UFC 154: Pre-Fight Précis,Picks and Pontifications

Tonight marks the return of Georges St-Pierre to MMA competition after a 19-month absence due to a torn ACL. For the UFC, this is nothing short of a game-changer after what can accurately be described as a disappointing 2012. Regardless of what some may think of his style, St-Pierre is unquestionably one of the biggest stars in the UFC, and its most consistent PPV draw. From a business perspective, UFC 154 should start a run of consecutive, successful PPV events, and springboard into what is hopefully a less-injury riddled 2013.

From a fight perspective, the Welterweight division will finally get a chance to move forward, as St-Pierre’s return from injury brings Interim Champion glorified #1 contender Carlos Condit back to action, after he chose to sit out and wait for the champion’s return after defeating Nick Diaz back in February. The co-main event is set up to provide an immediate title contender on the same timeline as whoever emerges from the St-Pierre/Condit bout, unless a ‘Superfight’ with Anderson Silva gets in the way.

All in all, this event marks an optimistic moment for the UFC, even though it too has suffered some bad news, as Nick Ring was forced to pull out of his fight with Costa Philippou due to illness on the day of the event. Despite that, we’re still left with two fantastic Welterweight bouts, and some intriguing match-ups further down the card. Let’s take a look at the card from Facebook to feature:

Darren Elkins (+100) vs. Steven Siler (-120)

This fight should set a nice tone for the evening, as these two Featherweights generally put on entertaining performances. The thing to watch in this bout is the continuing progression of ‘Scuba’ Steve Siler (note: that is not his actual nickname, but it should be), who quite frankly nobody expected to do anything heading into his season of The Ultimate Fighter. Since besting Micah Miller on the show, and Cole Miller following it, Siler began to gain some regard as a guy to watch in the division. He further cemented his prospect status by dismantling Joey Gambino with ease back in June. Siler has developed his striking to a point where he can be effective from range, or he can crowd his opponent and make life miserable on the inside, as he did against Cole Miller.

The focus on Siler should not detract from Elkins, whose hard-nosed style has led him to an asterisk-worthy 3-fight winning streak in the UFC (we all know he didn’t beat Omigawa, so there’s no use pretending) after dropping his debut bout to Charles Oliveira. Elkins is a solid wrestler who doesn’t always set up his takedowns well, but has managed to finish them regardless. I think that he struggles to take Siler down in this fight however, as he will not be facing a completely gassed Diego Brandao, nor Tiequan Zhang. If Elkins is unable to get Siler down regularly and keep him there, it will be a long night for the Indiana native, as his striking is just not developed enough to compete with Siler. The odds have made Siler a very slight favourite, and I would still bet him here, although I was fortunate to get him on the plus-side.

My pick: Siler via Decision.

Ivan Menjivar (-265) vs. Azamat Gashimov (+245)

This fight is nearly impossible to break down, as very little is known about Gashimov. He is one of the many Russians who has come over to North America to further his MMA game and career in the past year, yet has only competed once professionally since June 2009. Looking at his record would lead you to believe he is a well-rounded fighter, as he has multiple wins by both TKO and Submission, but the inexperience of his eight opponents (who had a combined record of 0-0 at the time he fought them), makes those fights almost meaningless.

Regardless of Gashimov’s credentials, there are very few Bantamweights already in the UFC that I would pick against Menjivar, nevermind guys making their debut in the organization. Menjivar is simply too well-rounded and too seasoned for fighters with so little high level experience to overcome. Although this is pretty foolish, given my dearth of knowledge on Gashimov, I do have Menjivar in a small parlay tonight.

My pick: Menjivar via Submission.

John Maguire (+160) vs. Matt Riddle (-170)

Oh Matt Riddle, you may be the king of unintentional hilarity in MMA. From the classic comments about not knowing jetlag was a real thing, to getting popped for marijuana, to generally just freaking out in cage and fighting like an idiot, you do know how to keep us entertained.

