UFC 160 “Velasquez vs. Silva 2″ preliminary and main card breakdown

There’s so many cards these days, I almost forgot that there was a FREAKING HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT THIS WEEKEND!

Luckily, there are so many intriguing match-ups that it was easy for me to find the time to do a couple of breakdowns for MMACanada:

Preliminaries

Main Card

And what the heck, here are my official picks for the show (in bold):

Stephens v. Payan
Bowles v. Roop
Thompson v. Burrell
Nurmagomedov v. Trujillo (I never pick guys who miss weight)
Smith v. Whittaker (TUF: The Smashes ruled)
Bermudez v. Holloway
Pyle v. Story
Cerrone v. Noons
Maynard v. Grant (I hate to pick against my fellow Canadian here, but Maynard is just too good.  I’m rootin’ for ya TJ!)
Teixeira v. Te Huna
Dos Santos v. Hunt
Velasquez v. Silva

How (Not) To Pick A Fight II: The Lure Of The Unknown

I went a passable 8-5 on my picks this weekend, though that number is both better and worse than it sounds:

(my picks in bold)

UFC on FX 8

Martins d. Larsen
Formiga d. Cariaso
Lineker d. Gashimov
Maldonado d. Hollett
Alcantara d. Santos
Thiago d. Prazeres
Tibau d. Cholish
Massaranduba d. Rio
Lentz d. Dias
Natal d. Zeferino
Dos Anjos d. Dunham
Souza d. Camozzi
Belfort d. Rockhold

On one hand, I was 7-2 after the preliminaries and that’s where I make my bones.  Picking main card fights should be easy since we usually know so much more about the participants, but scouring for information on newer fighters and making legitimate educated guesses takes time and effort.  It’s something a fan can take pride in.

On the other hand, this means I went 1-3 on the “easy” main card picks.  The Rafael dos Anjos/Evan Dunham tilt was as close as expected and really could have gone either way on the scorecards, so I don’t feel too badly about that.  Where I have some regrets is with the João Zeferino and Luke Rockhold losses.  In both cases, I went with the lesser known fighters and in both cases their relative anonymity swayed my decision.  Why is that?

The last time I wrote about my problems with picking fights, I cited two factors that trip me up: personal bias and a desire to see certain storylines play out.  The latter played into my Rockhold pick as I wanted to see the “young lion” triumph over the “rejuvenated” (read: cheating) veteran, but there was more to it than that.  With Michel Prazeres (who also carried the always enticing “mystique of the undefeated fighter”), Zeferino and Rockhold, I simply went with the fighter that was fresher.  I’ve seen less of their fights and consequently, less of their flaws.

I talked myself into Paulo Thiago being on his way out and the UFC selecting Prazeres to be the one to hand him the pink slip.  Even though I’ve seen Thiago at his best, all that was stuck in my mind were his recent failures: getting outworked by Diego Sanchez, out-struck by Martin Kampmann, and outwrestled by Dong Hyun Kim.  Not to mention getting dropped in under a minute by Siyar Bahadurzada.  My entire pick was based on Thiago’s shortcomings, not Prazeres’ strengths.  Sure, I’d looked up a few of his fights, but that is about as accurate as a high school basketball prospect’s “mix tape”.  You don’t know how that kid will pan out in the NBA and I didn’t know how Prazeres would fare in the UFC.  I made an uneducated guess.

Zeferino was the same thing.  I watched enough footage of him to know that he can put one foot in front of the other and that was enough for me because what I’d seen of Rafael Natal didn’t impress me.  I ignored the size advantage of Natal and the fact that he battles with UFC competition, the top 1% of mixed martial artists in the entire world.  It was a good competitive fight and Zeferino didn’t embarrass himself by any stretch, but that fight made the newcomers 0-2.

(If you’re wondering why this rule doesn’t apply to Jacaré Souza, the fact is that even though this was his first UFC fight, he’s still a better known commodity than Chris Camozzi based both on his international success and his Strikeforce experience.  Jacaré has been fighting UFC calibre competition for the majority of his career so he was the logical pick no matter how you slice it.)

In the case of Rockhold, you could argue that he’s had plenty of mainstream exposure so picking him was reasonable, but personally I was picking against Belfort more than I was supporting Rockhold.  Having fought for several major promotions since 1996, fans have had convenient access to 90% of Belfort’s matches, which is nearly unheard of (only Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Frank Mir and a handful of Ultimate Fighter contestants have enjoyed similar exposure).  As it is, there’s the sense that we’ve seen everything The Phenom has to offer.  A fighter like Rockhold, a proven champion who is still fresh to the MMA scene, should be just the guy to use a legend like Belfort as a stepping stone.  Rockhold has a career rife with possibilities; Belfort is an old dog.

