Fight Picks and Predictions for UFC 125: Champ or Chump?

By Nicholas Bailey

On January 1, it’ll be time to move the booze bottles from in front of the TV, take some painkillers, and park on the couch for some recovery and to ring in the new year with a revenge match at the top of UFC 125: Resolution. Edgar and Maynard aren’t huge draws, but this card is filled with quality matches from top to bottom. MMA has been coming at fans at a furious pace, but January will be a little bit slower for the sport, so savor the fights on this card while you can.

Champ Frankie Edgar (+115) vs. Gray Maynard (-140) (for lightweight title)

Almost two years ago Gray Maynard ate Edgar’s lunch. He showed no respect for Edgar’s striking, grabbed a hold of him, and completely manhandled him. Edgar, for his part, walked right into takedowns and did not control distance at all. A lot can change in two years.

Some things are the same. Edgar is still small for lightweight and would physically match up better with featherweights. Maynard will still overpower him if he can get a good grip on him. Edgar still isn’t a big KO puncher, and Maynard still hits hard.

However, in that time Edgar has adapted his small stature into a strength, blitzing opponents with speed and footwork. He didn’t take BJ Penn down repeatedly because he was so big and strong, but because he frustrated Penn with movement and chose his spots wisely. Instead of letting larger opponents get a hold of him and use their size to overpower him, he has become a master of distance, never letting himself be pushed into the fence and making larger opponents suffer for their size by having to move more bulk around to catch him. He’s also improved his hands enormously. Edgar will never be the kind of slugger a Takanori Gomi or Jeremy Stephens is, but he can land without being countered, punch in combinations, and make opponents think twice about letting him hit them.

Maynard has made less drastic changes, perhaps because his undefeated record doesn’t really ask for much in the way of improvement. His recipe for success is still physicality, takedowns, and grinding. He has steadily improved his hands, but he still throws big telegraphed punches. He still has some defensive liabilities on the ground, relying primarily on his strength and wrestling base to keep him out of trouble. He still slows down a lot for a lightweight if he’s forced to work hard throughout the fight.

Maynard wins this fight if he can use his physicality on Edgar. If his heavy punches land, if he can corner Edgar and make it a contest of strength, it will wear down the smaller champion. If Edgar can avoid most of the takedowns and tag Gray up on the feet, Gray will become frustrated chasing him around and getting hit. Frustration causes fighters to fight outside of their comfort zone, which tires them out. If Edgar can do this early in the fight, he will completely dominate Gray later in the fight.

Gray’s best chance for a finish is to really catch Edgar flush with a punch. Edgar has shown a good chin, but anyone can be knocked out and Gray has heavy hands. Given Edgar’s movement, this is unlikely unless the champ makes a big mistake. Gray will probably just have to manhandle Edgar for control if he wants to take the strap. Edgar’s best chance for a finish is to take Gray’s back in a scramble and choke him out. Edgar is a superior grappler, but he isn’t going to be able to set up anything off his back, and he’s not the kind of fighter that looks to pass and work for submissions when he has top control. Edgar’s most likely path to victory is to out-point Gray on the feet, keep up his movement, and completely take over in the later rounds. Gray is tough and Edgar doesn’t have the kind of viciousness needed to finish him with strikes, so even a dominant performance by the champ will likely go all five rounds.

Edgar’s control of distance, his quick, accurate hands, and his improved use of his wrestling will all be too much for Maynard. Maynard may have some early success, but Edgar will stay active and win more rounds than he loses, finishing strong and holding on to the belt. Frankie Edgar by decision.

The value of Gray’s previous win is being over-rated here. Gray will have a very hard time putting Edgar away, will struggle in the late rounds, and will have trouble getting a hold of Edgar due to his crisp boxing and footwork. A play on Edgar is warranted at these odds.

Chris Leben (-165) vs. Brian Stann (+150)

Chris Leben has long ago mortgaged his ability to remember his own name in old age in exchange for fighting success now. Many fighters are durable and have good chins, but few have the ability Leben does to engage in outright slugfests with power punchers and come out on top. Stann is a big guy and can crack Leben, but he’s going to be shocked when Leben takes his best shots and hits him back harder.

