Thursday, February 23, 2012
UFC in Japan Preview (Part Two)
UFC cards are so stacked nowadays that it isn't uncommon for me to be as excited, if not more excited, for the preliminary bouts than the main card bouts. This Japan card is a clear exception. Granted, it's probably due in part to the fact that we're getting 7 guaranteed main card bouts instead of the customary 5, but still. There are lots of fighters of interest here. What kind of brilliance will Anthony Pettis showcase? Can Mark Hunt keep his improbable run alive? Why does Bart Palaszewski suddenly think he's knocking on Jose Aldo's door? Will Akiyama-Shields be terrible? And can Frank Edgar beat another high caliber opponent to keep his belt? Lets find out.
Yushin Okami (26-6, 10-3 UFC) vs. Tim Boetsch (14-4, 5-3 UFC)
Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch? Lets see: Wins against good fighters? Okami. Technical striking? Okami. Gas tank? Okami. Technical wrestling? Okami. Possible rejuvenation after being humiliated in his previous fight? Okami. Winner? You're not going to believe this, but I gotta go with Yushin Okami. By late submission. As Boetsch's face turns red.
Chieck Kongo (17-6-2, 10-4-1 UFC) vs. Mark Hunt (7-7, 2-1 UFC)
Mark Hunt comes into this fight looking to win his third straight Octagon tussle, and I never thought I'd write that sentence (partly because I used the word "tussle" but mostly because it's Mark Hunt, who has the submission defense of a leper).
He takes on Cup Cheick Kongo, who never met a unified rule he wasn't itching to violate as blatantly as possible. This seems obvious to state (kind of like saying "The winner of this game will be whoever scores the most points!"), but this fight will come down to the striking, because niether man really has an advantage on the ground. Again, I wouldn't be shocked if almost anyone subbed Mark Hunt, but when Kongo gets on top, he likes to slice people up, not go for arms. It's not his game.
Kongo is an okay wrestler that can definitely smash the right guy if he gets on top, and Hunt could very well be that guy. Don't sleep on Hunt's wrestling either, though. He showed a bit more of a well rounded game in the Rothwell fight, and I could see Hunt going for takedowns as well. For those folks out there laughing at me because I said "don't sleep on Hunt's wrestling" ... he's fighting a guy that was soundly outwrestled by Carmelo Marrero, who wouldn't even be a top 15 middleweight. Kongo's wrestling HAS gotten better, but that long, rangy body is somewhat naturally susceptible to getting grounded.
Hunt's quotes leading up to this fight are positively un-Hunt like. He said things like "I feel I'm one of the best fighters on the planet". I don't know what is happening with this guy, but I like it. Maybe he has a newfound confidence because of stateside training; it's amazing what that can do for some guys.
I'm in the minority, but I like this matchup for Mark. He can hurt Kongo on the feet, but even if he doesn't, I like his striking backround to carry him to an early lead here. When Hunt starts doing well, tenacious Hunt comes out and starts inexplicably taking guys down and beating them up worse. Kongo will have stretches of dominance, but Mark will be too much on the feet. Hunt by decision.
Joe Lauzon (21-6, 8-3 UFC) vs. Anthony Pettis (14-2, 1-1 UFC)
Here we have YET ANOTHER example of a guy that is immensely dangerous in the opening minutes of a fight and then fades fast. Joe Lauzon has big power in his fists, most notably his left hand, and is a good submission guy when he's full of gas. However, Anthony Pettis is the younger, far more talented, far more athletic, and far more spectacular fighter here. He's a phenomenal striker, both technically and "Wow!" wise, and his submission game is now at the point where it can't be ignored, either.
Simply put, this is a nightmare matchup for Joe. His win over Guillard should be acknowledged and respected, but if they fight ten times, Melvin wins that fight more times than he loses it. Joe Lauzon is what he is: a hard working submission fighter that can hurt you on the feet if he has the juice left in his arms, and a guy that can be submitted if he's any RV (out of gas frequently).
I would be blown away if Anthony Pettis lost this fight. He's a great striker, and on the floor, Lauzon doesn't quite have what it takes to beat him over 3 rounds, despite the fact that he should always be respected.
Pettis by TKO or submission, after a desperate Lauzon takedown.
Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2, 1-0 UFC) vs. Bart Palaszewski (36-14, 1-0 UFC)
Bartimus has talked for weeks about how he isn't impressed by Hatsu Hioki. Weeks. The problem is that Palaszewski is a career journeyman who had everything go his way in his UFC debut. He fought a food-loving, love-handles-having Tyson Griffin, who wades in and out of exchanges like nobodies business. Bart is a good fighter, but I really, really hope nobody took his UFC debut TOO seriously.
On that same note, I hope nobody took Hioki's UFC debut too seriously either, but for different reasons. Hioki is better than that. He was fighting a guy (George Roop) who had just as much (if not more) reach, and Hioki has always had a disturbing habit of kickboxing too much with guys he should dummy on the floor.
