UFC 94 STAFF PICKS - MAIN CARD EDITION
Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn
Luke Thomas: To be perfectly honest, I think GSP is probably the more logical pick. No matter Penn's talent, he still has to contend with the weight differential. Add GSP's wrestling control and demonstrated ability to take Penn down with athletic well-roundedness and you've got more than a formidable champion. But Penn isn't the sprint to the finish type of fighter he used to be. Penn is clearly blood thirsty, but has shown an ability to work more methodically for the finish. He has shown an ability to work an opponent over by beating them with a moderate but clear pace. And over the course of five rounds, I'm going to roll the dice that Penn can hurt St. Pierre enough without sustaining a ton of damage to win the contest. I also certainly see each of these fighters bringing out the best in each other, so I'm fairly confident this will go to later rounds. Logically, it stands to reason that St. Pierre has more ways to win, but Penn has the speed, power and drive to find the offensive opening, to say nothing of his defensive abilities of control in wrestling and distancing in the stand-up that allow him more offensive opportunities. In short, I'm going to gamble on Penn getting enough of the job done with enough opportunity. Penn, by unanimous decision.
Kid Nate: This is a very very difficult fight to pick. I am a huge fan of both fighters and wish they both could notch the win. As it is, I'll be happy with a hard fought contest that lets both men shine. The last few days I've been leaning more and more towards B.J. Penn. I would pick GSP hands down over any welterweight in the sport and many middleweights, but I just feel that Penn is his kryptonite. Clearly that hinges on B.J. coming in in the best shape of his life, but I believe B.J. when he says he's gotten serious about the game. As I posted earlier this week, GSP's kicking game could make up for B.J.'s edge as a boxer, but I just have a feeling that won't happen. B.J. Penn by submission (after winning on the feet) in 3.
Brent Brookhouse: I've been behind GSP since the fight was announced, but the closer it gets to fight night the more I want to switch my pick. It all revolves around the takedown here. If Penn can keep the fight standing he is the more dangerous guy on the feet. But I do think some people are a little TOO high on Penn's striking advantage over GSP. He is the better boxer but GSP has a very diverse game on the feet and he isn't doomed if there is a round or two where they stay standing. If GSP can get takedowns reliably here he isn't likely to get caught in a submission and he can control and bash Penn from the top. I think we're looking at a very close decision here and one that GSP takes (I figure my card reads 48-47 at the end of the fight). Georges St. Pierre by decision.
Michael Rome: For a while, I was heavily pro-GSP, but as the fight gets closer I keep thinking Penn will be laughing last. Despite that urge, I have to stick with my gut and go with Georges. I think he's too good to be submitted from the top, and I expect him to significantly diminish BJ's capacity with leg kicks. BJ is not great about checking kicks, and I think Georges is going to really hurt him with leg and body kicks, taking away most of his boxing advantage and ability to stop takedowns with his flexibility. I should say that I definitely expect a finish here. If BJ wins it'll be in the first 3 rounds, but if GSP wins it'll be due to wearing BJ down, and we've seen that as great as BJ is, once he gasses he can be stopped. GSP via KO, round 4.
Michael Fagan: I'll probably be the only one on the panel taking B.J., but that just leaves more glory for me. The way people are talking about this fight, you'd think GSP couldn't lose (and people would be betting their lives on GSP at anything under -300). They like to point out two things: 1) GSP is too big, strong, and athletic. 2) B.J.'s cardio is always a question. 3) GSP has improved tremendously since their first fight. Here's how I see it. GSP's size and athleticism didn't seem to have much effect two years ago. B.J.'s cardio problems have been overstated since Penn/Hughes II, and he'll be HIGHLY motivated for this fight anyhow. And the only aspect of his game, in my opinion, that GSP has really improved is his wrestling and I'm not sure that's shifts the fight heavily in his favor. I think a five round fight will actually favor B.J. in this fight because I think he has more tools to finish GSP than vice versa. Some people think I'm crazy for siding with Penn, but I'm confident Fightlinker will be eating pig's feet in the near future. B.J. Penn by TKO, round 3.
