Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ciao Super Sic

I've sort of struggled with the idea of whether or not to write anything on this subject as I'm definitely not as eloquent as some of the others that have shared their thoughts since Sunday's tragic accident (I'd personally recommend reading the beautiful autosport.com piece that Toby Moody wrote or the Kevin Schwantz blog on superbike planet). I've decided to do something simply because I loved Marco's personality, his enthusiasm, his relentless riding style and have had the pleasure to see him do what he loved for the last few years courtesy of the excellent Eurosport coverage over the years and most recently Setanta and BBC's Moto GP coverage. The outpouring of grief and tributes across Facebook, Twitter and the motorsport community in general shows how much Marco meant to most of us all. When the official announcement of Marco's passing was made I found myself tearing up as we'd not only lost an amazing sportsmen who was the heir apparent to the "Vale46" throne both on the track and off it in the hearts of the fans adorning the #58 t-shirts; we'd lost a rare breed of person too from all accounts of his competitors and friends.

Admittedly in his 125 days I really didn't recognise Marco as the talent he was. Sadly for Marco he wasn't at that stage on the competitive machinery capable of challenging the top teams in the championship. Remember in 2004 that Marco was racing against seasoned 125 campaigners in the likes of Stoner, Locatelli, Barbera and Lorenzo. Even with this in mind he did still manage to claim his first World Championship win that season in Jerez when Stoner went down the road in the wet conditions. The next season saw another victory in Jerez again but once again the Aprilia bike was no match to the Red Bull KTM or the Honda 125 which had seen some big investment over the previous few years. A career best championship position of 5th and a more consistent season saw Marco move up to the 250cc class the following season. It was here that Marco started to make his mark.

Having moved to the Metis Gilera team that had recently rejoined the quarter litre class Marco and Gilera spent most of 2006 and 2007 finding their feet in the class as the bike developed. The podiums were missing but the finishing positions were consistent. In 2008 this however changed and Marco would be the name on most fans lips when they talked about the 250's on a Monday morning. Having retired from the first two races of the season Simoncelli found himself on his first 250 podium in the 3rd round in Portugal. He followed this up with a 4th and continued the momentum with an excellent 2nd behind Alex Debon at the Le Mans Bugatti circuit. When the circus moved to Mugello Marco pulled off a move with 2 laps to go that would be come infamous and an illustration of the aggressive riding we would come to expect. A lot of people said Simoncelli had overstepped the boundaries but this was an Italian at his home Grand Prix chasing an elusive first victory on an Italian bike after 3 years without a win. People don't always put things into context but at that moment I don't think anything could have been more important to the then 21 year old. If you've never seen it you can catch it via this link http://www.myvideo.de/watch/4345624/Horrorcrash_bei_220_kmhSorry I can't embed the file to just stream directly. These are the only 2 pictures I can find of the scene after the collision on the 2nd last lap.

After that first victory; Marco proved it was no fluke by winning the next race. Claiming victory in the Catalan Grand Prix much to the annoyance of the Spanish riders and then taking another 4 consecutive podiums (including a further victory in Germany) to throw himself into the heart of the championship battle with Bautista and Kallio. A brief slump to 6th at Misano saw Simoncelli's worst performance of what was remaining in the season. He went on to claim the next 2 races and finally the championship at the Malaysian Grand Prix with a third placed finish. It would be a sad irony that the track that saw Marco's greatest triumph would later be the scene of his tragic death just over 3 years later.

After claiming the title he went on to win the last race of the 2008 season in Valencia to round off an amazing year. With this title Marco had arrived. The happy go lucky demeanour that came to be his calling card masked the determination he had when his visor was down, leathers on, tyres and engine screaming to find a lap time. The 250cc championship was fast becoming the race to watch each weekend due to the battles involving Marco, Barbera and Bautista. No quarter was asked for and certainly none was given as Mugello illustrated. This would continue on into the 2009 season all three of them remained in the class for another season.

