One of the Ultimate Fighting Championships most stacked cards of the year takes place Saturday, Oct. 23, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. “UFC 121: Lesnar vs. Velasquez” is headlined by a heavyweight title fight between champion Brock Lesnar and number one contender Cain Velasquez.
Also, former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields makes his long-awaited UFC debut against the very capable and solid Martin Kampmann. Diego Sanchez returns against Paulo Thiago, UFC legend Tito Ortiz faces his former Ultimate Fighter student Matt Hamill, Ultimate Fighter 10 finalist Brendan Schaub takes on the always dangerous Gabriel Gonzaga and Ultimate Fighter season 11 winner Court McGee takes on Ryan Jensen.
As we do with every major card, the ProMMAnow.com staff weighs-in with their thoughts on each of the main card bouts (and one Spike TV prelim bout as a bonus). Each staff member uses his years of MMA knowledge, vast comprehension of athletic biochemistry and best guess to try and predict each fight.
We have been keeping score all year with the staff picks and the race is tight as we near the end of 2010. There can be only one ProMMAnow.com staff pick grand champion and it will be me mwuahahahaha they will be awarded the crown in a special year end awards ceremony post.
Brock Lesnar (5-1) vs. Cain Velasquez (8-0)
Lesnar -145 vs. Velasquez +115
BRIAN FURBY: I doubt this one is going to a decision. I’m interested to see if Cain comes out of the gate swinging, or if he’s going to rely more on his counter-punching to try and stun Lesnar. Regardless, I think Cain is smart enough to not try and outwrestle Brock lest Brock’s size overwhelms him. Cain’s speed will allow him to tag Brock with some good shots in the first round, and probably make it out of the first round, but Lesnar’s power and size will overwhelm him in the second. Lesnar by TKO in Round 2.
JOHN BUHL: I’ve been saying for awhile that Velasquez is the most talented fighter in the heavyweight division. Velasquez obviously has great wrestling credentials and he has polished striking far beyond most at his experience level and puts together combinations better than a lot of 205ers. But if he and Lesnar ever crossed paths, I expected Lesnar’s strength and brute force to be too much. Maybe Lesnar doesn’t have the most well-rounded game, but he’s great at staying where he’s comfortable. Shane Carwin lit Lesnar up on the feet and Velasquez certainly has better striking technique than Carwin. However, Lesnar hits like a truck when he makes contact (ask Heath Herring or Randy Couture) and Velasquez doesn’t have the striking power that Carwin brought to the table. To me it all comes down to whether Velasquez can stay on the feet. I’m not ruling out the possibility of Lesnar dropping Cain with a big punch, but at some point I expect Lesnar to want to get Velasquez down and do what he does best: ground and pound. Over the months I’ve somehow managed to talk myself into picking Velasquez in this fight. I don’t know why; I’m probably wrong. Maybe it’s because Randy Couture was able to get back up after Lesnar took him down (before getting clobbered). Maybe it was because Carwin fought off an early takedown by Brock (in fairness, Brock was coming off of a long, illness-related layoff and appears to have slimmed down to improve his speed). But despite the size disadvantage, for some reason I think Velasquez will use his footwork and defensive wrestling to stay on the feet, wear Lesnar down and eventually take him down and get a late TKO.
RICHARD MANN: I have been locked in on Velasquez for a long time. Unlike Lesnar, Velasquez never won an NCAA title. However, he had to deal with Bellator champion Cole Konrad and Olympian Steve Mocco, two of the best college heavyweights of all time. If you watch the matches, Velasquez does not get taken down. He struggles in top-bottom positions. He should be able to defend Lesnar’s takedowns. Outside of the wrestling game, Lesnar really doesn’t stand a chance. Shane Carwin smashed him with untamed striking. Velasquez has picked up the offensive striking game very well. If he can come out with a two-piece like the one he landed on Nogueira, it might be over in the early rounds. Velasquez by TKO.
