Picks and Predictions for UFC 102: The Loser’s Bracket

By Nicholas Bailey (

UFC 102 has the unusual distinction of being headlined by two losers, and featuring more losers than winners on the main card. In fact, only two of the five fights on the main card feature fighters coming off wins!

That’s just trivia, though. All of these fighters have had a tough schedule and are still top competitors. It’s common practice for Zuffa to stuff their debut cards in new locations with filler, since the UFC brand is enough to sell out the arena the first time through, but somehow they’ve put together a fantastic card here. While Couture vs. Nogueira would have been more electrifying at any point in the past, it’s still a must-watch fight. Despite the paucity of win streaks, every fight on the main card is a carefully-crafted matchup that gives this event the potential to be one of the most entertaining cards of the year. The presence of the always-odious heavyweight division stinks up the undercard, but even there a few gems can be found.

Randy Couture (-165) vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (+145)

Too bad this didn’t happen a long time ago. The strange thing, of course, for these two broken-down old warhorses is that Nogueira is younger now than Couture was when The Natural made his professional debut. Both have looked a bit deteriorated lately, with Couture getting knocked out in half of his fights since 2004 (albeit by big hitters) and Nogueira looking as mobile and fluid as C-3PO since coming to the UFC.

Sadly, while each fighter is a master tactician with an impressive arsenal of skills, this fight will likely be decided based on who has deteriorated less.

That will probably be Couture. Believe whatever amount of excuses for the Mir loss you want, but Nogueira looked like death in that fight, moving in slow-motion, with no head movement or aggression. Furthermore, it wasn’t a completely isolated incident of such performance. Nog looked similarly depleted in his fights with Herring and Sylvia, taking solid beatings from both, despite notching up two wins. If Nog can’t move any better than that, and his hands are no sharper, this will be a replay of Chuck/Couture I and Sylvia/Couture, with Couture exploiting his speed advantage to control a larger opponent and hit them at will.

The throwaway myth of Nogueira is that “he always looks bad before the submission.” This is, by and large, not true. He’s a bit of a slow starter, but he’s dominated most of his opponents, only taking beatings in fights where he’s been at a stylistic disadvantage. His legendary toughness helps him here, but it’s not his primary fighting style. Despite being knocked down and out in his more recent fights, Nog’s chin doesn’t seem to have deteriorated much. Being kicked square in the face by Heath Herring will put anyone down, as will being a punching bag for multi-hit combos from a guy the size of Frank Mir. Couture has never been a big power puncher (aside from his StreetFighter II haymaker to open the Sylvia fight), although he has pretty crisp hands and can accumulate damage over time. If Nogueira can’t take him down or stay away from his hands, this will be a protracted beating.

The grappling is where things get most interesting. Couture is an excellent wrestler, hanging well with man-monster Brock Lesnar as well as dominating much bigger men than Nogueira in Gonzaga and Sylvia. He was able to stall (mostly by pure avoidance) throughout a grappling match with Jacare, and he has a very solid base, so even someone that sweeps as well as Nogueira will have extreme difficulty in getting an advantageous position, and he has very little shot of simply throwing up a triangle or armbar like he could against opponents in 2002.

If Nogueira can knock Couture down, trip him, or sweep him, and get dominant position, the guy really will be able to capitalize on his jiu-jitsu advantage and finish nine times out of ten. Couture, like all wrestlers, is poor off his back, especially against bigger men with legit grappling skills.

All told, Couture is 46 years old, but he hasn’t shown it. At some point he’s going to get out of bed unable to complete with younger men, but he’s not there yet. He’ll be able to control the fight with his clinch game, beat Nogueira to the punch, and accumulate damage on Nogueira for a decision win. If Nogueira really has overcome whatever he’s been struggling with since he entered the UFC, and comes in light and sharp, he could use his reach and boxing to score on the feet and put Couture into a desperation mode. Nog isn’t a huge knockout striker, but he has got a bit more on his punches at this point than earlier in his career, as can be seen from him knocking around Herring and Werdum. If Nog is healthy and Couture is finally old, don’t be shocked if Couture gets knocked out again (or dropped and choked). As a realist though, predictions have to be made on observable events, and fighters typically look the same as they have in their recent fights. As such, a strong, fast, and fragile Couture will control a slow, creaky, but tough Nogueira to a one-sided decision victory. Randy Couture by decision.