Then again, that old dog’s tricks include spinning heel kicks apparently.

It’s tempting to pick unknowns to topple UFC veterans because when it happens, I feel smart.  Like I was in on some secret all along that everyone else is just figuring out.  The problem is that that temptation often flies in the face of good sense.  There’s a reason that fighters like Natal and Thiago keep getting their number called.  None of this is to say that veterans should always be picked over neophytes, only that data needs to be viewed objectively and not selectively.  New fighters have weaknesses just like old ones.  I, for one, will steer myself away from making certain picks just to look “cool”.  Nobody likes an MMA hipster.

UFC on FX 8: “Rockhold v. Belfort” Preview & Predictions

Sorry for the lack of updates this week (especially regarding the Lightweight Rankings series) but I had to focus on another assignment. The good folks over at MMACanada.net have posted one of my articles! Check out the preview for tonight’s UFC on FX 8 card and leave a comment if you have the time.

While I’m here, may as well post my fight picks in their entirety: Martins, Formiga, Lineker, Maldonado, Alcantara, Prazeres, Tibau, Massaranduba, Dias, Zeferino, Dunham, Jacaré, Rockhold

Don’t forget to tune in tonight! It’s free and free is a very good price.

The UFC Lightweight Rankings (Unranked, 64-48): The Deep End Of The Ocean

In pro wrestling parlance, one might describe the UFC as currently being in the midst of a Strikeforce invasion.  Lightweight is the deepest division in all of mixed martial arts, most likely due to it being the weight class that accommodates the widest and most common range of athletic male body types.  With the acquisition of the Strikeforce roster, it was only a matter of time until their 155ers got to strut their stuff.  I’m not sure anyone could have predicted how successful they would be.  The invaders have already started to steal roster spots from the incumbent UFC fighters and even in losing, Gilbert Melendez, the reigning Strikeforce champion, looked like he was more than a match for UFC champion Ben Henderson.

Along with welterweight, there’s no harder group to sort out than lightweight and I’d been planning to save it for the end of my rankings project.  You know what?  Let’s jump right into the deep end.  First, a quick refresher of my personal guidelines (which I promise to follow unless I don’t):

  • I place a heavy emphasis on success in UFC contests; I consider two straight in the UFC to be on par with ten straight and only one win in the UFC
  • I place a heavy emphasis on success in your division; if you’re a top 10 featherweight and you move up to lightweight you are not automatically a top 10 lightweight.  However, based on past performances it is possible to make educated guesses on who a fighter could beat in their new division
  • To achieve top 10 status, you need to beat a top 10 opponent or dominate several top 20 opponents.  A top 10 ranking is a huge achievement for any fighter and it must be earned properly.  That said, you beat someone and you take their spot, even if it’s a fluke: a win is a win
  • Subjectivity is a necessary evil.  When you get closer to the top of the rankings, it becomes much harder to separate individuals and this is where opinion and analysis can cause rankings to differ greatly
  • Fighter’s records are listed as UFC record first (as well as post-Zuffa WEC record if applicable), overall record second (NC = No Contest), current overall winning/losing streak 3rd (W = winning streak, L = losing streak, D = draw)
  • For fighters with less than three UFC appearances, I might refer to their last three non-UFC fights for reference; in these situations the combined record is meant to reflect their records at the time they fought the fighter in question

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Unranked

John Maguire (2-2 UFC, 18-5, L2) (Tsunami Gym) – transitioning from welterweight

Maguire was riding a 7 fight win streak before running into John Hathaway.  He’s a big name in the UK MMA scene and he’s known for being a great grappler.  He makes his lightweight debut in June at UFC 161.

Adriano Martins (0-0 UFC, 24-6, W5) (Top Life Amazonas) – yet to debut

Let the Strikeforce import discussion begin.  The 30 year old Martins has a wealth of professional experience with 30 career fights, though he’s had mixed results against top competition.  He’s coming off a breakthrough performance against famed jiu-jitsu ace and UFC vet Jorge Gurgel in his lone Strikeforce appearance and he awaits a booking.

KJ Noons (0-0 UFC, 11-6, L2) (The Arena) – yet to debut

Despite having a pedestrian record of 3-4 during his time with Strikeforce, he was one of the organization’s marquee fighters.  Noons strung together back to back wins over Nick Diaz (via cut stoppage) and Yves Edwards in the now defunct EliteXC promotion and he entered Strikeforce with serious credentials.  Blessed with good looks and some of the most technically proficient hands in the business, Noons was on the cusp of stardom before falling victim to Strikeforce’s screwy booking.  He found himself in a rematch with Diaz for the welterweight title, but 170 was not an ideal weight for him and he fell short in an exciting contest.

