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UFC 121: Preview And Predictions


Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez

So, one of the most intriguing stylistic fight match-ups of the year is finally here.  After a flawless eight fight start to his career Velasquez takes on man mountain Brock Lesnar who is himself on a four fight winning streak against some of the best fighters the heavyweight division has to offer.

Clearly size has a major factor to play here.  Come fight night Lesnar should 270lbs+, while Velasquez has opted not to try to bulk up and instead should come in around 240lbs.  What’s interesting about it is that doesn’t necessarily mean that Lesnar will be the slower man due to his extra bulk.  He’s a natural heavyweight and is remarkably quick and agile for his size.

Lesnar’s natural physical attributes will also lend him an extra inch in height and four inches in reach over Velasquez which offer him an advantage in the stand-up.  He’ll need all the help he can get in that regard as Velasquez is certainly the superior striker – not packing massive power into his punches, but demonstrating sound technique and an ability to put together fluid combinations using both his hands and feet.

That style of volume punching could prove effective against Lesnar who’s shown in previous fights with Carwin in particular, but also briefly in his bouts with Couture and Mir, that he’s not comfortable taking shots and often tends to panic and turtle up rather than use movement and counter-striking to get out of trouble.

The most fascinating action though could take place in the clinch and on the mat.  This is where Lesnar will be looking to make his mark, getting Velasquez to the ground where his jack-hammer style of ground and pound has so far proven to be virtually unstoppable.  A former NCAA D1 champ with a size advantage suggests he should come out on top here, but Velasquez was also a D1 wrestler and the word from his camp is that he can more than hold his own with the biggest well credentialed wrestlers they can throw at him.

Cardio is another key factor, particularly since it’s a five round fight.  So far Velasquez has laid a strong claim to having the best gas tank in the division, and his ability to push the pace for five full rounds could pay dividends. To be fair Lesnar hasn’t gassed significantly in his previous fights either though so it’ll be interesting to see how he copes going the full five.

Prediction: I really feel this one’s on a knife-edge and to tell the truth I’ve been going back and forth over my prediction all week.  I see a lot of people leaning towards Velasquez and that makes sense – his cardio advantage could be huge in the later rounds and his striking and relentless drive should trouble Lesnar.

I think this fight hinges on Cain’s ability to stuff Lesnar’s takedowns though, and despite his skills that’s going to be very difficult against the size and speed of the champion.  If he’s unable to do so, he’s going to be in unfamiliar territory on his back, and facing the most deadly ground and pound in the sport.  Velasquez needs to steer clear of that until the later rounds to gain the advantage, while Lesnar may only need one or two takedowns to end the fight.  That’s why I’m predicting a win for Lesnar, but it could just as easily be Cain’s night.

Brock Lesnar to win by TKO in Rd2

Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann

Jake Shields finally makes it to the UFC on the back of an excellent 14 fight winning streak, but before he can get a shot at the title he needs to navigate past a tough challenger in Martin Kampmann.

Shields winning formula to date consists of his excellent wrestling base which he’s augmented with a very dangerous submission game, including some of the nastiest chokes in the sport.  He’s had a hard time from some quarters recently for being boring after two five round decision wins over ‘Mayhem’ Miller and Dan Henderson, but it’s worth pointing out that prior to that he had fought seven fights in which only one of his opponents made it out of the first round.

There is a significant flaw in Shields arsenal though, and that’s his striking which is neither particularly technical, nor particularly dangerous.  That’s good news for Martin Kampmann as he’s a very respectable kickboxer and could have Shields in trouble if he is given the time and space to operate.

The Dane is no slouch on the mat either.   He doesn’t have quite the same level of wrestling or BJJ as Shields, but he certainly won’t be a pushover and could surprise the former Strikeforce champion if he’s careless.

Prediction: In my opinion it’s only a matter of time before someone exploits the weaknesses in Shield’s stand-up. Kampmann could be that man if he can keep this fight standing, but that’s easier said than done, and I think Shields wrestling advantage on the mat will be the difference here as he grinds out a safety-first decision win to secure the title shot.