Leben was exactly right in pointing out that Stann is successful because of his physical tools, not his techniques. Stann is a fantastic athlete, but he doesn’t have the kind of slick striking to out-point Leben or control him on the floor. Stann will win fights against people that can’t take him down and can’t handle his punches. Leben can do both, and Stann still has a ton to learn on the floor. In a protracted ground fight, Leben is a far superior grappler and will easily handle Stann, but this fight is more likely to look like the Aaron Simpson fight, with Stann eventually succumbing to the juggernaut-like Chris Leben. Chris Leben by TKO round 2.

Thiago Silva (-137) vs. Brandon Vera (+130)

This, like so many other fights, is a tilt Brandon Vera should win and win impressively. He has demonstrated all the physical and technical abilities he needs to overcome Silva. This is also, like so many other fights, one that Vera will not win. He has demonstrated a complete inability to come out of his shell and actually apply those abilities towards overcoming tough opponents. There comes a point when observers need to realize that a fighter is never going to overcome the problems in their head, and Vera is long past that point.

Thiago is absolutely vicious on the feet, but can be countered or hit, and he doesn’t have as good a chin as Vera does. Thiago is lethal on the ground with punching, but he doesn’t have Vera’s wrestling or the slickness of Vera’s jiu-jitsu. Vera could win this if he can move forward, keep Sivla on the defensive, and touch him up with long-range punches and kicks. A few big hits will be enough to dispatch Silva if Vera can lace up the kind of offense that he confidently nuked below-average heavyweights with.

Unfortunately for Vera, that isn’t what’s going to happen. Silva is going to come forward and try to bomb on him, and Vera will retreat within himself, defend, and become passive. It’s not likely that Silva will blow up Vera’s face the way Jon Jones did, but he will bruise him up and take the decision in a lackluster fight. Thiago Silva by decision.

Nate Diaz (-105) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (-125)

This fight will be won or lost in the third round. Kim has every ability that gives Diaz fits. He’s big and strong, he can take Diaz down, and he can defend submissions once he gets into Diaz’s guard. What Diaz has in his back pocket, however, is the ability to fight hard for fifteen minutes and seriously threaten late in the fight. Kim has always slowed down late in fights, and Diaz can definitely submit him if he gets tired and lazy.

Despite Kim’s insistence that he wants to strike with Diaz, this fight will most likely consist of Kim scoring trips and working from on top. Diaz has a lot of reach and pretty sharp boxing, and Kim is way too hittable to like exchanging with him, even if Kim has some pop in his hands. There will be a lot of exciting scrambles, but Kim will control the first two rounds. If Diaz doesn’t have a ton left in the tank in the third, or Kim has improved his cardio, then the third round will be more of the same. Dong Hyun Kim by decision.

Takanori Gomi (+130) vs. Clay Guida (-150)

This is a very losable fight for each man. Guida is an above-average wrestler who is a little small for the division and lacks serious offensive firepower. He wins through repeatitive takedowns and hustle-heavy ground and pound that is far more sizzle than steak. Gomi has shown that he has the ability to shut down that kind of game, since he is a pretty good wrestler himself, but he’s also proven to be massively vulnerable to getting wild and/or tired and ending up on his back when he shouldn’t. Gomi has shown to be pretty useless off his back, but Guida has neither the ground and pound or submission offense to put him away.

If Gomi can stay composed and pick his shots judiciously, he should be able to brick-wall Guida’s takedown attempts and tag him up with the lethal up-and-down combinations that have dispatched so many. If Gomi gets tired or frustrated, and starts throwing absurd fastballs that do not connect and nearly topple him over, then Guida will put a serious hustle on him and cruise to victory.

Guida is very tough, but Gomi has some of the sharpest and most deadly hands in the division when he’s on, so Guida will be in serious danger. Most dangerous to Guida is the fact that his natural reaction when he gets hit is to just try to return fire in a wild slugfest. This nearly got him killed against Diego Sanchez, and getting into a slugfest with Takanori Gomi is a sure path to a long nap. Greg Jackson knows this, but when a fighter gets popped, they are fighting on instinct, not following a carefully constructed gameplan.

Gomi has never been known for his in-ring IQ, but his skill set gives him all the tools he needs to beat Guida. The question is whether he’ll be able to apply it. Takanori Gomi by TKO round 2.

Gomi is a flake, but he should be a slight favorite against Guida, given the favorable style matchup. He’s good for a play.


