UFC 152 staff picks

With the cancellation of UFC 151, it has been some time since we have had staff picks, but we’re back and I hope us being away made your heart grow fonder. UFC 152 takes place Saturday night in Toronto and features two title bouts. Jon Jones puts his belt on the line against the “old lion” Vitor Belfort in the main event. Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez clash in the first-ever UFC flyweight championship. Brian Stann and Michael Bisping set it off at middleweight to see who moves one step closer to a shot at 185-pound gold. Matt Hamill returns to the UFC after a brief “retirement” to take on Canada’s own Roger Hollett at light heavyweight. And opening up the PPV card is a featherweight match-up between Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira. Here is how we see these fights playing out.

Jon Jones (16-1) vs. Vitor Belfort (21-9)

ODDS: Jones -925 vs. Belfort +625

DENNY HODGE: Say what you want about Jon Jones outside of the octagon, but when he’s in there, it’s his world, and Vitor Belfort will be learning that very soon. Belfort’s boxing is dangerous as everyone knows, but getting inside to land those shots is like navigating through an asteroid belt. Jones will keep Belfort on the outside and use his significant reach and a mix of strikes to batter the former champion. This will be a one-sided affair that won’t last long. Jones by TKO.

RICHARD MANN: If Jones wants to wrestle at all this fight will not be a contest. Belfort could maybe have some success on the outside, but he always struggles against guys who push him into the cage and make him work. Jones is simply collecting scalps at this point, and we are lucky enough to witness it. Jon Jones by TKO.

JAN LOUIS GAETJENS: Physically and technically I give the advantage clearly to Jon Jones; however, the one intangible to keep in mind is the mental preparedness of the young champion. Jones is barely 25, and has been front and center of a summer full of negative media attention. Because he’s been dominant beyond what his age and experience would suggest, people tend to lose sight of just how much of a relative newcomer to the spotlight he is. Barring a mental lapse that gives Belfort and opening to score a flash KO, this is Jones’ fight to lose. Jones by TKO.

JACK BRATCHER: Vitor Belfort is 7-1 in his last eight fights. His only loss inside the UFC since 2005 was the front kick to the face KO courtesy of Anderson Silva at UFC 126 in February of last year. Since then he has knocked out Yoshihiro Akiyama and choked out Anthony Johnson, both in the first round. Say what you want to about Vitor being the “old lion” but the guy is far from being “washed up”. Unlike so many other “old timers” the 35-year-old Brazilian is still competing at a high level.  His last four wins have all occurred in the first round, three by (T)KO, one by submission. He hasn’t even let a fight get outside the first round since 2008, and hasn’t let a fight go to a decision since 2007. The guy has a puncher’s chance against Jon Jones. He also has a BJJ black belt’s chance of submitting Jones should the fight go to the ground. Two things have to happen for Vitor to win this fight — first, Jones must make some type of blatant mistake. Secondly, Vitor must capitalize on it. Look, it would be an amazing remarkable story should Vitor pull off this victory, but the reality is, it’s not going to happen. This is much like leading a lamb to the slaughter, and the nearly 50% of people who have picked Vitor to win this fight are doing it out of sentimental reasons. Pick: Jones via first round TKO.

Joseph Benavidez (16-2) vs. Demetrious Johnson (15-2-1)

ODDS: Benavidez -260 vs. Johnson +210

DENNY HODGE: “Mighty Mouse” is one of the fastest fighters in the UFC and his cardio and durability always put him in a good position to win a long, grueling fight. His speed has given many fighters fits, but Benavidez possesses quickness that is just as dangerous, especially when he mixes up his punches and kicks with his wrestling. Johnson has yet to prove that he has true stopping power in the UFC, and this is where Benavidez will have the advantage. Johnson will be able to evade a finishing blow in this one, but Benavidez will rack up the points on his way to history as the UFC’s inaugural flyweight champion. Benavidez by unanimous decision.

RICHARD MANN: It should be obvious early who can win this fight. If Johnson can get takedowns AND hold Benavidez down for an extended period of time, he should be able to take it. However, Benavidez is a solid wrestler and showed impressed takedown defense in his second fight with Dominick Cruz. On the feet, Benavidez will be able to move in and out, while Johnson misses with longer combinations. Look for the Team Alpha Male fighter to finally finish a night with Zuffa gold around his waist. Joseph Benavidez by decision.

JAN LOUIS GAETJENS: Johnson’s a big flyweight with excellent top control by virtue of his wrestling background. Furthermore Johnson’s toughness is unmatched at 125 lbs.; remember, this is a guy who managed to earn a decision win over a much larger Miguel Torres despite having a broken leg. That isn’t a knock on Benavidez, who has an equally impressive resume, but Johnson is just a hair better all around. Johnson by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: I think Johnson is too quick for Benavidez. Joseph has the power advantage but Johnson’s speed is other-worldly and the way he is able to mix up his game a la GSP makes him so incredibly tough to deal with. Benavidez could stop him if he could make contact, but I think he’s going to be hitting a lot of air Saturday night. Johnson via decision.

Michael Bisping (23-4) vs. Brian Stann (12-4)

ODDS: Bisping -200 vs. Stann +160

DENNY HODGE: Michael Bisping will be effective in this fight with his technical striking. I believe he will pick and choose his battles instead of playing to Stann’s strengths and engaging in big exchanges in the pocket. Stann will land his share of shots but will have trouble with the footwork and movement of Bisping. “The Count” may try to secure a few takedowns in this one and it will be important in a close fight for Stann to be able to defend and continue throwing if he is going to have a chance to win. This one will go to the judges and as much as I hate to pick against Stann, I’m taking Bisping to edge him out on the scorecards. Bisping by split decision.

