UFC 92 Preview – Ultimate 2008 indeed!

By Nicholas Bailey (

Ultimate 2008 indeed. This card brings us two sterling matchups in the prestige division of MMA, light-heavyweight, featuring four of the best fighters in the world. While that alone would be enough to make this a must-see card, we also get a bout featuring a living legend in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, as well as a variety of fights from talented and exciting fighters.

I can hardly imagine a better Christmas present than curling up on a cold holiday night with a nice steaming bowl of MMA. Have a happy holiday, dear readers, and as always, enjoy the fights.

Champ Forrest Griffin (-130) vs. Rashad Evans (+105) (for UFC light heavyweight title)

Rashad is still riding the excitement of his monsterous KO of division fixture Chuck Lidell, while Forrest seems to have answered all questions about his ability in crippling Rampage Jackson in a very tightly contested decision. Surprisingly, while both fighters entered those fights as heavy underdogs, the consensus seems to be that those victories have established each of these fighters as top dogs in the division, taking the revered places formerly occupied by their vanquished adversaries.

I think Forrest rightly deserves that position, but Rashad has a long way to go to show he truly belongs. Rashad has a very unusual style of fighting, where he does very little, but seems to use what little he does to cause his opponent to do even less. (I would suggest comparing Rashad’s FightMetric stats to other winning fighters.)

Forrest has an unusual fighting style as well-defending his weaknesses while using controlled offense to slowly grind his opponents down.

Rashad has power but I don’t think he is going to be able to reliably land punches like the one he did on Chuck. Chuck famously has poor defense and just eats shots to the face. Forrest knows he doesn’t have the same kind of chin chuck does, so he will protect himself. He also won’t get as frustrated as Chuck did if Rashad tries to slow the fight down to his crippled mutant pace. Rashad also is giving up several inches of height and reach to Forrest, so it will be very hard for him to get ahead of Griffin there. Forrest doesn’t have an outstanding chin, but I seriously doubt Rashad is going to test it very thoroughly, having to come through Forrest’s long range kicks and jabs to get to him.

I think Forrest can stop Rashad’s takedowns. He’s a much bigger man, and very good at using his size to wear down opponents. Rashad had serious trouble wrestling with Tito, and didn’t really dominate Bisping the way a monster wrestler should if he wants to take Forrest down.

I think Rashad’s nervous energy, failed takedowns, and difficulty in getting past Forrest’s reach will wear him out by the third round, in a fight that’s more meat and potatoes than fireworks. Forrest doesn’t have the kind of killer offense to put a decisive finish together on a talented fighter like Rashad without Evans being horribly gassed, but it might happen if the damage just starts to accumulate.

While this is a very important fight, so the importance might lend it excitement, I don’t think that we will see any big explosions for the highlight reel from either man here. Forrest Griffin by decision.

I think Forrest’s chances are a bit better than the current -130 odds would indicate, so I’ve made a play on him.

(Interim Champion) Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (-350) vs. Frank Mir (+305) (for interim UFC heavyweight title)

Frank Mir has one chance in this fight and that’s the kneebar. Ricco and Barnett caught Nog in kneebars, and Mir rolled for them against Lesnar and Ian Freeman. Mir even talked about kneebars in a recent interview. However, Ricco and Barnett are much better grapplers than Mir, so I think that’s a very slim chance. Other than that, Nog has better standup, grappling, cardio, and chin. I don’t care what Mir says, he’s never going to have the cardio for a 5 round fight, and the chances of him finishing Nog are almost nil. This fight is going to be an embarrassment for Mir. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by TKO round 3.

Although -325 to -350 on Nogueira is giving Mir way more of a chance than my handicapping does, that strong of a favorite is not good for a standalone bet. What I have done instead is parlayed Nogueira with many of my other bets, in order to boost the payoff of those fights.

C.B. Dollaway (-150) vs. Mike Massenzio (+140)

It’s always difficult to predict the results when a fighter is just coming off of TUF. Many of them had previously only trained part-time, or only been given a small share of the attention and training that a top-level UFC fighter gets. Furthermore, some guys get on the show and succeed due to their wealth of experience, but don’t have a bright future because they’ve already achieved their ceiling as fighters (Krzysztof Soszynski) whereas others get through the show on simple raw talent, and use it as a springboard to develop new world-class skills (Rashad Evans).

Dollaway’s dual submission losses to Amir Sadollah don’t bode well for him against someone with as impressive a submission finish rate as Massenzio. However, most of Massenzio’s victims (with the exception of Dan Miller) were terrible fighters or not very good on the ground. Dollaway has an unusual standup game for a wrestler, with all his kicks, as wrestlers usually hate having their feet off the ground for any reason. It seems effective, although perhaps those kicks are part of the reason C.B. has gassed so frequently in the past. Gassing at 170 is a terrible problem, as the division is full of well-conditioned athletes, and if Dollaway can’t overcome it, he’s never going to go anywhere. Again, this is an area that Dollaway has supposedly improved upon since the show, but when it comes to gas, I believe it when I see it, since it’s a very tricky thing that depends upon fight style and ring awareness, beyond just getting out there and running laps in practice.

