|I'm scared for, but confident in, Brock.|
Brendan Schaub vs. Gabriel Gonzaga - Ever since his loss to Randy Couture, Gonzaga's role has been that of a gatekeeper. He beats the people who don't belong in the upper echelon and loses to the folks that do belong there. To wit, Gonzaga has defeated losers like Justin McCully and Chris Tuchscherer and lost to once and future title contenders in Shane Carwin and Junior Dos Santos. This is a big test for Schaub who has never been out of the first round and who has earned each of his wins by KO or TKO. Gonzaga also has a suspect chin, so I'm picking Schaub by KO in the first, especially since the latter's striking is a lot more technical than the last two guys who knocked out the former.
Tito Ortiz vs. Matt Hamill - Ortiz is washed up and broken down. The game has passed him by but he's a good enough talker that he can get people into his fights and still has value as a draw...to an extent. His days of headlining pay per views are over, and his drawing power has eroded due to the fact that he's the MMA equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. More than any other fighter, Ortiz always claims to have never felt better and be 100% healthy before a fight and then list a litany of injuries following his eventual loss. Meanwhile, I've never felt that Hamill is as good as his record and Joe Rogan makes him out to be. His win over Jon Jones is one I consider a loss, since the fight should have ended prior to the disqualification of Jones; it was the shoulder injury he received that really ended the fight for Hamill and not the multiple 12 to 6 elbows. But it happened. Hamill also didn't deserve the win over Jardine, but that goes more towards the problem of MMA judging, which is another topic that deserves its own post entirely. Despite the fact that I don't think too highly of Hamill in comparison to others in the light heavyweight division, this is his fight to lose and the only way I see that happening is if he lets Ortiz get in his head. Hamill can, and probably will win by decision, but that's only if he doesn't let Ortiz's earlier comments about Hamill being deaf or the fact that Ortiz used to be his coach on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter get to him.
Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago - Speaking of guys who aren't as good as they appear, we have Paulo Thiago. Thiago has terrible striking -- he always keeps his hands low and his chin way out despite having some knockout power -- and was outclassed on the ground in his last fight by Martin Kampmann, an area that is supposed to be his bread and butter. Diego Sanchez is a natural lightweight who refuses to accept that he should be fighting at 155 lbs. because he'd rather eat Double Downs while chanting "YES!" to his Tony Robbins tapes. But he's completely unrelenting and moves like a tornado, staying active whether he's standing up, in the clinch or on his back. Both guys are coming off of losses where they were completely neutralized in areas that are normally their strengths. Ultimately, I really dislike Paulo Thiago for reasons I've never been able to fully articulate other than he looks like Nosferatu with hair and the fact that his training footage always mentions his job with the Brazillian Special Police Force and shows him carrying around a machine gun. That just doesn't seem fair. The last I heard, he's back to training with Greg Jackson, which means that instead of winning by TKO in the second, Sanchez will probably walk away with the decision.
Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann - This is Shields inaugural UFC match-up in the welterweight division after leaving Strikeforce as their middleweight champ and beating Dan Henderson pretty decisively. He's riding a 14 fight win streak and trains at the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu gym, home of the Diaz brothers and Gilbert Melendez. Anyone else with that win streak in the UFC would automatically get a title shot, but since Shields hasn't fought in the UFC before, he has to face a calibre opponent first. Should he win, and I see Shields possibly doing so by decision (even though I'm officially calling for a first round choke out submission by Shields), he's almost guaranteed to get the next shot at the winner of the GSP/Koscheck fight that happens in December. Kampann is no joke, having the better stand-up game and the ability to neutralize Shields' submission attempts even if he can't best him grappling. But Jake Shields is a grappling wizard while Martin Kampann is just very good. While there's a possibility that Shields could get the submission victory, the more likely scenario is that he maintains top position and gets a Jon Fitch-like victory on his road to fighting for the welterweight championship.
Unfortunately, there's also the issue of Jon "The Most Boring Fighter Alive" Fitch standing in the way, whose sole loss in the UFC has been at the hands of GSP. On paper, Fitch is the most deserving of a title shot in the division, but the problem is that GSP dominated him in every facet of the game in their first fight and Fitch is largely the same boring fighter whose style has not evolved in the least in the intervening two years. In fact, Fitch hasn't finished a fight in since 2007. He's a grinder that wins on points. There's nothing wrong with that from a sporting perspective, but, man, is it ever boring to watch as a fan.
