UFC 141 staff picks

The UFC is closing out the year with a bang on Friday as “UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem” lights up the Las Vegas strip.  The card boasts a dream main event match-up between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem, two of the sport’s biggest and most talented heavyweights, and top lightweight contenders Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and nasty Nate Diaz clash in a heated co-main event.

The ( staff has come together one more time to share their thoughts and predictions on this final UFC card of 2011. We would love to hear your comments and fight picks as well. Enjoy.

Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem

Odds: Lesnar +120, Overeem -150

KELVIN HUNT: Simple fight to breakdown. If Lesnar can get the takedown Overeem is in trouble. If Lesnar can’t get the takedown he’s in trouble, but if Overeem doesn’t finish him early in the fight advantage Lesnar. I think Lesnar makes Overeem work by putting him against the cage, basically limiting Overeem’s striking arsenal. As Overeem tires he’ll give up the takedown and Lesnar will finish him via TKO.

DENNY HODGE: As a fan how can you NOT be excited about this Goliath vs. Goliath battle between two of the biggest fighters in the sport? There will be no secret gameplans in this one. The question is, how will Overeem’s striking be affected by the constant threat of Lesnar’s double leg takedowns? He was very hesitant to let his hands go against Werdum in a very lackluster showing in his last bout. Lesnar on the other hand, is finally healthy, but the question about him will be his ability to absorb the power shots of Overeem. If Lesnar is successful with his takedowns, he should find success being in a dominant position from the top, although Overeem is definitely experienced and dangerous off of his back. If Overeem can stuff some of those takedowns, he should be able to do damage in the clinch. I think Overeem will have early success, but Lesnar will wear him out and outwork him before taking him out in the third round. Lesnar by TKO.

JOSH CROSS: I think Brock’s health and Overeem’s ability to avoid the takedown are the two big questions I have going into this fight. Brock looks to be as healthy as ever, but you never know for sure until the fight begins. I think Overeem will be looking to avoid the fight going to the ground at all costs. Overeem’s best chance to win in my opinion is to keeping the fight standing and Alistair is well aware of that fact. The longer the fight stays standing it will be interesting to see how Brock reacts to getting tagged or thrown off of his game plan. It showed that those were two major weaknesses of Lesnar’s in his loss to Velasquez last year. I think someone is getting knocked out in this fight, and I think Lesnar will be able to control the fight enough to make sure it’s not him. Pick: Lesnar via TKO.

GARY THOMAS: Can Overeem legitimize his stock in the heavyweight class. Who knows how he will handle his biggest fight to date. I like a healthy Brock Lesnar with a desire to get his belt back over a guy who has had way too many distractions leading up to this fight. Lesnar by KO in round 2.

RICHARD MANN: I am sure that a lot of people will bring up the fact that “Lesnar does not like to get hit.” Despite this sudden reputation, Lesnar actually has a pretty good chin. He survived a serious onslaught from Shane Carwin and ended up coming back and taking the victory. Overeem certainly has the power to put Lesnar on roller skates, but he is not really aggressive enough to get the ball rolling early. The much more likely scenario is that Lesnar gets some early takedowns and forces Overeem to deal with adversity for the first time in years. Those familiar with the Pride day career can guess what will happen next. Lesnar by TKO.

BRIAN FURBY: Brock Lesnar.

JACK BRATCHER: Wow, I’m a little surprised everyone is picking Lesnar on this one. It is kind of crazy Overeem is the betting favorite – and if you are gambling man, this is a fight you could win a little money with Lesnar. A few things: Overeem had a lot of distractions in this camp, regardless of what he says to the contrary. Also, when you match high level strikers against high level wrestlers, the wrestler almost always wins (Couture vs. Toney is the clearest example). Overeem does not have great wrestling. He does have submissions and that is always a possibility, but not probable against Lesnar. Also, just look at the history of guys like Overeem who have fought at a high level and then fight in the UFC for the first time. It rarely goes their way. Brock has been extremely focused, training with top level guys while Overeem has been flying back and forth to Amsterdam, moving his camp around, etc. Lesnar is not going to stand there and trade punches for long and try to prove some point. He wants to get back to a title shot. My prediction is pretty simple really; Lesnar takes Overeem down and pounds him out or submits him in the first round.

Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone

Odds: Diaz +210, Cerrone -280

KELVIN HUNT: It’s crazy that Diaz is such an underdog in this fight. Cerrone isn’t going to KO or submit Diaz, he could win a decision by mixing his striking and wrestling. However, Diaz is already playing mind games which will cause Cerrone to fight on emotion which means the gameplan will be out the window. I think Diaz’s volume striking will make it difficult for Cerrone to find his range. I think Diaz wins a decision or submits Cerrone.

