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UFC 123 Preview and Picks: The Prelims

By on November 20, 2010

The UFC and Spike TV have been kind enough to grant us some free preliminary action for the hour before tonight’s pay-per-view goes live, and we will likely be glad that they did, because the prelims will be featuring some pretty good bouts. The preliminary bouts have a little bit of everything tonight: even a Karo Parisyan sighting! Read on for my picks.

Tyson Griffin vs. Nik Lentz

Both of these guys are probably a little bummed to be on the prelims. First you have Griffin, who has a handful of “Fight of the Night” awards on his resume and was just recently one of the top lightweights in the sport before dropping a close fight to Evan Dunham and being stopped by Takanori Gomi. Then, there’s Lentz, who has yet to lose in four UFC appearances (he did draw with Thiago Tavares at UFC Fight Night 20) and has a great nickname (“The Carnie”). These guys could practically co-main event UFC 124, for crying out loud!

It’s just more incentive for fans to show up to the arena on time, I guess. This will be a tightly-contested matchup, and could be exciting based upon how methodical the two men are with their respective approaches. I expect an up-tempo approach where both have very similar game plans: get the better of the striking and ultimately take the fight to the mat. Lentz is more than capable of taking down his better-known opponent, and is a solid striker, as well. Griffin has proven his great wrestling and fundamental striking skills over his UFC career, as well, and conditioning won’t be a problem for either man.

The translation: you better not have put money on this fight. This is a classic “coin-flip” bout in my view, and I’m going with Griffin in a close fight decided by his experience and more polished overall skill set.

Prediction: Griffin by decision

Paul Kelly vs. TJ O’Brien

An apology to all three of you who were really looking forward to seeing Gabe Ruediger in action: he was injured and forced to withdraw from his bout with Kelly as a result. His (and yours, Ruediger fans) loss is O’Brien’s gain, as O’Brien will make his UFC debut as an injury replacement.

In a strange turn of events, O’Brien lost his fight to get into the house on the current season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, yet will debut in the UFC before any of the other cast members have had a chance to. Since his loss to Marc Stevens on the show, he’s rattled off two wins (both by rear naked choke), and we all know that the UFC appreciates guys who will step in for injured fighters, too.

One more note about TJ O’Brien: he’s had 19 pro fights (the fight with Stevens, as with all fights on TUF, doesn’t count), and every one of them has ended with him or his opponent being submitted. (Sherdog has his first win against Nathan Woods with “N/A” for the method of victory, but some internet Matlocking reveals that he beat Woods by submission, as well.)

Okay, that’s enough of that. Here’s the thing. O’Brien’s obviously a talented fighter, and he’s from Iowa, which is always a bonus, but while O’Brien was beating Jeremy Castro and Dakota Cochrane, Kelly was busing defeating Matt Veach and Paul Taylor in the Octagon.

You know what? Screw it. There are always some upsets on every card, why not in this fight? O’Brien’s bigger, and Kelly’s aggressiveness will allow O’Brien to close the distance when Kelly should be focused on hitting and running, which will allow O’Brien to get the fight to the ground. Once it hits the mat, well, it’s pretty clear what will happen from there, right?

Prediction: O’Brien by submission

Mike Lullo vs. Edson Mendes Barbosa Jr.

Hmmm…neither’s fought in the UFC before. Let’s break this down by category:

Resume- Lullo got off to a slow start before winning his last eight fights. He’s fought a few of the same guys as TJ O’Brien, actually. Meanwhile, Barbosa Jr. has an unblemished 6-0 record, having won all of his fights by KO, TKO or submission. However, Lullo has the rare gogoplata finish on his resume (against our friend Jeremy Castro, no less).

Edge- Tie.

Skills- Barbosa Jr. is your prototypical Thai kickboxing bully, using his size and strength to punish opponents into defeat. Lullo seems to prefer the submission game, which means he’ll have to walk through Barbosa Jr.’s strikes to get things going.

Edge- Barbosa Jr. (slight).

Nerves- Hey, don’t laugh: Octagon jitters are a real thing for debuting fighters. The difference here is that Lullo also took this fight on short notice. Neither of these two are probably full-time fighters yet, so who knows what kind of shape Lullo was in when he got the call? It’s hard to pick a short-notice replacement, especially in a fight like this.

Edge- Barbosa Jr.

Length of name- Come on. On this card, only Maiquel Jose Falcao Goncalves is messing with Barbosa Jr.

Edge- Barbosa Jr.

Prediction: Barbosa Jr. by KO/TKO

Karo Parisyan vs. Dennis Hallman

As a fan, I’m interested in seeing how this plays out. As someone who needs to pick a winner, I’m not so happy. I hate picking fights where one or both fighters have huge question marks. Here we have the Career Underachieving Fighter Who Has Hopefully Overcome His Personal Problems against the Veteran Fighter Enjoying an Unlikely Resurgence. Sigh.

If these two were both at their relative bests, I’d go with Parisyan. No question. Parisyan has the grappling to dictate the pace and location of the fight, and the savvy to stay out of trouble against Hallman on the mat, to boot. He’s also a better striker, in my view. However, there are all those questions regarding Parisyan: Where’s his mind at? Will he turn this into a sloppy slugfest? How’s his cardio? And so on.

Hallman, on the other hand, is a professional by the very definition of the word, and if Parisyan is not on his game, Hallman will beat him. I keep wondering if we’ll eventually see Hughes-Hallman 3, as Hallman seems to be fighting whenever Matt Hughes competes, and you know Hughes would love to avenge his two submission losses, no matter how long ago they took place.

I wouldn’t mind seeing that, and since I’ve been burned more than once recently when picking the “more talented” fighter who has never met his potential, I’m going to go with Hallman here in an upset. Plus, when stumped, you always go with the guy who may or may not have masqueraded as a masked fighter named Robin Phoenix.

Prediction: Hallman by decision

Aaron Simpson vs. Mark Munoz

If I was a former college wrestling standout myself, this is where I would go into a 500-word analysis of which of these two former wrestlers have better grappling skills. I could talk all about who has the better technique, the quicker shot, the superior takedown defense, and so on.

However, I have not that experience, and all I can tell you is that both guys are really, really good wrestlers. That’s all I’ve got in that area. What I do know is that while Munoz offers up some often-awkward, sometimes-just-plain-ugly standup technique, Simpson has a dangerous right hand and pretty good footwork, to boot. When two fighters are apparently equally matched in one or multiple areas, pick the guy who has the edge elsewhere. I also like Simpson’s conditioning, so he’s my pick here.

Prediction: Simpson by decision

Matt Brown vs. Brian Foster

These two have had similar runs in the UFC: both are respected welterweights, both have UFC records sitting at .500, and both seem like they should be better than that. Brown has beaten the likes of Pete Sell, James Wilks and Matt Arroyo, while Foster has defeated Forrest Petz and Brock Larson, but that next little step up has proven problematic to both fighters. Both have lost to Chris Lytle, while Brown also recently dropped a fight to Ricardo Almeida and Foster lost to Rick Story in his first UFC fight a little over a year ago.

Which one will creep above .500? Well, Brown will try to turn this to a brawl from the get-go, which makes him a beloved competitor by many UFC fans, but also occasionally leaves openings for his opponents, too. Meanwhile, Foster should stick to a bread-and-butter wrestling and control attack, but whether he will or not remains to be seen. Can Brown entice him into prolonged exchanges and turn this into a real fight?

I think Foster will get some takedowns, but Brown will prove to be a better fighter “within the margins” and find little ways to gain a decisive edge in the eyes of the judges. This one could go either way, though.

Prediction: Brown by decision

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