UFC 119: "Mir vs. Cro Cop" from the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, is finally upon us, as the world's largest fight promotion brings its stable of stars to "Circle City" tomorrow night (Sept. 25) 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.
One of the big stories coming into this event is of course the headlining fight between Frank Mir and Mirko Filipovic. Which champion of yesteryear gets back into the title hunt?
And does "Cro Cop's" recent ocular trauma leave him at a disadvantage come fight night?
There are also a lot of unanswered questions regarding the future of Ryan Bader. Is the Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 8 winner going to finish what Jason Brilz started back at UFC 114?
And will a win over "Little Nog" put "Darth" in a number one contender bout against Jon "Bones" Jones?
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:
265 lbs.: Frank Mir (13-5) vs. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (27-7-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: I'm faced with the unfortunate reality that this is the end of 2010. Whatever accomplishments Mirko Filipovic had as a world-beater in PRIDE are no longer applicable to his UFC career. And let's face it, it's tough to make an argument for "Cro Cop" in this fight when to date, his biggest accomplishment inside the Octagon is surviving 2.5 rounds with Junior dos Santos.
It's no secret that I used to carry the Croat's cable, but even I can't get excited by his submission win over Pat Barry. The stocky 'Nawlins native dropped him twice and controlled the stand up before breaking his hand AND foot and then succumbing to what has to be one of the ugliest and least technical rear naked chokes in UFC history.
Not only was "Get Hype" (or "HD," whatever his nickname is nowadays) starstruck going into the fight, he's a combatant who by his own admission has a complete ignorance of the ground game.
Aside from Barry, CroboCop beat the tar out of Eddie Sanchez, Mostapha Outta-Wurk and Anthony Perosh. Those names doing anything for ya'? Me neither.
We don't have to talk about his losses, but I will anyway because I have to adhere to a certain word count. Junior dos Santos, Cheick Kongo, and the kick that broke the hearts of millions (myself included), Gabriel Gonzaga.
It's been four years since Filipovic peaked. Since then, there isn't one single performance that I can point to that indicates he has the skill set to topple Mir. And does he sound hungry? Is he begging the UFC for a title shot? No, he's here because, and I quote, "they made him an offer he can't refuse."
That's translates into Croatian as "I'll be home just as soon as I pick up my check." I believe Cro Cop fights because he's paid to, not because he wants to. Sounds like every other middle-aged schlep who's stuck in a job they've long since outgrown.
That was difficult for me to say because I'm not really a Frank Mir fan, but I do recognize that his abilities at this stage of his career are probably better than Filipovic's. And somehow he manages to stay relevant by securing a big win at exactly the right time.
It's funny because 2006 was a career year for Cro Cop whereas Mir was one fight away from history. Not making history, from being history. He came back from his layoff to get creamed by "Play da Piano," looked like a beached whale against Dan Christensen before getting KTFO by Brandon Vera.
It was starting to get ugly.
Then what happened? He beats Antoni Hardonk, Brock Lesnar and "Minotauro" Nogueira. Lesnar got his revenge but Mir kept himself afloat by crushing Cheick Kongo -- only to get flattened by Shane Carwin, which is hardly a knock. "The Engineer" has made a mockery of the heavyweight division and would probably be the champion if Andrew McCarthy didn't leave the building after the first round and force him to turn back into a department store mannequin.
My point is that Mir has shown he can find the win when he needs to. You can argue that Lesnar was green, Nog was a corpse and Kongo was cocky, but even if all those arguments are true, Mir still took advantage of them. He got it done and I think he will on Saturday night.
Is Cro Cop still dangerous? Sure, any time you let another grown man take a swipe at you you're in danger. But Mir just has too many ways to win and I think at this juncture Filipovic only has one. I would be shocked if this thing remained upright for more than 90 seconds.