While many fans balk at the idea of rematches, I see nothing wrong with them, and they usually do well for business. However, there has to be a desire for the rematch in some way. The first BJ Penn/Frankie Edgar fight was an incredibly close battle where one could make an argument for either guy as the winner. Lyoto Machida and Shogun Rua fought to a controversial decision where it was largely believed that the wrong man won. Both of those fights lead to rematches that did much bigger business than the original. But the first GSP/Fitch match was completely one-sided, and Fitch has not done anything since then in winning to show that the outcome would be any different. Yes, he deserves a title shot, but it makes better business sense to allow Shields, provided he prevails over Kampmann, to get the next match for the welterweight belt.
Of course, when Fitch does get his next title shot, he may not even take it if Josh Koscheck prevails on December 12 against Georges St. Pierre. That's another matter entirely, and I've spent too long discussing Jon Fitch during the space reserved for the Shields/Kampmann fight.
Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar (c) for the UFC Heavyweight Championship - To properly put this fight into context, I have to revisit July 3, the night of UFC 116, when Brock Lesnar made his triumphant return to the octagon from a near-crippling illness to fight interim champ, Shane Carwin. My brother and his wife hosted the pay per view event at his apartment and I was the most excited I've been for an MMA event since, well, the last time Brock fought Frank Mir; except that fight felt like a no-brainer. Brock had proved that he had learned his lesson in adapting his strategy to a fight in his bouts with Heath Herring and Randy Couture, and taking on Mir was going to be a cake walk as long as he made sure to keep a sound strategy in mind. Then he turned Mir's face into hamburger midway through the second round at UFC 100.
But this fight was different. Shane Carwin was as strong as Brock and had the kind of striking that made men's mouthpieces fly into the third row. He proved it in the opening salvo by absolutely destroying Brock in the first round, almost to the point that I thought it might be stopped. Lesnar weathered the storm and managed to even get up towards the end of the round after Shane Carwin had punched himself into exhaustion. Meanwhile, in my brother's apartment, I about lost my mind. His computer was in sleep mode on the other side of the room; my reaction was so animated, so out of control, and involved so much jumping up and down that the computer woke up. I made no apologies, though, and when Brock Lesnar secured the head-and-arm triangle in the second round for the submission because Shane Carwin was so gassed that I probably could have beaten him, I sank to my knees like it was me that had earned the victory. Really, all I did was amaze friends and relatives alike with my undying admiration, dare I say man-crush, for the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
So I'm rooting for Brock Lesnar.
Cain Velasquez is going to make it a long night of anxiety and teeth-gnashing fear, though. Back when Brock Lesnar's feud with Frank Mir was in full swing, MMA enthusiasts talked about Shane Carwin, Junior Dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez as title contenders who were ushering in the era of the true heavyweight, as many were closer to the upper limit of the 265 lbs. weight limit in the division as opposed to the dark days of housing lazy light heavyweights and guys that Pride didn't want to employ. Carwin tried and failed while Dos Santos gets the winner of this fight. My heart and soul are behind Brock even though Cain presents two very real problems for Brock: Velasquez has much better striking and a gas tank that appears to be unlimited. Velasquez has won all but two of his eight fights by TKO, but it's another statistic that's somewhat deceiving. The technical knockouts have come by way of a non-stop barrage of punches, and he's only knocked one opponent unconscious, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a man whose best days are behind him. Without taking anything away from that win, Cain is largely considered a guy that doesn't have much in the way of knockout power, but as someone who uses his excellent wrestling and endurance to wear out heavyweights until they are too tired to be able to defend themselves from his strikes. For just about any other heavyweight, I would see Cain winning in that fashion. In fact, the longer the fight goes, the more it favors Velasquez, which is the reason most heavyweights fail to go into the deep water of the championship fights.
But Brock Lesnar is not most heavyweights. He. Is. Brock. Lesnar. He's a man and a half that eats tractors for breakfast and doesn't care that he has a phallic object tattooed on his chest because he can rip most ordinary men in half with his bare hands. He is a man that chooses to do push-ups on chairs because THE GROUND GETS IN HIS WAY. He's taken Shane Carwin's worst punches and managed to come back with a smile on his face. Brock has to cut weight to make the 265 lbs. weight limit but has the sort of speed that would put many welterweights to shame. His wrestling has proven to be more dominant than anyone else in his division. And, ultimately, that's exactly what it is: his division. My official prediction is Brock winning by TKO in the third.