This is a very tough fight to predict, but I’m going to take Massenzio, earning myself some bad Karma by predicting against the prospect. C.B.’s potential submission and gas problems simply loom too large as unknowns for me to feel comfortable taking C.B. Mike Massenzio by decision.

Quinton Jackson (+110) vs. Wanderlei Silva (-115)

We know the story. Jackson is a fantastic wrestler with good boxing, better power, and a fantastic chin. Silva is the only guy with the ability to overcome that chin (no, the Shogun fight doesn’t count) but he has the aggression and power to do so at any time.

Since the last time they’ve fought, Wanderlei has gotten smaller, although he seems to have improved his already-legendary cardio. Rampage has sharpened up his game quite a bit, although he’s become more of a one-dimensional boxer. Rampage was well on his way to winning their Pride 28th match, until he gassed out and was caught hard. If Rampage can get back to his roots, working a sharp defensive game and landing big punches at the appropriate time I think this fight could be a repeat of that one.

Wanderlei has recuperative powers on par with the best in the game, but he doesn’t have the rock-solid ability to shrug off a punch in the first place that Rampage does. I think Rampage can drop him, and Page has the controlled aggression to finish if Wanderlei doesn’t immediately lock him down in his excellent defensive guard. Rampage also has the power to drop Wanderlei stone cold and finished with one shot, and will gladly do so if he gets a chance.

Rampage’s mental state is totally unknown. The guy is obviously nuts, but he’s also crazy enough to not be concerned at all about losing two fights in such brutal fashion, so it might even work in his favor. I think the change of camps will be very good for him, because the most important aspect of Rampage’s fight preparation has always been his training partners – sparring and hitting the pads. He’s still working with many of the same coaches, aside from Juanito Ibarra, and I think we’ll see somewhat of a return to a more versatile Rampage, with his destructive ground and pound attack backing up his slugging.

Wanderlei has one of the most impressive undefeated streaks in the sport’s history, so he cannot be counted out. He’s a very special individual, and he’s able to finish a fight if given any opening. However, I think Rampage’s power, toughness, and size will be too much for him in this fight, and Quinton Jackson will begin his climb back to the top using one of the sport’s legends as a ladder. Quinton Jackson by KO round 2.

With Jackson available at +110 at some books, I’m liking the odds a lot here. I think bettors are focused too much on past results and not enough on the way these guys have been fighting recently. I think this is a great play.

Mustapha Al-Turk (+250) vs. Cheick Kongo (-305)

Kongo is a great kickboxer with tons of power and a variety of strikes, and a woeful ground game. His wrestling, especially from the clinch is okay, mostly because he’s so strong and athletic. Mustapha is basically the opposite, with a underdeveloped flailing striking game (lot of that going around in the heavyweight division these days) and a strong wrestling and grappling based attack. It’s a prototypical style vs. style matchup—can Kongo keep the fight standing long enough to put Al-Turk away, or can Mustapha control Kongo enough to find a submission? While Kongo has the power to capitalize on the gaps in Mustapha’s defense, I think that this fight favors the grappler. I think Turk can take Kongo down, control him, and pound away until he finds a submission or gets a decision. After all, if Heath Herring’s ground control is good enough for a victory, I don’t see why Mustapha will come up short. Mustapha Al-Turk by submission round 2.

Dean Lister (+320) vs. Yushin Okami (-350)

This is an absolutely terrible fight. Okami should be fighting top contenders and on a fast-track back into a title shot with Anderson Silva, instead of the talented but undeserving Thales Leites. Lister has never really been able to get his world-class submission wrestling to work well in MMA, and has serious problems with his standup, if not his chin (and look at that thing!). Okami is a very strategic fighter, who will win (or lose) a boring decision before he takes a risk that doesn’t have a high chance of reward.

Okami should have a marked advantage standing, with his long arms and counter-punching style, and he will definitely have an advantage in the clinch and defending takedowns. His grappling skills are good enough that he should be able to survive in Lister’s guard, although he should try to keep the fight a striking exchange as much as possible. Because Lister’s only way to threaten Okami is on the ground, and he can only get him there by pulling guard, this is a fairly predictable fight. The only question will be Okami’s willingness to fight in Lister’s guard. Some ground and pound specialists refuse to deviate from their game, even if it’s obviously the better option. Hopefully Okami is smarter than that and will just point his way to a decision victory. I don’t think Okami has the offensive firepower or aggression to put Lister away. Yushin Okami by decision.

I like Okami for a play here, because I don’t think Lister has anything to offer him whatsoever.