He ended his Strikeforce tenure on a 1-4 skid, but he’s a “fighter’s fighter”, a true mixed martial artist who dabbles in boxing and kickboxing on the side.  The matchmakers are well aware of his penchant for exciting stand-up battles and they’ve set him up with “The Cowboy” Donald Cerrone for his UFC debut.  That might seem like a raw deal for Cerrone, a top 10 lightweight, but he’s never been one to pick and choose his opponents and I’ll bet both guys will appreciate the fight night bonuses they’re in line for.

Aaron Riley (3-5 UFC, 30-13-1, L1) (Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts) – inactive since September 2011

Poor Aaron Riley.  The well travelled fighter has experienced some gruesome losses, twice being stopped due to a broken jaw.  A long time advocate of self-management, you have to think his inactivity is due to both lingering injuries and having to juggle the various aspects of his career.  That said, he’s still employed by the UFC so it can’t be all bad.  He’s booked to face Justin Salas in July (knock on wood).

Sean Sherk (8-4 UFC, 34-4-1, W1) (Minnesota Martial Arts Academy) – inactive since September 2010

As Mark Twain once quipped: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  As with Riley, Sherk has been dealing with injuries that have prevented a comeback, the cost of a life in combat sports that includes over 40 fights.  His resume remains one of the most impressive of any fighter, with his 4 career losses coming against Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar, all world champions.  You can’t blame “The Muscle Shark” for wanting to get back into the cage especially when you consider that his best days came when fighters were still making peanuts and even discussing the idea that MMA would be featured on national television would probably be grounds for an immediate drug test.  Sherk is looking for one last piece of the pie.

Paul Taylor (4-5 UFC, 11-6-1 [1 NC], W1) (Team Supreme) – inactive since February 2011

Going 3-3 in your first 6 UFC appearances might not seem that impressive, but when you consider that Taylor either earned a victory or a “Fight of the Night” award for all 3 of his losing efforts, you can see why he remains one of English MMA’s ambassadors.  “Relentless” has suffered from extraordinarily bad luck since knocking out Gabe Ruediger at UFC 126.  He’s been forced to miss his last 3 bookings due to injuries that include a broken foot and whiplash from a car accident.  The UFC remains patient with the snake bitten Briton.

James Vick (0-0 UFC, 4-0, W4) (Team Lloyd Irvin) – yet to debut

Vick deprived us of getting to see a gay porn actor inhabit the Ultimate Fighter house, defeating the controversial Dakota Cochrane in the preliminary rounds of TUF: Live.  I’m not sure I can ever forgive him for this.

A member of Team Cruz, the 6’3” bean pole from Texas reeked of untapped potential.  He made it to the semi-finals before losing to eventual winner Michael Chiesa.  Because of the stupid live format, the knockout kept Vick from being able to compete at the finale and he’s been on the shelf since.  Giant size lightweights who are able to rapidly absorb high level training are few and far between, so Vick is an intriguing prospect.

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The Lightweight Rankings

64. Mitch Clarke (0-2 UFC, 9-2, L2) (Hayabusa Training Centre)

Clarke may as well change his nickname to “Canadian Content”.  A budding star up north, Clarke was called up to the big time for the UFC’s second trip to Toronto where he lost to John Cholish.  His popularity in Alberta lead to him getting another chance against Anton Kuivanen in Calgary where he fared better, but still ended up dropping a split decision.  Normally this is where a fighter would get sent back to the regional circuit, but with the UFC making its debut in Winnipeg, Clarke is getting one more shot to stay on the roster.

63. Jeremy Larsen (0-1 UFC, 8-3, L1) (Arizona Combat Sports)

I’m not going to lie: I could have sworn this guy got released.  That’s normally what happens to TUF contestants who lose their fights at the finale, but the UFC must know something I don’t because he’s getting a nice trip to Brazil for May’s UFC on FX 8 show.  Huh.

62. Vinc Pichel (0-1 UFC, 6-1, L1) (Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy)

One reason I do these rankings is to provide a guide for the rapidly changing UFC roster and it helps if a guy has a memorable moment or hook for me to write about.  I could mention Pichel’s solid showing on TUF: Live, but there’s no getting around the fact that he’s most well known for being on the receiving end of this Rustam Khabilov barrage:

61. Yancy Medeiros (0-1 UFC, 9-1, L1) (Team Hakuilua)

Another fighter with a spotless pre-UFC record ruined by the wrestling of Khabilov.  In Medeiros’ case, he dislocated his thumb while defending a takedown and thus lost by TKO due to injury.  The dislocation happened in the middle of the 1st round so he wasn’t given much of a chance to show off what he can do (though he has two Strikeforce victories under his belt).  Since debuting in 2007, Medeiros has dropped three weight classes and at only 25 has plenty of time to bounce back from this stalled start.

