Happy New Year MMA hooligans! Hope everything is good with you and we ask you to stay safe on this New Year’s Eve. It’s been a tremendous year for MMA and we are proud to be a part of this great sport.

This will be our first staff picks for 2011 as UFC 125 is the first fight card of the new year. We have been keeping track of each staff member’s fight picks record throughout 2010 and will announce the results and Staff Pick 2010 Champion shortly.

If you have not seen the Countdown to UFC 125 show yet, I encourage you to do that HERE. It’s a good one. The guys at Zuffa have been using an exciting new video mash-up style with their fighter highlights and watching that along with the UFC 125 weigh-iins is guaranteed to get you hyped for this card.

Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard

Frankie Edgar (13-1) vs. Gray Maynard (11-0, 1 NC)

ODDS: Frankie Edgar (+110) vs. Gray Maynard (-140)

JOHN BUHL: It’s hard to pick against Edgar after the impressive display he put on against BJ Penn. But Maynard is a completely different style match-up. Edgar’s footwork and quick hands will score points on occasion, but Maynard is probably going to stalk him, keep him off balance with his overhand right, take him down, and win a decision. Maynard by unanimous decision.

RICHARD MANN: It has taken me a long time get on board the Frankie Edgar train. Maynard dominated the first fight, but Edgar has clearly improved since then. On top of that, he has made sure to not abandon his wrestling roots. In a five round fight, it is always a good idea to take the fighter with the more dynamic game and that is Edgar. Edgar by decision.

BRIAN  FURBY: The lone loss on Edgar’s record comes from Maynard, but that was over two years ago, and Edgar has improved a lot since then while Maynard seems to have stayed in his wheelhouse. Granted, that’s worked for Maynard as he’s churned out five decision wins since that time, but Edgar will have the edge on speed and striking. Clearly, Edgar’s ability to win lies in keeping the fight standing and as one of my friends recently put it, “not let Maynard wrestle-f**k for him five rounds”. I agree. For the sake of all the viewers, I hope this one doesn’t go five rounds. Edgar wants to prove his loss at the hands of Maynard was a fluke and knows the best way to do that is to continually pick away at Maynard until he can sneak in a good shot and end Maynard’s night early. Give both of these fighters’ propensities for decisions, it’s probably going to go five rounds. Here’s hoping it won’t. Edgar by TKO in Round 3.

DENNY HODGE: Frankie Edgar had “The Answer” for B.J. Penn, twice. Maynard is no Penn, but he presents match up issues for Edgar. Maynard won’t stand in front of Edgar and get beat to the punch repeatedly. He will put Edgar on his back and make him work from there. It won’t be easy to keep Edgar on his back, but Maynard has the tools to smother and stifle the quickness and explosiveness of the champion. Maynard will take the crown with a decision victory amid a sea of boos. Then the UFC will have to find a way to promote him as champion, and I don’t think a shake weight spoof will do the trick.

JACK BRATCHER: What Frankie Edgar accomplished with his wins over B.J. Penn was nothing short of phenomenal. How can you pick against a guy who performs like that? I will tell you how. You pick against him when his opponent beat him once before and that opponent’s name is Gray Maynard. Two main things will lead to Maynard’s victory; his size and his wrestling. Of course, Edgar has been working hard to improve those areas of his game which cost him the fight the first time, namely his wrestling. But then again, Maynard himself has had time to improve on his skill set. Maynard is a very hard worker and has access to all the training partners and coaches he needs at Xtreme Couture to be fully prepared for the new and improved Edgar. If somehow Edgar can stop the takedown and turn this into a boxing match, he will win, but that won’t happen. Maynard by decision to take the title.

Chris Leben vs. Brian Stann

Chris Leben (21-6) vs. Brian Stann (9-3)

ODDS: Chris Leben (-160) vs. Brian Stann (+130)

JOHN BUHL: Despite Stann’s recent improvement, if this fight turns into a slug-fest, and it might, that’s Leben’s world. And on the ground, Leben has a pretty underrated ground game. Leben by third round TKO.

RICHARD MANN: Stann’s spot in the UFC has very little to do with his fighting ability. Leben’s personal demons hold him back, but he should still be able to get a victory here. Look for Leben to go back to his clinch game and work Stann up against the fence. Leben by TKO.

