UFC 101 predictions, preview and analysis

UFC 101 is set to go down this Saturday, August 8, 2009 from The Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 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 event, MMAmania.com Editor and Senior Writer Jesse Holland (that’s me) will break down the main event matches and take a closer look at the intricacies of each contest.

One of the big stories coming into this event is the return of reigning lightweight champion BJ Penn. After the drubbing Georges St. Pierre gave him at UFC 94, "The Prodigy" is out to prove that he still rules the roost at 155-pounds.

Kenny Florian on the other hand is looking to expose "The Master" as nothing more than a myth.

And let's not forget the brass balloons on Forrest Griffin, who kindly agreed to be cannon fodder for Anderson Silva so that Zuffa can once again have a marketable champion at 185-pounds and not a department store mannequin.

But before we write off The Ultimate Fighter 1 champ let's keep in mind he's surprised us before -- including Nostradumbass by sticking it to "Shogun" Rua and "Rampage" Jackson.

Every now and then I get the hankering for an outside opinion on my picks and enlist the services of an MMAmania.com veteran to weigh in with their predictions. For this event I've given site pimple and resident windbag "Kevin" his chance to outpick the Dumbass or go down in proverbial flames.

Be sure to check out his (cough) "analysis" at the top of the comments section.

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.

Now, enough with the formalities … let’s get cracking:

155 lbs.: BJ "The Prodigy" Penn (13-5-1) vs. Kenny "KenFlo" Florian (11-3)

Backgrounds:

BJ Penn:

Last five fights: 3-2
Notable wins: Clowned a suddenly pugilistic Sean Sherk at UFC 84.
Notable losses: Bounced out of the welterweight division by Matt Hughes at UFC 63 and Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94.
Strengths: Impossible to submit, granite chin, ridiculous boxing.
Weaknesses: Special Olympics caliber cardio, lackadaisical training, infrequent fights (UFC 101 just his second in over a year).

Kenny Florian:

Last five fights: 5-0
Notable wins: Ended the Roger Huerta experiment at UFC 87.
Notable losses: None -- and he's finished four of those five fights convincingly.
Strengths: Never stops learning, patient, technically sound.
Weaknesses: Confidence -- he's been to the big dance before and lost -- and admits BJ is the world's best, also hasn't faced the caliber of fighter that BJ is (or should be).

Dumbass predicts: A lot of people laugh when I tell them I'm picking Florian for the upset. The first thing they ask me is 'What has KenFlo done to prove he can win?' I of course answer 'Well what has BJ done to prove he can't lose?' Most of use have been nodding up and down like Bobbleheads saying 'Yeah, BJ is the best lightweight' for no other reason than that's what we've been told. Well I'm here to say that I'm done drinking the Kool-Aid. What makes him the best? I'm not impressed with the way he dismantled Sherk, who must have hit his head and woke up thinking he was a boxer. The same Sherk who was out-boxed by Frank Edgar at UFC 98. Should I celebrate because Penn choked out Joe Stevenson at UFC 80? Kenny Florian did it too at UFC 91 -- only he did it a full five minutes faster. Maybe the fact that he vandalized GSP in the first round of their fight at UFC 58? The same GSP who was scared of his own shadow until Matt Serra beat some sense into him at UFC 69? You're probably thinking I'm a bitter blasphemer. BJ choked out Gomi! So did Marcus Aurelio, who is far from the world's best. Well he submitted Matt Hughes! Uh, so did Dennis Hallman. Twice. BJ Penn is a very talented fighter and has the tools to be great, but I have no confidence in his ability to overcome the conditioning issues that have plagued him for a better part of his career. I don't want to hear about his new training camp and Marv Marinovich or any of that other crap -- you can be in great physical shape and still fail inside the cage because there is a marked difference between cardio and fight cardio. Florian has proven he can do five rounds, Penn has proven he can do one. Yes, BJ said he is in the best shape ever but didn't he also say his last fight with GSP was 'To the death?" The first two rounds dictate the entire fight. I believe Penn will be in control for those two rounds and likely win them, but the patience and hard work of Kenny will pay off in rounds three through five as "The Prodigy" begins to run out of gas and make mistakes while KenFlo will remain technical and relentless. He won't be able to finish BJ, but then again he doesn't have to. A title fight is a marathon, not a sprint. From rounds 3-5, all Florian has to do is work harder than Penn. He doesn't necessarily have to be more talented to win, but better prepared and more intelligent in his attack. Of course no matter what I say there are some people who just don't believe Kenny Florian can win. They think that despite how much he's improved, Kenny Florian is no BJ Penn -- and they're right. He's BJ Penn 2.0.

