UFC 129 is upon us, and it has Toronto and the Rogers Centre abuzz. The hype train, plus the UFC Fan Expo, has stoked the fires of the promotion’s rabid fan base and done the same for the MMA DieHards panel of writers – Bob Badders, Cameron Chow, Jason Kelly, Aidan O’Connor and yours truly.
We gathered to make our picks for the main card and, in what might be a first, the panel was divided on nearly every contest, save for the one between Daniel Roberts and Claude Patrick, in which everyone selected Roberts. That brings us to the “Counterpunch,” where one of the writers in the minority defends his reason for going against the panel members’ collective majority opinion.
Yves Jabouin vs. Pablo Garza
Defending Garza: Joe Rizzo
A couple of things have combined to work in Garza’s favor throughout his career: fighting at featherweight, and doing it on a full camp.
Against Yves Jabouin,”The Scarecrow” has both of those working in his favor. Zuffa zealots might best remember a pair of his losses, one of them to Michael Johnson, the eventual finalist, get into the house at TUF 12, and the other to highly touted Chinese fighter “Mongolian Wolf” Zhang Tie Quan at WEC 51. Against Johnson, Garza was fighting at lightweight. Against Zhang, he took the fight on short notice.
When Garza made his UFC debut against Fredson Paixao, he recorded one of the greatest knee-driven knockouts in the promotion’s history. It might not be another knee, but get ready anyhow, because Garza has something in store that will make Jabouin another victim, in spectacular fashion.
John Makdessi vs. Kyle Watson
Defending Watson: Cameron Chow
If you’ve worked your way deep into the mix on The Ultimate Fighter, you’ll more than likely get your chance in the UFC. Watson is one of those guys.
Watson stuck it out on the reality show but did not win. His time there paid off as he gets a shot to take on Makdessi, who is 8-0. But my gut tells me Watson is going to pull this one off. Watson is desperate to grab a victory by showcasing his expanded skill set.
Makdessi won’t make it easy on him, but Watson will finish this one before it goes to the judges.
Jason MacDonald vs. Ryan Jensen
Defending MacDonald: Aidan O’Connor
A tricky one to call. Both men have experienced mixed results during their time in the Octagon and the loser may well receive their marching orders, something that could make this bout either an all-out war or an overly cautious affair.
MacDonald is coming back from a nasty leg injury that has kept him out for almost a year, a setback that naturally raises questions of ring rust. One would assume, however, that training at Xtreme Couture with the likes of Gray Maynard, Forrest Griffin and the ageless Randy Couture would do wonders for anyone’s endurance, let alone a man who modestly bestows the nickname “The Athlete” upon himself. By the same token, a lengthy layoff doesn’t always equal a lackluster performance, note Anthony Johnson’s victory over Dan Hardy last month following an extended absence of his own. Even if it wasn’t the slugfest we were all expecting, Johnson showed great awareness and employed an effective game plan.
Who’s to say MacDonald can’t do the same?
MacDonald also holds a significant experience edge over his opponent, having competed in nearly twice as many fights as Jensen – 38 to 22. In that time, MacDonald has claimed notable victories over the likes of Joe Doerksen, Chris Leben and Ed Herman. Not too shabby.
Both men have a history of tapping out their opponents, which could potentially make for an interesting technical encounter on the ground. In such a scenario, the combination of MacDonald’s fight camp, which included accomplished wrestlers such as Couture, and the majority of Jensen’s defeats having come by way of submission, sees the edge go to MacDonald in a rational world. Not that one would ever describe the world of MMA as “rational.”
On top of all these factors, the Canadian will be performing in front of 55,000 spectators in his home country. Fan favoritism is almost guaranteed and should serve as a much-welcomed morale boost for “The Athlete.” Jason MacDonald for the win, because it makes sense on paper (famous last words).
Ivan Menjivar vs. Charlie Valencia
Defending Menjivar: Chow
Menjivar is only 27 years old. Despite his relatively young age, he has fought in 29 contests. This will be his first in the UFC.
For those of you who have been following Counterpunch throughout the year, you know that my picks are never scientific. It’s not my forte. I just have a hunch Menjivar is going to beat Valencia.
Menjivar has been retired and unretired. “The Pride of El Salvador” has fought some of the top fighters in the world, big time names like Georges St-Pierre, Matt Serra, Urijah Faber, Joe Lauzon and Caol Uno. Menjivar now trains at Tristar gym in Montreal. While he’s not Canadian, he’ll have the benefit of fighting close to home and this will be to his advantage because he will beat Valencia due to his superb training.
Claude Patrick vs. Daniel Roberts
Roberts is unanimous pick: Rizzo
Perhaps it’s his submission skills that make “Ninja” the only unanimous choice of the panel.
Patrick is an opponent more than worthy of his spot in this fight. In fact, Patrick is a significant favorite in the gambling odds (minus-175, to Roberts’ plus-155).
But it’s Roberts’ ability to come out on top in fights he is not expected to win that makes him a reliable underdog pick in the collective minds of the panel members.
Sean Pierson vs. Jake Ellenberger
Defending Pierson: Bob Badders
I am usually never a fan of a fighter taking a fight on short notice, and that theory applies with Ellenberger as he steps in for Brian Foster (not medically cleared) to face Pierson.