RICHARD MANN: Normally when people talk about winning ugly in MMA it involves some sort of wrestling and/or laying on top of someone. However, Bisping brings his own brand of unaesthetically pleasing to the Octagon. People seem to think that Stann has turned his career around with a move to middleweight. However, a quick glance at his record reveals that he has beaten quality opponent at his new weight, Jorge Santiago. That one victory came against a guy known for having a weak chin. Is he better than the guy who was soundly outstruck by Steve Cantwell? Yes. Will he have enough to beat Bisping? Maybe. Bisping is solid at staying away from an opponent and doing enough to win, but he still backs up in a straight line when pressured. If you ever wondered why a shop-worn Wanderlei Silva beat a top-20 fighter, there is your reason. Look for the Brit to stick to the outside and take a decision. Michael Bisping by Decision.

JAN LOUIS GAETJENS: In the next stop on his ‘The Count vs. America’ tour, Bisping should fare much better than he did against Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. While Stann’s stock is no doubt on the rise after his thrashing of Alessio Sakara, I like Bisping to take this one all the way to the 15 minute mark and come away with the win. Bisping by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: It’s interesting Brian Stann got TKO’d by Steve Cantwell, a guy who at one time looked like a world-beater, but is currently riding a five fight losing streak (What the hell happened to Cantwell?). It’s also interesting all my cohorts here have picked Bisping to win this fight. I’m a little bit torn in this fight. It’s hard to pick against a guy like Stann. They guy packs big power and only two of his 12 wins have been via decision. He hasn’t trained at Jackson’s for his last fight, nor this fight. It remains to be seen how that will play into this, but he did very well in his last outing with a first round KO of Alessio Sakara. I think Bisping’s the more technical striker but if he goes toe-to-toe with Stann, it could be a short night for the Brit. The odds favor Bisping, but I like the fact Stann has spent time training with Sonnen and patching up some of those holes in his game. I’m going with Stann via first or second round TKO.

Matt Hamill (11-4) vs. Roger Hollett (13-3)

ODDS: Hamill -400 vs. Hollett +300

DENNY HODGE: Matt Hamill is making his return and it will be interesting to see how much cage rust he will show. Hollett hasn’t faced the competition that Hamill has obviously, so it will be a big test to see if he can be successful in his UFC debut. Hollett has won mostly with submissions but that is a non factor in this fight. Look for Hamill to get his takedowns and put this one away with some ground and pound. Hamill by TKO.

RICHARD MANN: Back in the day, I thought that Hollett was going to come out of Canada and do big things in the UFC. However, it quickly became clear that his victories over CFL vet Mike Maurer and UFC Victor Valimaki were not that impressive. Hamill stepped away from the sport, because he could not break through the highest levels of the light heavyweight division. Hollett is a strong burly guy, which is the kind of guy that Hamill can wrestle and beat. Hamill by Decision.

JAN LOUIS GAETJENS: The Hammer’s back, and it looks like Joe Silva’s in the giving mood because this is a very winnable comeback fight for Hamill. Around here at we love our MFC vets, but, assuming Hamill has stayed in shape during his time away from the UFC, his game is just too far ahead of Hollet at this point. Hamill by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: I’m quite surprised the UFC hasn’t made more of a big deal about the return of Matt Hamill. He hasn’t fought since August of last year when he lost a second round TKO to Alexander Gustafsson. Prior to that he lost a decision to Quinton Jackson. Hey — he is the only man to hold a win over Jon Jones, so take that! Hamill is solid, but he has a tendency to fade and break in fights when things don’t go his way. Hollett is a Canadian and former MFC light heavyweight champ. This is his UFC debut and by far the biggest fight of his career. Hamill’s wrestling will likely be the determining factor in this fight as he grinds out a decision. Hamill via decision.

Cub Swanson (17-5) vs. Charles Oliveira (16-2, 1 NC)

ODDS: Swanson +210 vs. Oliveira -260

DENNY HODGE: This one has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. Usually when I say that, the bout turns out to be a snoozefest. There is no way that happens here. Swanson has been more consistent of late, and when he’s on, he’s a dangerous and aggressive fighter that can end a fight quickly. Oliveira is just as exciting, and when these two engage, there will be fireworks. Oliveira will score on his feet and keep Swanson off balance with his ground game, moving from submission attempts to a measured ground and pound attack. Swanson is active off of his back and should be able to win enough scrambles to resume scoring from his feet after resetting. Look for nonstop action wherever the fight goes, but in the end Oliveira will be too much for the streaking Swanson. Oliveira by submission.

RICHARD MANN: Swanson has looked good recently. He has always had solid hands, but he has worked hard on the other aspects of his game. His improved grappling and clinch work allow him to actually open up with his hands. Oliveira is better on the floor, but a finish of a guy like Swanson is probably not in the cards. Look for Swanson to get the better of the exchanges on the feet and take the contest. Swanson by Decision.

JAN LOUIS GAETJENS: Olivera’s a stud when it comes to using leg strikes to set up clinches and takedowns, and he’s got such an active bottom game on the ground that he can threaten Swanson from a multitude of angles. Olivera takes this fight to the mat and makes Swanson play defense until he has an opening to capitalize on and finishes the fight. Olivera by submission.

JACK BRATCHER: Pretty intense staredown between Oliveira and Swanson on Friday. Oliveira is a dangerous fighter with only one of his 16 wins going the distance. This is a great fight to open up the PPV with. Both guys have finished their last two fights over quality opponents — Oliveira via submission — and Swanson via TKO. I would give Cub the stand-up edge and wrestling edge, but I like Oliveira’s height advantage and he will have the submission advantage. Oliveira has been more consistent in his career too, and I have to lean toward him with the win. Oliveira via submission.

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