The Real UFC 121 Rundown: Who Will Win and What Will Happen Next
The time is almost upon us.
A monstrous, almost apocalyptical night of fights is just a few ticks of the clock away. The excitement is electric, the combatants are hungry and Dana White's mouth is ready to be uncorked. This is UFC 121: Lesnar vs. Velasquez, the grandaddy of MMA events featuring a stacked card that is sure to make up for the Coma Fest that was UFC 120.
So here it is, a breakdown of the eight televised fights, a prediction, and a fortune tellers guess to what will happen next. Without any more adieu, here we go.
Patrick Cote vs. Tom Lawlor
Breakdown: This will be the first fight of the night, shown for free on Spike TV, and it could be a doozy. Both fighters have lost their last two contests and have their backs up against the wall. And if there's one thing Chris Leben taught us, it's that you should never underestimate a fighter with nothing to lose. It's like backing a scared animal into a corner. It doesn't matter if the creature is Godzilla or a prairie gopher, the damn thing is going to unleash hell. And that's what Lawlor and Cote are right now: cornered.
Cote has the advantage in the talent department. He's a good striker with knockout power and has a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and holds wins over Ricardo Almeida and Scott Smith. Remember, this is a guy who fought Anderson Silva for the title just a couple years ago, though the middleweight division was shallower than a kiddie pool at the time. Cote blew out his knee in that fight and was on the shelf until last May when he lost to Alan Belcher via rear naked choke.
Lawlor, for all his grandeur and razzle dazzle in the fight entrance department, is really just a middling fighter at best. His career highlight is a surpise win over C.B. Dollaway at UFC 100, but has followed that up with losses to Aaron Simpson and Joe Doerkson. The man they call "Filthy" is certainly a warrior who brings his best stuff every time out, but his magnetic personality supersedes his abilities.
Prediction: Everbody enjoy the swan song of Lawlor's awesome Hulk Hogan walk-out, because it might be his last. Cote by submission in Rnd 3.
Aftermath: For Cote, a chance to return to contender status and the winner of the Jorge Rivera and Alession Sakara fight. For Lawlor, probably his walking papers.
Court McGee vs. Ryan Jensen
Breakdown: There really shouldn't be anything to this fight. McGee is a young up and comer with serious wrestling credentials and a nack for submissions. He should overwhelm Jensen - who has been nothing but a doormat for rising contenders in his career - early and often and move on to more game opponents.
McGee is the man. He overcame serious drug addiction and long odds to win TUF 11 in dominant fashion over Kris McCray. He can also knock people out with his frightening spike of hair protruding from his chin. At 25, he could be a viable top-10 middleweight in a couple years if he improves his standup.
Jensen on the other hand is simply outgunned in this fight. The guy is your standard, run of the mill bow and arrow. McGee is a Colt 45.
Prediction: McGee by submission in Rnd 2, or TKO via amish beard beatdown in Rnd 1.
Aftermath: Jensen remains what he has always been: vanilla. McGee starts his journey towards becoming a title contender in the post-Silva years.
Paulo Thiago vs. Diego Sanchez
Breakdown: Game face. Sanchez has the best in the business. Unfortunately, it's been getting punched a lot in his last two fights. After getting decimated by BJ Penn, he moved back up to welterweight where he got thrown around by the young John Hathaway. Conversely, Thiago is coming off a terrible performance against Martin Kampmann, a fight he was favored to win. Both men need victories. Only one will get it. Expect a war.
Sanchez is at his best fighting at a high pace and mixing up strikes with his wrestling. He fights at his worst when a bigger opponent is able to slow him down to a crawl or keep him held down on the mat like Elmer's Glue. He's beaten some very good fighters like Kenny Florian, Clay Guida and Nick Diaz, but has also been beaten by Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Hathaway. Skill isn't the problem here, style is. And Thiago isn't a wrestler who is going to throw him around.
But the Brazilian is very dangerous in his own right. A master in submissions, Thiago has been known to tie his opponents into pretzels (he beat Mike Swick by D'Arce Choke. Yeah, what is that?). He also displayed knockout power by flooring Koscheck with a jarring uppercut. He's a guy who, until his lost to Kampmann, looked like a potential title-contender. And he still could be at some point.
