The UFC is back in Rio tonight, headlined by the UFC Featherweight title fight as champion, Jose Aldo will defend against undefeated power wrestler, Chad Mendes.
2011 was a great year for the UFC -- their biggest accomplishment, landing a network television deal with FOX. However, ratings and pay-per-view buys actually dipped over the last calendar year and in their first PPV of 2012, expect more of the same. UFC 142 will mark the first time a featherweight title fight has headlined a card. This weight class lacks star power in the form of PPV interest and intrigue. Furthermore, the rest of the main card also lacks serious star power, with many lesser known Brazilian prospects and favourites being showcased in Rio.
However, a legend in the sport, Vitor Belfort, will get the opportunity to fight at home -- if his opponent can manage to stay under 200 pounds. Anthony Johnson was supposed to make his middleweight debut against Belfort, moving up from the welterweight division in which he was just too big. However, Johnson shocked the UFC brass by weighing in 12 pounds over 185 pound limit. If he can stay under 200 pounds tonight, the UFC will allow him to fight for half of his purse. If he can't, the UFC has some serious scrambling to do in order to salvage the card.
On to the picks.
Jose Aldo vs Chad Mendes -- UFC Featherweight Championship
Jose Aldo has drawn comparisons to Anderson Silva since exploding onto the MMA scene. Both elite, Brazilian strikers and Jiu-jitsu practitioners that seem lightyears ahead of their peers and sit atop he pound-for-pound ranks. But if either fighter has a weakness, its wrestling. Back at UFC 117 in August of 2010, Anderson Silva looked to meet his match in elite wrestler, Chael Sonnen. Tonight, at UFC 142, the best wrestler in the featherweight division, Chad Mendes, will look to do what Chael did to Anderson.
Aldo will be the better striker Saturday night, no question. But MMA fans have time and time again seen elite wrestlers nullify striking talents. There is no secret in what Mendes will try to do and if Aldo can't defend his shot, this fight will look a lot like Silva-Sonnen, with Mendes on top, grinding Aldo out round after round.
Aldo, well aware of Mendes' grappling skills, enlisted the help of Gray Maynard -- arguably the best wrestler in the lightweight division -- to help him prepare for his shot. With strong takedown defence, Aldo should have no problem picking Mendes apart on the feet. Another factor in this bout will be the extremely pro-Aldo Brazilian crowd -- who are rockus to say the least. At the weigh-ins, they chanted "You're going to die!" to Mendes. Don't count out the intimidation factor, it's real.
While I give Mendes a better shot than the betting line suggests, Aldo is too smart to not focus heavily on shoring up his takedown defence in preparation for this bout. He will have moments of adversity, but eventually his superior striking will catch up to Mendes, who will be chopped down by leg kicks and finished by a swarm of punches in the third.
Pick - Jose Aldo via 3rd Round TKO
Vitor Belfort vs Anthony Johnson
Rumble is in the UFC bad books after not even attempting to make weight yesterday, coming in 12 pounds over the limit. Because his weight issues, picking this fight is quite tough. If Johnson has to keep off weight today in order to fight, he will likely not be able to perform at a high level. However, if Johnson can stay under 200 naturally, his sheer size advantage should probably have him favoured.
Despite all the hoopla surrounding Johnson's weight, what shouldn't be ignored is that fact that Belfort has the fastest hands at middleweight, and wants nothing more than to show them off in front of friends and family back home.
With too many unknowns heading into the co-main event, betting on either fighter would be a reach. However, I'll side with the scrapper who made weight, has the crowd fully entrenched on his side and can end the fight at any time.
Pick - Vitor Belfort via 2nd Round TKO
Rousimar Palhares vs Mike Massenzio
In a battle of strong ground fighters, Palhares and Massenzio will throw down tonight. Despite their strengths on the mat, this fight will likely be won in the standup. Palhares, who has muscle built on muscle, will likely get the better of the striking. He will connect quick and end this fight early, without it hitting the mat.
Pick - Rousimar Palhares via 1st Round TKO
Erick Silva vs Carlo Prater
Silva, one of the best Brazilian prospects in the sport, will continue to climb the ladder. He will quickly dispose of Prater, a tough veteran, but nothing more than an injury replacement. Silva's skill set and power will be too much.
Pick - Erick Silva via 1st Round TKO
Edson Barboza vs Terry Etim
Barboza will be the lone Brazilian on the main card to lose. Barboza, one of the division's elite strikers will be dragged out of his element and finished by the patented Terry Etim guillotine choke.