JACK BRATCHER: If we believe Dave Camarillo‘s statements prior to this fight, it sounds like the game plan for Cain is to stick and move. He said if you go straight at the bull you get the horns but if you move around his attack, you tame the bull. That is an interesting philosophical concept, but bulls don’t have 81 inch arms with 4XL hands on the end of them that grab hold of you and keep you from running moving. A lot of people are favoring Cain in this fight. King Mo and Dr. Rhadi Ferguson had some interesting thoughts on this fight as guests on The Cageside Beat, the official radio show of ProMMAnow.com, last night. Coming from a wrestling background himself, King Mo pointed out how Cain faced tougher competition in college (something our own Richard Mann has also pointed out) and may actually be the better wrestler, despite the fact Cain was D-II and Lesnar was D-I. Dr. Ferguson made the argument that because of the size difference, if the fight goes into the fourth and fifth rounds, Cain will have an extreme advantage. Personally, I’m not completely convinced of that just because, Lesnar is anything but typical. For all I know this guy may get faster as the rounds go deeper. The dude is just a freak. Camarillo says they like the size difference in this fight and thinks it will be to Cain’s advantage. However, Lesnar is leaner than what we have seen him in the past so he won’t be extremely heavy coming into the fight. If he has to cut any weight at all it won’t be but a few pounds from what I’m hearing. I do believe Cain has faster hands and is the better technical striker. There’s not much argument against that. Despite that, I don’t see Brock standing there and boxing with Cain too long. I do think Lesnar is the type of guy who has probably been working insanely hard on his boxing and striking since his last fight and I don’t expect him to react the same way if he takes a big shot that rocks him. I think he’s going to try to hit Cain with some big shots and then take him down where he will throw on that ground and pound and if the opportunity arises he will throw on a submission. I think Brock is going to surprise some people here and catch Cain where he leasts expect it with possibly an armbar or leg lock. My official prediction is Brock Lesnar round two submission (My backup pick is Lesnar via TKO).
Jake Shields (25-4-1) vs. Martin Kampmann (17-3)
Shields -200 vs. Kampmann -160
BRIAN FURBY: Shields needs to come out with a win in his UFC debut to get the shot at GSP he’s been talking about for quite some time. As my co-host of The Cageside Beat, Mike, likes to say, “Those Cesar Gracie guys can fight”. Indeed they can. Shields lacks the power that has given Kampmann problems in the past, but he has more than enough skills to give Kampmann all he can handle in route to a solid decision win. Jake Shields wins by unanimous decision.
JOHN BUHL: Just like Lesnar is the safe pick in the main event, the safe bet is that Shields, as tenacious as he is on the ground, will eventually take Kampmann down and submit him. Dan Henderson isn’t exactly easy to take down — I heard he was an Olympian or something. Shields, though, wouldn’t take no for an answer and fought through every sprawl/wizzer/takedown-countering technique Henderson tried. And that was after Shields showed a hell of a chin by surviving a first round where he got brutalized and almost finished. Kampmann is a very good striker but doesn’t really have the one-punch KO power Henderson has. And Kampmann is a very underrated grappler but clearly doesn’t have the wrestling chops of Hendo. Yet I’m picking him to win the decision. Why? Unlike Henderson, Kampmann is a good all-around striker and won’t lose his balance or stay stationary. Kampmann will do most all of the damage on the feet as long as the fight stays there and, I’m betting, keep it standing long enough to win a decision.
RICHARD MANN: Shields does not get enough credit for coming up with quality game plans. He knew Dan Henderson would be able to stop his initial shot, but he used a Wayne’s roll to create scrambles and get the fight on the ground. That should pay dividends here. Even if Shields decides to spend some time on the feet, he should be oka. Kampmann is a good technical striker, but he doesn’t have enough power to end Shields’ night. Shields by decision.
JACK BRATCHER: Shields has proven if he wants you on the ground (and he does – always) he will put you there and there’s dick you can do about it. Shields is going to overwhelm Kampmann with his grappling, take him down and stick to him like a dingleberry on a Poodle. Despite being one of the top-10 welterweights in the world, Shields is going to prove he belongs in the UFC and debut with a bang. Kampmann has the advantage on the feet but this fight will go to the ground faster than Joe Rogan can say, “BJ Penn can put his leg behind his head.” Shields will give Kampmann the first submission loss of his career in the third round.
