Amidst the MLB playoffs, the NFL cutting down on head hunting and sexting, the NBA season just days away, and the NHL season being ignored comes the biggest sporting event of the fall: UFC 121. This card features one of the most intriguing heavyweight title fights in UFC history, the UFC debut of one of the best welterweights in the world, and the potential end of one of the most influential light heavyweights in MMA history. On top of all that, this card is stacked from top to bottom with names you recognize and fights that you should find interesting. Simply put, if you’re a MMA fan and you’re not watching this event on Saturday, I’d give you or your child a Nutrigrain bar if you rang my doorbell next weekend.
UFC Heavyweight Title Fight: Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar
After sitting on the sidelines for nearly a year with diverticulitis, Brock Lesnar returned to the octagon at UFC 116 against Shane Carwin. His return was nearly spoiled in the first round when Carwin rocked him and knocked him down but didn’t knock him out. After surviving the first Lesnar came back and submitted Carwin in the second round to retain his UFC heavyweight title. Cain Velasquez had a front row seat for the action that night. The undefeated Mexican (did you know he’s Mexican?) heavyweight was crowned the top contender after KO’ing Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 110. If UFC 116 was billed as a battle between the two biggest heavyweights, UFC 121 is a battle between the two best.
Velasquez has a combination of determination, skill, speed, cardio and power is second to none. He’s a technical striker whose striking looks better with every fight and what he lacks in power with his hands, he makes up with speed and volume. Against Nogueira, “Big Nog” threw a jab and Velasquez countered with a three-punch combination, including the right hand that dropped the Brazilian. He lacks head movement but Mexican’s (did you know he’s Mexican?) are genetically blessed with durable chins. He was rocked against Cheick Kongo but he never went down past one knee and every time he was rocked, he still had enough sense to land a takedown. His wrestling is outstanding and on the ground his pace is relentless. Again, what he lacks in power on the ground, he makes up for in speed and volume. Against Lesnar, Velasquez will really have to mix things up. Expect him to use a lot of movement on the feet and throw plenty of leg kicks to take away some of the power and speed of Lesnar. He’ll also likely mix in some takedowns, especially as the fight drags on, because Lesnar isn’t comfortable off his back and poses no threat. Velasquez will likely have to survive an early onslaught on takedown because that’s when Lesnar will be at his strongest. One big factor working in Velasquez’ favor is his training camp. Training at American Kickboxing Academy, he’s training with state of the art equipment, top-notch trainers, and top-notch training partners. Lesnar on the other hand has more control over his camp but maybe isn’t getting the kind of training that Velasquez is.
Lesnar might not be the most skilled fighter in the world but his size and speed along with his world-class wrestling makes him a threat to anyone. His striking is very basic but it’s powerful and as Randy Couture said, he surprises you with his reach. He’s a strong wrestler and his control on top is outstanding. Not only that but he’s able to generate a lot of power in a short distance with his ground and pound. He’s not going to beat Velasquez in a kickboxing contest but he does have the power to catch his Mexican (did you know that Velasquez is Mexican?) opponent and drop him. Like he’s done in most of his fights, expect Lesnar to go for the takedown early and often. Velasquez is arguably the best-credentialed wrestler that Lesnar has faced though so he’ll likely have to work for those takedowns. Obviously the big question when it comes to Lesnar is his cardio. There is no doubt that he looks to be in great shape and he’s gone three rounds before but he’s never pushed or been pushed with a pace that Velasquez sets. Here’s a fact: Lesnar went three rounds with Heath Herring, rocked him early, was never in danger, and threw 96 total strikes. Velasquez went three rounds with Kongo, got rocked more than once, and still threw 262 total strikes. Lesnar has cardio but Velasquez is a cardio freak.
Along with my co-conductor and fellow 5OZofPain writer Adam Tool, I have been on the Cain Train since day one. I have no plans to jump off now. While we’ll likely see the best Lesnar we’ve ever seen, we’ll also see the best Velasquez we’ve ever seen and, unless he gets caught, the best Velasquez is better than the best Lesnar. He’s going to push a pace that Lesnar isn’t used to and he’s going to show some skills that Lesnar has never seen. He’ll have to survive an early onslaught but in the end Velasquez will become the first Mexican (did you know that he’s Mexican?) heavyweight champion.
Prediction: Cain Velasquez to defeat Brock Lesnar by TKO in Round Three
Welterweight Fight: Martin Kampmann vs. Jake Shields
At UFC 115, Martin Kampmann finally had his breakout performance against Paulo Thiago. After spending years floating around the middle of the pack in both the middleweight and welterweight divisions, Kampmann defeated a heavily favored Thiago with a convincing unanimous decision. While Kampmann has been hanging around in the UFC, Jake Shields made a name for himself in EliteXC and Strikeforce. Winner of 14 straight fights including victories over Dan Henderson, Mike Pyle, Yushin Okami, Jason Miller, Carlos Condit, and Robbie Lawler, Shields is finally stepping into the octagon with a chance to gain a welterweight title shot.