BRIAN  FURBY: Leben is a huge favorite with the odds-makers and while I agree with that, those willing to put some money on Stann could see a good payday if he pulls it out. However, Leben’s power is out of Stann’s league and I look for him to end Stann’s night about halfway through the fight. Leben by TKO in Round 2.

DENNY HODGE: Hmmmm. I don’t think a lack of action will be the issue in this fight at all. Everybody in the world knows that these guys like to stand and bang, but don’t be surprised when Leben puts Stann on his back from time to time. Leben will show that he’s ready for the next level of his career in the UFC, and will dominate Stann in every facet of the fight. Leben by TKO.

JACK BRATCHER: What Chris Leben accomplished in 2010 was amazing. He has a lot of momentum coming into this fight and he is too experienced for Brian Stann. A young Leben first came into our living rooms back in 2005 on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Sure, he’s had his issues with intoxicants and even steroids. Remember when he got drunk and cried on reality TV and Josh Koscheck called him a “fatherless bastard”? Stann is a war veteran but Leben fought battles of a different kind and the experience that comes through making it out the other side of that fight has its own type of value that should not be  underestimated. Leben’s always been a tough S.O.B., but now he is a well-skilled and well-rounded mixed martial arts fighter who would just as soon Triangle Choke you (Yoshihiro Akiyama-UFC 116) as knock your block off (take your pick). With over half his 25 wins coming by knockout, if “The Crippler” touches that chin there’s a high percentage it’s nightie night. If Stann gets into a fire fight with Leben like he did with Steve Cantwell at WEC 35, I see Stann going down. I’m sure Greg Jackson is putting together a sort of gameplan that will call for Stann not to get into that type of slug-fest, but both these guys tend to get emotional at times. Stann might tap that button that turns on Leben’s zombie mode where he starts eating everything Stann throws and just keeps coming forward. In the end I see Leben victorious via TKO.

Brandon Vera vs. Thiago Silva

Thiago Silva (14-2) vs. Brandon Vera (11-5)

ODDS: Thiago Silva (-160) vs. Brandon Vera (+130)

JOHN BUHL: Vera says he’s really focused now, but I think Silva has heavier hands. Silva by decision.

RICHARD MANN: Vera might have great tools, but he does not seem capable of using them to win rounds. He can stay in fights against high-level competitors, but he doesn’t seem capable of making the jump to that level. Silva is coming off a long injury layoff, which means he will probably lose. However, I can’t pick Vera unless he is fighting the Mike Patts of the world. Silva by decision.

BRIAN  FURBY: Both guys are 1-2 in their last three fights, but I don’t think we’re looking at a “Win or you’re fired” situation with either guy. We should see some sparks fly in this one. The majority of both fighters’ wins come from (T)KOs, and while both guys could do fine on the ground, I doubt the fight will end up there. Silva is a slight favorite in this fight even though both guys are coming off long layoffs. This is a chance for both guys to rebound off losses, and I think it’s going to be Vera’s night. Vera by TKO in Round 2.

DENNY HODGE: I’ve been waiting to see the old Brandon Vera for a couple of years now and always end up disappointed. He still has the kicks and still has the knees, but will he open up and throw his hands and get off with big combos like he used to? I think he will be hesitant to stand in the pocket with Silva, and his failure to engage will cost him again, and may result in his walking papers from the UFC in the process. Silva by decision.

JACK BRATCHER: This is a fun fight. Both guys want to prove that they are still a factor and a threat at light heavyweight. Silva is the odds favorite, but both guys have had long layoffs, Silva since January of 2010 and Vera since March of 2010. Vera is coming off back to back losses against Randy Couture via unanimous decision and Jon Jones via first round TKO. Silva is coming of a unanimous decision loss to Rashad Evans. Vera probably has the better kicks but I think Silva has heavier hands. I really like Vera and he seems to have all the potential in the world, but something seems to be missing in the equation for him. I have to go with Silva via TKO.

Clay Guida vs. Takanori Gomi

Clay Guida (27-8) vs. Takanori Gomi (32-6)

ODDS: Clay Guida (-150) vs. Takanori Gomi (+120)

JOHN BUHL: A really tough fight to call. I think if it goes the distance, Guida wins it, but you can never rule out a guy like Gomi getting a KO. I’m hesitantly picking Guida here, just because I think he’ll have a game plan and Gomi hasn’t been at the top of his game in a couple of years, the Griffin knockout aside. Guida by decision.

