UFC 121 predictions, preview and analysis


UFC 121: "Lesnar vs. Velasquez" from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, is finally upon us, as the world's largest fight promotion brings its stable of stars back to Orange County tomorrow night (Oct. 23) live on pay-per-view (PPV).

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.

How special is Brock Lesnar?

I would argue that even the most jaded mixed martial arts fan is fired up about Saturday night's main event. Love him or hate him, people turn out to see Brock Lesnar. Haters have already crowned opponent Cain Velasquez the new division champion, while the gopher-huggers are busy breaking down a Lesnar vs. Dos Santos fight for 2011.

One of those two sides will have some apologizing to do on Sunday morning.

Of course let's not overlook the long-awaited Octagon debut of Jake Shields. A lot of pundits were calling for the ex-Strikeforce champ to go right to the top of the food chain.

The UFC had other plans.

Will Martin Kampmann play spoiler, and hand yet another high profile free agent a debut loss inside the cage? Or will Shields all but cement his status as welterweight number one contender?

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 ... we've got work to do:

265 lbs.: Brock Lesnar (5-1) vs. Cain Velasquez (8-0)

Nostradumbass predicts: Brock Lesnar is the UFC Heavyweight Champion -- and that's a title I fully expect him to have come Sunday morning. In his last three fights, the pasty-faced Goliath defeated two former world champions (Mir, Couture) and survived a five-minute shellacking to come back and submit the sport's most powerful puncher.

Not impressed?

I laugh when people tell me Lesnar was "exposed" in the Carwin fight. Exposed as what? A genetic freak who can bench-press a Volkswagen and doesn't like to get hit? I'm sorry, did we not know that already? And how come the same people who praised Anderson Silva for having the "heart of a champion" against Chael Sonnen slam Lesnar for the same performance?

Is Lesnar one of our better technical fighters? Hardly. But he doesn't need to be. All he needs to do to be successful is to nullify his opponents strengths using his speed and power.

And that's exactly why I favor him over Velasquez, because there is nothing Cain brings to the fight that Lesnar cannot withstand, neutralize and give back tenfold.

Now, I keep hearing how Cain is the better wrestler. I went back and compared their collegiate records side-by-side and well, I just don't see it. Let's give Velasquez the benefit of the doubt. We'll call them equal mat rats. If that's the case, then I'm sticking with the old bar-fight maxim that a good big man will always beat a good little man.

"Yes, but Cain is the superior striker," they'll say. Well, if you count quantity over quality then sure, I guess so. But keep in mind that Velasquez hit Cheick Kongo over 250 times and couldn't finish him. Yeah, that was UFC 99, the same fight where Velasquez folded up faster than George Jetson's car every time Kongo touched his chin.

How many times did "Brown Pride" hit Ben Rothwell at UFC 110 before the referee got bored and decided to call it a day? And if his punches were so deadly, how come "Big" Ben was still getting to his feet when it was stopped?

And please, I beg of you, don't put too much stock in his knockout win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The poor guy is one head-bouncer away from adult diapers, he shouldn't even be competing at this point.

Cardio? I saw Brock do three rounds with ease against Heath Herring and he's in much better shape for this fight. If you're throwing the "more muscle, less oxygen" medical babble at me, don't bother. Lesnar is a bona fide athlete, not a swollen strongman who can't pay the bills.

Cain Velasquez is a talented fighter with a well-rounded arsenal and I definitely have him in the top five of his division. However, I don't believe he would have ever gotten this title shot if he had to go through Shane Carwin, and perhaps the UFC didn't either since they hastily canceled that fight in 2009.

In the end it won't matter. He was good enough to get to the top -- but Lesnar will prove on Saturday night that he's just not good enough to stay there.

Betting lines (as of Oct. 22):

Lesnar: -145 ((Bet Now))

Velasquez: +115 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Lesnar via technical knockout

170 lbs.: Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann (17-3) vs. Jake Shields (25-4-1)

Nostradumbass predicts: Why make Georges St. Pierre fight Jake Shields when you can force him to rematch Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch? Nothing fans like more than when a promotion holds a division hostage for months on end. Now we may never see these two mix it up because Martin Kampmann is going to ruin it for everybody.

That's not a knock on Shields. I think he's one of the world's best. But if there is any fighter he matches up poorly against it's Martin Kampmann. There's a reason the great Dane is 15-3, because he's that friggin' good. Remember all that jazz about Paulo Thiago's run at the title?

Kampmann's two UFC losses hurt his credibility but they probably shouldn't have. He was knocked out by Nate Marquardt in a division that he had no business fighting in even in spite of his success at 185. And his loss to Paul Daley? That's what happens when you fight with your ego and not your gameplan.

Shields biggest strength is his grappling (duh). But in 18 fights, Kampmann has never been submitted. Thales Leites couldn't do it. Neither could Carlos Condit or Paulo Thiago. That suffocating top game that Jake put on display as a middleweight in Strikeforce had a lot to do with his size. The extra weight afforded him the muscle gain to bully guys around. You can say goodbye to that power at 170, which means that even if he does get "The Hitman" to the floor, he may not be able to keep him there.

That tells me all Marty has to do is stick-and-move. He's a far better striker than Shields and remember, it's a three round fight. He only needs two of them to win. Is it unreasonable to think he can't stuff a few takedowns and be busier in the stand-up?

I think Shields will be still be feeling the effects of cutting weight for his first fight back at 170. That, coupled with a back injury in training camp (yes, it was 12 weeks out, but it's still time away from camp while you recover), and I just think Jake has all his eggs in one basket. If he can't get this thing south, he's in big trouble.

I predict Kampmann plays it safe and cruises to a decision.