Although he’s been a bit up and down in the UFC, Kampmann has always been one of the most underrated fighters in the sport. He’s a good technical striker and what he lacks in striking defense, he makes up for by having a durable chin and he’s very active on the ground. Unfortunately, his wrestling is the weakest part of his game. While he was able to neutralize the takedown attempts from Thiago, a black belt in judo, I’d be shocked if he has that same kind of success against Shields. Kampmann has to keep this fight standing and he has to be patient on the feet. We know he’s a better striker than Shields but we also know that Shields won’t engage much. So Kampmann has find his openings and not get frustrated if they don’t come right away.
Shields has the reputation of being boring but I think that’s an unfair reputation. Sure he didn’t finish Henderson or Miller but Henderson has never been finished by strikes and Shields, despite being undersized, came extremely close without the benefit of elbows and his fight against Miller wasn’t as bad as made out to be, plus Miller, an exciting and charismatic personality, isn’t all that exciting come fight time. Before those two fights, Shields had finished eight straight opponents. I don’t expect Shields to spend much time on his feet but when they are standing, expect Shields to throw a lot of kicks just to keep a distance. Once he’s ready to attack, Shields will shoot for the lead leg and then drag Kampmann down. As good as Kampmann might be on the ground, Shields’ top control is excellent and he always comes out ahead on the scrambles. I think Shields will be more aggressive on the ground in this fight because the “boring” label has seemed to get to him and he also has a new weapon with the inclusion of elbows.
I don’t think this fight will be boring. As mentioned, Shields being labeled boring is unfair and Kampmann is always in exciting fights. I like Shields to win this fight. No matter what Joe Rogan or anyone who only listens to Rogan without actually watching the fights says, Kampmann’s takedown defense isn’t great. Unless it’s improved dramatically, which is possible considering that he trains at Xtreme Couture, Shields will likely be taking him down early and often. He may not finish Kampmann due to his lack of power and Kampmann’s submission defense but it won’t be for lack of effort.
Prediction: Jake Shields to defeat Martin Kampmann by Decision
Welterweight Fight: Paulo Thiago vs. Diego Sanchez
After a lightweight run that saw him fall short in a title fight against BJ Penn, Diego Sanchez returned to the welterweight division at UFC 114 and was handled rather easily by John Hathaway. Paulo Thiago was also unsuccessful in his last fight, dropping a unanimous decision to the man in the co-main event, Martin Kampmann.
There was a lot of hype behind Thiago heading into the Kampmann fight but Kampmann shut him down. That’s not a knock on Thiago, it’s more crediting Kampmann. Thiago is a powerful counter striker with a black belt in judo and a very good ground game. He throws a good straight right and likes to counter with the left hook. On the ground he’s all about the chokes whether it be an arm triangle, a guillotine, or a d’arce. Thiago will likely want to stand with Sanchez, given his superior counter striking and power but he’ll also be happy fighting in the clinch where he can use his judo and control Sanchez with his size and power.
After failing in his welterweight return, Sanchez went even further back to his roots and re-aligned himself with coach Greg Jackson. It’s a good move but Sanchez has already stated that after this fight, he’s heading back down to lightweight. That tells me that he’s once again going to come in soft for this fight and have trouble muscling Thiago around. Sanchez is a quick striker but he’s rather predictable. It’s a lot of uppercut-hook combinations and not much else. Sanchez is a good wrestler but thanks to the size disadvantage and Thiago’s judo, it not going to be easy to get Thiago down. One thing Sanchez has in his favor is his cardio. He pushes a relentless pace and never seems to gas while Thiago has gassed before, most notably in his fight against Jacob Volkmann. If Sanchez can stay fresh early, not get rocked, and push his usual pace, he could end up stealing this fight by simply outworking Thiago.
When it comes down to it, I think Sanchez has mentally checked out at welterweight. He knows he belongs in the lightweight division and Thiago is going to send him back there. Sanchez is tough to finish but Thiago will batter him with counter punches and control him with his size and strength en route to a dominating decision.
Prediction: Paulo Thiago to defeat Diego Sanchez by Decision
Light Heavyweight Fight: Matt Hamill vs. Tito Ortiz
During The Ultimate Fighter 3, Tito Ortiz and Matt Hamill formed a bond from the very start. Hamill ended up training with Ortiz early in his UFC career and was considered a member of Team Punishment. They grew apart as training partners and now they’re opponents.