RICHARD MANN: Even when Gomi was on top of the lightweight world he had trouble with fighters who were determined to take him down. Guida has proven that he is not a lights-out wrestler, but he should be able to win a decision from the top here. Guida by decision.

BRIAN  FURBY: This was the hardest fight for me to pick. On one hand, Guida has definitely improved since his time with Greg Jackson and always presses the action, on the other, Gomi probably packs more power in his hands than almost any other fighter in the lightweight division, and his striking skills far outweigh those of Guida. Undoubtedly, Jackson has come up with a game plan to try and counteract Gomi’s striking, but the question is whether Guida will be able to implement it before Gomi unleashes it. I think the first round could be competitive, but Gomi will come out too fast in the second round for Guida to do anything about it. Gomi by TKO in Round 2.

DENNY HODGE: How could you not be fired up about this fight???? Guida will have to keep moving, which is never a problem for him, and not engage in any antics with Gomi that could lead to early nap time in the Octagon. Guida will go after the cardio of Gomi, by keeping the heat on him and pushing the fight into the later rounds, but I think Guida will get enticed to engage in some exchanges and will pay for it. Gomi by TKO.

JACK BRATCHER: I love Gomi. He’s just so cute and looks like he came right off the pages of a Japanese comic book. Every time I see him I get nostalgic thinking about the glory days of Pride and how cool it is “The Fireball Kid” is in the UFC. But nostalgia is useless when the Matthew McConaughey of MMA is hanging on your back and pounding on your skull like his finest set of Cuban bongos. Clay Guida is the UFC’s very own rock star and the Octagon is his stage. Few human beings even can even comprehend his high energy fast-paced aggressive style, much less try to somehow stop it. Guida rides Gomi like a Scott Stapp groupie for a unanimous decision win.

Nate Diaz vs. Dong Hyun Kim

Nate Diaz (13-5) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1)

ODDS: Nate Diaz (-105) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (-125)

JOHN BUHL: We’ve seen Diaz lose a decision before from getting taken down and smothered. Can Kim do that with his judo? Maybe, but after the Marcus Davis debacle, I’m not picking against Nate here. I think he’ll hurt Kim at some point and get the submission. Diaz by third round submission.

RICHARD MANN: Kim’s does his best work from the top position. However, in order to get there he will need to get past Diaz’s brutal striking. Even if Kim can get on top, Diaz is very good off his back. It would not be shocking if he created a scramble and got back to a favorable position. Diaz by decision.

BRIAN  FURBY: Although Kim’s record shows he is undefeated, that is due to his split decision loss to Karo Parisyan being overturned after Parisyan tested positive for painkillers. However, outside of that, no one has figured out how to beat Kim. But, Kim has also never encountered one of the Diaz brothers with their oddball striking, great jiu jitsu and solid reppin’ of Stockton. It is, of course, the Stockton factor that I think will cause Diaz to get a decision win over Kim, after which, Nate will mention something about Jason “Mayhem” Miller being scared to fight his brother. 209 in the house! Diaz by split decision.

DENNY HODGE: Kim is undefeated and had a string of (T)KO victories prior to coming over to the UFC. He has had great success in the Octagon, but hasn’t finished fights the way that he did prior, going to decision in 4 of his 5 UFC bouts. Diaz will bring his trademark “Diaz” boxing style into this fight, and will find success with it. Diaz will find victory on the ground by submission after winning the battle on the feet.

JACK BRATCHER: This is a very interesting match-up Diaz is coming off a pair of stoppages over Marcus Davis and Rory Markham. “Stun Gun” Kim remains undefeated in his professional career and his most recent wins include names like Amir Sadollah, T.J. Grant and Matt Brown. Dong Hyun Kim is majoring in Judo in college. Think about that. I don’t ever like picking against the Diaz brothers because I’m such big fans but I believe Kim’s grappling and Judo experience will keep him from getting submitted. Both Diaz brothers have proven their boxing continues to improve and gain power. Nate’s dismantling of Marcus Davis in his last fight proves he knows how to use his hands effectively even against a veteran boxer. I see “Stun Gun” putting Diaz on his back and grinding out a ground and pound decision.

*All fight odds provided by BetUS.com

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