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UFC 107 predictions, preview and analysis

UFC 107: "Penn vs. Sanchez" is set to go down this Saturday, December 12, 2009 from the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee, live via pay-per-view.

Remember: 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 PPV at 10 p.m. ET.

To get us pumped for the event, 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 BJ Penn and Diego Sanchez. Will Saturday night be a "Nightmare" for the Hawaiian "Prodigy" -- or just another day at the office?

And who's next in line for a 155-pound title shot after this fight?

There are also a lot of unanswered questions regarding the future of Cheick Kongo. Is it reasonable to believe that the power-puncher has a future in the UFC if he falls to Frank Mir?

And does a win for Mir give him the right to challenge Shane Carwin?

Also on tap is the lightweight scrap between Kenny Florian and Clay Guida. "The Carpenter" has sawed through a good portion of the 155-pound roster -- but can't seem to land that big-time win. Would stopping "Ken Flo" put him in the title hunt?

And how long before Florian becomes the official gatekeeper of this division?

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:

155 lbs.: BJ "The Prodigy" Penn (14-5-1) vs. Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (21-2)

Derek Bolender predicts: B.J. Penn will put his lightweight belt on the line against another formidable challenger in Diego Sanchez on Saturday night. Sanchez gets the title shot after going 2 - 0 since dropping from welterweight to lightweight with back-to-back victories over Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida.

His dashing good looks and a little bit of popularity from his reality television days on The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 didn't hurt either. Both went a long way in expediting the process.

Nevertheless, "Nightmare" is probably the best all-around fighter Penn has faced at the lightweight level since he fought Takanori Gomi back in 2003. He has Lance Armstrong-like endurance, minus the bicycle, but with two balls. He also has plenty of experience, above average kickboxing and wrestling, and he's a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

His mental strength is off the charts too. Like George Clooney, if he stared long enough into the eyes of goat it may very well topple over. If only his Jedi mind tricks were good enough to make Penn hit the canvas ...

The problem I have with Sanchez is that everything he does well Penn does that much better. Couple Penn's skills with his burning desire to leave a legacy and go down as one of the best MMA fighters in history and it's a lethal combination.

The only knock on Penn at this point remains his cardio, but why? I'm not sure why it is even still part of the debate? It's like he caught the poor cardio herpes virus early in his career and it flares back up every couple of months when he has a fight. He simply can't shake it. In reality, it hasn't been an issue since 2006 when he lost the welterweight championship to Matt Hughes at UFC 63.

Right now you could argue "The Prodigy" is in the best shape of his career. After hooking up with strength and conditioning coach Marv Marinovich prior to his UFC 101 fight with Kenny Florian he hasn't stopped raving about him. We all saw the product of their relationship play out before our very eyes as he thoroughly dominated Florian in every facet of the game.

Unlike Florian, however, Sanchez has never been submitted or knocked out in his professional career and I do not expect Penn to be able to finish him either. Sanchez can and will do enough to survive. He has an innate ability to scramble out of danger when he needs to.

The key to the fight will be Penn's ability to repeatedly stop Sanchez's takedown attempt onslaught. Consequently, it will morph into a kickboxing match with Penn's world class hands ultimately being the deciding factor.

Penn is simply too technical and too good of a striker to lose the stand-up war. He will eventually settle in, properly gauge distance, start to find his timing and rhythm, and slowly pick Sanchez apart.

It has been roughly eight years since Penn has lost at 155 pounds. At this point I do not see anyone in the UFC that can beat him. The belt is his until he gets bored or retires.

Only Penn will be doing the "yes cartwheel" after this one.

Betting lines (as of Dec. 11):

Penn: -300 ((Bet Now))

Sanchez: +220 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Penn via unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Frank Mir (12-4) vs. Cheick Kongo (14-5-1)

Adam Wagner predicts: Forget the fact that Frank Mir looked to be all bark and no bite in his last venture into the Octagon at UFC 100 and remember a handful of things: 1. Physically, Mir hasn’t looked this good since breaking arms and taking straps back in his heyday in 2004; 2. He got the snot beat out of him by a freak of nature that outweighs gravity; 3. Even on his worst day, Mir can out-roll Kongo with ease, just as long as he can get the fight to the ground.