That being said, breaking down Riddle’s fights can be difficult because he never fights to his strengths. Normally he stands and brawls with fighters who are better technical strikers when he would be better served to take them down and work from top position. This strategy almost lost him a fight against Henry Martinez, who should be fighting at Featherweight.

In this fight however, Riddle could be better served keeping the fight standing against John Maguire, who has shown a slick grappling game at times in his UFC stint. Maguire’s striking is well behind his grappling prowess, and for once Riddle should look to exploit that. Of course that probably means Riddle is going to come out and grapple, once again putting himself in harms way. I really think as long as this remains standing, or even if Riddle does choose to grapple and maintains top position, he’ll be able to win here, but if he gets put on the bottom things could get dicey. One thing I know is that I refuse to lay money on Matt Riddle, and I try to avoid his fights at all costs from a betting perspective.

My pick: Riddle via Decision.

Antonio Carvalho (-290) vs. Rodrigo Damm (+260)

This bout of well-travelled veterans who have found their way to the UFC later in their careers seems to be one of the easier fights to call on the card. Damm has a decent submission game, but virtually no striking and no wrestling in order to set it up. Carvalho has an equally technical grappling game, however with better wrestling and vastly better striking than the Brazilian.

This is going to be a long drawn out affair with Carvalho keeping to the outside and landing straight punches and leg kicks for 15 minutes, or we may see the flash of power that ‘Pato’ showed in his last fight against Daniel Pineda, and with Damm’s questionable chin, that could spell an early demise. Either way, I heavily favour Carvalho here, and I’ve included him in the small parlay with Menjivar, and what was a larger parlay with Costa Philippou, which has now turned into a straight bet on Carvalho.

My pick: Carvalho via TKO

Sam Stout (-200) vs. John Makdessi (+185)

On paper, this looks like a striker vs. striker match-up, but in reality what I expect to see is a striker getting beaten by a far more well-rounded mixed martial artist. For those of you confused, Makdessi is the striker and Stout is the mixed martial artist.

In fact, this could be nearly a carbon copy of Stout’s last fight against Spencer Fisher, where he was losing the striking battle, but won the fight by taking it to the ground and working from the top to steal rounds. I always make the joke about Stout’s nickname being “Hands are Slow” rather than “Hands of Stone”, but that’s because it’s both true and hilarious. The man is an excellent technical kickboxer, as nearly all of the late Shawn Tompkins’ proteges are, but he seemingly always gets beaten to the punch in his fights. Luckily, against Makdessi he has the option of taking the bout to the ground against his completely one-dimensional opponent. I have stayed away from betting the fight in the event that Stout does choose to strike for 15 minutes, but as long as he fights smart (which in Stout’s defence he normally does), he should take a decision here.

My pick: Stout via Decision.

Cyrille Diabate (-150) vs. Chad Griggs (-130)

Chad Griggs is currently a UFC fighter. That says just about all you need to know about how bloated the UFC roster has become in 2012. Needless to say, I’m not a huge believer in the skills of one Mr. ‘Grave Digger’. He did nothing in his last fight to dissuade me from that view in his last bout against Travis Browne, as he looked utterly useless on the ground while getting mercy arm-triangled. In fact, Griggs did almost everything he could to help Browne apply the choke. Going back even further, this is the same guy who was mounted by Bobby Lashley, only to be saved by one of the most egregious stand-ups in MMA (courtesy of Jon Schorle).

I just can’t picture a world where Chad Griggs is a successful UFC fighter, and in this fight his normal brawling style is just going to get him punched, kicked and kneed in the head by a much taller, rangier and more skilled Diabate. Even if this fight does go to the ground, I don’t expect Griggs to show the type of positional awareness or submission skill that allowed someone like Anthony Perosh to beat Diabate recently. If Griggs somehow manages to pull it off, good for him, but I put money on Diabate in this fight, and I’m not sweating the bet one bit at this point. Just don’t put Jon Schorle in the cage with them tonight.