60. Lucas Martins (0-1 UFC, 12-1, L1) (Chute Box)

The Chute Box camp is synonymous with “bad ass” in the MMA world and Martins is no exception.  The 25 year old Brazilian came into the UFC with an undefeated record having finished 11 of his first 12 opponents.  He did the company a solid by taking a fight with Edson Barboza on short notice, but Barboza remains one of the toughest outs at 155 and Martins didn’t make it out of the first round.  He fights in May and I’m betting he’ll look a lot better with a full training camp.

59. Zhang Tie Quan (1-3 UFC, 1-1 WEC, 15-4, L3) (China Top Team)

It’s no secret that the UFC is eager to expand into China (what smart business isn’t?) and for a brief moment, Tie Quan looked to be a major player in that expansion.  He blazed a path through the shallow Asian MMA scene finishing all of his opponents before getting a shot with World Extreme Cagefighting, where he submitted Pablo Garza in the first round.  “The Mongolian Wolf” has gone 1-4 since then, recently returning to lightweight in a losing effort against Jon Tuck.  He remains an important part of the UFC’s plans, but with the Tuerxun Jumabieke signing, Tie Quan’s position in the company has become a lot more tenuous.

58. Joe Proctor (1-1 UFC, 8-2, L1) (Team Aggression)

Like Pichel, Proctor had a respectable showing on TUF: Live and even won his first official UFC fight, knocking out Jeremy Larsen inside of two minutes.  He’s got a thick Boston accent that makes want to slap him, but considering he’s in the UFC and I’m not, that would probably end badly for me.

57. Cristiano Marcello (1-2 UFC, 13-5, L1) (CM System)

The BJJ master to the stars!  I first heard of Marcello when he appeared on TUF: Live, where he was billed as having been the head grappling instructor for fighters like Shogun Rua and Wanderlei Silva.  Of course, like many BJJ experts who become mixed martial artists, he somehow got it in his mind to show off his kickboxing skills and he ended up getting taken out by Justin Lawrence.  A one-time PRIDE veteran, Marcello has managed to hang on despite not looking particularly impressive in any of his UFC fights (his split decision win over Reza Madadi was widely disputed).

Then again, there will always be the time he choked out Charles Bennett.  Legend has it that the man they called “Krazy Horse” was challenging the validity of MMA and when you’re in a room full of Brazilians, this can be the only outcome:

56. Ryan Couture (0-1 UFC, 6-2, L1) (Xtreme Couture)

Don’t let this low ranking fool you, I actually think highly of the son of the great Randy Couture.  He’s been under an unfair level of scrutiny since debuting in 2010, with some feeling that his name was the only reason he got to make his professional debut with Strikeforce (he had actually compiled a decent amateur record up to that point).  He dropped a decision to Matt Ricehouse in his third fight, which only provided more ammo to his critics.  He ended up going 6-1 for Strikeforce, including a close split decision win over Noons.

In his UFC debut he was thrown to the wolves against lethal striker Ross Pearson.  Couture looked good in the first round, but Pearson eventually settled into a rhythm and after that it was lights out for Couture.  If he’s anything like his father, this will only be a temporary setback.

On a side note, Couture is one of the first fighters to feel the pressure of being a second generation UFC competitor.  Add in the fact that his father is one of the most famous mixed martial artists of all time and it will be difficult, if not impossible for him to live up to his legacy.  At worst, I think he’ll end up like Ric Flair’s kid, David.  David Flair is a former WCW United States champion and WCW Tag Team champion (Crowbar, represent!) and he once dated Stacy Keibler, meaning George Clooney is getting the Nature Boy’s boy’s sloppy seconds.  Truly a list of accomplishments most men can only dream of.

55. Mike Rio (1-0 UFC, 9-1, W3) (Young Tigers/Zen Jiu-Jitsu)

Rio (who looks like the lovechild of 90s era Eddie Vedder and Wolverine) is the owner of one of the best porn names in all of MMA.  He’s quietly riding a 3 fight win streak after dispatching John Cofer with an armbar, but he’s got a tough task ahead of him when he meets Francisco Trinaldo at UFC on Fox 8.

