Fight Picks and Predictions for UFC 107 Main Card: Baby Jay Is Still King

By Nicholas Bailey (

UFC 107 in Memphis was supposed to cap off the foul-tasting tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, finally putting to bed the ridiculous feud that produced so many instances of large, well-muscled adult males swapping grade-school insults from six inches away while displaying their best mean face. Unfortunately, Rampage Jackson continues to be Paulo Filho’s understudy when it comes to mental stability, so the fight has been put on hold.

While Zuffa did have to scrape and search to find a replacement, one of the sport’s most storied champions defending his belt against a worthy challenger is hardly unwanted leftovers, and the headline fight is bolstered by a main card as meaty as any fan could desire. In a year that has seen Zuffa take their UFC product to ever-increasing heights, it’s only fitting to close out with a card this strong.

Champ B.J. Penn (-285) vs. Diego Sanchez (+225) (for lightweight title)

It’s great that BJ has finally grown up and matured (or at least been strong-armed) enough to stay put in one division, consistently fight challengers, and otherwise build himself a true legacy. That legacy gives this fight meaning even if I don’t expect it to be competitive.

Diego is a very talented fighter, and his fight with Guida showed that the cut to 155 did not cost him the explosiveness or speed that made him a danger at 170. However, he is challenging one of the most naturally gifted fighters the sport has ever seen, and a fighter that has re-dedicated himself to honing his craft to make the best use of those natural gifts.

Diego’s standup has improved, but he still relies on his power and aggression to back opponents up. BJ’s chin should insulate him from Diego’s power, and furthermore BJ’s boxing is on an entirely different level from Diegos. Most concerning for Diego supporters, BJ has possibly the sweetest jab in MMA, and in previous fights where his opponent can effectively keep a jab in his face (Alessio and Koscheck) Diego was rendered quite inert offensively, as he simply did not like to continually walk into punches. BJ has much more firepower and head movement than the likes of Clay Guida, and Diego can’t afford to go punch-for-punch with the Champ.

Though he comes from a wrestling background, Diego’s takedowns are perhaps his biggest weakness. While he can, through sheer grit and hustle, drag many fighters down, he also forces the scramble and, in so doing, lets opponents get inside to his body. BJ has the best takedown defense in MMA, so Diego will only wear himself out with his hustle. BJ, when he commits fully to a takedown, can get virtually any lightweight to the floor, and is devastating from top position, but Diego’s most outstanding ability is his knack for bouncing back up off his back and scrambling free or to a better position. It will be very interesting to see what happens if BJ ends up in Diego’s guard. BJ’s ability to take the back and exert dominant control there makes Diego’s scramble game very dangerous, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see BJ glue himself to Diego’s back and sink in yet another choke.

Much has been made of Diego’s ability to “push the pace” and theoretically wear out the theoretically poor cardio of Penn, but that seems like a massive longshot. Even in MMA, it’s rare to wear someone out while fighting a losing battle. Unless Diego can force BJ to work to escape bad positions and otherwise impose his will, the pace will be set by BJ, since BJ has the more effective offense. Furthermore, it’s high time to put the myth of BJ’s poor cardio to rest. BJ has fought and trained in a much more dedicated and professional manner for years now, so his cardio problems are more myth than reality at this point.

BJ is going to bust Diego up on the feet, maintain dominant positions on the ground, and pour down so much punishment that Diego will get saved by the ref or give up his back for a choke. BJ Penn by submission round 3.

BJ opened at -190, which I piled on, as I mentioned in my twitter. At -285, there’s not nearly as much value, but he’s still a fairly safe play.

Cheick Kongo (+185) vs. Frank Mir (-205)

There’s not really a lot to say here. It’s your basic striker vs. grappler matchup. Kongo is playing the role of the striker, although it’s unknown whether Mir’s boundless self-confidence has led him to believe he’s truly a better boxer than Kongo. Kongo is aided by two things in this fight: firstly, Mir doesn’t take punishment well. If Kongo lands the kind of killshots that put Cain Velasquez on queer street, Mir’s mushroom top will blow completely off and he’ll be done for. Secondly, Mir’s submission offense is very strength-oriented, and Kongo is strong like a robot. It will be very hard for Mir to simply muscle in a keylock as he loves to do, and if he gets too loose playing guard and going for leglocks, Kongo will put his fist through Mir’s face.

Mir does have the power and technique to submit Kongo, although Kongo is better on the ground than many give him credit for. For all the aspersions cast upon his grappling acumen, Kongo has never been submitted in MMA. That said, his positional grappling, is quite substandard and if he gives up dominant positions to Mir, he will be in real trouble.

When it comes to wrestling, and this fight should come to wrestling unless Mir is slaughtered shortly after the opening bell, there is the chance that this becomes a complete gong show. Kongo looks really lost when opponents try to take him down, and if he can’t immediately muscle out of it he topples over in slow motion like rubber-suit Godzilla in the old movies. For Mir’s part, he relies on his size and raw power for most of his takedowns, as his wrestling is no great shakes either. However, he does have at least a basic theory of how to execute a takedown, so if he dedicates himself to putting the fight down and times his shot well, he should be able to get inside Kongo’s reach and take him down.

