UFC 95: A UK UFC Card that Doesn’t Suck!

By Nicholas Bailey (nbailey@mmaratings.net)

As indicated in the title, it’s a bit of a surprise how much fun this card could be, given that the UK cards are often a bit shoddy when compared to their shinier, sexier stateside cousins. Granted, Stevenson vs. Sanchez doesn’t have the star power of a UFC 91 or 92, but sometimes all you need is carefully matched fights with hungry, skilled fighters that will put it all on the line and deliver a great show.

On the main card, expect to be introduced to one of England’s most exciting and personable fighters in Dan Hardy (if you didn’t catch his untelevised UFC debut), see Demian Maia tested against someone that can dominate him in the wrestling department, and be reminded (as so many people have forgotten) that Nate Marquardt is really one of the best 185 pound fighters to ever have strapped on gloves.

Diego Sanchez (-295) vs. Joe Stevenson (+255)

It will be interesting to see how this fight develops, if only because of 38lbs of X-factor. Diego Sanchez has never been the brightest bulb in the box, so his plan of cutting from 193lbs on New Years Day to 155lbs on the day of the weigh-ins shouldn’t surprise anyone. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s cutting a huge amount of weight (after packing on weight to be bigger at 170lbs) and competing in the lower weight class for the first time, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would walk right over Joe Stevenson. But with the extreme cutting (a diet of 1100 calories a day while training for fighting full time sounds like a great way to destroy your body) makes me wonder if Diego will have the gas for his typical pace, or the strength to deal with the burly Stevenson.

Diego comes from a wrestling base, which is ironic because his takedowns are the weakest part of his game at this point. The guy is a ball of aggression, mean-mugging his opponent from the weigh-ins to the final bell, and assaulting them with ripping submissions whenever he can catch one in a scramble, ground and pound whenever he can get a dominant position, and newly sharpened standup. He has historically only run into trouble against fighters that could control him, which Stevenson will be unable to do.

Joe is a pretty good grappler who tends to let guys pass his guard too much, and has serious trouble when he’s put on his back and can’t get takedowns. He also had a bad habit of just walking down his opponents and being overly aggressive for his unspectacular standup, which will play right into the always-aggressive Diego’s hands (and maybe knees). He also does have the pace or cardio to exploit it if Diego’s usually stellar gas tank is as reduced as his weight.

Diego can win this fight on the feet, beating up Stevenson with his aggressive mix of hooks, knees, and kicks, or he could return to his bread and butter, getting takedowns, causing scrambles, and looking to do damage in between. Either way I think Stevenson’s only hope is to lock in that monstrous guillotine of his. With Diego never having even been close to being submitted in MMA, I don’t think that’s likely at all. Diego Sanchez by TKO ground and pound round 2.

Dan Hardy (Even) vs. Rory Markham (-115)

Rory Markham is very much a kill or be killed fighter – all of his losses and almost all of his wins have come by KO, with the bulk coming in under two minutes. In other words, pretty much what you’d expect from someone that obviously knows how to punch, but isn’t so good at avoiding punches. Against the hard-nosed Hardy, he’s likely going to have to stretch himself deeper into the fight than two minutes if he wants to win.

Hardy put on a very impressive performance against Akihiro Gono, putting together decent punch combinations on one of the most elusive fighters at 170. He also did an excellent job of defending himself, which will be important against a banger like Rory. He’s a very big, solid 170, with a solid defensive game, tight boxing, and an unusual variety of kicks. He has some exploitable weaknesses off his back, and Gono didn’t really have too much trouble putting him there, but I expect some of that was the simple surprise of Gono coming forward for a change.

Plus you’ve got to love the road warrior mohawk.

This should be an electrifying fight, with the possibility of either guy being knocked out very early. I think Hardy is more well-rounded and tougher, so unless he slips up and eats a titanic shot from Markham and gets knocked out for the first time in his career, Dan should be able to get the better of the punch exchanges until Markham just can’t defend himself anymore. Dan Hardy TKO round 1.

I think Hardy’s defensive skills and chin make this fight quite a bit more one-sided than the toss-up odds, so this is one of the few plays I’d recommend at the current odds.

Wilson Gouveia (+250) vs. Nate Marquardt (-275)

Marquardt is a very big guy for 185, and an even bigger talent. Gouveia has similarly high potential, but he has failed to live up to that talent. His only real shot against a striker and grappler of Marquardt’s caliber and durability is to finish him off with one big shot. Luckily for Wilson, he has the striking chops and the concussive power to make that a real threat.

Wilson’s best attribute is having the punching power and submission acumen to halt a fight with suddenness, and his worst is a tendency to fight against his talents, lose focus, and quit in the ring. Marquardt is a phenomenal athlete who is possibly overall the most defensively talented fighter active in the UFC, never getting out of position on the ground, fighting off takedowns with aplomb, and keeping his guard up and his head moving when exchanging strikes.

With the extreme difficulty Gouveia will have in finding a way to quickly dispatch Marquardt, I think Nate will simply push harder than Gouveia can resist, causing him to fold late in the first or early in the second. Nate Marquardt TKO round 2.

Marquardt opened at -215 at some books, which was a truly excellent bet that I, and those that contacted me about it got on as soon as it was available. With the wildman performance Marquardt put on against Thales Leites and the unfavorable odds available for him now, I would suggest steering clear of placing any bets on this fight.

Demian Maia (-270) vs. Chael Sonnen (+225)

Demian Maia is the proud owner of some of the smoothest, most textbook jiu-jitsu in the sport. Chael Sonnen is a good wrestler with a lackluster win over a mentally addled champion. Sonnen’s sub defense has always been questionable, and his gameplanning is simply terrible. Knowing he’s going up against a fighter that outclasses him on the ground but may be vulnerable on the feet, and having won his last fight with a jab, he’s said that he plans on taking this fight to the ground as soon as he can.

