Sat Oct 24 09:16am EDT
The hype is finished; now it's time for several fighters to show if they can live up to the lofty reputations bestowed upon by some. After his win at UFC 98, Lyoto Machida was dubbed a guy with an "era" by UFC analyst Joe Rogan. Cain Velasquez has been called the future of the heavyweight division for the better part of a year now. Guys like former champ Frank Mir rave about him. Velasquez showed some holes on the feet in his last fight. Has he shored them up? Yushin Okami is the other fighter with a lot to prove. Some bloggers have trumpeted him as a candidate to challenge Anderson Silva at middleweight. If that's the case, he needs to handle Chael Sonnen easily.
Let's take a shot at finding some winners according to the Las Vegas odds. As always, these picks are based on value, not necessarily who will win the fight.
UFC 104 ODDS (Courtesy of Venetian Resort Hotel Casino)
Official plays in bold
Mauricio Rua (+375) v. Lyoto Machida (-550) - UFC Light heavyweight title
When the fight was booked, there were just a handful of folks on online who liked the matchup. As we get closer to the fight, people are beginning to remember just how good Rua was back in 2005 and 2006. He's not old or washed up. He just got a little lazy and suffered from chronic knee issues. Rua's conditioning should be back and he's the first fighter Machida has faced in the UFC who can actually strike with him. Machida should win the fight but Rua is no joke and delivers good value. UPDATE: Machida has jumped another 50 cents in Sin City to -600!
PICK: RUA +375
Ben Rothwell (+200) v. Cain Velasquez (-250) - Heavyweight
This is another nice test for Velasquez. The former Arizona State wrestler is always a subject of intense debate. He destroyed Cheick Kongo in his last fight, but was unable to finish him. Critics came out of the woodwork to say Velasquez is overrated. He's a work in progress, but far from overrated. Rothwell looks to have taken his conditioning seriously, but will that be enough to avoid being manhandled by Velasquez? If Rothwell were an elite striker with a little wrestling, I'd be worried about the upset. It's not the case here. UPDATE: All the action is on Velasquez, he's now at -330.
PICK: VELASQUEZ -250
Gleison Tibau (-115) v. Josh Neer (-115) -Lightweight
This is another bout with Fight of the Night potential. Tibau is a dynamite ground fighter, but he looked a bit frustrated in his last fight when Melvin Guillard was able to stay off his back. Neer is bigger than Guillard and drilled his wrestling heavily after his loss at UFC 101 to Kurt Pellegrino. Tibau just doesn't have enough on the feet to compete with Neer, a heavy hitter with a huge chin. Watch for gas tank issues in this one. Both fighters missed weight and Neer took the fight on short notice.
PICK: NEER -115
Spencer Fischer (+200) v. Joe Stevenson (-250) - Lightweight
It is a nice step up for Fisher to face Stevenson, a guy on the edge of the top five at 155. Stevenson's career should reach a different level now that he's working full-time with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque. Fisher still lacks top-notch takedown defense. If he can keep it standing, he has a shot, but he won't be able to do it with Stevenson, who is one of the best grapplers in the world at lightweight.
PICK: STEVENSON -250
Yoshiyuki Yoshida (+250) v. Anthony Johnson (-330) - Welterweight
Most people were probably going to roll with Johnson in this one. His striking is too dynamic for Yoshida. But now there's an X-factor with Johnson missing weight so badly on Friday, at 176 pounds. The weight cut was so bad on Friday that he looked to be on the verge of passing out as he was being carried throught the streets of Los Angeles 90 minutes before the weigh-in. Will he be fully recovered for the fight? Will he have enough stamina? There are still some questions about Johnson's takedown defense as well. Buyer beware.
PICK: JOHNSON -330
Eric Schafer (+350) v. Ryan Bader (-500) - Light heavyweight
Schafer is always a dangerous guy to face if you don't have a complete game. Bader, a wrestler by trade who won the eighth season of "The Ultimate Fighter," is still trying to add striking and submissions to his game. Schafer has already pulled upsets on one-dimensional fighters in Houston Alexander and Antonio Mendes. The fighter's only losses in the UFC came against Stephan Bonnar and Michael Bisping. He's got more than a shot to pull off a submission on Bader. These odds are too good to pass up. UPDATE: Bettors have slammed Bader up to -700. That's a nice bet on Schafer at +450.
PICK: SCHAFER +350
Pat Barry (Even) v. Antoni Hardonk (-130) - Heavyweight
This one should be explosive. Barry and Hardonk are former kickboxing training partners in Amsterdam. It all depends on where the fight goes. If it's all stand-up, Barry has a great shot but Hardonk is too smart, and he'll get it to the ground. Hardonk has a solid submission game. Has Barry done his work in the gym? We'll see.
PICK: HARDONK -130
Chael Sonnen (+220) v. Yushin Okami (-300) - Middleweight
Okami is back after a long layoff, and he is facing his mirror image. Okami usually outsizes his opponents, but that shouldn't be the case with Sonnen, who cuts to middleweight from 215. This one will be waged on the ground. It's just a matter of who consistently gains top control. Sonnen's biggest weakness is submission defense. Okami has a sub game but doesn't use it often. We'll roll the dice that Sonnen can more than hold his own and bring home the underdog money.
PICK: SONNEN +220
Jorge Rivera (+150) v. Rob Kimmons (-180) - Middleweight
Rivera didn't look great his last time out against Nissen Osterneck but he did get a victory on points. Rivera is the much bigger fighter and his experience will shine through. Kimmons has never stepped up to this level. The only worry is Rivera's mental state. The fight against Osterneck was his first since the death of his 18-year-old daughter. His conditioning and mental approach will allow him to pull the upset.
PICK: RIVERA +150
Razak Al-Hassan (+115) v. Kyle Kingsbury (-145) - Light heavyweight
Al-Hassan looked terrible his first time in the UFC, a bout against Steve Cantwell. Cantwell isn't great and he toyed with Al-Hassan. This is a little easier assignment in Kingsbury, but the kid does have potential. He looks like the crisper striker and if it goes to the ground, he should be more apt to pull out a submission.
PICK: KINGSBURY -145
Chase Gormley (+110) v. Stefan Struve (-140) - Heavyweight
There have been rave reviews about Gormley for a while. The 6-foot-11 Struve is very young, but was able to pull out his first UFC win against Denis Strojnic at UFC 99. But he suffered an awful cut in the fight before escaping with a submission win. His standup is too suspect to lay this kind of number. There are some advantages to being 6-11 but it's also a huge problem when trying to defend against a former NAIA All-American wrestler like Gormley. UPDATE: The Gormley hype has reached Vegas. This line has completely flipped with Gormley now -170. Oddsmakers still say they believe Struve should be the favorite.
PICK: GORMLEY +180
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