54. Jon Tuck (1-0 UFC, 7-0, W7) (The Arena)

Tuck is a well respected BJJ competitor who actually fell short in his first taste of UFC competition, dropping a decision to Al Iaquinta in the TUF: Live qualifying round.  He’s been dabbling in MMA for the last 6 years, finishing all of his opponents in the first round before spoiling Tie Quan’s return to his homeland when the UFC visited Macao.

Here he is knocking out top Asian prospect Eduard Folayang in 8 seconds:

53. Justin Salas (1-1 UFC, 10-4, L1) (Grudge Training Center)

A win over UFC veteran Rob Emerson put Salas on Zuffa’s radar and a year later he was celebrating his first victory in the octagon against Kuivanen.  Salas was born out of the mining and wrestling culture of Wyoming and survived mostly on instinct until he decided to crack down and join up with the big boys at the Grudge Training Center.  For more information, check out this excellent 2011 story by Kyle Nagel.

52. Mike Ricci (1-1 UFC, 8-3, W1) (Tristar Gym)

Whenever I have to write about anything relating to the sixteenth season of TUF, I die a little inside…but it must be done.  Ricci was the early favourite to win the season and he made a name for himself with his finishing ability and his stand-offish, occasionally arrogant behaviour.  He further antagonized viewers when he delivered a lifeless performance in the finals and then did just enough to scrape out a win over Colin Fletcher in his next appearance.  He might still have a job, but he has failed to impress.

51. Rafaello Oliveira (2-4 UFC, 16-5, W1) (AMA Fight Club)

Oliveira’s 2-4 UFC record is actually spread across two separate stints with the company, so it’s not as bad as it looks.  Of his 5 career losses, 3 have come against quality opponents like Nik Lentz, Gleison Tibau and Yves Edwards.

In glancing at his record and the records of his opponents, I remembered one of the reasons I enjoy researching this kind of thing: obscure opponents with wacky names.  Case in point, Oliveira’s third fight was against Fabio Fabio, who carries a sterling record of 0-6 including a recent loss to Bibi Bibi.  Though I’m not sure anything will beat Liz Carmouche’s first opponent being listed as “Unknown Fighter”, which suggests some Bloodsport level shenanigans.

50. Al Iaquinta (0-1 UFC, 5-2-1, L1) (Serra-Longo Fight Team)

What separates Iaquinta from the other winless lightweights is a split decision victory over Myles Jury in the TUF: Live opening round.  I’m aware that TUF fights are considered exhibitions and should be taken with a grain of salt considering the unique circumstances surrounding the competition, but these are the factors that must be weighed when attempting to make any differentiation this early in the rankings.

There isn’t much else to say about him as being devoid of any noticeable personality is what distinguished him on the show.  A bout at the recent UFC 159 was scrapped by injuries to Iaquinta and his opponent, meaning it will be a while longer before he can be re-evaluated.

49. Kazuki Tokudome (1-0 UFC, 12-3, W3) (Paraestra Hachioji)

Boxing and judo practitioner Tokudome was brought in as a local attraction to fight in Japan, but his UFC career is off to a fine start with a win over Marcello.  What made it impressive was how he expertly mixed striking and takedowns, while controlling a respected grappler on the ground.  He’s scheduled to face TUF: The Smashes lightweight winner Norman Parke in July.

48. Norman Parke (1-0 UFC, 17-2, W7) (Next Generation Northern Ireland/Drysdale MMA)

Speaking of Parke, the Irishman almost ruined his chances at making it to the big show when he was caught using a cell phone on the Australian edition of TUF.  Even worse, he was sending out the result of his fight to his girlfriend.  Dana White showed surprising restraint in not tossing the guilty parties out of the house and maybe it’s because he saw the potential in Parke.  It’s fair to say that Parke rewarded him by winning the TUF: The Smashes lightweight tournament.  Parke had a noticeable size advantage over all of his opponents and he used a suffocating top game to grind out decisions.  The lightweight division is packed with strong wrestlers, so Parke is going to have to round out his game if he hopes to make it past Tokudome.

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One thing that leaps out at you when looking at the bottom rung here is the amount of fighters who got their start through TUF.  Say what you will about the show’s inability to produce stars, the program has proven more than capable of filling out the ranks and unearthing the occasional gem.  In that sense, it has served the same purpose that it has since the heyday of Forrest Griffin, Diego Sanchez and the rest: giving exposure to fighters to allow them to be viewed as legitimate cage fighters by the general public.  While there comes a point where the snake begins to devour its own tail (if a TUF veteran defeats a TUF veteran isn’t that kind of like dividing by zero?), these men are necessary for completing fight cards and they might even produce the occasional highlight…or at least be involved in one: