UFC 129 Picks & Predictions

nullUFC 129 takes place tonight from the Rogers Centre in Toronto featuring a very exciting card with two title fights.

Here are my picks for each of the five main-card bouts. The PPV begins at 9PM ET.

UFC Welterweight Championship – Georges St. Pierre (21-2) vs. Jake Shields (26-4-1) – Shields may be the toughest opponent St. Pierre has faced in a while, but I still see the champion running through him. Shields’ striking is miles behind GSP and Shields’ takedown ability is nothing St. Pierre hasn’t seen before. I see St. Pierre keeping the fight standing and picking Shields apart before finishing him in the fourth round by TKO.

UFC Featherweight Champion – Jose Aldo (18-1) vs. Mark Hominick (20-8) – Aldo is an absolute beast and seems unstoppable. Hominick has very quick and powerful hands, but he has not had to deal with someone that has the leg kicks of Aldo. I see Aldo landing a few leg kicks in the first and throwing Hominick off his strategy. From there, look for the champion to pounce and eventually knock the challenger out in the second round.

Light Heavyweight Bout – Randy Couture (19-10) vs. Lyoto Machida (16-2) – My heart says Couture, but my head says Machida. I think Couture will have a good strategy and look to leave it all in the cage, but Machida has some solid grappling ability and will be too elusive in the striking to allow Couture to really implement his game plan. Give me Machida by decision in Couture’s retirement fight.

Lightweight Bout – Mark Bocek (9-3) vs. Ben Henderson (12-2) – Henderson is making his UFC debut and looking to make a statement against Bocek. I see Henderson controlling the fight on his feet and on the ground as he will be too strong for Bocek in both areas. Henderson is smart enough to stay out of submission attempts by Bocek, and that is all the Canadian really has to offer. Give me Benson by decision.

Light Heavyweight Bout – Vladimir Matyushenko (25-5) vs. Jason Brilz (18-3-1) – This fight should be competitive, but I like Brilz to win by decision. He has a good chin and he is relentless with his pursuit to grapple. I suspect once Brilz gets a hold of Matyushenko, he will be able to consistently get him to the ground and get the win in the judges’ eyes.

UFC 129 Weigh-In Results: All but one make weight

nullThe weigh-ins for UFC 129 took place on Friday and all 24 fighters made weight, with the exception of lightweight Ben Henderson.

Henderson weighed in at 156.5 pounds, which is ½ a pound over the limit the athletic commission allows a fighter for a non-title lightweight bout. Henderson will be taking on Mark Bocek on the PPV card Saturday night. If Henderson is unable to make weight after two hours from when he originally weighed in, he must surrender a percentage of his purse to the athletic commission and Bocek. Henderson, a former WEC champion, is making his UFC debut against Bocek.

In the main event, both Georges St. Pierre (169.5) and Jake Shields (169) came in under the 170-pound limit for their welterweight championship bout. GSP received a big ovation from the Toronto crowd while Shields tried to milk up the bad guy role.

Same can be said for the co-main event as Jose Aldo (145) was the villain to local Mark Hominick (145) as both hit their weigh-in marks for their featherweight championship contest.

For complete weigh-in results for UFC 129, check out the jump.

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Updated UFC 129 Odds: Shields closing the gap on GSP

nullUFC 129 takes place from the Rogers Centre in Toronto and all 12 bouts now have betting odds.

I gave the early money lines last week, and now Sportsbook.com has posted the latest odds for all the fights for tomorrow night.

In the main event, Georges St. Pierre opened as the clear favorite against Jake Shields with a money line of -500, but now that line has fallen back all the way to -350. Shields opened with a line of +300 and that is now down to +275. Perhaps betters are starting the believe the hype that this fight is the toughest of GSP’s career.

In the co-main event, UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo opened with odds of -500 but that money line keeps climbing, and is now up to -575. The challenger, Mark Hominick has a money line of +375 after opening at +300. Aldo appears to be unbeatable in the division, which is why his money line just keeps growing.