Having been injured in the off season Marco missed the 1st round of the championship completely and could only manage 17th in the second round of the season. Soon after though Marco hit his stride and started charging down the usual suspects of Barbera and Bautista as well as an inspired Hiroshi Aoyama who with the backing of Honda was putting a challenge up for the championship. Honda had invested in their 250cc machine that season in order to try and claim the final 250cc championship.
One of my favourite Simoncelli races was actually one he didn't win. The Italian Grand Prix of 2009 where in horrid conditions he went off track after another bit of hard battling with Bautista only to get back on track and chase down Pasini. In one of the most incredible bits of heart he came 2nd and even lead at points on the final lap despite his earlier excursion. Again video clips are scarce unfortunately but I've located a french audio  highlight reel of the race. It's worth catching. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x9gmcq_mugello_sport

Retirements that season would cost Simoncelli dear and he ultimately lost out in the championship to the ultra consistent Aoyama who finished every race with a finish of no worse than 8th. Despite Marco's 6 wins that season his retirement in 3 races and missing the season opener left him 3rd in the final standings. Even with this in mind he was still in contention until the last race of the year which can tell you how much ground he gained throughout the year despite the early issues. It was announced that Marco would be graduating to the Moto GP class with the Gresini Honda team.

On a side note and with a little encouragement from his close friend Valentino Rossi. Simoncelli had accepted a  guest ride on an Aprilia WSB at Imola. Rossi is said to have jokingly sent a text to Marco telling him to at least duff up Max Biaggi at least once. Of course Marco being Marco was all too happy to find a way past his fellow Italian much to the annoyance of the elder statesmen. Marco finished 3rd in Race Two to claim a World Superbike Podium on his debut weekend! Different bike, different championship. Same supreme talent. It was with this performance that Simoncelli was illustrating that he had the potential to be something big and ride the wheels off any bike. His determination on the track and charisma off it set him out as a rider that fans wanted to see more of as he wasn't the same sort of P.R. conscious rider that fans had begun to see in the modern era.

Teamed with the experienced Melandri; Simoncelli got off to a slow start to the season partially due to two huge pre-season testing crashes in Sepang. Having picked up two 11th place finishes to start his Moto GP career Simoncelli then improved over the next 3 races to then finish 7th at the British GP. His highest of the season to that date on the privateer Honda. By now Simoncelli's racers edge was becoming ever more apparent as Marco raced for every point he could gather as well as going head to head with the other riders on the track with his agressive style. The improvements continued with Simoncelli completing a season high finish of 4th at the Portuguese race. He then rounded off the season with a 6th place finish. The impressive season was enough to catch the eye of HRC and Marco through Gresini Honda was provided with a works specification bike for the 2011 season.

After pre-season testing Simoncelli was being tipped as a darkhorse for the season and tipped as a man to make a further breakthrough. Having worked with Honda in their wind tunnel to find ways to limit the negative effects of his towering frame. Honda were growing ever more impressed with the Italian. A fact that would not be lost later in the year when they offered Simoncelli a works bike for the 2012 season over Dovizioso who had been with Honda for the previous four years in Moto GP. The contract having only been signed a number of weeks before Simoncelli's tragic demise. The season started with a solid 5th position in Qatar at the Losail circuit. When the circus found it's way to the wet-dry race in Jerez Simoncelli found himself leading and driving away from the field prior to losing control and having to retire. None the less the warning shot had been fired and Marco was stepping up to fight with the elite of the class. He was ready to take on the "aliens" as Colin Edwards refers to them (Rossi, Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Stoner). Another retirement at the next race left much to be desired. When the teams returned to action in France Simoncelli was immediately on the pace and qualified a close 2nd. In the race there was to be another polarizing moment for Simoncelli when he was deemed to have caused an accident with Pedrosa (who ended up breaking his collar bone as a result) and earned himself a drive through penalty that wrecked his hopes of a first podium. Simoncelli was under attack. Riders began voicing criticisms of his aggressive style but Simoncelli took things on his chin and continued to work to his ultimate goal. One of the highlights of this period was a press conference with Lorenzo and Marco where Lorenzo was critical of Simoncelli's aggressive riding and said if another incident happens they'll have to do something. Simoncelli's retort was priceless. "They'll arrest me!" This got a few chuckles in the press room and showed Marco's undoubtable sense of humour.