Prediction: Both fighters have been dominate in the UFC, unless they are fighting wrestlers, of course. This war figures to be waged on both the mat and the feet, which makes it about even. Sanchez is the better striker, Thiago with the more dangerous jiu-jitsu. It's almost too close to call, but Sanchez is a maniac and he's desperate. He finds a way to win. Sanchez by TKO in Rnd 2.
Aftermath: Sanchez needs to steer clear of wrestlers while trying to regain his confidence at welterweight. Dan Hardy could be a good option. Thiago needs a gimme fight against anyone who's willing to get a limb ripped off.
Brendan Schaub vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
Breakdown: This is a fight between two guys heading in different directions. Once upon a time, Gonzaga nearly turned Mirko Cro Cop into Ichabod Crane courtesy of a tomahawk right head kick, then fought Randy Couture for the heavyweight title. Even after that loss, he was a rising star at 8-2. But things have changed recently for Napao. The Brazilian gorilla has gone 3-3 in his last six contests, and hasn't shown the ability to defeat a top-ranked opponent. Meanwhile, Schaub is knocking on the door of the division's upper echelon after knocking out his last two opponents in under two minutes combined. This fight is your classic young stallion vs. the proverbial gate keeper.
Gonzaga's problem is that ever since he almost dismembered Cro Cop, he thinks he's a world-class striker. Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum have all proven that's as fictitious as Mickey Mouse's red trousers. Napao's strength has always been his limb-ripping jiu-jitsu, but he doesn't possess the wrestling to take down some of the division's bigger - and grappling superior - fighters like Carwin. Such is the paradoxical life of a jiu-jitsu expert.
A prime example of the new-breed of heavyweight in the UFC, Schaub brings elite athleticism and fairly precise boxing into this tilt. The Hybrid simply blew away Chase Gormley and Chris Tuchscherer with his explosivness, and the lumbering Gonzaga may have some problems if he decides to keep this fight on the feet.
Prediction: Gonzaga fashions himself a striker nowadays, which equals an early bedtime on this occasion. Schaub by KO in Rnd 1.
Aftermath: Schaub gets himself an opponent who can challenge him on the feet. Cheick Kongo is free after his bout with Travis Browne, and is usually good for a modest exchange of feet and fury. And for Gonzaga, a long look in the mirror.
Tito Ortiz vs. Matt Hamill
Breakdown: They are hyping this as Teacher vs. Student, as Ortiz coached Hamill on the Ultimate Fighter, but one could take the not so giant leap and dub it Good vs. Evil. Ortiz is such an arrogant, unlikeable loudmouth that he almost enters Darth Vader status on the Richter scale of badness. And Hamill is just a big teddy bear. Anyone who has half a heart should be rooting for the Hammer to stick the last nail in Ortiz's career coffin.
The sport has simply flown by Ortiz, who is one of those relics from the days when the UFC was a glorified street fight. Over the last five years or so, the all-around level of skill in MMA has increased substantially, while Ortiz is still stuck in ground and pound mode circa 2001. At 35 and with a history of serious back trouble, there's not much left in the tank for the former champ. Mr. Jameson hasn't won a fight in over four years, and if he enters this fight with the same strategy he's had since the Clinton administration, thinks might not go his way.
Hamill has never been the most spectacularly talented fighter, but he gets the job done despite improbable odds (he's done what nobody else has come close to doing: beat Jon Jones). He's shown some decent stand-up in recent fights (he KOed Mark Munoz with a headkick and outpointed the fading but still dangerous Keith Jardine), but he's a wrestler at heart, and his goal in this fight will be to neutralize Ortiz's takedowns so he can keep the fight on the feet, a place where the Huntington Beach Bad Boy has never been entirely comfortable.
Prediciton: Hamill is a younger, more self-intuned version of Ortiz, and has the hunger to go three hard rounds. Hamill by unanimous decision.
Aftermath: A rocking chair and nice pair of Isotoners for Ortiz. A match with a step-up in competition for Hamill. Besides having nightmares of Ryan Bader, what's Antonio Rogerio Nogueira doing these days?
Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann
Breakdown: Dan White is going to be on pins and needles watching this one. Correction, he's going to be on broken glass and hand grenades. This is a huge fight for the UFC, who whisked Shields away from rival promotion Strikeforce in a money-laden coup. Shields, a former champion in multiple organizations, is riding a spectacular 14-fight winning streak, and may be the last real test for welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre. At least that's what White is throwing his money and confidence at.
