Thursday, December 29th, 2011
After a longer than anticipated winter slumber your resident handicapping guru is back for UFC 141 this weekend at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. The headlining fight pits Alistair Overeem, making his UFC debut, against former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar in what should be an explosive matchup of completely contrasting styles. The rest of the main card looks slightly above average, highlighted by the welterweight matchup between the long standing #2 in the division behind Georges St. Pierre, Jon Fitch, and up and comer Johny Hendricks. I’ll try to shake off the rust of the last two months especially after my more than disappointing 1-2 record at UFC 135 and finish up the year strong. Currently my record for the year is sitting at 40-21-1 (65%) so my goal of hitting 70% for the year has gone up in flames so I’ll keep that on the radar for 2012 but for now let’s break down the main card and pick out a few winners:
1) Nam Phan vs. Jimy “The Kid” Hettes – Nam Phan, the popular fighter from the Ultimate Fighter season 12, is looking to put together back to back wins for the first time since 2007-2008 after earning much deserved retribution in his rematch against Leonard Garcia. Phan was robbed of a victory in their first fight back in 2010 due to a split decision but avenged that loss in the rematch at UFC 136 in October. That being said, excluding the first loss to Garcia, Phan has dropped 4 of his last 7 fights despite being fairly well rounded and laying it all on the line every time he steps in the cage which has led to his fan favorite status and his penchant for exciting fights. Nam’s stand up is the strength of his game and he is one of the few MMA fighters that really utilizes body punches during exchanges which have become a calling card of sorts for him. This is an interesting matchup for Phan since he has never been submitted in his 26 professional fights and Hettes has won all 9 of his career fights via submission. If Phan can use his above average grappling skills to keep this fight standing then he should have a decided advantage.
Hettes is making his 2nd appearance in the UFC after submitting Alex Caceres at UFC Live 5 in August. Phan is certainly a step up in competition for the 24yr old Pennsylvania native who has shown tremendous submission skills throughout his professional career winning all 9 of his fights by submission with only 3 of those fights making it past the 1st round. His striking is still certainly a work in progress and he will not want to stand and bang with Phan. His game plan will be to get Phan to the ground as early as possible and either look to secure his 10th submission win or grind out a decision on the ground.
Pick – Phan via 2nd TKO. Phan’s grappling should be good enough to keep the fight standing where he has a decided advantage over the younger Hettes.
Handicapping Play – Phan -230.
2) Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko vs Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson – “The Janitor” gets very little respect and is one of the more underrated fighters in the sport today. Over the last 6 years since 2005 he is 13-2 with those two losses coming to Antonio “Lil Nog” Nogueira and Jon “Bones” Jones which are nothing to be ashamed of at all. The more amazing part of that run is that it has all happened after Matyushenko turned 34! He certainly isn’t flashy but his game is well rounded and just doesn’t have many holes in it. He has solid wrestling, good knockout power, and is a smart technician in the cage that makes the 40yr old still a tough match up for any light heavyweight in the division.
Gustafsson comes into this fight riding a 3 fight win streak with his most recent win being a brutal TKO of Matt Hamill at UFC 133 in August. The 24yr old is aptly nicknamed as he does have a mauling type style of fighting. The power he possesses in both hands is undeniable as evidenced by his 8 TKO/KO wins in 13 professional fights. In addition to his powerful striking he has shown some aptitude in his grappling game as well as both wins prior to the Hamill fight were submission victories. It seems that no matter where this fight takes place the younger Gustafsson should have a decided advantage. As long as he can avoid being put on his back by Matyushenko for the majority of the fight it should be a solid step up the contender ladder for The Mauler.
Pick – Gustafsson via unanimous decision. Matyushenko has only been stopped 3 times in his 31 fights and has the skills and experience to make Gustafsson earn a hard fought decision.
Handicapping Play – None. Gustafsson is -325 right now which is just too high of a line against the experienced Matyushenko.
3) Jon Fitch vs. Johny Hendricks – Jon Fitch has been the 2nd best welterweight in the sport for the last 3 years and as I’ve written numerous times before if not for the unfortunate luck of being in the same division as Georges St. Pierre he would be a title holder. He has been called boring in a lot of MMA circles and while he’s certainly not flashy, 13 of his 23 career wins have been via decision, his dominant wrestling, outstanding cardio, and improving striking make him a nightmare matchup for even elite welterweights. He takes a significant strength advantage into almost all of his fights and he uses it to full advantage by using his wrestling/guerilla jiu jitsu style to wear his opponents down up against the cage and once he has them on their backs. The fact that he’s only been stopped twice in his career, with the last one coming a full decade ago in 2002, and it’s nearly impossible to grind out a decision against him makes him as about as close to unbeatable a fighter as you can get.
