UFC 121 Fight Card Previews, Picks and Musings

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Is everyone excited for tonight? Both Google and Twitter are blowing up right now, so what better time to help get everyone ready for Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez, Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann, and the rest of UFC 121. Allow me to help you fight through the swirl of content and get you up to speed with highlights from around SB Nation's network of Combat Sports Blogs.

Although SeatGeek.com isn't one of them, I was given the honor to help them out and break down some of the reasons why this UFC 121 should be the biggest MMA event of 2010.

via Seat Geek-

Brock Lesnar is always a huge draw, but even moreso in this fight with Cain Velasquez. The hype behind Velasquez has been astounding, and even Lesnar's huge win over Shane Carwin at UFC 116 back in July hasn't been able to fully squelch the chatter of Cain being the better man. Stacked up against other title fights like we saw at UFC 118 with BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar, this matchup is extremely intriguing for a number of reasons.

Firstly, these two haven't already fought each other, a fact that will usually garner interest. There's also the question of Brock's ability to hang with Velasquez's cardio in the later rounds. Cain and his team have been adamant about their plan of dragging Lesnar into those later championship rounds, so whether or not Brock can swim in the deep end will be something fans will be looking for. Lastly - and almost on a sour note - this may be Lesnar's last real test the UFC can offer him at this time. Aside from Velasquez, there isn't another heavyweight fighter signed under contract in the UFC who I see being a challenge to Lesnar's crown. If Cain can't get it done Saturday night, the UFC will be forced to seriously look at options of going after guys like Alistair Overeem.

UFC 121 should be one of Zuffa's strongest selling cards of 2010. The event is extremely well rounded and fans should expect to be liberally doused in action from star studded performances throughout the night. Aside from the reason most fans will be tuning in - Brock Lesnar - the card also features notable top sellers such as Tito Ortiz and Jake Shields. In all, UFC 121 has seven fighters on the card who have previously appeared in a UFC main event. That's incredible.

Tito Ortiz - once one of the biggest stars in MMA - will be making another comeback in a vain attempt at recapturing his light heavyweight title he lost to Randy Couture at UFC 44 in 2003. Ortiz has been largely absent from competition over the last five years due to injury and hasn't won a fight in the UFC since defeating Ken Shamrock in 2006. Be that as it may, of Tito's last twelve fights, eleven of his opponents have been current or former UFC champions. You can never count Ortiz out of a fight.

Jake Shields makes his long awaited UFC debut this Saturday night as he takes on a very underrated Martin Kampmann. This is certainly no ‘welcome to the UFC' warm up fight for Shields. Kampmann spent five years fighting at middleweight before making his move down to 170 pounds, so Shields' additional tweener weight won't lend as much of an advantage in this fight. The Dane has very impressive wins over guys like Thales Leites, Carlos Condit, and most recently Paulo Thiago, who he absolutely dismantled en rout to a one-sided decision victory at UFC 115. Shields will need to be at his best because there is absolutely no welcome mat being laid out for him.

 

I didn't expand on some of UFC 121's other marquee fights on Seat Geek, but this card is stacked from top to bottom.

Check out Jessie Holland's take on Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago.

via MMA Mania-

170 lbs.: Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (21-4) vs. Paulo Thiago (13-2)

Nostradumbass predicts: Diego Sanchez used to be a "Nightmare" at welterweight -- until the rest of the division eventually woke up. Gone are the days of David Bielkheden and Luigi Fioravanti, there are some talented prospects at 170 and Sanchez found that out against John Hathaway earlier this year.

I was surprised he ever left 155. Yeah, he was turned inside out by BJ Penn, but that's hardly a knock on anyone's career. All the tools that made him dangerous as a welterweight were magnified in the smaller class and who didn't want to see if "KenFlo" could exact his revenge?

When a fighter bounces in and out of weight classes, it sends up a red flag. The same red flag as when fighters bounce from camp-to-camp. I think Diego knows deep down that he can't be a champion in either division and it's probably messing with his head. There was a time when I didn't think Sanchez could be rattled, but I don't like where he's at mentally for this fight.