Don’t bet this fight unless the odds on Couture improve drastically. There are a huge number of unknowns, so unless you have inside information on the health status of both fighters, you can’t make an informed wager here.

Keith Jardine (-140) vs. Thiago Silva (+125)

This has the potential to be the most electrifying bout on the card. Both guys have good power, an aggressive style, and trick chins, so a knockout is very likely. Jardine is coming off a hard-fought (but clear, regardless of what he wants to think) loss to Rampage Jackson, where he went toe-to-toe with one of the divisions premier sluggers and held his own, while Thiago is coming off of an emasculating loss to Lyoto Machida, which, like so many of Machida’s fights, exposed the huge holes in Silva’s game for all to see.

Silva’s most dangerous weapon will be greatly blunted in this fight. When Thiago can get an opponent down and keep them there, he advances position well and has a depleted-uranium-heavy mount, where he throws the kind of ground and pound that finishes fights very quickly. Jardine is surprisingly hard to take down, and does an excellent job of escaping back to his feet rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on his back, probably a result of sparring daily with a wrestler the caliber of Rashad Evans.

Jardine’s greatest strength is his unusual striking style, which throws off many fighters with strange timing and angles. But the truth is, much of what makes it unusual is that it’s just bad in some ways. He often finds himself out of position and open to shots, after moving forward too aggressively without a guard, which, combined with his mediocre chin has led to three knockout losses on his record, none of which took more than a minute. As could be seen at times in the Vera fight and throughout the Rampage fight, a more technically savvy fighter can avoid and counter this style (it would be very interesting to see what Machida would do to Jardine).

Fortunately for Jardine, any problem he has, Silva has worse. Jardine doesn’t have a rock-solid chin, but he was able to survive and go the distance against two of the biggest hitters in the game. Silva has been repeatedly dropped by lesser fighters and was completely starched by Machida in a finale similar to Overeem/Shogun II. Jardine has screwy footwork and leaves himself open at times, but Silva just walks forward to throw bombs and leaves himself open 100% of the time. Jardine has slowed down late in tough fights, but Silva has slowed down midway through short fights, and has very little experience past the first round, making it very likely that he’ll go off the rails early in the second round, if he makes it that far.

Jardine is a slow starter, so the aggressive start Silva traditionally uses is the Brazilian’s best chance of victory. If Jardine doesn’t come out of the blocks ready to deal with bombs and counter, don’t be surprised if Silva clubs him to the ground, takes mount, and completely brutalizes him in under 40 seconds. If Jardine makes it through the first minute of the fight without being smashed up and gets a chance to go on the offensive, the shoddy defensive work of Silva means that it’s only a matter of time before the Dean of Mean catches him out and puts him down. Keith Jardine by TKO round 1.

Jardine is being undervalued here. He has his weaknesses, but Silva’s are much worse. Jardine, for all his foibles, is a legitimate striker, and Silva has struggled with anyone that can actually throw down. Silva’s chin is worse and his gas is worse, and Jardine can get out from under him or (more likely) stop his takedowns in the first place. Jardine’s a good play.

Chris Leben (-135) vs. Jake Rosholt (+120)

At first, Team Takedown sounded like a good idea. Take talented athletes that need training, put them together on a team with fighters that know how to adapt wrestling skills for the fight game, and pay them enough that they don’t have to worry about hustling for dollars on the side while they’re not getting big-money fights.

