UFC 144 staff picks – with special guest Dan “The Wolfman”

UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson” takes place this weekend at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. With seven fights on this main card, it just so happens we have seven of the finest MMA minds on the planet weighing in with their thoughts and predictions on each fight. Joining us for the first time on our staff picks this go-round is martial arts aficionado, combat connoisseur, Hollywood actor, stuntman, MMA trainer, former pro MMA fighter and special guest blogger here at, none other than Dan “The Wolfman” Theodore *applause*. If you don’t know who Dan is then chances are you haven’t been around MMA that long, which is fine, but this guy has a UG membership that dates back to 2001 if that tells you anything. He fought Yuki Kondo in Pancrase in Japan in 2000. He fought Jeremy Horn in Minnesota in 2001. He was the robot in “Real Steel” for God’s sakes. Dan will be joining us with his thoughts on each bout, including a special in-depth breakdown of the main event as only “The Wolfman” can do it. So, you guys make “The Wolfman” feel at home with a big welcome… Now let’s do this.

Joe Lauzon (21-6) vs Anthony Pettis (14-2)

ODDS:  Lauzon +200 vs Pettis -250

JACK BRATCHER: The most interesting stat about this fight for me is the fact Joe Lauzon, out of his 26 wins, not one came by way of decision. Even in his losses he’s only been to decision once. He’s also known as a bit of a front runner if you will and we’ve seen some cardio issues as the fights wear on. He has tons of explosive ability and I think could even be a champion one day… But for some reason he can’t seem to take it to that top level. Anthony Pettis came into the UFC as the final WEC lightweight champion. No one will ever forget his “Showtime kick” that sent Ben Henderson to the canvas and made Pettis an instant superstar. With five of his wins coming by knockout, six by submission and three via decision, Pettis is quite well-rounded. If he has a definitive advantage in this fight, it’s in his overall striking ability. Pettis is not as sloppy as Melvin Guillard. I see Pettis stuffing Lauzon’s shots and out-striking him on the feet for a decision victory.

DENNY HODGE: Pettis fights with a lot of flash, while Lauzon is a true blue collar type of fighter, and this clash of styles should be fun to watch. I do think that Lauzon is going to present some problems for Pettis. I see Lauzon getting plenty of takedowns in this fight, but the key will be him being able to control position and do damage while on top. Pettis is very active from his back and is very adept at avoiding damage, and will likely win in a lot of the scrambles, enabling him to get back to his feet. In the end I believe that Pettis will be able to do more damage overall, winning while the fight is on the feet en route to a unanimous decision victory.

BRIAN FURBY: Joe Lauzon.

GARY THOMAS: How is Lauzon an underdog coming into this fight? I don’t see it. I respect Pettis and his ability but after Lauzon’s dismantling of Melvin Guillard I can’t not give him the nod in this fight. Lauzon wins via decision.

RICHARD MANN: Lauzon’s best asset is his top game. He almost has a throwback submission-before-position approach. However, he is not the best wrestler and often loses position in scrambles. Pettis isn’t the hardest guy to takedown, but he does excel in scramble situations. He should be able to survive on the ground and absolutely punt Lauzon on the feet. Pettis by decision.

JOSH CROSS: These two haven’t even stepped into the cage yet and many are already predicting this to be Fight of the Night, and for good reason. Both guys are known for having exciting fights and I expect this one to be no different. I think Pettis has the advantage no matter where this fight goes. In some of his previous bouts Lauzon has had issues with his stamina after his initial onslaught. If Pettis can weather the initial storm I think he’ll be able to get the win. Pick: Pettis via Submission.

KELVIN HUNT: I like Lauzon in this fight. I think he’s a bad style matchup for Pettis. Jeremy Stephens who isn’t known for his wrestling ability was able to take Pettis down and I think Lauzon will be able to do so as well. Not to mention that Lauzon has sneaky power in his hands and is very good at leg locks on the ground. Pettis is the big favorite and has the tools to beat Lauzon, but I’m rolling with the underdog here. I think Lauzon steals the first two rounds with his wrestling/grappling ability and then holds Pettis off in the third to win a decision.

