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UFC 121 Main Card: Preview and Picks

By on October 23, 2010

As compelling as the Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin bout was, Lesnar’s face-off with Cain Velasquez may be even more interesting. Of course, there are plenty of other fights to look forward to, as well. We also have Jake Shields’ UFC debut to anticipate, as well as a Tito Ortiz appearance! Let’s get right to it.

Brendan Schaub vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

Long-time Fightmania readers know that I’ve always liked Gonzaga, who has plenty of skills but has had trouble finding any sort of consistency in his UFC performances. Meanwhile, Schaub is an ex-NFL player from “The Ultimate Fighter” that has looked very impressive in his UFC fights since the show ended.

Schaub is very athletic, but I can’t see him muscling around Gonzaga, who poses a lot of matchup problems with his size, striking ability and grappling skills. I do expect Schaub to be quicker, and maybe he can even take Gonzaga down, but to what end? Gonzaga is very dangerous on the mat, and a takedown may be a bad idea on Schaub’s part.

I’m tempted to pick Schaub, but in the end I’ll pick Gonzaga. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go either way, though.

Prediction: Gonzaga by KO/TKO

Tito Ortiz vs. Matt Hamill

Ah, the “coach vs. mentor” matchup. I once theorized that Ortiz cultivated a close relationship with Hamill, who is an outstanding wrestler, in order to avoid having to face him in the future. If that was the idea, it didn’t work, though Hamill’s performances since “The Ultimate Fighter 4” don’t exactly spell instant doom for Ortiz.

This is a hard fight to predict because you don’t know which version of either fighter will show up. Ortiz has been ravaged by injuries and inactivity over the last few years, and I don’t know if anyone really knows what he even has left in the tank at this point. Meanwhile, Hamill has never been content to rely on his wrestling the way that any sane person would, instead choosing to slug it out with superior strikers such as Rich Franklin.

Many are saying Hamill will have the best cardio, which is funny because Ortiz once had the best cardio in the sport. I’ll make a dangerous choice here and take Ortiz’s words at face value and assume that his suspect cardio in recent fights was really just the result of injuries. I’ll also dangerously assume that Ortiz is healthy, since he didn’t pull out of this fight like the Chuck Liddell one.

I think Ortiz could outpoint Hamill on strikes, though I have no idea how I expect the wrestling to end up. Ortiz has never been terribly effective at standing up after being taken down, but his takedown defense should be pretty good. Hamill’s power is overrated, and I don’t know if he’ll land a whole lot on Ortiz, anyway.

I’ll go with Ortiz in what could be an underwhelming fight.

Prediction: Ortiz by decision

Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago

Sanchez was once pegged as a future champion in the welterweight division, and now is trying to simply get a win after a failed lightweight experiment and an unsuccessful return to his natural weight class against John Hathaway. Thiago is a tough opponent to try to get back on track against, as he has good power in both hands and a great all-around skill set.

The question is: can Diego go back to being the suffocating grappler that he once was? Can he confidently put the pressure on for the duration of the fight and wear out opponents like before? I think he can for this fight, at least.

Prediction: Sanchez by KO/TKO

Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann

Shields comes over as the reigning Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, although he has chosen to compete at 170 pounds in the UFC. Kampmann was fairly recently seen as a possible title contender, but a loss to Paul Daley derailed that train for a moment. This fight is seen as possibly being for a title shot, and if I know Dana White, it will be. There’s no way he’s going to push Jon Fitch ahead of one of these two (barring injury), and he’s not going to let Fitch possibly tarnish his prime free agency signing before he gets to market GSP-Shields, either.

So, I kind of tipped my hand there…Shields is gonna win this one. That’s no real surprise, though. As much as Kampmann has rounded out his ground game to supplement his striking, he won’t be able to defend Shields’ takedowns, and he also isn’t going to submit Shields from his back, for that matter. Shields is going to win a pretty “paint-by-numbers’ matchup.

Prediction: Shields by submission

Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez

It’s so hard to envision what a Lesnar fight will look like. It’s hard to imagine, but we’ve still only seen this guy a handful of times. Still, this fight will answer most of the remaining questions about Lesnar. Velasquez possesses a better mix of technical striking and wrestling than anyone Lesnar has ever faced, and probably anyone else in the heavyweight division today.

Lesnar simply has to get takedowns for this fight to go his way. Standing up with Velasquez, he would always have the chance to land a kill shot, but he would also be on the receiving end of plenty of punches from a quicker, better striker that packs plenty of power himself. Velasquez is capable of leg-kicking Lesnar, but I wouldn’t anticipate that until later on in the fight, as it would open him up to being taken down by the champ.

If either fighter is taken down, he will be in big trouble. This isn’t just because neither fighter is particularly skilled off of his back, but also because both fighters are such devastating strikers on the mat. Lesnar in particular is dangerous to have on top of you, and we know now that he’s willing to pass the guard and attempt submissions from dominant positions, too.

Everyone is expecting that Velasquez will be better off in the later rounds because of his cardio, and that may be true, but Lesnar is always in great shape, as well. The advantage may be there, but it won’t be as huge as people are making it out to be.

To me, Velasquez doesn’t win this bout unless he can survive until the later rounds and avoid being taken down early. I think Lesnar will be able to get early takedowns, so I give him this one.

Prediction: Lesnar by KO/TKO

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