Jake Shields to win by decision.

Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago

According to Sanchez he’s heading back down to lightweight after this fight, but firstly he takes on the Brazilian Paulo Thiago at 170lbs.

Sanchez has wilted a little recently, losing two fights back-to-back, but making the transition back to Greg Jackson’s camp after a three year absence should help.  I feel Sanchez has become too caught up in the stand-up game recently, but the truth is though he his relentless drive helps fill in some of the cracks, he’s too predictable and lacks the power to really cut it at the very highest level.

He is a talented grappler though and his high-octane approach works well in scrambles, transitions and with his ground and pound.  Encouraging him to Return to this style will surely have been a top priority for Greg Jackson and Co. in this camp.

Meanwhile Thiago has the power to be effective on the feet, but he tends to be a little reckless and sloppy with his technique.  Like Sanchez he is trouble on the mat though with high-level jiu-jitsu being his primary asset, and in his career to date he’s proven he can finish fights using a considerable number of different submissions making him somewhat unpredictable.

Prediction: This is another close fight that could go either way. I’m a little hesitant to pick Thiago as I think he’s flattered to deceive in some of his outing so far, but I think his power could pose problems for Sanchez if the TUF 1 winner gets overly enthusiastic in the striking, and the Brazilian will also be dangerous on the ground.

Paulo Thiago to win by decision.

Tito Ortiz vs. Matt Hamill

Tito Ortiz finds himself in the unusual position here of being down the pecking order on the main card of a UFC event, and facing the fighter that was his first pick on TUF season 3, Matt Hamill.

Truth be told it’s been a disastrous few years for the former dominant champion, going 0-3-1, suffering several major injury set-backs and troubles in his personal life.  The Ortiz of old was the king of ground and pound, but while the rest of the competition has been improving and becoming more well-rounded, Ortiz still brings the same skill-set to the table.

Meanwhile Hamill has improved over the years – coming from a similar wrestling based background to Ortiz he’s since added to his striking game as well, and while still not the most technical he’s shown that he’s both durable and can pack a punch.

Hamill also has the advantage of being far more active than his opponent – in the past three years he’s fought seven times, while Ortiz has managed just two bouts.  In his last fight Ortiz showed both ring rust and cardio issues in the later rounds, and having had to recover from another major surgery since that could well play a factor again.  Despite his instance that he’s now 100% you also have to wonder whether he really is back to his best.

Prediction: I think Hamill will get the better of the stand-up, and will  hold his own in the grappling with a past-his best and ring-rusty Ortiz which will allow him to secure a solid decision victory over his former coach.

Matt Hamill to win by decision.

Brendan Schaub vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

There’s not been a great deal of hype regarding the Schaub Vs Gonzaga fight due to the other big name fighters on the card, but this should be a fun way to kick off the main card.

So far Schaub has shown himself to be a natural athlete with solid boxing skills and KO power that has helped him to finish his last two fights in a little under two minutes combined.  He’s also developing as a ground fighter, currently holding a purple belt in BJJ and showing a good ability to get off his back and back to his feet which will certainly come in handy in this fight.

Gonzaga is also a dangerous striker, posing significant problems for his opponents with both his hands and feet.  Though he’s tended to shy away from it in recent times the Brazilian’s best weapon is his black belt level BJJ though and that could be his key to victory here.

Prediction: I like Schaub, he shows promise and seems to have a good attitude, but this is a tough match-up for him.  If he can successfully keep the fight on the feet then he’ll have his hands full with Gonzaga, while on the mat he’s simply outclassed.

Gabriel Gonzaga to win by submission in Rd2

Prelims: (Predicted winners highlighted in bold)

Court McGee vs. Ryan Jensen
Patrick Cote vs. Tom Lawlor
Daniel Roberts vs. Mike Guymon
Paul Taylor vs. Sam Stout
Dongi Yang vs. Chris Camozzi
Gilbert Yvel vs. Jon Madsen

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