DAN “THE WOLFMAN”: Lauzon by Submission or TKO, though I am a big fan of Pettis. J Lo is bringing that confidence and killer instinct!

Bart Palaszewski (36-14) vs Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2)

ODDS: Palaszewski +130 vs Hioki -160

JACK BRATCHER: If you’re a betting person, this could be a good one to take Bart Palaszewski. Both guys are ranked in the top 10 with Hioki coming in on the Pro MMA Now World Rankings at no. 2 and Palaszewski coming in at no. 9. Hioki’s only UFC win was a split decision over George Roop in October of last year. Prior to that he spent his career in Japan for the most part. It’s my opinion that Palaszewski has been fighting tougher competition here in the U.S. He’s also one of only two people ever to knock out Tyson Griffin, which he did in his last fight back in October — not an easy task. I’ve got Palaszewski winning this one via decision.

DENNY HODGE: It’s pretty elementary to understand what each guy wants to do in this fight, but who will be able to implement their game plan first? Palaszewski will get off early on the feet, and will look to keep it there as long as possible. Hioki will have trouble getting this fight to the ground to start working his submission game, and that will be the difference. Palaszewski by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Hatsu Hioki.

GARY THOMAS: Bart Palaszewski will be in hostile territory but I still think his skills outweight that of Hioki. Hioki will have some pressure on him. I see Bart finishing this fight early, 2nd round probably.

RICHARD MANN: Hioki’s skill set on the ground is light years ahead of Palaszewski. Of course, two very important factors will be at work in this fight. Judges love to give Palaszewski verdicts he did not earn, and Hioki always seems to find ways to give away rounds with terrible strategy. With all that being said, if “The Son of Shooto” can get some takedowns or pull guard, he should be able to work the quintessential IFL veteran. Hioki by submission.

JOSH CROSS: Knowing how skilled and dangerous Hioki is on the ground, I think Palaszewski will be looking to keep the fight standing. Not taking the fight to the ground could also prove to be problematic for Palaszewski if Hioki can successfully use his reach advantage to keep Palaszewski at bay. It will be interesting to see how this fight plays out, but I think in the end Hioki will come away with the win. Pick: Hioki via Decision.

KELVIN HUNT: I was favoring Palaszewski when this fight was first announced but after analyzing everything I think we got too caught up in Hioki’s UFC debut and Palaszewski beating a Tyson Griffin that didn’t make weight in his last fight. So I put Hioki’s subpar UFC debut on jitters and jetlag from the trip over in Japan while not putting a whole lot of stock in Palaszewski beating Griffin. This fight is in Japan so Hioki will be right at home and he’s faced dangerous strikers and done well in the past. All of his four losses have been very close decisions (three of four were split decision losses). I think he will be able to take Palaszewski down and win a decision or submit him.

DAN “THE WOLFMAN”: Hioki is a Sub Wizard but Bart P. has got the punching power to get the TKO/KO and Hioki keeps his chin up. Could be wrong though, Hioki could always lock in a Triangle or Triangle/Armbar Combo but Bart has been there against great guys and only been subbed twice in 50 fights! While Hioki has amazing finishes, look for Bart’s physical and punching power to be the difference winning by KO/TKO. I may be a bit biased though as I both trained with and always liked Bart, and actually was at his first pro fight I just realized.

Tim Boetsch (14-4) vs Yushin Okami (26-6)

ODDS: Boetsch +250 vs Okami -320

JACK BRATCHER: I seem to be favoring a lot of dogs on this card. Yushin Okami fought once last year, losing a second round TKO to champ Anderson Silva. No shame there. Prior to that, he had wins over Nate Marquardt, Mark Munoz, Lucio Linhares. The only other losses during his UFC tenure came to Chael Sonnen in 2009 and Rich Franklin in 2007. A lot of Okami’s strength comes from the size advantage he holds over most opponents. Boetsch is 2-0 since dropping to middleweight and Okami should not enjoy the size advantage here he holds against most guys. Something else I see in Boetsch’s favor here is the fact he’s been working with Matt Hume who knows Japan like the back of his hand. I can’t think of anyone better for Boetsch to have in his corner in this fight. Boetsch should have a striking advantage in this fight and I don’t see Okami being able to muscle Boetsch around like he does some other guys. We’ve all seen Boetsch toss guys on their heads like a sack of potatoes so he knows how to deal with that clinch game in most cases. Boetsch should out-strike Okami for a decision win. 

