UFC 96: Preview & Predictions

QUINTON JACKSON VS. KEITH JARDINE

This fight is essentially a number-one contenders fight between Jackson and Lyoto Machida. Yeah, Machida isn’t involved, but the premise is still the same: if Jackson wins, he earns a shot at Rashad Evans at UFC 100 in July. If Jardine is able to execute his normal gameplan and grind out a decision victory without being knocked out, then Machida will get the shot against Evans.

I mention Jardine grinding out a decision because that’s the only way he’s going to win this fight. He’s beaten top fighters before and he can certainly do it again, but his only option is to throw tons of leg kicks and try to avoid getting punched in the face. We’ve seen Rampage torn apart by leg kicks before, so it seems like a good strategy, but Forrest Griffin has a much better chin than Jardine and was able to withstand more punishment than Keith will be able to against a skilled and powerful boxer like Jackson.

Rampage is going to close this one down early. His training methods have changed drastically in the past year, and he’s in much better shape than he’s ever been in. What you’ll see out of Rampage Jackson this Saturday night is the same thing you saw against Wanderlei Silva: a first round knockout.

PREDICTION: Quinton Jackson by TKO, round one

GABRIEL GONZAGA VS. SHANE CARWIN

You’ll never catch Dana White saying it publicly, but a stunning, highlight reel finish from one of these guys in this very fight will almost guarantee them a shot at the winner of the Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir fight in May. Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera will face off in August for a December title shot, but Zuffa wants another heavyweight title match in September. The winner of this fight could very well find himself inserted into that main event.

Gabriel Gonzaga had a rocket strapped to his back after beating Mirko Cro Cop in one of 2007’s most memorable moments, but the Brazilian hasn’t been able to capitalize on that momentum since being derailed by Randy Couture a few short months later. Gonzaga has all the tools to be a dangerous heavyweight contender, yet seemingly hasn’t been able to get over the hump. He presents a lot of problems for someone like Shane Carwin, who is straight out of the Brock Lesnar mold: a hulking, powerful wrestler with incredible punching power.

Lesnar vs. Carwin is a fight I’d really like to see, but in order for that to happen, Carwin will have to get past Gonzaga. The Brazilian represents a gigantic step up in competition for Carwin, but I think the heavyweight prospect has enough punching power to stop Gonzaga, even with an errant blow.

PREDICTION: Shane Carwin by KO, round two

MATT BROWN VS. PETE SELL

This is one of those fights that doesn’t really mean much. A win by either guy isn’t going to put them anywhere near title contention, and on any other pay per view event this fight would likely be relegated to the undercard.

Pete Sell is most notable for his KO loss to Scott Smith at the Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale in 2006. That moment will forever be a part of the UFC’s standard highlight reel, which means that Sell will live on despite not really doing anything of note in his UFC career. He’s not particularly susceptible to submissions, which seems to be Brown’s forte, and his training with jiu-jitsu guru Matt Serra probably gives him an advantage on the ground.

PREDICTION: Pete Sell by decision

MATT HAMILL VS. MARK MUNOZ

Oh, poor Matt Hamill. In August, you were main-eventing an event against Rich Franklin, and now you’re opening up the main show against Mark Munoz. Times are tough.

Not that Munoz is a scrub. In fact, he’s a highly-touted prospect and a former NCAA wrestling champion. He trains under Urijah Faber and is making the jump to the UFC after going 2-0 in WEC. He only has five pro fights under his belt, but he’s shown significant improvement in each of those five fights.

These two guys are basically identical as fighters. You’ll probably see a lot of wrestling with some basic striking mixed in, and I think Munoz is going to surprise a lot of people. He’ll beat Hamill standing and he’ll beat Hamill on the ground, and he’ll earn a decision victory.

GRAY MAYNARD VS. JIM MILLER

This is a battle of two lightweight sleepers, two men who could figure very heavily into the top of the division come late 2010 or 2011. Maynard is undefeated, with wins over Frankie Edgar and Rich Clementi under his belt, while Miller has only one loss (to Frankie Edgar) in fourteen fights.

This bout will earn fight of the night honors. You’re going to see a blistering pace kept by two guys with something to prove. Miller has plenty of talent, but he doesn’t have enough to overcome Maynard. This bout will go the distance, but it’ll easily be the most exciting fifteen minutes of the night.

PREDICTION: Gray Maynard by decision

PRELIMINARY CARD BOUTS:

Tamdan McCrory vs. Ryan Madigan: McCrory by TKO, round two

Kendall Grove vs. Jason Day: Grove by TKO, round one

Tim Boetsch vs. Jason Brilz : Boetsch by TKO, round one

Brandon Vera vs. Mike Patt: Vera by decision

Aaron Riley vs. Shane Nelson: Riley by submission, round three

Tags: , ,