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Kryptonite. There, I said it. Brazil is my Kryptonite and once again it worked its evil magic, sending me 0-5 on picks for the night. Overall that sets 2013 at a profit of £32.83 which can still be improved upon before we wrap up the year.

I’ll state that I felt more than a little aggrieved at what I felt were two bad calls in the Cavalcante and Thatch fights, although on daylight replays I couldn’t really argue any further. Very rarely do you see a submission due to strikes, and two in a row suggests that I should be playing the lottery this week.

Either way, it’s time to put that behind us, dust down and try again. Christmas is fast approaching and since I have been such a good boy this year I am hoping that Santa has earmarked another big weekend for me. If you are a regular reader then you will know that this weekend sees my most anticipated fight of the year. How does it play out? Let’s take a look at the most stacked card in UFC history.

Elliott v Bagautinov:

After recent performances many may have heard the cry “The Russians are coming” from inside of Zuffa towers. Ali Bagautinov is just one of three recent Russian imports to catch the eye of UFC executives as they eye a potential card in Russia.

The possessor of a lone UFC appearance, Bagautinov impressed with a TKO victory in Brazil in September and has earned a step up in class for his second appearance. A long time veteran of regional MMA in Russia Bagautinov knows he has some pretty hefty shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of Khabilov and Nurmagomedov.

Tim Elliot enters the octagon for his fourth appearance, looking to break a three fight decision run along the way. Although losing his debut against former challenger John Dodson he went on to defeat Louis Gaudinot and Jared Papazian, the latter earning him Fight of the Night honours.

While Elliott has done little wrong, nor has Bagautinov and I will be taking the Russian to continue the trend of dominant performances by Russian fighters in the UFC. Bagautinov can be backed at a very healthy 11/2 to win by KO/TKO and that is just far too big for me and I’ll be parting with a few Roubles on that outcome.

Recommendation: Method of Victory: Ali Bagautinov by TKO/TKO or Disqualification – 11/2 (+550) @ 888Sport

Koscheck v Woodley:

MMA betting is pretty simple, two guys and effectively two outcomes. Either Fighter A wins, or Fighter B. Most companies don’t bother to factor in the draw since each fight normally has a clear favourite. Not this one. There are 17 bookies quoting odds here and ten of them agree that it is a pick ‘em where the odds on either side are identical.

Both of these guys have a huge point to prove. Josh Koscheck has slipped from title contention to gatekeeper status. At 35 it is probable that his chances have been and gone and he will be used as a test for anyone looking to crash the top ten. Koscheck is also looking to end the first skid of his career following back to back losses to Hendricks and Lawler. It could be argued that his career is on the line; although he remains a reasonable draw so would more than likely get another chance to turn things around.

Tyron Woodley has a hell of a lot to prove. After easily despatching Jay Hieron in his debut he laboured to a split decision loss against Jake Shields in a fight that nobody really wants to watch again. His record of 1-2 in his last three belies the 10-0 record he amassed prior, albeit in weaker company.

In order to gain some traction in the division the winner needs to win and do it effectively, which is where I think Woodley gains the advantage. Koscheck came a cropper against the power of Lawler and Woodley will look to a similar game plan in an attempt to elevate himself to top five status.

Recommendation: Method of Victory: Tyron Woodley by KO, TKO or Disqualification – 17/4 (+425) @ 888Sport

MacDonald v Lawler:

In a potential Fight of the Night we see the young pretender take on the original upstart as Rory MacDonald faces off against Robbie Lawler.

Critics have stopped short recently of calling MacDonald the heir apparent. Lacklustre performances against BJ Penn and Jake Ellenberger have derailed the hype train a little. While it is clear that MacDonald has the talent, some small questions are being asked over his heart. A loss to Carlos Condit aside, he has done little wrong to date but the last two performances have clearly muted the fanfare.

Robbie Lawler enters the octagon looking for his first three fight streak in over six years. Since leaving the UFC in 2006 the record hasn’t been spectacular, clearly demonstrated by his 4-5 record in Strikeforce. Since returning he has despatched Bobby Voelker and Josh Koscheck without too much in the way of trouble and he will clearly fancy his chances against the GSP protégé.