And Paulo Thiago is not a flash in the pan.

He was null and void against Martin Kampmann not because he lacked the skill, but because "The Hitman" had a superior gameplan. I think that loss did more for the Brazilian than a win, as it afforded him the opportunity to come up with a "Plan B" when the fight starts to get away from him.

Trying to find a weakness in Thiago is difficult. Outside of being frustrated by Kampmann, his only other defeat in 15 fights was to Jon Fitch, who did what Jon Fitch does better than anyone else, so again, there isn't much to glean from that loss.

Thiago is probably more respected for his ground skills, but his stand-up is underrated. Forget about knocking out Koscheck, that was more instinct than execution, but his hands have evolved and that makes him better all around than Diego.

Sanchez is one dimensional. He always has been. But it never became a liability because he knew how to apply that one dimension so effectively. Unfortunately the sport has evolved and Diego hasn't, which is why I see him falling on the scorecards for the second straight fight.

See you at 155 (I hope).

Betting lines (as of Oct. 22):

Thiago: -130 ((Bet Now))

Sanchez: +100 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Thiago via unanimous decision

 

Brendan Schaub vs. Gabriel Gonzaga is another exciting fight that has unfortunately been lost on fight fans' radar due to the other high profile stars on this card. I spoke with Schaub about his upcoming fight with Gonzaga, check out some highlights.

via SB Nation MMA-

What do you think about fighting a guy like Gabriel Gonzaga? He's pretty dangerous on the ground, but he also wobbled Carwin with a punch. How are you approaching this fight?

For me, this is the reason I've always dreamed of fighting in the UFC. Fighting top level competition. Guys like Gabe, Randy Couture, Dos Santos, and the Lesnars. All the studs, the who's who of MMA. It's just a great opportunity for me. I'm fighting on another absolutely stacked card. The way I show my appreciation to Dana White and Joe Silva for putting me on these cards is just to put on a show. I'm just going to go out there and do my thing. I have all the tools I need to beat Gonzaga.

Speaking of that UFC 121 card, you really did get put on one of the most stacked cards of the year. Do you look at this and ask yourself- 'how the hell am I going to get a bonus out of this thing?'

No, not really. My first real UFC fight was a prelim on Versus 1 and that card was stacked. My next fight was UFC 116 with Shane and Brock, another insane card. I see all these stars fighting around me and I just try to stand out. On the Versus card I had a 47 second knockout and on the UFC 116 SPIKE prelims I had a 67 second knockout, so I can find a way to separate myself, find a way for people to talk about me. I grew up a huge Tito Ortiz fan, so it's an honor to be on the same card as someone like him. It's a unique opportunity for me.

Bloody Elbow's Leland Rolling shares his thoughts on the fight-

via Bloody Elbow-

There is also the obvious question as to whether Schaub can hang with Gabriel Gonzaga's grappling acumen if he finds himself on his back. While Schaub did prove during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter that he has the abilities on the ground to be a threat, it's a tough sell to believe he can work around Gonzaga's Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt while also dealing with the twenty pound weight difference.

On paper, Gonzaga should be the favorite and win this fight. Schaub is only six fights into his career, gives up twenty pounds to his opponent, and isn't the grappler that Gonzaga is on the ground. Unfortunately, Schaub has the power in his hands to completely nullify an objective breakdown, and Gonzaga happens to be rather vulnerable to it. That question mark makes this somewhat of a toss-up, although I think Gonzaga still has the slight edge since he can dish it out both on the feet and on the ground.

Check out Leland's entire breakdown.

 

In all, UFC 121 has the potential to be the most successful MMA event in recent history. With so many hard hitters, fans are assured to get their money's worth tonight. Make sure to tune into Spike TV at 9:00pm ET as the night kicks off with TUF winner Court McGee vs. Ryan Jensen and Patrick Cote vs. Tom Lawlor

Stay with us over at SB Nation MMA for Live fight results and analysis on all the action.

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