UFC on Versus predictions, preview and analysis

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UFC on Versus: "Vera vs. Jones" is set to go down this Sunday, March 21, 2010 from the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, Colorado, live on the Versus Network.

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 on the cable television network at 9 p.m. ET.

To get us pumped for the event, MMAmania.com Editor and Senior Writer, Jesse Holland (that’s me), has once again rallied the troops for a breakdown of the televised main card fights. All your favorite contributors are here, bringing you an in-depth look at each contest.

One of the big stories coming into this event is of course the headlining fight between Brandon Vera and Jon Jones. Much has been made of "Bones" crowd-pleasing style and a dominant victory here could vault him into title contention.

But we still don't know how the promising young up-and-comer will respond when challenged by a top-level fighter -- will "The Truth" be the one to finally test him?

There are also a lot of unanswered questions regarding the future of Junior dos Santos. He's probably one or two fights away from challenging for the heavyweight title -- but he needs to prove he can overcome the Brazilian Yeti named Gabriel Gonzaga before he can do it.

Also on tap is the heavyweight hoedown between Cheick Kongo and Paul Buentello. Can the Frenchman re-establish himself as a force to be reckoned with before "The Headhunter" sends him back across the pond with a pink slip and an Adieu?

There will certainly be a lot to talk about on Monday 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.: Jon "Bones" Jones vs. Brandon "The Truth" Vera

Nostradumbass predicts: Whoot! Whoot! Another UFC hype train has left the station. All aboard? Possibly ... but I'm not paying for a ticket just yet. Jon Jones has been impressive in his short time inside the Octagon and continues to look better each time out.

But before we anoint him the second coming let's be sure to put things in perspective. Matt Hamill, while tough as a two-dollar steak, is not a world beater. Stephan Bonnar, on a three-fight skid, is 2-5 since 2006, only beating Mike Nickels and Eric Schafer during that span. Jake O'Brien? Uh-huh.

The point is "Bones" hasn't looked brittle at all but I think that has more to do with not being tested than not being mortal. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when MMA pundits mused about how any fighter could possible take a round from Lyoto Machida -- until "Shogun" Rua proved what Vera has the chance to prove on Sunday night:

Everyone is beatable.

How do you overcome an unorthodox style with bizarre angles and fast footwork? Fundamentals. Not just in your striking but in your overall game plan. Of course there has to be a game plan to begin with and I think there is enough tape now on Jones now that opposing camps can implement an effective counter

Unfortunately I don't know if Vera, who is the better technical striker, has the discipline or the patience to execute such a strategy. It's a huge commitment and the heat of battle sees so many blueprints get torn up and thrown away time and time again.

But you can't brawl against Jones. You can't wrestle against him either. Trying to "wing it" would be a disaster. If you saw Jones in person you would be amazed at how skinny his legs are for a light heavyweight and they undoubtedly have a low threshold for abuse. It must be exploited. "The Truth" also talks up his grappling game and he's going to need it to force a stand-up from the ref or stay out of danger because sooner or later he's getting taken down.

I can easily see this going the distance. While I think Vera has the tools to beat Jones, I've just never seen any sense of urgency in his defense during past fights. It's not enough to do more, it has to be done at the right time without playing to your opponents strengths.

Look for Jones to control the fight in the first and second. Vera will come back in the third when Jones runs out of steam but it will be too little, too late. Another rung on the ladder for "Bones."

Betting lines (as of March 20):

Jones: -260 ((Bet Now))

Vera: +200 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Jones via unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Junior "Cigano" Dos Santos vs. Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga

Derek Bolender predicts: I won't even try to be coy for at least a paragraph this time. This is a bad match-up for Gabby. Unfortunately for him every fight begins in the standing position, which is where he will be at a distinct disadvantage.

Conversely, Dos Santos is right at home working off his jab, changing levels, and employing solid footwork. He also consistently utilizes good head movement (he won't need it). He's technical and has even shown the wherewithal to make adjustments on the fly when he sees openings (i.e. his uppercut face plant of Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90).

When Dos Santos has sensed opportunity in the past he has immediately moved to apply big time pressure on his opponent. Stefan Struve and Mirko Cro Cop wilted under it. There is no doubt he is going to test Gonzo's chin. The same one that ate a fade-away right cross from Carwin and buckled.

I'm not sure Gonzo has a puncher's chance, kicker's chance perhaps, which he already cashed in once against the aforementioned Cro Cop at UFC 70 in what remains the most irony-laced kick in UFC history.

Gonzo MUST get this on the mat and into his comfort zone before something bad happens. After all, he is a former jiu-jitsu world champion and has shown an innate ability throughout his ten career UFC fights to be able to pass an opponent's guard with ease and control guys on the ground.

This is his bread and butter and his corner better be reminding him of this when Dos Santos' fists start grazing his face. Grab a leg (or two) and put Dos Santos on his back ASAP, which is a place where he has never been at any point in his UFC career.

While it may be difficult to take Dos Santos down it is certainly not impossible. Gonzo has taken bigger, more skilled wrestlers down before like he did recently to Carwin at UFC 96. Dos Santos has also been submitted by a black belt before on the ground in the form of Jaoquim Ferriera back in 2007.

