With just 10 weeks to go before I graduate college, this borderline intrepid reporter decided to start posting a little more. For now on, each UFC event (and maybe a few non-UFC ones) will get their own prediction post by yours truly. Hopefully my first installment of 2013 will help my readers win a few dollars in the new year.
Wanderlei Silva (+220) vs. Brian Stann (-280)
After seven years away from Japan, Silva returns to the nation where he became a legend with a few more gray hairs, wrinkles and losses. But that’s not to say he isn’t a threat to every man in the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight ranks. The author of 24 knockout victories and three Fight of the Year honors has never been this big of an underdog, so he’ll certainly have a chip on his shoulder when entering the ring. In fact, the last time he was +150 or worse was against Cung Le: his last win.
Stann has accomplished more outside the ring than anyone in UFC history. A Silver Star recipient during the Iraq war, he’s one of the best fighters ever produced by the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. The former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion has heavy hands and hasn’t been knocked out since 2008, so he’s got more than a puncher’s chance in a standup battle. But he’s lost three of his last five bouts at Light Heavyweight, including that KO loss in ’08.
Odds are this fight won’t go to the ground, but if it does, neither fighter is easy to submit. This one will probably go three rounds with both fighters bloodied and bruised in the end. This is a much closer bout than the betting odds dictate, but with Silva returning to Japan, I give him the nod.
Stefan Struve (-190) vs. Mark Hunt (+155)
The UFC’s talent fighter, Struve’s towering physique is overshadowed only by his elite skills both standing and on the ground. A disciple of PRIDE veteran Bob Schrijber, he’s a skilled kickboxer with a brown belt in BJJ and 16 submission wins to his name. Perhaps just as impressive is his finishing ability: only one of his 30 fights has ended at the final bell. All in all, a true Mixed Martial Artist.
Hunt is less well-rounded, but no less dangerous. The 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix Champion has arguably the best chin in MMA history, while his punching power has dropped the likes of Stefan Leko and Jerome LeBanner. His takedown defense is superb (70%) and he’s the only man to beat both Mirko Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva in PRIDE.
All the physical measurements favor Struve. He’s 14 inches taller, has a nine-inch reach advantage and is 13 years younger that the “Super Samoan.” But the last time Struve fought a short, fat heavyweight, he was knocked out by Roy Nelson. A repeat performance is possible, but Hunt’s six submission losses hint toward No. 7 coming tonight.
Takanori Gomi (+200) vs. Diego Sanchez (-260)
A legend of Japanese MMA, Gomi dominated in his PRIDE FC days, the PRIDE and Shooto champion has used his slick boxing and excellent takedown defense to dominate his competition for years in the Far East. He knocked out a who’s who of lightweights through his career, including Tyson Griffin, Jens Pulver, Hayato Sakurai and Luiz Azeredo. However, he’s been susceptible to submissions through much of his career, dropping six fights via sub, including his last four losses.
Sanchez has never fought in Japan, but has been successful from Day One in the USA. The TUF 1 Middleweight winner and former UFC Lightweight contender saw most of his success as Welterweight, earning Fight of the Night honors in his last three contests at that weight. Outside of a fight stopped by a cut, he has never been finished. however, he hasn’t won a fight by submission (outside of submission via strikes) since 2004.
This has all the makings of an exciting decision win for either fighters. Sanchez missing weight concerns me, since that might affect his cardio in the later rounds. Despite having a slight advantage in reach and height, I feel “The Dream” will wear down and allow Gomi to do what he does best: pick his opponent apart from the outside. Sanchez’s excellent chin should give Gomi a nod from the judges.
Yushin Okami (+170) vs. Hector Lombard (-210)
Arguably the most successful Japanese fighter in UFC history, Okami has notched a dozen wins inside the Octagon, including decisions over Mark Munoz, Alan Belcher and Nate Marquardt. The Judo and Wajyutsu practitioner usually racks up points either in the standup or on the ground and rarely gets finished…expect in his last trip to Japan vs. Tim Boetsch at UFC 144.
Lombard’s gargantuan win streak was broken up by Boetsch at UFC 149, but the Olympic Judoka rebounded with a knockout over submission artist Rousimar Palhares. He rarely hears the final bell, notching 25 finishes in his 32 career bouts. But his record in Japan features decision losses to Gegard Mousasi and Akihiro Gono in PRIDE.
Okami has never lost a fight where he outstruck his opponent, so keeping active on his feet and staying on top on the ground will be key to his success. Lombard has the power to knock out the Team Quest product, but barring a one-punch KO, I see Okami dictating the pace and location of the bout and grinding out a decision win.
Mizuto Hirota (-135) vs. Rani Yahya (+105)
A veteran of 19 bouts in Japan, Hirota makes his UFC debut holding credentials as a Sengoku, DEEP and Cage Force Lightweight titlist as well as a Shooto title contender. The well-rounded judoka has good hands on his feet and has only been finished once: a hammerlock loss to Shinya Aoki in 2009. He’s coming off a decision loss to Pat Healy in Strikeforce.
Yahya may not have any MMA belts in his collection, but the title he earned may be more impressive than all of Hirota’s success: an Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling title in 2007. The grappling wizard takes being called a choke artist as a compliment, as 12 of his 15 submission wins come by way of choke.
The deciding factor in this bout will be takedowns. Yahya has a distinct disadvantage on his feet, but has only landed 27 percent of his takedowns in 10 UFC and WEC fights. Expect Hirota to pick him apart, rock the Brazilian and finish the fight with ground and pound for his first UFC win.
Dong Hyun Kim (-310) vs. Siyar Bahadurzada (+240)
The last time Kim fought in Japan, it was for the DEEP Welterweight title in 2007. He’s seen plenty of success in the Land of the Rising Sun, going 7-0-1 with five KOs, including one via slam. The high-level judoka has shown excellent defense with a 60% striking and 81% takedown defense in 10 UFC bouts.
Bahadurzada, on the other hand, has displayed only offense in his short UFC career with a 42 second KO of Paulo Thiago in his debut. The Afghani striker also saw success in Japan, winning the Shooto Middleweight title in 2007 and going 1-2 in three bouts for Sengoku.
Expect Kim to weather the early storm from “The Great” and force the fight to the ground, where “Stun Gun” should have a distance advantage en route to a ground and pound victory.
Undercard bout predictions:
Brad Tavares (-125) def. Riki Fukuda (-105) via decision
Bryan Caraway (+175) def. Takeya Mizugaki (-225) via submission (probably a rear-naked choke)
Cristiano Marcello (-130) def. Kazuki Tokudome (EVEN) via submission (either a RNC or triangle choke)
Alex Caceres (-120) def. Kyung Ho Kang (-110) via decision
Hyun Gyu Lim (-285) def. Marcelo Guimaraes (+225) via KO/TKO (ground and pound)
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