Saturday, 4 March 2017

UFC 209 Picks

I was thinking about ruminating on why MMA fans seem to be overwhelmingly conservative in nature but then big fight news came down this week as Georges St. Pierre's return became official as he challenges Michael Bisping for the Middleweight title at UFC 2??. Well, most likely UFC 213 during International Fight Week in July. Plenty of people are complaining but I don't hate it and am looking forward to the fight.

The chief grievance most people have is that this feels like a gimmick, money fight rather than one based in actual sporting intrigue given that GSP has not fought in three and a half years and has never competed at Middleweight. They have a point there but the inference that WME is interfering in matchmaking to pay off the vig and that this would never have happened under the reign of the Fertittas is risible. Anyone remember when Chael Sonnen got an undeserved shot at Jon Jones? Brock Lesnar had the name but not the credentials when he fought Randy Couture. Multiple fighters have been handed title shots coming off losses. While technically under the WME banner, there was also a rather large event at Madison Square Garden where a a very popular fighter got a shot at a belt with a grand total of zero wins in that division in the UFC that no one complained about that you just know old Zuffa would've been all about. So it's not unprecedented.

Moreover, I don't feel bad for Yoel Romero. Is he the clear number one contender? Sure, I guess. But he's also extremely lucky not to be in the midst of a two year USADA suspension. There was highly unethical conduct by his corner in the Tim Kennedy fight and also repeated fence grabbing against Jacare Souza which saved him from being underneath a BJJ warlock. So it's tough for me to muster a lot of sympathy. While there is also grumbling about a logjam being created at Middleweight - a logjam of two, by the way - it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Better than what you have at Women's Bantamweight which has no clear challengers after Valentina Shevchenko. There's a real complaint you could hurl the UFC's way which was also evident under the old management - would it kill them to book a few more women's fights?

Picks after the jump.

[C] Tyron Woodley vs [1] Stephen Thompson

When I think about picking a fight one of the things I consider very strongly is "how many ways does this fighter have of winning this". For Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson the only path to victory I see for him is via decision. With his fast, technical striking, I can envision him hitting and running and eking one out. But for Tyron Woodley, I see many ways he can win. He can knock you out standing. He can chop your legs out from under you with kicks. He can take you down and batter you there or submit you. I think he can do all of those things to Stephen Thompson.

The betting for this bout baffles me. It looks like all the money is landing on Wonderboy. Did people not watch the first fight? Sure, Woodley made some mistakes but they are all tactical choices that can be fixed in camp and he trains at a good one. Stephen Thompson on the other hand can't help it if a big right lands and he gets knocked down again. Nor can he improve his wrestling to match Woodley's in a few months. I believe the trend is based on Woodley turning off fans with his comments about race and wanting to fight GSP or Nick Diaz. I believe he is peaking and will knock out Wonderboy to remain the champion and finally start getting the recognition he deserves as one of the world's elite welterweights.

[1] Khabib Nurmagomedov vs [2] Tony Ferguson

I have gone back and forth on this fight many times and it is such a great matchup. For all the complaints about logjams when people get undeserved title shots, this is one of the consolation benefits - two fighters on absolute tears clashing with a maximum aura following them. Khabib Nurmagomedov is the favorite coming in. Undefeated in his professional MMA career and a two-time Sambo World Champion, he is an elite level multi-faceted grappler with good striking that he uses to pressure and set up his takedowns. Once he gets you down, he is a master at trapping limbs and beating the bloody crap out of you.

For Tony "El Cucuy" Ferguson to win this fight, he will have to use his length and movement to keep Khabib on the feet. His excellent boxing skills are an asset in this case as no doubt kicks would be seized upon for attempted takedowns. Khabib's style on the feet often has him leaning his head back almost bracing himself. With Ferguson's reach I wonder if, even if the punches not necessarily connecting, that could look bad to a judge scoring a close round. While Khabib has been dominant in the past on the ground, again those long limbs of Ferguson could prove problematic with "El Cucuy" a proven submission terror.

Khabib opened as a heavy favorite and has since been bet down slightly but still remains heavily on top in that regard. Ferguson seemed to shy away from taking the fight while Khabib pushed for it. That's always a little bit of a worry. Ferguson indicated it was about money which I'm not sure is true but even so. If you are more focused on how much you are making rather than the thrill of the action when the summit is so near, what does that mean? I see this fight going one of two ways. Either Ferguson outpoints Khabib in a very, very close contest as described. Or Khabib gets Ferguson to the ground and finishes him there brutally in the middle rounds. At this point, I'm feeling the former. Call it a hunch.


