Happy President's Day to all the Americans out there! I thought I'd use some of my precious free time today to start the countdown to UFC 95. This is another overseas, tape delayed, free UFC bonanza coming to us from jolly old London.
Normally I hate tape delayed and censored UFC events but since I had to pay for two PPVs last month I'm not as reserved about this as I usually am. While UFC 95 isn't exactly dripping with star power nor does it have a championship bout there are plenty of interesting match ups, especially on the main card.
Josh Koscheck, who probably fights more often than anyone in the UFC, tries to continue his winning ways on the path back to a title shot. There are two very intriguing middleweight match ups on this card. The first is a great match up between submission powerhouse Demian Maia and WEC transfer (and uncrowned champion) Chael Sonnen who is a great grappler (wrestler) in his own rite.
The second middleweight tussle is a solid match up between perrenial middleweight contender Nate Marquardt and Wilson Gouveia who is undefeated since moving down to middleweight. Last but certainly not least is the light weight debut of Diego Sanchez. He takes on former number one contender Joe Stevenson in the main event which should be a great scrap.
With all the formalities out of the way let's get to what you all really want and that's the fight break downs:
Troy Mandaloniz v. Paul Kelly: Troy is 3-1, 1-0 in the UFC, with one win by KO. He is a striker. Kelly is 8-1, 1-1 in the UFC, with 7 wins by stoppage. He is also a striker.
This should be a great stand up war but I think Kelly is the better striker. I'll pick Kelly by decision.
Per Eklund v. Evan Dunham: Per is 12-3-1, 1-1 in the UFC, with 8 wins by stoppage. He is mostly a submission fighter. Evan is 7-0, making his UFC debut, with 6 wins by stoppage. He is also a submission fighter.
I think this is one of those fights between two good grapplers that will turn into a stand up fight. I think Eklund has the better stand up so I expect him to get the win here. I'll take Eklund by decision.
Mike Ciesnolevicz v. Neil Grove: Mike is 15-3, making his UFC debut, with 10 wins by stoppage. He is well rounded. Grove is 7-1, also making his UFC debut, with all 7 wins by KO. He is a striker.
I think Mike's more well rounded game will be the difference. I expect him to take the fight to the mat and pull out the victory by decision with solid ground and pound.
Junior Dos Santos v. Stefan Struve: Junior is 7-1, 1-0 in the UFC, with all 7 wins by stoppage. He is mostly a striker. Struve is 16-2, making his UFC debut, with 15 wins by stoppage. He is a submission fighter.
Normally I take the better grappler in these situations but I never pick UFC rookies. So I think Junior keeps the fight on the feet and and scores a TKO victory in the first round.
Brian Cobb v. Terry Etim: Cobb is 15-4, making his UFC debut, with 12 wins by stoppage. He is a submission fighter. Etim is 11-2, 2-2 in the UFC, with 10 wins by stoppage. He is also a submission fighter.
Unlike the Eklund v. Dunham fight I think this fight between two grapplers will stay on the mat because neither of these guys are very good on the feet. Again, I never pick UFC rookies so I'll take Etim in this fight. I'll pick him by submission in the first round which should keep him off the UFC chopping block.
Josh Koscheck v. Paulo Thiago: Koscheck is 12-3, 10-3 in the UFC, with 7 wins by stoppage. He is a strong wrestler but has an improving all around game. Thiago is 7-0, making his UFC debut, with four wins by stoppage. He is a submission fighter.
This is like leading lambs to lions. This fight is actually a step down in competition from Koscheck's last fight. I'm honestly not sure why Koscheck is getting this fight but it's happening non the less. I think it's fairly obvious who the favorite here is and I'm sticking with chalk.
Koscheck's wrestling will be too good for Thiago to get the fight to the mat. Koscheck's improving stand up will be the difference ending Thaigo's unbeaten streak. I'm picking Koscheck by TKO in the second round.