A crash in the wet British Grand Prix whilst fighting for a podium then crashing into Lorenzo at the first corner in the Dutch Grand Prix led to some columnists and riders commenting that it may be time for a ban or some sort of reprimand. Simoncelli yet again kept his head down and continued to do his talking on the track. A couple of solid top six finishes followed the 9th he achieved despite his early fall at Assen. Another retirement at the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca left Simoncelli with plenty to think about going into the summer break. When the teams returned to racing at Brno Simoncelli seemed to have lost some qualifying pace but had seemingly found more consistency in the race. After 29 races of asking. Simoncelli finally got his first Moto GP podium to the delight of many pundits who'd continued to support him and the legions of fans that he was fast attracting as the excitement built around the Italian continued to grow. A poor Indianapolis performance was followed by Marco's most consistent run in the top class to date three fourth place finishes in a row. The last of these in the Japanese Grand Prix was the most impressive by far as Simoncelli received a ride through penalty after a jump start and fought his way back through the field eventually finishing 23 seconds behind the winner Pedrosa. What might have been. The next Grand Prix in Philip Island with the knowledge that he would receive a works bike for next year Simoncelli recorded what would ultimately be his best finish with a 2nd place behind Casey Stoner.

And that leads us at the end of the story. The Malaysian Grand Prix 2011. Marco was battling with the old adversary Bautista and swapping positions throughout the first lap and up to that fateful turn 11. It appears Marco lost the front and instead of the usual lowslide occuring Marco tried to save it and was fighting until the end. It appears the front re-gripped dragging Marco into the path of Edwards and Rossi. And with that he was gone despite the best efforts of the medics. I've still got vivid pictures in my head of the riders and Simoncelli's father being shown on the TV when the official news broke. Having been a motorsport fan I've sadly witnessed this more times than I'd like to remember over the years.

This time was different as to me Marco emboddied something completely different to most sportsmen. He was a man living to a different set of rules. He was an amazing ambassador for motorsport and a loveable guy. Who couldn't love that smile or laugh at the pertruding affro from his helmet. Not to mention when he was on a bike he gave total commitment. The number of times he pushed the front of his bike to the point where it was chattering away like a ventriloquist dummy's jaw was incredible. What may have been? We'll never know sadly. It would have been interesting to see Marco ride a 1000cc where he wouldn't have been at as big a disadvantage due to his size as he was on the 800cc. All that's left to say at this point is Grazie Marco. We love you. We miss you. Ciao Super Sic.

RIP Marco Simoncelli 1987-2011

Saturday, 22 October 2011

A look at the betting on UFC 137

So here we go again.

If you're keeping score it was 5 out of 7 on my predictions for the last UFC card. Out of the darkness of being wrong twice; I did point out that Lauzon could get the shock win by submission and that the key to Stann winning was him keeping Sonnen from getting the fight to the ground. Ultimately his inability to do just that lead to Sonnen controlling him on the ground and ultimately lead to the Sonnen victory. I must say I was massively off the mark with regards Sonnen when it came to possible ring rust and he has seemed to add some much needed jiu jitsu skills to help his already excellent wrestling game. Anyways on to the UFC 137 card.

