If you’re a sports fan on New Year’s Day, after you wake up from your hangover, let me plan your day for you. Start off with a little hockey as the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Washington Capitals in the annual Winter Classic, move on to a couple of meaningless college football bowl games, and cap off the first day of 2011 with a stacked UFC card. Even if you don’t find the main event all that sexy, you can’t go wrong with a card that includes knock out artists, grappling specialists, and well-rounded fighters. If your New Years Resolution is to “watch more MMA” then you should get off to a great start on Saturday. Did I mention that Brittney Palmer will be making her UFC debut? That right there shoud be enough to get any man to watch.
UFC Lightweight Title Fight: Gray Maynard vs. Frankie Edgar
On April 2, 2008, Gray Maynard handed Frankie Edgar the first loss of his professional career when he defeated him by unanimous decision. Since that time both men have won five straight fights. Maynard rattled off victories over the likes of Jim Miller, Nate Diaz, and Kenny Florian while Edgar captured the UFC Lightweight Title by defeating BJ Penn and then defended the title against Penn in a rematch. Now it’s time for Maynard’s rematch and Edgar’s redemption.
Maynard hasn’t really been under the radar more so than underappreciated. He’s a powerhouse wrestler and his nickname ‘The Bully’ is one of the most fitting in all of MMA. He’s a decent striker with a strong jab and a good counter left hook but on his feet he’s either looking to set up his overhand right or the takedown. He often times does this by pumping a double jab and then throwing the right or going for the takedown. Even though he’s not a great striker, he benefits from the fact that opponents are afraid of his takedowns, which allows him to open up more on the feet. He does a very good job of changing levels as well. He likes to duck under, fake the takedown, and the come up with the left hook or he’ll throw a quick two punch combination to the body. He’s extremely strong in the clinch and I liken him to a more polished version of Randy Couture, who just so happens to be his mentor at Xtreme Couture. He puts people against the cage, grinds on them, and then hits a power double leg slam for the takedown. On top he likes to posture to his feet in the guard of his opponents and rain down with punches. He has excellent posture and control on top although he does have a habit of leaving his left arm on the mat. Edgar has never been known as a threat off his back, although he will go for a kimura at times, so Maynard will likely be able to get away with that in this fight but maybe Edgar will surprise people and use an omaplata sweep or throw up a triangle. This will be Maynard’s first five round fight but I don’t think it will hinder him too much. He’s always in great condition and in the first fight against Edgar, he actually caused Edgar to gas due to his wrestling. We know Edgar can go five rounds and maintain his pace but I believe Maynard can go five rounds and maintain his pace as well. Maynard needs to almost replicate his first performance against Edgar in this fight. He can’t get dazzled by the footwork and speed of Edgar like Penn did and try to land one big counter punch. If he’s going to stand with Edgar, he needs to attack the body when Edgar moves in because Edgar is too quick to get caught with one big counter punch. A quick flurry to the body however will slow Edgar down in the later rounds. Maynard shouldn’t be trying to stand too much with Edgar though. He needs to bring the fight to Edgar and slow him down. One way to do this is with leg kicks but Maynard has never really been known for his kicks so the other way to do it is to grab a hold of him, put him against the cage, and rough him up. Although it won’t win him any fans, Maynard needs to make this fight boring. He has the power to put away Edgar but Edgar is tough to hit and seems to have a good chin so chances are that if Maynard is going to win this fight, it’s going to be by grinding decision.
