UFC Fight Night 21 predictions, preview and analysis

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UFC Fight Night 21: "Florian vs. Gomi" is set to go down this Wednesday, March 31, 2010 from the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina, live via 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 on the cable television network at 8 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 Kenny Florian and Takanori Gomi. Can "The Fireball Kid" recapture some of the glory from his days in PRIDE? Or will "KenFlo" send him tumbling down the lightweight ladder?

There are also a lot of unanswered questions regarding the future of Roy "Big Country" Nelson. Is the Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 10 winner being overlooked in this division? Or will Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve prove he's all belly and no bite?

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.: Kenny "KenFlo" Florian (12-4) vs. Takanori "The Fireball Kid" Gomi (31-5)

Akimitsu Kuwabara predicts: The former Pride champion, Takanori "Fireball Kid" Gomi makes a much-anticipated Octagon debut. Much has been said about Gomi's fall from grace since the dissolution of Pride: The one-time lightweight king of the world who blazed through his opponents in Pride has seen his fire smolder in recent years. Suffering upsets against Nick Diaz, Sergei Golyaev, and Satoru Kitaoka in Pride and Sengoku from 2007-2009, the "Fireball Kid" looked either listless or in less-than-optimal shape even in victories during the same period.

By joining the world's largest MMA organization, Gomi hopes the challenge will ignite him once again.

Florian, on the other hand, has emerged as an elite lightweight throughout his UFC career. While handily dismantled by BJ Penn in the lightweight title bout at UFC 101, KenFlo continues to evolve, and his most recent victory over Clay Guida demonstrated that he is truly a dangerous opponent for anyone in the division (not named Penn).

The stand-up portion of the fight promises vibrant action and may play an instrumental role in shaping the overall fight.

Despite the talk about Gomi's losing a step, even his recent fights demonstrate that "Fireball Kid" still boasts power in both hands and slick boxing skills. As usual, he will constantly move forward to stalk Florian and try to land power shots from the inside. Florian has a diverse range of strikes, including crisp leg kicks and vicious "hellbow," that is complemented with nimble footwork. Florian does not possess the power to dent Gomi's granite chin and will likely use his reach and movement to pick Gomi apart from distance.

The momentum can swing in favor of either fighter in the striking exchange. If Gomi successfully closes the distance and hurts Florian with punches, he will be able to force his opponent to back pedal and bully forward. On the other hand, Florian can frustrate Gomi with his speed, footwork, and reach.

Gomi and Florian are also known for their grappling prowess, and whichever fighter finds himself at a disadvantage in the striking battle will likely initiate grappling. With his decorated freestyle and catch wrestling background, Gomi enjoys a decisive advantage in the wrestling department. On the other hand, he has proven vulnerable against fighters with excellent ground game, such as Marcus Aurelio, Nick Diaz, and Satoru Kitaoka; against Florian, he faces an adroit grappler who can threaten him from the top position and in scrambles.

The biggest question looming over the fight is which Gomi will show up: Will the fans see the vintage, Pride-era Gomi or will they see the floundering fighter who has seemingly lost his killer instinct and suffers from poor conditioning?

Though Gomi has the skillset to defeat Florian and other top fighters in UFC's lightweight division, there are numerous questions surrounding his adaptation to fighting in the cage, conditioning, and the ability to flesh out his game in order to succeed in the top MMA organization in the world.

At this point in the Gomi's and Florian's respective careers, Florian is the one who is hitting his stride as a top level fighter. The TUF 1 alum will use his speed and reach from the outside and utilize his devastating elbow strike from the inside to frustrate Gomi; once Gomi shoots in for a takedown, his superior ground game will help keep Gomi's aggression in check and carry him to a unanimous decision victory.

Betting lines (as of March 30):

Florian: -300 ((Bet Now))

Gomi: +220 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Florian via unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Roy "Big Country" Nelson (14-4) vs. Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve (19-3)

James Iannotti predicts: Both these guys have really good submission skills for heavyweights. However, given their differences in physical stature, they go about using those submission skills in different ways and in this particular match-up, I think Struve is at a disadvantage on the ground.

Nelson's M.O. more often than not has involved some form of pinning his opponent to the mat with that massive gut of his and looking for openings from there: The dreaded "belly crucifix." Struve's long limbs and thin build make him a prime candidate for that same type of treatment on Wednesday night if he allows "Big Country" to get takedowns.