Antoni Hardonk (-345) vs. Mike Wessel (+285)

Hardonk is going to hammer Wessel. Hardonk cannot wrestle at all, and his submissions are poor, but he is at least a pretty competent kickboxer (and those leg kicks sell wheelchairs). Wessel fights like it’s UFC 10, running around trying to bully guys and fling hays. Against Hardonk that just spells jab, lowkick, knockout. Hopefully Mike will have the decency to go out like that instead of waste our time trying to work on the ground futilely. Antoni Hardonk by KO round 1.

Reese Andy (+300) vs. Matt Hamill (-385)

Hamill is going to monster Andy. Matt is an incredibly powerful guy, with solid striking and very good wrestling. I think Andy’s wrestling skill set is below average for the division, and if Hamill can absolutely manhandle a guy like Tim Boetsch, he’s going to smear Andy all over the canvas. Hamill’s striking has come a long way, and Andy really just looked ineffective against even a very drained and out-of-focus Brandon Vera. The one worry for me is that Hamill fought a very dumb fight against Rich Franklin, and simply looked lost. Still, against Andy, so long as Matt keeps coming forward and throwing punches, he’ll be fine, so it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t know what to do, so long as he keeps fighting. Hamill isn’t the most technically refined striker on the feet or on the ground, but he has a good ability to deal damage, and I don’t think Andy can take the amount of punishment Hamill can dish out for very long. Matt Hamilly by TKO round 2.

Brad Blackburn (+185) vs. Ryo Chonan (-170)

Chonan is an ugly fighter, with an awkward defensive, counter-everything style and a lack of strong finishing potential, with a lukewarm submission game and a distinct lack of pop in his strikes. Chonan’s greatest weakness is his wrestling—while he has the judo skills to get takedowns when he needs them, he is frequently overpowered and ends up defending from his back. While he generally protects himself well with his guard, Ryo doesn’t offer a big threat for sweeping or submitting.

Blackburn is a run-of-the-mill fighter with one area outstanding strength—his grappling is sub-par and his wrestling is nothing special, but he has pretty crisp boxing and excellent power. That’s bad for Chonan, who, while he doesn’t have a bad chin, despite getting a reputation for having one after being knocked out twice in a row in short order, does seem to have a problem when he’s severely outgunned in the power department. Blackburn doesn’t have an iron chin himself, having been wobbled in many of the exchanges that he eventually won. The difference here is that Blackburn can take Chonan’s punches much better than Chonan can take Brad’s, so unless Ryo is very sharp defensively and just chops away with leg kicks from the outside, Blackburn can win this fight on the feet.

Blackburn’s grappling isn’t great, so if Ryo can put him on his back, he theoretically might be able to find something to finish him with, although it’s worth noting that the only submission hold victory Ryo has was that crazy flying heel hook, so it’s more likely Ryo would simply listlessly ground and pound until he is stood up.

Because Blackburn has a much better chance of finishing the fight at any point in the standup, and has the athleticism to keep the fight on the feet against Ryo’s weak wrestling, I think Blackburn has a very good chance to win this fight, and will probably be undervalued. Despite Brad’s weaknesses, he’s simply a poor style matchup for Ryo. Chonan is more versatile and I think a higher-quality fighter, so this fight will be close. Brad Blackburrn by decision.

at these odds, I have to take a chance with Blackburn.

Pat Barry (-205) vs. Dan Evensen (+190)

Dan Evenson is another one of those guys that is only in the UFC because of his weight class. He’s nothing more than a big flailer, as Kongo showed. Barry is a kickboxer with experience fighting in the laughable Chuck Norris produced WCL, as well as some experience in the American arm of K-1. With that pedigree he likely has the chops to take Evensen apart, but this is heavyweight, so a flailing fist could put him out at any point. This is a pretty pointless fight. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say the only way this fight could have any relevance is if Berry massively outclasses Evensen, handles him easily, and then announces he’s going to cut down to LHW, where his 5’11” height and accompanying reach will be less of a disadvantage for his striking. Pat Barry by KO round 1.

I have such little faith in Evenson that I think that Berry at -205 is a good play.

My official plays:

Barry 1u to win .49u
Hamill 1u to win .26u
Hardonk 1u to win .29u
Okami 1u to win .25u
Mustapha Al-Turk 1u to win 3u
Rampage Jackson 1u to win 1.1u
Brad Blackburn 1u to win 1.85u

Parlay: Mustapha Al-Turk, Okami, Blackburn, Hamill .33u to win 5.14u
Parlay: Jackson, Nogueira, Franklin (UFC 93), Griffin 1u to win 9.6u
Parlay: Anderson Silva (won), Noguiera, Griffin .5u to win .83u
Parlay: Anderson Silva (won), Noguiera, Rampage .5u to win .9u

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?