My pick: Diabate via TKO.

Patrick Cote (-265) vs. Alessio Sakara (+245) 

Nearly every breakdown of this fight that I’ve heard has talked about how one of these two aggressive strikers is going to get knocked out here, but I have to say that this is probably my least anticipated fight of the night. Being a Canadian, I followed Cote after he was cut from the UFC, as he put on listless performances against Kalib Starnes and Todd Brown, showing no aggression and no desire to finish the fight. He continued that trend with his return appearance in the Octagon, as he stood around for 15 minutes and let himself get outworked by noted cardio machine Cung Le.

Sakara hasn’t been as bad, as his recent losses have come against guys you would expect him to lose to, like Chris Weidman and Brian Stann, but his chin makes him far more hesitant than he was when he first came into the UFC. Rather than wild, exciting exchanges, I expect to see Cote pushing Sakara up against the fence, maybe taking him down and working from the top a bit and picking up a win. Even with no aggression he may finish Sakara and his fragile chin, but don’t be surprised if this fight goes to the judges. I stayed away from betting this fight just because Cote could very well show up and do nothing and lose, but he has too many advantages for me not to pick him.

My pick: Cote via Decision.

Rafael dos Anjos (-150) vs. Mark Bocek (+130) 

Recently promoted to the main card is a fight that deserved to be there all along, it’s just unfortunate that it took another fight being scratched for it to happen.

This is a very interesting fight to me, as I see that dos Anjos has a clear striking advantage, while the wrestling and submission skills of both fighters are fairly equal, but I have picked Bocek anyways. Hey, with Nick Ring now out of the event, the judges are going to have to give his scorecard mojo to somebody, and Bocek is the type of fighter who can curry favour with the judges even if he isn’t accomplishing anything by grinding guys up against the fence, taking them down and generally sticking all over his opponent. If there are people who actually thought Stanislav Nedkov was beating Thiago Silva last week (and there are lots of them), there are people who will see Bocek winning this fight even while being outstruck and not doing much to threaten dos Anjos himself.

We know that dos Anjos has improved his striking greatly, but the key here will be how well he is able to keep distance. We’ve seen in the past that fighters like Gleison Tibau and Clay Guida have essentially been able to bullrush him to either land punches or takedowns, and if he hasn’t improved his movement, Bocek will be all over him in the clinch. I may have jumped the gun a bit on the bet here, since it seems to be moving in dos Anjos’ favour, but I made a small play on Bocek to take the fight.

My pick: Bocek via Decision.

Mark Hominick (-300) vs. Pablo Garza (+270)

The UFC really doesn’t want to cut Mark Hominick, you can tell. After putting on an entertaining display against Jose Aldo (where unfortunately the context of Aldo being both sick and suffering through a horrendous weight cut has been lost), the UFC matched him up with Chang Sung Jung, a wild striker that Hominick should have been able to pick apart and shockingly Hominick was knocked out in seven seconds. Next, he was pitted against Eddie Yagin, whose striking consisted of nothing more than wild overhand rights, and Hominick was rocked multiple times en route to losing a decision. Now he’s facing Pablo Garza, another fighter who presents a favourable match-up for Hominick. Aside from one flying knee, Garza has not shown any real power or technical striking, and Hominick should be able to replicate his performance against George Roop, perhaps minus the knockout.

While his recent history should have any and everyone wary of betting him, I feel confident that Hominick will be able to control the distance while outstriking Garza, avoid whatever takedowns thrown at him, and pick up a much-needed win.

My pick: Hominick via Decision.

Francis Carmont (-255) vs. Tom Lawlor (+215) 

First things first, if I didn’t give Tom Lawlor some dap for his ‘Shockmaster’ weigh-in antics I would be remissed. Down to even tripping over the stairs, he nailed it. Unfortunately for Lawlor, I see that being the high point of the weekend for him. While Lawlor hits hard and is a decent enough wrestler, he’s never seemed to be able to get past his cardio issues, even in fights he wins. Against a fighter like Carmont, who has shown an ability to take fighters deep into fights and put them away, that does not bode well.

