A superfight with a superfreak, rehabilitation fights, contender fights, “I deserve to be here” fights, and just plain scraps. This card promises a lot and will almost certainly sell well. I expect to be entertained, but most of all, I expect to improve my 52-31-1 (61.9%) General Public Prediction Record and shore up my current Public Bet History of -7.95u. While I’ve been on a slide of bad luck lately, punctuated with the abysmal WEC 36 card, where even my safe bet on Faber fell apart, I’ve redoubled my efforts at researching for this card and I think that in addition to enjoying the fights, I’ll be enjoying the money back in my pocket.
Champ Randy Couture (+105) vs. Brock Lesnar (-135)
Love ‘em or hate ‘em; deserving or undeserving; whatever you think of the individuals fighting in this bout, there’s no denying it’s compelling matchmaking and should produce an exciting fight. The fighters are well-matched, and the action could produce a wide variety of outcomes, and will certainly test both fighters in a variety of ways. In short, it has all the makings of a classic fight, and certainly has a tremendous amount of divisional importance.
Most obviously, there’s the pure physical matchup. Couture is a rock-solid 230 lbs, and is a very strong guy even for that impressive size. He multiplies this advantaged through superior technical wrestling, which would let him ‘overpower’ a stronger man simply by using his strength in more efficient ways. Couture has also always demonstrated impressive cardio, although this is, again, aided by his wrestling – his opponent has to work harder than Randy does, because Randy is working more efficiently. This was somewhat evident in the Mike van Arsdale fight, as Randy noticeably slowed down in the later rounds while wrestling to a standstill with van Arsdale (although Mike was completely gassed at the end of the fight). This could mean that, should the wrestling be competitive, Couture will tire out. It must be noted, as well, that Couture is a 45 year old man coming off a 14 month layoff. Randy has made a career off overcoming these expectations, but the reality is that, one day, Couture will wake up and be an old man. Nobody has ever beaten father time over the long run, and I doubt Couture will be the first.
As far as Lesnar goes, the physical attributes are well-known. The guy is a mutant, a freak, a man-beast. He will walk into the octagon with about 50 pounds on Couture, all of it muscle. Beyond being an enormous and powerful guy, he’s also so fast its scary. I thought he was going to literally kill Frank Mir once I saw him flailing away, and rolling over Heath Herring like a freight train in the opening moments of their fight was pretty impressive. All hyperbole aside, it’s important to remember that Lesnar is not the incredible hulk, or even superman. When he clinched up with Herring and wasn’t in a good position, he couldn’t simply throw Heath across the ring and kill him; when Mir had him in a kneebar, Lesnar was unable to simply rip Mir’s legs off. Lesnar is a big strong freak, but he’s still human and there are limits to what sheer athletic potential will do for you if it’s misapplied (ask Kevin Randleman).
A lot of people are predicting that Couture will submit Lesnar. To be honest, I don’t know what these people are smoking. Couture has never worked well off his back, has two career submissions, neither of which was particularly impressive, and rarely even goes for submissions. Yes Couture had a draw with Jacare in a grappling match, but Randy just wrestled the whole time. A submission to anything other than strikes is exceedingly unlikely in this fight.
More interesting is the standup battle. Lesnar will have quite a bit of reach on Randy, despite their similar heights, due to the width of his chest and the length of his arms. However, basically all we’ve seen of Lesnar’s standup is the one spear-punch he landed on Herring, which rolled him across the ring like a cartoon. Randy had a similarly huge punch on Tim Sylvia, but the flash and bang of that punch distract from the fact that Couture at various points outboxed Chuck Liddell, Vitor Belfort, and Pedro Rizzo. Couture boxed in the army and has developed into a decent striker. I’m sure Lesnar is working diligently on his striking, but he will almost assuredly be technically far behind Couture. Couture has never shown himself to be a big power puncher, and Lesnar can reasonably be expected to be a fairly hard-nosed and tough individual, although there is always the tendency for big men to go down to adversity, given that they’re so used to dominating, and we’ve certainly never seen Lesnar get tagged much in the standup. On the other hand, Couture has shown himself to be vulnerable to big shots, although Lesnar assuredly will not have the accuracy or timing that Chuck Liddell used to slice through Couture’s defenses twice. What Lesnar most certainly does have is battering power, which may rattle Couture. Couture has historically won standup exchanges by getting off first, and relying on his strikes landing to disrupt counter shots, so I don’t expect him to work fancy footwork to slip and evade Lesnar’s punches. Neither man wants to end up underneath the other, so the standup action may be dictated by fear of opening up and being taken down.
