UFC 107 is live this Saturday night from Memphis, Tennessee. For all of the upheaval in the organization over the last few weeks, this show features some exciting fights. Heavy’s five-person team offers their picks for the main events.
UFC Lightweight Championship
B.J. Penn vs. Diego Sanchez
Jeremy Botter: Diego Sanchez is one weird guy. If you saw the Countdown to UFC 107 show earlier this week, you didn’t see Sanchez doing the normal training vignettes that we’re so accustomed to seeing. Instead, we watched as Sanchez hooked himself up to a strange oxygen recycling machine, did yoga and cartwheeled across a field while shouting out his trademark “yes!”
It’s that very same outside-the-box thinking that makes Sanchez such a dangerous opponent. He’s brimming with intensity and fury from the moment he takes a step towards the cage. He bullrushes opponents when the bell rings, throwing wild haymakers and generally attempting to harm his opponent. He’s one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.
Unfortunately for Sanchez, he’s facing the best fighter in the lightweight division and one of the best overall fighters in the history of the sport. B.J. Penn is the antithesis of Sanchez. Where Sanchez attempts to quickly finish fights, Penn maintains his composure, waiting for an opening to present itself. Once he sees an opportunity, Penn moves in for the kill and usually gets it.
Sanchez will likely try to finish the fight quickly, but there’s almost no chance Penn will fall into his trap and begin swinging for the fences. I look for Penn to weather the early Sanchez storm before using his superior jiu-jitsu technique to submit the challenger in the third round. B.J. Penn by submission, round three
E. Spencer Kyte: I don’t care how much Diego Sanchez believes in himself or how much the UFC tries to tell me that he’s the toughest challenge for B.J. at ’55 in a long time. They said the same thing about Kenny Florian and look what happened to him. In fact, look what has happened to everyone B.J. has faced over the last eight years at lightweight.
In a different time and with a different guy wearing the belt, I like Sanchez’ chances, but right now, against B.J. Penn? Not so much.
Brett C. Jones: For me, this match comes down talent versus tenacity. There is no question that Sanchez will push the pace and, despite Penn’s efforts with Marv Marinovich, have the superior conditioning. Likewise, there is no question that Penn is the more skilled mixed martial artist. Boxing, grappling, takedown defense; you name it, Penn is superior. Will all of those advantages be enough to win the fight before conditioning comes into play? I can honestly see it going either way, but then I remind myself that BJ Penn has beaten every Lightweight he has ever fought. While the same is true of Sanchez, no one’s really going to compare his two-fight Lightweight resume to that of Penn. The champion should be able to re-affirm his position as the division’s greatest fighter. BJ Penn via TKO, Round 3
Jonathan Snowden: We think of B.J. Penn as the experienced veteran; Diego, in turn as the young up and comer from The Ultimate Fighter. In reality, Sanchez actually has more fights than the champion and has been fighting professionally for more than seven years. Penn seems more old school than he really is because he’s been in our lives for so long. He is really the first star created by Zuffa’s UFC. He’s fought the best of the best in two weight classes, coached TUF, and become the prototype for all naturally gifted fighters looking to expand their skills across all arts, mastering all facets of the game. But for all his vaunted skills, for all his famous opponents, Penn has never fought a man like Diego Sanchez.
Sanchez has an energy, a spirit unique to him. No one fights harder and no one is better at destroying a carefully crafted gameplan. It is in the scramble that Sanchez makes his money, capitalizing on the chaos he creates. Penn, in contrast, is one of the sports most controlled fighters. He is not likely to let Sanchez bait him into a flurry of activity. He will control Diego with his jab, control where the fight takes place, and finish the game challenger in the third round.
Kendall Shields: The only fighters that give B. J. Penn any trouble at all, it seems, are big strong guys who can wrestle. At 155 lbs, Diego fits the bill well enough to make this fight interesting, but in the end I would be just as shocked as anyone else to see Sanchez pull this out. There’s still every reason to expect B. J. Penn to get the best of any and every lightweight mixed martial artist on the planet, and Sanchez, for all his pace and tenacity, won’t be the man to change that. Penn is so clearly the better striker and the better grappler that it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t hold on to his title — unless he gasses terribly. Which he won’t, under the truly insane eye of conditioning coach Marv Marinovich. Penn finishes this inside three rounds.
B.J. Penn 5, Diego Sanchez 0.
Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo
Jeremy Botter: Frank Mir’s ability to sell a fight is unmatched in the sport, and his pre-fight comments about Cheick Kongo’s abilities (or, as Mir says, Kongo’s lack of any skill whatsoever) has angered Kongo to such a degree that the usually well-mannered Wolfslair fighter is geniuinely angry.
