Friday, 8 June 2018

UFC 225 Picks

I was cautiously optimistic about the ESPN+ deal signed by the UFC last time out but a month later the hope has evaporated. ESPN has doubled down on their determination to drive true sports fans away from their platform, bringing back demagogue Keith Olbermann yet again and launching a new flagship afternoon show hosted by Pablo Torre and faux intellectual Bomani Jones.

With many cards scheduled to be across the ESPN network exclusively expect the 'talent' such as it is to be spread thin especially as the UFC is expected to retain a PPV model and save all their best fights for those. But the base will be driven away by the core principles that appear to be in play at ESPN. Meanwhile the type of people the likes of Olbermann, Jones and Michelle Beadle are designed to appeal to are cutting the cord and being judicious over what services to subscribe to. So who will be left to watch? It is a terrible brand fit and a mistake the UFC may never truly recover from.

Dana White obviously thinks it is the greatest thing that has ever happened for the UFC. What else can he say? But then again he also said Yair Rodriguez had been released - a lie as predicted here. From what I hear the plan was to spread rights between multiple networks and FOX Sports were ready to pay nine figures for half of the rights. But when Endeavor chose ESPN as one its partners, a direct and main rival to FOX Sports, they withdrew their offer forcing the UFC to go hat in hand to ESPN. I am sure Fox are not upset they don't have to deal with Dana anymore.

White also came out this week and said the UFC would do away with early weigh-ins which have been blamed for the rash of fighters missing weight. I think there's certainly truth in that - but it's not because early weigh-ins are necessarily a bad thing. It's because most fighters are semi-professional and don't take the proper approach to their cuts. I was rewatching some of UFC 216 recently. Prior to that Dana White issued a message of condolence after the Las Vegas mass shooting and I thought about how there was really no one else who could represent the UFC and speak on it's behalf. He is really the only face of the company and at least sometimes that becomes a real disservice.

Picks after the jump.

[C] Robert Whittaker vs [1] Yoel Romero

A rematch of their interim title fight at UFC 213, Whittaker and Romero meet for the full title in Whittaker's first defense. He was originally meant to meet Luke Rockhold in February but withdrew due to injury. Romero stepped in on short notice and stole the shot although he missed weight on that occasion so the UFC technically had an out if they did not want to book what is effectively an immediate rematch.

Despite losing the first two rounds at UFC 213 and limping around for most of the fight with a sprained MCL, Whittaker cruised to a unanimous decision win in the final three rounds. Once he had a grasp of Romero's timing and patterns he was able to pick his spots and lines of attack. Romero was also unable to control the Antipodean with his wrestling. I quite like Whittaker to keep the momentum going, jabbing away at Romero and wearing him down. I'll be honest, it's not the most anticipated fight of the year for me. Despite this being a title fight, I think there are more exciting bouts ahead for both.

[1] Rafael Dos Anjos vs [4] Some Guy

I won't spend too long on this because the guy who is not Rafael Dos Anjos does not deserve the coverage. Unfortunately he is going to win this fight and have a belt strapped around his waist. This is an ideal matchup for him - there is a reason he started calling out Dos Anjos the instant the Brazilian moved up a weight. Expect this to look a bit like the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Dos Anjos fight except with less ground strikes. Everything the other guy says about getting a knockout is bullshit and a lie. There will just be a whole lot of stalling because he doesn't have many ways of finishing.

Holly Holm vs Megan Anderson

Anderson is a very promising prospect and fun to watch striker who does not mind being the aggressor which is good news for the watchability of this fight. She was meant to be making her UFC debut around a year ago against Cyborg for the Featherweight title but withdrew for mysterious reasons she refused under any and all circumstances to disclose. There were many rumors flying around ranging from Visa issues to pregnancy but the most plausible explanation seems to be USADA related.

In any case she finally gets a chance to prove herself against Holly Holm. On the one hand I can understand not wanting to throw her to Cyborg too soon and have her get demolished and have no future in the division. On the other, Holly Holm is no mark. Frankly they would have been better off keeping Cindy Dandois around - Anderson has improved significantly since her first meeting with the Belgian - she seems a quick and willing learner - and a shot for revenge would make a good storyline.

Anderson is very powerful but in her career has only fought low level competition. Her toughest opposition by far came in her last fight over a year ago in the form of journeywoman Charmaine Tweet who touched Anderson quite a few times. The only strikers Holm has lost to in her MMA career have been women with a lot of professional kickboxing experience. She is a lot harder to connect on than most women in the upper weight classes and was not knocked down in five rounds by Cyborg. I think Holm will edge this with counterstriking and superior tactics. If that's the case it will hopefully trap the UFC into making Cyborg-Nunes next.

[9] Andrei Arlovski vs [12] Tai Tuivasa

Since switching training camp from Jackson-Wink to American Top Team, Arlovski has engineered a mini-revival of fortunes. Against some admittedly inferior opposition, he has been better able to zone and protect his suspect chin. He will need all that skill in a matchup against knockout artist Tuivasa, a kickboxer and training partner of Mark Hunt.

I think there are several factors working against Tuivasa. To begin with, this will be his first time fighting outside of Australia. The guys he has beaten so far in the UFC are total marks handpicked specifically to lose to him. All of his professional fights have ended in the first round so someone like Arlovski who might be able to frustrate him will test the fat man's cardio and heart.

While there's certainly a great risk that Tuivasa could just throw hard and end things earlier, he can also be very undisciplined both in and out of the cage. He has a tendency to rush in and load up which an experienced kickboxer like Arlovski should in theory be able to capitalize on. So now that I have picked Arlovski to win for the first time in a very long time, you can certainly expect him to get wiped out in under a minute.

CM Punk vs Mike Jackson

I know basically nothing about either of these guys as fighters but overall I feel there's not that much to know. With no tape to speak of and sparse experience, it will come down to fundamentals and who is more practised in their techniques. Now that the air of novelty is off "Phil" I am kind of doubting his PPV draw power to boot. Jackson opened as a favorite, has spent longer training in MMA, is younger (?) and presumably has had fewer concussions so I will pick him. Add on to that the distractions Punk has faced with a civil lawsuit against him concluding in the immediate leadup to the fight. Even if he wins, I don't know what is next for him. Can they really just keep bringing in no-level opponents just specifically for him?

I pick: Whittaker, Not Dos Anjos, Holm, Arlovski, Jackson

Chris picks: Whittaker, Dos Anjos, Anderson, Tuivasa, Jackson

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