Cannon Jacques: Man, there are a lot of directions this fight could go, because both men possess a wide array of skills. I believe the deciding factors will be GSP's size advantage, his superior wrestling, and ability to take Penn into the late rounds. I know those aren't very original thoughts, but I believe them to be important. GSP will be able to keep Penn at a distance with his size for a time then move him around and establish a dominant position on the ground. I expect GSP to initiate some damaging ground and pound and wear Penn down going into the later rounds. This will give him the opportunity to finish the fight. St. Pierre by TKO, round 4.
Chris Nelson: Like a lot of folks, I've been calling this one for GSP ever since it was announced. However, unlike many of said folks, my belief in the welterweight champ hasn't wavered and nothing I've seen on UFC Prime Time could have me leaning toward B.J. now. (Running around underwater with rocks and talking a bunch of shit just doesn't cut it for me.) I'll allow that Penn has the boxing advantage, but St-Pierre's striking looks more and more dynamic each time out and his kicks could be a difference maker. More likely the real difference makers will be GSP's size advantage (he expects to come in at 185 on fight night), submission defense and superior wrestling. Georges St-Pierre by Decision.
Nick Thomas: BJ Penn says he's at 100% now but GSP is at 130% compared to their first fight. GSP by wrestling and control. If Hughes can finish BJ Penn, so can GSP. GSP by TKO.
Lyoto Machida vs. Thiago Silva
Luke Thomas: Silva may have prepared the right temperment for a frustrating opposition, but I bet he'll still move in straight lines standing up which will allow a timing and angling master like Machida to take target practice. Silva is a rock and will not be taken easily, but this is Machida's fight to lose. Machida by TKO, round 3.
Kid Nate: Silva is the perfect fight for Machida. He's not especially strategic. He's unpolished on his feet. His conditioning is suspect and his BJJ game thrives from top position. Lyoto is much much better standing, better at the takedown game and at least as good on the ground. Machida by decision.
Brent Brookhouse: I've made no secret that I am a big Machida fan and Thiago Silva is a perfect fight for him. He's not going to outstrike Lyoto standing and he needs to get the fight to the ground. But in order to get it to the ground he is going to have to do exactly what Machida wants and chase him around the cage. After a round and a half of eating punches and kicks while chasing Machida around Silva will fall and the ref will be pulling Lyoto off him. Lyoto Machida by TKO, round 2.
Michael Rome: I have never been thrilled with Thiago's standing game, and I don't see how he can compete with Machida. On the other hand, he is training with some guys familiar with Machida, so maybe he'll have some knowledge others haven't shared. Either way, his best chance is to try to clinch up against the fence and find a way to drag the fight to the ground, where it'll at least be even. On the feet it's a blowout. I suspect it will stay standing, so I pick Lyoto Machida via decision.
Michael Fagan: With Huerta all but out of the fight game, Machida should swoop in and steal his nickname. That's the best way to describe how he fights. You come at him, he makes you miss, and you take a sword in the belly. Thiago's gonna have to get this to the ground somehow. He's not going to be able to knock Machida down striking, and I have serious doubts he can take him down. If Silva comes charging at him like he says, Machida will finish him. Lyoto Machida by TKO, round 2.
Cannon Jacques: Silva's best, and maybe only chance, is to get this fight to the ground. That, in and of itself, will prove difficult. On top of that, Machida is also a jiu-jitsu black belt if the fight does hit the mat. There are just too many ways for Machida to win. He could diminish the criticisms aimed at him by finishing Silva early. I believe he will do so. Machida via TKO, round 3.
Chris Nelson: For a battle of top-tier undefeated light heavyweight contenders, this one is fairly easy to call, since Silva is precisely the kind of fighter "The Dragon" eats up in the cage. Silva will be outpointed on the feet like Machida's previous victims if he chooses to stand and trade. On the ground, the two black belts could come to a stalemate, but I believe that works to Machida's advantage in frustrating Silva as well. Any way you slice it, it's gonna be a long night for Thiago as Machida continues his campaign for a title shot in 2012. One more thing: I believe this will be the fight that silences the Lyoto haters and maybe even earns him a few fans, since his brand of "counter-offense" will look all the more impressive against an aggressive striker like Silva. Lyoto Machida by Decision.
