banging.

Maia is undefeated as a welterweight having dominant victories including one over Jon Fitch. Shields on the other hand looks to be a bad loss away from the firing squad. If Shields doesn’t enter this fight with the same ruthless aggression Maia will, it might be a really short – or really long night for him.

Result: Maia via unanimous decision

ERICK SILVA VS DONG HYUN KIM

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A fight between two welterweight prospects who people have forgotten. They’re outside the top 10 but a huge win here could push them in. Dong Hyun Kim has won his last two and his only losses have come against former Interim champ Carlos Condit and Demian Maia. Erick Silva is coming off a tough loss to the gritty Jon Fitch but has three 1st round submission wins. He’s a BJJ Muay thai expert in the mold of Anderson Silva – his mentor and training partner.

“Stun Gun” is a big dominating wrestler and the only fighter who’s outgrappled him was Maia, who was a former middleweight title contender. Depending how well Silva’s improved his grappling and takedown defense, I see Kim Jon Fitch-ing Silva all over again. But Silva is a creative striker and submissionist and has more than likely learned from his run-in with Fitch.

This fight has an eerie resonance with the Jacare and Okami fight: the Brazilian BJJ Muay Thai expert going up against the big strong Asian wrestler. I love Silva’s promise – call me a fanboy but I’m all on board his bandwagon like everyone’s on Jacare’s. Fitch was also a better wrestler than Kim. Silva wasn’t dominated by Fitch in fact coming close to submitting him – twice. He may just pull that off against Kim – if he doesn’t knock him out first. Either scenario is likely to happen, so my gut says.

Result: Erick Silva via round 1 TKO

THIAGO SILVA VS HATT HAMILL

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A clash between two light heavyweight gatekeepers. Matt Hamill and Thiago Silva weren’t doing so hot until their recent victories over Roger Hollett and Rafael Cavalcante, respectively. Silva was and still is one of the premiere light heavyweights in the UFC. Only has 3 losses and 2 came to former champions (Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans) with Alex Gustafsson – who most recently gave #1 P4P king Jon “Bones” Jones a run for his money – is the third. Of his 15 wins, 14 have ended in stoppage with 12 coming via knockout.

Matt Hamill pretty much grew up in the octagon; all but one of his fights have occurred within the UFC. He’s a decorated wrestler being a former NCAA Division III champion and Deaflympics silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling. He also has heavy hands (6 wins via KO).

Tough fight. Silva is younger and has twice the fighting experience and has more to prove after having two recent wins forfeited due to failing the post-drug tests. Can’t count out Hamill either. Regardless who wins, this fight may not make it out of round 1.

Result: Thiago Silva via round 1 KO

FABIO MALDONALDO VS JOEY BELTRAN

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What do you get when you pit two granite-chinned strikers fighting for their jobs as part of the main card? The “Just bleed” Fight of the Year contender over here. Fabio Maldonaldo and Joey Beltran are relative unknowns in the casual MMA world but after this fight they may just be legendary.

Fabio Maldonaldo was already legendary in his own right. He was an unbeaten boxer posting 22 wins, 21 coming by KO. 12 of his 19 MMA wins have come via the knockout. But most impressive of all was how he took over a dozen of Glover Teixeira’s biggest bombs and continued to fight back, even clipping Glover a few times.

Joey Beltran burst into the scene by knocking out Rolles Gracie Jr. He also holds a knockout win over former UFC-er Houston Alexander. Though his record (3-5) with the company doesn’t show it, he’s been an underrated undercard talent having two Fight of the Nights to his name.

Honestly, in a slug fest like this it’s a toss up. It’s not really the result we’re after, it’s the showdown. But I’ll say the only fighter tougher than Fabio Maldonaldo is Fabio Maldonaldo after eating Chuck Norris.He should outlast Beltran in what should be one of the most brutal bangers of the year.

Result: Maldonaldo via TKO round 2

ROUSIMAR PALHARES VS MIKE PIERCE

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Another great grappling contest between two hulks in their own right. Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares got his nickname meaning “Tree Stump” for his little muscular build. He’s 5’8″ and fought to as high as light heavyweight.  Mike Pierce is built similarly. And they both like to get down and dirty.

Palhares paved a steady 7-4 record as a middleweight, many of those wins coming by some of the craziest submissions (two submission of the nights). But back-to-back losses by stoppage has him moving down to welterweight, his first foray into the division.

Mike Pierce on the other hand has been an elite gatekeeper (if there ever was one) in the welterweight division posting a 9-3 record with those losses all coming to former title contenders and elite wrestlers. Since then, he’s won his last 4 fights, finishing half of them by knockout. In his 22 career fights, he has never been finished.

Palhares and Pierce would be interesting to say the least but unless Palhares catches one of Pierce’s limbs for him to eat break, Pierce would grind him into a tree stump. He has heavy hands and has better stand-up and has wrestled much better grapplers.

Result: Mike Pierce via round 2 TKO

RAPHAEL ASSUNҪÃO (#5) VS T.J. DILLASHAW (#9)

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A battle of rising bantamweights. The 5th ranked Assunção is undefeated (4-0) since cutting down from featherweight and after his loss in the The Ultimate Fighter finale to (now flyweight contender) John Dodson, Dillashaw has rattled off 4 straight wins of his own. Whoever wins this fight could be one fight away from a title shot.

I’m biased towards Team Alpha Male fighters especially now that Duane Ludwig has taken them to a new level with greatly improved striking. Dillashaw could be the next coming of Urijah Faber and seems to be on a path to greatness but Assunção’s experience and size would pose considerable problems for Dillashaw. In a grappling match, I generally favour the more experienced larger fighter but you can’t discount talent, something I feel Dillashaw has more of.

Dillashaw will be in for the biggest fight of his career and while my head keeps telling me to pick the bigger, stronger, grittier Assunção, I’ll go with the gut and pick the fighter with the more upside. Chalk it up to Team Alpha Male and Duane Ludwig for another big W.  Keep the streak going.

Result: Dillashaw via unanimous decision