Picks and Predictions for UFC 99: Is Redemption Really on Offer?

By Nicholas Bailey (nbailey@mmaratings.net)

Ah, the infamous European UFCs. The ugly sister of the Las Vegas cards, European shows have a lot working against them. UFC brass knowns the venues will sell out regardless of what is on the menu, because they’re the only game in town, they know US based fans will be less likely to buy the PPV, due to the time delay or inconvenient scheduling, and they know that they’ll have a hard time putting Marquee fighters on the card, since the PPV takes (and thus the fighter’s points on that) will be so reduced. This results in cards stocked with has-beens, rebound-road fighters, local detritus that would never get close to a normal card, and mismatches.

However, as any chef will tell you, sometimes the plainest, most everyday and boring ingredients can be combined to produce something delicious, and such is the case with UFC 99. The star power is absent, and many of the fights are quite one-sided, but there is still quite a lot of quality MMA on offer, and we should have some good TV from it all.

Rich Franklin (-130) vs. Wanderlei Silva (+105)

Two faded legends searching for relevance outside of their traditional divisions make for an interesting, if irrelevant, fight. Franklin is still shell-shocked from Anderson Silva, and Wanderlei does not want to be hit by someone as large as Quinton Jackson ever again.

This is a very simple fight. If Rich wants to force takedowns, he’ll have to close the distance with Wanderlei, which is always dangerous, and he won’t be able to get anything done stuck in one of MMA’s most airtight defensive guards. At this point Wanderlei only believes in the kind of takedown you do by putting your fist down your opponent’s throat, and he couldn’t take Franklin down in the traditional way even if he wanted to.

Between Wandy’s rusted chin and still-present power, either one of these guys could get brutally starched at any moment. Franklin should have an advantage due to cleaner striking and his ability to control range and strike from a distance with hard straight shots, which should be doubly effective against Wanderlei’s tendency to take runs at guys. Of course, when a fighter is as aggressive as Wanderlei, there’s a good chance he’ll force Franklin off balance and mug him when he tries to regain composure. Still, the most likely outcome is Wanderlei charging onto a counterpunch and falling over. Rich Franklin by TKO round 2.

There’s a small amount of value in Franklin at -130, as I think people are forgetting that “Ace” has pretty good power in his hands.

Cheick Kongo (+165) vs. Cain Velasquez (-185)

White-hot with hype, Velasquez looks to take a big step up in competition in his sixth(!) career fight, while Kongo looks to jump into the top of the division and redeem himself for his comically bad performance against Heath Herring, the last good fighter he faced.

Velasquez’s performance against the extremely limited Denis Stojnic was important, but unimpressive. Cain needed to work on his striking and got a chance to do so, but if he tries to engage like that against a hitter like Kongo, it’s going to be game over. In that fight Velasquez also had trouble taking Stojnic down from a body lock, as Denis showed some good hips and balance, although Cain handily dragged him down once he went low and got onto his legs.

Kongo will have a big reach and height advantage on Cain, which could make Velasquez shoot from an ineffective range, at which point Kongo’s improved wrestling might be enough to stop a shot. Kongo is a very big guy and phenomenally strong, so he’s become very difficult to deal with in the clinch, but if Cain can get down to his legs, the fight will go to the ground very quickly. Both of these fighters have very good ground and pound, Kongo simply because he hits so hard and Cain because he has such a good base that he can simultaneously flatten out an opponent, wail away on them, and advance position.

While Velasquez certainly has the potential to develop into an elite fighter and is a very popular pick to win this fight, I think Kongo has an excellent shot at beating Cain, who is very used to winning and has never taken a big shot or had to overcome adversity in the ring. Kongo will be hopeless on the ground, but he will never quit, and he’s so dangerous and strong that he has a very good chance of stopping a few takedowns and turning Velasquez’s oh-so-square jaw around with a giant punch. Cheick Kongo by TKO.

I see this fight as 50/50, so Kongo at the long odds (+185) available at some places would represent a good play. However, it is very high variance and I seem to be going against popular and well-respected opinion in liking Kongo, so I offer that with a strong caveat. At the least, reconsider before betting on Cain at -200.

Ben Saunders (+190) vs. Mike Swick (-215)

Mike Swick is no Brandon Wolff. This should be a very exciting fight, but you really have to look at the caliber of opponent each man has faced. Saunders is riding some real hype after destroying Wolff’s face, and Swick has long been an overrated fighter, but realistically, Swick is better than any two of Saunders’ previous opponents combined, and he’s better than Saunders in every aspect of the game except size.

Saunders is an exciting, dynamic, and well-rounded fighter, but he really hasn’t fought anyone that has the striking acumen and handspeed of Swick and won’t be threatened by him on the ground. Swick, despite dropping divisions, is still physically weak and might be controlled in the clinch by a physically larger Saunders, but Swick has very good technique in the clinch and will be able to protect himself. Perhaps one day this will be an evenly matched fight, but Swick is a very clear favorite here. Mike Swick by KO round 2.

