Picks and Predictions for UFC 96: Boom or Bust

By Nicholas Bailey (

This card has a lot of potential, but it could also be a complete disaster. A not-so-competitive main event between top-tier fighters teeters on a tower of tweener talent. Of course, fighters not immediately threatening for a title shot can still produce scintillating bouts, but these fights are matched in such a way that they could produce utterly repellent outcomes. That sort of fight that can kill an entire pay-per-view if more than one is aired.

Compounding this is the fact that several fights that are almost sure to end in an exciting fashion and be over quickly are being relegated to the undercard, and you have a card that is either going to sizzle or suck. Lets hope everyone puts on their exciting pants Saturday morning.

Quinton Jackson (-320) vs. Keith Jardine (+260)

Usually for a main event fight I will break down each fighters best skills in a variety of positions and play out the different ways their skills can interact to produce different outcomes. This fight is pretty simple. Unless Jardine comes in and fights a completely different game from the one he has fought in every other fight, he is going to lose this fight by knockout in the first round.

Jardine is a fantastic fighter at distance, with his awkward style, aggression, deep arsenal of strikes, and power all combining to make him the kind of fighter that can do enough against Brandon Vera to be gifted a decision and beat up Chuck Liddell. He also has used effective, hard legkicks in the past, which many people are getting fired up about.

Jackson is a fantastic boxer with great defense, an iron chin, and fight-finishing power in both hands. He also has never blocked a leg kick in his life and got schooled by them against Forrest Griffin (and prior to that, Ricardo Arona). This failure to defend leg kicks has gotten those same people even more fired up.

Unfortunately this fight won’t really involve much leg kicking unless Jardine completely re-invents his style. Forrest Griffin has developed a style where he dances around on the outside and pointfights, using his size and reach advantages to control the distance and pace of the fight. He developed this style after Jardine clobbered him, and got a softball to test it out in Hector Ramirez. Jardine does none of this ‘controlling the distance’ thing. He lets fighters, from Houston Alexander to Wanderlei Silva, come right in on him and fight in a phonebooth, only too happy to exchange until his chin gets tapped, which is made all the easier that he throws wide, clubbing punches and keeps his hands low. This is an absolutely terrible way to approach Rampage, and I expect Jardine to throw a few strikes, let Rampage block his way inside, and then stand six inches away from Rampage, catch a hook or two to the ear, and fall over slain.

Greg Jackson knows this as well, I’m sure, and he’s going to try to come up with a gameplan that will let Jardine fight a different fight and emerge victorious, but you can’t rebuild a fighter in one fight, and you can’t test out a new style against a champion. Quinton Jackson by KO round 1.

The odds on this fight are too long to be worth betting on, as is so often the case with the main event of a card.

Matt Hamill (-165) vs. Mark Munoz (+145)

Matt Hamill, despite being in the UFC for several years now, still fights like a giant muscled-up man-child wrestler, walking into his opponents punches and just trying to batter them with his raw physical power. The guy is so physically gifted that this often works. If Munoz can’t take him down, then Hamill will probably pound him unconscious as Munoz gets increasingly desperate on the feet, because Mark has looked very raw on the feet, and Hamill hits very hard.

The intriguing thing is that Munoz has a better wrestling pedigree on paper than Hamill, so I am very curious to see how that plays out. Munoz has pretty rudimentary ground and pound, but I am certain Hamill has very little to offer off his back, should he be put there.

I think that the bright lights of his UFC debut will zap Munoz, and he’ll fade after a strong start, as Hamill’s continued physical pressure and clubbing punches take their toll for a mid-second round TKO finish. Matt Hamill by TKO round 2.

Early on, at -160, I felt that Hamill was attractive and represented great value, although Munoz’s wrestling pedigree gives me pause. However this is not a wrestling match, but an MMA fight, and even Hamil’s rudimentary brawling will be more than Munoz is used to, so I will stick with a play on Matt here. Use your own judgement.

Matt Brown (+125) vs. Pete Sell (-140)

It boggles the mind to think that this fight is on the main card of a pay-per-view, especially given how likely it is to drag to a clunker of a decision and doesn’t even feature high-level talents. Matt Brown has improved leaps and bounds since his appearance on the ultimate fighter, to the point where he would be competitive to win the show if he were placed back in the house and every other TUFFer from his season forgot any improvements they’ve made. Maybe. He isn’t massively outsized at 170, but neither is he very powerful. His wrestling is more or less poor, and his striking doesn’t seem to have much pop. He has a good, active guard game which will catch the Ryan Thomases of the world and keep Dong Hyun Kim from choking him uncioncious (just barely), but that is not going to be any use against Pete Sell.

