Friday, August 24, 2007

UFC 74 Pre-Fight Jitters

Anyone else get that anxious feeling the day before a big event? The odds are that the only physical activity I'll be doing during the fights is getting up for some more White Castle, but I feel as if I'm fighting tomorrow.

Anyway, here's how I see tomorrow night's UFC 74 card. Please note that my picks are a combination of whom I think will win, as well as whom I want to win.

Randy Couture vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

I truly believe that Gonzaga has the right combination of size, power, grappling, submission skills, and striking to dethrone the older, smaller Randy Couture. Gonzaga's stand-up attack benefited greatly from his time with Wanderlei Silva, Shogun Rua, and the rest of the Chute Boxe guys a few years back, and we all saw how dangerous he could be from inside the guard. Wanderlei and Rua have each said, on separate occasions, that they believe Gonzaga has the tools to defeat Couture.

Nonetheless, my heart is with Randy tomorrow. I didn't think he could beat Liddell, and he did. I didn't think he could beat Belfort, and he did. I thought, for sure, that Sylvia would overwhelm the newly un-retired Randy. Wrong again. I believe that tomorrow night we'll see a Randy Couture that's better than the one who beat up on Tim Sylvia at UFC 68. No one devises and executes a game plan like Randy (well, maybe Fedor), whose game is constantly evolving and surprising millions.

My Pick: Randy Couture

Roger Huerta vs. Alberto Crane

I think Huerta has a lot to lose in this fight. If he wins, look for him to be in the forefront of the lightweight championship picture. He's young, the ladies seem to dig him, he's got a great story, and he speaks Spanish: Dana's all over that. In Crane, Huerta definitely faces his toughest opponent to date, so don't buy into all the ridiculousness about Huerta only fighting UFC first-timers.

Well, that is true, but Crane is a King of the Cage lightweight world champion and a Ring of Fire lightweight champion. He earned a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from the Gracie Barra academy in Rio de Janeiro and is a former world jiu-jitsu champion and three-time Brazilian National jiu-jitsu champion. Not to mention that he's also a highly decorated grappler.

My Pick: Albert Crane (upset of the night!)

Josh Koscheck vs. Georges St-Pierre

Luke Cummo said it best: "This fight will be a battle of athleticism." Both are supremely athletic, but as I've said all along, I think that GSP does a better job of putting it all together as a mixed martial artist.

I know that the UFC wants us to believe that Koscheck is more than just a wrestler and that his much-improved striking is also a dangerous weapon, but I'm not buying it. In fact, the UFC seems to have had a tough time collecting highlights of Koscheck on his feet. How many times do we need to see Koscheck land a stiff jab to Diego Sanchez' forehead in slow motion??? His highlight reel even shows him throwing the same head kick (that did not connect) to Diego from different angles -- also in slow motion. Diego Sanchez virtually stood in front of Koscheck as if he wanted to box him, and although Koscheck was the aggressor, he didn't seem to overwhelm Diego with his striking.

In the days leading up to the fight, Koscheck seems to be pulling a Rashad Evans - an obvious attempt to show some "personality" by offering dim-witted, obviously fabricated trash talk, which I find both frustrating and amusing.

I think that GSP will come out with his head in the right place and give Koscheck the beating that Diego didn't. Look for an improved guard game from GSP, and don't be surprised by GSP's surprisingly good wrestling. GSP is the better fighter and will show the world that tomorrow night.

My pick: GSP (all day)

Joe Stevenson vs. Kurt Pellegrino

Joe Daddy is a Kodiak MMA favorite, and I think that a win over Pellegrino would catapult him to the forefront of the UFC lightweight class. Joe Daddy has had a pretty easy run as a lightweight, overpowering and choking out both Melvin Guillard and Dokonjonosuke Mishima.

Pellegrino is a bad-ass wrestler with great jiu-jitsu who will surely be fighting with friend and Team Armory stablemate Hermes Franca in mind. Pellegrino is a decorated grappler whose strength lies in his takedown abilities, particularly his slams. His stand-up game, however, has been underwhelming in the UFC.