DENNY HODGE: “Fight of the Night” anyone? In a battle between two of the best “mean mugs” in the fight game, Cerrone and Diaz are going to flat get after each other in this bout. Diaz has improved his boxing, and will blitz Cerrone with quantity-over-quality types of strikes. Cerrone is definitely game to stand in the pocket and trade, so fans should be treated to some serious exchanges between these two. I believe that Diaz will eventually try to clinch and work Cerrone to the mat so he can go to work with his jiu jitsu, but Cerrone is very dangerous from his back. This will be an entertaining back-and-forth bout, but in the end I have to go with Diaz with a close decision victory.

JOSH CROSS: Many are predicting this to be the fight of the night and rightfully so. Both fighters are known for their exciting and high energy fights. Both guys are tough and I think both fighters are so evenly matched that I think this is going to be a close, close fight. I think this bout will go the distance, and while I could see this fight going either way, I think Cerrone will be able to do enough to edge out Diaz for the decision win. Pick: Cerrone via Decision.

GARY THOMAS: Diaz Cerrone could easily be a fight of the night performance. Both are excellent fighters but I think the striking of the Cowboy and his aggressive game plan will neutralize the skill set of Diaz. Look for a barn burner though in this one. Cerrone by TKO in round 2.

RICHARD MANN: The Diaz brothers and Cerrone have the battle of attrition style. If all fights were infinite rounds, they would probably all be undefeated. However, who breaks when two come up against each other? Cerrone should have a technical edge on the feet. On top of that, his kicks should give him the ability to land from the outside. Cerrone by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Donald Cerrone.

JACK BRATCHER: Cerrone’s biggest problems seem to be in his head and Diaz is definitely in his head. However, knocking of a cowboy’s hat is just one of those things that never ends well for the guy who does it… never.  Cerrone has great submissions but Diaz is on a different level when it comes to jiu-jitsu. Cerrone has great technical kickboxing that outpoints a lot of people, but out of all his pro fights he still only has one TKO victory, and that didn’t even happen until this year. With this being his sixth fight in a calendar year, it’s possible Cerrone could be fighting too much. Diaz has the better boxing and like his brother can overwhelm a lot of people with his relentless combinations and overall volume. And as we saw against Gomi in September, Diaz’s hands keep improving. The wild card is Cerrone’s kicks and knees and how they could play into the fight. I really love this personality and style match-up and like most others, am really looking forward to this one. This thing can play out a lot of ways but I’m going to hypothesize that one of them gets hurt with strikes, it goes to the ground and Diaz submits Cerrone.

Jon Fitch vs. Johny Hendricks

Odds: Fitch -240, Hendricks +190

KELVIN HUNT:  Fitch is coming off a long layoff and surgery. His strength is taking opponents down and grinding them out. Hendricks is the best wrestler that Fitch has faced in MMA besides GSP. I think Hendricks wrestling and the long layoff will be too much to overcome. Plus Hendricks has good power in his strikes. Hendricks via decision.

DENNY HODGE: We all know what we are going to see with Fitch. Will he try to add some excitement to his game and try to finish the fight more dynamically given the opportunity? Hendricks will be a dangerous foe for Fitch to try that strategy with. Hendricks will have the advantage should they choose to stand, but Fitch won’t stick to that type of gameplan long. He will stand only long enough to set up his takedowns. Look for a long, grinding bout that goes the entire fifteen minutes. Fitch will outwork Hendricks and earn yet another decision victory.

JOSH CROSS: Both of these fighters are known for their wrestling and I expect we’ll see much of this fight take place on the mat. Hendricks should have the advantage if the fight remains standing though. It will be interesting to see how Fitch does coming off of an injury and relatively long layoff. I don’t see either of these two fighters being finished, and while I think Hendricks will be a tough test for Fitch, I think Fitch will be able to control enough of the fight to win the decision. Pick: Fitch via Decision.

GARY THOMAS: Can Jon Fitch make an exciting fight out of this one? I doubt it but I don’t see Hendricks being able to stop the dominant ground game that Fitch has. Fitch will grind out another decision.

RICHARD MANN: Hendricks is the better wrestler on paper by far. However, he has yet to fully integrate it into his MMA game. Hendricks has shown flashes of brilliance during his short career, but he does not seem to worry about winning rounds. That will be a big impediment against Fitch. Look for Fitch to win the stand up portion of the fight and eventually come out on top of the grappling session. Fitch by decision.