Pick - Terry Etim via 2nd Round Submission
For the first time in nine seasons of the popular UFC reality series, The Ultimate Fighter, the coaches will square off in the main event of the live finale. Michael Bisping and Jason Miller, who grew to hate one another while coaching, headline the card, while four of their students will scrap for two six-figure contracts in the UFC's newest weight divisions. Because these weight classes are still young, the two winners will jump right into the mix of their respective divisions; one in the featherweight and the other in the bantamweight divisions. However, the feud between the two headliners has stolen most of the thunder from the prospects vying for UFC careers. Bisping and Miller, both colourful, bad boys of MMA have grown a strong hatred for one another, culminating towards a fierce staredown and Bisping flipping off the crowd at the weigh-ins. Should be a fun night.
Michael Bisping vs. Jason "Mayhem" Miller
Miller, one of the more outgoing personalities in all of MMA, makes his return to the UFC in the main event of the Ultimate Fighter Finale, after a 6+ year hiatus. Miller has bounced around other organizations, finding success virtually everywhere he ends up. However, he is most famous for his eccentric walkouts, whether it be throwing money around, or dancing his way to the ring surrounded by Japanese models. In fact, for his return to the UFC, he will have Kevin James, of King of Queens lore, corner him for his fight against Bisping - Interesting dude, but he sure can fight. Miller has a world-class ground game and has fought some of the toughest fighters around the world, to a 23-7 record. Bisping has been around the top of the heap in the UFC for virtually his entire career, but has yet to secure a title shot. If Bisping can keep the fight standing, he will win the fight. He is the bigger and stronger guy, but Mayhem will be able to smother Bisping, while attempting submissions, if he can get him on his back. That won't happen here though, Bisping will have polished his takedown defence and will utilize his superior strength to keep the fight in his wheelhouse. He will get the better of the standup and eventually stop Miller, who will drop to 0-2 in his UFC career.
Pick - Michael Bisping via 4th Round TKO
John Dodson vs TJ Dillashaw
Dodson and Dillashaw will scrap for the first ever Ultimate Fighter Bantamweight tournament title. Dodson, is a very tough and talented guy but his natural weight class is at the flyweight division at 125 pounds, which is yet to be launched at the UFC level. Dillashaw fights out of Team Alpha Male, one of the most talented and athletic groups of fighters in all of MMA. He is a big, strong wrestler who will look to bully Dodson and beat him up on the ground. Dillashaw will be too much for Dodson tonight, with his relentless take down and ground and pound being the difference in a one-sided affair. However, both fighters will have long, successful UFC careers, especially Dodson, when the Flyweight division is born in the UFC.
Pick - TJ Dillashaw via Unanimous Decision
Diego Brandao vs Dennis Bermudez
The MMA world is suddenly high on Brandao, after watching him throw bomb after bomb during the TUF 14 season, knocking out fighters en route to the final. However, Brandao has been around for a while, with 20 pro bouts under his belt. In his 20 fights, only 4 have gone to decision; he lives and dies with the KO, winning 8 times by stoppage, but also knocked out 4 times. In comparison, Bermudez is relatively new to the sport, and has lost two straight coming onto the show after winning his first 7 pro bouts. No doubt Brandao will come out swinging for the fences but if he can't finish early, will he have enough in the gas tank to continue at his pace? Maybe, maybe not, but we won't get an answer tonight. Brandao will connect early and often and KO Bermudez to become the first Featherweight Ultimate Fighter winner.
Pick - Diego Brandao via First Round KO
UFC ON FOX, MMA AS A MAINSTREAM SPORT
Despite its undeniable popularity and rapid growth over the past decade, the UFC had yet to be completely accepted into the mainstream media, until now. This Saturday night, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will make its debut on network television with FOX broadcasting the UFC Heavyweight Championship fight between Junior dos Santos and Champion, Cain Velasquez. In teaming up with a network television giant in FOX, the UFC will join the monopoly that is, the largest family of sports broadcasting networks on the planet. Now, the UFC is on par with the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, NHL and NCAA - the biggest and most popular spectator sports in North America. FOX gives the UFC the credibility and legitimacy that smaller networks, like Spike TV, couldn't provide. The UFC has finally made it to the big leagues. It's about time.
It was most definitely a slow process. The UFC has seen a steady rise in popularity and acceptance since making its first appearance on cable television, with Spike TV broadcasting The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Since then, UFC President, Dana White and the UFC brass have worked tirelessly to prove to the sporting world (and governmental bodies) that MMA is a legitimate sport - not cock fighting, a belief many ignorant and close-minded people have. Seeing the UFC promoted during NFL on FOX broadcasts and Joe Buck's monologue at the beginning of UFC Primetime is almost impossible to believe now, when looking back on the early days. The UFC management`s hard work, patience and ultimate gamble paid off and has put them in the position they are in today, just days away from putting on the biggest mixed martial arts fight ever - on network television to boot.