Ellenberger has won three fights in a row, including wins over Mike Pyle and John Howard, but wasn’t as impressive as I would have liked in a split-decision win over Carlos Eduardo Rocha at UFC 126. Ellenberger is a veteran of 29 fights and also is an accomplished grappler. The problem is that Pierson may be able to match him on the ground.
Pierson has a Greco-Roman wrestling background and is also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt. After struggling with consistency over his first nine fights, he has won six in a row, including a unanimous decision victory over Matt Riddle at UFC 124. Pierson, a native Canadian, will also have the home crowd firmly behind him.
At the end of the day, I like Pierson’s consistency to get the better of Ellenberger.
Nate Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald
Defending Diaz: Badders
MacDonald has star written all over him, and is surely being picked by most experts to win his fight with Diaz.
I am not one of them.
I love MacDonald as a fighter, and it’s hard not to like a fighter who, at 21-years old, has just one blemish. His last-second loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 115 stopped a 10-fight winning streak. He’ll try to get a new streak going against Diaz, who has the experience edge and is, in my opinion, very underrated.
Diaz is coming off a loss to Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 125, but had wins over Marcus Davis, Rory Markham and Melvin Guillard around a split-decision loss to lightweight title contender Gray Maynard. Diaz trains with and has fought some of the best in the business, and has wins over Kurt Pellegrino, Manny Gamburyan and Josh Neer.
There is plenty of hype surrounding McDonald, and for good reason, but I think Diaz is going to pull the “surprise” win and continue his accent up the welterweight division.
Mark Bocek vs. Ben Henderson
Defending BoceK: Jason Kelly
When the Canadian Bocek takes on former WEC lightweight champion Henderson, I think the homeland fighter will grab this victory.
Henderson has such strong submission defense that sometimes it’s a miracle that he can escape, but Bocek has such strong submission offense that he is not a person you want to tussle with on the ground in any capacity. Though Henderson is a former WEC champ, Bocek is a UFC veteran who knows how to win in the Octagon. I think that is a factor that will play against Henderson is his UFC debut, as well.
I predict Bocek to win this fight in the third round with a textbook guillotine choke.
Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jason Brilz
Defending Matyushenko: Rizzo
While I was somewhat shocked to see Matyushenko be the minority pick, I was glad to have the chance to plead his case, even against a great fighter like Brilz.
“The Janitor” is, after all, easy to defend. A freak of nature at 40, his style is nothing new to those who have been following MMA for many years. Aside from Jon Jones, Matyushenko is able to take down pretty much anyone out there, and use his incredible physical strength to stay in advantageous positions. If he gets Brilz on his back, the ground-and-pound will come out quickly.
But an underrated part of Matyushenko’s game is the power in his hands, and his ability to take a punch to get where he wants to be. He is going to have to do that if he wants to have success against Brilz. Having faced Jones and fallen victim to the rising star, Matyushenko has the measure of the light heavyweight division and will show he once again should be considered among its elite, winning by decision over the tough-as-nails Brilz.
Randy Couture vs. Lyoto Machida
Defending Couture: Rizzo
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that as the veteran of the MMA DieHards writers panel, I am stepping up to defend my 40-something brethren.
As we continue to defy the odds by snubbing our collective fingers at the aging process, Couture, Matyushenko and I can stick together and have one each others’ backs. Yes, life has taught us things you younger folks might be lucky enough to get to know someday. But for now, we’ll use our magical secrets.
In reality, there really appears no way that someone like Couture, 47, could compete with the 32-year-old Machida today or any day moving forward. Couture has done it before, and while he appears to be saying he’ll not try to do it again after UFC 129, he’ll come out with a great game plan that will make us all (well, at least those of you under 40) thump our foreheads and ask ourselves how we ever doubted this guy in the first place.
A surprisingly nimble Couture finishes his career with a win, it says here.
Featherweight champion Jose Aldo vs. Mark Hominick
Defending Hominick: Kelly
Hominick has put together a solid all-around MMA game in his 10 years of professional fighting, but it’s no secret that striking is “The Machine’s” strong point. The Team Tompkins fighter presents dangerous fight-ending combinations of punches and kicks, perfect footwork and an ability to evade the opposition’s offence that is excellent.
Aldo has never dealt with a fighter that brings these threats to the table and the champ is coming off a layoff after recovering from neck surgery. This may not be the best time for the Brazilian to fight a speed demon with the skill set Hominick possesses.
Hominick wins via liver shot, a la Bas Rutten, in round three, and takes the featherweight belt.
Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre vs. Jake Shields
Defending Shields: Kelly
St-Pierre is the favorite in his title defense against Shields for all the right reasons, but Shields’ chances to “shock the world” are very good, despite the gambling odds.
Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch are elite wrestlers, but they had a problem taking down GSP because the champ is a great MMA wrestler. But that is where Shields matches the Canadian. The former Strikeforce middleweight champion may not succeed taking St-Pierre to the ground on the first or second try, but eventually the fight will hit the mat, and then Shields will become a nightmare for GSP. St-Pierre is going to have pressure put on him by Shields that he has not had to deal with in a long time.
I see Shields grinding down St-Pierre until late in the fourth round, when he will win via rear naked choke.