Hendricks has built quite an impressive resume, winning 11 of his 12 professional fights thus far, and is taking his biggest step in competition to this point in his career. The sole loss in his career was to fellow up and comer Rick “The Horror” Story last December and has since put together a 2 fight win streak with his last win over Mike Pierce at UFC 133. Hendricks has excellent power and explosiveness in both hands and a solid wrestling base that has allowed him to dictate where most of his fights have taken place, with the exception of his loss to Story. If he can keep the fight standing and get inside of Fitch’s reach advantage he stands a good chance to pull the upset but that is a big IF.
Pick – Fitch via unanimous decision. Hendricks wrestling just isn’t going to be good enough to keep the fight standing for long stretches of time and that is going to result in Fitch in top position ground and pounding for the majority of the 3 rounds.
Handicapping Play – Fitch -230
4) Nate Diaz vs. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone – Nate Diaz is trying to rebuild his UFC career after his submission win over Takanori Gomi at UFC 135 which stopped a two fight losing streak and a follow up win over Cerrone would go a long way to cementing Diaz’s place in the UFC. His submission skills are some of the best in the lightweight division and have earned him 10 of his 14 professional career victories. The downfall in his fights has been his lack of any real power in his striking and his penchant for working off his back which loses him a lot of rounds if he’s unsuccessful in securing a submission. That has led to the bulk of his career losses, 6 of 7 have come via decision, and sets up as very difficult matchup for him in this fight as Cerrone has the more technical, effective striking and just as good if not better submission game.
“Cowboy” is looking to extend his winning streak to 7 when he takes on Diaz and continue his climb to a shot at the lightweight title. His submissions are without question at the top of the division earning him 13 of his 17 wins but that underlies his rapidly improving striking. Though he only has 1 TKO victory to his credit it came back in August of this year and under Greg Jackson’s tutelage his striking has shown marked improvement particularly his leg kicks. It’s the one aspect of this matchup that is a significant advantage for Cerrone. Diaz isn’t a great wrestler that can put Cerrone on his back consistently and try to grind out a decision so it’s hard to imagine anything in Diaz’s arsenal that will pose much of a threat to the Cowboy.
Pick – Cerrone via unanimous decision. The striking advantage for Cerrone is significant and if their submission games cancel each other out this fight will probably play out with the Cowboy battering Diaz on the feet for the duration of the 3 rounds.
Handicapping Play – Cerrone -300
5) Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair “The Demolition Man” Overeem – Lesnar is making his return to the octagon after over a year layoff since losing the heavyweight title to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121. There have been widespread rumors that Lesnar will retire from the
sport after this fight but Dana White and others have denied those reports so it is anyone’s guess at this point. This will only be Lesnar’s 4th fight in the last 3 years due to unfortunate medical battle with diverticulitis but that lack of cage time has really hampered his progress as a fighter. He still possesses that freakish combination of strength, size, and speed along with a dominant top wrestling game that makes him a dangerous opponent. However the lack of progress in his striking and stand up skills have really been glaringly obvious in his last two fights. Both Shane Carwin and Velasquez lit Lesnar up while the fight was standing and if not for Carwin gassing himself out trying to finish Lesnar in the 1st round he would have lost both fights decisively. That doesn’t bode well for him facing the most decorated striker currently in the heavyweight division. Lesnar will need to get this fight to the ground early and often to neutralize the striking of Overeem and try to pound him out.
Overeem will be making his long awaited UFC debut riding an 11 fight unbeaten streak and has been in my opinion the best heavyweight in the sport over the last 2 years. His striking has always been outstanding, which was confirmed when he won the K-1 Grand Prix world kickboxing championship last year, and when you combine that with his underrated submission skills make him a nightmarish matchup for anyone in the division. If he can withstand the early shots from Lesnar and use his takedown defense to keep the fight standing then it should be easy pickings for Overeem. That said, Lesnar has the one punch power due to his size to knock anyone out and Overeem has been susceptible to that in the past suffering 6 of his 11 career losses by TKO/KO so Overeem will have to be careful of that but that should be fairly easy with his high level striking skills.
Pick – Overeem via 1st round TKO. The Demolition Man will be prepared for the inevitable Lesnar takedown attempt leading to an exposed Lesnar getting clipped and finished
Handicapping Play – Overeem -150
So to recap the 4 picks I like on the main card they are: Phan -230, Fitch -230, Cerrone -300, and Overeem -150. I know it looks like I’m going all chalk on the main card and actually I am but here are two additional plays on the undercard including my underdog pick of the night. I like Diego “The Gun” Nunes -260 over Manny “The Anvil” Gamburyan as well as my underdog pick of Junior Assuncao +230 over Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson. That makes 6 picks in all as we’ll try to end the year in a blaze of glory! Happy New Year to everyone and I’ll see you in January.