UFC 120: Preview and Predictions – The main card

Continuing on with the preview and predictions for UFC 120, here are my thoughts on the main card. My picks for the undercard are here

Of the four UK names on the main card, Bisping and Hardy are both looking to make an impression and get themselves in amongst the title contenders of their respective divisions, where both men believe they belong. Hathaway has been bubbling under over in the US despite his perfect MMA record. It was only the Diego Sanchez fight that made our friends sit up and take notice of the London Shootfighter. A great performance in this fight and the hitman will have well and truly arrived in the big leagues and much bigger fights will beckon. TUF9 winner Wilks opens the main card and has a tough challenge on his hands. His UFC career thus far has been a bit hit and miss and something about him leaves me unconvinced even now. Despite the fact he won the show, I still look to Osipczak, Pearson and Winner as being the far better long-term prospects UFC-wise. Wilks has a tough challenge this time round and a poor performance could see him become another victim of the dreaded cut.

Here’s my predictions for the televised part of the event:

James Wilks 7-3-0 vs. Claude Patrick 12-1 – Welterweight
This is a tough fight to pick as not an awful lot separates these guys. There have been a few raised eyebrows that this one makes the main card, but it makes sense. Wilks is British (despite having not lived here in a decade or so) and is the TUF9 winner. Can’t help thinking that if it weren’t for Ross Pearsons knee, we may have seen him taking up this slot. Both men hold brown belts in BJJ with Wilks having a very active guard and perhaps taking a few more risks with his ground game. He also has some quite decent striking. Patrick probably has the advantage in wrestling and certainly in the clinch I would expect him to be more than a match for Wilks. I don’t think Wilks has the footwork or takedown defence to stop Patrick getting this fight to where he wants it so I would expect this match to come down to how Wilks guard holds up against the ground assault of the canadian. If he takes risks and throws up submission attempts without having a solid position to attack first, he will be punished for it. Once again I find myself in a situation where I’m finding it hard to legitimately pick the Brit to win. Unfortunately I have to go with Patrick to take this here. I think he will get this to the mat, force Wilks into making a mistake and catch hold of one his much-loved chokes. Patrick submission rd 2

Cheick Kongo 15-6-1 vs. Travis Browne 8-0-0 – Heavyweight
Another fight that promises a standup war but may actually end up played out on the ground. Undefeated Browne has vicious KO power in his punches and kicks and scored back to back KO wins in under 10 seconds in his 7th and 8th fights. He also TKO’d James McSweeney at the TUF 11 finale. Kongo however is a very different proposition to his previous opponents. Far more experienced and having faced up against top level strikers like Anthoni Hardonk and Mirko “Cro-Cop”, Kongo has only been stopped twice in his career and his only KO loss is to Dutch Muay Thai monster Gilbert Yvel. Kongo has worked diligently on the weaknesses in his game, training at the Wolfslair gym with the likes of Bisping, Blackledge, Broughton and Rampage: All very competent MMA strikers. Brownes power means the one-punch threat is always there, but Kongo is quicker to the punch and can hit a takedown. If Browne finds himself on his back staring up at some Kongo G’n’P then you know it’s not going to be long before the ref calls this one off. I’m backing Kongo here to hand Browne his first career loss. Kongo TKO rd 1

John Hathaway 14-0-0 vs. Mike Pyle 20-7-0 – Welterweight
Whilst Pyle is perhaps not as a big a ‘name’ as Hathaways previous opponent Diego Sanchez, he does pose a very legitimate threat to the perfect record of the young Brit. The Xtreme Couture trained Pyle has 17 of his 20 wins by submission and has very accomplished grappling for MMA. Hathaway goes against the stereotype of the average ‘brit who cant wrestle’ that prevails in MMA. He is actually one of the best wrestlers in all of UKMMA and is freakishly strong and very large for the weight class. Wrestling is not the only tool in the hitmans toolkit though, as we saw against Sanchez his striking is becoming more accomplished and on the feet I have no doubt his reach advantage and power will overcome anything Pyle can offer at striking range. I think in the clinch too, the advantage is probably to Hathaway and I would expect Pyle to find himself on his back at some point in this fight. Pyles best chance then: Grabbing an arm or hitting a triangle from guard. The likelihood of this actually happening: Pretty slim. Hathaway has serious GnP but is a very intelligent fighter and does not take unnecessary risks. He sees danger as it comes and will adjust his position or back out of the guard if he sees the subs coming. This is a big fight for the hitman, it’s his highest billing on any UFC card he has been a part of but it is a challenge he is more than able to rise to. For me, Hathaway represents the UK’s best hopes of scoring it’s first UFC title holder. His peak years are yet to come, he already has a wealth of experience and is still only 22. He is the jewel in the already glistening crown of the London Shootfighters stable of professionals and he is only going to get better. That is a scary prospect right there and Mike Pyle will find out how scary tomorrow night. Hathaway TKO round 2