Edgar silenced a lot of critics with his last performance over Penn. He’s one of the best strikers in the MMA, not because he’s the most technical and not because he’s the most powerful, but because he’s the most active. He uses a lot of side to side and up and down movement that opponents get baffled by and they can’t catch up. He likes to pump the double jab as a distance finder and then he leaps in with a three punch combination before leaping out. He’s excellent at changing levels with his strikes. Often times you’ll see him throw a right hook to the body and then come up top with a left hook or he’ll jab to the body and then come over the top with a right hand. Even when he goes for takedowns, he’s still striking. If you shrug off his takedown attempt, he’ll throw a body kick. If you try to clinch off his takedown attempt, he’ll throw a knee. His wrestling has improved since the first Maynard fight. He outwrestled Sean Sherk and he took down Penn multiple times, which is something that was though impossible at lightweight. He’s also very good at getting up off his back because, like on the feet, he’s always moving. He has quick hips and he also constantly keeps his legs moving, which makes it tough for guys to keep a hold of him. The best comparison I can come up with for Edgar off his back is a hyperactive dog. Put a hyperactive dog on its back and try to hold it down. It won’t stop moving all four legs and it will scratch you up so badly that you’ll eventually just let it up if they don’t decide to roll over to their feet first. That’s Edgar. On his back, he’s a hyperactive dog that doesn’t stop moving and sooner or later you give up on trying to keep him down or he just gets to his feet. If Maynard can somehow keep Edgar down, that would be a huge feather in his cap and could really frustrate Edgar. Edgar’s offensive wrestling is helped by all the striking and movement he does on the feet. Maynard stuffed all but one of Edgar’s attempts in the first fight and when Edgar did manage to get him down, Maynard was right back up. Edgar can’t get into a wrestling match with Maynard because he’s just not strong enough to compete with him, he’ll gas himself out quicker, and it would take away from his time striking. Even though he’s the champion, Edgar is still undersized at lightweight. This gives him the speed advantage but speed can be neutralized with power and that’s why Edgar needs to make sure he’s not spending much time grappling with Maynard. I’m not sure Edgar has the power to finish Maynard, especially since Maynard seems to have a solid chin but he could get his back in a scramble and finish with a rear naked choke. The most likely scenario is that Edgar wins a decision by out-striking Maynard, stuffing the takedowns, and possibly landing a couple of takedowns of his own.
This should be a very close fight and is one of those “chess match” fights that fans don’t quite appreciate. This fight really comes down to which fighter can impose their game plan on the other. If Edgar can keep it on the feet, he’ll likely outbox Maynard on his way to a decision but if Maynard can turn things into a wrestling match, he’ll likely overpower and control Edgar on his way to a decision. I’m going with Edgar just because he’s significantly improved since the first fight while Maynard, while improved, hasn’t seemed to improve quite as much.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar to defeat Gray Maynard by Decision
Middleweight Fight: Brian Stann vs. Chris Leben
After earning some well-deserved time off following two victories in two weeks, Chris Leben is back in action against the hard-hitting Brian Stann.
Stann is a former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion who dropped to middleweight in his last bout because he was tired of getting controlled by strong wrestlers. He’s a heavy-handed striker who always looks to land his big right hand. He tries to counter with the right straight and he sets up his overhand right with the jab. He likes to use a jab-uppercut-left hook combo that has been successful for him and he also throws a shuffle right hook, which has really become a staple of the Team Greg Jackson camp. He has very underrated kicks. He throws a good leg kick counter when opponents feint or throw a lazy jab, he sets up his kicks with his hands, and he has a very good body kick. His wrestling is by far his biggest weakness. He’s not a good offensive wrestler and his takedown defense is almost non-existent. In his last fight against Mike Massenzio, he showed a good triangle off his back but Masszenio was completely gassed by that point and it took Stann a while to fully lock it up. If he gets on top, he’s content on staying in guard and delivering controlled ground and pound. He stays tight to the body, attacks the body and head, and throws nice elbows. This fight isn’t likely to go to the ground, especially if Stann has anything to do with it. Stann can’t afford to just stand and bang it out with Leben because Leben’s power and chin is second to none. Stann needs to use his good footwork, create angles, and chop at Leben with leg kicks. He also needs to keep his right hand high, not only to throw it but also to use it defensively. He has a tendency to drop his right hand and leave himself open for left hooks, which would quickly end his night against Leben. Stann has the power in his right hand to put away anyone but it’s going to take more than one punch to put away Leben so if Stann is going to win this fight, it’ll be by frustrating Leben on the feet by using a lot of movement and pecking at him en route to a decision.
Leben is coming off back-to-back wins over Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama in the span of ten days and now he’s taking a fight that is considered a step down by many. We know what to expect from Leben. He stands southpaw, he moves forward, he throws some leg kicks, and he loads up on his left hand. He’s improved the technical aspect of his striking over the years but when it comes down to it, Leben is looking to get into a brawl, get hit, and hit back. He’s not the same guy that went straightforward and got blasted by Anderson Silva but he’s also not looking to sit back and pick his shots. He believes in his power, he believes in his chin, and he believes that he’s stronger willed than his opponents. He’s a better wrestler and grappler than given credit for and if he was smart he may actually use that wrestling in this fight because of Stann’s wrestling weakness but Leben would rather put on a show than try and cruise to a victory. If he wants to fight a safe fight though, he’ll put Stann on the back and just grind out a victory, maybe even win by rear naked choke after Stann gives up his back by trying to turn into Leben to get up. Leben is going to what he always does though and that’s move straight forward, cut off Stann with leg kicks, and turn the fight into a brawl. He’s going to pressure Stann and maybe he’ll mix in some takedowns just to give Stann something else to think about and possibly throw him off his game since Stann is likely expecting this to be nothing but a stand up fight. He has the power to KO Stann, if he wants to then it’s possible he could win by submission, or he could just do enough overall damage to win the decision.