The meat of this fight, of course, will be those takedowns. Couture has never looked good off his back. Lesnar has never been on his back, but it’s safe to assume he’ll be very uncomfortable there. Who will take who down, and can they hold him there? Lesnar has an impressive college wrestling pedigree as a NCAA champion, whereas Couture managed to place 2nd several times. Couture, however, had a more distinguished international wrestling career (in that he had one) as an Olympic alternate. Size isn’t everything in wrestling, as Fujita vs. Bob Sapp showed us, but it sure counts for a lot, as Gray Maynard taught Frankie Edgar. Couture is going to have a very difficult time controlling Lesnar’s extra 50 lbs, and there’s simply no way around that. That’s not to say it’s impossible for Couture to put Lesnar on his back. While running through him with a power double is likely out of the question, no amount of muscle is going to prevent a takedown if Couture clinches with him and trips his legs out from under him. That said, Couture is going to have to work harder for every inch than Lesnar will. If Lesnar can even stalemate Couture, it’s in his favor, as the smaller man will exhaust himself working against Lesnar’s size.
In the clinch against Heath Herring, Lesnar sometimes looked passive, which could bode ill against a very active and aggressive Couture, who specializes in grinding people up and will certainly have a much wider offensive arsenal, although Lesnar’s knees basically folded Heath in half. I just have a hard time seeing Couture forcing Lesnar’s back against the cage and controlling him.
While Lesnar’s ground and pound was dilatory at best against Heath, that was the more intelligent fight. For all his faults, Heath is very tough, very good at protecting himself, and very squirmy and difficult to control on the ground. Lesnar showed a lot of fight maturity in not getting overexcited and trying to pop Heath’s head like a grape, and hopefully he can use the same sort of discipline against Couture. Randy is tough and has a big heart, but he simply doesn’t take damage as well as a guy like Herring. Again his age comes into play, as a 45 year old man is simply not as tough or resistant to injury as a younger one. Randy was flummoxed by Gonzaga’s concussive power at times, and got his arm broken. That may be a prelude to a TKO loss here, as Lesnar just batters him with knees to the body.
There are a lot of intangibles here as well. Both fighters have an incredible amount of pressure on them. At this stage in his career, every fight is make or break for Randy, and Brock certainly doesn’t want to lose to an old man that gave up 50 pounds to him. Couture has fought an enormous number of title fights, so he should be able to deal with this pressure, but Brock has only been out under the bright lights a few times, in MMA. However, Brock has the attitude of a habitual winner. He has a disregard for others who are not as athletically gifted as himself, which has lead to a Sarah Palin-esque level of unshakable self confidence. This could work for or against him. He could shrug off the doubts, remaining confident in his own ability to dominate and win, or he may be shocked that Randy is able to hang with him in the first round, and shell up, retreating inside himself like Mark Kerr.
Personally, I think that Lesnar’s power on the feet will be enough to match Couture’s superior technique, that Lesnar’s size will prove too much for Couture to reliably take down, and that Lesnar’s ground and pound will prove to be much more damaging and effective than it appeared to be against the constantly-rolling Herring. I don’t think Couture will be able to control Lesnar’s top game, should he end on his back, and I think Lesnar’s control is good enough to keep Couture from regaining his feet. I think that even if Couture can trip Lesnar down, there’s a good enough chance that Lesnar can explode back up to his feet that it isn’t a guaranteed loss.
In short, I expect Lesnar to take Couture down, dominate him, and TKO him within the time limit, establishing himself as a legitimate title challenger in the heavyweight division. Brock Lesnar by TKO round 2.
As far as betting goes, I like Lesnar at -130 or better. However, with lines moving strongly against Couture so far, the old man may become an attractive underdog by fight day. In addition to a play on Lesnar, I took a Prop that the fight would not go past the halfway point (2:30 of round 3) at favorable odds (+170). Couture has lost 8 times, and only one of those took longer than two and a half rounds. Furthermore, I feel that gives me insulation against Lesnar turning out to be unable to take a punch at all, or giving his back up for a quick RNC.
Kenny Florian (-180) vs. Joe Stevenson (+155)
Just as a disclaimer, I have a bad habit of underestimating Kenny Florian. I picked both Din Thomas and Roger Huerta to beat him, and ended up eating crow. The only strike Kenny throws with any power is his leg kick, he has good reach on his jab, but there’s very little on it. He has decent control with his jiu-jitsu, but he doesn’t have the kind of sudden sub finish threat that makes for a lethal grappler in MMA. He has acceptable wrestling, but he really just doesn’t have a lot of physical tools. Kenny is tough, well-rounded, well-conditioned and very game. He’s gotten this far by intelligently exploiting the mistakes his opponents make, which is great until your opponent forces you to make mistakes.