-215 is really selling Swick short, and an excellent fight to roll into parlays. Good value for a straight bet if you’re a high-volume bettor, as well (the strategy I employ).

Marcus Davis (-215) vs. Dan Hardy (+180)

A bitter war of words, the possibility of a brutal knockout, and a road warrior Mohawk: what’s not to like about this fight? Hardy has repeatedly questioned Davis’ Irish heritage, and Davis is, as always, ready to defend his reputation with his fists. The bout also presents a very interesting style matchup.

Davis is a bit undersized, but punches well above his weight and has the kind of clean boxing that can really rip guys up in MMA, as a terrified Paul Kelly and thoroughly-pounded Chris Lytle found out. Hardy is a bit of a bully, and a solid striker, but don’t be fooled by his stoppage of Rory Markham–he will be at a decided power disadvantage here, and gets most of his stoppages by accumulating very effective strikes on the ground.

Davis, knowing he has power and clean technique, likes to stay on the outside and get carefully set up before he lets his hands go. Hardy is more of a volume striker, throwing good punch combinations and an unusual kick repertoire, but, like Davis, he is very defensive and does his best work countering. The fact that neither of these men has ever been knocked out likely has more to do with rarely being hit solidly than with monster chins. Hardy will have a reach advantage, and his higher volume and clinchwork could keep Davis from ever settling down and getting comfortable launching his punches.

On the ground, Davis has a good defensive guard, but doesn’t offer much in the sweep/submit category from his back (or much submission offense on top, with his unusually high number of submissions primarily being a result of a diet of opponents that are very weak on the ground). Hardy is very loose and open off his back, but on top has a very effective and rough ground and pound game, a good way to take rounds from Davis.

I expect this fight will look much like the Swick fight for Davis. Like Swick, Hardy is a good deal taller and longer than the stubby Davis, and he is larger and stronger than Swick to boot. Hardy can stay on the outside and counter, then take Davis down from the clinch and open him up with elbows on top. It’s not likely that Hardy can get enough momentum going to knock out the durable Davis with gnp, but there’s a good chance he opens up one of Davis’ many brutal scars for a cut stoppage. Failing that, Hardy should be able to pick up rounds with ground work and cruise to a decision. Dan Hardy by decision.

Take Hardy at +180. I got him at +185, but he’s a good play well below that. Davis has the power to KO him, so don’t go too wild, but there’s very real value.

Spencer Fisher (-210) vs. Caol Uno (+170)

This is one of those awkward fights where each fighter’s glaring weakness could easily be exploited by his opponent. Spencer Fisher is a very dynamic striker with a pretty good ground game and absolutely horrible takedown defense, while Uno is an excellent submission wrestler with a weak chin. Uno could easily take down and dominate Fischer for three rounds, and he isn’t too bad on the feet either, but if Fischer lands a good shot, it’s probably all over for the fashion icon.

Throttling the previously unsubbable Ishida and grappling for Aoki for three fifteen minutes without being finished is testament to the quality of Uno’s submission credentials. The smart fight for Uno is the boring one: incessant takedowns, positional dominance, and no risk-taking. He may have a weak chin, but he’s overcome that before against strikers who can’t wrestle. Caol Uno by decision.

Another high-variance play, but Uno at +170 when he has such a clear path to victory seems silly.

Mustapha al Turk (+300) vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (-400)

Crocop certainly isn’t what he used to be. He never had a ground game, but his iron-clad takedown defense and immense physical strength let him spin, sprawl, and muscle his way out of any attempts to grapple and exchange his piston-like punches and lethal kicks. After a long series of knee and foot injuries and general physical deterioration, it seems much easier to take Crocop down, and much of his explosive power seems to have waned. He still punches incredibly hard, but he’s not the force of nature he once was.

Mirko hasn’t had an impressive performance against a good competitor since 2006, but al-Turk is closer to Eddie Sanchez than to Josh Barnett. While Crocop, like all deteriorating fighters, says he’s finally overcome all his injuries and ready to perform at the top level again, Mustapha is well positioned to exploit the failings Mirko has shown lately, namely being muscled around by bigger fighters, gassing out in the clinch, being put on his back more than he can deal with, and failing to protect himself effectively off his back.

As a rule of thumb, never believe a fighter is recovered until you see it happen, and always expect a faded fighter to continue to fade rather than recapture their former glory. Mustapha wears Mirko down in the clinch, eventually trips him down, and does enough damage to take Mirko’s heart out of the fight, if not stop him outright. Mustapha Al-Turk by TKO round 2.

Al-Turk, while a good bet at +300, is not talented enough to rely upon, so this is just a small play.

Justin Buchholz (+275) vs. Terry Etim (-330)

This fight is a real talent mismatch. Buchholz was brought in to lose to human-interest story Corey Hill, but had the temerity to pull out a knockdown and a submission after being dominated for the first seven minutes of the fight. Etim is a huge step up from Corey, and outmatches Buchholz in every aspect of the game, as well as being the best opponent by far that Justin will have ever faced.