The fights I'm going to concentrate on are:

Main card

Preliminary card (Spike TV)

Preliminary card (Facebook)

Here we go. First up the main event.
Welterweight bout: United States B.J. Penn vs. United States Nick Diaz

Originally both men had different opponents on this card but due to Nick Diaz no-showing two press conferences he was removed from a scheduled title fight with GSP to be replaced by Penn's original opponent Carlos Condit. Both men are extremely similar fighters in style. They've both excellent hands and are amongst the elite as far as technique in their boxing is concerned. Both have excellent chins and are able to absorb a lot of punishment. This is before we get to the ground game aspect which is yet again extremely evenly matched. BJ has an excellent top game but his guard when off his back can leave something to be desired. Diaz in a similar vein to his brother Nate and the rest of the Cesar Gracie camp is happy to be on top or attacking from his back.

Diaz has gone toe to toe with a number of K.O artists in his time most recently Semtex Daley and Cyborg Santos. The Diaz punches in bunches method has become a legend in it's self and Diaz's condition is not in question as he is famous for keeping up the tempo of his fights.

BJ on the other side of things has had a bit of a resurgence after being out-pointed by Frankie Edgar in their two lightweight encounters. Questions over BJ's conditioning and weight cut have been brought up with his performances in those fights. Especially since a change in his training regime had seen BJ put on some more muscle to his frame. Some had suggested his motivation wasn't there and BJ himself has said he struggles some days with the thought of continuing as a fighter. His will can be borderline bi-polar at times judging by his own statements. However a return to welterweight seems to have re-ignited the fire in his belly and an impressive knockout of Matt Hughes and a draw against Jon Fitch have seen BJ move back into the welterweight title picture with a possible title shot being available should he beat Diaz. This could lead BJ back to a fight with GSP which would have some huge emotional implications for BJ. In that fight his corner threw in the towel after round 4 and BJ himself was incensed by what became known as Greasegate. BJ has continued the excellent strength and conditioning programme he started for the GSP fight and is looking dangerous. He has recently voiced his desire to have a run at a title whether it's at 170lbs or 155lbs. Is it possible? Yes if BJ wants to do it he will. Don't be shocked if you see the Prodigy wear UFC gold again.

Recommendation: BJ Penn by decision. I think this is going the distance as both men cancel each other out in a lot of areas. I think that Penn has a higher pedigree than Diaz and will sneak this.

Heavyweight bout: France Cheick Kongo vs. United States Matt Mitrione

In what could be a massive fight for Matt Mitrione's career prospects he takes on Cheick Kongo. This is going to be a fight with some interesting implications on the heavyweight division. If Kongo takes this then he has the momentum to get him into a contender position in the division. He'd be possibly two fights removed from a title shot. A loss for Kongo will see him most likely play the role of gatekeeper for the rest of his MMA career. Mitrione the former professional American Football player finds himself in an enviable position early on in his UFC career and takes on the biggest test of his skills to date.

I think this fight is going to take place mainly on the feet. Mitrione has shown a penchant for letting his hands go in his previous fights and appears to have a very good chin and a lot of confidence in his striking. To date the Meathead has won four of his five fights by KO or TKO against an ever higher quality of opponent. Going with this strategy may be a big problem as Kongo has shown himself to be one of the most dangerous strikers in the division.

Kongo has been in the UFC heavyweight top 10 for a few years now and has had numerous notable victories. He's also been known to have several issues in his career. First his take down defense has been horrendous and as a fighter that was primarily a striker it's a neglected part of his game. He seems to have worked on both his take downs and take down defence in recent years but it's yet to be seen whether this will help him against the elite of the division. The other aspect of Kongo's game that has came into question is his discipline. He's earned the nickname "CupCheick" for his numerous low blows in fights. 

Even with all that said Kongo's heart can not be taken into question after his performance against Velasquez when he was dominated only to rock the current champion twice as well as his comeback of the year performance against Pat Barry.

Recommendation: Cheick Kongo. Kongo's striking is of K1 level and his chin and recovery times are excellent. Kongo is also the man that rocked the current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez twice to the point where if he hadn't gone for a clinch he may have knocked out the still unbeaten Velasquez.

