* Tito Ortiz over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, decision "Little Nog" has lost two in a row and very easily could've lost three in a row were it not for a dodgy judge's decision win over Jason Brilz. He really hasn't looked impressive for a long time. So if I'm putting this much stock in recent results, why am I picking Noguiera to lose to Tito Ortiz, who is 1-5-1 in his last seven fights? In a word, ring rust. I often pick against fighters who are coming off long layoffs; basically, anything more than 10 months away from fighting is a red flag for me. Since this is such a factor in my fight-picking logic, I'm reversing it in Ortiz's favour here since Ortiz is on a regular schedule for the first time in years. Due to injuries and being picky over opponents, Ortiz fought just once per year from 2007-2010. It looked like he was becoming a ceremonial fighter. This bout with Nogueira, however, is Tito's third in a six-month span. For as much flack as Ortiz has taken in recent years, the fact that he's actually now training and competing on a regular basis can only be a good thing. This might go down as one of my dumbest-ever predictions in hindsight ("Mark, you seriously picked Tito Ortiz to win a fight in 2011?!") but what the hell, I'll go with Tito for literally the first time ever.
* Claude Patrick over Brian Ebersole, decision Ebersole is 9-0 since September 2008, Patrick is 13-0 since April 2005 (with, admittedly, a couple of long layoffs in between fights). All things considered, this is surprisingly the toughest fight to predict on the card --- two mid-level guys, both on good runs, records a bit padded from years of fighting in lower-tier MMA orgs in Canada and Australia, looking for one breakthrough performance that might net them a contender's bout. It's basically a coin flip so I'm taking Patrick because he's from Toronto. Never let it be said that I'm not a homer.
* Frank Mir over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, KO, R2 "Big Nog" is coming off the most emotional result of his career, a first-round KO of Brendan Schaub at the UFC's debut event in Rio that maybe saved Nogueira from being cut (speaking of Nogueiras fighting for their jobs...) and gave him a huge win in his home country. Had Nogueira chosen to retire right there on the spot, it would've been a storybook ending to a legendary career. But, he's still fighting and I'm thinking reality is about to interject itself. Mir already has one brutal knockout over Nogueira in a fight that many considered a fluke at the time -- Nog was suffered from a staph infection and couldn't properly train -- but I dunno, it's possible Nogueira's jaw could still be cracked. Schaub couldn't do anything with it, but Mir is a good enough striker to hang with all but the heaviest-handed of heavyweights. (That was the most Mike Goldberg-ish sentence I've ever written.) I'd be a lot of fun to see Nogueira win again, but I suspect Mir gets another win over the future HOFer. Is it a bad sign that I'm picking against two guys known as 'Nog' during the Xmas season?
* Mark Hominick over Chan-Sung Jung, KO, R2 I probably should just refer to Jung as 'the Korean Zombie' at all times because a) that's a great nickname and b) there are probably a lot of halfwit MMA fans out there who don't actually know his real name but love his fights. For sheer entertainment value, it doesn't much better than Jung. Besides the nickname, he's one of those nonstop, all-out fighters that almost always puts on a great fight. You never know what you'll see in a Zombie fight, and that includes him pulling out a goddamn Twister submission in his last match. All this being said, Jung is not a top-level featherweight by any stretch and a legit title contender like Hominick should more or less have his way with him. It'll be an awfully fun 5-8 minutes while it lasts, though.
* Jon Jones over Lyoto Machida, TKO, R3 The subtitle here could be "Past Juggernaut vs. Current Juggernaut." Just over two years ago, it was Machida who was riding high as the unbeaten light-heavyweight champ that nobody could figure out. Of course, Machida's dominance ended in rough fashion at the hands of Shogun Rua and now the Dragon is only getting another title shot due to a Rashad Evans injury. While Machida isn't a deserving challenger by recent form (sketchy decision over Shogun, brutal knockout loss to Shogun, sketchy decision loss to Rampage Jackson, blowout win over Randy Couture), he's still a tremendous fighter and a big challenge to Jones.
Just like how Alexander cut through the Gordian Knot with his sword, the way to figure out Machida is simply plow right into his defence (like Shogun's punch) or at least contain him with cage-control and dirty boxing, as Rampage did. Jones may be able to do this with his much-superior wrestling; while Machida has a black belt in BJJ, he has surprisingly few submission wins in his career. Could we see a 25-minute Georges St. Pierre special from Jones tonight? Possible, though I think Jones' ground-and-pound is vicious enough that if he gets a few good shots in on Machida, that might be enough to end it.
Of course, I've just analyzed this all from the 'how will Jones beat Machida' end since trying to figure how Machida can beat Jones is difficult since nobody's done that yet.* The book on Jones is that his chin is still untested, so Machida could replicate his strategy against (the then-unbeaten) Rashad Evans and possibly overwhelm him with strikes if he finds an opening. Evans, however, is built like a normal human, whereas Jones is some lanky hybrid between pterodactyl and man. As elusive as Machida is, he just simply might not be able to get close enough to land anything of consequence on Jones. I'm guessing the Jon Jones riddle goes unsolved for yet another event and the champ retains. This would set up either the long-awaited Jones vs. Evans fight, or possibly Jones vs. Dan Henderson, which would also be fun.
Undercard…. * Jared Hamman over Constantinos Philippou, KO, R2 * Krzysztof Soszynski over Igor Pokrajac, decision * John Cholish over Mitch Clarke, TKO, R2 * John Makdessi over Dennis Hallman, KO, R3 * Walel Watson over Yves Jabouin, submission, R1 * Nik Lentz over Mark Bocek, decision * Rich Attonito over Jake Hecht, submission, R1