Stevenson’s biggest shortcoming is his height and reach. He’s not a small 155, however, just a short one. Against long, lean guys like Florian, Stevenson, should he get past their reach, will have a significant advantage in core strength and simple crushing power, which is one reason his guillotine is so dangerous. Stevenson is a competent striker though, using good head movement and short punches to get inside on his opponents, and he has a bit of pop in his hands. He also has a great fighting spirit and a good chin. Joe is difficult to control, and has a good defensive guard. He especially has a very dangerous guillotine, which he goes for early and often. If Florian gets too deep trying for a takedown, Joe might tap him with it.
This should be an exciting fight, because both guys are skilled, always work for a finish, but will have difficulty finishing each other. I guess Florian’s path to victory would be to control the standup from the outside and just pointfight for a decision with his jab. I just don’t see that working. Stevenson is much more versatile than Roger Huerta, and will not be so easily forced to endlessly repeat the same impotent combination. I think Joe can stay aggressive, get inside on Kenny, and land short punches. If Joe gets a grip on Kenny, I think that he can get a takedown and control and GnP Kenny, relying on his physical advantages. There’s also a decent chance that Kenny screws up and gets guillotined. Kenny is massively improved from when he first showed up on the ultimate fighter, and he is very intelligent and a true student of the game, so I’d be more disappointed than shocked if Kenny came out and proved me wrong, but I still expect Joe Stevenson by decision.
I have 1u on Joe Stevenson here, because, while this fight is close, I expect him to win, so there should be a good deal of value on him as an underdog.
Gabriel Gonzaga (-350) vs. Josh Hendricks (+340)
Gonzaga is a gorilla with a black belt, Hendricks is a heavyweight that can actually grapple a bit. Confidence in Gonzaga is at an all-time low after he’s proved twice in a row that he can’t handle adversity. Hendricks has a pretty shiny record, especially for a heavyweight, but it’s full of never-was losers that he dispatched in the first round. Should the fight go to the ground, Gonzaga is the class of the field, and on the feet he can still destroy people with his kicks, although it is certainly possible he’ll go down again if he starts getting beat up. I see no reason not to expect Gonzaga to easily handle Hendricks 9 times out of 10, however, making him a compelling bet at the current odds. Gabriel Gonzaga by submission round 1.
update – I have placed a bet on Gonzaga
Demian Maia (-240) vs. Nate Quarry (+195)
At first blush it seems like Quarry would be a good underdog bet. Maia has rudimentary standup, doesn’t come from a wrestling background, and Quarry has heavy hands and can wrestle a bit. Looking at their recent fights, however, tells a different story. Quarry has been ridiculously inactive because of his injuries, only fighting twice since Franklin crushed his spine Mortal Kombat style. In his first comeback fight, Quarry got outboxed and nearly knocked out by Pete Sell, getting his face mashed up pretty badly in between being taken down. Granted, Quarry eventually landed a shot that finished Sell immediately, but the overall fight doesn’t speak highly of Quarry’s skills beyond his chin and power. Quarry has a very robotic and stiff striking style, and I think even Kendall Grove would have outstruck him if Kendall hadn’t crapped his pants the instant his chin got touched. Maia doesn’t have fabulous hands, but he’s not Rani Yahya either. He knows how to throw a punch, and even tagged Jason Macdonald a few times in setting up takedowns. However, he isn’t under any kind of delusions that he’s a real kickboxer, and won’t work away from his greatest strength on the ground.
Maia, on the other hand, has demonstrated not only that nobody in the division should grapple with him, but that he can force a ground fight on good wrestlers, fighting for takedowns with reasonable success against Ed Herman, who is probably a better wrestler than Quarry.
Maia’s liabilities in this fight are twofold: First, Quarry has the power to knock him out. I expect Maia to be able to force a ground fight and control Quarry there, so this isn’t likely. Secondly, Maia has gassed badly in the late rounds of his fights, and Quarry is likely well-conditioned. I don’t think Maia will have to work too long to catch Nate in something, so this isn’t likely to hurt Maia either. Demian Maia by submission round 1.
Dustin Hazelett (-180) vs. Tamdan McCrory (+160)
This is an exciting fight, and it’s well worth missing out on Amir’s debut to have it on the main card. Hazelett has been a well-kept secret in the division, but the cat was out of the bag when he took off Josh Burkman’s arm with a flying armbar from a whizzer. Hazelett is gigantic for 170, although he’s more of a Marcus Aurelio type, where he’s just big and hard to move, but doesn’t seem to have crushing power over everyone he fights like a Sean Sherk. Hazelett is a two-dimensional fighter, in the style of Miguel Torres, largely ignoring wrestling for position in lieu of simply presenting a danger from any position. He has diligently improved his striking, which, while it still is fairly basic, has quite a bit of power in it, and his submission game is as good as anyone in the division. Hazelett’s only demonstrated weakness is that he can leave himself open to big shots on the feet, and seems to have a no more than average chin. When having one average attribute is your greatest known weakness, you have a pretty bright future ahead of you.