Heavyweight bout: Croatia Mirko Filipović vs. United States Roy Nelson

This could be a fight of the night contender. Expect both men to come out swinging in this fight. Big Country and Cro Cop are both in danger of losing their jobs due to recent lacklustre performances. Both men are at varying stages of their careers and it must be said that it's Nelson that needs the victory more urgently of the two fighters if his career prospects are to improve.

The legendary Cro Cop is most famous for his highlight reel knock outs in Pride but his UFC career has never really taken off.  His UFC victories have came against a lower grade of fighters and when put in against top guys he has struggled. His old quote of right leg hospital left leg cemetery might still get chuckles but he is largely speaking a too one dimensional fighter to be still relevant at the top of the division. Personally speaking I think a loss could spell retirement for Cro Cop. His best days are behind him and this can be seen in his struggles against mid-tier opposition.

Big Country is coming off the back of two losses as is Cro Cop. Big Country's performances in these fights has left serious questions over his ability to go at full pace for 3 rounds. He showed a lot of heart in both fights in that he was swinging to the end as well as illustrating his iron chin against JDS. He's now 2-2 in the UFC and has to know that a victory is required to get him back on track. Despite the look of Big Country he is a serious threat to all heavyweights in the UFC. He has an excellent skill set range and is as dangerous on the ground as he is on the feet. Having won the Ultimate Fighter TV series to get his UFC contract it is still to be seen if Nelson can make the steps necessary to become a contender.

Recommendation: Do not judge a book by it's cover. Big Country Nelson should pick up a win here.

Lightweight bout: Germany Dennis Siver vs. United States Donald Cerrone
This is a huge fight in the lightweight division. Both men are coming off the back of impressive wins and which ever fighter takes the win in this will find themselves thrust into the title picture at 155. Siver has shown a massive improvement in his overall game since his UFC debut in 2007. He is currently on an impressive 4 fight winning streak and has shown great striking skills as well as some amazing balance in his takedown defence when beating George Sotiropoulous in Australia. 
Cerrone is in the middle of a career resurgence himself and since the WEC was folded into the UFC has been on an absolute tear. He holds a five fight win streak heading into this fight (2 in the WEC and 3 in the UFC) and has finished three of his last four fights in impressive fashion. His most recent victory was an impressive TKO of Charles Oliveira and the Cowboy looks like he is ready to put himself back in the title picture.

Recommendation: This is going to be a fight of the night contender and I have to favour Cerrone. He's fought a tougher quality of opponent and has a stronger overall MMA game in all areas in my opinion.

Light Heavyweight bout: United States Brandon Vera vs. United States Eliot Marshall
This is another match with huge implications on the future job prospects of the two fighters. Vera comes into the fight on the back of a career reprieve thanks to Thiago Silva's masked drug test. Vera who at one point was the hottest prospect in the UFC's heavyweight division and had the balls to call out Chuck Liddell as he'd aspirations of being the first man to hold the UFC heavyweight and lightweight belts at the same time. 
Marshall is a talented jiu jitsu practitioner and  is also a former TUF contestant who has fought his way back to the UFC after being cut previously from the organisation. He earned three wins outside of the UFC only to return to be on the receiving end of a vicious knock out from Luiz Cane. This is a hard fight to break down as both men have had a history of under-performing at times. With the stakes as high as they are for both fighters it could lead to a huge fight from both men or a snooze fest.


Recommendation: Brandon Vera to take this one. If Vera is on form there is very few that can beat him. He really needs to use his excellent Muay Thai game more as he has some vicious leg kicks and knees in the clinch.

So that's it for the UFC 137 card from me. I would have liked to put an extra fight or two in here but I think these six are the fights that are a bit more open especially with winning bets in mind.

Happy punting.

Monday, 17 October 2011

In Life Unbeatable. In Death Irreplaceable. Ayrton Senna

Hi again folks.