Nelson isn't terrible on his feet. He actually has a solid jab, and his chin is more than respectable. Even with that being so, the longer he allows this fight to stay vertical, the more he's asking for trouble. Struve doesn't just have the length advantage. He's also the better, more versatile striker.

This is Struve's fight to win on the feet and Nelson's on the ground.

With that said, "Big Country" should be able to find a way to pull out the win here. The "Big" question is, how much has the Schaub knockout affected Nelson's game? Will he come in thinking he's a top-level striker -- or will he drag this thing to the mat?

In the end I think Nelson will eat one too many on his feet and go back to his bread and butter. From that point on I just don't see Struve being able stay off of his back for more than a minute or two at a time. I got Nelson by smothering.

Betting lines (as of March 30):

Nelson: -300 ((Bet Now))

Struve: +220 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Nelson via unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Nate "The Rock" Quarry (12-3) vs. Jorge "El Conquistador" Rivera (17-7)

James Kimball predicts: The middleweight showdown between Nate Quarry and Jorge Rivera is intriguing to me if just for the action it promises to provide. Both guys are veterans – each 38 years young -- of the game, both are coming off back-to-back wins, and throughout the course of their careers have demonstrated the type of heart and desire that every fan can appreciate.

Owner of a 12-3 professional record, "The Rock" has only dropped two out of his ten fights in the UFC, with both those losses coming to formidable opponents in Rich Franklin and Demian Maia. The TUF 1 product was last seen in action against Tim Credeur at UFC Fight Night: Diaz vs. Guillard in which he earned a unanimous decision win and subsequently was rewarded with "Fight of the Night" honors.

Rivera (17-7) has been throwing down in the UFC since 2003. Though his record has a few more dents in it than Quarry, "El Conquistador" has had his fair share of moments. At UFC 104 last fall, Jorge got a late finish against Rob Kimmons to improve to 3-1 in last four fights.

So who’s going to keep their mini-winning streak alive?

The good thing here is that we know what we’re getting. Two tough, resilient warriors who are just gonna let ‘em fly until the other guy says ‘no mas.’

While I give the edge to Quarry when it comes to the ability to absorb punishment and keep on ticking, I do see Rivera as the fighter with more power. Obviously neither man has much of a submission game, so I don’t anticipate much, if any, action on the ground.

When it’s all said and done, I’m leaning toward Nate. I think his striking is more refined, and coupled with his strong chin; I look for "The Rock" to be the last mean standing.

This one has "Fight of the Night" written all over it. I’m rolling with a late stoppage due to strikes at the hands of Nate Quarry.

Betting lines (as of March 30):

Quarry: -300 ((Bet Now))

Rivera: +220 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Quarry via technical knockout

155 lbs.: Ross "The Real Deal" Pearson (10-3) vs. Denis Siver (15-6)

Nostradumbass predicts: The Ultimate Fighter Season Nine winner, Ross Pearson, returns to the Octagon against a German juggernaut who came back from the brink of unemployment to put together a four fight winning streak with four stoppages.

In fact, the Dennis Siver story proves it's never too late to get things turned around. The Mannheim native had a very unspectacular start to his UFC career, going 1-3 in four fights from 2007-2008. He returned to the win column in a local show in Darmstadt and got called back for the "Franklin vs. Henderson" event in Dublin.

From there he's been an absolute terror, looking nothing like the underwhelming competitor in his first Octagon run. His latest victim was venerable 155-pounder Paul Kelly, who succumbed to a brutal combination of strikes at last November's UFC 105 event in Manchester.

That said, I'm surprised he opened at +230.

Not to suggest that Pearson hasn't earned his role as the favorite. I didn't think he was "The Real Deal" during much of the TUF 9 season, but like Siver, his performance at UFC 105 was an eye opener.

Aaron Riley is an animal, and Pearson stopped him cold in the second round. He also showed his maturation as a fighter. What I like most about the Brit is the pace he sets coupled with his hunger. You can tell this is a fighter who wants it. But can I pick him over an 8-fight UFC veteran who's looking better and better with every fight?

On paper this contest leans towards Siver, but like Roy Nelson, sometimes I have to go with my gut. I think Pearson controls this bout with his wrestling and ground work, but don't expect it to be the lopsided mismatch the bookmakers expect it to be.

Betting lines (as of March 30):

Pearson: -155 ((Bet Now))

Siver: +230 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Pearson 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 Fight Night 21: "Florian vs. Gomi."

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

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