Hamill is essentially a mini-Ortiz. His striking is very basic and slow, he’s a strong wrestler, and he has good ground and pound. His striking defense consists of standing in front of his opponents with his hands down and getting punched in the face. If he had a soft head, he’d probably have been KO’d by now. I think Hamill will want to stay standing with Ortiz, if only to prove a point. He seems to believe in his stand up even though it’s not great. Maybe he’ll be smart and surprise Ortiz with some takedowns as well. His best chance at winning this fight is to put Ortiz on his back and pound away. Basically give him a taste of his own medicine. My biggest concern with Hamill is his respect for Ortiz. He showed too much respect for Rich Franklin and that ultimately cost him the fight. Even though Ortiz later apologized, maybe his comments about Hamill and the deaf community showed him Ortiz’ true colors.
This is do or die for Ortiz. He hasn’t won a fight since beating Ken Shamrock in 2006. Think about that. He’s coming off another long layoff where he had another surgery. He claims to be 100% healthy this time around but he’s claimed to be 100% healthy every fight since he faced Chuck Liddell at UFC 66. Ortiz is still Ortiz. He’s still a basic boxer with a strong double leg and brutal ground and pound from inside the guard. He’s quicker than Hamill on the feet but Hamill has the power advantage. He’s a better wrestler than Hamill but Hamill has a sneaky power to him and is tough to takedown. He’s a better grappler but he never really shows his submission skills. There is a lie to Ortiz’ game though and that’s his cardio. The announcers always talk about how Ortiz has had outstanding cardio ever since he fought Frank Shamrock but that hasn’t been the case in his last few fights. He gassed against Rashad Evans, he got dropped with a body shot (sometimes a sign of poor conditioning) against Lyoto Machida, and he gassed so bad against Forrest Griffin that he threw a grand total of five strikes in the third round. Ortiz is basically coasting on his reputation at this point.
This is a tough fight to call. If Ortiz truly has anything left in the tank, he’ll win this fight. If Hamill ever wants to be a top-level fighter, he’ll win this fight. Honestly, I don’t think Ortiz has anything left and I don’t think Hamill will be a top-level fighter. But I’m paid the big bucks here at 5OZ to give my predictions so I’ll go with Hamill and the power of the deaf community. It’ll likely be a close fight and the judges may end up screwing up the decision but at the end of the fight, we’ll all be losers. Unless Ortiz loses, retires, and quits twitter. Then we all win.
Predition: Matt Hamill to defeat Tito Ortiz by Decision
Heavyweight Fight: Brendan Schaub vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
After losing to Roy Nelson in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 10, Brendan Schaub has rattle off two straight one minute TKO victories over Chase Gormley and Chris Tuchscherer. With the way he celebrated those victories, you would think that he just KO’d Fedor Emelianenko. Now he gets a step up in competition as he faces career gatekeeper Gabriel Gonzaga.
Given his lack of cage time and competition, it’s tough to know just how good Schaub really is. He seems to be a quick striker with good power but otherwise; he’s pretty much a mystery. He trains at Grudge Sports with a lot of top fighters but so does James McSweeney and we all saw how he turned out. Schaub will need to press Gonzaga in this fight. It’s been proven time and time again that Gonzaga wilts under pressure and that he doesn’t have the greatest chin in the world. Schaub needs to use his speed advantage, avoid the ground, and continue to show off the power he’s shown off thus far in his career.
Gonzaga has the talent to be a champion. He just lacks the heart. He’s a good striker who throws everything with power, his wrestling is decent, and he’s a jiu-jitsu black belt. If he could just find Oz and get a heart, he’d be at the top of the UFC heavyweight ladder. After being KO’d in two of his last three fights, I’m guessing that Gonzaga will want to test the ground game of Schaub while also showing off his jiu-jitsu skills.
The word “gatekeeper” gets tossed around a lot in MMA but it truly fits Gonzaga. Everyone he’s defeated is either out of the organization or hasn’t found any success since losing to him and everyone he’s lost to has gone on to earn a UFC title shot or hand the best heavyweight ever their first real loss in the sport. If Schaub is going to amount to anything in MMA, he’ll beat Gonzaga. Personally, I hope this fight ends in a double KO just so neither man can do their terrible celebration but being forced to pick, I’m going with Gonzaga because I don’t think Schaub is all that good. That said, I’d be shocked if this fight make it out of the first round and if it does, I’d bet that Schaub would end up winning.
Prediction: Gabriel Gonzaga to defeat Brendan Schaub by Submission in Round One
Quick Preliminary Predictions:
*Court McGee to defeat Ryan Jensen by Submission in Round One
*Patrick Cote to defeat Tom Lawlor by TKO in Round Two
*Mike Guymon to defeat Daniel Roberts by Decision
*Sam Stout to defeat Paul Taylor by Decision
*Dong Yi Yang to defeat Chris Camozzi by TKO in Round One
*Jon Madsen to defeat Gilbert Yvel by Decision