Dan Hardy 23-7-0 (1 NC) vs. Carlos Condit 25-5-0– Welterweight
Dan Hardy returns to the octagon for the first time since taking GSP 5 rounds. In his time since then he has immersed himself in intensive wrestling and grappling training in an attempt to smooth out the rougher edges of his game. In Condit he will meet an opponent who brings a lot to the table and this is a potential fight of the night. Condit is very good in the clinch and will expect to have the edge in wrestling here. Hardy is by the far the more technically superior striker and although he isn’t a one shot KO kind of fighter, he does pack some serious power in his punches. He more than held his own against Mike Swick who was highly regarded as one of the best strikers in the WW division. He is quite tough to takedown – unless you are the sort of explosvie athlete that GSP is, and Condit simply isnt that kind of fighter. What Condit is, is a finisher of fights. In 30 fights only 1 has gone to decision. Hardy entered the UFC with a finshing rate of something like 75%, this has dipped to 20% in the UFC with only 1 finish in 5 fights (his KO of Rory Markham). Neither Hardy nor Condit have ever been stopped by strikes and both have only been submitted 3 times. GSP came close to subbing Hardy twice in their 5 rounder but couldn’t finish him. So if GSP couldn’t finish him over 5, can Condit do it in 3? I think not and this fight is looking like it will go the full 15. Condit will get submission opportunities but the sheer stubborness and submission savvy of Hardy will ensure he doesn’t tap. Hardy needs to score points in the standup exchanges and stay off his back as much as possible if he is going to take this fight. If Condit can impose that well known Jacksons MMA fighting style then he may be able to grind this one out. I’m hoping that Hardy’s sabbatical and training since his last fight have equipped him to be able to avoid that kind of smothering game. I’m picking Hardy here in a very close fight, possibly even a spilt decision. Hardy Decision

Michael Bisping 19-3-0 vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama 13-2-0 (2 nc) – Middleweight
Although this fight isn’t for clear #1 contender spot, the winner will certainly have a claim to at least be ranked up there with the challengers in the muddy waters of the UFC middleweight division. ‘Sexyama’ has had 2 fights in the UFC and both have won fight of the night. In his last fight particularly he showed some serious tenacity to hang in there until the end of the 3rd against Leben. in spite of the fact that he was able to go almost the full 15, his conditioning didn’t look particularly impressive. This has never been the case for Bisping who is one of the best conditioned athletes in the whole division. Bisping has a crisp, in and out striking style and boasts excellent footwork. He has only ever been stopped once in his career (by that punch from Dan Henderson at UFC 100) and he disputes both his decision losses, particularly the one against Wanderlei Silva. Akiyama is no slouch in the striking department himself, but does not boast the same accuracy and footwork skills as his opponent. Akiyama has been training with Jacksons MMA for this fight and has apparently taken away some better takedown skills and improved his striking for MMA. He is an elite level judoka, and so is always dangerous in threatening unorthodox takedowns from the clinch. Bisping’s wrestling is very underrated and certainly his takedown defence is excellent. His offensive wrestling and takedowns – as ably demonstrated in his fight against Denis Kang – are also pretty good. Where this fight will be won kind of depends on where Akiyama wants to take it, as I think Bisping will be prepared to match him wherever he wants to go. I expect the majority of the match to play out on the feet and would expect Bisping to score more freely and frequently than his Japanese counterpart. Whilst I’m not sure that either man will find the finish, I do think that this will end up being a pretty dominant decision win. A win in favour of Bisping. Where this puts him in the title picture is up to Joe Silva I guess. A rematch with Leben is a possibility, although the fight with Wanderlei that fell through may be what’s up next for the crippler. Silva and Belfort are due to face off against each other and Sonnen is off the grid, at least until this steroid mess is cleaned up. My guess is he will face the winner of Grove and Maia or possible Marquardt and Okami. But predicting future match-ups is for another post I guess… back on topic: Bisping decision

***************** Updated with results ********************
James Wilks vs. Claude Patrick – My Pick:Patrick sub rd2 Actual: Patrick decision
Cheick Kongo vs. Travis Browne – My Pick:Kongo TKO rd1 Actual: Unanimous draw
John Hathaway vs. Mike Pyle – My Pick: Hathaway TKO rd2 Actual: Pyle decision
Dan Hardy vs. Carlos Condit – My Pick: Hardy decision Actual: Condit KO rd 1
Michael Bisping vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama – My Pick:Bisping decision Actual: Bisping decision


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