Carmont still isn’t the prodigy many would have you believe, and likely never will be, but he has improved markedly since transitioning to the Tristar gym. Speaking if which, Carmont will certainly benefit from the fact that his camp has aligned perfectly with GSP’s camp. Training with one of the best fighters on the planet on a daily basis and keeping yourself on the same schedule can do nothing but help your preparation for a fight. As Lawlor fades, I expect Carmont to get stronger, and eventually take advantage of one of the mistakes he sees in the grappling game, forcing Lawlor to tap to another Canadian in his UFC career. I’m not entirely sold on Carmont, so while I think he wins, I avoided the bet.

My pick: Carmont via Submission.

Martin Kampmann (-105) vs. Johny Hendricks (-115) 

This is a fantastic fight no matter what perspective you look at it from. For starters, you’ve got the 3rd and 4th best Welterweights in the world fighting. One of those men is an incredible action fighter (Kampmann), and the other has a style who perfectly compliments him.

I favour Hendricks in this fight, but that means almost nothing given that I picked both Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger to beat Kampmann as well. Regardless of what point in the fight you’re at, Kampmann is dangerous, as Alves can certainly attest after beating the Dane for approximately 14 minutes before getting guillotined. Ellenberger had Kampmann hurt in the first round of their bout as well, and got knocked out for his trouble in the second.

The difference I want to think is present with Hendricks is that he is both a better boxer and wrestler than Ellenberger, and won’t make a boneheaded move like Alves did to put himself in unnecessary danger. Coupled with the fact that Kampmann still backs up entirely too straight, and get hits with entirely too many punches, I think Hendricks can do enough to convince the judges he’s won. However, Hendricks does have a tendency to fade late in fights, so if he doesn’t finish Kampmann early (and I don’t expect him to), we could see yet another comeback, or at least a third round that will have me sweating the scorecards.

In a fight this close, with so many different ways of it ending, unless I see an incredibly juicy line I can’t bring myself to bet it, so I’ve stayed away from this fight completely.

My pick: Hendricks via Decision.

Georges St. Pierre (-325) vs. Carlos Condit (+265) 

While everyone seems to think this fight comes down to the health of St-Pierre’s knee, I believe that it’s really his mental state which will determine the outcome. If his knee wasn’t 100%, he wouldn’t be fighting Saturday night. His mind on the other hand, who knows where it’s at. If he’s able to get over the mental block many say they have after a major injury, he should be able to do what he’s always done. If not, as soon as Condit pushes him, he’ll likely fold.

As far as intrigue goes, the actual fight here doesn’t have all that much. GSP is going to be able to take Condit down, and it’s just a matter of whether Condit can stand back up or not, because he’s not going to submit St-Pierre from his back. We know that both fighters have the cardio to go 25 minutes, and each possesses a pretty clear area where they hold the advantage, so whoever is able to press their advantage more will take this fight.

Given Condit’s history of being taken down by nearly everyone who has attempted to do so, and the fact that St-Pierre is probably the 2nd best fighter we’ve seen in the history and perhaps the most effective wrestler, and I just can’t pick against the champion, even given the layoff. Also, since it is likely that St-Pierre is going to win by decision if he does defend his title, the fact that his line to win by decision currently sits at -135 is absolutely insane.

My pick: St-Pierre via Decision.

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About bradtaschuk

An MMA enthusiast who also fancies himself a writer, I've been following the sport in depth since moving off to University in the fall of 2004 allowed me more free time than I knew what to do with. Quickly, an obsession with watching as much MMA as possible developed, which has continued to this day in the form of writing and editing articles for various MMA sites, and now to my own blog about my views on the sport.

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  1. UFC 154 Reflections « tazmma - November 18, 2012
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