Sell isn’t a great fighter. By UFC standards, he’s not even very good. He is pretty strong, especially at 170, he has good enough wrestling to give trouble to non-wrestlers, he has a good control-based top game, he’s got a solid guillotine, and he’s got some punching power. He also has a tendency to get hit square in the face, resulting in several KO’s despite a pretty tough chin. He punches well to the head with a hard jab and the body with a hook, which will be enough to win the standup exchanges with Brown, who will have trouble hurting Sell and not getting smashed up by his power.

I expect Sell to do a little standup, dig into Brown’s body viciously, and then get a takedown, where he will control Brown and struggle to advance position until the round is done. Repeat two more times and you have the whole fight. Pete Sell by decision.

At -140, I think Sell is a good bet. I don’t think Brown has the tools to finish him in any fashion, so the only danger is if Sell gets outworked and outpointed, which I don’t find likely at all.

Shane Carwin (+145) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (-155)

This is the most interesting fight on this card. Is cartoonishly large muscleman Shane Carwin the next Brock Lesnar or the next Bob Sapp? Can Gonzaga ever beat someone that punches him in the face hard? Gonzaga’s striking game is coming along nicely, with some decent timing and technique bootstrapped onto his excellent natural power. His ground game is also beyond reproach, and although he’ll be hard pressed to take down the enormous and talented Carwin, he could recreate Mir/Lesnar with his propensity to roll for kneebars and Carwin’s skill deficit on the ground.

Carwin has never been beyond the halfway point in an MMA fight, which begs huge questions about his staying power and the quality of his opponents. It’s hard to imagine a gigantic guy like that having the gas to fight hard for more than a few minutes. He generally just hammers whoever is in the cage with him mercilessly, either standing or after a takedown. He’s been hittable, however, with even Neil Wain tagging him a bit, which leads me to think that Carwin might have a bit of the muscleman syndrome, where he gets disheartened by opponents that he cannot overwhelm from the get go. I think Gonzaga has better striking technique and timing than he does, and the power to make any shots that land hurt, although Carwin certainly has the power to make Gonzaga quit fighting back, as he is wont to do.

Carwin is in a bit of a pinch here, because he doesn’t want to go to the ground with someone with Gonzaga’s grappling credentials, but on the feet he is likely to get hit more than he hits. Gonzaga looked incredibly comfortable on the feet with Hendricks, and he’s powerful enough that he could frustrate Carwin’s wrestling if Shane doesn’t dilligently set up his takedowns. I think Gonzaga hits too hard and Carwin will end up serving as an object lesson that muscle can’t protect your chin. Gabriel Gonzaga by KO round 1.

Gonzaga has fought far tougher opposition in his career and demonstrated a much higher level of skills. Carwin has physical tools and is an exciting prospect, but at heavyweight you have to favor the guy that has actually showed he can compete with the best, even if he has no heart. I think Gonzaga is a good play here.

Gray Maynard (-170) vs. Jim Miller (+155)

Jim Miller looks like a hobbit, and Maynard is the slowest LW with the smallest gas tank. Unless Miller walks into one of Maynards flailing bombs, the only path for victory for Maynard is to put on his wrestling singlet and go for riding points. It’s worked for him in the past, and it really makes me wonder why this fight is on the main card of the pay-per-view, since it has the potential to be a 15-minute takedown and control instructional.

Miller is a good wrestler in his own right, but his primary weapon is his excellent arsenal of submissions, which he usually attacks with from top position. He will have trouble getting on top against Maynard, who has really come into his own as a very dominant wrestler, but if Miller can sweep him or wear him out enough to get takedowns of his own, he will dispatch Maynard quickly from on top. On the bottom, I think Miller can stay active enough to threaten Maynard and stifle his already lethargic ground and pound game. Miller’s wrestling is also good enough to resist Maynard’s takedowns enough to catch guillotines as Maynard is driving for singles and doubles, which could finish the fight then and there.