When Leben fights, you can usually expect a war. I expect this one to be no different. Stann might look to stand and trade with Leben early but he’s going to taste Leben’s power, back away, and look to turn things into more of a technical striking contest. If he’s able to do that successfully, he could win the decision but I think he’ll get baited into a brawl and that’s when Leben will once again prove that his power and chin aren’t to be messed with.
Prediction: Chris Leben to defeat Brian Stann by TKO in Round Two
Lightweight Fight: Takanori Gomi vs. Clay Guida
The always-energetic Clay Guida looks to add to his win streak against Takanori Gomi, who is coming off a huge KO victory over Tyson Griffin.
Gomi seemed to return to form in his last fight, showing off the KO power that made him one of the most beloved fighters in the history of PRIDE. I’ve always called Gomi the “Lightweight Chuck Liddell” because of his style. He stands southpaw and throws punches from, as Joe Rogan loves to say, “Weird loopy angles.” He might be the most powerful striker in the lightweight division. Against Griffin, he took an inside leg kick that put him off balance and still blasted Griffin with a right hand that put him down and out. He’s actually a very underrated wrestler, especially if your only Gomi experiences are his UFC fights. His takedown defense is very good, especially early in fight when he hasn’t gassed out. He’s going to need that takedown defense in this fight because Guida is known for his relentless takedown attempts and pressure. Gomi is good on the ground but he’s not all that good off his back. He turns and gives up his back to get up and he’s not really a threat to submit anyone off his back either. Gomi’s biggest problem has always been his conditioning. The longer the fight goes, the more he fades, and the easier he becomes to beat. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of mental toughness to where, if he can’t put his opponent away early he simply fades, or if he’s just a poorly conditioned fighter but whatever the case is, it’s the reason for the majority of his MMA losses. Gomi needs to keep his distance from Guida, which means using an effective jab for the first time maybe ever, and even bait Guida into a brawl. When trapped against the cage, Guida wildly throws punches, which would be a welcome exchange for Gomi given his power against Guida’s. Gomi’s best chance is to win by TKO or rock him on the feet to where he can submit him.
Even though he’s one of the most popular fighters in the UFC, Guida really lacks that signature win. Gomi would be that victory for him. Guida’s striking is getting better with every fight but it’s still mainly used to set up his takedowns. He plods forward, throws a weak inside leg kick that is mainly used to get the distance and doubles up on his jab to set up his right hand. Guida can’t get caught up in a striking contest though. What he does better than anyone in the lightweight division is press forward, pressure opponents, and is relentless on his takedown attempts. If he doesn’t get his opponent down right away, he’ll control them in the clinch and wear them down. His cardio is second to none so he can get away with going for takedown after takedown without wearing himself out while also gassing his opponent out. Guida has very good control on top, he stays relatively active, and he’s constantly looking for the arm triangle, which is a submission that has haunted Gomi in the past. There is a lot of talk about Guida’s iron chin and while he’s never been finished by strikes, he has been rocked in fights. Roger Huerta rocked him with a knee, Diego Sanchez dropped him with a head kick, and Kenny Florian dropped him with a right hand. None of those guys posses the power that Gomi has so if Guida gets hit with one of those bombs, we could see him out cold for the first time in his career. For Guida to win, he needs to fight keep the pressure up and use his superior conditioning. Even if he can’t takedown Gomi early, he needs to keep Gomi controlled in the clinch, land knees and short punches, and just keep making Gomi work. We know Guida won’t gas in the third round but it’s very possible that Gomi will. It’s possible that Guida finishes Gomi late with a submission but if Guida is going to win, chances are it will be by a controlling decision.
The longer this fight goes, the more it favors Guida. If Gomi catches anyone early, he can turn their lights out but if Guida can survive the early exchanges, impose his will, and wear Gomi out, he should cruise to a decision. I favor Guida simply because it’safer to count on him to control and wear down Gomi than it is count on Gomi landing that one big punch. This should be a very entertaining fight though simply because of Gomi’s power and Guida’s activity.
