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UFC 119 Preview and Predictions

Read ahead as Five Ounces of Pain‘s Jeremy Lambert breaks down the card from tomorrow night’s UFC 119 in Indianapolis, Indiana…

After a great stretch of UFC PPVs in terms of star power and general excitement, this is a rather weak card with not much momentum behind it. It has the potential to be an exciting card though. Plus it could be the last time we see Mirko Cro Cop against high-level competition. You know you don’t want to miss that.

Heavyweight Fight (Main Event): Frank Mir vs. Mirko Cro Cop

Frank Mir and Mirko Cro Cop are at a career crossroads. Mir is a former champion desperate to get another chance at current champion Brock Lesnar, who is considered “lucky” to be in his current position thanks to Lesnar’s inexperience, Rodrigo Nogueira’s staph infection, and his own mouth. Many consider Cro Cop a legend but those same people doubt whether or not he has one last run left in his system. Taking this fight on short notice, Cro Cop is trying to prove doubters wrong and reach a peak that he hasn’t been at since September 2006 when he won the PRIDE Open Weight GP.

Mir believes he has no disadvantages in this fight. He’s not wrong. It’s easy to think that Cro Cop is the better striker but his reflexes and speed have significantly slowed since the days when he would put people to sleep with a no set up head kick. He’s still a better technical striker than Mir but at this point in their careers, Mir might be faster and hit harder, which balances things out on the feet. Mir has a significant ground advantage but Cro Cop is no slouch in the grappling department. He may not submit Mir but his takedown defense is good enough to stay off his back and his submission defense is good enough to keep his limbs or keep breathing. Mir claimed that he wouldn’t be against pulling guard but I’d be shocked if he wants Cro Cop on top of him raining down ground and pound. His guard might be good but Cro Cop has been around a long time and isn’t the easiest person in the world to submit. Mir’s biggest advantage will be the clinch. He’s larger and stronger than Cro Cop and we’ve seen Cro Cop get roughed up in the clinch before. Cro Cop’s best plan of attack would be to work the body of Mir and press the action. Mir’s cardio has always been questioned and it’s been proven that he wilts under pressure and when he gets hit. Mir needs to get this fight to the ground. He might do alright in the stand up department but he has a much bigger advantage on the ground.

This is a tough fight for Cro Cop. I know the cliché line is that “Cro Cop is as dangerous as ever” but we all know that that’s not true. Not only has he slowed down considerably over the years but he’s taking this fight on short notice and has an eye injury. For those reasons, I like Mir to win this fight as long as he fights smart and doesn’t rely too much on his striking.

Prediction – Frank Mir by Submission in Round 2

Light Heavyweight Fight: Ryan Bader vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

There haven’t been many Ultimate Fighter success stories since Season 6. Winners Mac Danzig, Amir Sadollah, Efrain Escudero James Wilks, Ross Pearson, and Roy Nelson all lost within their first three UFC fights since being crowning champion. In the case of Escudero, he was even recently released after posting a 2-2 UFC record. The only exception has been TUF 8 light heavyweight winner Ryan Bader. He’s 3-0 since winning TUF 8 and coming off his biggest career victory to date, a KO victory over Keith Jardine. Now he faces the twin brother of his TUF 8 coach, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

This is one of those fights that is destined to be a human chess match. Each man will either need to be one step ahead or be able to adapt when something goes wrong. Nogueira is an excellent boxer. He’s represented his home country of Brazil in multiple competitions as a boxer. He’s very technical and has a nasty left hand. Bader is a decent striker with plenty of power but has an over-reliance on his right hand. People get this perception that he’s a very good striker but lets not forgot that he was losing the striking battle against Jardine until he exposed Jardine’s weak chin. Nogueira doesn’t have a Jardine-like chin but he does have a tendency to leave himself open and get into brawls when he doesn’t need to. Obviously this fight will come down to Bader’s wrestling against Nogueira’s jiu-jitsu. Bader will be able to takedown Nogueira, likely at will, and it will be up to Nogueira to threaten with sweeps and submissions. Bader has never faced someone with the jiu-jitsu skills of Nogueira. He even had trouble with the guards of Eric Schafer and Jardine, and Nogueira is far better off his back than those two. Everyone will point to the Jason Brilz fight, how Nogueira looked bad, and how he should have lost that fight. While you shouldn’t throw that fight out completely, lets remember that Nogueira was gearing up for Forrest Griffin and then ended up facing Brilz, who is not only a completely different style fighter than Griffin but was also a mental step down in competition.

A lot of people seem to be writing off Nogueira in this fight. I’m not one of them. I like Bader and I think he has the tools to be a champion one day but I like Nogueira in this fight. He’s a better striker than Bader and when Bader decides to take things to the ground, Nogueira is going to make him uncomfortable with aggressive jiu-jitsu.

Prediction – Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by Decision

Welterweight Fight: Matt Serra vs. Chris Lytle

Matt Serra and Chris Lytle met in November 2006 in the finals of TUF 4. The winner of that fight would earn a title shot against then welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. The fight was a close and rather lackluster battle with Serra edging out a split decision. After the fight, Lytle vowed to never have a boring fight again. He’s lived up to that promise. In 11 UFC fights since that loss, Lytle has won “of the Night” honors seven times. While Serra may not have gone on to the same kind of “excitement success” as Lytle, he did go on to win the welterweight title from St. Pierre in one of the greatest upsets in MMA history.