Demian is going to show him a little bit of ‘the gentle art’ and send him on his way defeated but unharmed, as usual. Demian Maia by submission round 1.

This risk factors for Maia are as follows: he has slowed down in later rounds in the past, he will have trouble taking Sonnen down, and Sonnen’s jab may be enough to give him trouble. If Sonnen fights a perfectly executed and very intelligent fight, hiding behind his jab, resisting any attempts by Maia to pull guard, and cruising for a decision, then he has a slim chance of winning. That slim chance plus the slim chance of Sonnen having the mental fortitude to play the game properly under the brightest lights of the biggest show do not add up to a reasonable expectation that Sonnen will win. This fight is good for a play on Maia.

Josh Koscheck (-550) vs. Paulo Thiago (+450)

Koscheck wants to get more fights under his belt, but neither he nor the UFC want to put more losses on his record. The one-dimensional Paulo Thiago should serve that purpose admirably. While Thiago impotently flails for a takedown, look for Koscheck to flex his ever-improving standup and get another impressive knockout, although it will be nearly impossible to match the brutality of the absolute homocide he perpetrated against Yoshiyuki Yoshida. Josh Koscheck KO round 1.

The odds are too long on Koscheck to be worth a play here, and Thiago doesn’t have much of a chance.

Junior dos Santos (-285) vs. Stefan Struve (+230)

Struve is a very unusual heavyweight, a 6’8” beanpole that uses his lengthy limbs for lithe submissions. Dos Santos has an improving ground game, but he exploded to prominence because of his hands, with his stunning knockout upset of highly-regarded Fabricio Werdum. This is a step up for both men from their typical opponents, and it boils down to whether Struve can use his reach advantage to protect himself from Santos’ power, and whether Santos can defend himself should Struve get a hold of him and take the fight to the ground. I think the powerful dos Santos has a slight edge in the fight, due to his power and striking advantage, but I would not be surprised at all to see Struve upset him.

Both of these fights are typically very fast finishers, so if the fight drags into the second round or beyond, they may both gas horribly, leading to a total in-ring circus. Junior Dos Santos by KO round 1.

At +230 dos Santos’ ground game is being given more credit than it merits. He handled a phenomenal grappler in Werdum, but he never actually grappled with him in the fight. I think ‘Cigano’ is inexperienced enough that he could give Struve the opening he needs to finish the fight, so I like a small play here.

Brian Cobb (+205) vs. Terry Etim (-240)

Etim is a very unusual creature—a U.K. fighter that relies on his ground game instead of being a hard-nosed banger. He has a good striking game as well, but primarily relies on an aggressive and submission-oriented ground attack to dispatch his opponents. Cobb is a better wrestler, working for submissions from top position, so we may see the fighters attacking right into each other’s strengths in this fight. I think Etim has an advantage on the feet, and should have one on the ground as well, since Cobb has been overly aggressive and vulnerable to submissions in the past. It’s also worth noting that Cobb took this fight on quite short notice, so gassing out is a very real possibility.

Either way this is a competitive fight, with both guys really pushed against the wall to try to stay in the UFC. Given his slight edges in grappling and striking, I think Etim is rightly the favorite. Terry Etim by decision.

Paul Kelly (+290) vs. Troy Mandaloniz (-325)

Troy is, unfortunately for Troy, a perfect illustration of two all-too-common themes in MMA. First is the “superstar halo effect” Troy trains with BJ Penn, so like many other fighters that train with superstars it’s often seen as only a matter of time before he develops many of BJ’s skills. Eventually it will dawn on fight fans that sparring with Nogueira or Wanderlei doesn’t impart their abilities through osmosis. Troy has demonstrated very little of the talent that BJ has, and even less interest in the ground game, which brings us to theme number two, that of the ‘senseless brawler’. Paul Kelly is a very sharp kickboxer, with the kind of technical acumen you would expect to pick apart a slugger like Troy. Unfortunately for Troy, he doesn’t understand this and thinks that it’s a good idea to go straight at Kelly and try to bang with him, because to do otherwise is to violate some unwritten code of masculinity. This is simply going to result in him eating breakfast out the wrong side of his face for the next month. This is especially sad because Troy does have some ground skills and Kelly still has gaping holes in his game on the mat.

Paul Kelly is a real talent on the feet and is simply going to pick Troy apart until the tough Hawaiian cannot handle any more punishment and collapses in a heap. Paul Kelly TKO round 1.

As a rule I don’t like to lay large amounts of money on fighters with poor ground games that are heavily favored, and that rule has served me well to this point, so I will continue to follow it.

Mike Ciesnolevicz (-115) vs. Neil Grove (-110)

This is going to be a funny mismatch of sizes. Grove is a titanic dude at 6’7” that hits hard as hell, and Ciesnolevicz is comfortable at 205, where he’s been knocked out twice by Andre Gusmao. Grove is a sloppy fighter who will probably be at a significant disadvantage in the grappling skills department, but Ciesnolevicz is no Patrick Berry giantkiller with his striking. I think Grove can just use his size, reach, and power to maul Ciesnolevicz in a very ugly fight. Neil Grove by KO round 1.

The odds are even, the fight isn’t. Put a unit on Grove, then close your eyes until the fight is over.

My Plays:
2.15u on Nate Marquardt to win 1u
2u on Dan Hardy to win 1.54u
.5u on Stefan Struve to win 1.13u
1.1u on Neil Grove to win 1u
2.85u on Demian Maia to win 1u

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?