Demian Maia v. Chael Sonnen: Maia is 9-0, 4-0 in the UFC, with 8 wins by stoppage. He is submission fighter. Sonnen is 21-9-1, 1-2 in the UFC, with 10 wins by stoppage. He is a wrestler.
This is Sonnen's first fight back in the UFC since 2006. His only loss in that time period was a very controversial loss to Paulo Filho which he avenged to become the uncrowned middleweight champion of the WEC before the division was folded.
Maia has been rampaging through the UFC middleweight division and is currently in the UFC's plan for a title shot sometime in the near future. However, this match up with Sonnen is unlike anything he's been up against before.
Maia has been running rough shod over everyone the UFC has put in his way and has had his way with everyone on the ground. This will be a stiff test for Maia who has never faced a wrestler like Sonnen before. If Sonnen is smart he will use his wrestling to sprawl and brawl his way to a victory.
However, I don't think Sonnen feels comfortable enough on his feet to pull that off and will try to impose his will on Maia. Unfortunately I think Maia is simply too good for Sonnen on the ground even off his back. I'm picking Maia to stay undefeated and win by submission in the second round.
Nate Marquardt v. Wilson Gouveia: Nate is 26-8-2, 6-2 in the UFC, with 18 wins by stoppage. His is mostly a submission fighter but is fairly well rounded. Gouveia is 12-5, 6-2 in the UFC, with 11 wins by stoppage. He is mostly a submission fighter.
Gouveia is huge for a middleweight but I don't think size will be a factor for Nate who is simply on a different level skill wise. Nate will be smart to use his BJJ to stay on the feet and use his improving stand up to win the fight.
Nate is one of the most star crossed fighters I've seen in the UFC so as long as something freaky doesn't happen I absolutely expect him to win this fight. I'll pick Nate by TKO in the second round.
Dan Hardy v. Rory Markham: Hardy is 20-6, 1-0 in the UFC, with 14 wins by stoppage. He is a striker. Rory is 16-4, 1-0 in the UFC, with 16 wins by stoppage. He is also a striker.
This should be a great stand up war. This is really a toss up for me but I'll stick with Hardy to win by TKO in the first round.
Diego Sanchez v. Joe Stevenson: Sanchez is 19-2, 8-2 in the UFC, with 15 wins by stoppage. He is mostly a submission fighter but is fairly well rounded. Stevenson is 29-9, 6-3 in the UFC, with 19 wins by stoppage. He is also mostly a submission fighter.
This is a very interesting match up. This will be Sanchez' first dip in the light weight pool and the UFC is not giving him any warm up laps. His first test is a real one against former number one contender Stevenson.
Stevenson is trying to rebound after a tough loss to current number one contender Kenny Florian who Sanchez beat at middleweight for the first TUF crown. I'm very interested to see how these two match up.
I think Diego has the stand up, wrestling, and obviously the size advantage. However, Stevenson has the better BJJ in my opinion and is well known for his vice like guillotine. In other words Sanchez should win this fight but no one should be surprised if Stevenson catches him.
Both of these guys are both going through some mental issues. Stevenson is on the rebound and Sanchez had his reasons for dropping to light weight. So this fight should come down to pure skill.
Normally I would go with chalk here and pick Sanchez who should be the favorite. However, Sanchez has always seemed like too much of a head case no matter how good or aggressive he is. Also, I think Stevenson is hungrier having lost his last fight.
For those reasons I'm picking Stevenson to pull the upset and win by submission in the second round.
My pick for fight of the night goes to Troy Mandaloniz v. Paul Kelly. My pick for KO of the night goes to Junior Dos Santos. My pick for submission of the night goes to Joe Stevenson.
Hopefully I can rebound after my worst set of picks ever a couple weeks back at Fight Night 17. Stay tuned for my UFC 95 review this weekend. Enjoy the fights and until then,
Soccer kicks and head stomps...