For this one to take Fight of the Night honours two things must happen. Firstly, MacDonald needs to bring more aggression to this fight than his last two. Secondly, Lawler needs to hold a pace that forces the young Canadian to come out fighting. With the winner almost certain to get a title shot there is a huge amount at stake. I expect MacDonald to capitalise on Lawler’s Achilles heel taking a submission late on for the win.

Recommendation: Method of Victory: Rory MacDonald by Submission – 10/3 (+333) @ BetVictor

Evans v Sonnen:

During the UFC Manchester Q&A Chael Sonnen told attendees a story. He said that whenever he signs for a fight he calls Dan Henderson to ask for advice. Irrespective of whether Sonnen was fighting King Kong the answer was the same; “Can I beat this guy” to which Henderson answered “yes” without skipping a beat. After Henderson lost to Evans and Sonnen signed on the dotted line he asked the same question. This time the response was a more solemn “possibly” from the MMA legend.

Friends, colleagues, broadcast or training partners aside this is a fight that either can win or lose in so many ways. Two elite wrestlers facing off in a fight where there is literally no bad blood or animosity. Like Munoz v Machida you get the feeling that neither fighter will go for the jugular unless absolutely necessary.

Chael Sonnen has a relatively mixed record in the UFC, going 6-4 since transitioning from the WEC. Those four losses have come against the very best with Demian Maia besting him en route to a title shot and title shot losses to Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, twice. Everyone knows the story of the first fight and how differently that could have ended.

Since losing to Jon Jones around 18 months ago Rashad Evans has remained largely inactive. A wretched loss to Lil Nog and a split decision over Dan Henderson are the fruits of his labour, and neither will get him back to contention anytime soon. Although he has been beaten only three times there appears to be a plethora of names ahead of him ready to fight the champion and all will get the shot first due to a more exciting style.

The bookies favour Evans, but I am giving Sonnen the benefit of the doubt. The Lil Nog fight lingers long in the memory and if Sonnen can control as Nogueira did then it could be 15 frustrating minutes for Evans.

Recommendation: To Win the Fight: Chael Sonnen – 8/5 (+160) @ Ladbrokes

St Pierre v Hendricks:

Here it is the fight that I have been looking forward to even before it was announced. For a while there I thought it was never going to happen as GSP hand-picked Nick Diaz, and the superfight with Anderson Silva gained momentum. For once in the UFC the right cards were played and the two top Welterweights in the company collide in a huge title fight.

In one corner we have GSP who needs almost no introduction. A man who has literally cleaned out his division and dominated his way to eight consecutive title defences in an 11-0 streak. If he wins this fight then he overtakes Anderson Silva in the consecutive defence’s stakes and solidifies his claim for the title of Greatest of All Time. GSP is a pretty simple guy, take them down, keep them down and win every round. Sounds a lot easier than it is, trust me.

In the opposite corner we have Johny Hendricks, a current favourite of mine and arguably the number one contender to the champion. Hendricks has blasted through everyone he has faced in the UFC, with the exception of Rick Story – but hey, if GSP can lose to Matt Serra then Hendricks can lose to Story and we don’t need to discuss it again. He brings a level of wrestling that could cause GSP problems, although you would expect him to do better than the ineffective Josh Koscheck during deployment. What none of the others had, however, is the hammer of god, the right hand of doom, the equalizer or any other superlative you wish to throw. Make no mistake, Hendricks can hit and hit card. His problem is that his opponent is the best in the world at not getting hit.

The first column that I wrote for Fighters Only was a year ago when he beat Carlos Condit and in that bout I sided with Condit as the value bet. The value isn’t as high here and possibly rightly so as the bookmakers seem a little nervous over the knockout power of Hendricks. GSP has been at the top for a long time and very much had things his own way yet the retirement rumours simply won’t go away. For Hendricks to win then he needs to disrupt the game plan and put GSP on the back foot from the opening bell. The quickest and easiest way to do that is to take the first round and force the fight to the champion. If he wins then it is almost certain to be by KO, and 7/2 is an outstanding price. However, I will be sticking with my golden rule of keeping it simple when backing the ‘dog and taking Hendricks for the outright win at 9/4, it’s time to believe people.

Recommendation: To Win the Fight: Johny Hendricks – 9/4 (+225) @ Coral

 

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