Betting lines (as of August 7):

Penn: -240 ((Bet Now))

Florian: +190 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Florian via unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Anderson "The Spider" Silva (24-4) vs. Forrest Griffin (16-5)

Backgrounds:

Anderson Silva:

Last five fights: 5-0
Notable wins: Turned Rich Franklin's face into a modern art masterpiece, showed championship spirit by rebounding in round two against Dan Henderson.
Notable losses: None, but his "wins" against Patrick Cote and Thales Leites are why he's at 205.
Strengths: Lethal striking, dangerous submissions, damn near impossible to hit.
Weaknesses: Can be taken down and overpowered, maybe a little too relaxed as of late.

Forrest Griffin:

Last five fights: 3-2
Notable wins: Ended the PRIDE myth by choking out the emphysemic Mauricio Rua, outworked Rampage for the light heavyweight strap.
Notable losses: Knocked stupid by Keith Jardine, coughed up the belt to Rashad Evans.
Strengths: Huge heart, physically imposing, gets stronger in later rounds.
Weaknesses: Questionable chin, marshmallow strikes, takes a while to get warmed up.

Dumbass predicts: Anderson Silva is going to murder Forrest Griffin, right? Not so fast. The TUF 1 champ has been making the "experts" look stupid for a while now and this may be no exception. He was supposed to get dominated by Shogun and beaten to a pulp by Rampage Jackson. He was even going to get pummeled by Tito Ortiz way back at UFC 59 but came storming back to prove his worth despite a hairline split decision loss. The bottom line is you just can't count this guy out. Is Anderson Silva the far superior fighter? Absolutely, but he's also human. "The Spider" has a couple of submission losses on his record to fighters who are not exactly top five material and we've seen him in trouble in the UFC. An emaciated Travis Lutter had him mounted at UFC 67 and Hendo controlled him for the first round at UFC 82. True, they were not able to capitalize and got finished, but Griffin dwarfs both Lutter and Henderson in size -- he may not be so easy to shake off. The question is how will Forrest keep Silva at bay? He likes to market himself as a comedic meathead with an aw-shucks-I'll-do-my-best gameplan -- but I don't buy it. I expect a very calculated Griffin to work the leg kicks much like he did against Rampage. In this fight he must telegraph each one or he'll end up sleeping with the Irvin's. The clinch is a bad idea -- I mean 'invading Russia in the winter' bad -- because Silva is just too good. The best thing Griffin can do is hope that Silva continues his cautious approach and just beat up the legs until a takedown presents itself. If it doesn't or he merely angers Andy, it's going to get ugly real fast. A decision here would not surprise me based on Silva's past two fights, but I think he's going to find an opening and take it.

Betting lines (as of August 7):

Silva: -350 ((Bet Now))

Griffin: +250 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Silva via TKO

170 lbs.: Amir Sadollah (1-0) vs. Johny Hendricks (5-0)

Backgrounds:

Amir Sadollah:

Last five fights: 1-0
Notable wins: Defeated CB Dolloway at the TUF 7 Finale.
Notable losses: None -- yet.
Strengths: Crafty, calm under pressure, knows how to capitalize on mistakes.
Weaknesses: Inexperienced, long layoff.

Johny Hendricks:

Last five fights: 5-0
Notable wins: Back-to-back victories during his stint in the WEC.
Notable losses: None.
Strengths: Excellent wrestler, heavy hands.
Weaknesses: No experience on the big stage.

Dumbass predicts: Amir Sadollah is everyone's favorite mixed martial arts Cinderella story but unfortunately Johny Hendricks is going to take that glass slipper and smash it over his head. I like Sadollah and I think he's a very unassuming fighter which may have been a big reason for his success. His stint in TUF 7 and against Dolloway at the finale showed that having a good head for the game can often get you out of a precarious situation. However I can't pick a guy -- no matter how much I root for him -- when he's coming off a year-plus layoff. This will be Hendricks fourth bout in a year and a half and he's not only stayed perfect but looked better in each fight. Hendricks is also a two-time national champion collegiate wrestler out of Oklahoma State University and believe me he will use that against Sadollah with great success. He has to be careful about the submissions but welterweight is his home whereas Sadollah is making his 170-pound debut. In the end there are just too many factors against Sadollah to lead me to believe he has any kind of chance here. I expect Hendricks to come out and dump him on his head before pounding out the bewildered TUF champ en route to a first round stoppage. It will be over before Sadollah can even get anything going -- and there won't be any rabbits being pulled out of any hats here this time.

