UFC 74: Respect – Fight & Betting Line Analysis
by Matt Corenzwit
BetOnFighting.Com Staff Writer
Rejoice, mixed martial arts fans, the wait is nearly over! At long last, the UFC is back in full swing this coming weekend and it isn’t stopping there. Following UFC 74: Respect, September is filled to the brim with three more events & the premier of The Ultimate Fighter 6. It’s a good time to be a UFC fan, and there are certainly some excellent opportunities across the board. UFC 74 is headlined by Randy Couture & Gabriel Gonzaga, who will be competing for the coveted Heavyweight crown, while potential #1 contender matches take place at 170 & 155 lbs.
Gabriel Gonzaga (-150) Vs. Randy Couture (+120):
Many questions will be answered in Saturday’s Main Event, featuring Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture & challenger Gabriel Gonzaga. Can “The Natural” hold his own against his larger foe in a grappling affair? Was Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic’s knockout at the hands (or feet!) of Gonzaga a fluke? When will age catch up with the 44 year old champ? No matter the result, we will get some answers & in exciting fashion.
Enter the challenger: Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga. A burly yet athletic 240+ lbs, the accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner boasts a substantial submission acumen. He is also a very tenacious fighter who presses forward very well & can end a fight in any round. If that wasn’t enough, he proved in his last fight against the vaunted Mirko “Cro Cop” that he has tremendous knockout power, delivering one of the more brutal high kicks in the sport’s history.
Champion Randy Couture (“Captain America”, “The Natural”, etc.), a decorated wrestler whose nickname count is exceeded by his UFC championships (and that’s saying something!), is coming off of his magnificent recapture of the Heavyweight belt. Coming out of retirement, the then forty-three year old stunned the mixed martial arts world by dominating the 6’8 incumbent champion, Tim Sylvia. A master of game plan, Couture has an unbreakable spirit and competitive edge, which has driven him throughout his hall of fame career.
On paper, Gonzaga, the larger, younger, & perceivably stronger fighter is a clear-cut favorite. He has a much better finishing game and it’s impossible to overlook Couture’s age. However, sports fans, this is why we have the actual matches. Couture’s been there. He’s tasted championship glory in multiple divisions & has succumbed to defeat as well. He has gone five grueling rounds on multiple occasions. People have discounted & doubted him countless times in the past, and yet he’s come through. Couture finds a way. He’s my pick to click at a nice slight-underdog price of +120. If you like Gonzaga, I’d recommend that you wait a bit & let the waves of Couture fans drive his price down.
These two welterweight fighters have more to prove than anyone on the card. For Koscheck, a win over GSP would cement him as the #1 contender at 170 lbs. GSP, on the other hand, who had worked so hard to get the belt last November, lost in his first title defense to the vastly inferior underdog, Matt Serra. While Koscheck dearly wants the respect he has not yet earned in most fans’ eyes, GSP wants to validate himself & prove that his loss in April was a fluke.
Josh Koscheck is arguably the best wrestler in MMA at the moment, period. He is an outstanding athlete with a practically unstoppable takedown game. Steadily expanding his skill set, he proved he can control the standup aspect in his last fight, where he dominated the previously unbeaten Diego Sanchez. Georges St. Pierre is a terrific wrestler in his own right (he is a Canadian Olympic team alternate), but it doesn’t stop there. While Koscheck still has a lot to learn, GSP already has all of the tools. He can end the fight a variety of ways & has faced (and defeated) much stiffer competition.
Koscheck’s first few fights were snoozers, wherein he applied the sort of “Lay-n-Pray” that has turned even hardcore MMA fans into boo-birds. He employs the tactic when he recognizes his inferiority to a given opponent (in a given area), and attempts to smother his adversary. He doesn’t even look to improve position or finish the fight, he tries to merely dominate position as if it was a wrestling match. Most experts predict him to try this very tactic from the get-go. He’s difficult to stop when he sets his mind to it.