Sounds like a perfect developmental system, but as so many workers have discovered in this economic downturn, when money gets tight, the employees get squeezed. Rosholt, a skilled wrestler that obviously needs more time in the lab to become a well-rounded fighter, has been pushed much too far much too fast. Rosholt’s striking and ground game are far behind that of his competitors at this point, putting him in a UFC-1 type position of being desperate to force a fight into his specialty from bell to bell. Against Nissen Osterneck, this was painfully obvious, as he dove zombie-like into punch after punch, displaying a monster chin but little else, until he finally landed the desperation takedowns he so needed. Rather than learning that he was limited at this point and needed to take fights against pure jiu-jitsu fighters where he could get some experience striking, Jake was pushed directly into the UFC, where he will be at even more of a disadvantage, as we saw when Dan Miller easily guillotined him a minute into their fight.

Jake is a great athlete with good potential, but he’s nowhere close to a finished product, so this is a terrible matchup for him. Leben is predictable and slow on the feet, but when a fighter is completely uncomfortable standing and catches every punch with his face, his power makes him a very scary opponent. Furthermore, while Leben is no Demian Maia or Josh Koscheck, he has a solid submission game and a decent bit of wrestling, so Rosholt can’t score with terrible takedowns and can’t just cruise on the ground. Lastly, Leben is very tough, so Rosholt will have to control him for three rounds (admittedly the third round could be a gimmie, as Leben’s gas isn’t spectacular) without being crushed or caught.

All told, the fact that Rosholt’s face never met a punch it didn’t like is going to spell the prospect’s doom in his second straight loss, derailing a once-promising career that should never have been on this fast track. Chris Leben by KO round 1.

Leben is being massively undervalued here. He has KO power for days and is a much more well-rounded fighter. He’s not fantastic, and he got busted for roids, so he’s being overlooked. Rosholt’s only path to victory is fraught with danger, so Leben represents an excellent play.

Demian Maia (+150) vs. Nate Marquardt (-170)

This bout represents the best fighters on the card, with the highest standings in their division and the most technical acumen. However, the result will probably be a blowout, as is often the case in specialist vs. generalist bouts. Maia has lethal jiu-jitsu skills that let him dominate excellent grapplers and completely hose average ones. Marquardt is one of the best generalists in the game today, with superior physical tools and A minus skills in every facet of the game. If Maia can work his game, he’ll make Marquardt look inept, and if he can’t Marquardt will make him look as one-dimensional as Royce Gracie and grind him up in dominating fashion.

Maia’s takedown skills don’t get the credit they deserve. He looks the part of the stereotypical finesse jiu-jitsu convert that is lost when someone doesn’t want to grapple, skinny and not capable of slamming an opponent with a massive double leg. However, like Shinya Aoki, Maia has a very effective repertoire of takedowns beyond just pulling guard. While he doesn’t blow through opponents with a GSP double leg, he DID lateral drop Chael Sonnen and he does properly execute finesse takedowns, pulling guard directly into sweeps, committing to takedown attempts properly, varying up his attacks like a real wrestler, turning the corner, and otherwise putting the fight where he wants it instead of just hoping it gets there. If Marquardt gets out of position and doesn’t respect Maia’s takedowns, he’ll find himself deposited flat on his back and seconds away from being submitted.

However, Marquardt is one of the better control fighters in the game. He’s excellent defensively in all respects, able to protect himself on the feet, stay out of opponent’s grasp, and shut down offensive guards on the ground. Marquardt also isn’t afraid to be boo’d if he’s in control and focused on locking down an opponent and protecting himself. He can slow a fight to a crawl while he ‘cooks’ an opponent. With Nate’s dominant physicality and Maia showing some signs of fatigue in his tilts with noted gingers Ed Herman and Jason MacDonald, Marquardt stalling for later in the fight could work to his advantage, although the extra muscle mass he’s carrying lately can’t be easy on the cardio.

On the feet, Marquardt will have a big advantage, with his massive arsenal of strikes, although Maia has worked diligently to improve his own standup and has shown some natural power. Nate will have to walk a fine line between threatening Maia enough to keep him off balance and desperate while not getting overaggressive enough to give up an easy takedown.