Prediction: Clay Guida to defeat Takanori Gomi by Decision
Welterweight Fight: Dong Hyun Kim vs. Nate Diaz
Nate Diaz tries to remain unbeaten at welterweight as he takes on Dong Hyun Kim, who looks to rematch unbeaten in his MMA career.
Kim has flown under the radar a bit in the welterweight division but he finally got the recognition he deserves in his last fight in a dominating victory over Amir Sadollah. Even though he beat Sadollah with his wrestling and grappling, Kim is a really good striker. He stands southpaw, has quick leg kicks, and has one punch power in his left hand. He’s the more technical of the two but there’s no doubt that Diaz will be the more active. That activity is going to create a lot of counters for Kim though and he not only throws a good counter right hook but he’s also good at ducking under punches and getting takedowns. He’s an excellent Judoka and if Diaz hangs around in the clinch too long, sooner or later Kim is going to put him on his back. On top Kim has very good control but he does leave his right arm for the taking. He seems so focused on throwing left elbows that he neglects using his right arm, so he allows it to be controlled by his opponents. Thus far he’s gotten away with it because his posture is very good and he has quick submission recognition but it would be a very dangerous game to play against someone with the grappling credentials of Diaz. Kim needs to make this a slow and boring fight. He can’t get caught up in a striking battle with Diaz because even though he has the power, he doesn’t have the cardio to keep up with Diaz’ activity. He needs to clinch with Diaz, control him against the cage, land some knees, and get a couple of takedowns but don’t spend a ton of time of the ground. Diaz is usually a slow starter so maybe Kim will come out of the gate fast and try to catch Diaz with a big punch or overwhelm him on the ground but the longer this fight goes at a high pace, the more is favors Diaz. Don’t rule out a cut stoppage in this fight, which would really be a shame if it were to happen. Kim loves throwing elbows on the ground and Diaz is known to bleed easy so if Kim catches him with an elbow in the right place, maybe the doctor will upset the crowd and Joe Rogan by stopping the fight. Kim is a powerful and overwhelming striker and a good grappler but I have a tough time believing that he can finish Diaz so his best chance to win this fight is by controlling and grinding his way to a decision.
With every passing fight, Diaz looks better and better and seems very comfortable at 170. His striking is almost identical to that of his brother Nick’s, which isn’t a bad thing. Everything he does on the feet is based on his jab. He stands southpaw and pecks away at his opponents with his lengthy jab. He uses the jab to frustrate opponents, he uses the jab to set up his left hand, he uses the jab to get you to react so he can counter with a left hook, and he probably uses the jab as part of his smoking technique. He’s blessed with the Diaz chin, which means he’ll eat most punches and get dropped by really good punches (especially early) but he’s always right back up and very tough to finish. Diaz’ problem is that he tries too hard to defend takedowns. Given his grappling background and slickness off his back, he loses fights by defending takedowns and being controlled in the clinch when he’s probably better off just going to his back and working his ground game. Kim is a good wrestler and an excellent Judoka so if he clinches with Diaz and tries to get him down, Diaz should fight it to wear Kim down a bit, but in the end just go down and work from his back. You may say that if he’s on his back the entire fight, he’s going to lose a decision but if he’s controlled against the cage the entire fight, he’s still going to lose a decision. At least on the ground he has a chance to sweep or pull off a submission. Diaz has a very good triangle and Kim is can be controlled on top. Diaz is going to do what he does best in the fight. He’s going to pepper Kim with shots, look to wear him out, and then take over late in the fight. Kim’s cardio is unquestionable, especially compared to Diaz’ so the longer this fight goes, the more it benefits Diaz. He’s going to peck away with the jab, eat some punches but gives three in return, try a couple of takedowns of his own, and then just wait for his opportunity to close things out. Diaz doesn’t have one punch power but he is an overwhelming striker who could finish Kim on the ground with strikes, his submission game is good enough to tap nearly anyone in the division, or he could just be busy enough in all positions to win the decision.
This is another fight that is very tough to predict because of the respective styles of both men. I favor Diaz though simply because of his active striking and ground game. I think Kim will get him down and just when he’s starting to feel comfortable on the ground, Diaz will slap on a triangle choke and submit him.
