UFC 96: JACKSON vs. JARDINE takes place this Saturday, March 7, 2009, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The card is headlined by two top-ranked light heavyweights, Keith Jardine and Quinton Jackson who are battling for the division’s top contender status. PRO MMA (http://promma.info) will be providing live round by round coverage of UFC 96 starting at 9pm CST/7pm PST Saturday night.

Aaron Riley (27-10-1, 1-2 UFC) vs. Shane Nelson (11-3, 1-0 UFC)
At twenty-eight years old, Aaron Riley has a ton of experience. He first appeared in the UFC back in 2002 at UFC 37 where he lost a decision to Robbie Lawler. His most recent Octagon appearance was a unanimous decision victory at UFC 91 where he became one more fighter to use Jorge Gurgel to help build their name. Riley is a submission specialist, having won nearly half his fights by making his opponents tap out.

Shane Nelson is a twenty-five year-old TUF 8 veteran coming out of B.J. Penn’s camp in Hilo, Hawaii. Shane held the Hawaii-based promotion X-1 Lightweight Title prior to his stint on The Ultimate Fighter. His most significant win was over George Roop at the TUF 8 Finale in December ’08. He is a Rumble on the Rock veteran and aside from his fight against Roop, all of his professional bouts have been in Hawaii. This will definitely be the biggest fight of his life.

Prediction: Due to Aaron Riley’s experience and having been in there with so many top fighters, I have to go with him as the winner. Nelson has only fought outside Hawaii one time in his whole career, he has never really fought anyone with a name, and this will be a huge stage and experience for him that could also affect his nerves.

Brandon Vera (9-3, 5-3 UFC) vs. Michael Patt (12-3, 0-1 UFC)
Brandon Vera is coming coming off a split decision loss to Keith Jardine at UFC 89 back in October ’08. With a recent drop to light heavyweight, Vera is trying to find his rhythm again. Having gone undefeated in his first eight fights with big wins over Mike Whitehead, Fabiano Scherner, Justin Eilers, and Frank Mir, Vera hit a wall when he ran into Tim Sylvia and has not looked the same since. Patt is a drop down in competition for Vera to see if he can get back on the right track.

Patt made his very brief  Octagon debut at UFC 88 against Tim Boetsch and was sent home beaten and bruised. Patt is a thirty-four year-old BJJ Black Belt under Jorge Gurgel. He is a Bodog veteran and known for his submission skills. He has fought in quite a few different promotions but Vera will be his toughest opponent to date.

Prediction: No doubt about this one. I have to go with Brandon Vera all the way. The talent level both guys have faced could not be further apart. Vera is also well-versed on the ground and should be safe from Patt’s submission  game. Vera should be able to pick Patt apart on the feet.

Tim Boetsch (8-2, 2-1 UFC) vs. Jason Brilz (16-1-1, 1-1 UFC)
Tim Boetsch is a 4x state wrestling champion with unorthodox striking and a tough chin. His win over David Heath at UFC 81 impressed a lot of people and had fans playing back clips of him throwing Heath to the ground for weeks. He’s only been fighting professionally since ’06, but at twenty-eight years of age he still has plenty of time to grow. Both of his wins in the UFC have come quickly in the first round by TKO, his last win being against Michael Patt at UFC 88. This fight will give Boetsch the opportunity to keep the momentum going.

Jason Brilz is a thirty-three year old Bismarck, North Dakota native currently living in Omaha, Nebraska. He has not lost a fight in eight years. Brilz’s strong points are his wrestling and submission game. Nine of his sixteen wins have come by submission, five by TKO, and only two decisions. He was the Victory Fighting Championship Light Heavyweight Champion.

Prediction: I have to go with Boetsch. Even though Brilz has the experience, Boetsch is just a bad ass. I think he learned from his loss to Hamill and will probably take Brilz out standing.

Kendall Grove (9-5, 4-2 UFC) vs. Jason Day (17-7, 1-1 UFC)
Kendall Grove’s last appearance in the Octagon was a split decision win over the late Evan Tanner in June of ’08.  Grove has won the majority of his fights by submission, using his long limbs for triangle chokes and rear naked chokes. He has some big wins over such guys as Evan Tanner, Alan Belcher, and Ed Herman.

Jason Day is coming off a loss to Michael Bisping at UFC 85 in June of ’08. However, Day has significant wins over Alan Belcher, David Loiseau, and Marcus Hicks. With eight wins by TKO, eight wins by submission and only one decision victory, not only is Day a finisher but he is very well-rounded. Alot of people like to think they are well-rounded but Day’s record proves it.

Prediction: I have to go with Jason Day. He is a lot more well rounded. Both fighters are coming off a pretty significant layoff but Day just seems more consistent. Kendall’s whole career has been up and down. However, this fight is a really good match up and could be very close. 

Tamdan McCrory (10-2, 2-2 UFC) vs. Ryan Madigan (5-0, 0-0 UFC)
The twenty-two year-old ‘Barn Cat’ is coming of a submission loss to Dustin Hazelett. He has six wins by TKO, three by submission, and one decision. Luke Cummo and Pete Spratt are his two most significant victories. For a guy that use to work in the library, he is one tough hombre.  

The UFC is bringing in Ryan Madigan as local Ohio talent for this card. He is a professional kickboxing champion making his UFC debut. He has already reeled off two submission victories in his brief MMA career which shows he is not relying solely on his striking.. This is his chance of a lifetime.

Prediction: Both fighters have only been fighting professionally since 2006, yet McCrory has over double the number of fights as Madigan. If you were to judge the fight based just on looks you would have to go with Madigan but then you would be missing all that McCrory brings to the table. McCrory has been to the big show, he’s fought some tough cats and has some solid wins. McCrory wins.