Marcus Davis (+210) vs. Jeremy Stephens (-255)

Marcus Davis has hit a brick wall, physically. He’s thirty-seven years old, which is well within the normal range for fighters to be shot, and he’s looked absolutely terrible in his recent fights. He relies on being a hard-nosed brusier that can stand in the pocket and trade, but he has shown a reduced ability to absorb punishment and his counters are slowing down. Combine that with skin the consistency of tissue paper, and you have a fragile fighter that will put in his best results against fighters that he can put away without a protracted slugfest (Goulet) or don’t have the power to bash him up (Kelly). Jeremy Stephens is not that fighter.

Stephens is a flawed fighter, without great wrestling and vulnerable to serious submission offense. He’s a standup fighter that isn’t particularly technical, just a rough-and-tumble slugger. What he does have is tremendous natural punching power and an iron chin. He isn’t as inaccurate as a Leonard Garcia, so his foes will have to endure his power at some points in most fights, unless they can completely staple him to the floor. If he cracks Davis with one of his punches, Davis could be leaving the arena on a spine board. If Davis does survive, his already-weak skin, further weakened by the dehydration of the weight cut, will be absolutely hanging off his face in shreds.

Davis’ best hope for victory in this fight is to come in and force takedowns and ride out top position. He’s not that kind of fighter, though, so he’s going to punch and get punched, and he’s going to get cracked and finished. Jeremy Stephens by KO round 1.

Josh Grispi (-260) vs. Dustin Poirier (+230)

Poirier is tough, but this is just not good for him. Grispi is too big, too powerful on the feet, and too slick on the floor. Grispi is going to handle him and put him away. This should be a good scrap, but the snowball will start rolling against Poirier early, and eventually build up until it overwhelms him. Josh Grispi by submission, round 2.

Phil Baroni (+175) vs. Brad Tavares (-210)

Phil Baroni is done. The man has not shown the physical abilities required of a competitive professional fighter. He is still incredibly tough, but there is a limit to the usefulness of that toughness when a fighter is too gassed to do anything but get hit. Baroni has been out for far too long, and does not belong among the UFC’s current talent, not even against Brad Tavares. Unless Tavares gets knocked out in the first minute, he will run riot on a defenseless Baroni in an unseemly spectacle. Brad Tavares by TKO round 2.


Mike Brown (-255) vs. Diego Nunes (+205)

It’s always shocking to think about how someone who was slated for greatness the way Mike Brown was can fall back into the grey mists of irrelevance. Brown is not that far removed from his dominant title reign, including two solid thrashings of the divisions biggest star, but two tough losses have found him crashing to the earth. The lighter divisions are more unstable at this point, as Miguel Torres can attest.

Brown remains a very solid fighter, physically strong, defensively good, and capable of putting out some real offensive firepower. This is the kind of fight that will remind fans of what Brown can really do, although Nunes is too skilled and tough to make it a complete squash match showcase. Brown should be able to take Nunes down and work from on top, and that’s a style that Brown can really hammer from. Mike Brown by decision.

Daniel Roberts (-105) vs. Greg Soto (-120)

Roberts is a very, very slick grappler, but Soto is a superior wrestler. This fight will depend on how strategically Soto can fight, to keep Roberts contained. If he lets scrambles get started, Roberts has the chops to eat his lunch, but Soto should be able to keep him pinned down and in disadvantageous positions. It will be walking along a razor’s edge, though. Greg Soto by decision.

Antonio McKee (-230) vs. Jacob Volkmann (+190)

Jacob Volkman has never knocked anyone out, and the last (and only) time McKee was submitted was a very long time ago. McKee probably isn’t going to be vying for the strap at the top of a pay-per-view anytime soon, but he’s going to hump a lot of guys to death on UFC undercards. McKee has gone on a rare streak of finishing opponents (two in a row!) but Volkman is too game and McKee is too smart and risk-averse for this fight to not go to decision.

Jacob Volkman is a solid competitor, but he really doesn’t have any standout ability. He peforms above his class through grit and effort, but when he’s put in a situation where he really needs technique, not effort, he flounders. Pinned under Antonio McKee is exactly the kind of situation where one needs a LOT of technique. McKee should be on cruise control, with Dana White swearing and fans booing, for this entire fight. Antonio McKee by decision.

My plays:
1u on Frankie Edgar at (+115) to win 1.15u
1u on Takanori Gomi at (+130) to win 1.3u


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