UFC 125 – Preview and Predictions

With football season wrapping up and my notable MMA blogging buddy set to enlist in the Navy after the new year, I figured it was time to start MMA blogging on a regular basis again. Sure, it doesn’t get me the type of traffic my football predictions or even my movie blogging does, but it’s fun, and those who care will read. So here goes nothing:

I don’t think a lightweight title fight between two highly unmarketable mixed martial artists was the headliner the UFC had in mind when it planned its UFC 125 event for New Year’s Day, but that’s what we get as current titleholder Frankie Edgar takes on Gray Maynard in the main event Saturday in Las Vegas.

The card was initially going to be the rolling out party of top ranked 145-lb. king Jose Aldo, but an injury forced the organization to back track. What we’re left with is still a highly intriguing grudge match between Edgar, the man who solved B.J. Penn, and Maynard, the only man with a victory over the current titleholder three years ago.

Here’s a complete rundown of each fight on the main card and predictions from all 11 fights on the card.

Main Event: Frankie Edgar (13-1) vs. Gray Maynard (10-0, 1 NC)

Rundown
On the surface, it’s hard to believe Edgar will go being into his third straight fight as an underdog. After upsetting Penn as a heavy underdog last April, Edgar went into the rematch in August, again, as the underdog and put an end to the questions that his victory over Penn were a fluke. Now, the undisputed titleholder enters his second title defense as an underdog against an undefeated fighter who served him his only career loss nearly three years ago.

Maynard suffers from what I call Jon Fitch syndrome. Fitch, as you know, as the undisputed No. 2 welterweight in the world to Georges St-Pierre. The problem with Fitch is that he’s uncooperative with management, unmarketable and, quite frankly, a pretty boring fighter. Maynard fits two of those three bills (to my knowledge, he’s never been uncooperative with UFC brass).

If it were up to Dana White, I’m sure Maynard would not see a sniff of UFC title contention because White wants fighters who will sell pay-per-views. Like Fitch, Maynard isn’t that type of fighter. But it’s hard to ignore the resume. Maynard is a bigger fighter who dominates from the top position. Every one of his UFC victories (seven, to be exact), have gone to decision. The only time a UFC fight didn’t go to a decision was when he had a no contest against Rob Emerson on a crazy double KO nearly four years ago.

Maynard lept into title contention in August with a dominating performance over perennial contender Kenny Florian in August. He did to Florian what he’s done to every fighter he’s seen: He does just enough on his feet and dominates from top position on the ground with superior wrestling.

That will be Maynard’s game plan against Edgar. There’s no question that Edgar’s takedown defense has improved drastically since the first fight, and he’ll need to use his speed and his jab to keep Maynard at bay. As the smaller of the two (Edgar walks around right at about 155 lbs.), that will be no easy task. I expect Maynard to score a couple of takedown in the fight, and it will be Edgar’s job to pop back up as he clearly has an advantage standing up with his speed and the accuracy of his punches.

Prediction
It seems foolish to pick against Edgar after what he did to Penn twice. I think Edgar could decisively defend his title against any other lightweight in the world, but not Maynard, who holds too much of a strength advantage. Maynard by decision.

Chris Leben (25-6) vs. Brian Stann (9-3)

Rundown
If it weren’t for Edgar’s two victories over the greatest lightweight in UFC history, Chris Leben would be a shoo-in for 2010 fighter of the year with victories over Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama coming in the span of about two weeks.

What makes Leben difficult to predict is that you never know which one is going to show up. He constantly fights well as an underdog (as he was against both Simpson and Akiyama), but has given several lackluster performances when taking on fighters he believes aren’t at his level (losses to Kalib Starnes and Jake Rosholt come to mind).

That may be his problem against Stann. After defeating Akiyama in July, Leben wanted a top contender and called out Wanderlei Silva. Instead, the UFC gave him Stann, who is far from a slouch but largely unproven inside the octagon.

Stann is a former WEC light heavyweight champion and this will be only his second fight in the middleweight division. It’s a huge opportunity for Stann as a victory over Leben will immediately skyrocket him into bigger and better things. The question for Stann is whether or not he can slow down Leben’s relentless pace and, if the bright lights of a co-main event flusters him (like we saw from Shawn McCorkle at UFC 124).

