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UFC 91 predictions, preview and analysis

UFC 91: "Couture vs. Lesnar" is set to take place LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on pay-per-view (PPV) at 10 p.m. ET on November 15.

Remember: will provide LIVE updates and 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.

To get us pumped for the festivities, Editor and Senior Writer Jesse Holland (that’s me) will be breaking down the main event matches and revealing each fighter’s keys to victory.

If you’re looking for an unbiased and objective examination of each contest, then I’m happy to report you will be extremely disappointed.

Why else do you think I would depose the former contributors and take this act solo like the selfish blowhard you already know me to be?

But enough about me … at least for the time being.

Let’s get cracking:

Randy "The Natural" Couture (16-8) vs. Brock Lesnar (2-1)

Who is Randy Couture? Is he the true UFC heavyweight champion and ageless warrior that can overcome any obstacle? Or is he an expired relic still trying to hold on to the magic he was able to briefly capture in 2007? Your opinion on Couture may have a lot to do with what side of the fence you're on when it comes to the ability of Brock Lesnar as it pertains to mixed martial arts. Like Couture, there are two schools of thought on Lesnar. Many see him as a sociopathic freight train, too big and too strong to be stopped by anyone in the UFC heavyweight division outside of Nogueira. Others seem him as a bumbling jock who can't take a punch, ready to be picked apart by more experienced fighters. Personally, I think both arguments are valid for both fighters though I'm going to go with Lesnar at UFC 91. More of a factor than age is Couture's time spent away from the Octagon. Randy has done great things in his career, but whatever momentum he had coming off the Gabriel Gonzaga win at UFC 74 has long since dissipated thanks to his schizophrenic leave of absence. Lesnar will come into the fight about 275-280 pounds, and should be able to effectively control Couture with his wrestling. Anyone clinging to Randy's clinch or dirty boxing as a conduit to victory are sure to be disappointed when Brock shrugs off his grip and dumps him on his head. Randy has been able to improve his striking as we saw against Tim Sylvia, but Lesnar is a moving target and I don't expect to see him spending a whole lot of time trying to outstrike the veteran. This one is all about who has the better wrestling and the ability to control their opponent. For my money it's Brock Lesnar, and I'm expecting an early finish for the pasty-face goliath.

Keys to victory:

Couture: I think Brock's biggest weakness is his submission defense. Since going to the ground is a foregone conclusion, concentrate all efforts on a flailing limb or errant strike. Or you could just change positions and hope you get hit in the back of the head from the overly excited challenger. Hey, it worked for Mir.

Lesnar: Stick to the game plan. Don't waste time testing out your chin or throwing the jab. Stay in his face and be relentless in your takedowns. If he wants to clinch, use the knees like you did against Herring. Or you could further endear yourself to the fans and just lay on him for five rounds.

Prediction: Lesnar by technical knockout

Kenny "KenFlo" Florian (10-3) vs. Joe "Daddy" Stevenson (29-8)

Aside from Penn and perhaps Sherk, Stevenson and Florian pretty much own this division. It’s amazing to think that the youthful Stevenson has 37 fights or that he’s 19-3 since 2001, but that’s a testament to the kind of fighter "Daddy" is. Since moving to lightweight he’s never looked better and his strength and wrestling will give Florian plenty of problems. That's not to suggest it will be an easy ride. As painful as it is for me to use the term "Hell-bows", I can’t deny their effectiveness. And Florian is fast - even for a lightweight. Nine of his ten wins have been by (T)KO or submission and he's as well-rounded as they come. Both fighters have already felt the pressure of fighting for the title, but Florian fought a little too carefully in his last fight against Roger Huerta at UFC 87 for me to believe he's willing to go toe-to-toe with Stevenson right off the bat. Whether you want to call it intelligent or elusive, it might be the only thing that works because Stevenson will keep the pressure on and try to force Florian out of his comfort zone. Although KenFlo is a little too wily to submit, Stevenson's wrestling and ground control should keep him subdued at least through the first round. Unfortunately it will probably end after that as Stevenson's cardio will betray him, allowing Florian to pick him apart en route to a decision win. It's incredible to think how much these guys have improved since their time on The Ultimate Fighter reality series and if Florian doesn't go overly-Machida on us, we could potentially have the fight of the night. Too bad this one isn't five rounds.

Keys to victory:

Florian: Keep it upright and use the kicks. Takedown defense is paramount and elbows from the guard ala Joe Lauzon could be a fight ender - just keep them below the hairline.

Stevenson: He's bound to try and backpedal from the start of round one in hopes of luring you into a stand-up battle. When he gets close to the cage go for a double leg and turn him into lump crabmeat. From there set the tone and prove you deserve that recently awarded jiu-jitsu black belt.