Prediction: Nate Diaz to defeat Dong Hyun Kim by Submission in Round One
Light Heavyweight Fight: Brandon Vera vs. Thiago Silva
With their backs against the wall, Brandon Vera, loser of two straight, and Thiago Silva, loser of two of his last three, try to stay in light heavyweight contention at the expense of the other.
There is no more hype surrounding Vera. He’s no longer a prospect looking for that big win who can afford to make mistakes. He’s now an established fighter who has failed every time he’s been given a chance to get that big win. No one has ever questioned the talent of Vera. He throws good straight punches, brutal kicks, and has good knees in the clinch. Supposedly his ground game is better than his striking but until he proves that’s the case, I’m not one to believe it. Prior to the Jon Jones fight he said he was going to worry less about the takedown and just start submitting guys off his back. Well he got put on his back, had a couple of chances to submit Jones, and instead took an elbow to the eye that broke his orbital bone. Once again, Vera is claiming that we’re going to see him return to his old form. And you know what, maybe it’s time to believe him. Stick with me here, I promise I’m not crazy. Against Jones, Vera finally got his ass kicked. In his losses to Tim Sylvia, Keith Jardine, and Randy Couture they were all close decision losses that really could have gone either way. In his loss against Fabricio Werdum, he was seconds away from surviving the round and he lost to a bigger opponent. Against Jones, he got dominated and badly hurt with one strike. Now maybe he’s just saying, “you’re going to see the old Vera” when really he believes that the Jones fight could have gone a different way had Jones not broke his orbital bone with the elbow. But if he truly believes that Jones whooped his ass and humbled him, maybe we will see a more focused Vera who isn’t just trying to coast on his talents. Vera has the power to put Silva away but if he still lacks that killer instinct that he’s lacked since 2006 then he’ll like just pick Silva apart en route to a decision.
Silva’s recent string of disappointment inside the Octagon aren’t quite as bad as Vera’s but he needs to win this fight just as badly. He’s an aggressive striker who moves straight forward and has arguably the most natural punching power in the light heavyweight division. He hits guys with shots that look like arm punches but his opponents end up going down because of his power. It’s really not fair for this one man to have all that power. The problem with Silva’s striking is that he drops he doesn’t keep his chin tucked when he throws and he might be too aggressive for his own good given his chin. Aggressiveness is key against Vera though, who has proved time and time again that he’ll wilt if pressured. Silva might be best served to try and get things into a clinch situation. I think his muy-thai is better than Vera’s and he can turn things ugly in the clinch. Silva should even try to get this fight to the ground to not only test Vera’s ground game but also to work his excellent top game. His top control is outstanding and when he is able to mount his opponent, he doesn’t give up that position. Every time Vera has been finished in his career, it’s been when he’s been on bottom and overwhelmed by strikes. Silva’s cardio is very questionable. He gassed badly against Rashad Evans and failed to pour it on Evans late in the fight when he had him hurt because of how gassed he was. Vera isn’t a cardio freak but I do give him the slight edge in the conditioning department. Even though he is a good technical striker, it would be a mistake for Silva to turn this fight into a technical kickboxing contest. Vera excels when guys want to “fight pretty” against him because Vera himself is a pretty fighter. Silva needs to put punches in Vera’s face, make him uncomfortable, and really make Vera prove that he isn’t the same mental flake that he’s been over the past couple of years. Silva has the power to end Vera’s night with one punch, he could also overwhelm him with strikes, or if he can’t finish Vera then he could make the fight ugly enough, do enough damage, and gain enough advantageous positions to win the decision.
This is another tough fight to predict simply because it really comes down to Vera’s mindset. If he’s now a humble fighter who isn’t trying to coast on his talents and he’s regained that killer instinct, he could easily put Silva away. But if he’s the same guy who can’t take the pressure and can’t pull the trigger when he needs to, he’s in for a short night. Until Vera proves that he’s the former of the two, I’ve got to go with Silva. I know he’s going to show up to fight and I don’t question his mindset. I think Silva will overwhelm Vera early and Vera will once again collapse under the weight of his own expectations and his opponents aggressiveness.
Prediction: Thiago Silva to defeat Brandon Vera by TKO in Round One
*Jeremy Stephens to defeat Marcus Davis by TKO in Round One
*Josh Grispi to defeat Dustin Poirier by Submission in Round One
*Brad Tavares to defeat Phil Baroni by TKO in Round Two
*Mike Brown to defeat Diego Nunes by Decision
*Daniel Roberts to defeat Greg Soto by Decision
*Antonio McKee to defeat Jacob Volkmann by Decision