Tamdan is a very similar fighter to Hazelett, actually, with good striking, fabulous range, and a well-rounded and offense-oriented game. Tamdan was able to take the hapless Luke Cummo down at will and control and threaten him, but I doubt he can have the same kind of success on top of Hazelett. Tamdan is a very competent offensive grappler, but he does leave himself open, which is bad against a wolverine like Hazelett.
I expect a very technical display of MMA here. I’m not sure if Tamdan will try to keep it on the feet, where he may stand the best chance, or work his usual ground-and-pound, where he will be in constant danger. Dustin Hazelett by submission round 3.
I was able to find Hazelett at odds of -165, which I think was a steal. Anything Tamdan does, Hazelett does better, and Tamdan will have to play right into Dustin’s game, so I think Dustin has a very good lilihood of winning.
Jorge Gurgel (-125) vs. Aaron Riley (EVEN)
Does anyone have any faith that Gurgel will fight smarter and not just stand and bang it out with Aaron Riley? If anyone raised a hand, please be aware that Santa Claus is not real.
Even if Gurgel should play to his strengths and try to take Riley down and work jiu-jitsu, Riley is well-rounded and experienced enough that he could probably still beat Gurgel. In the real world, Gurgel is probably going to simply slug it out with Riley, and in a chin-for-chin battle, Aaron is going to win. Gurgel is a tough guy, and never stops fighting, but once he gets beat up the quality of his game falls straight out the window, so even if he’s still on his feet and the clock is still running, he’s effectively out of the fight. Aaron Riley by TKO round 3.
At the current even odds, I like Riley for a play. He opened as high as +145 at some books, which would be a wonderful play. I missed out on that, however.
Jeremy Stephens (-135) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (+115)
I think that Stephens simply has too much power for Rafael to be able to work his game. Anjos will be desperate, because he can’t survive on the feet, but Stephens can stall and endure on the ground. Either guy has a long way to go to prove they belong in the UFC. Jeremy Stephens by KO round 2.
Mark Bocek (-120) vs. Alvin Robinson (+110)
This is going to be a close fight, because each fighter’s weaknesses cancel out their strengths and visa versa. Bocek is terrible on the feet, and, while Alvin isn’t the second coming of Ramon Dekkers, he hits hard and can get after it and scrap. However, Bocek is a much better wrestler than Alvin, so he will be able to take the fight down if he isn’t immediately knocked out. On the ground, both are most comfortable, but Bocek is very heavy on top and will most likely be able to hold position. However, he doesn’t threaten with many submissions, and certainly doesn’t have aggressive ground-and-pound, and Alvin is pretty good defensively, so he likely won’t take too much damage. Bocek tends to gas out and leave too much space on top, which may give Alvin the space he needs to get out and do more damage, or (conceivably) land a submission. This fight is basically going to boil down to Robinson needing to either land a big shot before he gets taken down, or stay active enough that Bocek will gas out, and Bocek needing to maintain 2 rounds worth of control and protect himself from damage for another 29-28 decision. I just think Bocek has too many holes in his game to ride out a decision over a dangerous fighter like Robinson, and will eventually get tagged or just run out of gas and get stopped. Alvin Robinson by TKO round 3
Matt Brown (-200) vs. Ryan Thomas (+165)
It’s easy to forget the fact that Matt Brown is a .500 fighter. He was obviously outclassed by Dong Hyun Kim, but gritted his way to a split decision loss on toughness and cardio, wearing out the superior fighter and outlasting him. He’s going to need that kind of toughness against Thomas.
Thomas has good submissions and a wrestling background, a good style to beat the untechnical Matt Brown, but he’s fought mostly scrubs. Ben Saunders totally embarrassed him, but Ben is a much better grappler and has a much more varied game than Brown.
This fight is going to come down to takedowns and cardio. If Thomas can take Brown down, he’ll be on the path to victory, but Brown has a lot of heart and won’t fold easily. Thomas has the skills to submit Brown, but those skills go out the window if he takes too many shots to the grill. I think Brown’s reputation as a hardass is a bit undeserved, so I’ll make this my upset pick of the night. Ryan Thomas by submission, round 3.
There’s too much uncertainty in this fight for me to bet on Thomas at +165, but I may revise that later.
My Plays for UFC 91:
Parlay: .5u on Anderson Silva (won), Joe Stevenson (Open), and Nogueira over Mir (Open) to win 1.38u
1u on Joe Stevenson to win 1.5u
2u on Dustin Hazelett to win 1.21u
1u on Aaron Riley to win .95u
1u on Brock Lesnar to win .87u
1u on Lesnar/Couture not going past 2:30 of the 3rd round to win 1.7u
2u on Gabriel Gonzaga to win .5u (update!)