Lando Vannata vs David Teymur

This is a fight I am really looking forward to between two highly intriguing prospects at Lightweight. Lando Vannata is coming off a spectacular knockout win over John Makdessi at UFC 206. A wild and exciting striker, he has finished all but one of his nine professional wins. Training out of Jackson-Wink in Albuquerque, he is touted by some as a potential future champion. David Teymur is a very skilled Muay Thai counter-striker with fight ending power. His last win was by knockout over Jason Novelli in August and he seems to have embraced the necessity of giving good post-fight soundbites in order to land big fights on main cards like this one.

I expect Vannata to push the pace in this one with strikes and wrestling. At +300 and climbing though, David Teymur is great value as an underdog bet - I think he is more dangerous than many suspect. Vannata is too thrilling of a prospect to pick against at this point though. 

Rashad Evans vs Daniel Kelly

This will be Rashad Evans' first fight at Middleweight in his career, having previously competed predominantly at Light Heavyweight. Ironically, I was waiting for the weigh-ins to write this just to make sure he made it to the fight. He hasn't fought since April of last year and has had trouble getting a license to compete due to a heart issue. He says it is something he has dealt with for his entire career and is 100% healthy.

The problem for him is that he has looked terrible the last two times he has fought. His last win was in 2013 over Chael Sonnen. While he figures to have the size advantage over former Olympic Judoka Dan Kelly, I am not convinced "Suga" Rashad has any kind of skill advantage over even a very middle of the road opponent. The value betting is certainly with Kelly as we enter something of the unknown. I'll pick Kelly as well because, why not?

Amanda Cooper vs Cynthia Calvillo

It's strange how after Khabib-Ferguson was cancelled, the UFC promoted Lando Vannta-David Teymur to the co-main event rather than Overeem-Hunt. It must be a money issue, especially with not wanting to pay Hunt. Replacing the Interim Lightweight title fight on the main card of the Pay-per-view is a bout between two women with a combined five professional wins which understandably has a lot of fans pissing and moaning. My preferred promotion would have been Mirsad Bektic vs Darren Elkins (I have Bektic winning that) but I am okay with this instead. It is nice to have more womens' fights being placed in the spotlight to develop those divisions.

This bout was only just announced less than two weeks ago.  Cynthia Calvillo is a new signing training out of Team Alpha Male and seems likely the one receiving the "push" similar to Lando Vannata's situation. The difference is that she really hasn't proven anything yet. Amanda Cooper is a former boxer and also fairly young in her MMA career. She was finished by a skilled wrestler in Tatiana Suarez at the TUF 23 Finale last summer before returning later in the year to even her record with a decision win over the now retired Anna Elmose.

There's not much evidence to go on with this fight but I am leaning slightly towards Cooper. She has some underrated all around skills and is obviously the far superior striker. While Calvillo might be able to force the fight to the ground I don't think she will necessarily be able to keep it there and may tire by the third round and drop a decision.

[3] Alistair Overeem vs [8] Mark Hunt

I expect this battle of former K1 champions to be a tense affair rather any kind of heavyweight slugfest. Before his title fight against Stipe Miocic at UFC 203, Overeem fought very patiently and methodically, waiting for his openings to finish the fight. On that occasion he seemed to lose his composure and abandon his gameplan after failing to end the bout on a submission attempt.

Mark Hunt has not fought since UFC 200 where he dropped a decision to Brock Lesnar, a result that was later overturned after Lesnar was popped for clomiphene. Hunt is currently in the process of suing Lesnar, Dana White and the UFC. While negotiating the bout agreement, Hunt demanded a punitive anti-doping clause be included - Overeem has a history with artificially elevated testosterone levels. He claims he accepted the fight not because he especially wanted to but because he needed to work and earn.

The whole situation seems like a huge distraction to me but he has been backed into a corner contractually before. When Zuffa acquired his PRIDE contract, he had a poor W/L record and was offered a buy-out on his contract. Instead he decided to fight it out and went on a winning streak to cement himself as a fan favorite. He and Overeem have fought once before in DREAM where Overeem won by submission. Hunt can knock out Overeem at any time with one of his big punches or knees but I think Alistair will be wary of that and keep his distance. As the taller, rangier fighter I believe he can keep Hunt zoned and score enough to win a decision.

I pick: Woodley, Ferguson, Vannata, Kelly, Cooper, Overeem

Chris picks: "Tyrion" Woodley, Nurmagomedov, Vannata, Evans, Calvillo, Hunt

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