To say I need a bounce-back night of picks would be a bit of an understatement.
While going 4-6 at WEC 46 isn't all that bad, I've shown the kind of maddening inconsistency in my forecasting that gets a weatherman fired and a fighter released.
Thankfully, the UFC offers up an immediate opportunity to rebound from picking up my 100th loss of the Keyboard Kimura era courtesy of Fight Night 20 from Fairfax, Virginia.
Same new format applies—synthesis as well as selections. Hopefully we can do a little better tonight.
Nick Catone (7-2-0) vs. Jesse Forbes (10-3-0)
In a contest between two fighters heading in opposite directions, I don't see a sudden detour in either man's future, making Forbes the choice and Catone the guy who ends up holding a pink slip later in the week.
Catone has faced a couple tough tests in his two UFC contests to date, losing to Mark Munoz and Tim Credeur, but momentum and confidence play a big part in the business of fighting, and Forbes enters off five wins in 2009.
He also gets a second chance with the UFC, and I don't expect the Arizona Combat Sports product to stumble a second time.
Gerald Harris (13-2-0) vs. John Salter (4-0-0)
While getting the call late often makes being prepared a bit of a problem, it could also work to your advantage if you focus solely on doing what you do best. Salter is a tremendous grappler and will look to take this fight to the floor from the opening bell. From there, it will be academic.
All the pressure rests on Harris' shoulders, as the former TUF contestant gets a second chance to make a good impression on the UFC brass. A last minute replacement with a somewhat different approach and background than original opponent Mike Massenzio could throw him off.
Kyle Bradley (14-6-0, 1 NC) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (12-4-0)
Even though he lost to Tyson Griffin, dos Anjos showed enough in that fight to make him the favorite last time out against Rob Emerson. He validated that support by chopping "The Saint's" legs out from under him with repeated leg kicks and should do the same here with Bradley.
Mike Guymon (11-2-0) vs. Rory MacDonald (9-0-0)
I went against the Canadian last night, and Mark Hominick made me pay, pulling out an armbar submission against Bryan Caraway. The same won't happen here, as I have been and will continue to be entrenched in the corner of Kelowna's Rory MacDonald throughout his UFC career.
The 20-year-old Canadian has been steamrolling the competition, including stopping veterans Clay French and Nick Hinchcliffe. Guymon is just another veteran standing in the way of the best prospect to come out of Canada since GSP.
Thiago Tavares (14-3-0) vs. Nik Lentz (17-3-1)
Tavares has been out of action for 12 months, while Lentz is coming off an impressive debut win over Rafaello Oliveira in September. While there was a time when Tavares was viewed as a possible title contender, those thoughts went out the window for good when Matt Wiman laid him out at UFC 85.
Lentz is a tremendous wrestler, a base criterion for entrance into Greg Nelson's Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, and will out-muscle his opponent for the full 15 minutes.
Rick Story (8-3-0) vs. Jesse Lennox (11-1-0)
Story is the favorite and the pick in this welterweight bout. His opponents of note—Jake Ellenberger, John Hathaway, and Brian Foster—have all shown they belong in the UFC, and so does Story.
This one has Fight of the Night potential.
Chris Leben (18-6-0) vs. Jay Silva (5-2-0)
Part of me wants to pick Leben, simply because Silva could very well decide to stand with "The Crippler" and for all his shortcomings, Leben still has a lethal left hand.
That said, he has repeatedly proven that he doesn't have the heart to compete in the UFC, from neglecting to train properly heading into his homecoming fight with Jake Rosholt to getting an anabolic edge against Michael Bisping.
Picking Silva has far more to do with my lack of confident in Leben than my opinions of his Brazilian opponent.
Amir Sadollah (2-1-0) vs. Brad Blackburn (17-9-1, 1 NC)
Brad Blackburn isn't going to gas in the first round like Phil Baroni. He's not going to lean against the cage like a human punching bag, giving Sadollah a chance to showcase his excellent Muay Thai.
Amir has the edge in terms of grappling thanks to his Sambo background, but Blackburn has far more experience and has the power to stop Sadollah with one shot, something we've seen happen before.
I like Amir, as a host and as a charismatic figure in the sport. In this fight, however, I like Blackburn.
Tom Lawlor (6-1-0,1 NC) vs. Aaron Simpson (6-0-0)
There are a number of superlatives that get attached to Simpson and they have revolve around his athleticism and results inside the cage thus far.
There are also a number of superlatives that get attached to Lawlor, though few have anything to do with his in-ring performances to date. That's what happens when you're the Clown Prince of the UFC Weigh-Ins.
Over-the-top outfits and entrances aside, Lawlor has enough wrestling to match up well with Simpson and holds the edge in power. The "A-Train" gets derailed tonight.
Efrain Escudero (13-0-0) vs. Evan Dunham (9-0-0)
We've seen Dunham pick his spots en route to a unanimous decision, and land a powerful right down the pipe to put away Per Eklund, but I can't see either outcome materializing tonight.
Escudero will push the pace and get inside on Dunham, and has the boxing defense to ensure he doesn't get caught. From there, his outstanding wrestling will bring the fight to the floor, leading to some serious ground-and-pound and another win for the TUF 8 Lightweight winner.
Gray Maynard (8-0-0, 1 NC) vs. Nathan Diaz (11-4-0)
A title shot waits in the wings for Maynard should he come through this fight with a win. While that would normally be motivation enough, the fact that he can avenge his TUF 5 loss to Diaz at the same time might deliver us the best Gray Maynard we've seen yet.
"The Bully" is too big, too strong, and too good of a wrestler for Diaz. He's advanced his game a great deal since they met on The Ultimate Fighter, and uses this win to secure his place opposite BJ Penn later in the year.
Punch Drunk Predictions
Jesse Forbes over Nick Catone—TKO, Round 2
John Salter over Gerald Harris—Submission, Round 1
Rafael dos Anjos over Kyle Bradley—Submission, Round 2
Rory MacDonald over Mike Guymon—TKO, Round 1
Nik Lentz over Thiago Tavares—Unanimous Decision
Rick Story over Jesse Lennox—Submission, Round 2
Jay Silva over Chris Leben—TKO, Round 1
Main Card Fights
Brad Blackburn over Amir Sadollah—TKO, Round 1
Tom Lawlor over Aaron Simpson—Split Decision
Efrain Escudero over Evan Dunham—TKO, Round 1
And in the Main Event of the evening...
Gray Maynard over Nathan Diaz via Unanimous Decision.
Now touch gloves and come out swinging!