Betting lines (as of Oct. 22):

Shields: -200 ((Bet Now))

Kampmann: +160 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Kampmann via unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Matt "The Hammer" Hamill (9-2) vs. "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz (15-7-1)

Nostradumbass predicts: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Tito Ortiz, former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and original "Bad Boy," is so far removed from relevancy in his division that he's not the main event, not the co-main event, heck, he's not even favored to beat one of his former students.

That's what happens when you build a career on Ken Shamrock.

All kidding aside, if you take away the Shammy fights, his last (T)KO win was over Elvis Sinosic at UFC 32 almost ten years ago. Yikes. He couldn't beat Randy Couture, he couldn't beat Chuck Liddell, and his three wins outside of the Lion's Den were two split decisions (Griffin, Belfort) and a UD over Patrick Cote.

It's hard to build a case for Tito, but I'll try anyway, because I do think he wins.

Matt Hamill likes Ortiz. What happened the last time he liked his opponent? Ask Rich Franklin. "The Hammer" is a tough scrapper and he hits hard, but I don't think he'll have the killer instinct in this fight. Without it, I can see "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" getting the takedowns. At will? No, but enough to steal the rounds.

If you look at what Hamill has done, he knows how to hang. I thought he won the Bisping fight (but lost the Jones fight) so his record still balances out. Anyone who doesn't think he has power should re-watch the Mark Munoz fight.

Basically we have two good wrestlers, two average strikers and one giant head. It wouldn't surprise me to see this thing even after two rounds of ugliness, but Hamill's gas tank will betray him in the final frame, and Ortiz will land that last convincing takedown to squeak out a split decision win.

Betting lines (as of Oct. 22):

Hamill: -170 ((Bet Now))

Ortiz: +140 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Ortiz via split decision

170 lbs.: Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (21-4) vs. Paulo Thiago (13-2)

Nostradumbass predicts: Diego Sanchez used to be a "Nightmare" at welterweight -- until the rest of the division eventually woke up. Gone are the days of David Bielkheden and Luigi Fioravanti, there are some talented prospects at 170 and Sanchez found that out against John Hathaway earlier this year.

I was surprised he ever left 155. Yeah, he was turned inside out by BJ Penn, but that's hardly a knock on anyone's career. All the tools that made him dangerous as a welterweight were magnified in the smaller class and who didn't want to see if "KenFlo" could exact his revenge?

When a fighter bounces in and out of weight classes, it sends up a red flag. The same red flag as when fighters bounce from camp-to-camp. I think Diego knows deep down that he can't be a champion in either division and it's probably messing with his head. There was a time when I didn't think Sanchez could be rattled, but I don't like where he's at mentally for this fight.

And Paulo Thiago is not a flash in the pan.

He was null and void against Martin Kampmann not because he lacked the skill, but because "The Hitman" had a superior gameplan. I think that loss did more for the Brazilian than a win, as it afforded him the opportunity to come up with a "Plan B" when the fight starts to get away from him.

Trying to find a weakness in Thiago is difficult. Outside of being frustrated by Kampmann, his only other defeat in 15 fights was to Jon Fitch, who did what Jon Fitch does better than anyone else, so again, there isn't much to glean from that loss.

Thiago is probably more respected for his ground skills, but his stand-up is underrated. Forget about knocking out Koscheck, that was more instinct than execution, but his hands have evolved and that makes him better all around than Diego.

Sanchez is one dimensional. He always has been. But it never became a liability because he knew how to apply that one dimension so effectively. Unfortunately the sport has evolved and Diego hasn't, which is why I see him falling on the scorecards for the second straight fight.

See you at 155 (I hope).

Betting lines (as of Oct. 22):

Thiago: -130 ((Bet Now))

Sanchez: +100 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Thiago via unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Gabriel "Napao"Gonzaga (11-5) vs. Brendan "The Hybrid" Schaub (6-1)

Nostradumbass predicts: Funny how getting knocked on your keister can change the trajectory of your entire career. Fortunately for "The Hybrid," I don't hold the KO loss to Roy Nelson against him. Like Schaub, I believe it was the best thing that ever happened to him as a fighter.

The former TUF 10 finalist didn't respect Roy Nelson's power. Heck, he didn't respect Roy Nelson period and he paid for it. The good news is that by his own admission, Schaub had to become a more "cerebral" fighter. That means leaving your ego at the door and focusing on winning.

And who better to have your back than Greg Jackson?

Schaub has six wins -- all by technical knockout. In fact, he's never even seen a round two. Sound like any other heavyweights you might know?

I like him in this match-up. He's quicker, more technical on the feet and just savvy enough to stay out of Gonzaga's submissions.

Now, the Brazilian Yeti is a household name, but just like people have a tendency to put too much stock in a loss, "Napao" enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top by doing the Reginald Denny on Cro Cop's Croatian cranium. In 2007, beating Cro Cop was big news. These days, it's barely noteworthy.

Prior to the Filipovic win, Gonzaga was beating up a bunch of people you've never heard of. And after? Well, he was stopped by a much smaller Randy Couture and slapped silly by Fabricio Werdum for the second time in his career.

The bottom line is that Gonzaga can't get the big win. I named "The Natural" and "Vai Cavalo" but he also crumbled against Carwin and Dos Santos. I know they're all elite, but you need to have one big win over a top name to be considered a major player in this division.

I don't want to pull one of those "You're only as good as your last fight" bits, but the way this sport evolves, a 2007 win over a burned out Cro Cop just isn't enough to convince me that Gonzaga can still hang with the best and the brightest heavyweights.

Speed kills, and aside from a few rough patches, this should be Schaub's fight all day.

Betting lines (as of Oct. 22):

Gonzaga: -165 ((Bet Now))

Schaub: +135 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Schaub via technical knockout

That's a wrap, folks.

Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of UFC 121: "Lesnar vs. Velasquez."

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

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