In one of the other featured bouts, Hall of Famer Randy Couture (+240) is an underdog against former champion, Lyoto Machida (-300).  “The Natural” opened with odds of +250 and is now starting to close the gap on Machida, who opened with odds of -325. Knowing this may be his last fighter, betters are expecting Couture to put on one of his best performances to date.

Click on the jump to find all the odds for UFC 129.

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Anti-Doping Agency feels UFC needs tougher testing

nullIn an article that hasn’t gotten a lot of play nationally, I discovered this piece by Steve Keating from Reuters.com

The article discusses the World Anti-Doping Agency and their desire to see the UFC step up their drug testing for their fighters.

With a record 55,000 mixed martial arts fans expected to pack into the Rogers Center on Saturday for UFC 129, organizers say every fighter stepping into the cage for a title bout will be tested for performance-enhancing drugs.

But the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and USADA say they have had no role in the UFC’s anti-doping efforts and have not tested a single fighter.

Instead, testing has been left to individual state and provincial athletic commissions, which USADA chief Travis Tygart describes as woefully inadequate.

“They want, for public relation and marketing reasons, to say they have something that makes them look better than they truly are,” Tygart told Reuters.

“Why don’t they have better rules to give athletes and sports fans comfort that there is not a rampant culture of cheating with dangerous drugs going on in their sport?

“They’re trying to pull a fast one here.”

The UFC may be dropping the ball a little bit for this event when it comes to drug testing, but as a whole, the organization has seemingly done a good job of keeping fighters honest.

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Hughes vs. Sanchez in the works for 2011

nullIn a little bit of surprising news, MMAMania is reporting that the UFC is working on a future bout between welterweights Matt Hughes and Diego Sanchez.

Hughes, a current UFC Hall of Famer and former welterweight champion, is coming off a 21-second knockout loss to B.J. Penn at UFC 123, but had won his last three fights prior to that.

Sanchez is coming off back-to-back decision wins over Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann. He is 2-1 since making his return to welterweight after losing to Penn for the lightweight championship back in December of 2009.

This fight would be intriguing as Sanchez has a high motor and is somewhat reckless. He relies on his grappling and pressure to really win fights, but will be facing a stronger grappler in Hughes. Hughes also shows more composure and patience with his fighting.

I am a little surprised to see Hughes taking this fight as I felt like he was leaning toward retirement following the loss to Penn. If he was to fight again, I thought it would be more along the lines of another fight with Matt Serra or a fight against an older fighter to allow himself a better chance to go out on a win. This is a tough fight for Hughes, but is still one that he can win.

Top 10 Welterweight Rankings

nullThis week I turn my rankings to the welterweight division.

Like my middleweight rankings, the No. 1 spot is quite obvious and everyone else isn’t really all that close.

Still, here is my take. If you need to go back and find my pound-for-pound, heavyweight, or light heavyweight rankings, click on the links.

1. Georges St. Pierre (21-2) – GSP is the clear leader of this group and close to being the best fighter in any weight class. I would argue that St. Pierre is the most complete fighter in all of MMA as he exhibits diverse striking, superior wrestling, and solid submission skills. The beauty of GSP is, he is always looking for ways to evolve and stay ahead of the game and I am curious to see how he attacks his UFC 129 fight with Jake Shields this Saturday.

2. Jon Fitch (23-3-1) – Fitch is the fighter that can do no right. All he does is win, for the most part, but he isn’t able to do it in a flashy fashion, so he is often overlooked. He dominated B.J. Penn in the third round of their fight in February, but a slow start forced a draw and unfinished business. If St. Pierre is to beat Shields and move up to middleweight, I would suspect that Fitch is the favorite to become the new 170-pound champion in the UFC.