Gray Maynard (7-0-1, 4-0-1 UFC) vs. Jim Miller (13-1, 2-0 UFC)
Gray Maynard is an Extreme Couture fighter with wins over Rich Clementi and Frankie Edgar. He has a solid wrestling and clinch game and is almost like a miniature Randy Couture. He is a 3x Div. 1 NCAA All- American who is still learning to slowly implement striking and submissions into his game.

Jim Miller is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has nine submission wins in his professional career. He has significant victories over Matt Wiman and Bart Palaszewski. He’s an IFL and Reality Fighting veteran. His brother Dan Miller also fights in the UFC. This will be his third fight in the UFC.

Prediction: This is a tough lightweight match-up to call. It is hard to pick against Maynard because of his camp and his ability to control the action.  However, Miller is much more of a finisher and can end fights whereas Maynard grinds it out and goes to a decision more often than not. Jim Miller wins it.

Gabriel Gonzaga (10-3, 6-2 UFC) vs. Shane Carwin (10-0, 3-0 UFC)
What can be said about Gonzaga? His only three losses have come against Randy Couture once and Fabricio Werdum twice; two of the toughest men on the planet and both were top-ten fighters at the time. He’s strong, he’s big, he can punch, kick, and he’s dangerous on the ground. He knocked out the arguably most feared striker in all of MMA with a high kick and he’s a legitimate BJJ black belt. 

Shane Carwin is a humongous beast of a man and an exceptional athlete. A wrestling champion and an NCAA football star. He’s applied that athleticism to MMA and has exactly half of his wins by submissions and half by TKO. The ONLY thing that could be a weakness in Carwin is he still works full time as an Engineer. That’s forty hours a week devoted to something other than fighting. During that time Gonzaga is teaching at his gym. Rex Richards was probably Carwin’s biggest test to date. Gonzaga is the toughest man he will have faced in the cage.

Prediction: I have to go with my man Gonzaga. Carwin has the wrestling background but Gonzaga has the BJJ background. Also, I really think at this level you CAN NOT be working another job full time. That is just insane. Carwin told me he would “cross that bridge when he got to it” about the possibility of ever having to give up his day job. I think that time has come. Gabriel Gonzaga wins it. I have to say also I’m a big Carwin fan and supporter and don’t want to see either guy lose.

Pete Sell (8-4, 2-4 UFC) vs. Matt Brown (8-7, 2-1 UFC)
Pete “Drago” Sell’s eight wins have come by five decisions and three submissions. Phil Baroni and Josh Burkman are his two most significant wins, Burkman being his most recent victory at UFC 90 in October ’08. Sell comes out of Matt Serra’s camp. He’s one of the few guys who have lost three in a row in the UFC and still had a job with the company. That means they see potential and at only twenty-six years of age he still has plenty of time to live up to it.

Matt Brown, the “Immortal” one, hailing from Jorge Gurgel’s school of ‘tap your ass out’. He has four wins by submission and four by TKO. He’s a finisher. Brown’s most recent victory came at UFC 91against Ryan Thomas where he won by arm-bar submission in round two.

Prediction: I’m going with Matt Brown on this one. Brown is a finisher and he will keep coming at you. Sell is only one fight back from losing three in a row so I’ll need to see more out of him. Brown won’t let it go to decision and I don’t see him getting submitted. Brown wins it. 

Matt Hamill (5-2, 5-2 UFC) vs. Mark Munoz (5-0, 0-0 UFC)
Matt Hamill has come a long way. His whole pro career has been in the UFC with his only losses coming to Michael Bisping in a VERY controversial split decision and Rich Franklin. He’s coming off a second round TKO victory of Reese Andy at UFC 92 in December ’08. He also has wins over Seth Petruzelli and Tim Boetsch. For such a great college wrestler he has developed some good striking skills and finished all but one of his victories by TKO.

Mark Munoz is a WEC transplant making his UFC debut. He has a win over Chuck Grigsby and most recently a win over Ricardo Barros at WEC 37. Like Hamill, Munoz also comes from a wrestling background. He was the 2001 NCAA Div. 1 National Champion Wrestler and a 2 time NCAA All American at Oklahoma State. He also has developed his hands and won three of his five wins via TKO.

Prediction: These guys are very similar. Both have a strong background in wrestling and both have developed their hands to a certain extent. However, Hamill has a little more experience as a professional and all of his fights have been in the ‘big show’ whereas this will be Munoz’s debut and because of that I have to go with Hamill. Hamill wins it.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (29-7, 4-1 UFC) vs. Keith Jardine (14-4-1, 6-3 UFC)
Quinton Jackson, the number two ranked light heavyweight in the world, has one loss in the UFC and that was his decision loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 86. He seems to have everything back on track now that he is at the Wolf’s Lair and he looked really good in his last fight against Wanderlei Silva. His timing and confidence seemed on point as he laid Silva out flat in the first round. Jackson wants the light heavyweight title back and if he can beat Jardine he will get that chance. 

Keith Jardine’s UFC career has been inconsistent but he does have some significant wins which is why he is ranked number eight in the world at light heavyweight. If Jardine could ever put together more than two wins in a row in the UFC maybe he would get a title shot, but then again, it is doubtful he would ever fight his good friend, training partner, and UFC Light Heavyweight Champ, Rashad Evans. Jardine has wins over Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, and most recently, Brandon Vera. Those are huge names. If he can get past Rampage that will add one more notch to the ‘Dean of Mean’s belt.

Prediction: Rampage is much more consistent, much more technical, and has a better chin. You can never count Jardine out because of his unorthodox style. He has nasty leg kicks that can take out Rampage’s base much like Griffin did. Having said that, I think Rampage’s superior boxing and power and speed will catch up to Jardine and put the mean one down. Quinton Jackson wins it, round one KO.

By:  Jack Bratcher

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