Prediction: Florian by unanimous decision

Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga (9-3) vs. Josh Hendricks (15-4)

Gabriel Gonzaga is a hulking menace that isn't afraid of anybody. That worked against Cro Cop at UFC 70, not so much against Randy Couture at UFC 74 and Fabricio Werdum at UFC 80. Still, he loves to prey on mediocre talent like Justin McCully and Carmelo Marrero, both of whom he submitted with arm locks. I don't expect anything different against the debuting Josh Hendricks. Hendricks of course is a Cinderella story, toiling in smaller shows and coming from the brink of retirement to finally get his shot at the UFC. And while he might not turn back into a pumpkin at midnight, Gonzaga is more than likely to squash him like one. If he passes on striking and instead implements some of those ridiculous ground skills, Hendricks will start losing limbs like Bill Chrushank in 'Body Parts'. Nobody expects Hendricks to win, but he can do a lot for his UFC career by putting forth a solid effort. To do that he needs to fight intelligently and have faith in his wrestling. A man of his considerable pounds can wear down anybody, even a woolly mammoth like Gonzaga. If he can stay composed with a big hairy chest in his face and defend the submission, he may have a chance to tire the Brazilian and find a rhythm in rounds two and three. Not likely, but this is MMA and you can't discount anyone's chances. Just ask Junior dos Santos

Keys to victory:

Gonzaga: Your better on your feet and better on the ground, but now is not the time to start showing off or experimenting. Take him to the ground and put one of his arms on layaway.

Hendricks: Gonzaga doesn't like the later rounds, the key is how to get there. Give him a taste of his own medicine with leg kicks and force him to be overly aggressive. Wait scratch that, he's already overly aggressive. Just swing for the fences and remember that check they promised you.

Prediction: Gonzaga by submission

Demian Maia (8-0) vs. Nate "The Rock" Quarry (10-2)

Anyone who can suffer a highlight-reel knockout and then career-ending spinal surgery only to come back and win two straight fights is hard to pick against no matter who the opponent is. Unfortunately for Quarry he’s facing Demian Maia, who's done a pretty good job of submitting people in the UFC, especially those who think they have good jiu-jitsu like Ed Herman and Jason MacDonald. In fact I think Maia is second only to Rousimar "Toquinho" Palhares in pure jiu-jitsu talent at 185lbs. While Quarry isn't going to pretend he's interested in grappling, he needs to realize anything on the mat is the danger zone. Likewise for Maia in the stand-up. Maia's striking is rudimentary at best and Quarry hits hard, ending four of his last five wins via (T)KO. I’m not sure he can win via stoppage with a smart offense, because one of his keys to victory is to keep Maia at a comfortable distance. If he can force Maia to do more than just hang around and wait for guard, he could take advantage of Demian's suspect conditioning. Conversely Maia needs to lull Quarry into a false sense of security, where he can capitalize on a mistake and tangle him up in guard or even catch his back during a transition. I don't think either man will be able to get the advantage, but I do think they will come close and have a good back-and-forth battle and may even end up in a split decision like Cote vs Almeida at UFC 86 (only not as boring - hopefully).

Keys to victory:

Maia: Find a way to get to the ground. Getting knocked out while looking for a takedown in not what I mean. You can submit him but don't underestimate his strength and power, especially from the mount.

Quarry: Just because he offers you mount doesn't mean you should take it unless you're in and out. Fight intelligently. Repeated viewings of Henderson vs. Palhares is recommended.

Prediction: Quarry by split decision

Dustin "McLovin" Hazelett (11-4) vs. Tamdan "The Barn Cat" McCrory (9–1)

McLovin' versus The Barn Cat. Sounds more like an episode of Tom and Jerry. Hazelett and McCrory have been promoted to the main card of UFC 91 courtesy of a legless Amir Sadollah and I fully expect them to make the most of it. That's why I'm picking Hazelett to lose. He has the kind of jiu-jitsu that was tailor made for the gangly limbs of McCrory. He got a lot of people talking with his surprising win over the venerable Josh Burkman at The Ultimate Fighter Finale back in June after getting smoked like an unfiltered Camel against Josh Koscheck at UFC 82. Unfortunately this most recent win might have him wrapped up in style and not in substance. McCory has competent ground skills and learned his submission lesson against Akihiro Gono at UFC 78, successfully rebounding against Luke Cummo at UFC 87. Despite his lanky frame he also has deceptive power. Hazelett can bang but gives up a reach advantage to McCrory that will not only keep McLovin at bay, but will eventually frustrate him into a careless shot or something similarly reckless and The Barn Cat will put him out.

Keys to victory:

Hazelett: It's time for a blue collar approach. Forget about being on the main card and trying to put on a good show. Pick your shots and wait for an opening before unleashing a barrage of submission attempts. Keep your head down, this kid hits hard.

McCrory: Use your reach to frustrate him. Remember the Gono fight and stay out of trouble. Wait for a mistake and then pull a Soda Popinski.

Prediction: McCrory by technical knockout

That's a wrap, folks.

Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and our coverage of UFC 91 "Couture vs. Lesnar."

What do you think? Now it’s your turn … let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for UFC 91.

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