Although UFC management was integral to the rise of the sport and it's gradual injection into the North American mainstream, the biggest factor behind the sports rapid evolution is quite simply, the quality of the sport. Unlike a decade ago, the fighters in the UFC now, are world class, elite level athletes. These professionals are trained in and strive for perfection in multiple combat disciplines from all walks of the earth, including old-fashioned American wrestling, to judo, kick-boxing, and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. These fighters are not club bouncers, street thugs or criminals; they are elite, many, Olympic-calibre athletes at the top of their profession and disciplines. It's no longer Tank Abbott slugging it out with Cabbage Correira. It's Georges St. Pierre, an elite athlete who could potentially wrestle for Canada in the 2012 Olympics and Jon Jones, a 24 year old, uber-athlete that tore through the glamour division of MMA and whose dynamic skill set defines what it is to be a mixed martial artist. In actuality, the evolution of the sport and it`s athletes would eventually sell itself and forever change combat sports, but the ingenious management that the UFC employs, simply sped up the process.
The UFC still has work to do. Not only are they still striving to get the sport sanctioned in New York and other major markets, but they still need to fulfill the expectations FOX has of them. Pressure's on.
For the UFC's introduction into the premier sport broadcasting world, they have brought, what Dana White claims is "The Biggest Fight in UFC History". The label is not just because of the stage the fight will take place on, but is also quite literal, as the two best heavyweights in mixed martial arts will square off for the most coveted title in combat sports. The world will be watching and these two fighters have the skills, pedigree and persona to live up to the hype.
It should be quite the night, one mixed martial arts fans all over the world have longed to witness.
Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez
Pick - Junior dos Santos via 4th Round TKO
Clay Guida vs. Ben Henderson
Pick - Clay Guida via Unanimous Decision
UFC 137 PICKS
The drama that ensued in the build up for UFC 137 has been full on intrigue, excitement but ultimately, let down. Georges St. Pierre was forced off the main event, just a week before he was scheduled to defend his UFC Welterweight title against Carlos Condit. Now, the man who was initially supposed to fight St. Pierre, Nick Diaz, will return to the main event slot, scrapping with BJ Penn in what should be an all-out war. Despite the intrigue of the main event, the subtraction of the UFC Welterweight title fight has left this card, to UFC pay-per-view standards, mediocre at best. I expect the UFC's recent string of sub-par PPV buys to continue its downward spiral, however, sometimes when the UFC main cards lack noise on paper, they prove to be the loudest. With that said, in my eyes, Penn-Diaz should be worth the price of admission. To the picks.
BJ Penn vs. Nick Diaz
Nick Diaz makes his return to the UFC after a 5 year hiatus in which he dominated the lesser circuits of the MMA world with capturing the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship at the pinnacle of his accomplishments. Diaz is riding a 10 fight winning streak during that stretch, but the level of competition he has piled up wins against, is not exactly world-class. Penn, on the other hand, has spent the last 5 years fighting the best competition the UFC could throw at him, with the majority being 5 round title fights at the top of two different weight classes. Most recently, Penn is coming off a draw with Top-10 P4P fighter, Jon Fitch. That being said, I like Diaz to win in his octagon return. I think Diaz will be able to use his reach advantage and relentless offence to touch up Penn, while BJ will have a difficult time getting inside. If Penn does connect with a few clean shots early, it will change the dynamic of the fight but I don't think he'll be able to find that range. This fight should be a bloody war, won by a Diaz decision.
Pick - Nick Diaz via Unanimous Decision
Cheick Kongo vs. Matt Mitrione
"Meathead" Mitrone will step it up competition tonight when he scraps French monster, Cheick Kongo. Kongo has reigned near the top of the UFC Heavyweight ranks for the last few years but could never get over the top and beat a legitimate contender. On the other hand, the UFC has slowly brought up Mitrone following his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter, stringing together five straight wins with his entire professional career, fought in the UFC. Mitrone is finally being thrown into the fire tonight. In Mitrione's short UFC career, there are noticeable flaws in his striking that have yet to cost him against lower competition. Cheick Kongo is an elite kickboxer. I like Kongo to utilize his experience and showcase his superior striking, finding Mitrione's chin in third.
Pick - Kongo via 2nd Round TKO
Roy Nelson vs. Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic
Once the most feared striker in MMA, Mirko Cro Cop, looks done with the fight game after his last two UFC appearances in which he was knocked out by Frank Mir and Brendan Schaub. Apparently, Cro Cop convinced UFC President, Dana White to give him one last chance. So, the UFC gave him Big Country, Roy Nelson, whose goofy exterior downplays the fact that he can fight. Despite what his mind is telling him, the wars Cro Cop has been through in the last decade has left his body unfit for top MMA competition. Tonight will be Mirko's swan song in MMA as once Nelson gets a hold of the Croation kickboxing legend, his superior grappling and weight will allow him to drag Crop Cop down and dominate on top en route to a 2nd round stoppage.