3. Jake Shields (26-4-1) – I am still a little unsure of what to think about Shields. He has some impressive wins, but I think he is kidding himself if he thinks getting St. Pierre to the ground is going to be a walk in the park. He is a world-class grappler, but I would dare say he is one of the worst strikers in the division. You would think a guy of his talents would really work at striking to become a complete fighter, but he still clerly lacks in that department. A win over St. Pierre on Saturday would be an upset, but it would surely catapult him to the top of my rankings.

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A look back: GSP’s first MMA bout

As Georges St. Pierre preps for what could be his final bout at welterweight this Saturday at UFC 129 against Jake Shields, I found the current UFC champion’s first MMA contest.

GSP stepped onto the scene on Jan. 25, 2002 when he took on Ivan Menjivar at UCC 7.

While St. Pierre wasn’t crisp in all areas, he still showed the promise to become the great champion he is today.

Even for a first-time fighter he showed a rare combination of diverse strikes and solid takedown defense. Typically a debut fighter is strong in one area and lacking in the other.

Unfortunately, the fight ended with a bit of controversy, but GSP was still clearly winning the fight and it was the beginning of a historic career.

UFC looking to use monitors for judges at UFC 130

nullThe judging system in MMA has long been debated and criticized over the years.

Now, with one of the most controversial bouts in UFC history set to have its rematch, the UFC is looking to avoid more controversy if at all possible

Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting reports that the UFC is looking to have monitors present for each of the judges at UFC 130, which takes place May 28 in Las Vegas.

The main event of UFC 130 is the third contest between UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and challenger Gray Maynard. Their last contest at UFC 125 ended in a draw after 25 minutes of action.

Marc Ratner, the UFC’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, informed MMA Fighting that the organization has formally submitted a request to the Nevada State Athletic Commission to install monitors as a backup viewing option for the judges assigned to score the bouts at UFC 130.

“I’ve emailed [NSAC Executive Director] Keith [Kizer] and asked him to put the request on the next agenda. We believe these monitors will be another look to help with the judges,” Ratner wrote via e-mail.

According to the UFC, California is the only state to ever provide monitors for judges while scoring MMA bouts.

I am all for helping judges make better decisions and if this will do it, sign me up.

I think judging in general is a hard issue to tackle because everyone has a different view of a fight and the 10-point scoring system leaves the door open for questionable results.

I for one also scored the Edgar-Maynard II bout at UFC 125 as a draw, with Maynard taking round one 10-8 and Edgar winning three of the remaining four rounds 10-9.

Hopefully UFC 130 will bring some closure to this rivalry and allow the UFC to move on in its stacked lightweight division.

Breaking News: Jones vs. Evans off, Evans vs. Davis on

nullJust when things were starting to get really good, things just got really bad.

According to a report from MMAWeekly, Jon Jones will be unable to face Rashad Evans this fall due to a torn ligament in his thumb and now Evans will face rising light heavyweight star, Phil Davis, at UFC 133.

A torn ligament in Jones’ thumb has forced the UFC’s light heavyweight champion into surgery, according to sources speaking to MMAWeekly.com on Monday. Instead of waiting, Rashad Evans will take a fight against Phil Davis at UFC 133.

The new bout was also confirmed on Monday, with former NCAA champion Phil Davis being called in to face Evans as part of the August event scheduled for Philadelphia. The Canadian Press initially reported the switch.

The Jones-Evans smack talk had really been picking up since Jones won the title at UFC 128 and now all the drama over Evans leaving Greg Jackson’s camp seems wasted.

For Evans, this is a lose-lose situation because he was fighting for the title and is now taking on a young upstart that he will be favored against. A win won’t get him any closer to the title and a loss could wash away his title dreams forever.

On the other side, this is a big fight for Davis, who can immediately jump into the top contender picture with a win over Evans. This is a fight of two strong wrestlers, so striking may ultimately determine the winner.

Top 5 storylines heading into UFC 129

nullIn just six days the UFC will put on one of its biggest shows of all time in UFC 129 from the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

The card is solid from top-to-bottom and filled with intriguing storylines. Here are the top 5 storylines I will be looking out for on Saturday night.