I'm trusting that he's learned from that near-losing experience, and that he'll polish Bart off on the floor. I'm sure Hioki will taste defeat in the UFC, but I don't see it in this fight. Hioki by second round submission (of the night).
Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4, 1-3 UFC) vs. Jake Shields (26-6-1, 1-2 UFC)
Ah, finally ... a winnable fight for Yoshi! Normally, I wouldn't recommend that a middleweight losing fights drop to welterweight, a much deeper division ... but in this case, I think the move makes sense. Yoshihiro Akiyama, for whatever reason, was thrown to the wolves at middleweight. Did a single person pick him to beat Vitor Belfort?
Usually, I have no problem being objective when I think about the potential winner of any given fight, but this is an exception. Both Yoshi and Jake seem like good guys, and it was difficult to see Jake get taken out so quickly in his last fight knowing that he'd lost his father 3 weeks beforehand.
But, facts are facts: Jake Shields doesn't have the striking to deal with someone like Akiyama. He'll look to replicate the strategy that he beat Dan Henderson with. He'll want to get a dominant position and soften Yoshi up with enough blows to get him to give up his neck or an arm, and at that point, he'll hope like hell that Yoshi is tired enough to capitulate.
I'm just not on the Jake Shields bandwagon at all. He hasn't looked good or even satisfactory in any of his UFC fights, and I think the trend continues here. Yoshi is a natural welterweight, and physique wise will have a strength advantage over many more guys than he did at middleweight. Yoshi will soundly outbox Jake and earn a late TKO stoppage.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (32-9, 7-3 UFC) vs. Ryan Bader (13-2, 6-2 UFC)
What if attempting a tactical analysis of this fight was pointless? What if Quinton Jackson is so Goddamn excited to be fighting in Japan again that he goes out and puts on a clinic? Couldn't you see that? Nobody misses fighting in Japan more than Quinton. He loved fighting there because it didn't matter if you won or lost ... if you showed the intangible "fighting spirit", the Japanese would always love you unconditionally. Oh, and he liked that there was no booing. That, too.
Honestly, Ryan Bader is in over his head here. His wrestling is good, but he's more of a "power double" guy, and Rampage has historically ended up on his back after some sort of struggle against the cage. His takedown defense is no longer the legendary, mythical skill it was during the PRIDE days, but he can still shoot his hips back with the best of them. I don't see him having too much trouble with Bader's wrestling.
That leaves the boxing, which Quinton is much, much better at. Bader is dangerous, but he's a one shot puncher, and if we've learned anything from watching Quinton, it's that you have to basically go berserk to stop him. One punch isn't going to do it. On top of that, Bader basically swings until his arms gas, which is usually around the middle of the second round. Rampage's blocking ability, coupled with his counter hooks, will carry him to a victory here. Rampage by TKO towards the end of the second round.
Frank Edgar (14-1-1, 9-1-1 UFC) vs. Ben Henderson (15-2, 3-0 UFC)
Awww shit ... we're one Benson Henderson win away from him getting on the mic and feverishly screaming about God. He does this after every win, but you gotta think that winning a UFC lightweight title would really give him the Jesus goggles.
If you think I'm going to channel my annoyance about Bendo's antics into some sort of convoluted theory about how those crazy Christians can't fight ... well, you've got another thing coming. Ben Henderson is a phenomenal mixed martial artist, and I can't think of another lightweight that is a tougher matchup for a wider array of guys. Since an early loss to someone named "Rocky Johnson" (possibly not a porn name), beating Ben Henderson meant you were tied 2 rounds apiece going into the fifth, and then you jumped off of the cage and kicked him in the face. Nothing short of that.
As everyone knows by now, Frank Edgar doesn't cut weight, so every time he fights, we have to read the same articles about how undersized he is. "How does he keep doing this?" the articles ask. It's a combination of movement, crisp striking, and a chin that is insanely underrated.
(I don't want to hear anything else about Roy Nelson's chin. Roy Nelson spends 15 minutes walking into strikes and doesn't seem all that affected by them. Frank Edgar has been batted around by huge killshots, on the button, by precise and hard hitting lightweights, and has done nothing but suck it up, stick to his gameplan, and make a comeback like nothing happened. Nelson is tough, but Edgar is the one with the chin.)
Bendo's standup is ever-improving, and how could anyone say that he's outgunned on the feet after Frankie's last two 1st rounds? To take Edgar out, though, you have to land a level of high octane offense that ... I mean, I really don't even know what it would take to end Frank Edgar's night. None of us knows.
I see this fight as 25 minutes of pure excitement and intrigue, and anyone could take it. Flip a coin. I like the champ, by something like a couple of 48-47's and a 49-46. It will be close, it will be awesome, and guys will be flying all over the place. Edgar by decision.
All time picks record: 15-11
Last event picks record: 2-3