The UFC’s biggest star returns to action tonight. Brock Lesnar might not be their best guy or even their most marketable given his reclusive lifestyle, but his name gets an awful lot of attention. The crowd reaction to the former WWE Champion seemed to warm a bit before his gutsy comeback against previous Biggest Fight Ever challenger Shane Carwin. So far, Lesnar has continued to improve, and he’s in the middle of the “prime” window that so many previous UFC stars have enjoyed. Can he continue his reign or is Cain Velasquez the guy to upset the champ?
Speaking of upset, Matt tied it up in UFC predictions after the last event, so we’ll find out if he can play Cain to Bruce’s Brock and pull off the upset of the year.
Brock Lesnar v. Cain Velasquez
Bruce: I learned my lesson after the last fight. Never bet against Lesnar. The guy is simply a freak. He took a beating at the hands of Shane Carwin in the first round and simply shrugged it off to win the fight in the second. Velasquez may give Lesnar a fight, but it won’t be enough. WINNER: LESNAR by submission in 3rd
Matt: I don’t see where Velasquez has a chance here. Lesnar has shown no weakness in his conditioning. We know he can get hit (by Shane Carwin’s bowling-ball fists, no less) and survive. He could win by outpointing the champ with his technical striking over five rounds, but that involves surviving five rounds with Brock. I don’t think Lesnar is unbeatable or anything, but his size and power have been too much for every single opponent so far. Win or lose, if Velasquez lasts five rounds, he should be added to the Hall of Fame. He’s a disciplined and technical fighter who will be a champion someday, but I don’t think he poses the same threat Frank Mir or Shane Carwin did. Then again, with a lack of true challenges after tonight – seriously, what does Junior Dos Santos offer that Velasquez doesn’t? – you can’t discount the possibility that he pulls a Rocky here. But that is exactly what I’m going to do. WINNER: LESNAR by TKO in the 2nd.
Jake Shields v. Martin Kampmann
Bruce: Dana White has a LOT riding on this fight. He essentially stole Shields from Strikeforce in a McMahonesque move. He needs Shields to win this fight to, in theory, set up a Shields v. St-Pierre fight. That assumes, most rightly, that GSP will get past Josh Koscheck. We all want to see Shields v. GSP. Well, all of us but Kampmann. Kampmann is the sacrificial lamb here through no fault of his own. WINNER: SHIELDS by KO in 2nd
Matt: Kampmann is a striker with improving ground skills. Shields’ last fight was against Dan Henderson, a wrestler who preferred to strike. In other words, Henderson was a more dangerous matchup than Kampmann and Shields tossed him around for five rounds. So is Kampmann’s youth and speed enough to keep him from getting the Henderson treatment? Or has he turned the corner in his development and become a more rounded and dangerous fighter? I think the answer to one of those questions is no. WINNER: SHIELDS by unanimous decision.
Diego Sanchez v. Paulo Thiago
Bruce: This is where Matt is going to get me. I have no real feel for this fight. Sanchez is in a must win situation with two straight losses on his record. Thiago has won 2 of his last 3, including 1 win by submission. Who wants it more? I don’t know. WINNER: THIAGO by unanimous decision
Matt: This is a tough one to call. Sanchez’s loss to John Hathaway (who just recently got mashed by Mike Pyle) suggests he’s on the decline, but he was also transitioning back to welterweight after making an unsuccessful run at BJ Penn. Both guys are really good but have lost to upper-tier guys in this weight class. They feel evenly matched, and I realize that Bruce and I haven’t picked many fights differently, so I’ll change it up. WINNER: Sanchez via unanimous decision
Tito Ortiz v. Matt Hamill
Bruce: I’ve liked Matt Hamill every time I’ve seen him in action. He is the perfect foe for Tito Ortiz. Why? Matt Hamill is deaf. He can’t hear Ortiz’ trash talk. He can’t hear Ortiz’ whining. He has essentially negated what is left of Ortiz’ game. WINNER: HAMILL by KO in 1st
Matt: Ortiz is a shell of his former self, but it’s taken that steep of a decline for me to believe Hamill has a chance in this one. “The Hammer” has repeatedly shown an inability to compete against “elite” level fighters, and Ortiz was once an elite fighter. Even on his worst day, I’d think he could win this one, but after the skull fracture, the neck issues, the back issues and everything else, I’m not entirely sure he should be getting in the cage. If Hamill loses this fight, he should get cut immediately. WINNER: HAMILL by split decision.
Brendan Schaub v. Gabriel Gonzaga
Bruce: Schaub, the TUF runner-up, has his first real test since losing to Roy Nelson. Gonzaga is trying to find his place in the heavyweight division. Both fighters have wins over Chris Tuchscherer. Gonzaga beat him by KO in 1 and Schaub by TKO also in the first. What does that mean? Not much. Gonzaga has lost his last two high profile fights. Schaub is a fighter on the rise. WINNER: SCHAUB by split decision
Matt: I can’t remember the last time either of these guys beat a high-caliber opponent. The difference is that Schaub is just getting started whereas Gonzaga had a heavyweight title shot a few years ago. I doubted Schaub in his last fight and he looked good – good enough that he should get past a gatekeeper opponent like Gonzaga. WINNER: SCHAUB by KO in 2nd.
Court McGee v. Ryan Jensen
Bruce: McGee got better in each of his fights in the last season of TUF. He is a great story and one that the UFC will want to continue. That means I think they picked an opponent they think he can beat handily. WINNER: McGee by KO in 1st
Matt: Like Bruce, I like McGee’s story. They tend to let TUF winners walk in their first fight or two, but the recent release of Efrain Escudero shows that they’re not married to any of them. Still, this is our first look at McGee as a UFC fighter (instead of an Ultimate Fighter, er, uh, fighter), and I’ll give him the benefit of a doubt. WINNER: McGee by submission in 1st
Patrick Cote v. Tom Lawlor
Bruce: This is the “loser leaves town” fight of the night. Both men are coming off of 2 consecutive losses. The loser is likely done in the UFC. One of Cote’s losses was to Anderson Silva when he blew out his knee. Neither of Lawlor’s losses are as high profile. If Cote’s knee is right its his fight. If not, all bets are off. WINNER: COTE by TKO in the 2nd
Matt: I like Lawlor and would hate to see him go. He’s got a wrestling base and could keep Cote under control. Alan Belcher muscled Cote around in his last fight, and while Lawlor isn’t quite at Belcher’s level, he’s got ther skillset necessary to keep his octagon career alive. WINNER: Lawlor by submission in the 3rd.