DENNY HODGE: I love seeing Boetsch ragdoll guys all over the cage, but he won’t be able to do that against Okami. Okami will keep the pressure on in this fight, and by the middle of the second, Boetsch will start to show signs of fatigue from his weight cut. Okami will control and dictate the pace of the fight, and will win this one by decision.

BRIAN FURBY: Yushin Okami.

GARY THOMAS: Okami goes from Brazil to Japan and an entirely different atmosphere. I think he will rebound after his loss to Silva and get the win. Okami by TKO Round 3.

RICHARD MANN: Boetsch was probably smart to drop to middleweight. His best trait is his physicality, which will only be heightened at a lower weight. However, when is the last time you saw someone muscle Okami in the clinch? Even in the Chael Sonnen fight, he lost a technique battle and not a physical one. Okami should be able to control the pace and position of this fight and take a decision. Okami by decision.

JOSH CROSS: A win for Boetsch in this fight would be huge, but I just don’t think he’ll be able to beat Okami. I just think that Okami will be able to use his experience to control the majority of the fight and pick up the decision win. Pick: Okami via Decision.

KELVIN HUNT: Tough fight to call here. I give Boetsch a shot at winning this fight. He’s big, strong, and can strike with Okami. However, I’m not sold on him having the gas tank to go three hard rounds with someone like Okami. He’ll need to get Okami out of there early if he wants the win. I think he can….but I think Okami takes this via decision.

DAN “THE WOLFMAN”: While Boetsch is a beast at 185, Okami has the higher level experience and I believe reach. Look for Okami to land a few solid straight lefts, and if he drops Boetsch get some serious GnP for a TKO stoppage or decision. Boetsch has very strong punches though and you definitely do not want that guy side-mounting you, especially now that he is at 185. Okami’s experience, and physical training with Chael here will pay off. Okami by Decison or GnP TKO.

Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4, 2 NC) vs Jake Shields (26-6-1)

ODDS: Akiyama +250 vs Shiels -320

JACK BRATCHER: This is an interesting match-up because, for one thing, both guys need wins badly. Akiyama has three losses in a row and Shields has two. Another thing is, due to Akiyama’s judo game I think Shields could have a hard time getting him down and Akiyama is going to have the advantage on the feet, as does nearly everyone Shields faces. Shields has had a tough road lately with the title loss to GSP, then his father passing away and him fighting just a few days later and losing to Jake Ellenberger. UFC paid a lot of money for Shields to come over from Strikeforce and they haven’t got that return on their investment yet. I think he has had time to get his game and head back in order and should be able to win this one via submission. It could get very interesting though if he’s forced to stand and bang it out with Akiyama. My official pick is Shields via submission.

BRIAN FURBY: Jake Shields.

GARY THOMAS: Jake Shields once the heir apparent to the welterweight division needs a win after dropping two straight, however, Akiyama needs a win a bit more desperately. I like the idea of a Shields victory and a Sexyama departure from the UFC. Shields via submission Round 2.

RICHARD MANN: Shields is not the best wrestler, but he might be the most determined one fighting in MMA today. Even if his original shot is stopped, he still scrambles and rips until he ends up on top. Akiyama might be able to stay on his feet early and win a stand up exchange. However, eventually his cardio will fail, and Shields will do enough on top to take the fight. Shields by decision.