In many ways, that title unification bout against Lesnar was the best thing that could have happened to Frank Mir. Not only did it get him focused and back in the gym, but the loss (and Lesnar’s post-fight antics) left a bad taste in Mir’s mouth. A decisive victory over Kongo is just the mouthwash he needs.

With all due respect to Cheick Kongo — similar to Lesnar in that he’s also a freak of nature in brute size — his only chance of winning this fight is to elbow and/or knee Mir’s chin into the third row. A 10-fight UFC veteran, Kongo has looked tough enough in TKO victories over a who’s who of UFC gatekeepers. But he’s never been able to get over that hump. His unanimous decision loss to Cain Velasquez at UFC 99 was gut-wrenching. I honestly felt sorry for the guy after watching him barely be able to stand following the closing bell.

If he can catch Mir — something Lesnar, Brandon Vera and Marcio Cruz have all done since the former champ’s return to MMA following a brutal motorcycle accident that nearly ended his career — Kongo can virtually end discussion of a Lesnar vs. Mir 2 while putting the naysayers out to pasture on his own heavyweight title dreams. But a loss here for Kongo will likely cement his gatekeeper status.

Betting lines (as of Dec. 11):

Mir: -210 ((Bet Now))

Kongo: +165 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Mir via submission

155 lbs.: Kenny "KenFlo" Florian (11-4) vs. Clay "The Carpenter" Guida (25-10)

James Iannotti predicts: Regardless of who his opponent is, Clay Guida always seems to be in these ridiculously close fights. There's always drama at the end and nobody ever really seems to win or lose. That has to do something with the fact that he also always seems to be fighting one of the top division contenders. Perhaps his huge heart allows him to match up well with more talented fighters. Either way, nobody can ever accuse him of fighting cupcake opponents.

Things won't get easier in this fight either. In fact, Kenny Florian will probably be his toughest fight to date.

Guida has decent stand up, but he's not as technical or as skilled as Florian is on his feet. "Ken Flo" should be able to win the majority of the stand up exchanges. Striking won't be the difference maker in this fight though. If it is, then Guida is in trouble. No, this fight is going to come down to takedowns, who can score them and who can stuff them.

Guida will obviously be looking to put Florian on his back early and often. That's what he does. But don't be surprised with Florian's ability to defend those takedowns and even score points with takedowns of his own during this fight too.

"Ken Flo" has become a lot more confident in his wrestling and overall strength in the last year or so. Look no further than his strategy against BJ Penn - probably the most important fight of his career - which was primarily to wear the champ down with wrestling. It didn't work out so well, but still, it shows Florian's confidence in his wrestling.

Don't expect Florian to turn into a grind-it-out decision type fighter after this fight is over. He takes too much pride in finishing his opponents, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him forced into beating Guida at his own game in this one.

Basically Florian is better in pretty much every aspect of the fight. Guida's only hope is to somehow get takedowns and then be as efficient as possible with his ground strikes, then hope that he did enough to win the decision at the end.

Florian is too aggressive and too skilled to allow Guida to just grind out a decision from on top of him though. Even if Guida is successful with a takedown or two, once the fight hits the mat, he'll be dealing with a far superior grappler and comparable wrestler.

This is a bad match up for Guida.

I think Florian frustrates and wears him down for two long rounds before finishing him off with a submission in the third. Florian is just too talented. Guida's heart has kept him in a lot of fights, but it won't be enough in this one.

Betting lines (as of Dec. 11):

Florian: -210 ((Bet Now))

Guida: +165 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Florian via submission

170 lbs.: Jon Fitch (19-3) vs. Mike Pierce (10-2)

Nate Lawson predicts: Beginning his career in the UFC with eight straight victories, Jon Fitch was set on a path to mixed martial arts stardom and a shot at Georges St. Pierre’s welterweight title. However, it was not meant to be, as St. Pierre brutalized Fitch en route to a unanimous decision at UFC 87.

The former Purdue wrestler returned to the Octagon strong with a victory over Akihiro Gono at UFC 94 and another one against Paulo Thiago at UFC 100 this past July. With another winning streak brewing, Fitch has been placed up against a notable wrestler in Mike Pierce.

