UFC 123: "Rampage vs. Machida" from the Palace of Auburn Hills in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, is finally upon us, as the world's largest fight promotion brings its stable of stars to "Motor City" tomorrow night (Nov. 20) 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.
Much of the talk surrounding the main card has to do with the inclusion of four former champions returning to the Octagon and outside of Matt Hughes, the stakes have never been higher.
And that's because the divisions have never been deeper.
While the "Machida Era" looked more like the "Machida Error" after consecutive dances with "Shogun" Rua, many pundits believe "The Dragon" is still one of the top light heavyweights in the UFC today.
Expect "Rampage" Jackson to try and prove them wrong, in his own quest to return to the 205-pound throne (or at least get paid in the process).
One-time king of the lightweights, BJ Penn, is trying to convince the fans there's still some gas left in the tank, which is ironic considering he's returning to a weight class that's failed him on three out of four attempts under the UFC banner.
Would a win over the flinty farmboy give him a false sense of security at 170? Or is this just a pit stop on his way back to the 155-pound drawing board?
Expect an entirely new landscape come 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 ... we've got work to do:
205 lbs.: Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida (16-1) vs. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (30-8)
Nostradumbass predicts: I've spent quite a bit of time over the past few weeks listening to the Jackson loyalists, who treat the former PRIDE power-puncher like some kind of mixed martial arts deity rather than what he really is, a one-dimensional striker with heavy hands and a god-given gift for showmanship.
Take our own Geno Mrosko, who's so firmly attached to Rampage's nutsack he looks like Atreyu pinned under a flaccid Gmork. Hey, I get it, Jackson is a crowd pleaser. Aside from his rapidly expiring "street cred" routine, he's a great trash-talker and has a couple of highlight reel knockouts on his resume.
And he was the go-to-guy in the whole PRIDE vs. UFC debate a few years back thanks to his shellacking of Chuck Liddell at "Final Conflict" in late 2003.
But I ask you, what has he accomplished in the past five years that gets you all hot and bothered? Three of his victims, Marvin Eastman, Dan Henderson and Keith Jardine, aren't even with the UFC anymore and are a combined 7-10 since facing him. Chuck Liddell? Beating him in 2003 was a big deal. Beating him in 2007 is the equivalent of yelling First! at the top of a Sherdog thread.
He also lost the light heavyweight title to Forrest Griffin (Actually, knowing that Griffin beat both Rampage and Shogun is the inoperable tumor in the anus of my PRIDE memories. Damn you Forrest, damn you.)
Anyway, let's get back to tomorrow night. I just don't see any evidence, based on his UFC career, that Jackson is going to stop Machida. Yes, he knocked out a Brazilian pinata in Wanderlei Silva and floored "The Iceman," whose chin is so fragile it should be on display next to a Faberge egg at the Kremlin Armoury Museum.
Rampage is a fighter, sure, but he's no mixed martial artist. He hasn't had a submission win in almost ten years and just take look at round two of the Griffin fight to see how well his ground game has evolved. And speaking of evolution, isn't he now a fixture at Wolfslair after dumping Juanito Ibarra? That's like resigning from Peter Luger's to go wait tables at IHOP.
Now, let's focus on Machida. Did he get his ass kicked by Mauricio Rua? Yeah, and if history has taught us anything, it's that in MMA, everyone has that one guy they can't beat. BJ Penn can't beat Frankie Edgar. Does that mean he's no longer dangerous? I think people are forgetting the kind of performances the 16-1 Brazilian was capable of prior to the Rua loss. Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans were both undefeated until "The Dragon" beat them like a rented mule.
Machida's claim to fame is his ability to inflict the most damage to his opponent while taking the least amount of damage to himself. Am I concerned that he will be "fighting scared" after getting knocked out for the first time? On the contrary, I expect him to return to the formula that made him successful in the first place. The same formula that made him one of the least-hit fighters in history. Guys weren't even making contact.
Jackson won't either.
Call it elusive, call it boring, call it whatever you want, but it works. On Saturday night, it will be a game of cat and mouse. Unfortunately for Rampage, he'll be Tom to Machida's Jerry.