Seen as though we're two weeks away from the next UFC; I thought it would be a good time to explore another one of my major loves. Specifically F1. At the time of writing this I find myself pondering about some of the great drivers and people that have been taken away from us in race crashes. It's rare these days but less than 24 hours ago tragedy struck in the Las Vegas 300 and Indycar lost one of it's brightest stars in Dan
Wheldon. Whilst he didn't have a full-time drive this year he was an ultra talented guy who left his mark on both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (winning the Indy 500 twice) and the Indy Racing League championship (by winning it in 2005). Every time I see or hear about a fatality in motorsport my mind can't help but wander back to that horrible weekend in 1994 when we lost Ratzenberger and Senna.

Being a nine year old kid at the time I barely understood what dying meant yet alone that sports people could die in action. At that time I was still only about 3 and a half years into my love affair with motorsport. My first experience of F1 that I can remember was the infamous Suzuka showdown of 1990 when Senna crashed into Prost at the first corner to effectively end that year's world championship.

With that moment I started to follow the sport actively and due to it I've seen some heart wrenching moments as well as some incredible action. I can still remember watching BBC for what seemed like hours as the helicopter hovered above the scene of the accident all the while expecting to see Senna get out up and wave to the crowd to indicate he was alright as I'd seen with numerous other drivers involved in crashes. Sadly this was young naievety on my part as the blood on the track and the doctors trying to recuscitate him escaped my attention whilst I read through the News of the World detailing the Ratzenberger accident. No words I can use will ever do justice to explain the impact that this had on my mind at that age. It was because of those two accidents that I started looking at motorsport history (remember this was before the internet so my Dad's wallet was hit badly whilst I looked for "input" Johnny 5 style) and a lot of things that had never entered my childish brain. The reality of that Imola situation wouldn't dawn on me until I realised that there was no coming back from this and he was gone. Murray Walker's description of covering that race still haunts me a bit as he described it perfectly by saying they never left him alone. If you want an understanding of what he meant here's an example of the race footage on that fatal day.

I use this as an example as out of a horrible situation there can be some light. Thanks to these two accidents Formula 1 became a safer sport. The FIA started to put in ever stricter safety rules for the designs of the cars and developed new testing methods so that they could ensure drivers where as safe as possible when on the track. Obviously we'll never make motorsport completely safe but there's been huge leaps in that field and the fact we've not seen another F1 fatality since then is a testament to this.

With the release of the recent Senna movie I found my love affair with the legend of Ayrton re-ignited and myself re-reading the excellent Senna biography "The Death of Ayrton Senna" by Richard Williams. It also gave me a chance to wind back to some of the amazing moments I got to witness when Senna was at his peak. These include but where not limited to his amazing drive to 2nd in Monaco in 1984 ironically although up to that date it was his finest performance he was racing with a damaged car having rattled the barriers. Would he have finished the race? Would Bellof who was running faster at the time the race had stopped got past him? We'll never know.

Who can forget the terrifying qualifying performance at Monaco in 1988. Senna later revealed he felt like he was having an out of body experience. At one point he was over 2 seconds faster than Prost in the same car. Here's a clip from the Senna movie with audio from Senna describing the out of body experience he had.

The two moments of pure genius that stand out for me more than any are his amazing drive to the title at Suzuka in 1988. Senna had stalled on the grid and managed to get his McLaren bump started rolling down the hill towards the first corner. From there he lit up the track passing cars just about everywhere to get on Prost's back and eventually overtake him. On that day Senna says he saw God as he crossed the finish line. He never described what god looked like but it's another thing that moulded the man's iron will.

The last amazing moment to show Senna was still at the height of his powers at 33 was the European Grand Prix of Donnington in 1993. On this day the rain allowed Senna to beat the more technologically advanced cars around him including the dominant Williams cars. Senna made a mockery of the field that day and lead from the first lap despite dropping back to 5th or 6th. If you're unfamiliar with him I recommend watching the Senna movie. As a little taster check out the Top Gear tribute from last year and if you enjoy this it's well worth catching the flick.