Pierce is running with a six-fight winning streak, with his most recent win coming over Brock Larson at UFC Fight Night 19 this past Sept. The enormous upset marked Pierce’s debut with the promotion, and he has landed a big name match up in Fitch.

This welterweight bout should feature a wrestling war, but if the ground game becomes too even, the two may elect to stand and bang. However, Fitch’s wrestling is top-notch and even if Pierce can put him on his back, the former Boilermaker’s guard is one of the toughest to pass, leaving Pierce without many options on the ground.

While Pierce has shown that he can finish fights (he as finished six of his 10 victories via knockout), if Fitch could survive the five round beatdown issued by St. Pierre at UFC 87, then a stoppage victory for Pierce seems unlikely.

Fitch does not hold a large amount of knockout power and his jiu-jitsu may not be strong enough to finish Pierce, but he has become a master at scoring points and apparently does not mind letting judges decide the winner.

Look for the two to grind out the clock to a decision, as Fitch will once again grab a unanimous decision nod from the judges and send Pierce back to Ultimate Fight Night under cards.

Betting lines (as of Dec. 11):

Fitch: -400 ((Bet Now))

Pierce: +300 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Fitch via unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Paul "The Headhunter" Buentello (27-10) vs. Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve (18-3)

Akimitsu Kuwabara predicts: The "Headhunter" returns to action against the Dutch "Skyscraper" in a match that pits experience against youth and striking against grappling.

Paul Buentello dispatched "Baby Fedor," Kiril Sidelnikov in his last fight in January at "Affliction – Day of Reckoning." Despite falling short in high-profile fights over his career – notably, the UFC heavyweight title bout against Andrei Arlovski at UFC 55 and the Strikeforce bout in November 2007 against Alistair Overeem for the belt that has since been collecting dust in Overeem’s bedroom – he is a grizzled veteran with twelve years of experience and 37 fights under his belt.

Stefan Struve, on the other hand, has been picking up steam in his young career with consecutive submission victories over Denis Stojnic and Chase Gormley after receiving a rude welcome to UFC from the fast-rising Junior Dos Santos at UFC 95. While hailing from the kickboxing powerhouse of Holland, the lanky 6’11" heavyweight has become known for his submission prowess, having earned 14 of his 18 career victories by submission.

One of the most striking features of the match-up is the sizable reach advantage Struve enjoys thanks to his height. Struve’s Dhalsim-like limbs, if utilized properly, can frustrate and keep Buentello at bay on the feet. Yet, if some of his recent fights are any indication, Struve does not have the technical acumen to take full advantage of his physical gift in striking. Moreover, his strength and key to victory lie in his submission savvy: Having shown a preference for executing takedowns from the clinch or pulling guard over shooting for a single/double-leg, he needs to close the distance without being starched by Buentello’s power punches.

Buentello possesses power in his hands and if he can effectively swarm and land clean shots on Struve like Dos Santos and Stojnic did, he can collapse the "Skyscraper." He possesses decent takedown defense so Struve will face a tough task of taking the fight to the mat. Nonetheless, the question remains as to how well Buentello handles Struve’s height and reach. He has demonstrated the speed and jab to control the distance in his past fights but will they be sufficient against Struve?

With his recent exile from the long-time home of AKA due to management issue, lengthy layoff, and lack of quality wins in recent memory, Buentello invites numerous questions regarding his physical and mental shape, as well as the overall standing in the rapidly improving UFC heavyweight division.

Struve still has a way to go in rounding out his skill set, and while Buentello will never be mistaken for a top-notch wrestler, dragging him to the mat will not be easy. Also, if he has not mended his porous striking defense, he will unwittingly give Buentello an open invitation for a knockout, come fight time. There is a good chance that Buentello will force him to show the same tenacity he did in the bloody come-back victory against Denis Stojnic and pull guard to initiate a ground battle.

Though Struve remains somewhat of an unknown quantity and has a good chance of submission victory, Buentello is the safe bet here: Buentello’s power shots eventually find their target and the "Headhunter" piles in for the kill.

Betting lines (as of Dec. 11):

Buentello: *Even* ((Bet Now))

Struve: -130 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Buentello 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 107: "Penn vs. Sanchez."

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

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