For all of Mir’s bluster about his improved stand-up game, I think he still recognizes that it would be unwise to attempt to turn this into a kickboxing match. Mir has put on roughly twenty pounds of muscle since the loss to Lesnar, and he’ll use that new strength to take Kongo down early and work for the submission. It may not happen in the first round, but I don’t see Kongo making it out of this fight without being submitted. Frank Mir by submission, round one
E. Spencer Kyte: Mir is probably going to win by submitting the ground-deficient Kongo. That said, my hope is that before it gets to the canvas and Mir starts working for something, he catches a healthy number of Cheick Kongo punches / elbows / kicks / knees so that maybe he realizes that every time he’s interviewed, he doesn’t have to talk about wanting to fight Brock Lesnar again and thoroughly disrespect his current opponent.
Brett C. Jones: This fight reminds me of Mir v. Antoni Hardonk. Kongo’s wrestling is a bit better than Hardonk’s, but that’s not saying much. Kongo was able to wrestle with Heath Herring without embarrassing himself, but there hasn’t been any indication that Kongo has improved his ground game since that fight, when he began training with the Wolfslair team. Mir should be able to take Kongo down and work the submission of his choosing, provided he doesn’t eat a big shot while working for the take down. Frank Mir via Submission, Round 1
Jonathan Snowden: This fight is more important than you might imagine for former champion Frank Mir. On paper, you’d expect that the experienced grappler would walk right through kickboxer Cheick Kongo. But Mir still hasn’t convinced many fans he’s the pre-accident Mir again. His career defining wins post injury were over a green Brock Lesnar and a sick Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria. There is a good chance that the Frank Mir comeback is but an illusion. I think Kongo will burst the bubble on a third Lesnar-Mir fight with a second round KO.
Kendall Shields: Mir’s advantage on the ground here is so obvious, so pronounced, that Kongo’s only real chance here is if the fight stays standing for virtually the entire duration of the three five-minute rounds. That seems unlikely against a bulked-up Frank Mir, who eyes have been opened to the virtues of sheer size after getting manhandled by Brock Lesnar. Mir could produce a submission of the night contender here, maybe even in the first.
Frank Mir 4, Cheick Kongo 1.
Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce
Jeremy Botter: Pierce is riding a six-fight win streak, but I can’t envision any scenario where that streak doesn’t come to a sputtering halt at the hands of Jon Fitch on Saturday night. Fitch, the man who many believe to be the best welterweight in the world not named Georges St. Pierre, has too many tools in the chest and too much tenacity to go along with it.
Fitch will likely grind out a decision victory here, and while it may not be the most exciting fight in the world to watch, it will put the former Boilermaker once step closer to a rematch with St. Pierre. Jon Fitch by decision
E. Spencer Kyte: My money is on this being a chess match between two really strong wrestlers. Fitch has the better standup and more of a submission game, so he should come away with a hard-fought decision, but that is what I thought would happen when Pierce met Brock Larson and the Portland State product kept dumping the WEC veteran on his backside with relative ease. That said, Jon Fitch is no Brock Larson.
Brett C. Jones: Mike Pierce has never faced a fighter approaching the level of Jon Fitch, so it makes it very difficult to predict anything for him but a loss. In fact, regardless of his opponent, one of the safest bets in MMA is Fitch by decision. Fitch’s wrestling, Octagon experience, and superb resume make it easy to stick with the safe bet on this one. Jon Fitch via Unanimous Decision.
Jonathan Snowden: Fitch is the second best fighter in the welterweight division. Unfortunately, he lost so decisively to the best fighter in the division, champion Georges St. Pierre, that it will be hard to regain his top contender status in many fans eyes. This fight will be a start, on the main card, and an easy grind it out decision for Purdue’s toughest alumnus.
Kendall Shields: I remain firmly of the (uncontroversial) opinion that Jon Fitch rolls over any welterweight anywhere not named Georges St. Pierre, and Mike Pierce’s name doesn’t even sound French, so that’s a complete nonstarter. It’s hard to know what the UFC should do with Fitch: he can beat solid competitors like Mike Pierce endlessly, but there’s no reason to think he’ll ever quite get to GSP’s level. What can Fitch do but pin losses on everyone in the division other than the champ?
Jon Fitch 5, Mike Pierce 0
Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida
Jeremy Botter: Here’s your odds-on favorite for Fight of the Night. Of course, any fight featuring Guida is typically an awards contender. He never stops pressing forward, never backs down an inch and never gets tired. That style has turned him into one of the most popular fighters in the lightweight division, a cult hero of sorts who will always have a job with the UFC no matter what his win/loss record is.
