UFC 98 predictions, preview and analysis

UFC 98: ‘Evans vs. Machida’ is set to go down this Saturday, May 23, 2009 from The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, live on pay-per-view (PPV) starting at 10p.m. ET.

Remember: MMAmania.com will provide LIVE updates with blow-by-blow, round-by-round commentary of the main card action on fight night, which is slated to air at 10 p.m. ET.

To get us pumped for the festivities, MMAmania.com Editor and Senior Writer Jesse Holland (that’s me) will break down the main event matches and provide an unbiased and objective examination of each contest.

Well, not really, but you will be treated to a smörgåsbord of hot air, elitism and conjecture. And for a whopping third straight edition of Nostradumbass, I’m going to depart from my old cock-and-bull routine in favor of a neat and orderly format.

I’ve also included the current betting lines for each fight so that you can get a feel for what the money has to say about the chances of each combatant.

And if you just so happen to have a few bucks to throw down on your favorite fighter, far be it from me to stop you from clicking on the handy BetUS link I’ve conveniently provided.

Now, enough with all the pillow talk … at least for the time being.

Let’s get cracking:

205 lbs.: "Sugar" Rashad Evans (13-0-1) vs. Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida (14-0)

Backgrounds: Machida has been patiently waiting for a crack at the title, all the while stringing together six straight victories inside the Octagon, including his coming out party at UFC 94 where he floored Thiago Silva in the first round for his first (T)KO finish under the UFC banner. The Brazilian is an effective counter striker and Karate master that has ramped up his offense a few notches in the past year. Like "The Dragon," Evans has taken some heat in the past for his cautious approach. That all but went out the window after a devastating KO over former light heavyweight deity Chuck Liddell and a decisive TKO finish against ex-205 champ Forrest Griffin. The TUF 2 heavyweight winner has a solid wrestling game and deceptively fast hands.

Dumbass predicts: This has been one of the hardest fights I've ever had to predict. The good news? It's five rounds, so it will have plenty of time to unfold. The bad news? It's five rounds, so it will have plenty of time to unfold. It's hard to imagine two guys coming off brutal stoppages putting on a boring fight, but let's not pretend that any of us have healed the wounds left by Anderson Silva and Thales Leites just over a month ago. Evans will bob his head like a parakeet and dance all night if you let him, while Machida has that one move where he looks like he's trying to balance on a unicycle (that herky-jerky, back-and-forth movement). Rashad is fast and powerful, but then again so is Machida. I favor the Brazilian in the clinch and in the submissions, but I don't see Evans sticking around long enough to get tapped - just as I can't see Evans being able to effectively utilize his wrestling against the enigmatic gazelle. What I do see, is Evans running out of steam in rounds four and five, allowing Machida to rack up some valuable points. Rounds one through three will likely be interchangeable on the scorecards, and don't be surprised to hear the boos start coming as early as the first. Sorry folks, this one has disappointment written all over it.

Betting lines (as of May 22):

Evans: +150 ((Bet Now))

Machida: -200 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Machida via split decision

170 lbs.: Matt Hughes (42-7) vs. Matt "The Terror" Serra (9-5)

Backgrounds:

Hughes needs no introduction. Like Chuck Liddell, Hughes owned his division a few years back and holds wins over BJ Penn, Georges St. Pierre and Sean Sherk. He has tremendous power in his wrestling and a suffocating top game. Serra on the other hand hits hard and has multiple jiu-jitsu titles to his credit. Both former welterweight champions have been sidelined with injuries — Serra sustained an elbow injury in his loss to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 83: "Serra vs. St. Pierre 2″ back in April and Hughes has been nursing a knee injury that he suffered in his loss to Thiago Alves at UFC 85: "Bedlam″ back in June. Serra and Hughes — who are about as opposite as two people can get — were opposing coaches in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 6 and were supposed to fight at UFC 79: "Nemesis" in December 2007. However, Serra had to withdraw because of a serious back injury. Now it's time to settle the score.