Betting lines (as of August 7):

Sadollah: -130 ((Bet Now))

Hendricks: Even ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Hendricks via TKO

185 lbs.: Kendall "The Spider" Grove (1-0) vs. Ricardo "Cachorrao" Almeida (5-0)

Backgrounds:

Kendall Grove:

Last five fights: 3-2
Notable wins: Earned a gritty split decision over the late Evan Tanner, bounced Jason Day out of the UFC.
Notable losses: Put to sleep by Patrick Cote and Jorge Rivera.
Strengths: Huge for a middleweight, excellent reach, well rounded.
Weaknesses: Confidence issues, inconsistent at times, eggshell chin.

Ricardo Almeida:

Last five fights: 4-1
Notable wins: Choked out Nate Marquardt in Pancrase.
Notable losses: Short end of the stick against Patrick Cote at UFC 86.
Strengths: Durable, one of the sport's better grapplers.
Weaknesses: No hands -- hasn't finished anyone with strikes in his entire career.

Dumbass predicts: It's easy to think that Ricardo Almeida would submit Grove like an overdue tax form, but once this gifted grappler started to rack up more decision wins than submissions, it was clear that tapping out his foes was no longer a foregone conclusion. He still has the technical ability to get it done, but as this sport progresses and he fails to catch up it will become very clear that you can't get away with just having deadly jits anymore. In today's mixed martial arts you need the ability to soften up your opponent and create openings instead of jumping into guard from ten feet away ala Nick Serra. Does "Cachorrao" have the chops to do it? Well in ten fights he's never earned a KO or TKO stoppage -- not even by accident. He was probably wondering why Cote's knee didn't fold up like a Trapper Keeper in his bout instead of Silva's -- but I digress. Grove has some long-ass limbs and no doubt Almeida will be looking to get a hold of one of them. To do that he has to engage and I like Grove's clinch here. In fact it would not surprise me to see a repeat of the Alan Belcher fight where Grove just dismantles Almeida. I don't think he'll be able to finish him but a lopsided decision is not out of the question either. Sure, Almeida has great jui-jitsu, but it's 2009 and if you want to be a contender you're going to need more than that to make it to the promised land.

Betting lines (as of August 7):

Grove: +135 ((Bet Now))

Almeida: -165 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Grove via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Josh "The Dentist" Neer (25-7-1) vs. Kurt "Batman" Pellegrino (13-4)

Backgrounds:

Josh Neer:

Last five fights: 4-1
Notable wins: Submitted Mac Danzig at Fight Night 17.
Notable losses: Just missed a split decision nod over Nate Diaz at Fight Night 15 -- but got much love for the performance.
Strengths: Tough as nails, aggressive, hard to finish.
Weaknesses: Impatient, can sometimes leave himself open.

Kurt Pellegrino:

Last five fights: 3-2
Notable wins: Back-to-back wins over Thiago Tavares and Rob Emerson.
Notable losses: Decisioned by Joe Stevenson, submitted by Nate Diaz.
Strengths: Strong jiu-jitsu, versatile, comes to fight.
Weaknesses: Gets reckless, over reliant on his ground game.

Dumbass predicts: This is a bad match-up for Pellegrino. Neer is a huge lightweight and very strong for the division. He also fights like a maniac and somehow manages to remain technically proficient in doing so. Kurt might have the better jits, but he has to survive the onslaught to implement it. That's not to suggest that Pellegrino isn't game because he is, but the loss to Stevenson is in the back of my mind when I weigh the options for this fight. I envision a very busy first round with a lot of back and forth but as the fight wears on (and Pellegrino wears down) Neer will begin to impose his will. I don't know if "The Dentist" will be able to finish it, but a close first will give way to a dominant second and probably a very lopsided third. The biggest concern for Neer is knowing when to "say when." An overwhelming offense can often breed carelessness (see Mir vs. Lesnar 1) and the finish has to be there before going all in or he risks getting stuck in a submission. The opening frame is probably the most dangerous for Neer, before they get sweaty (or perhaps bloody). If he keeps the pressure on and stays out of danger, he should cruise to a dominant decision.

Betting lines (as of August 7):

Neer: -220 ((Bet Now))

Pellegrino: +175 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Neer via unanimous decision

That’s a wrap, folks.

Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of UFC 101.

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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