To this day that man is still my hero. His philosophies and kindness off the track live on today and are an example that should be followed.

In life unbeatable. In death irreplaceable.
RIP Ayrton Senna 1960-1994

Sunday, 2 October 2011

A look at betting on UFC 136

Ok so maybe I've not done what I originally set out to do with this blog and I've decided it's time to try help you earn some dough if you are one of the few people to read this thing.

I've got about a 75% strike rate with my UFC bets and usually will try get one big upset in there to help. So with 2 title fights and a stacked card this coming weekend I think it's only right to try beat the bookies and start doing this blog as I originally set out to.

So let's breakdown the main card and what's worth a bet. As far as pricing goes I'd highly recommend Bet365.com and Paddy Power for their odds. PP are better for specialist bets like method of victory and round betting. Bet365 tend to have the better outright price. They're both based on no draw betting so in the highly unlikely event of a draw they will void the selection and the bet is deemed a push.

Lightweight Championship bout: United States Frankie Edgar (c) vs. United States Gray Maynard

As the first two fights have shown these two are evenly matched although Maynard is the bigger, stronger of the  two when it comes to their phsiques. He has earned his nickname of the Bully with his grinding style that's very similar to Jon Fitch. He also has some heavy hands as evident in the second Edgar fight when he sent Edgar head over heels in the first round. He dominated that round to the point that Frankie nearly had a 10-7 round against him. Have a look at the below gif to illustrate how close Maynard came to ending that fight. There was some suggestions he may have punched himself out trying to end the fight at this point.

Here's where it gets difficult though. Even after that disaster of a first round Edgar persevered on many people's scorecard over the next 4 rounds. He managed to take Maynard down impressively and as ever with Edgar his conditioning is amazing. He darts in and out and throws punches with as much vigour in the last seconds of a 5 round fight as he does in the first few seconds of the 1st round. I personally think this fight is too close to call. My heart would say Edgar will avenge the only loss of his career in this one but it really could go either way. Both are great wrestlers but I would say Edgar is the better of the two on the feet.
Recommendation: Avoid betting on this one. Just sit back and enjoy what could be a fight of the year contender.

Featherweight Championship bout: Brazil José Aldo (c) vs. United States Kenny Florian

Kenny Florian has twice gone for UFC gold and twice been mangled. First by Sherk and then by BJ Penn. Personally speaking I do not think Florian has it in him to beat Jose Aldo if he is on form. Aldo is a miniature version of Anderson Silva with dynamic striking and could be best described as a vicious ballet of violence. You can see some of his handy work below. 
One question remains though with Aldo. How badly will the weight cut hurt him? Video of him complaining about his weight cut have been uploaded online and it is known from his last fight that he gassed particularly in the later rounds. Will it be 3rd time lucky for Florian as far as taking UFC gold? The simple answer is no. Aldo should win this most likely by TKO. Expect Florian to come out flying though as I believe he will try press the action so as not to let Aldo get comfortable.
Recommendation: Put the house on Aldo. He's currently around 1/3 with the bookies. With his record and ability I think thats a suitable price.

Middleweight bout: United States Chael Sonnen vs. United States Brian Stann

If this was a shit talking contest it would be a non event as Sonnen has really put himself in a class of his own in that area. From the moment he started calling out Anderson Silva last year he's been on an absolute tear. Whether it's been the Nogueira brothers or the California State Athlethic Committee; Sonnen has had some funny views. To the extent that if Sonnen is to be believed this fight is an unofficial title fight. Yes I know he's kidding but the metric has changed as for the first time in a long while Sonnen is going to be doing his talking in the Octagon. If you've not seen his most recent Q&A for the UFC Fightclub have a look at this.

