* Chael Sonnen over Brian Stann, decision
This is tough matchmaking from a ticket-selling point of view. Both guys are top contenders at middleweight and the winner will get the next title shot against Anderson Silva….but man, the UFC must hate cutting Stann off at the knees like this. Stann is a former Marine and is basically being pushed right now as Captain America v. 2.0. However, I don't see how he can possibly beat Sonnen, who's just going to immediately take Stann down and ride him out for three rounds. Even Sonnen's big mouth has been silenced in the build-up to this fight since what's Sonnen going to do, hate on the war hero? If I was the UFC, I might'd had Sonnen face Mark Munoz, another high-ranked middleweight and one who isn't as big a potential box office draw so a Munoz loss wouldn't cost the company money. Then again, what the hell, it's a sport --- if Stann is good enough, he'll win anyway. Besides, the UFC will have box office gold anyway in a rematch between Silva and Sonnen, where hopefully Silva just ends Sonnen early and shuts that idiot up once and for all.
* Nam Phan over Leonard Garcia, decision
Garcia is on one of the strangest runs in MMA history. He's an even 3-3-1 in his last seven fights, except all three of his wins were via very controversial decisions. Without controversy, the man is on an eight-fight losing streak. One of Garcia's dodgy wins was over Nam Phan last December, and after both men had other opponents drop out with injuries, we'll get the rematch. Given that both of these guys are fourth-tier featherweights at best and the loser will certainly be cut, this is not exactly an important bout….but it is guaranteed to be an exciting one. The first Phan/Garcia match was awesome, Garcia's fight with "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung was named the fight of the year for 2010 and if nothing else, both these guys just throw caution to the wind in every appearance. I'm giving it to Phan just because I like seeing justice done, but what the hell, for all I know Garcia will get another bizarre decision.
* Melvin Guillard over Joe Lauzon, decision
These guys have been around the lightweight division for so long that I can't believe this is their first meeting. The book on Lauzon is simple --- he is the perfect gatekeeper, losing to anyone in the upper or second tier (since 2006, his only three losses have been to Kenny Florian, George Sotriopoulos and Sam Stout) and he'll whip anyone lower than that. So basically he's the perfect guy to get in the cage with Guillard so we can see if Guillard is truly the real deal. Melvin is on an 8-1 run and seems to have turned the corner in his career so that's my basic logic for thinking he'll overcome Lauzon's submissions here. This could possibly end up being a semi-dull fight since Lauzon will be looking for subs and Guillard will want to keep it standing, so a stalemate could easily develop.
The winner of this one will probably get a very interesting next fight. It's been assumed that the winner of the upcoming Clay Guida/Ben Henderson bout gets the next LW title shot, but there are also rumours that the UFC is bringing in Strikeforce LW champ Gilbert Melendez. If Gilbert is signed and we get a unification bout, then the Guida/Henderson winner can either go on the shelf to wait for their shot, or take another fight in the interim….like, say, the winner of Guillard/Lauzon. Conversely, we could also see Melendez face Guillard/Lauzon as a tune-up fight to get UFC fans familiar with him before he challenges whomever the lightweight champ is. And, of course, if a Guillard is able to beat both Lauzon and Melendez, then he's the clear-cut #1 contender. I love that I spent more time talking about post-fight fantasy booking than I did the fight itself.
* Jose Aldo over Kenny Florian, KO, R2
There's a popular groundswell of support behind Florian for this fight since a)he's a popular vet and an underdog and b) Aldo gassed and looked fairly unimpressive against Mark Hominick last April, so the 'Aldo is the next pound-for-pound king' train basically ran off the tracks. So this notion I say, good lord. Aldo's struggles against Hominick may have been due to the flu, not because he's suddenly forgotten how to fight. I think this one will be a quick, decisive, reminder from Aldo that he's as good as anyone and is the undisputed top dog at featherweight. Also, let's be honest, Florian's record in pressure situations is not good. 0-2 in championship fights, lost the original Ultimate Fighter finale to Diego Sanchez, and he lost a #1 contender's bout to Gray Maynard two years ago. Until Kenny actually breaks through and proves he's not a choker, I can't pick him in a title bout against a superb opponent like Aldo.
* Frankie Edgar over Gray Maynard, decision
Honestly, I just want this fight over with. The Edgar/Maynard rivalry has been a roller-coaster. When their last fight was booked, I spent four months dreading a boring decision between a genuinely dull fighter in Maynard and the bastion of peppery stand-up known as Frankie Edgar. Then, wouldn't you know it, their bout ended up being exciting as hell and ending in a controversial draw. A rematch was signed….and then postponed due to injuries to both fighters. So now, nine months after their last bout, these two will finally finish things and we (and the lightweight division) can move on with our lives.
I'm picking Edgar because I just think he can handle Maynard. In January, Edgar was dominated in the first round (losing 10-8 on all cards) but came back to win three of the next four rounds and ultimately salvage a draw. That first round was everything Maynard had in his tank and Edgar was not only able to withstand it, I feel that it was enough of a fluke that Edgar can prevent anything like it from happening again. So, on Saturday we'll see five rounds of Edgar fighting off takedowns and peppering Maynard with quick rights and lefts, en route to a decision victory and the last word in the rivalry. If one of these two guys gets hurt in the next few days, I'm going to scream.
* Stipe Miocic over Joey Beltran, submission, R2
* Steve Cantwell over Mike Massenzio, decision
* Aaron Simpson over Eric Schafer, decision
* Demian Maia over Jorge Santiago, decision
* Zhang Tie Quan over Darren Elkins, submission, R1
* Anthony Pettis over Jeremy Stephens, decision
EP81: Casting Director Sheila Guthrie: Part One
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