It’s not clear if Mir will have the time to properly set up his shots, however, since Kongo is a very accurate puncher with a good reach, meaning he has a good chance of simply punching right through Mir’s guard and making him desperate. Realistically, Mir has about one round of solid cardio (and has a bad habit of undertraining and overlooking opponents), while Kongo has shown that he comes to fight for all three rounds. If Mir fails on his takedowns in the first round, he’ll probably be out of there in three minutes, but even if he does take Kongo down, if he fails to finish quickly, and Cheick sees the second, Kongo will likely be able to stop a markedly slower Mir in the sixth or seventh minute of the fight.

It’s likely that the reach and power of Kongo will be too much, as Mir’s inability to take punishment bites him in the ass again when Kongo slips a punch right through Mir’s guard and drops him for the finish. Obviously Mir has a very well-defined path to victory, but Kongo will have an easier time of it. Kongo by TKO round 1.

I like a play on Kongo at +185, although the line may move in his favor come fight time. Because Mir has such a straightforward way to win, I don’t like much size on this play.

Jon Fitch (-405) vs. Mike Pierce (+325)

Fitch is capable of having a competitive first round with a corpse. The guy is simply a slow starter. Beyond that, Pierce doesn’t have much hope of looking good in this fight. Pierce is an excellent wrestler, as we saw in his dominating performance against Brock Larson, but we’ve seen by now that Larson folds completely when put on his back. Fitch may not have crushed as many top-level fighters as Thiago Alves has in his recent run, but, skill-wise he’s probably the second-best welterweight alive. His grinding wrestling and advantages in the striking and submission department should see him to victory over the tough Pierce, especially since Fitch will have a significant reach advantage, letting him control distance better. Fighting Fitch will be a good test of Pierce’s heart; if he can make it to the final bell, it will show he’s a tough, durable fighter with a lot of heart. Fitch by decision.

Kenny Florian (-197) vs. Clay Guida (+185)

Kenny Florian is a massively improved fighter. Since dedicating himself to really perfecting his striking, he’s developed his mid and leg kicks into very potent offensive weapons, although there’s still not a lot of pop in his hands. Even more dramatic has been the change in his physical tools. Starting out as a bit of a weakling, the diligent work he put into improving his core strength has let him put on some manful performances, notably his physical dominations of Joe Lauzon and Joe Stevenson, where he muscled the other men around in very dominant fashion, flexing some raw strength.

Clay Guida has a huge heart, but his offense is more sizzle than steak against elite opposition. Famous for his energy as well as his hair, Guida’s frenetic pace inside the ring masks the fact that he never really gets much done. His ground and pound is extremely active, but he rarely lands a quality shot or does significant damage. His takedown attempts, while frequent and dogged, are not at an elite level. In short, while his whirling-dervish antics are enough to completely run over the likes of Samy Shiavo, he’s stuck spinning his wheels offensively against higher-level fighters with better defense.

Florian, for all his talk of being a strong finisher, doesn’t have big firepower on the feet or particularly slick or aggressive submissions. He does the most damage to opponents when he can use his jiu-jitsu to advance position and hold it on top and throw down some pretty hard and relentless ground-and pound, softening his foe up for the finish. I expect Florian to stop most of Guida’s takedowns protect himself well if he does get taken down, and punish the shorter man with his kicks and his long jab. If Florian reverses a takedown attempt or sweeps and ends up on top of Guida, he won’t be able to solidify and maintain his position on top of the little ball of energy, but he should do enough work to clearly win at least two rounds and take the decision. Kenny Florian by decision.

Paul Buentello (+130) vs. Stefan Struve (-145)

Buentello is not a great fighter. In fact, he’s not even a particularly good fighter. He quits when someone hurts him, he hates training hard, and he doesn’t have much natural aptitude for wrestling or submissions. However, he does have a pretty darn good set of hands, which is all he’ll need here. Struve sounds imposing at an improbable 6’11”, but he’s built like a 14 year old on stilts and would probably lose armwrestling contests to most middleweights. He’s still developing his striking game and doesn’t make much use of his reach there, but he does have a tricky grappling game that makes great use of his length. Unfortunately he’s not that durable and has a tendency to get hit in the face more than one would hope for someone with that kind of reach and height.

Buentello isn’t called “the headhunter” for nothing, so look for him to hit Struve’s face early and often, as Denis Stojnic and Junior Dos Santos did before him. Buentello’s striking is a bit closer to Cigano’s than Stojnic’s, so expect a first round knockout. If the recent drama with AKA gave Buentello an excuse not to train hard and he gets sloppy and lets Struve take him down (or goes into his guard) don’t be shocked if he gets submitted, but disappointment is ok. Buentello by KO round 1

I expected Buentello to open as a decent favorite, instead of an underdog as high as +146 at widely-available lines. The line is marching towards reality, but at +130 he’s still a very strong play. Just remember that he has a very real way to lose and not to risk too much.

My Plays

3.8u on Penn at (-190) to win 2u
1u on Kongo at (+185) to win 1.85u
2u on Buentello at (+140) to win 2.8u


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