Ok so that's the verbal stuff over; lets get down to the business end of things. This is most likely a Middleweight contenders bout regardless of the winner as both make extremely marketable fights with Anderson Silva should he stay at 185 for another fight. Sonnen due to his beating of Silva in 4 rounds of that fight and a rematch could do huge PPV numbers. Stann because he's got the potential to be the new captain America. No Randy will never be replaced but Stann is a war veteran and this holds him in good sway with the public.

Sonnen is an Olympic calibre wrestler and is relentless with his ground and pound but his record for finishing fights is rather poor. His last finish came against Kyacey Uscola over 4 years ago. Uscola is nearly a 50-50 fighter over his 40 plus fight career so it's not too impressive. He has also shown continued poor defense against submissions especially triangle choke variations which have accounted for over 50% of his 11 losses. Sonnen was mightily impressive against Anderson Silva but there is still question marks over the performance for two reasons. 1. His positive test for testosterone in the fight. 2. The reported rib injury to Anderson Silva. These two factors do leave a question mark over what was probably the performance of his career.

If we look at Stann we see a guy that's on a complete tear since dropping from 205 to 185. His most recent UFC loss coming at the hands of the unbeaten Mr. Wonderful Phil Davis that saw him make the decision to drop down a weight class. Since dropping down to 185 Stann has been impressive with three stoppage victories (one arm triangle sub and two nasty TKO's). Stann in my opinion has the better of his opponent on the feet but the biggest question is can he keep Sonnen from getting him down? I think at some point he is going to be on his back and we're yet to see Stann in a difficult position for a long time to see how his ground game has evolved. Still I think the ability to cause Sonnen difficulties on the feet may sway this in his benefit as we all know each fight starts standing and with the amount of time Sonnen has had out of the Octagon I think he is way too short a price with a lot of value being put on the Anderson Silva fight.

Recommendation: This should be the upset of the night 9/4 with Bet365 seems to be the best price going at this time. This will probably go the distance but don't be shocked if Sonnen does end up the victim of a TKO as Stann's conditioning is quite something to behold.

Other Main Card fights and selected prelim recommendations:

Lightweight bout: United States Joe Lauzon vs. United States Melvin Guillard

This should be Guillard's fight to lose although Lauzon may pull a shock via submission. I'd recommend Guillard heavily based on his form since switching to Greg Jackson's MMA. Currently he's around 1/3.
Recommendation: Guillard

Featherweight bout: United States Leonard Garcia vs. United States Nam Phan

Personally speaking I'd say Phan. He was robbed of a decision in their previous fight. Garcia will remain active and  throw for the fences regardless but Phan is the better striker of the two and his technique should see him through. No odds are available for me at this time on this one. Phan will probably be around 4/6 I reckon when the bookmakers set the odds.
Recommendation: Nam Phan

Middleweight bout: Brazil Demian Maia vs. Brazil Jorge Santiago

I give the advantage in this fight to Maia. We've seen massive improvements in his striking game since he was the victim of a one punch knockout by Nate Marquardt. Santiago is a quality opponent but Maia's improved striking and his top of the food chain BJJ game should see him through. I suspect that there may be some value in a Maia TKO bet for this one. No odds are available at the moment.
Recommendation: Demian Maia

Lightweight bout: United States Anthony Pettis vs. United States Jeremy Stephens

Two quality strikers in need of victory to elevate them into contendership. Pettis turned down a guaranteed title shot to fight Clay Guida and was the victim of Clay's underrated wrestling game. Pettis had the highlight reel moment of 2010 and I believe if he can stay away from Stephens' heavy hands and vicious kicks that he should prevail. Stephens is coming off the back of two impressive wins of his own including a KO of Marcus Davis. I still think Pettis' dynamic striking and excellent ground game should see him through. He's currently around 4/11.
Recommendation: Anthony Pettis

With that all said I'll leave you with the kick heard all around the world and if you haven't seen it. Enjoy. If you've any comments or opinions on the selections feel free to put something in the comments.

Happy punting folks.