Does that make Koscheck worth a shot as +200? I’d beg to differ. GSP, like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Fedor Emelianenko, and a select few others, is impossible to hold down. He is a cardio machine who is dangerous from the opening bell through the final moments. What’s more, he displayed the type of sprawl against Matt Hughes, Sean Sherk, & Frank Trigg that’s capable of stuffing takedowns from anyone. I firmly believe that GSP wants to win more than ever after his last outing & that Koscheck will not be able to hold him down. GSP opened around the -200 area, and it’s a surefire bet there, but I still like him at -250.
Joe Stevenson (-275) Vs. Kurt Pellegrino (+215):
Wrestler/submission specialist Joe “Daddy” Stevenson matches up with a mirror image of himself in Kurt “Batman” Pellegrino. This may very well be the match to determine the #1 contender at 155 lbs, especially in Stevenson’s case. As stacked as the lightweight division currently is, Joe has probably had the most impressive victories over the last year. He’s shown off some of his submission skills in choking out Dokonjonosuke Mishima & Melvin Guillard, while against Yves Edwards, he utilized superior wrestling & ground ‘n pound. As aggressive & strong on the mat as anyone in the division, Stevenson is quite a force, especially given his size.
Pellegrino has very much the same style, training with the likes of Hermes Franca on a daily basis. Neither fighter is particularly adept on his feet, so expect this fight to hit the ground pretty fast. No matter who has the top position, Stevenson, aggressive as he is, will be on the offensive for as long as the fight lasts. They really do have practically identical styles, but Stevenson is flat-out better at every aspect of MMA. He’s bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. I can’t see Pellegrino winning. I’d be betting on Joe even if the line was around -400.
Kendall Grove (-225) Vs. Patrick Cote (+185)
TUF 3 meets TUF 4 in the lone middleweight bout of the evening. Kendall Grove continues to climb the 185 lb ladder with remarkable improvement while Cote looks to build off of his first UFC victory. While Cote is a well versed fighter who has been around the game longer, he still struggles with the ground game every time we see him. He’s also fought tougher competition & has trained with most of Canada’s top fighters. Grove, however, is still a very young fighter who is growing by leaps and bounds at every turn. He showed tremendous grit and determination in a hard fought victory over Ed Herman. In his next fight, he dominated every aspect of the fight against a supposed superior wrestler in Chris Price, and his superb aggressiveness & technique against Alan Belcher were a joy to watch.
If Cote can keep the fight standing while attempting to deliver some power shots, he has a chance. Frankly, he’s never done that in the UFC. Every time he’s been aggressive, he’s been taken down and turned into a pretzel on the canvas. In his lone win, he was content to land shots simply for the judges and showed no urgency to finish the fight at any point in time. If he takes the same approach against Grove, he will be at the mercy of the Hawaiian’s 6’6 frame/reach & consequently picked apart. Kendall is the superior fighter and only getting better. -225 is a fantastic price for Grove I’d not soon pass up.
Roger Huerta (-425) Vs. Alberto Crane (+345):
Believe it or not, -425 is the best price yet offered for Huerta, as the UFC has been trying to build him up as the next big thing in the Lightweight division. Huerta has been downright impressive. His fights are always exciting, and short of the first round of his most recent outing against the impressive Douglas Evans, He’s dominated every fight he’s had. Many naysayers will point to that first round as a sign of weakness, or criticize his lack of finishing ability against Leonard Garcia. I whole-heartedly disagree. I give credit where it is due in both cases, to Evans & Garcia (and lest we forget, Huerta still won both fights). He’s a dynamic striker, grappler, and a terrific athlete. While he hasn’t been tested to the degree of some other lightweights, he does show immense skill & promise.
Crane is an up-and-coming lightweight at 8-0, seven wins coming via submission. He’s not fought in any of the big shows yet, and has certainly not fought anyone as skilled as Huerta. The longer the fight remains on the feet, the better it is for Roger, although if and when it hits the ground, expect him to be in the dominant position. Huerta takes this fight by any way he chooses and -425 really isn’t a terrible price compared to his previous bouts. That said, I’d abstain from action on this one. +345 isn’t worth a risk on an unknown like Crane.
