UFC 91 looks more like a boxing PPV than the typical UFC offering. A huge main event and a series of lesser fights is a recipe I hope the UFC throws out after this one. Anyway, my record going into UFC 91 is 41-16, which works out to 71.9%. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going with another strong night.
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Dustin Hazelett vs Tamdan McCrory
I think there should be a rule in MMA that no one 6 feet tall or over can compete below Middleweight. Lanky fighters bore the hell out of me. They always look like they're trying to pull one over on the other fights. Like they found a loophole in the rules and want to exploit it. Meanwhile the "Reach Advantage" strategy almost never works against quality opponents. That's all I'm gonna say about this one. Hazelett wins by Unanimous Decision.
Nate Quarry vs Demian Maia
Another impressive win by Maia could propel him into a title contention fight next time out. He's won "Submission of the Night" in all three of his UFC fights. The thing that impresses me with Maia is how he controls the fights. Even on his feet, where you would expect him to be uncomfortable, he finds ways to move the action where he wants it. He strikes enough to make his opponents think about it. This is the key attribute that makes him different than all of the other jiu-jitsu guys who have failed in MMA. In order for Quarry to win, he needs to overwhelm Maia. Push his cardio early by making him defend. Work his body and legs, so his transitions on the ground will be a split second slower. The only way Quarry gets through without being on the ground is if he catches Maia with a random punch early. For Maia the blueprint remains the same. Get Quarry to the ground by whatever means necessary. In most cases the simplest plans tend to work out best. For that reason, I am going with Maia by 1st Round Submission (and another Submission of the Night bonus).
Josh Hendricks vs Gabriel Gonzaga
Gonzaga is one of the most overrated fighters in the sport. He caught Mirko Cro Cop with a once in a lifetime head kick and that's about it. Couture dominated him. Werdum TKO'd him. He is a UFC marketing creation at its finest. If he was fighting any sort of real competition, I'd bet my life he'd lose. Hendricks, though, is less than stellar. I've heard more than a few people talking about all of the wins Hendricks has by submission. Well, that's a bit misleading. Four of them were submissions by strikes and they were not against the best of competition. The other submissions were mostly rear naked chokes over no one worth mentioning. We are probably in for a lot of holding in this one until Gonzaga can get it to the ground. He has the clear advantage on the mat and will make short work of Hendricks. Gonzaga takes it with a 2nd Round Submission. Probably a rear naked choke once Hendricks tires out. Rogan and Goldberg will make a huge deal over Gonzaga and immediately start talking about him as a Heavyweight contender.
Joe Stevenson vs Kenny Florian
This is a not a good match-up for Stevenson. When I examine fights, the first thing I think about is how can each fighter win. For Florian I could see him winning by strikes, submission, or decision. The only scenario I see for Stevenson is a decision victory. His striking and submissions just are not on the same level as Florian's. If he intends to bully Florian with his wrestling skills, he's going to eat a lot of punches coming in. Stevenson does have the edge in wrestling and strength. However, to use it he must get inside. Roger Huerta found out how difficult that can be the hard way. He ate punches for three rounds and never established much of a wrestling advantage. Stevenson faces the same problem. Unless he can somehow hurt Florian with a strike first, I do not see him controlling things with his superior wrestling skills. It's going to be a frustrating fight for Stevenson. Florian Wins by Unanimous Decision.
Brock Lesnar vs Randy Couture (HW Champ)
I did not want to pick a winner in this fight until I saw the weigh-ins. Most of the time weigh-ins are anti-climatic. The Heavyweight division is different, though. Since most fighters are under the 265 lbs limit, it allows for a degree of strategy to come into play. When Randy Couture fought Tim Sylvia, he weighed in at 222.5 lbs. His next fight against Gonzaga, he was 228.5 lbs. A year later against Lesnar, he's at 220 lbs. When I saw this it hit me instantly...Couture is planning on using the Rocky III defense.
In the third installment, Rocky Balboa faces Clubber Lang, who is portrayed as a physical beast with incomparable power. Lang is the perfect villain to the likeable Rocky. He's mean, scary looking, and has a tendency to verbally bash people. Sound like any one we know? On the flip side we have Rocky. He is the ultimate underdog, who has become champion at an older age than most fighters. After he loses to Lang in the first fight, his former rival Apollo Creed convinces Rocky to train with him for a rematch with Lang. Creed is convinced the only way Rocky can beat Lang is if he sheds some weight and becomes a quicker fighter. Thanks to some dramatic beach racing, Rocky loses the weight and shows up in fantastic shape for the fight with Lang. He then goes on to tire Lang out and defeat him in the 3rd Round.
I think Couture plans on using the Rocky III strategy to defeat Lesnar. He is essentially conceding the power game and instead focusing on conditioning and speed. A five round MMA fight at the highest level of the sport is grueling. Couture plans on running Lesnar until he breaks from exhaustion. When I was watching the Countdown show for UFC 91, the portion on the first Vitor Belfort fight was particularly interesting. At the time Couture was seen as an aging fighter facing a younger stud who possessed freakish athletic ability. Of course Couture shocks everyone and wins. The important part is how he won. On the show he explained his strategy, which was basically to take Belfort deep into the fight and test his conditioning. It worked exactly as planned. Belfort ran out of gas and the legend of Randy Couture was born. He's going to attempt the same thing with Lesnar. How will Lesnar's 275+ pound frame respond deep into the 4th Round? Will he suck it up and push through? Or will he fade like Belfort?
Now lets look at Lesnar's path to victory. He's the bigger fighter and judges will expect him to put Couture on his back. Once there, he needs to keep him down. If the fight goes to a decision and Couture and Lesnar each took each other down once per round, Couture will get the decision easily. His takedowns are worth much more to a subjective judge. Lesnar has to not only beat one of the best fighters in the sport's history, he also has to contend with judges who expect the giant to impose his will on the ground. This is a big reason why I think it will be tough for Lesnar to win a decision. People are expecting dominance from him. If Couture can simply survive, he has a good chance of taking it.
This brings up another problem for Lesnar - finishing the fight. In his two UFC bouts, he has failed to finish stunned opponents. Some may argue that the Mir fight should have been stopped. I agree, however, Mir was not hurt as bad as it seemed. Lesnar caught him off guard then landed a bunch of "pretty" strikes that never hit directly. His second fight featured the same issue. He could not finish Herring, despite having multiple opportunities to do so. The reason why he has had difficulties is because he lacks a submission game. When he hurts an opponent, the only way for him to finish it is with strikes on the ground. Veteran fighters like Mir and Herring know how to cover up and avoid heavy shots. As long as the referee isn't quick with the trigger, Couture should be fine if he gets stunned. Lesnar is more than happy to control things with wrestling, rather than go for a flurry and a TKO, especially after the Mir debacle.
While I do not think this will live up to the hype of being the "Biggest Fight in MMA History", it will be pretty damn entertaining. The unknown factor is higher in this one than any fight I can remember. An unproven phenom taking on a mid 40s champion who hasn't fought in over a year. Either way the outcome will be intriguing. I think Lesnar faces the bigger obstacles and at this point in his career, I can't back him over a proven legend like Randy Couture. I'm not willing to put my life on it, but I think Couture takes a Unanimous Decision. Lesnar gains the respect of 99% of the MMA fans with a gutsy performance.