Not only is Joe Daddy himself an accomplished wrestler, but if Pellegrino goes in for a takedown, sticks his head in the wrong place, and gives Joe an opportunity to slap those powerful arms around Pellegrino's neck, we might very well see The Daddy earn a third consecutive submission win by choke. Not that crazy a scenario, actually.

Overall, I think that Joe is a stronger, more experienced fighter with far superior striking. Look for Joe to keep this one on the feet for as long as he can.

My Pick: Joe "Daddy" Stevenson

Patrick Cote vs. Kendall Grove

I've been waiting for Grove to make a big splash in the middleweight division, and I think this is the fight in which he'll do it.

Cote is definitely a tough striker, but I think that Grove presents a lot of problems for Cote. At 6'6" Grove is a nightmare in the clinch - knees, elbows, punches, everything. Grove has also been working out as part of Xtreme Couture, so we can expect a solid takedown and submission defenses from the big Hawaiian. Cote loves to bang (even though his most recent win over Scott Smith was lackluster) but so does Grove, who attacks with relentless precision.

Stylistically, a forward-charging slugger with decent submission skills, like Cote, is a good match for someone like Grove, who can punish you in a number of ways. And based on how Cote looked against Scott Smith, whose not nearly as complete a striker as Grove, Cote's best chance at victory is a knockout blow.

My Pick: Kendall Grove

Renato "Babalu" Sobral vs. Davis Heath

Simply put, Babalu needs this win. Badly. He's lost his last two UFC fights and did so in similar fashion: he rushed in against powerful strikers and was dropped. Babalu said that if he loses this fight, he's retiring (which I don't entirely believe). Regardless, the 205-lb. division is deeper than ever, and babalu can't affords to slide too far down the food chain.

To his credit, Babalu has defeated Shogun Rua, Jeremy Horn, and Trevor Prangley in one night (as part of a 2003 IFC event), and he once went the distance with Fedor Emelianenko. Babalu's grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu is top-notch, while Heath is primarily a boxer. If Heath comes in swinging, looking for the big punch, Babalu will take him apart with his submission game. Heath is no Chuck Liddell, and Babalu (hopefully) knows better than to abandon his jiu-jitsu skills in favor of banging away with a puncher like Heath.

My Pick: Babalu Sobral

Clay Guida vs. Marcus Aurelio

If you don't know about Aurelio, you might be in for quite a treat. "Maximus" is a former Pride Bushido star who has excellent jiu-jitsu, solid takedowns, and a win over Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi. He's coming off of two losses, while his Guida, despite losing a bullshit split decision to Tyson Griffin at UFC 72 and another decision loss to Din Thomas before that, seems to have momentum on his side.

Guida is non-stop action and he seems to transiotion well from one aspect of the fight game to another. Guida is an excellent groundfighter with furious strength and speed and fast hands that he's more than willing to let fly. Guida has faced top competition in Din Thomas and Tyson Griffin, and I think that he'll be more than ready for Aurelio, who hasn't looked too good recently. I think that Guida's athleticism, skill, and conditioning will win it for him.

My Pick: Clay Guida

Frank Mir vs. Antoni Hardonk

With the recent additions to the UFC heavyweight divsion, it might be hard for some fans to really get excited for this fight. Hardonk is a relative unknown to most UFC fans, Mir has looked unimpressive since the motorcycle accident and surgery that forced him to vacate his heavyweight belt, and this fight has neither title nor top contender implications.

But still, I'd love to see the very talented, very skilled Mir fulfill the promise of his vast potential with an impressive showing. If not, we probably won't be seeing too much more of Frank Mir in the UFC.

My Pick: Frank Mir

Thales Leites vs. Ryan Jensen

Jensen is a long-time middleweight who has good submission skills and loves to stand and bang. He's enjoyed success in several smaller promotions, but better bring his A-game against a very dangerous Thales Leites.

Against Pete Sell and Floyd Sword, Leites has shown that he has the striking, ground-and-pound, and submission game to be a real force in the UFC middleweight division. Leites' black belt jiu-jitsu skills should ward off any submission attempts from Jensen, and based on how effectively pounded away on a very strong Pete Sell back at UFC 69, I expect Leites to pick up his third straight UFC win.

My Pick: Thales Leites

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