Ultimately, Dos Santos' boxing and Gonzo's lack of success securing takedowns decides the fight. Expect to see Dos Santos sprinting back to his corner following a knockout to hug it out with Big Nog and yell a bunch of stuff in Portuguese.

Bring on Cain Velasquez already.

Betting lines (as of March 20):

Dos Santos: -280 ((Bet Now))

Gonzaga: +210 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Dos Santos via TKO

265 lbs.: Cheick Kongo vs. Paul "The Headhunter" Buentello

James Kimball predicts: Heavyweights Cheick Kongo and Paul Buentello are set to serve as the lead-in to the only heavyweight fight on this card that actually matters, Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Junior Dos Santos.

While I understand that every fight has some meaning, at least for the participants involved in the bout, let's face it; Kongo vs. Buentello is for entertainment purposes only.

In no way, shape, or form do I see Kongo losing this fight. In fact, I would be surprised to see this contest make it out of the first round.

Although the French striking machine known as Cheick Kongo (14-6-1) is coming off a humiliating loss at the hands Frank Mir, there really aren't too many guys in the heavyweight division that wouldn't be humiliated by the former champ.

What Buentello (27-11) is good at -- primarily kickboxing -- Kongo is better.

By a lot.

"The Headhunter" is coming off a loss of his own after dropping a unanimous decision to Stefan Struve at UFC 107. And while Struve appears to be a legitimate heavyweight competitor, nothing I saw in that fight, nor any of his previous bouts prior to resigning with the UFC, showed me has any real chance of beating Cheick.

The fight won't hit the ground other than Buentello falling to it after absorbing a vicious knee or kick courtesy of Kongo. And there is no way Paul can stand and trade with Cheick without taking big shots, and eventually succumbing to Kongo's strikes.

The Wolfslair product takes this one easily. I'm calling a technical knockout as Cheick pounds away at Buentello's skull after he drops him early.

Bet on it. Literally.

Betting lines (as of March 20):

Kongo: -400 ((Bet Now))

Buentello: +300 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Kongo via TKO

185 lbs.: Alessio "Legionarus" Sakara vs. James "The Sandman" Irvin

Akimitsu Kuwabara predicts: Fistic fireworks is a tried and true staple of MMA fight cards that are poised to receive large exposure. Thus, a clash between two sluggers befits UFC's Versus debut: UFC is counting on James Irvin and Alessio Sakara to engage in a full-on brawl to get the casual fans and enthusiasts alike on their feet and pumping their fists.

James "The Sandman" Irvin returns from a long hiatus after a brutal KO loss to Anderson Silva in July 2008. He has run into a rough patch during the layoff; he has undergone a major surgery to treat a nagging knee injury and recently confessed to a bout with prescription drug addiction.

Against Sakara, he hopes to rejuvenate himself in a new weight class. Despite having a less-than-stellar record (4-4) in UFC, he has gained popularity for his highlight-reel knockout victories, including an eight-second starching of Houston Alexander with superman punch.

Alessio Sakara has also had a checkered run in UFC, with an overall record of 5-4, 1NC. Just like Irvin, he has fought as a light heavyweight for much of his career. Since dropping to middleweight, he has gone 2-1. While his last fight against the former middleweight title challenger, Thales Leites, was tepid and the his split decision victory subject to debate, he has shown visible improvements in his overall game over the last few fights.

Under a normal circumstance, predicting the winner of this fight would be a coin flip. Both fighters love to stand and bang, and have numerous KO victories on their resume that testify to their power. At the same time, they have had their chins tested (more so of Sakara than Irvin).

A major question mark hovering over the fight is Irvin's condition after a long layoff, major knee surgeries, and recovery from (prescription) drug addiction, not to mention that this will be his debut in a lower weight class.

Fighters coming off knee surgeries often suffer from compromised conditioning and tentativeness out of fear of re-injury. Also, Irvin was a fairly large and muscular light heavyweight and venturing into a lower weight class for the first time will take its toll, if not executed with care and precision. These factors bode ill for Irvin who boasts explosive striking and brute physicality. Given his lack of finesse, fading during the later rounds will be fatal.

Sakara has always been known for his boxing background and punching power. In recent fights, he has demonstrated a larger arsenal, complementing his boxing skill with kicks and knees. His movement has also gained fluidity and will be vital against Irvin.

He must keep Irvin at bay with kicks and stay busy on the feet to wear him out with strikes from different angles. Turning the fight into a slugfest would be a high-risk move: He has paid dearly against Chris Leben and Houston Alexander for getting into wild exchanges, and Irvin's power warrants caution.

Despite the presence of multiple X factors in the fight, Sakara should be able to gain the lead in a striking battle and finish the exhausted Irvin late in round two or in round three.

Betting lines (as of March 20):

Sakara: Even ((Bet Now))

Irvin: -130 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Sakara via TKO

That’s a wrap, folks.

Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of UFC on Versus: "Vera vs. Jones."

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

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