UFC 105 predictions, preview and analysis

UFC 105: "Couture vs. Vera" is set to go down this Saturday, November 14, 2009 from the Manchester Evening News (MEN) Arena in Manchester, England, via tape delay on Spike TV.

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 9 p.m. ET.

To get us pumped for the event, MMAmania.com Editor and Senior Writer, Jesse Holland (that’s me), has kept with today's theme of "change" and rallied the troops for a breakdown of the televised fights. All your favorite contributors are here, including a rare appearance by Johnny-come-recluse site commandant MMAmania.

One of the big stories coming into this event is of course the headlining fight between Randy Couture and Brandon Vera. It's "The Natural's" first bout at light heavyweight since Chuck Liddell retired him at UFC 57 back in 2006.

Is "Captain America" still a viable threat at 205-pounds?

There are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding the future of the welterweight division. Should the winner of Mike Swick vs. Dan Hardy get first dibs on current champion Georges St. Pierre?

And does either man stand a chance against "Rush" if they do?

Also on tap is a defining match between Michael Bisping and Denis Kang. Can "The Count" rebound from his devastating knockout at the hands of Dan Henderson to re-establish himself as a middleweight contender? Or is Kang going to expose him as a pretender once and for all?

There will certainly be a lot to talk about on Sunday morning.

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:

205 lbs.: Randy "The Natural" Couture (16-10) vs. Brandon "The Truth" Vera (11-3)

Backgrounds:

Couture:

Record (last five fights): 2-3
Notable wins: Started off red hot as a returning heavyweight, winning two straight...
Notable losses: ...then came up short against Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Strengths: Incomparable wrestling, effective dirty boxing, nothing he hasn't seen inside the cage.
Weaknesses: Not to suggest he's getting old but I hear his camp was sponsored by Ensure.

Vera:

Record (last five fights): 3-2
Notable wins: Put an end to "The Polish Experiment", pushed "Riptide" Reese back out to sea.
Notable losses: Let a win slip away against Keith Jardine, stopped by Fabricio Werdum at UFC 85.
Strengths: Dangerous striker, underrated jits, big for the weight class.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent. Looks brilliant in one fight, lost in the next.

MMAmania predicts: Randy Couture will look to make his triumphant return to the light heavyweight division, taking on an opponent, Brandon Vera, who just like him couldn't cut it among the big boys anymore. Vera is younger and faster, but who cares, everyone Couture fights at this stage of his career falls into that category. He's got great stand up, but that won't be much of a factor if and when "The Natural" closes the distance and boxes him up against the cage. Wrestling? Vera was an Olympic hopeful who went to the training center in Colorado, Springs, Colo., back in 2000. One of his instructors? None other than three-time Olympic team alternate (1988, 1992 and 1996), Randy Couture.

That experience, tied into his eventual transition to mixed martial arts, left Vera looking up to Couture as his "idol" ... or something like that. It's pretty simple: Anything Vera can do Couture can do better. And if he can't, he has the Octagon experience to nullify it. Let's also remember the "idol" factor, which should never be overlooked (See Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes I). Vera knows how to play the game, but Couture practically invented it.

Betting lines (as of Nov. 13):

Couture: -120 ((Bet Now))

Vera: -110 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Couture via unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Mike "Quick" Swick (14-2) vs. Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy (22-6)

Backgrounds:

Swick:

Record (last five fights): 4-1
Notable wins: Four straight over rising (and falling) stars...
Notable losses: ...after getting kicked out of the middleweight division by Yushin Okami.
Strengths: Blistering hand speed, good cardio, black belt in Swick-Fu.
Weaknesses: Beanpole at 170, easily frustrated, competing in hostile territory.

Hardy:

Record (last five fights): 5-0
Notable wins: Made a head case out of Marcus Davis, turned the lights out on Rory Markham.
Notable losses: Winner of six straight.
Strengths: Great hands, 11-1 since 2006 and looks better every time.
Weaknesses: Suspect ground game, unproven against a top five fighter.

Japanese Sensation predicts: With a welterweight title shot within reach, Mike Swick and Dan Hardy step into the cage for a high-stakes battle.

Swick and Hardy are known primarily as strikers. As happens when fighters with similar strengths square off, they can come out guns blazing to make an impact early or respect each others strength and opt for a more cautious approach. With the welterweight title shot on the line, I can see the latter scenario unfolding with both fighters wary of making mistakes.

On the feet, the two will feel each other out and look for openings. Hardy probably will make use of his repertoire of kicks to thwart Swick from rushing in with a flurry of lighting-quick punches. Eventually the fight will enter the grappling realm, with the two clinching against the cage and one of them scoring the takedown.