Betting lines (as of Sept. 24):
Mir: -200 ((Bet Now))
Cro Cop: +260 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Mir via submission
205 lbs.: Ryan "Darth" Bader (11-0) vs. Antonio Rogerio "Minotoro" Nogueira (19-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: You've heard about twins? How you can hurt one brother and the other one feels it? That sure looked like the case at UFC 114, when Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was outclassed by Jason Brilz. It seemed like "Lil' Nog" had absorbed all the punishment his older twin has been taking over the past umpteen years because he looked way past his prime.
I know it's hard to knock a guy who's 19-3, especially coming off a great debut against Luis Cane. Is it possible that he just had a bad night? Or that maybe Brilz is really that good? Perhaps, but we're dealing with a Nogueira here, and if his brother is any indication, once it's over it's REALLY over.
That's hardly a scientific assessment and I'm just going with my gut here, but let's throw out the argument that Nog is quickly fading and put him back at the top of his game. Would it still be enough to handle Bader? Tough call, but again, this is 2010 and dominant wrestlers seem to be able to do what they want, when they want.
"Darth" is younger, quicker and very powerful. He has a good right hand and hopefully a solid gameplan. Despite his grappling skills, I think Nogueira's best chance is standing up -- if he can avoid the right, and that to me is a very big "if." He may not have the same reaction time he did as a boxer in Brazil and Sokoudjou proved he can be knocked out if you land one on the button.
Bader will likely keep it standing for the first round if for nothing else then to work up a nice, slippery sweat. If he's losing the stand-up battle he can always revert to his wrestling in rounds two and three and likely steal both of them. However, if he's doing well on his feet you can expect it to stay there.
This fight boils down to which Rogerio Nogueira we see. If his conditioning is on point and he works his guard to his full ability, there's no reason he can't win. Maybe Bader has fallen in love with his striking after the Jardine KO, who knows, but I think he plays it safe here and outworks Xamot to a unanimous decision win.
Betting lines (as of Sept. 24):
Bader: -175 ((Bet Now))
Nogueira: +145 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Bader via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Evan Dunham (11-0) vs. Sean "The Muscle Shark" Sherk (32-4-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: I believe the technical term for this is "The Last Hurrah." Sean Sherk went from one of the most dominant champions in UFC history to a mediocre striker who forgot how to shoot. We already have plenty of those in the lightweight division, so why the new look?
I'm not saying "The Muscle Shark" could have beaten BJ Penn, but Georges St. Pierre sure made it look easy. How? Wrestling. GSP is bigger, but Sherk is no weakling and he tries what, one or two takedowns the entire Penn fight?
Now Sherk could have definitely beaten Frankie Edgar, the same way Gray Maynard did. Sherk shot once late in the fight and what happened? He nearly put "The Answer" through the floor and into the basement. The rest of the three rounds saw him get picked apart by the zippiest lightweight in the game today.
It's ironic how wrestling finally catches up to the sport of MMA just as Sherk decides to abandon it. He's just not a good enough striker to be a contender. Good enough to set up the shoot and ground and pound? Absolutely, so then why not do it? Only Sean can say for sure, but I think the past few fights (and the Griffin win was hardly convincing) were a serious wake-up call.
He wants to be the champion again and I believe he has a legitimate shot -- but it's now or never. The only way to accomplish that is to go back to basics, the bread and butter of his offense. One dimensional? Sure, but over the span of eight years and 30 fights his only two losses were to Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, both of whom were welterweights AND championship caliber fighters.
His fighting style is not one that is affected by a layoff and I'm convinced that he recognizes the urgency of his situation. If he doesn't, he's a fool. But I truly believe he comes out and puts Evan Dunham into the cage like a crash test dummy before dragging him across the floor and pounding him out.
Who is Dunham? An exciting prospect, no doubt, but what has he done that's so terrific? He had a nice comeback win over a sloppy Efrain Escudero (who oh by the way, is no longer with the UFC) and took two split decision wins over Marcus Aurelio and Tyson Griffin. That makes you a -240 against one of the greatest lightweights ever? Well, maybe against the one we've seen in recent fights, but I think Sherk has retired that persona permanently.