Etim, everyone’s favorite unintelligible scouser, is a very good grappler with a very dangerous and technically sound kickboxing game that perfectly suits his lanky build, letting him snap headkicks from well outside most opponent’s range. Etim should be able to frustrate Buchholz with leg kicks and punches, wearing him down before dispatching him with more of the same or a submission. Terry Etim by TKO round 2.

Dale Hartt (+150) vs. Denis Siver (-170)

Not a very interesting one here. Siver is a dangerous striker that’s pretty poor on the ground, but Hartt isn’t enough of a ground fighter or wrestler to take advantage of that. Most likely outcome is Siver TKO, but with fighters with this many holes in their game, anything can happen. Siver TKO round 2.

Peter Sobotta (+300) vs. Paul Taylor (-350)

Taylor is an electrifying kickboxer with some of the crispest striking in MMA, including from the clinch, where he busted Chris Lytle’s guts in a fight he should have won. Taylor also really struggles on the ground and, like many UK fighters, has a poor wrestling base, leaving a major and exploitable weakness, although he’s working diligently to shore up those deficiencies and seeing some improvement.

Sobotto will be at a big disadvantage on the feet, but he has a dynamic takedown game and more than enough submission skill to polish off Taylor if he can put him on his head. This is a close fight that Taylor will most likely be able to edge out, but there will be narrow escapes for him on the ground. Paul Taylor by TKO round 2.

Sobotta has too real a chance to exploit Taylor’s weaknesses to be at +300. If Jess Liaudin can nearly grind out a decision on you and Marcus Davis armbars you, you shouldn’t be a -350 favorite against a grappler.

Rolando Delgado (+300) vs. Paul Kelly (-400)

Roli is a nice guy and his black belt is legit, but he doesn’t belong in the UFC. He went on TUF just to promote his school, didn’t make the cut, and lost to Junie Browning. When you can’t beat two low-quality TUF contestants, you’re going to get mashed against UFC-caliber fighters.

Kelly had a horrible showing against Marcus Davis, who was an awful style matchup for him, but he bounced back with an impressive showing against Troy Mandalonez. He’s a solid and well-rounded fighter with just the kind of ground control game that will destroy Delgado, who is hard to get to on the feet because of his extreme reach but suffers when opponents get a hold of him, due to the same frail build. Kelly should be able to take him down and rough him up, as well as beating him up a bit on the feet. Paul Kelly by TKO round 2.

It’s hard to see how Delgado wins this fight, since Kelly is too good a grappler to get caught in anything obvious. -400 is quite long odds, but might be useful in a parlay.

Denis Stojnic (+120) vs. Stefan Struve (-130)

This fight will certainly be quite the sight gag, as Struve will have an 11-inch height advantage but will be giving up 20 pounds or so to his portly opponent. Struve can throw some decent hands and kicks, but doesn’t have the durability or defense to get into gunfights with serious strikers. He also has a surprisingly nimble submission attack for a heavyweight, although he will have some trouble getting Stojnic down.

Stojnic is a one dimensional slugger with a hard head, an indominitable will, and surprisingly good balance and core strength from a Sambo background. His striking consists entirely of winging haymakers, and it would take a stepladder or serious error for one of those to reach Struve’s head, so Struve should be able to stand on the other side of the cage and kick him in the gut in safety, Semmy Schilt-style.

Unless Stojnic clips Stefan early and crumples him, Struve should be able to frustrate him for three minutes, which should deplete his gas tank, and then either pour on the strikes for a mercy stoppage or pull the fight to the ground for a submission. Stefan Struve by submission round 1.
I like a bet on Struve since he’s so much more well rounded and is cushioned by the reach advantage.

John Hathaway (-155) vs. Rick Story (+135)

Hathaway is a good grappler with limited standup that has made it this far without running into an opponent that can wrestle. Story is a pretty solid striker and all-rounder, and he can wrestle pretty well.

This sort of fight is always a bit of a toss-up because different fighters react differently to the big stage, with some melting under the bright lights and others digging deeper than anyone ever thought possible, revealing hidden value. The reasonable expectation is that Story has a very good chance of forcing a standup fight and beating up Hathaway, who will gas out has he struggled to control the fight and end up getting finished. Rick Story by KO round 2.

Story should be a slight favorite, he’s a bit of an underdog. That’s the definition of value.

My plays:
1.3u Franklin (at -130) to win 1u
2.15u Swick (at -215) to win 1u
1u Hardy (at +185) to win 1.85u
1u Uno (at +170) to win 1.7u
.5u Al-Turk (at +300) to win 1.5u
.5u Sobotta (at +300) to win 1.5u
4u Kelly (at -400) to win 1u
1.3u Struve (at -130) to win 1u
1u Story (at +135) to win 1.35u

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?