It is difficult to truly gauge their grappling prowess. Swick has shown a glimpse of his wrestling against Marcus Davis: Working with fighters like Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch on a regular basis at American Kickboxing Academy certainly helps shore up his ability to score and defend against takedowns. Also, his win over Joe Riggs via "Swickitine" shows that he has some submission tricks up his sleeve. When Hardy fought in Cage Force in Japan, he failed to make a big impact due to his wrestling liability and pedestrian skills on the ground. Since then, he has benefited from his training at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu with Eddie Bravo. The result showed against Marcus Davis, as he displayed sound positioning and submission defense on the ground.

While the extent to which the size plays a role in the fight is hard to assess, Swick holds the advantage, as he is slightly taller and has successful track record in the middleweight division against the likes of Dave Loiseau and Joe Riggs. A knockout victory for either fighter is a real possibility. That said, the non-striking factors will also play significant roles in the fight. Both Swick and Hardy will land solid shots in the striking exchange. As they move in and out of striking and other realms of fighting -- clinch and on the ground -- Swick will edge Hardy en route to a decision victory.

Betting lines (as of Nov. 13):

Swick: -225 ((Bet Now))

Hardy: +180 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Swick via unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Michael "The Count" Bisping (17-2) vs. Denis Kang (32-11-1)

Backgrounds:

Bisping:

Record (last five fights): 3-2
Notable wins: Outpointed a roided up Chris Leben, smashed Jason Day and Charles McCarthy.
Notable losses: Lost the ability to chew solid food thanks to Dan Henderson.
Strengths: Good cardio, technically proficient on the feet, good at crushing cans.
Weaknesses: Huge question mark in confidence and mental game following UFC 100 knockout.

Kang:

Record (last five fights): 3-2
Notable wins: Lackluster decision over "Professor X," clowned Marvin Eastman at "Raw Combat."
Notable losses: Got too comfortable against Alan Belcher and got choked out for it.
Strengths: Dangerous striker, ton of experience, big for the weight class.
Weaknesses: Hot and cold -- often in the same fight. All the tools to be world class -- and all the mistakes to keep him from it.

Derek Bolender predicts: Bisping is coming off, let's just say, a quality loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100 in what was essentially the "overhand right heard ‘round the world."

Prior to that point Bisping was 7-1 inside the Octagon and the European poster boy for the UFC. He looked good at times, mediocre at times and for the most part was given cupcakes along the way. Not to mention any names; Eric Schafer, Elvis Sinosic, Charles McCarthy, Jason Day, and a past-his-prime and steroid infused Chris Leben.

The way he was marketed simply did not match his skill set and I never bought into him as a serious contender. Then he graciously proved me right the second he started ramming his chin into Hendo's fist and ignoring his corner's advice to stop circling left into his right hand.

For his "comeback" fight against Denis Kang we don't really know what to expect. Fighters react differently to being on the wrong end of brutal knockouts, both mentally and physically. Assuming he is back to 100% he is going to have to use his kickboxing skills to tee off on the mid-section of Kang and utilize a ton of knees in the clinch. He may just have what it takes to pull off a decision victory if he is smart. You already know where I'm going with this prediction though.

Trusting Bisping's chin and his ability to adjust a game plan on the fly would be like trusting your "flirty" girlfriend not to cheat on you again. In other words, Kang is not the caliber of fighter you want to be facing on your road back from La-La Land.

It's hard to say a man with 46 career professional fights is a virtual unknown, but that is the case with Kang, given only two have been under Dana White's watch in the UFC. He does have a lot of mileage accumulated from his years in the fight game but he has yet to show me any clear signs of slowing down.

Yes, he was subbed by Alan Belcher at UFC 93 in his UFC debut, however, he was dictating the pace of that fight prior to getting caught in a guillotine choke. He rebounded nicely with a unanimous decision victory over Xavier Foupa-Pokam at UFC 97.

Whether we're talking experience, overall striking, or submissions Kang has the edge. He is clearly the more well-rounded fighter. Between his time spent training with Firas Zahabi in Canada and at American Top Team in Florida, fighting Bisping will likely be a step down compared to the sparring sessions he's encountered between the two camps.

Expect Bisping to receive his first loss in his home country of England that he should have received against Matt Hamill back at UFC 75. In the words of the great philosopher Michael Scott from NBC's The Office, "Fool me once, strike one. Fool me twice, strike three."

You're out as a middleweight championship contender for good Mike.