Prediction
Leben is one of the most entertaining fighters inside the octagon, but Stann is stoic and has seen far heavier pressure during his time in the U.S. Navy. I think Leben’s disinterest in this fight and outside problems get the best of him Saturday night. Stann by decision.

Brandon Vera (11-5) vs. Thiago Silva (14-2)

Rundown
We haven’t seen Brandon Vera — once considered the next big thing after a KO of Frank Mir four years ago — since he had his face shattered by Jon Jones’ elbow 10 months ago. A lanky, precise striker, Vera is just 3-3 in his six fights since moving to the light heavyweight division, and lost his last two fights after being thrust into the spotlight against Randy Couture and the aforementioned Jones.

Thiago Silva is coming off of an even longer layoff, last fighting in January of 2010 against Rashad Evans. Like Vera, Silva is in desperate need of a victory, having lost two of his last three fights (coming to Evans and Lyoto Machida, it’s hardly anything to hang his head over).

Still, this feels like a do-or-die moment for both fighters. A win keeps their careers moving forward. A loss may banish them to undercards and obscurity for the immediate future. The wildcard is that we don’t know what to expect out of Vera. At times, he looks like the most talented fighter in the cage. Other times, he’s inconsistent and lacks any legitimate game plan.

Prediction
Silva is the smarter fighter and more accurate striker. If Vera gets him on his back, he may be on trouble, but I think he’ll do a good job of fending takedowns and eventually put away Vera. Silva by knockout.

Nate Diaz (13-5) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1, 1 NC)

Rundown
A definite fight of the night candidate, Dong Hyun Kim and Nate Diaz are an excellent matchup because of their styles.

Both fighters have extremely long reaches for the welterweight division, and both are incredibly skilled on the ground. Diaz’s Brazilian jiu jitsu skills are second to none in the sport, while Kim excels at the incredible less popular judo (at least inside the octagon.

The last time we saw Kim, he was dominating the smaller Amir Sadollah by getting on top and controlling from that position. Don’t expect him to be so lucky against Diaz, who is excellent off his back and his great takedown defense.

Kim’s inability (or possibly reluctance) to take this fight to the ground will force him into a standup battle, something Diaz loves. His length and accuracy make him a very dangerous boxer, and Kim is largely untested on his feet. The key will be how Diaz deals with taking on a fighter with a similar reach, something he has not had to deal with very often.

Prediction
It’s hard to imagine many fighters in the welterweight division having an advantage over Diaz in the standup game, and if Kim is foolish enough to try to take this fight to the ground, Diaz will likely dominate with his BJJ skills, as well. I think Diaz wears Kim down in the standup, eventually gets him on the ground, and it will be goodnight for the Korean. Diaz by submission.

Clay Guida (27-11) vs. Takanori Gomi (32-6, 1 NC)

Rundown
A great contrast in styles, Clay Guida brings a relentless pace and great wrestling base for a full 15 minutes, while Takanori Gomi is a knockout artist with great takedown defense.

Many believe Gomi revitalized his career with a thrilling KO of Tyson Griffin in August, and he will get a true test against Guida, who has largely become a gatekeeper in the lightweight division. While Guida may be similar to Griffin in his wrestling base, the difference is that Guida won’t be foolish enough to stand with Gomi, as Griffin was.

And even if Guida gets stuck in a standup battle, he’ll be far tougher to KO than Griffin as he has never been finished by punches in his career. However, Gomi’s standup is far superior to Guida’s, and if he can wear him out with jabs and stay away from the takedown, he’ll be incredibly successful.

Prediction
We haven’t seen a lot of Gomi in the UFC (only two fights inside the octagon), but I find it hard to believe he’s seen a fighter with as relentless of a pace and who is as good of a wrestler as Guida is. Guida will be successful in takedowns early and wear out Gomi from the top. Guida by decision.

Undercard Predictions:

Jeremy Stephens (18-6) over Marcus Davis (17-7)
Josh Grispi (14-1) over Dustin Poirier (8-1)
Brad Tavares (6-0) over Phil Baroni (13-12)
Mike Brown (24-6) over Diego Nunes (15-1)
Daniel Roberts (11-1) over Greg Soto (8-1)
Antonio McKee (25-3-2) over Jacob Volkmann (11-2)

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