If he hasn't, the only thing permanent will be his place on future undercards.
Betting lines (as of Sept. 24):
Dunham: -240 ((Bet Now))
Sherk: +190 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Sherk via technical knockout
170 lbs.: Chris "Lights Out" Lytle (29-17-5) vs. Matt "The Terror" Serra (11-6)
Nostradumbass predicts: This is by far the most difficult fight to predict. I think Matt Serra is the better all around fighter, but his inactivity has to be taken into consideration. He averages roughly around one fight per year and he's certainly no spring chicken. In fact, he's only competed four times since they first threw down at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 4 Finale back in 2006 -- compared to Lytle's 11.
Still, "The Terror" has devastating power for a guy his size and world class submissions to boot. Cardio? Not an issue. I think the biggest disadvantage for him at welterweight is his height. Should he have stayed at 155-pounds? Probably, but how do you convince an Italian from New York to give up pasta?
I think that his sporadic fight schedule, coupled with his reach, will give Lytle the advantage here and ultimately, the win. I don't want to get too hung up on the 2006 fight because they're both different fighters and it's a completely different sport.
What makes it hard to pick against "Lights Out" is that he's never been knocked or submitted -- even against the world's best. It will likely happen one day, but I doubt it will be in front of his hometown crowd, which should serve to energize him.
Lytle also has a very underrated ground game, which may start rating higher if he continues the performances we've seen in his past couple of fights. But I'm not sure if he wants to risk turning this into a grappling match against a guy with Serra's resume.
His best chance is to use his reach to keep the shorty-and-nearly-forty Long Islander at bay. Serra doesn't have the reach to play the striking game and if he can't get inside he's going to have to try and get it to the ground. He might, but I don't imagine Lytle will make it easy for him if and when he does.
I'm picking "Lights Out" via superior gameplan.
Betting lines (as of Sept. 24):
Lytle: -140 ((Bet Now))
Serra: +110 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Lytle via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Melvin "The Young Assassin" Guillard (25-8-2) vs. Jeremy "Lil' Heathen" Stephens (17-5)
Nostradumbass predicts: Imagine you're Dana White and you can turn back the clock to Fall of 2005. "Hello, Mr. Jackson? I have a young kid here named Melvin Guillard I'd like you to take a look at." Sure, the "Young Assassin" eventually ended up under the tutelage of the MMA guru, but what kind of impact would Melvin have made if he did it five years earlier?
Seven of the eight career losses (almost 90 percent) for the Louisiana native have come by way of submission and his lack of sub defense was widely considered the missing piece to the enigmatic puzzle that is Guillard. Will the help of a renowned trainer like Jackson propel him into the upper echelon of the division?
Well, he passed his first test against Ronnys Torres. I know "not getting submitted" is faint praise, but for Guillard, it was a monumental victory against a very crafty Brazilian. He followed that up by reorganizing Waylon Lowe's intestinal blueprint at UFC 114 back in May.
Just so we have it on paper: Speed, striking, power, submission defense? That's a scary thought, and a combination that I believe will flatten Jeremy Stephens.
"Lil' Heathen" is pretty good on his feet as well, stopping 70 percent of his victims by way of (T)KO. He also rebounded from back-to-back losses (Lauzon, Tibau) to win consecutive fights against Justin Buchholz and Sam Stout.
They're both on an upswing, but I think the biggest difference here is the speed.
I don't know if Stephens can beat Melvin to the punch and as far as taking one? Well, probably not the path of least resistance. What does weigh in his favor is that in 22 fights he's never been knocked out.
Then again, there's a first time for everything.
Melvin Guillard (version 2.0) all day.
Betting lines (as of Sept. 24):
Guillard: -160 ((Bet Now))
Stephens: +130 ((Bet Now))
Prediction: Guillard 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 119: "Mir vs. Cro Cop."
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.