Dumbass predicts: Matt Hughes might be past his prime. The division seems to have moved on without him and I don't think at this stage he has the desire to change his game for 2009. Still, what's left is more than likely enough to overcome Serra. I like "The Terror" and think he deserves way more credit than he gets, but he doesn't compete nearly enough to remain at a high level of competition -- he's averaged just one fight per year since 2004. Serra has knockout power, but after what happened with Thiago Alves I think Hughes will be a little less reckless in his attack. I'm afraid this one isn't going to be fireworks, and will likely mirror Hughes unanimous decision win over Chris Lytle back at UFC 68 in March 2007. Serra has a stingie guard, so I don't anticipate much damage, but he will get controlled for three rounds by the bigger, stronger Hughes. Wrestlemania! At least it's only three rounds.

Betting lines (as of May 22):

Hughes: -275 ((Bet Now))

Serra: +190 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Hughes via unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Xavier "Professor X" Foupas-Pokam (20-10) vs. Drew "The Massacre" McFedries (7-5)

Backgrounds: "Professor X" (20-10) came up short in his UFC debut after a tough unanimous decision loss to Denis Kang at UFC 97 from The Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on April 18. Prior to entering the UFC, the Cage Rage and Palace Fighting Championship (PFC) veteran was riding a six-fight win streak. The French fighter has a nice mix of submissions and (technical) knockouts on his resume. "Massacre" has had a rollercoaster career inside the Octagon, winning every other fight and being unable to string together consecutive wins in six attempts with the promotion. That is until he locked horns with Thales Leites on short notice at UFC 90: "Silva vs. Cote" back in October 2008. McFedries dropped his second consecutive bout courtesy of a first round submission (rear naked choke). He lost to Mike Massenzio via submission (kimura) at UFC Fight Night 15 in Omaha, Neb., on September 17, before the loss to the Brazilian.

Dumbass predicts: Believe it or not, Drew McFedries is entering his eighth fight inside the Octagon tomorrow night. While he's has mixed results (3-4), he's been able to get continued airtime for the simple reason that you know you're getting a dramatic finish. McFedries has never gone to a decision or pulled off a submission in his entire UFC career, and I don't expect him to start against Professor X. The bad news is that if McFedries was going to ever be more than a hard-hitting gatekeeper, he would have gotten there by now. Still, he has the ability to finish at anytime, and with Foupas-Pokam at risk of going 0-2 in his UFC career, that sense of urgency could cause him to make a mistake and get the lights turned off. And that's really what this fight boils down to. If Foupas-Pokam can fight intelligently and not anxiously (0-2 is never a good place to be on the Zuffa roster), this should be a convincing win. He's certainly skilled enough. Despite his unanimous decision loss to Denis Kang at UFC, he's racked up a nice 12-2 record since 2006 -- and 17 of his 20 wins have been finishes. I don't expect this one to be any different.

Betting lines (as of May 22):

Foupas-Poukam: -200 ((Bet Now))

McFedries: +150 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Foupas-Poukam via submission

185 lbs.: Chael Sonnen (21-10-1) vs. Dan Miller (11-1)

Backgrounds: Sonnen will attempt to rebound from a quick first round submission loss to Brazilian jiu-jitsu powerhouse, Demian Maia, at UFC 95 earlier this year. The bout marked his third UFC appearance – he lost to Jeremy Horn via submission (armbar) at UFC 60: "Hughes vs. Gracie" back in 2006 and outpointed Trevor Prangley on all three judges scorecards at Ultimate Fight Night 4 that same year. Prior to the loss to Maia, Sonnen handed a dazed and confused Paulo Filho his first career loss at WEC 37 on November 5. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, Miller defeated Rob Kimmons via first round submission in his promotional debut at UFC Fight Night 15 in September 2008. Four weeks later he followed that up with an encore performance, stepping in for an injured Ricardo Almeida to topple Matt Horwich via unanimous decision at UFC 90: "Silva vs. Cote." Most recently, Miller filled in again as a replacement to school blue chip prospect, Jake Rosholt, via submission (guillotine choke) at UFC Fight Night 17.