JOSH CROSS: Both fighters really need a win in this bout. I think Akiyama needs the win more, but it’s going to be tough. It will be interesting to see how Akiyama, who is making his welterweight debut in this fight, handles the weight cut. I think Shields has the most to worry about if this fight remains standing. Akiyama has shown the knockout power he possesses in his hands while Shields’ strength is in his wrestling. I think that in the end though Shields will be able to take Akiyama down and control the fight enough to pick up the win. Pick: Shields via Decision.

KELVIN HUNT: I think Akiyama starts out strong as he has pretty good takedown defense. However, I wonder how the weight cut will affect him since it’s his first time doing it. I expect him to fade as the fight goes on as he normally does. Shields will begin to impose his will at that point and grind out a decision or submit him late.

DAN “THE WOLFMAN”: I am a big fan of Akiyama’s sharp punches and judo takedowns, and overall like his martial arts skill set better (plus I have a Sexyama figure on my desk). I do feel Akiyama finally at welterweight will beat a lot of guys. I have rolled with Shields once and did not find him strong or explosive, but this guy is a great competitor knowing what it takes to win! If he can take an H-bomb and come back and dominate now LHW Dan Henderson, he should be able to handle Akiyama’s punches and get on top in at least two rounds. Jake Shields wins by Decision (possibly split in Japan haven’t seen the Judges list) or Rear Choke in this one, even if his face might be the more marked up of the two. While Akiyama will be fighting to get some love back in Japan (after Sakuraba Grease Gate), Shield’s will be fighting with a new found determination after his father’s passing.

Mark Hunt (7-7) vs Cheick Kongo (27-6-2)

ODDS: Hunt +230 vs Kongo -300

JACK BRATCHER: At 7-7 Mark Hunt holds the distinction of having the worst record in the UFC. He came over from Pride in 2010. His record was so bad the UFC was going to actually pay him not to fight, but he still had a fight or two left on his contract and he wanted to see it through. He lost his UFC debut against Sean McCorkle and pretty much everyone assumed he was all but done. However, he started training and miraculously knocked out former Brock Lesnar training partner Chris Tuchscherer at UFC 127 and then won a unanimous decision over Ben Rothwell at UFC 135. However, his luck will likely run out here. As a former pro kickboxer Hunt’s main game is striking, as is Kongo’s. But I think with Kongo’s striking prowess, his height and reach advantage, combined with that devastating ground and pound I feel will be too much for Hunt. Kongo should take this one via TKO.

BRIAN FURBY: Cheick Kongo.

GARY THOMAS: With Cheick Kongo’s stock on the rise I really didn’t see this fight making sense. Hunt is only at 7-7 but did secure two wins in 2011. There is always a puncher’s chance but I see Kongo winning. Kongo 1st round KO.

RICHARD MANN: Hunt’s biggest win in years was one of the most sloppy fights in MMA history. This one will not be much cleaner. Look for Kongo to score with technically unsound double-leg takedowns and eventually finish the fight in the later rounds. Kongo by TKO.

JOSH CROSS: This should be an exciting fight that I doubt it will go to a decision. Both guys have proven how tough they can be, but Kongo proved in his fight with Pat Barry that even if he gets knocked out briefly he is still highly dangerous. There is no doubt that Hunt has a chance to win this fight, but I just like Kongo’s chances more. Pick: Kongo via TKO.

KELVIN HUNT: Cheick Kongo.

DAN “THE WOLFMAN”: While I probably will be rooting for Hunt and a Kiwi Butt Drop, and even though his grappling has improved dramatically, Kongo will be able to get the takedowns if Hunt lets his back get near the cage. Kongo wins this one by TKO from GnP elbows, possibly by a cut Dr. stoppage.

Quinton Jackson (32-9) vs Ryan Bader (14-2)

ODDS: Jackson -250 vs Bader +200

JACK BRATCHER: I almost went with Ryan Bader on this one. I could see Bader using leg kicks to jack up Jackson’s foundation which would in turn take away his striking power. However, more likely I think will happen is he’s going to try to take Jackson down. He’s already said it would not be a good idea for him to stand in the pocket. This means he’s either going to try and take him down or he’s going to try to use leg kicks and strikes moving in and out a la Forrest Griffin, or both. But if Machida couldn’t pull off the elusive game, I don’t see Bader being able to. What I think will happen is Rampage is going to stuff Bader’s shot, clip him with something and knock him out. Rampage’s last fight in Japan was at this very same Saitama Arena, on this very same day, Feb. 26, exactly six years ago. I just don’t think it’s in the cards for my man to lose. Rampage via KO.