If Marquardt fights a smart fight, accumulating damage against Maia without pursuing him to the ground excessively, he can shift the odds massively in his favor. It’s clear by now that a busted-up grappler is much less dangerous than a fresh one, so a solid round of picking Maia apart could set the stage for finishing him off with ground and pound, but a premature decision to chase the finish on the ground will lead to a sweep and a submission loss. Marquardt has had problems with his in-ring smarts in the past, although he’s fought more controlled and intelligent fights more recently, so that’s an unknown.

If Marquardt doesn’t get submitted, he’ll win this fight. He will control the fight most of the time, so a decision will tilt in his favor, and it’s unknown how much damage Maia can take without collapsing, so the more he puts hands on Maia the better he’ll be.

A very competitive fight, which could be decided in the blink of an eye. Maia represents a much more interesting opponent for Anderson Silva, but whoever wins here will undoubtedly be the number two middleweight in the world. Marquardt has more ways to win and better defenses against Maia’s strengths than Maia against Marquardt’s, so he is rightly the favorite. Nate Marquardt by decision.

While I favor Marquardt, the odds on Maia have been steadily creeping up, and I think many underestimate his ability to take the fight to the floor. +150 is a marginal play, but if the line moves further in either direction there is value to be had.

Krzysztof Soszynski (+185) vs. Brandon Vera (-185)

Soszynski is the go-to guy for replacements at this point, and he also kind of looks like Rondo Hatton. The vowel-hating Pole by way of Canada has surprised me repeatedly by winning his recent fights, but I am yet again going to pick against him here.

Brandon Vera is a mental basket case, but there isn’t a single skill where he does not exceed Krzysztof. He is much faster on the feet, where Soszynski punches like a rusty robot (granted, with robot power as well) and, while Soszynski’s ground game has been enough to punish complete neophytes, Vera is cut from an entirely different cloth, so Krzysztof will be lucky to so much as hold him down.

Vera will simply be too crisp, too fluid, and too fast for the big white machine here. He’ll move in and out, work his kicks, and make Krzysztof miss while punishing him. When his opponent gets desperate, Vera will easily escape desperation takedown attempts and become even more effective with his striking, until he lands a big knee and closes out the fight. Brandon Vera TKO round 2.

I piled on to Vera when he was still available at -140 and under. Vera isn’t quite as tempting at -185, although I’d take him at -250 if I could be guaranteed he was mentally in the fight. He only loses this fight if he throws it away himself.

Gabriel Gonzaga (-365) vs. Chris Tuchscherer (+300)

Tuchscherer is an okay fighter for a heavyweight, but he’s also the kind of guy Gonzaga chews up. Gabriel doesn’t have the best staying power in the face of adversity, but until someone really beats him up, he has killer offensive skills. Chris’ best weapon is his takedown game, which will be a whole different can of worms against Gonzaga. Gonzaga will work his kicks and punches to beat up the big man and put him out of the fight in impressive fashion, reminding everyone of what we saw in Blanka before Couture put him on blast. Gabriel Gonzaga KO round 1.

Justin McCully (+225) vs. Mike Russow (-260)

Justin McCully is terrible, but so is the bulk of the heavyweight division. Mike Russow is a big, unathletic guy with some real submission skills, which makes him a top-tier fighter in this division. He’s going to plow McCully and will likely end up fighting some of the top guys within 12 months, for the better or worse. Mike Russow by submission round 1.

Todd Duffee (-155) vs. Tim Hague (+140)

Hague is terrible. He was supposed to be a fall guy so mighty midget Pat Barry could get some experience in the ring, but Barry got overexcited and forgot that he doesn’t know how to so much as spell jiu-jitsu, throwing himself into a guillotine and giving Hague another fight in the UFC. Hague has had the amount of success he’s enjoyed thus far simply by not being completely hopeless in any aspect of the game and fighting really poor opposition. Duffee is a very big step up in opposition and a hot prospect. He may degenerate into garbage, like so many other heavyweights, but he should be able to knock Hague around in impressive fashion. Todd Duffee by KO round 1.