Betting lines (as of Nov. 13):

Bisping: -105 ((Bet Now))

Kang: -125 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Kang via unanimous decision

 

170 lbs.: Matt "The Immortal" Brown (10-7) vs. James "Lightning" Wilks (6-2)

Backgrounds:

Brown:

Record (last five fights): 3-2
Notable wins: Gave Pete Sell a near-death experience, planished Matt Arroyo.
Notable losses: "Stun Gun" Kim got the better of him in 2008, as did Chris Lytle a year before that.
Strengths: Great intensity, much improved, big heart.
Weaknesses: A little stiff, needs to learn how to balance his attacks during the fight.

Wilks:

Record (last five fights): 4-1
Notable wins: Stunned DaMarques Johnson in dominating fashion at June 20 TUF Finale.
Notable losses: Lost on points to Patrick Speight back in 2006.
Strengths: Unassuming offense, well rounded, unflappable.
Weaknesses: Failed to impress during TUF stint, needs another big win to cement his status.

Adam Wagner predicts: The first thing you have to do when considering Matt Brown is to throw his record out the window. Forget the fact that he’s 9-7 overall and remember that he’s 3-1 in the UFC (and easily could be 4-0 if it weren’t for a razor-thin split decision loss to Dong Hyun "Stun Gun" Kim). Brown took a few fights early in his career that he probably shouldn’t have, but seems to be on solid ground today under the tutelage of Jorge Gurgel.

Coming off a brutal TKO victory over Pete Sell, Brown’s called "The Immortal" for a reason — and let’s just say it’s because he’s bat-shit crazy … but in a good way. One of the most feared competitors on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 7, Brown has shown decent Muay Thai and boxing skills in his four UFC fights, and he’s on his way toward a judo black belt. That said, Brown may want to avoid going to the ground with Wilks.

Call me crazy, but James Wilks — perhaps the least celebrated TUF winner since Travis Lutter — is very underrated on the ground. He earned his spot in the TUF 9 house by submitting the highly touted Che Mills — an early favorite, despite being largely unknown to American audiences. Wilks then gave Frank Lester his nickname, "Frankie Four Teeth," finishing him in two separate fights.

At the TUF 9 Finale, Wilks did it again, subbing the odds-on favorite DaMarques Johnson in the first round. He does it consistently and without fanfare … and that’s the type of grappler you want to avoid.

While Brown’s BJJ blue belt may not hold up to Wilks’ brown belt, "The Immortal" is still the favorite to win (-155 to Wilks’ +125). His key to victory is to test Wilks’ chin early and often and to avoid the ground, where Brown has been submitted in five of his seven defeats. If he’s able to do this, Brown should be able to secure a victory. But the longer this fight goes, the more chances he’ll give Wilks of catching him in a choke.

Betting lines (as of Nov. 13):

Brown: -155 ((Bet Now))

Wilks: +125 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Brown via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Ross "The Real Deal" Pearson (9-3) vs. Aaron Riley (28-11-1)

Backgrounds:

Pearson:

Record (last five fights): 4-1
Notable wins: Squeaked past Andre Winner to take the TUF 9 crown
Notable losses: Outpointed by Abdul Mohamed in Oct. 2008.
Strengths: Aggressive, strong, hard to finish.
Weaknesses: Untested on the big stage, nerves could be a factor in hometown appearance.

Riley:

Record (last five fights): 4-1
Notable wins: Sent Jorge Gurgel packing at UFC 91.
Notable losses: Hiccup against Shane Nelson that was quickly erased in their rematch.
Strengths: Underrated submission game, strong and resilient.
Weaknesses: Hasn't finished an opponent in seven attempts.

Nate Lawson predicts: Ross Pearson last competed at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale where he defeated fellow British hopeful Andre Winner via unanimous decision to gain the title of "The Ultimate Fighter." The UFC is wasting no time testing the 155-pound Brit, as they have matched "The Real Deal" against the experienced Aaron Riley, who has 40 professional fights and is coming off a dominant unanimous decision victory over Shane Nelson at UFC 101: "Declaration."

Riley’s past fight, a rematch against Nelson, displayed what problems an undersized lightweight can have against a guy like Riley. Pearson is anything but undersized and will likely be looking to utilize the same tactics he used against Winner. However, Pearson’s performance will have to be on a different level than his bout with Winner, as he goes up against a heavily experienced opponent. Riley will be able to utilize the experience gap and grind out a unanimous decision victory when Pearson is unable to dictate the fight in the same manner he did against Winner.

Betting lines (as of Nov. 13):

Pearson: -200 ((Bet Now))

Riley: +160 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Riley 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 "Couture vs. Vera."

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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