Paulo Thiago (13-2) vs. Diego Sanchez (21-4)
Thiago -130 vs. Sanchez +100
BRIAN FURBY: Both guys are coming off losses, and Sanchez is coming off back to back losses. In spite of the fact that the first of those two losses was to BJ Penn in a title fight, I’d like to see Thiago hand Sanchez his third loss in a row and see Sanchez handed his walking papers. Anyone care to take a guess why? For those of you unfamiliar with my picking strategy, it’s due to this one simple fact – Diego Sanchez is an asshat. Sanchez will probably be a little bit faster than Thiago, but Thiago is stronger and not nearly as insane. Tony Robbins won’t be able to help Sanchez out of this one regardless of how many times Diego screams “yes!” on his way to the cage. Paulo Thiago wins by unanimous decision.
JOHN BUHL: Sanchez really didn’t look good in his return to 170 against John Hathaway. He looked bloated and unable to handle Hathaway’s size and reach. Thiago’s striking isn’t all that crisp and he’s not a wrestler by trade. But he does have good punching power and fantastic Jiu Jitsu, not to mention a better build for the welterweight division than Sanchez. I’m taking Thiago by decision.
RICHARD MANN: If Diego Sanchez has a single-minded approach to getting takedowns, he should be able to win this fight. Thiago has been finding ways to win, but from a technical stand point it is hard to figure out what he is doing well. Sanchez should be able to get on top and avoid submissions. Sanchez by decision.
JACK BRATCHER: Diego Sanchez has to be embarrassed by his performance in his last fight and any man who does a line of cartwheels down the road while screaming “Yes” and films promotional videos telling the world Dan Quinn helped dissolve a lump in his girlfriend’s breast by cold fusion (a.k.a. soapy Stevia froth) does not embarrass easily. Prior to his loss to John Hathaway, Diego lost to BJ Penn. Thiago is also coming off a loss, a unanimous decision to Martin Kampmann. Would the UFC really cut Diego Sanchez if he were to lose three in a row? I seriously doubt it, but you just never know and I’m sure Diego does not want to make that gamble. I think we will see something of the old Diego in this fight. At his best, he is a hurricane of hurt. At his worst, he’s Pee Wee Herman on Xanax. But I think now that he’s back and has had time to settle in with Greg Jackson and the crew he’ll get it together and use his wrestling to control Thiago and get the decision. Thiago has some slick submission skills but Diego has yet to be submitted and I don’t see Thiago being the first to do it.
Tito Ortiz (15-7-1) vs. Matt Hamill (9-2)
Ortiz +140 vs. Hamill -170
BRIAN FURBY: Tito Ortiz is my favorite fighter. Always has been, always will be. However, I recognize in his last four performances, his 0-3-1 record combined with his nagging injuries aren’t reasons that would lead many people to pick him. However, he taught Hamill on TUF, and while Hamill has improved since then, it won’t be enough to beat Tito. While I’d like to see some of the patented Tito ground and pound, I think it’s much more likely we’ll see two wrestlers try (and I stress “try”) to have a boxing match. Tito Ortiz wins by unanimous decision.
JOHN BUHL: I’ll take Hamill by decision since I don’t see Ortiz winning a fight where he can’t get the fight to the ground. At this point in his career, Ortiz isn’t physically primed enough to put this fight where he wants it.
RICHARD MANN: Apparently, Tito Ortiz is coming into this fight without injuries. That really is terrible for him. When he looses he won’t have any excuses. How can Tito Ortiz win? I doubt he can get takedowns, and he has never learned to throw punches. Hopefully, he can survive the fight and start working on Zombie Strippers 2. Hamill by decision.
JACK BRATCHER: Tito is an icon of the sport but his time has passed. He talks a good game and he has seemingly convinced everyone including the bookmakers that he has a legitimate shot in this fight. It is not going to happen. Hamill will finally show everyone just how far the game has passed Ortiz by. He will beat him up on the feet with some big punches. Despite being a really good wrestler, six of Hamill’s nine wins have come by knockout and I see him stopping Tito on the feet. Tito, as the former mentor to Hamill is not going to be able to accept the fact that Hamill is better on the feet. He will try to stand and trade with Hamill and is going to end up getting KTFO. Ortiz has been great for the sport but it’s coming to a close. His last legit win was a decision over Forrest Griffin in 2006. Multiple surgeries, four years and a whole heap of turmoil later, he will take his fourth loss in a row here (with a draw to Rashad Evans thrown in there too).