BRIAN FURBY: Ryan Bader.

GARY THOMAS: Bader vs Rampage is a hard one because I am a fan of both. Bader was the up and comer in my eyes and ran into the Jon Jones train head on. Maybe he overlooked Tito but still suffered the loss. Rampage too lost to Jones but with his return to Japan I can’t see Bader coming away with a win. Jackson by 2nd round TKO.

RICHARD MANN: Bader does not have the technical striking to hang with “Rampage.” Yes, he hits with a ton of power and has solid takedowns. Jackson is pretty tough to takedown, and that part of the fight will be over after round one. Bader might even start to fade before the round is over. Jackson will continually land counter shots and take a decision. Jackson by decision.

JOSH CROSS: Jackson wanted to be a part of this card and fight once again in Japan and not only did he get his wish, but I think he’ll get the win as well. I think Jackson has the advantage standing, and his wrestling is good enough that I think he should be able to neutralize Bader’s biggest strength. I don’t think Jackson will have to use his wrestling much in this fight though. Pick: Jackson via TKO.

KELVIN HUNT: I think this fight will be a lot like the Hamill fight but more competitive. Bader’s striking isn’t on par with Rampage and I doubt he has the power to put Jackson away. I’m not sure he can take Jackson down either. The only thing that concerns me is Jackson stating that he doesn’t care if he wins or loses this fight as long as he’s ‘exciting’. That’s stupid to say in my opinion. Anyways, I like Jackson via decision or maybe he’ll get his first KO win since 2008?

DAN “THE WOLFMAN”: Even if Bader gets on top of Rampage one time into side mount (something Jon Jones had difficulty doing), Quinton’s experience will carry him through this fight. This is Rampage’s fight, be that either by Decision or KO by devastating counter rolling hook.

Ben Henderson (15-2) vs Frankie Edgar (14-1-1)

ODDS: Henderson EVEN vs Edgar -130

JACK BRATCHER: How awesome was that countdown show seeing the story of Ben Henderson. The guy has never drank or touched drugs, he’s kept his body very healthy and is a remarkable athlete. He will likely one day hold the UFC lightweight title, but I don’t think it will be at UFC 144. I don’t see him bringing anything to the table that Edgar hasn’t already faced someone who’s just as good, if not better at it. But the Fight Professor calls Frankie Edgar “the human hummingbird” for a reason. Most of Benson’s wins have come via submission, but with guys like John Danaher and Renzo Gracie in charge of Edgar’s BJJ game, I really don’t see Benson being the first guy to ever submit or finish Frankie. Edgar has lost one fight, that was to Gray Maynard via decision, and as we know he avenged it with a knockout. Edgar’s boxing I feel will make the difference in this fight and where he has the biggest advantage. Edgar’s going to use that jab and put together those combinations and out strike Henderson with probably a decision win and maybe a TKO.

BRIAN FURBY: Frankie Edgar.

GARY THOMAS: Frankie Edgar is THE most exciting fighter to watch. He’s never out of a fight and he’s one of the toughest in the game. Henderson is a top tier lightweight but even the most stacked division the UFC has a big gap between champ and contender. This should be exciting and will thrill the fans but Edgar wins. Egdar 3rd round TKO.

RICHARD MANN: Henderson should be commended for making it this far in MMA with a substandard striking game. In the modern game, very few fighters can reach the highest levels without being able to exchange on the feet. However, his run will come to an end here. Edgar is an above average wrestler, and on top of that, his persistent foot movement makes him tougher to takedown. Henderson will be stuck on the outside eating jabs and crosses for the majority of five rounds. Edgar by decision.