Duffee at -170 is worth a play, although he opened at much more enticing odds at some books.

Nick Catone (+190) vs. Mark Munoz (-200)

It’s good to know Munoz has woken up after being given das boot out of the 205 pound division by enormously powerful man-child Matt Hamill. In that fight Munoz, who had physically dominated all previous opponents, seemed desperate once Hamill casually shrugged off his takedown attempts and came back at him with huge power. Munoz, not a very technical striker, but typically the guy with the big gun, didn’t know what to do and ended up being put to sleep.

He’ll be playing his familiar role in this fight, with Catone forced out of his comfort zone. Catone typically works takedowns and mixes ground punishment with submission attempts to wear down his opponent and win rounds. Against a wrestler the caliber of Munoz, he’s going to be on his back, defending against big power. Catone is probably a better grappler, but the advantage won’t be enough to overcome the dominant positions Munoz will be in or Munoz’s wrestling base.

On the feet, Munoz swings very wide, but he has huge KO power, so if Catone gets sloppy or worn down, he’ll wake up face-first on the canvas. Both of these guys are good prospects with very short records in a mediocre division, so regardless of how they come out of the fight, it will be much-needed experience for them both. Mark Munoz by KO round 1.

Marcus Aurelio (-140) vs. Evan Dunham (+120)

The guidelines for defeating Aurelio are pretty clear; take him down, stay conservative in his guard, and wear him down to cruise through the third round for a decision. He’s never been knocked out or submitted, but the enormous weight cut he makes, which saps his third-round efficacy, and the fact that his guard can be controlled by a superior wrestler have placed clear limits on his success to this point.

All of which is not to say that Aurelio isn’t a top-level fighter. On the contrary, he is an elite fighter with a clearly exploitable weakness that other elite fighters can exploit. When Aurelio is matched up with less sturdy opposition, he becomes a threshing machine and mows them down. Unless Dunham is really something special, with the wrestling to put him down, the control game to win from there, and the defense, composure, and cardio to avoid being put out of the fight, Aurelio is going to be far too much for him to handle, with a very real chance of knocking him out or submitting him. Marcus Aurelio by submission round 1.

Ed Herman (-135) vs. Aaron Simpson (+105)

Simpson stormed through Tim McKenzie by being really aggressive (and viciously headbutting him twice with no ref intervention) which is good, because McKenzie was the best opponent Simpson had faced to that point. Simpson is aggressive, powerful, fast, and athletic, but he’s really very green at this point. Ed Herman is what he is at this point. He’s a solid opponent, but he’s not a superstar. He’ll handle fighters like David Loiseau, but he’ll be hit or miss against higher level fighters in the division. That said, he brings a much more veteran and well-rounded game to this fight, and will have the rare treat of being the more technical striker in the fight.

This fight will be determined by the wrestling matchup. Herman is more versatile, but versatility doesn’t come into play if a one-dimensional opponent forces a fight in that dimension. If Simpson can put Herman on his back and control him, he could take a decision. This will be a tall order, as Simpson appeared overexcited in his fight with McKenzie and has very little ring time, hardly persuasive arguments for a solid third-round gas tank. If Herman is cool and collected, he has the chin to hang tough through Simpson’s initial assault, and the wrestling skills to make Simpson work for takedowns and engage in a losing standup affair. Unless Simpson can dive in with some more lunging headbutts to fell Herman, Herman will find an opening at some point in the fight and punish him to soften him up for a submission. Ed Herman by submission round 1.

My Plays:

1u on Herman (at -135) to win .74u
1.7u on Duffee (at -170) to win 1u
2.5u on Vera (at -125) to win 2u
2u on Leben (at -135) to win 1.48u
2u on Jardine (at -140) to win 1.43u


What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?