Guida could potentially earn a title shot with a victory over Florian, but that’s not going to happen. Florian’s technical mastery will trump Guida’s chutzpah almost any day of the week, and I look for Florian to use his elbow strikes to set up a submission victory in the second round. Kenny Florian by submission, round two
E. Spencer Kyte: Now we’ll really see if Kenny Florian does in fact still finish fights at 155.
It’s also a battle of new camps, as Florian has transitioned to Tri-Star while Guida has made the move to Team Jackson. Ultimately, I think Florian should come away with the win, as Guida, for all his crazy hair and unquestionable motor, is a big-time overachiever who hasn’t ever beaten anyone on Florian’s level in his career.
Brett C. Jones: A match between these two high-energy Lightweights is exciting on its own. Add to the mix each fighter’s new training teams, Guida with Greg Jackson and Florian with Firas Zahabi, and it’s difficult to wait to see to what extent each fighter has improved. I fully expect to see the best Clay Guida ever, but KENFLO was already a notch above Guida. If Guida is able to keep Florian down, he will be assaulted with elbows in the same way he was when he fought Diego Sanchez. If it stays standing, Florian should be able to use his reach advantage to control the fight and outpoint Guida. However, I feel as if this fight will end it did when Guida fought Roger Huerta. I don’t expect to be as exciting as that all-time great contest, nor do I expect Florian to be trailing on points going into the third round, but I do expect KENFLO to find an opportunity to choke Guida out. Kenny Florian via Submission (rear naked choke), Round 3
Jonathan Snowden: I love this fight. Frankly, it’s a fight we should have seen before Florian was catapulted into title contention after a string of victories over lesser fighters. Guida, now training with the legendary Greg Jackson, will test Florian every way imaginable. Like Sanchez, Guida is indefatigable. Florian won’t be able to rest, even for a second. But he won’t need to. He’s sharper and just a little bit better than Clay in every aspect of the game. Florian takes this one with his razor sharp elbows in the third.
Kendall Shields: Kenny Florian wins exciting fights and he’s coming off a loss. Clay Guida loses exciting fights and he’s coming off a win. The natural order of the universe will reassert itself here with Florian walking away with the decision in what should be the fight of the night.
Kenny Florian 5, Clay Guida 0
Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve
Jeremy Botter: The seven-foot Struve has plenty of talent and plenty of potential. He’s clearly better on the ground than the veteran Buentello, with 14 of his 18 overall victories coming by submission. He has better technical striking. Truthfully, Struve is probably better at just about every aspect of the sport…except in his ability to take a a punch. Junior dos Santos exploited Struve’s chin in a February 2009 battle, and I fully expect Buentello to do the same here. “The Headhunter” has plenty of power in his hands, and I believe we’re going to see a flash knockout early in this fight, most likely the first round. Paul Buentello by TKO, round one
E. Spencer Kyte: The returning Buentello will look to go “Junior dos Santos” on Struve and even his UFC record at twos, but the ridiculously tall and talented Dutchmen has a freakish reach advantage and a very good submission game if he can get it to the ground. This is a big step up for Struve after wins over Denis Stojnic and Chase Gormley, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen thus far and considering Paul Buentello’s biggest career win is Tank Abbott (or Gary Goodridge or Justin Eilers), I’ll roll the dice with the kid and see how it turns out.
Brett C. Jones: Paul Buentello is a bit of an underachiever who doesn’t have a signature win over top talent. Struve isn’t that, at least not yet, but he appears to be on the come after submitting Chase Gormley and Denis Stojnic in back-to-back matches bring his career submissions total up to 14. This is made more impressive when you consider that Struve’s background is in kickboxing. While he’s got an undefeated 4-0 kickboxing record, I feel that Struve’s best strategy would be to avoid Buentello’s stand up, which should pack a bit more power than Struve’s. I think Struve will be able to fend off Buentello on the feet and take him down, ultimately leading to the submission. Regardless of who wins, we should learn a lot about Stefan Struve. He’s only 21, so a loss will by no means be the end of Struve’s career, but a win over a veteran like Buentello would solidify Struve’s inclusion on the list of UFC Heavyweight prospects. Stefan Struve via Submission, Round 2
Jonathan Snowden: Hey, it’s Paul Buentello against a nise-Semmy Schilt names Stefan Struve. This fight is intended to propel Struve on to bigger and better things. Buentello is a career journeyman; if Struve can’t beat him, well, the future isn’t too bright for Holland’s tallest fighter. I think Struve is too skilled, both standing and on the mat, and will send Buentello back to the independent circuit with a first round win.
Kendall Shields: Buentello is a seemingly gentle, sad-eyed squishy man whose attempt at a catch phrase in his UFC tenure ended in wretched failure. Stefan Struve shouldn’t fear Paul Buentello; he should fear . . . the consequences! Of fighting… Paul Buentello. We’ll see why Paul Buentello never caught on any better than his catch phrase when the up-and-coming Struve finishes him on the mat, sparing us from poor Buentello’s continued attempts at audience participation.
Stefan Struve 4, Paul Buentello 1