Betting lines (as of Nov. 19):
Machida: -260 ((Bet Now))
Jackson: +200 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Machida via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Matt Hughes (45-7) vs. BJ "The Prodigy" Penn (15-7-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: I've always been hard on BJ Penn, but believe it or not, I don't really get down on him for going 0-2 against Frankie Edgar. "The Answer" was just too fast and too busy and let's face it, no other current lightweight even came close to beating Penn. Of course, if the Hawaiian had a real training camp instead of one that was populated with yes-men, he might still be champ, but whatever, he's back at 170 to take care of some unfinished business.
On paper it's very hard to pick a fighter who is 1-3 in a heavier weight class, but take a look at where Matt Hughes and BJ Penn are in their respective careers.
That alone has me leaning towards "The Prodigy" by decision.
If you go back to his drubbing of Kenny Florian at UFC 101 in 2009, Penn has competed four times. More importantly, he's competed on an average of every four months. That kind of frequency keeps you in "fight shape" and he's looked pretty good in the process.
Hughes has also competed twice this year, but his UFC 112 "win" over Renzo Gracie was his first bout in almost a year and boy did it show. The only reason that fight isn't lambasted for the travesty that it was is because Anderson Silva stole their thunder by blowing a gasket in the main event against Demian Maia.
What I've seen from Penn in his last couple of fights is a competitor who is still in his prime.
Even in defeat I don't think he's lost a step or seen his skills deteriorate whereas Hughes has a lot of miles on his tires. Aside from his 50+ pro MMA fights, he endured a grueling amateur wrestling career and well let's just say it, he hasn't exactly evolved or even made the minimal adjustments to stay competitive in today's ever-changing landscape.
Sure, he caught Ricardo Almeida with front choke at UFC 117, but that's because the hold hasn't been used since the Cretaceous period and nobody knew how to identify it until the lights were already out.
Matt Hughes is old-school. What you see is what you get. It's still good enough for a couple of takedowns and nuts-and-bolts submission holds, but that kind of blue collar approach just won't cut it against Penn, who looks as fit and as lean as he has in any of his lightweight bouts. And now he may even have a little more pop in his punches with the added weight.
I don't expect a finish, but I do expect Hughes to get stuffed early and picked apart late.
Betting lines (as of Nov. 19):
Hughes: +145 ((Bet Now))
Penn: -175 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Penn via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Joe "J-Lau" Lauzon (19-5) vs. George "Sots" Sotiropoulos (13-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: Joe Lauzon is getting a lot of buzz heading into this fight and I agree, a win tomorrow night would likely be a defining moment in his UFC career. Unfortunately a lot of that buzz is stemming from his aggravated assault at UFC 118 back in August.
There are a couple of things to consider here. Aside from being one of the more entertaining (and lopsided) performances in recent memory, let's keep in mind that it was over the cake boss himself, Mr. Gabe Ruediger. I also think that Lauzon was channeling the controlled thunder of the "Beantown" crowd, who roared at every move he made from the second he broke the curtain.
That was his moment and no one can ever take it from him.
But now that the honeymoon is over, we have to take a critical look at the numbers and I'm not sure the Joe Lauzon who lost to Sam Stout at UFC 108 isn't the same Joe Lauzon that will show up in Auburn Hills. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as "J-Lau" is a scrappy kid with an unorthodox style and great submissions. He will beat most mid-tier competition.
That's why he loses on Saturday night.
Sotiropolous has gone 6-0 in the UFC since getting bounced from the TUF competition and he's continued to look better each time out. The destruction of Joe Stevenson was his coming out party and staving off Kurt Pellegrino at UFC 116 further cemented his status as one of the next potential candidates to challenge for the 155-pound title.
I don't put much stock in "pants-gate" or any of that other nonsense, and I think his technical ability will be able to neutralize Lauzon's erratic offense. It's probably going to be a lot closer than many people think as both guys are of similar size and build, but "Sots" is more polished, more capable and just an all-around better fighter than Lauzon.
Don't be surprised to see the Aussie looking for gold in 2011.
