Saturday, 3 March 2018

UFC 222 Picks

Apart from glancing at it on the televisions at the gym, I watched not a minute of the recently passed Winter Olympics of my own volition. I did however visit some relatives over Chinese New Year who had recorded some of it for us to watch in the afternoon with a particular emphasis on figure skating.

For them figure skating is not just an Olympic diversion, it's a sport they follow all year round, all around the world. They eagerly anticipated the performance of the apparent superstar Yuzuru Hanyu and his stablemate, the Spaniard Javier Fernández. Rounding out the podium was Shoma Uno or was he was dubbed, Fei Jai - Fat Kid (allegedly). Ageing Canadian Patrick Chan was described as a beautiful skater but incapable of jumping.

Then there was the supposed dark cloud of the event. China is hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022 and are thus pumping untold millions into developing competitors who will ne capable of winning medals. Like many things that emerge from regimes historically culturally crushed by communism, the results are somewhat mechanical. Exhibit A: Jin Boyang. As my uncle explained to me, "This boy, he can really jump. But his art is shit. We don't want people like that in our sport."

I of course couldn't really tell one way or another apart from noticing he seemed to rush through a lot of his performance. It got me thinking about how this sentiment could relate to a sport I know much better - MMA. Who are the kind of fighters we don't need in our sport? Flyin' Brian of MMA Mania asked this week what is more important to you when watching MMA, high level technique or entertaining storyline/personality? I would lean towards the former but for me really it'd be option three: Willingness to trade.

What are the fights and who are the fighters who live longest in the memory? Robbie Lawler's war with Rory McDonald. Shogun-Henderson. Anything involving Justin Gaethje. Those are the types of fights as a fan you take along to your uninitiated friend and say, "Here, watch this!" knowing it will get them as hyped up as you. They don't need a storyline, the action sells itself. In fights like these technique goes out the window because the combatants are punch-drunk, exhausted and desperate. That's a beautiful thing. That's not to say true fight IQ and patience are not also beautiful things but it's not quite the same rush of blood to the head.

Kamaru Usman has been chatting up a storm on social media trying to call out Cosby Corbynton, a fight that makes sense from a matchmaking perspective. They're both outstanding wrestlers capable of winning any fight they're booked in. Neither is a guy I care to watch. I want to watch fighters WIN a FIGHT. Not hold someone on the ground for fifteen minutes. Nor do we want staring contests or point fighters who have no way of finishing opponents. What's particularly maddening about someone like Usman is he is clearly capable of great things but too often plays it safe.

Sometimes you will get screeching shills like Ariel Helwani chastising fans for booing Tyron Woodley in his last two fights. But if a fight is boring, it's boring. Enabling such inactive gameplans, "fighting smart" as they call it, contributes to the slow death of cage fighting. I don't want that for my sport.

Picks after the jump.

Cris Cyborg vs Yana Kunitskaya

There's no need to talk too long about this fight. I think they should've just spiked the PPV and moved some of these fights onto a FOX card but there's no need to pile on because the sad state of affairs is very self evident. Kunitskaya has ok all around skills and is an upper tier competitor in Invicta but unless Cyborg gets really lazy, she has no chance in this fight and will likely get finished like all the other undersized girls Cyborg battles. Moving on.

[2] Frankie Edgar vs [3] Brian Ortega

So I had a dream the other day that t this event Max Holloway fought Dustin Poirier for his title on short notice and in the second round after each had kicked out one another's legs and both were sliding around the sweat and blood on the cage floor, Poirier punched Holloway hard enough for Max's arm to tear clean off. Lucky for him then that he dropped out with an injury and will not be competing this weekend!

In the meantime Edgar meets Ortega shockingly NOT for an interim title. I think it could've been a great main event for the FOX card last weekend. Despite his advancing years Edgar remains a threat in all areas of the cage but his best weapon - his wrestling and top control - would be a very dangerous course of action against submission master Ortega.

In an orthodox striking match I think Edgar would also have the advantage against his less practised opponent but as we saw in his fight with Cub Swanson, Ortega can just climb on you anyway and apply a choke out of nowhere. I am backing the young gun to find another against the odds finish. When it happens five times in a row, it's a pattern and a sign of his great natural fight instincts.

Sean O'Malley vs Andre Soukhamthath

There is a trend lately of NBA players growing their hair out high to pad their official height statistics and make themselves out to be more impressive than they really are. I get the same kind of vibe from Sean O'Malley's Fellaini-do. It's more for effect than anything else, a misdirect or maybe a substitute for personality. It matches his fight style which is high on flash and lateral movement.

With his fun to watch style and persona he is clearly someone the UFC is keen to push, throwing him straight onto a prime PPV slot, albeit on one that won't get many buys. His opponent, the Laotian Soukhamthath is well chosen for him. I'm sure the announcer will talk about how both men are heavy hitters with knockout power but I'm not so sure.

I think both guys also think they hit harder than they really do. Soukhamthath waits a bit too much sometimes looking for big shots. I think he will find them hard to land against the very long O'Malley. "Sugar" has many weaknesses in his game yet to iron out but the early signs are interesting and his activity will see him to a decision win here.

Plus of course, the most important factor, Asian guys always flop on big cards and embarrass all of us brothers. Especially one who goes round calling himself the Asian Sensation. Doomed.

[10] Stefan Struve vs [12] Andrei Arlovski

Before the big changes to the card that were made after Max Holloway's withdrawal, this was the co-main event which is just hilarious. Stefan Struve is probably one of the most disappointing and inconsistent Heavyweights of all time but he should be able to easily handle the shadow of "former champion" Arlovski.

"Pit Bull" snapped a five fight losing streak, four of which he was TKO'd in, against the ludicrously flabby Junior Albini - a guy with an inflated reputation following an undeserved Performance of the Night bonus at UFC Long Island. It was not fun to watch and it's baffling that he's been allowed back on a main card outside of Europe. If Struve doesn't finish him I think we can fairly stick a fork in both.

[6] Cat Zingano vs [5] Ketlen Vieira

It is always hard for ageing athletes to make successful returns after long layoffs. Zingano has not fought in twenty months and only twice in the last three and a half years, both losses. Before her troubles though she was on an outstanding run having outlasted and TKO'd two future champions in Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes.

Vieira has a similar build to Nunes with her long frame but her striking is far more basic if you can believe it. She is constantly loading up looking for power head shots and sometimes throws them in flurries which looks good for judges but is predictable for opponents. If Zingano is on form she should be able to find adequate counters.

Both are much stronger with their grappling where top position is key for both. Zingano is usually a slow starter but that trend was reversed in her last outing against Julianna Peña where she struggled to escape from the ground. It's difficult to predict how she will look after so much time off but my guess is it will be another struggle for her.

I pick: Cyborg, Ortega, O'Malley, Struve, Vieira

Chris picks: TBA

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