One wouldn’t expect a lot of striking from a fight with two grapplers, but Maynard spent protracted amounts of time striking with Rich Clementi, so he may try to get more work in against Miller, who isn’t a fantastic striker. Miller has decent hands and punches well, in addition to having about ten times the handspeed that Gray does, but he hasn’t demonstrated any amount of power that a hard-nosed guy like Gray should worry about. Furthermore while Miller should be able to get in and out and beat the very slow Maynard to the punch, he leaves himself open to shots too often, and Maynard throws very hard. This fight is a bit of a crapshoot on the feet, so if you’re betting on Miller, hope for grappling.

In the end, Miller’s superior submission skills and gas tank will carry him to victory. Jim Miller by submission round 2.

With Maynard so one-dimensional and Miller a decent underdog, this is a fantastic play, especially if you can get him at the +155 lines available at some books.

Ryan Madigan (+300) vs. Tamdan McCrory (-300)

Ryan Madigan is a pretty good kickboxer and a terrible wrestler. Tamdan is an unusually long all-rounder that does best when he can take his opponent down and work ground and pound, which he should be able to do to Madigan without breaking a sweat. Unless Tamdan gets caught or decides to kickbox the entire fight, he should be able to handily win this and re-assert himself as an exciting addition to the UFC’s welterweight class. Tamdan McCrory TKO round 2.

Jason Day (+160) vs. Kendall Grove (-200)

Everyone knows Grove has a weak chin. Hit him hard and you win the fight. People are forgetting, however, that the guy managed to win the ultimate fighter without being killed in such a fashion and has wins over tough competition. He has real skills and would probably be one of the top guys in the division if it weren’t for his chin. Nevertheless, unless Day bombs him, Grove should be able to beat him in every aspect of this fight, especially grappling. Kendall Grove by submission round 2.

I think that Grove’s skills are being discounted too much because of his chin, and that he’s good for a play at -200.

Tim Boetsch (-140) vs. Jason Brilz (+120)

How can you not love Tim Boetsch? He has an amazingly blue-collar style of fighting, like some kind of barbarian, he always brings it, and he seems like a pretty nice guy on top of it all. Plus he walks out to the Conan theme, which is incredible (as an aside, if Dana White ever decides that’s too dorky and forces him to change it to some DMX, I’ll gouge out Dana’s eyes and feed them to the crows). Brilz is an excellent wrestler who completely embarrassed Brad Morris in his UFC debut in an emasculating fashion. Brilz, however, doesn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in his standup, which is poison against Boetsch, who isn’t the best striker but bombs with impunity and will embarrass someone who doesn’t bring their A-game on the feet.

The intriguing part of this fight will be how the wrestling game plays out. Boetsch is an excellent wrestler, but he completely fell apart when he was dominated in that respect by Matt Hamill, so if Brilz can knock him over and control him, Crom could be displeased with the ensuing beatdown. However, if Boetsch can so much as stalemate Brilz, his striking advantage will carry the day and we’ll see another manful knockout. I think that Boetsch can manage that, especially with Brilz timidity on the feet. Tim Boetsch TKO round 2.

Brilz is a real threat because of his wrestling, but he is being overvalued here because of how dominant he was over a sub-par opponent in Brad Morris. I like Boetsch for a play.

Mike Patt (+450) vs. Brandon Vera (-550)

Patt is in over his head here. Tim Boetsch took him to school on the feet, and Vera is going to put on a clinic. Even if he can get the takedown, which will require closing quite a bit of distance against someone with a significant reach advantage on him, he’s not Fabricio Werdum, and Vera can defend and stall him. Unless you really like just rolling the dice, don’t bet on this fight. Brandon Vera by KO round 2.

Shane Nelson (+195) vs. Aaron Riley (-215)

On paper, Riley should annihilate Nelson. He has infinitely more experience, being a living legend of the sport, and Nelson had a pretty unimpressive run as a TUFer. Riley should be able to force a standup fight and win that, although he’s not as durable as he once was. I don’t really expect a lot of fireworks from this fight at all. Aaron Riley by decision.

My plays

1u on Hamill at -160 to win .63u
1u on Sell at -145 to win .69u
1u on Miller at +140 to win 1.4u
1u on Boetsch at -155 to win .65u
1u on Gonzaga at -165 to win .61u
1u on Grove at -200 to win .5u

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?