Nick Thomas: Machida is going to pick Silva apart. As long as Machida keeps this standing, it's a decision win for Machida. Machida by decision.
Karo Parisyan vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Luke Thomas: The fact is Karo has demonstrated better judo for MMA than Kim against higher level opposition. Karo's ability within the clinch to perform what is known as fitting in with speed and proper positioning cannot be matched by Kim. I also believe Karo's GNP and more western leg wrestling attacks will give Karo the opportunity to pressure Kim over the course of the fight. Kim's cardio is also lacking in later rounds. Karo's the more veteran fighter. He should win here. Karo by TKO, round 2.
Kid Nate: I've got to go with Karo here. Kim was not that impressive against Matt Brown and Karo is several notches better than Brown. Their judo should cancel each other out, so expect to see a grinding beatdown from Karo. Parisyan by decision.
Brent Brookhouse: Well, after seeing the rumors that he was considering pulling out of the fight I feel even more confident in my initial pick of Kim here. He and Karo both have the judo thing but Kim is a bit more "modern" in his use of the other parts of the fight game. Where Karo seems to have stalled out resting on the "no one is ready for my judo" plan Kim seems to have been tightening his game up. It seems that Karo is already losing the mental game (something unfortunately common with Karo) and I think he loses the fight if he even shows up. Dong Hyun Kim by decision.
Michael Rome: Originally I was going to pick Karo. But I've lost the faith with all these recent problems. Kim via TKO. Prove me wrong, Karo!
Michael Fagan: Kim is an easy bet at anything above +225, and I think I'll even take him straight up here. Parisyan's let the game pass him by a bit, and Kim can neutralize his judo game. Throw in Parisyan's injury history and panic attacks, and well...he may never get that title shot he talks about. Dong Hyun Kim by decision.
Cannon Jacques: Parisyan is definitely in need of win after his long layoff due to medical issues. I'm interested to see how many judo throws are utilized. It's hard to know where Pariyan is, but I believe he can take care of Kim who barely edged out Matt Brown in his last fight. Parisyan by decision.
Chris Nelson: A few questions and variables make this judoka battle a really tough one to pick. Where's Karo's head at right now, and will he even show up for the fight (literally or metaphorically)? How seriously is the Stun Gun taking his time in the UFC? Has his cardio improved since he shot his wad in the first round against Matt Brown? Both of these guys have something to prove to the Zuffa brass; as such, I believe their judo will cancel out and this will become a headhunting match, which no doubt favors Kim. Dong Hyun Kim by TKO, Round 2.
Nick Thomas: Parisyan is still dangerous. He'll be the stronger fighter and will control this fight. Parisyan by decision.
Nathan Diaz vs. Clay Guida
Luke Thomas: Here are the facts: this fight will go the ground, but that's to Diaz's benefit. His guard game is exceptional and Guida is prone to pound away from guard. But Guida has submission liabilities. Huerta stopped Guida with a submission after rocking him with a knee, but Yusuke Endo and even Tristan Yunker proved you can catch an aggressive Guida. Over the course of three rounds, Diaz's lanky guard game will find an opening and put Guida to sleep. Diaz by submission, round 2.
Kid Nate: Diaz' reach and polished boxing will easily allow him to outpoint Guida on the feet, which means Guida will have to get the takedown. Sadly for Clay, that will leave him open to Diaz' aggressive submission game and his repertroire of sweeps. Guida is smaller and less well rounded than Josh Neer, whom Diaz handled. I'm going with Diaz by submission.
Brent Brookhouse: I'm a guy who doesn't like guys who are so willing to be put in bad positions as often as Diaz. Guida is not a guy I'm real high on but he's smart enough to get his takedowns and just work position without leaving any huge openings. I don't think it's going to be pretty at all...but Clay Guida by decision.
