10 December 2010

UFC 124

Despite being under a mountain of grading so large that if it were to tip over it might bury me for days on end, I really feel that it's important to express my level of excitement for the rematch between Josh Koscheck and Georges St. Pierre. I doubt we're going to see a full card that's at the level of this main event until February.

Thiago Alves vs. John Howard - This is supposed to be a welterweight bout, but you can never really tell with Alves as he has a long history of not making weight. Both are known for their stand-up, but Howard's has never been as consistent as Alves. I imagine it'll end by knock out in the third with Alves the winner.

Joe Stevenson vs. Mac Danzig - This is only the second time that two TUF winners have fought each other. Outside of Travis Lutter, you'd be hard pressed to find a TUF winner that's disappointed more than Mac Danzig. He tore through his competition on the show and won the season finale tournament, but he's had a less than stellar 2-4 record since then without ever having been able to string even a pair of wins in a row in the UFC. While his last loss was mired in controversy as the ref made a bad call in thinking that he was unconscious in a submission when he wasn't, he's still living on borrowed time; a loss here could mean that Danzig will get his walking papers since he's in an even more crowded division due to UFC's merger with WEC. Meanwhile, Joe Stevenson is also coming off a loss to George Sotiropoulos.  Of the two, Stevenson has shown an ability to adapt during a fight and in his training that Danzig has never been known to do, so I suspect that he'll get a TKO in second round.

Jim Miller vs. Charles Oliveira - This is one of those rare occasions where there are a set of brothers fighting on the same card, as Jim Miller's older brother, Dan, is fighting in the prelims. Both of the Miller brothers are excellent wrestlers, known for grinding out wins. Jim Miller, in particular, has fired off a five fight win streak and his only loss in the UFC has come from number one contender, Gray Maynard. This is Charles Oliveira's biggest test to date, as he's been seen as a Brazilian wunderkind who is undefeated and only one of his fights has gone to a decision. I favor Miller by decision in this fight because he's going to be the bigger guy and he has an uncanny way of surviving and escaping submissions. However, don't be surprised if Oliveira manages to snake a choke in the latter rounds, especially based off his destruction of Efrain Escudero back in September.

Stefan Struve vs. Sean McCorkle - Both of these guys are gigantic, standing at 6'11'' and 6'6'' respectively. Struve is a guy that usually gets beat up really badly in the first round and then turns it on in the second and third. McCorkle is undefeated and engaged Struve in a war of words over Twitter. It's a big (ha!) fight for both guys, but especially so for McCorkle. He went from the opening prelim fight in his first UFC bout to the semi-main event in his second. McCorkle's strength, besides trash talking and a funny last name, is his ground game, but Struve is just as good there. Struve also has the reach and heart to pull this one out. Struve will take it by TKO in the second.

Josh Koscheck vs. Georges St. Pierre (c) for the UFC Welterweight Championship - Back in October, when I attended UFC 121, something amazing happened. During the Court McGee/Ryan Jensen fight, Josh Koscheck came out from backstage through the fighter entrance. Koscheck's trademark blonde afro is hard to miss, even in an arena that seats 15,000 people. The moment he came out, the fans in attendance booed him vociferously, loud enough for Joe Rogan to question it on air. A few minutes later, he came out a second time to an even louder reaction with thundering chants of GSP. Keep in mind that this is in Anaheim, California.

Saturday's fight, coming on the heels of 13 weeks of build-up on The Ultimate Fighter and an excellent Countdown show, emanates from St. Pierre's hometown of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As rabid as the crowd was in hating Koscheck back in Anaheim will pale in comparison to how Montreal treats the guy. GSP is a hometown Canadian hero, and the last time Koscheck fought was in the same city, and they found him less than endearing.

That's where the hype of this fight has mostly centered: Koscheck is a jerk and GSP is a class-act in every way. During their stint as coaches for TUF, Kos did everything he could to get under GSP's skin, from childish pranks to physical altercations with GSP's training staff. While GSP never took the bait, it's been clear that Koscheck has gotten under the skin of the champion. St. Pierre has admitted to it, but to hear him tell it, getting under GSP's skin is just the sort of thing that motivates him instead of derailing him.

The other component of UFC's build-up has focused on the pair's first fight. Prior to that initial match, GSP's rep consisted of a guy with excellent stand up who was well-rounded everywhere else but didn't necessarily excel in those other areas. Koscheck earned his wins primarily using his incredible wrestling with occasional knockouts. While that fight two years ago was the last time GSP lost a round, the story that came out of the decision win was that St. Pierre beat Koscheck at his own game. GSP won the takedown battle and managed to beat him grappling.

Both fighters have evolved since then. However, I don't see a different outcome happening this time around. GSP was ahead of Koscheck in just about every area then, and the former's wrestling has become an even more prominent part of his game. Famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach has predicted a second round knockout by left hook after training with GSP and watching footage of Koscheck. I'm not sure if I'll go that far; the Paulo Thiago fight notwithstanding, Koscheck has a pretty good chin. Instead, I'm predicting a decision victory for GSP.

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