JOSH CROSS: I’ve been looking forward to the meeting of these two fighters since Henderson came over from the WEC. Not only do these two have unbelievable cardio and the ability to go strong for five rounds, but also this is a tough fight to call, which makes this bout even more intriguing. Henderson has amazing submission defense and Edgar has shown his ability to pull out a win from the brink of defeat. This fight could go either way. I’m going to go with the upset and pick Henderson in this bout, but it won’t surprise me at all if Edgar pulls off another spectacular come-from-behind win. Pick: Henderson via Submission.

KELVIN HUNT: I think Henderson is a good mixture of what BJ Penn and Gray Maynard bring to the table but probably incorporates all of his skills better. He punches, kicks, and uses his wrestling while having good size as well. I like Henderson in this fight, but it’ll all hinge on if he can take Edgar down and I think he can. If not, Edgar will outpoint him on the feet for the most part. I think Henderson makes this fight go everywhere instead of just boxing with Edgar the way Penn and Maynard did….Henderson via decision or stoppage in the 4th round.

And now presenting… our very special super in-depth and detailed UFC 144 main event prediction from “The Wolfman”! Take it away Wolfie…

DAN “THE WOLFMAN”: This fight should be pretty amazing. Even the UFC preview show is pitting this as Power vs Speed, but the fact is Frankie has won with speed over bigger, stronger, but slower guys. Benson is very fast compared to BJ (not round 1 BJ anyway) and Maynard. Unlike the 35% speed advantage Frankie had in those fights, he only has a 10% speed advantage over Benson on the feet (due to footwork) and no speed advantage in ground scrambles. I’ve got these two splitting rounds 1-4 and whomever wins round 5 takes the Decision. Benson or Bendo should be able to push the pace and win the first round. I’ve got Edgar who is a much better fighter in rounds 3 and 4 taking the 3rd for sure. Bendo will win either round 2 or round 4 by getting Frankie to the ground and putting him in trouble. Edger’s heart is what will get him through it, that is unless in the scramble he drives straight into Benson’s Guillotine which is likely to happen once in this fight. Let me break it down further…

So Ben wins round 1, and either round 2 or round 4. Frankie wins rounds 3, and either 2 or 4. Whomever wins round 5 most likely will win the decision (barring a possible Guillotine Submission win for Benson during a scramble, or RNC if he can trap an arm with his legs like he did against Guida or get a body triangle). This is a fight where two of the very best guys actually have bad footwork in some major aspects. Ok, yeah I know we have all raved of Frankie’s footwork, and he does indeed do some things very nice. However, his circling to the left 80% of the time from habit is not usually a good thing (see him eating right hands, though his speed advantage and guys not countering his simple back pivot, along with great chin and heart have made him survive it). HOWEVER, Benson, though being southpaw, also has a very bad habit of circling to his left… So for this fight Frankie’s habits will actually help him. Also, Benson has a bad habit of leaping backwards in a straight line from the beginning of an attack, where most people’s speed hasn’t been able to catch him. However, if Frankie has had the correct boxing instruction, stays on the outside gate, and blasts in with 2,3,2 combinations and long 1,1,2,3,2 combinations or the Fedor combination (7,8,7,8 Russian Long Hooks) he would be capable of hurting Benson. However, he hasn’t yet shown use of these combinations even though his boxing game is more than ready to be doing these kinds of things. Going into the 5th round, it will be two rounds a piece. Frankie is much more fluid as the fight goes on. If he can keep the 5th round standing, he should be able to out-point buy mixing up his punching and GSP lead superman to kick combinations. If Benson can get him to the fence, or get him to the ground in the 5th, Benson will take this. Both are great athletes, but Benson is a bigger, stronger, more flexible and is a better scrambling athlete in my opinion. This is Frankie’s fight to win if he has drilled the right combinations and footwork particularly suited for lefty Benson, or his to lose if he gets on the ground in two different rounds. If Benson doesn’t get rocked in a big way, I’ve got Benson winning the decision three rounds to two heavily due to his positive outlook and Laws of Attraction.

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