Hatsu Hioki vs George Roop
Hioki is a relative unknown to casual MMA fans but that should change tonight. Hioki has lost just once in his last 14 fights, dominating Japanese MMA promotions. Roop is coming off an impressive liver shot KO over Josh Grispi but his inconsistency has left him exchanging wins and losses since competing on TUF. Roop has had trouble defending submissions in his MMA career while Hioki has finished five of his last 10 bouts in the triangle position, whether it be a choke or armbar. Hioki is a potential contender for the UFC featherweight title while Roop is merely a gatekeeper. Look for Hioki to sink in a deep choke in the second round and win a beer off your buddy who hasn't heard of Hatsu Hioki yet, while watching tonight.
Pick - Hatsu Hioki via 2nd Round Submission
Scott Jorgensen vs. Jeff Curran
After an over seven year hiatus, Jeff Curran will make his return to the UFC tonight when he throws down with Bantamweight contender, Scott Jorgensen. With over 13 years of professional fights, Curran only got one shot before tonight in the UFC when he lost a five round decision to Matt Serra in 2004. Curran has lost five of his last nine bouts while Jorgensen near the top of the UFC bantamweight class. Jorgensen is an improved fighter after going five rounds with Champ, Dominick Cruz, which showed in his KO of Ken Stone. Jorgensen will continue to roll and win via decision.
Pick - Jorgensen via Unanimous Decision
Donald Cerrone def. Dennis Siver
Tyson Griffin def. Bart Palaszewski
Francis Carmont def. Chris Camozzi
UFC 136 PICKS
The UFC heads to Houston Saturday for UFC 136, headlined by the trilogy bout between Lightweight Champ Frankie Edgar and undefeated challenger Gray Maynard. Edgar and Maynard slugged it out to a controversial draw 9 months ago, setting the stage for their third fight and second for the lightweight crown. The UFC Lightweight division has been stuck in neutral for the last year because of the draw and a resolution is needed this Saturday with a long list of contenders, including Strikeforce Champ Gilbert Melendez, Ben Henderson and Clay Guida, chomping at the bit. Also, a second title fight will be on the card as Featherweight Champ Jose Aldo will throw down with Kenny Florian.
UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar vs. Gray MaynardEdgar should have confidence going into this bout as he managed to fight back from the brink of defeat after absorbing Maynard's best shots in the first round of their last fight. However, Edgar will have to be much improved in order to fend off an even hungrier Maynard in this bout. In order to win, Edgar will have to maintain his distance and keep this fight standing in order to out kickbox Maynard. In contrast, Maynard needs to pace himself and effectively utilize his superior size and strength to grind and smother Edgar. Maynard will live up to his nickname in this fight, bullying and beating up Edgar to earn the UFC strap and provide clarity at the top of the crowded UFC lightweight division.
Maynard via Unanimous Decision.
UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo vs. Kenny FlorianKenny Florian, a veteran of four weight classes, will challenge for his second UFC title this Saturday against Pound-for-Pound contender, Jose Aldo. Aldo is fresh off his first UFC title defence as he defeated Mark Hominick at UFC 144. Aldo did show that he is human in that bout as he barely hung on to win after gassing out in the 5th round. However, Aldo will be far too much for Florian. His striking is on another level and his impeccable take-down defence will negate Florian from utilizing his grappling skills. Aldo will punish Florian's legs and torso with combinations as they trade in the pocket until he connects with his chin. Florian will once again fail to capture UFC gold as Aldo earns a brutal stoppage win.
Aldo via 3rd Round TKO
Chael Sonnen vs. Brian StannStann has evolved into a very good mixed martial artist after dropping to the UFC middleweight division with wins over Jorge Santiago and Chris Leben. Despite his evolution, Sonnen's grappling game remains on far too high of a level for Stann. Once Sonnen gets a hold of Stann, he will drag him down and grind him out until locking in a late submission, likely earning another crack at Middleweight Champ Anderson Silva.
Melvin Guillard vs. Joe LauzonNo fighter in the UFC lightweight division is riding momentum higher than Guillard. He owns two first round KOs in 2011 and will earn his third in this mismatch at UFC 136. Guillard officially enters the title mix with a quick and vicious knock out of Lauzon.
Guillard via 1st Round KO
Leonard Garcia vs. Nam PhanGarcia will have a tough time winning another UFC bout deploying his reckless style. In order to win, Garcia will have to lure Phan into a slugfest. Phan will have learned from his mistakes in their previous bout however, by keeping his distance and engaging more selectively. If he maintains his composure, he will outpoint and outgrapple Garcia in an exciting, yet one-sided, tilt.
Phan via Unanimous Decision
Jorge Santiago def. Damien Maia via 2nd Round TKOAnthony Pettis def. Jeremy Stephens vis Unanimous Decision