Clay Guida (-155) Vs. Marcus Aurelio (+125):
Why this match up is relegated to the under card is beyond me. They will probably incorporate it into the PPV broadcast if/when fights end prematurely, to help fill the time. As usual, my pick for “fight of the night” comes from the lightweight division. Clay Guida is an extremely diligent & hardworking fighter who presses forward for fifteen straight minutes. He’s a terrific wrestler and he proved in his last fight (a tough decision loss to Tyson Griffin) that his gas tank can carry him throughout a fight. Though somewhat lacking in the standup department, he’s a very exciting fighter who never quits.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire…Clay’s coming off of two heated matches with top notch competition (Griffin & Din Thomas) and heading into a match with Marcus Aurelio. Aurelio is the first of the former PRIDE lightweight standouts to come over to the UFC. He is an elite-level grappler who is best known for his arm-triangle choke of the world’s #1 rated lightweight, Takanori Gomi. Although Aurelio dropped a decision to Gomi in a rematch and has been inactive for several months, he is still as tough as they come. Aside from complacency when on his feet, he is competent in all areas of MMA. He has a better finishing game than Guida & will probably have to do so off of his back.
My first inclination was to say: Guida by decision. I haven’t wavered tremendously, but I have to go with Aurelio for the +125 price. He’s more capable of finishing the fight from the bottom than Guida is from the top, let alone if he can somehow secure a dominant position. Either way, I’m excited to see these two 155’ers in action!
Thales Leites (-285) Vs. Ryan Jensen (+225):
If Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Nate Marquardt, and the rest of the middleweight division isn’t paying attention, Thales Leites may give them a rude awakening. After a tough decision loss in his octagon debut against Martin Kampmann, Leites has quickly rattled off two phenomenal performances, in so doing utterly decimating Pete Sell & Floyd Sword. He’s a terrific grappler with an impressive & ever improving takedown game. Although unlikely to rack up knockouts like Anderson Silva or Chuck Liddell, he is also a formidable standup fighter.
Leites is opposed by Ryan Jensen, a solid grappler in his own right. Jensen was set to take on Travis Lutter, before Lutter pulled out with an injury. This will be his toughest test by far, and the smart money is on him faltering in his UFC debut. Like Stevenson vs. Pellegrino, Thales Leites is better at every facet of MMA, and a very safe bet.
Renato Sobral (-200) Vs. David Heath (+160)
It’s been a rough year for “Babalu” Sobral. He dropped his title bid and lost his impressive win streak against Chuck Liddell. He then returned in March only to gas in the second round succumbing to Jason Lambert via a vicious knockout. He’s run into problems with the law. That said, this is the very same fighter who was in the top-10 of the 205 lb ranks for several years. The same man who was on a terrific run including a submission win over the young Shogun and once gave Fedor a run for his money.
David Heath was looking great up until his most recent fight. He was unbeaten, including a 2-0 mark in the UFC, and is a formidable wrestler/ground’n’pounder. Given the current issues & questions surrounding Sobral, David Heath would have been a good bet. However, in his last outing, he was practically undressed by Ryoto Machida, exposing deficiencies in standup, takedowns, etc. If the Babalu we saw last year comes back, he takes this easily. If the distractions & disappointments have disrupted his training, Heath is a solid underdog bet. I don’t see Babalu getting his third straight loss, but mainly I’d advice passing unless the line shifts dramatically in either direction.
Frank Mir (-160) Vs. Antoni Hardonk (+135):
Contrasting styles are rarely exemplified more than in the night’s “other” heavyweight tilt. The former champ, Mir, has shown a tremendous lack of standup ability since his return from his motorcycle accident. He’s demonstrated a proclivity to turtle up and stop fighting when he’s getting hit, instead of the old Frank Mir, who would retain guard & look for submissions. If given free reign on the mat to fight his fight, however, he is still a tremendous grappler for a heavyweight.
Antoni Hardonk, a dynamic striker under the tutelage of kickboxer Ernesto Hoost, is extremely dangerous on his feet. Although this is his third UFC fight & he’s been fighting MMA off and on since 2001, his takedown defense and ground game are atrocious. In his last fight, he was taken down at will by Justin McCully and had no answer. He had nothing off of his back and could not even get back to his feet. Tremendously contradicting styles (and glaring opposing weaknesses) make this an interesting fight. I like Hardonk given his odds & Mir’s lack of standup, even if he pulls guard, I just don’t think he can take many hits. Hardonk by first round KO.