JACK BRATCHER: Jon Fitch is a hungry man. Having been on the sidelines since February he is itching for a fight. Johny Hendricks has already fought twice this year, picking up wins over Mike Pierce and TJ Waldburger. Without a doubt, this is the biggest fight of Hendricks’ career. It’s also his toughest fight. This will not be Fitch’s toughest fight, at least on paper. Both guys are great wrestlers and both are BJJ black belts. Hendricks probably has an edge in striking, especially as of late as his striking has shown noticeable improvement. Hendricks has gotten back to his roots training with the Oklahoma State wrestling team. And if he is able to stuff Fitch’s takedown, this fight could get very interesting. We saw what B.J. Penn did to Fitch’s face in his last fight, and Mr. Hendricks saw that too. I almost want to pick Hendricks, and I think it’s going to be close. But few people know how to get the win like Mr. Fitch. Fitch by Fitch (decision).

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Vladimir Matyushenko

Odds: Gustafsson -350, Matyushenko +250

KELVIN HUNT:  Gustafsson via TKO.

DENNY HODGE: Both guys have won four of their last five in the UFC, and it will be interesting to see how Matyushenko deals with the stand up prowess of Gustafsson. I have learned to never count out “The Janitor”, but he will want to get this fight to the mat after using his stand up to set up his takedowns. Gustafsson has proven that he can defend against takedowns, but will he be prepared to continuously fight off the relentless attack of Matyushenko? I think he will be pushed, but in the end will outpoint “The Janitor” on his way to a unanimous decision victory.

JOSH CROSS: I think the age difference between these two will play a heavy factor in the outcome of this fight. I think the 24-year-old Gustafsson will be too quick for the 40-year-old Matyushenko if the fight remains standing. I don’t think Matyushenko will be able to take Gustafsson to the ground easily and even if he does I don’t see Gustafsson getting submitted. In the end I think Gustafsson’s continued improvement combined with his much younger age and speed will help him pick up the win over Matyushenko. Pick: Gustafsson via TKO.

GARY THOMAS: I really think its a toss up between the two men with have the most letters in their names on this card. I think Gustafsson may have an edge albeit a small one and wins this fight by TKO in the third.

RICHARD MANN: In his only career defeat, Gustafsson was soundly out wrestled by Phil Davis. Now, he is looking to pick up his second-straight victory over a better wrestler. At this point in his career, Matyushenko is basically the ultimate gateway for prospects. Look for Gustafsson to pass this test with an early barrage on the feet. Gustafsson by TKO.

BRIAN FURBY: Vladimir Matyushenko.

JACK BRATCHER: I like this fight – “The Mauler” vs. “The Janitor”. I wonder if fighting Matyushenko feels like fighting your Dad. Alex “The Mauler” has lost one fight so far in the UFC and that was against Phil Davis. Guess who he trains with now — you got it, Phil Davis — and the other guys at Alliance. Matyshenko has some heavy hands but if he doesn’t get this fight on the ground he will likely get out-struck. “The Mauler” should be able to keep it standing for the most part, and if he does hurt “The Janitor” he could lock on a fight ending rear-naked choke which he has been known to do. The “Mauler” beats “The Janitor” in this one, probably by decision.

Nam Phan vs. Jimy Hettes

Odds: Phan -230, Hettes +180

KELVIN HUNT: Nam Phan via decision.

DENNY HODGE: I think this fight will end up being a “Fight of the Night” caliber bout. I’ve been hearing about Hettes for a couple of years now from Mike Malast from MMA Melee on Facebook, and he has been every bit as exciting as I had heard he was. Phan should have the advantage on the feet with his crisp combinations, but Hettes is no slouch on his feet either. Hettes will be better in close, where he can use his Judo background to take the fight to the ground, where he is a threat with very nice submission skills. It will be a back-and-forth fight for most of the fight, but I’m going for the upset in this one. Hettes by submission in the 3rd.

JOSH CROSS: I think it’s pretty obvious that Hettes is going to be looking to take this fight to the ground quickly since he has won all nine of his pro fights so far via submission. I think Phan has the advantage striking, and I think he will give Hettes some trouble on the ground should the fight go there. Phan not only has a black belt but he has yet to be submitted in his professional career. All of that combined with having more experience than Hettes I think will help Phan get the win. Pick: Phan via TKO.

GARY THOMAS: Nam Phan is relentless and is looking to cap off a big 2011. Not sure if Hettes can hang with Phan. I am calling Phan by decision.

RICHARD MANN: Hettes will have an advantage if he can get this fight to the ground. However, he has not faced the toughest opposition before moving to the UFC. This bout will go a long way in proving his worth as a prospect. Look for Phan to keep it on the feet and take a decision. Phan by decision.


JACK BRATCHER: Hettes has one fight and one win so far in the UFC and that was against Alex Caceres. Phan is a completely different animal. Hettes has won all nine of his pro fights by submission in the first or second round. He will not submit Phan and Phan will out-strike him on the feet for a unanimous decision or TKO victory.

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