Michael Rome: I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with Diaz, but he keeps finding a way to win. This win would really rocket him up the ranks, but he will be facing a much stronger man in Clay Guida. I think Guida actually is better standing than Diaz, and his best strategy would probably be to use his wrestling to keep it standing and box Diaz to a decision. Since I think he won't be that smart, I'll take Diaz via submission.
Michael Fagan: Guida's going to do what he does, takedowns and wild ground and pound. Eventually, he's going to get caught in a submission. It's just a matter of when. Nate Diaz by submission, round 1.
Cannon Jacques: Diaz has proven himself to be dangerous from the bottom. I don't believe he can knock out Guida and I don't think he can win a decision if it goes the distance. Guida will be his usual relentless self. It's just a matter of whether or not Diaz can lock up a submission. Guida knows this and should be extremely careful in his attacks. Guida by decision.
Chris Nelson: Diaz is a slow starter who often needs to get bullied around a bit and find himself in a bad position before letting his ridiculously instinctive BJJ kick in. The problem is, once he gets under Clay Guida, he may not be able to find his way back up, or at the very least won't be able to utilize those flashy reversals and passes. Both of these guys have great chins and neither has true KO power, so I see this going to the floor early where Diaz will maintain an active guard and Guida will work relentlessly from the top. Late in the fight, I think Diaz catches Guida going crazy with caveman hammerfists like he tends to. Nathan Diaz by Submission, Round 3.
Nick Thomas: For the most part I see this as a stand up fight. But at some point Guida is going to go for the takedown. Will Guida get subbed? I don't think so. Calling the slight upset here - Guida by decision.
Stephan Bonnar vs. Jon Jones
Luke Thomas: Jones is a serious prospect, but Bonnar is probably a little too much here. Bonnar is willing to exchange with Jones, but has better technical skills and a toughness that allows him to stand tall in the pocket. Jones can get by on mixing it up with takedowns, but I suspect Jones will resort to his somewhat reckless, low percentage, off-balancing tactics which will allow Bonnar to take over. Jones does well, but this is too strong. Bonnar, by TKO, round 3.
Kid Nate: Bonnar should take this, but his injury was serious and you never know how well a figher has recovered and if he'll be in top shape (see Rua, Shogun). Jones is a very promising talent but he's very young and very raw. Bonnar should be more than polished enough both standing and at the jiu jitsu game to take advantage of Jones' inexperience. Bonnar by decision.
Brent Brookhouse: Anyone sleeping on Bonnar 2.0 is going to get a big wake-up call. He's going to box circles around Jones and at some point put the fight on the ground and get the submission. Stephan Bonnar by submission, round 2.
Michael Rome: Lots of people on the Jon Jones bandwagon, and who can blame them? He's real exciting to watch. Even so, I think he will be completely outclassed by Bonnar, who has been training boxing at Mayweather's gym, and reportedly is in great shape. Bonnar kind of has a second lease on life, he needs to win this fight, and I think he will. Stephan Bonnar via TKO, round 3.
Michael Fagan: Lots of questions coming into this. How has Bonnar's injury healed? Will Jones inexperience show or does will his creative striking and good Greco be enough to defeat the infinite gatekeeper? I have a feeling Bonnar may just be too big, but I'm rooting for Jones. Stephan Bonnar by decision.
Cannon Jacques: This is a tough call. Bonnar is a tough, well-rounded fighter who hasn't fought in a good while. Jones is an athletic young gun who is largely untested. I think Jones can keep it standing and use his athleticism to make Bonnar pay. Jones by TKO, round 2.
Chris Nelson: I picked Jones to upset Andre Gusmao in his UFC debut (*brushes dirt off shoulder*) but it's much harder to throw support behind him this time. Bonnar has a distinct edge in the experience department (eight years fighting professionally vs. Jones' one), submission game (though Jones has arguably better wrestling), and, allegedly, has improved his boxing by leaps and bounds since his injury. Nonetheless, I can't ignore the rust factor with Bonnar and my gut is going toward Jones again, wild spinning back-elbows and all. Jon Jones by Decision.
Nick Thomas: Will Bonnar come in with ring rust? Is Jones too inexperienced? We'll find out. I think Bonnar will take this to the ground and dominate Jones. Bonnar by submission.