Whether he can beat GSP is unknown at this point. But we do know Shields is incredibly skilled and knows how to win fights. However, winning fights and looking "exciting" while winning those fights are different matters entirely, as Shields is notorious for being one of the more boring fighters in the world. His top-position pitter-patter method isn't exactly Bruce Lee reincarnate. Regardless, the guy is a legit top-10 pound for pound fighter at this point, and has defeated some exceptional opponents despite never being in the UFC. The wake of destruction looks like this: Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Mike Pyle, Robbie Lawler, Jason Miller and Dan Henderson. Now that's a hit list.
But now he's facing the Hitman, and Kampmann is defintely a killer and hand's down one of the world's most underrated fighters who could spoil Shields' launch party. His stand-up is crisp and he has deadly wrestling and submission ability. He out-pointed both Condit and Paulo Thiago, and if he can keep Shields on his feet, the same fate is almost guaranteed.
Prediction: Kampmann is very good. But Shields is better. If Dan Henderson got dominated on the ground by Shields, Kampmann probably won't fair any better. Shields by submission in Rnd 3.
Aftermath: Shields gets the big fight with GSP, which could be a Fight of the Year waiting to happen. The two guys are eerily similar in every aspect, except GSP is a marginally better striker and should find a way to win. Kampmann will get an elite opponent. Maybe Thiago Alves.
Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez
Breakdown: "After I beat Cain Velasquez's ass I'm going to drink a Corona and eat a burrito for his heritage."
And with that, the most epict fight in UFC heavyweight history begins. A battle between the MMA's biggest pay-per-view draw and a Mexican-American fighter who, as we've been told a million times, has the hopes and dreams of an entire civilization riding on his back. It's a massive fight to be sure, a clash between possibly the most skilled all-around heavyweight in MMA history, and a man who is more rhinoceros than human being.
Let's start with Cain, because there is a lot to discuss. The undefeated challanger is definitely a prodigy. His mental toughness and attitude are incredible, which is why he got the reputation as a "workout warrior" and "future champ" almost the second he stepped inside the American Kickboxing Academy. Mixing great wrestling with a high energy output that most larger heavyweights simply can't keep up with, Velasquez has been able to rocket to the top of the division after only 8 fights. Despite all of that good stuff, I can't help but think some people are getting a little too caught up in the hype. His strengths are absolutely his wrestling and tenaciousness, which is how he has beaten all but one of his opponents, yet that lone KO on Minotauro Nogueira has everyone gushing about his standup. Does he have good striking ability and punching power? Yes. Is it as good as advertised? Not even close. Velasquez dominated Cheick Kongo (who has awful takedown defense by the way) for three rounds but couldn't put him away. He pummeled Ben Rothwell for a round and a half and couldn't put him away (the official ruling was a TKO, but Rothwell was completely fine, the fight was stopped because Rothwell was taking a beating and it "looked" pretty bad, not because the lights were going off). The Nogueira fight was an outlier, a case of one fighter just getting caught. Cain doesn't have the boxing of dos Santos or the power of Carwin. His strength comes from his all-around completeness and this endless cardio everyone keeps raging about. Problem is, he can't even use his gas-tank if he's laying on his back.
The question is: Can skill overcome the Brock Less Monster? It's a tough case to make. If Cain can't finish Kongo or Rothwell, does he really have a chance at stopping Lesnar. especially when Carwin couldn't? Probably not. Which means to win, Velasquez will have to survive five rounds with a man who is at least 30 pounds heavier and just as, if not more, quick and athletic. And let's get one thing clear, when Lesnar wants to take you down, you close your eyes and wish for the best. It's almost implausible to think a NCAA Champion wrestler with a body like a Ford-F150 won't be able to take down and control a fighter who could probably cut down to 205 if he laid off the tacos.
Prediction: From reading other predictions, I know I'm in the minority here, but I just don't think a man of Cain's size will be able to stop Lesnar from pancaking him. Velasquez is a rare talent and will hold the belt one day. But that day is not Saturday night. Lesnar is just too un-humanly athletic and strong to be denied takedowns for a full five rounds. Lesnar will get top-position eventually and Cain won't have an escape. Lesnar by TKO in Rnd 2, and it will probably be easier than most think.
Aftermath: Junior dos Santos gets Lesnar next, which depending on his takedown defense, may or may not be a death sentence. For Velasquez, probably Frank Mir, and a short climb back to the top of the mountain.