1. Is Jake Shields really a threat to GSP? I am a Georges St. Pierre mark. I won’t deny that. The man is my favorite fighter. Watching Jake Shields fight Martin Kampmann at UFC 121, I thought to myself “is this guy really supposed to contend with GSP?” He looked tired. He looked very poor with his striking. He basically didn’t look like a contender. But, then you look at his past and realize he dominated Dan Henderson for four out of five rounds and still got past Kampmann despite fatigue. Shields clearly does one thing well, and that is wrestling and submission. But, is Shields really any different than Jon Fitch in terms of grappling skills? GSP ran through Fitch and I think Shields’ striking ability is even worse than Fitch’s. GSP was taken down by Josh Koscheck at UFC 124, but Koscheck has a lot of explosion in his takedowns that I don’t see from Shields. Saturday night will really show if Jake Shields is as good as his record says he is.

2. Will Randy Couture go out on top? I am also a big fan of Randy Couture. I think he has been one of the best strategists in all of MMA in terms of finding holes in his opponents and exploiting them. Randy has been far better at being the underdog than being the favorite, but I wonder just how he is going to solve the Lyoto Machida puzzle. Couture can’t afraid to chase, but he also has to remain active. I think Couture can out-grapple Machida, but Machida has under rated strength and takedowns in his own right. After watching Couture fight for most of his career, I would prefer to see him end his legendary run on top. I would like him to retire knowing he could still contend in the division. I don’t want to see him with a broken nose and a glazed look in his eyes while he thanks the fans for their support like he did at UFC 57.

3. Does Jose Aldo have a weakness to exploit? I know I am being repetitive, but I love Jose Aldo too. His kicks are devastating and his hand speed is right up there with any pro boxer. He is a fighter that truly breaks his opponents down and then finishes them. He took out the leg of Urijah Faber and he slowly picked apart Manny Gamburyan in his last two title defenses. Now Aldo faces Mark Hominick. Hominick isn’t what one would consider a pound-for-pound great, but he has done very well against strikers. Hominick’s weakness has been grapplers, while Aldo is yet to be tested by a technically sound striker like Hominick. I have always been one to believe that it would be a strong wrestler that would spell the end of Aldo’s reign, but when looking at his fight history, you haven’t seen Aldo face a legit boxer with the skills that Hominick has. While I still think Aldo will win this fight, Hominick is the one guy that can land a powerful jab in Aldo’s face when the champion throws one of his signature leg kicks.

4. Where does Ben Henderson rank among lightweights? This Saturday marks the UFC debut of former WEC lightweight champion, Ben(son) Henderson. Henderson takes on dangerous grappler, Mark Bocek. The WEC got a bum wrap coming into the UFC, as some felt they weren’t good enough to compete in the octagon. However, fighters like Donald Cerrone and Shane Roller have already picked up wins over UFC vets, and Henderson owns wins over both those men. Bocek has been somewhat of a gate keeper in the division. He has beaten some quality fighters, but lost to more of the top-tier guys. A win for Henderson on Saturday would show that he can be a legit threat to the UFC lightweight crown.

5. Diaz or McDonald – Which welterweight can sneak into the top 10? – In one of the featured prelim fights on Saturday, welterweights Rory McDonald and Nate Diaz will square off. McDonald, a native of Canada, is considered one of the rising stars of the division. He took Carolos Condit to the limit before losing by TKO late in round three at UFC 115. McDonald is just 21-years-old while Diaz is 25. Nate Diaz is 2-1 since his move to welterweight but coming off a close decision loss to Dong Hyung Kim at UFC 125. Diaz is a lot like his brother, Nick, but has struggled with grapplers. If Diaz can stay off his back, he can win. If McDonald can use his wrestling to his advantage, he will win. Whichever fighter wins, they should move up into the top 10 of the UFC welterweight division and probably land a big fight in their next outing.