Brendan Schaub (6-1) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (11-5)
Schaub +135 vs. Gonzaga -165
BRIAN FURBY: Will Schaub continue his move up the UFC’s heavyweight ladder? The answer you’re looking for is yes. Although he lacks the experience of Gonzaga, he packs enough power to make up for it. Gonzaga’s five losses all come from (T)KOs, and all of Schaub’s six wins are (T)KOs. See where I’m going with this. Additionally, Schaub has the benefit of training with Carwin, who has also faced Gonzaga. Look for a KO of the night bonus coming Schaub’s way. Brendan Schaub wins by KO in Round 1.
JOHN BUHL: Schaub’s prone to getting taken down, but he’s great in scrambles and has a solid BJJ game. Gonzaga is tough and has a lot of tools, but not the kind of tools to win this fight. On the feet, Schaub uses his heavy hands to get the TKO in round 2.
RICHARD MANN: Schaub has very little takedown defense. However, the last time I picked Gonzaga to get takedowns and lay on top, he got destroyed by Junior dos Santos. Schaub will find Gonzaga’s chin eventually and Gonzaga will fold up like he always does. Schaub by TKO.
JACK BRATCHER: All of my cohorts I see have picked Schaub, but the bookies disagree. And I disagree. Schaub is coming off a TKO win over Lesnar training partner Chris Tuchscherer and Gonzaga is coming off a TKO loss to Junior Dos Santos. Gonzaga also TKO’d Chris Tuchscherer in his fight just prior to Dos Santos. Gonzaga has been up and down the last couple of years. The only time he lost back to back fights was against Randy Couture and Fabricio Werdum. I think he’s going to be hungry for a win here and he’s proven when he’s on his game he can do some serious damage. I will admit I’m a little biased in this one. I’ve always had a soft spot for the big Brazilian teddy bear and I think we might see him land another big head kick in this one a la Cro Cop. This is the biggest fight of Schaub’s career. Gonzaga has been in there with so many big names. He’s very experienced and he ALWAYS brings it, win or lose. My favorite Gonzaga statistic: he’s never gone to a decision EVER. I admit I’m not super confident with this pick but I’m going to take Gonzaga via first round KO.
Court McGee (12-1) vs. Ryan Jensen (15-6)
McGee -260 vs. Jensen +200
BRIAN FURBY: McGee is a huge favorite in this fight. Although this is likely due to hype from his status as a TUF champ, Jensen does appear to have a noticeable weakness in his sub defense, and McGee has a solid sub game.. It’s time for McGee to show he can move beyond the label of TUF champ. Court McGee wins by sub in Round 1.
JOHN BUHL: Interesting first fight for McGee as he transitions from TUF champion to UFC middleweight. McGee is fairly well-rounded but not overwhelmingly impressive in any one area. Jensen, meanwhile, has a strong submission game, though he hasn’t been able to utilize it much against UFC competition.. I’ll take Jensen by split decision based on his experience against more accomplished fighters. McGee doesn’t have anything he hasn’t seen.
RICHARD MANN: Why can’t Jensen get takedowns on McGee? It only takes three to win a fight. I am going with it. Jensen by decision.
JACK BRATCHER: McGee is on a six fight win streak and hasn’t lost a bout since 2007 when he lost a decision to Jeremy Horn. This will be his first UFC fight since becoming The Ultimate Fighter season 11 winner against Kris McCray in June via second round rear-naked choke. We haven’t seen much from McGee so we don’t have a lot to go on here. Jensen’s UFC career has literally been up and down. His most recent fight was a submission win over Jesse Forbes in May. The majority of both fighters’ wins have come via submission. Jensen has never been to a decision. McGee will be wanting to make a strong statement in this fight over the ulta-experienced Jensen. Jensen has been fighting ten years longer than McGee and has been in there with some big names but McGee being the up and comer is going to prove he belongs in the UFC with a TKO win over Jensen is the second round. Random fact about Jensen: He used to work for PayPal.
*All UFC 121 odds supplied by BetUS.com
What about the UFC 121 Preliminary Card?
I’m glad you asked. Be sure to check out ProMMAnow.com’s breakdown of each of the UFC 121 preliminary card bouts here: UFC 121 prelims.