Dumbass predicts: Chael Sonnen is a solid mid-card talent with good all around skills, and he enjoyed some success in the WEC including a win over Paulo Filho after the Brazilian blew a head gasket and started speaking in tongues during their fight. I guess some of the crazies rubbed off on Sonnen, who's now sounding weirder and weirder with each interview. I though Sonnen would hold his own going into this fight but hearing that he's walking around at 221 lbs. three weeks out from a middleweight bout does not leave me with that warm, fuzzy feeling (that's what mesc is for). I'm trying to be lenient here because he stepped up and filled in for a gimpy Yushin Okami, but now he's telling the press that he's doing Joe Silva a favor by taking this fight. However he isn't doing the fans -- or himself a favor if he mails it in for the paycheck, expecting another fight based on his "favor." And Miller is no joke. He's got a great submission game and a solid wrestling pedigree to boot. There is no way Sonnen is going to make the weight and still be fresh for this fight, so unless he lands a superman punch in the first thirty seconds for the KO, Miller is going to own him. I'm expecting a tap, but a TKO would not surprise me.

Betting lines (as of May 22):

Sonnen: +160 ((Bet Now))

Miller: -210 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Miller via submission

155 lbs.: Sean "The Muscle Shark" Sherk (33-3) vs. Frank "The Answer" Edgar (9-1)

Backgrounds: Sherk failed to reclaim his title against BJ Penn at UFC 84: "Ill Will" back in May 2008. It was his first fight since being stripped of the title and suspended for six months because of a positive test for steroids that he refuted vigorously. At the ripe old age of 35, the "Muscle Shark" rebounded with unanimous decision win over Tyson Griffin at UFC 90: "Silva vs. Cote," demonstrating much improved striking skills. "The Answer" rebounded from the first professional loss of his career to Gray Maynard (unanimous decision) at UFC Fight Night 13 to outpoint former number one contender Hermes Franca on all three judges scorecards at UFC Fight Night 14: "Silva vs. Irvin" in July 2008. Edgar recently earned a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu while training at Ricardo Almeida Jiu-Jitsu in Hamilton, N.J., under Ricardo Almeida — the star pupil of Renzo Gracie. He is a decorated high school (Toms River High School East) and collegiate (Clarion University) wrestler out of Toms River, N.J., who also moonlights as an assistant wrestling coach at Rutgers University.

Dumbass predicts: Frank Edgar is a difficult guy to bet against, because he finds ways to win. His bread and butter has been his wrestling, which he used to overcome guys like Tyson Griffin, Spencer Fisher and Hermes Franca. Unfortunately it's also been his downfall. Without a plan B, there is little place to go when your biggest weapon is neutralized. Case in point: Gray Maynard at UFC Fight Night 13. Gray bullied Edgar en route to his first loss by overpowering him and answering his wrestling chops with some of his own. "Answer" fans blame the high altitude, but having been around Frankie in person, it's not a stretch to say he's a featherweight with a lot of muscle mass. His opponent, Sean Sherk, is just the opposite. He's a welterweight who cuts to make 155. That size difference in and of itself is enough to make this a repeat of the Maynard loss, but keep in mind that Sherk is a staggering 33-3-1, with his three losses coming to the top dogs in the UFC named Hughes, St. Pierre and Penn. I like that Edgar has been working on his striking, and Sherk has also tried to improve his stand up skills. If they can supplement their wrestling with the stand up -- instead of abandoning their wrestling for it, then we could have an exciting fight. Or we could just see three rounds of two wrestlers demonstrating why boxing is called a science. I have Sherk all day, every day.

Betting lines (as of May 22):

Sherk: -300 ((Bet Now))

Edgar: +200 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Sherk via unanimous decision

That’s a wrap, folks.

Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and our coverage of UFC 98: "Evans vs. Machida."

What do you think? Now it’s your turn … let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for Saturday’s event.

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