Betting lines (as of Nov. 19):
Lauzon: +180 ((Bet Now))
Sotiropoulos: -230 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Sotiropoulos via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Gerald "Hurricane" Harris (17-2) vs. Maiquel Jose Falcao "Big Rig" Goncalves (25-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: Holy shit this guy has a long-ass name. Forget the fight, I just want to be around for Bruce Buffer's inevitable slap chop on the Brazilian's convoluted cognomen. That was the beauty of PRIDE's Lenne Hardt. It's hard to hear any mispronunciations when someone is screeching in your ear at 160 decibels.
In case you haven't noticed, Gerald Harris went from Ultimate Fighter (TUF) washout to bona fide badass in his nine fights since losing to Amir Sadollah on TUF 7 (not a typo). In fact, the "Hurricane" has claimed ten straight with "Knockout of the Night" honors in two out of his last three bouts including the vicious KO slam of Dave Branch, of which the highlight was featured on ESPN's top-ten plays of the week.
But putting aside his Octagon accolades, his most amazing accomplishment was fighting (and winning) just seven days after his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident in March 2009. Harris has heart, skill and a winning streak that is the envy of most middleweights not named Anderson Silva.
Unfortunately for Harris, this is a Nostradumbass column and there must always be one upset. Welcome to the UFC, Mr. Goncalves.
The inside sources I pretend to have down at Chute Boxe tell me "Big Rig" is a scary, scary man. 21 of his 25 wins have been by (T)KO and three have been by way of the tap.
Yeah, 24 finishes in 25 fights has a way of turning some heads.
While it's pretty clear that Fabio Maldonado has his number, the last of his three losses, a TKO defeat to Daniel Ludtke, was quickly avenged with a TKO of his own and Goncalves hasn't looked back since. Normally I don't like the unknowns from a debuting fighter, such as first-time jitters, adrenaline dump, cardio, etc, and it certainly doesn't help that he hasn't seen the second round in two years, but I think that may actually work to his advantage.
Just as we have a lot of unanswered questions about the Brazilian, so too must Harris. While I'm impressed with what the "Ghost Dog" product has accomplished post-TUF, let's also keep in mind it was against fighters like John Salter, Mario Miranda and the aforementioned Branch.
Not exactly a who's-who of middleweight contenders.
I'm sure Harris will do all the right things in training camp, but he's walking into a trap. He may not expect the worse on Saturday night, but he's likely to get it. I'm taking the "Big Rig" by upset TKO in round one.
Betting lines (as of Nov. 19):
Harris: -280 ((Bet Now))
Goncalves: +210 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Goncalves via technical knockout
205 lbs.: Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch (12-3) vs. Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis (7-0)
Nostradumbass predicts: Fight fans love retard strength. Part of the reason we recognize Boetsch is because of his Hulk-smash routine on David Heath way back at UFC 81 a little more than two years ago. Since then, "The Barbarian" had his momentum pillaged by Matt Hamill before getting out-Brilzed at UFC 96. Three straight wins outside the promotion got him back into the Octagon and a unanimous decision win over Todd Brown at UFC 117 has kept him there.
Then Joe Silva went and did a dastardly thing and paired him up against Phil Davis.
Aside from a frightening V-taper and the eyes of a homicidal doll, Davis is undefeated and as limber as a peach tree switch. What he does lack is polish, but toiling in the low-to-mid tier of the 205-pound division will help him find it. Like Boetsch, Davis made some noise in his Octagon debut when he put an absolute clinic on Brian Stann at UFC 109 back in February.
By his own admission, his striking is far from "wonderful," but what he's missing in technical ability he makes up for in pure funkiness. A lot of pundits compare him to the Jon Jones of a few years back and I think that's a fair comparison as his wrestling prowess gives people the fits and the unpredictable nature of his offense makes it difficult to adjust to, especially mid-gameplan of a three round fight.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Boetsch laugh off an early blitzkrieg, but his gas tank is likely to fail him late in the second round. By then, Davis will be on him like a buzzard on a shitwagon. Look for the rear naked choke to come with a minute left in the second stanza.
Then look for Davis to be paired with a top ten light heavyweight.
Betting lines (as of Nov. 19):
Boetsch: +400 ((Bet Now))
Davis: -600 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Davis via submission
That's a wrap, folks.
Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of UFC 123: "Rampage 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 tomorrow night's event.