Friday 29 December 2017

UFC 219 picks

The ratings are in for UFC on FOX 26, a card which looked better for dedicated fans (like me) than it did for casual sports fans, and they are pretty awful. In contrast to the FOX card at the same time next year, the UFC lost more than 30% of their audience, almost a million viewers. There are some lame excuses out there as to why, such as it being a Saturday for shopping before Christmas but it's not a one off - all FOX events, in fact all events period this year have been trending down.

The numbers for their next FOX show will not improve. Brunson vs Jacare is a good fight but to headline a big show? No. There's no momentum behind it - a guy whose last two fights were gimmes against decrepit old men versus another guy coming off a loss. If Brunson wins, does he go on to a title shot? Probably not if Whittaker wins at UFC 221. Souza definitely won't. Good luck selling that.

Rafael Dos Anjos, the winner of the recent main event should get the next title shot - his fighting style is pressure-based and action packed, an antidote to recent Welterweight title fight woes. A dominant win over the former champion and his own status as a former champion in another weight class give him the credentials. Instead most of the talk is about some twerp who got slapped around by a boomerang. The champion himself is in limbo, how quickly will Tyron Woodley be able to recover from his recent surgery? The lack of interest makes some sense.

It's not all bad news - the recent Fight Night card did a respectable number on FS1 and was headlined by Sub Swanson vs Brian Ortega - a fight I called for after Ortega submitted Renato Moicano at UFC 214. It's time to push some of the young handsome fighters and most importantly, dynamic finishers, ie not boring ass wrestlers who get out struck by jiu-jitsu fighters. For the women, where the finishers can be harder to find, it may upset the hardcore fans but make sure the ones you're pushing at the top of the card are, shall we say, presentable. There's a reason Octagon girls are so popular! Most key of all, make sure the main and co-main events mean something real - for the winner, a clear goal must be in sight. If I remember, I'll outline some more specific matchups I hope to see going forward. Here's to a much improved 2018!

Picks after the jump

Cris Cyborg vs Holly Holm

According to Dana White if Holly Holm wins this fight it would be hard to make a case against her being the GOAT of Women's MMA. Of course, that's nonsense. Just his usual hyperbole. Her only other credible wins are a lousy split decision over Raquel Pennington and the upset of Ronda Rousey. Despite the increasingly awful three losses in a row she suffered after, I wouldn't call what happened In Sydney just over two years ago a fluke. It's really what Mike Winklejohn saw when he encouraged his star pupil to make the crossover from boxing - a perfect stylistic matchup.

Cyborg has a much better claim to be the greatest female fighter of all time - a run of thirteen straight TKO victories underline her dominance in a career where she has been undefeated since losing her debut in 2005. She does have anywhere near the kind of star power purists think she should though. Though she shared the spotlight in her pioneering main event fight in Strikeforce against Gina Carano, it was clearly Carano who was the draw. In later year she was known more for calling out Ronda Rousey than her own exploits in Invicta. She needs to be carried for mainstream audiences is what I'm saying.

This is where we get back the need for you to help yourself. I'm not saying she has to play the princess like her good friend Paige VanZant. But neither is there any call for her to lean into the widespread perception that she juices. She was signed by Zuffa to fight at 135lbs and instead bulked up to the point where she was allegedly risking her health cutting to 140. Now she is the ruler of a division with no contenders, no interest and no prestige. A terrible business decision both for herself and the UFC.

I think it could be about to get a lot worse for her. The last few years, the UFC has tried to stack the year end card as a tentpole event. They flat out failed this year. There is no way this main event draws more than 300k buys. It reminds me of UFC 208 when Holm-De Randamie was announced for the card and we were all waiting for the real main event to be announced. The people who do watch it I think are likely to see a staring contest for a lot of it - that's Holm's trademark and Cyborg has been notoriously patient inside the Octagon.

Cyborg trains with the excellent Jason Parillo but the one thing we've never seen is how she would handle a drawn out five round fight. Ignore what Joe Rogan was yelling about Holly Holm being rocked during her bout with Germaine de Randamie, she has no problems with her chin. She will be well aware of Cyborg's reputation and ought to be able to move effectively and she will be more than happy to allow her opponent to lead and pick her shots. I think Cyborg is overvalued at -360 and can see an ugly decision awaiting us at the end of the night.

[2] Khabib Nurmagomedov vs [4] Edson Barboza

The winner of this fight has a big problem because they will have no opponent going forward. This ought to be a number one contender fight but of course we have a champion who is too busy getting coked up to fight the interim champion who is well within his rights to sit and wait for the UFC to stop sitting on their hands and order the Dublin Shagger back into the cage. Dana White's forecast for when a McGregor-Ferguson unification bout keeps slipping further and further back. At first is meant rumored to be at this very event, UFC 219. Then it was modified to Spring 2018 and now all of a sudden, Summer! If the victor here wants a title shot, I estimate a wait of a year minimum.

That would be deathly for Khabib's reputation as a guy who doesn't fight enough despite his dominating performances once he actually does. If he wins, he might have to fight Eddie Alvarez or Dustin Poirier for the Interim Interim Lightweight belt. I think he does win. Edson Barboza has well earned reputation has a spectacular knockout finisher but much of his success is built on kicks and kicks get caught by elite wrestlers. Once it goes to the ground he has been known to panic and get submitted. There is certainly no chance if he does get taken down that Nurmagomedov ever lets him back up.

Dan Hooker vs Marc Diakiese

This bout replaces the Jimmie Rivera versus Dominick Cruz/John Lineker/Marlon Moraes/John Dodson fight originally slated for the main card. Hooker looked great in his first fight back up at Lightweight, destroying Ross Pearson in the second round. It was only Ross Pearson though. Diakiese meanwhile had his legs brutalized in a decision loss to Drakkar Klose, a defeat that looks even worse in retrospect given Klose's embarassing performance against David Teymur at UFC 218. I don't have a strong lean for this one but I think Diakiese has the tools to be a future star and will have been working ahrd to erase the disappointment of his last outing. A decision win for the Bonecrusher.

[6] Cynthia Calvillo vs [9] Carla Esparza

This is probably going to be a terrible fight which is why no one seems to want to talk about it in their previews for this event. Calvillo has had a very fast rise in 2017 winning three, losing none and doubling her number of career pro fights. Her strength is on the ground but I don't think she has the takedowns to put Carla Esparza on her back and think she will also be hesitant to try.

Esparza will look to control the fight in the clinch but will be wary of going to the ground knowing how adept Cynthia is at reversing position. Neither one of these ladies can strike. I think Calvillo will enjoy a slight size advantage so I lean that way. Don't be surprised if this ends in a split decision.

[8] Carlos Condit vs [12] Neil Magny

MMA afficionados were delighted when Carlos Condit decided to return to the cage after a year and a half out ruminating on his future. The fan favorite is an aggressive entertaining striker and one of the classiest guys in the business to boot. In a Welterweight division struggling for dynamic performers he would be a welcome boon for UFC matchmakers.

I think they tried to give him a soft landing here. Neil Magny is a good all around fighter and a respectable opponent but he is not great at anything. "The Natural Born Killer" is a more talented and vicious striker. Magny will likely look for the takedown, Condit's big weakness but on the ground I think it will be a more even match than when either man fought Demian Maia. I think a lot depends on Condit's mindset. If he is all right, I think he handles this, finishes and vaults himself back into the title picture.

I pick: Holm, Nurmagomedov, Diakiese, Calvillo, Condit

Chris picks: Holm, Barboza, Diakiese, Esparza, Magny

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