When this fight was announced, I wanted UFC to institute a “no clinching” rule. While they didn’t listen to me, I have faith that Lytle will. Both men are comfortable wherever this fight may go. Lytle is a better technical striker and he has one of the best chins in MMA history. Serra has power in his hands and likely won’t be afraid to get into exchanges and test the chin of Lytle. Serra is black belt in jiu-jitsu under Renzo Gracie but I’ve always felt that his MMA jiu-jitsu is rather overrated. He hasn’t submitted anyone since 2002 and his biggest MMA victories have come by KO. Lytle is also a black belt in jiu-jitsu and while he’s not ranked as high as Serra, the majority of his wins have come by submission. Either way, if the fight hits the ground, both fighters should be comfortable although I favor Lytle off his back simply because he’s not afraid to put himself in bad positions in order to get to his feet whereas Serra plays things a little safer. For Serra to win, he’ll need to trust his power, bait Lytle into wild exchanges, and hope he gets a knockdown or knockout. Or he could just hug Lytle for 15 minutes again. Lytle just needs to stick to his usual gameplan of being aggressive but smart and attack the body.

I can’t imagine this fight being anything like their first fight. Lytle and excitement go together like The Jets and controversy so even if Serra tries his best to slow things down, Lytle won’t be afraid to blow a 0.16 at 4:30am. Because of his aggressive style, his great chin, and the fact that Serra really isn’t all that great, I like Lytle to edge out a decision.

Prediction – Chris Lytle by Decision

Lightweight Fight: Evan Dunham vs. Sean Sherk

Evan Dunham is a 28-year-old prospect and is undefeated in MMA at 11-0. Sean Sherk is a 37-year-old veteran with 38 professional fights and 33 victories. One fighter is trying to continue to climb the lightweight ladder and leapfrog a top contender. The other is trying to keep his spot near the top and make one last title run.

Right now Sherk is a bit of a mystery. He’s a great wrestler but in his last three fights he’s spent the majority of the time on his feet, striking with his opponents. He’s also coming off an injury filled layoff that has kept him out of action since May 2009. I like to call year long layoffs due to injuries/surgeries a Mir Layoff, in reference to Frank Mir’s motorcycle accident and subsequent layoff/return. 95% of the time a fighter coming off a Mir Layoff layoff loses. If Sherk tries to strike with Dunham, he’ll likely land his fair share of blows but Dunham is the taller fighter and uses his reach very well, making it difficult for his opponents to get inside on him. Dunham is a good wrestler in his own right and is also very good off his back and in scrambles. For Sherk to win, he’ll need to revert to his relentless wrestling and not be afraid to win boring. Dunham just needs to replicate his gameplan he employed against Tyson Griffin, which was use his reach, fend off takedowns, and land timely takedowns of his own.

I never pick a fighter who is coming off a Mir Layoff and I won’t start now. Even if Sherk weren’t in his current situation, this is a tough match up for him stylistically. Dunham is will likely sprawl and brawl, control the distance on the feet, and frustrate Sherk en route to a decision.

Prediction – Evan Dunham by Decision

Lightweight Fight: Melvin Guillard vs. Jeremy Stephens

Following his victory over Waylon Lowe at UFC 114, Melvin Guillard called out Jeremy Stephens, who was coming off a victory over his own at UFC 113 against Sam Stout. Obviously Joe Silva loves it when fighters do his job for him as he wasted no time pairing up these two for an explosive lightweight showdown.

There is no secret as to what is going to happen in this fight. These two are going to come out and throw hands until one man falls down. Stephens has a heavy right hand while Guillard is one of the most explosive lightweights in the division. Now training with Greg Jackson, Guillard has started to use his wrestling a bit more to mix things up. He doesn’t do much when he gets the takedowns and he’s still prone to submissions but takedowns do score points and it gives his opponents something else to think about. Stephens has never shown much of a ground game so don’t be shocked if Guillard uses his wrestling not only to give Stephens more to think about but also to win the fight if things aren’t going his way on the feet. Stephens shocked a lot people by out-striking Stout but he did it more with power than technique. Guillard has the quickness and athleticism to hang with Stephens strike for strike.

This should be a slugfest on the feet but should Guillard find himself in trouble or fight a smart fight, he can revert to his wrestling, which is a major advantage for him in this fight. Even if it stays standing I favor Guillard because he’s more diverse with his striking.

Prediction – Melvin Guillard by TKO in Round 2

Prelim Predictions:

* – C.B. Dolloway to defeat Joe Doerksen by Decision
* – Joey Beltran to defeat Matt Mitrione by TKO in Round 1
* – Thiago Tavares to defeat Pat Audinwood by Decision
* – Waylon Lowe to defeat Steve Lopez by TKO in Round 2
* – TJ Grant to defeat Julio Paulino by Submission in Round 1
* – Mark Hunt to defeat Sean McCorkle by TKO in Round 1

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