As difficult as it is for me to turn right around after the IFL Finals and get up for UFC 76, I’m going to dig deep and come up with as much enthusiasm as possible.
As usual, my preview and picks are coupled with the current odds from betus.com. Maybe this time I’ll lay some money down, although after I lost my side bet at the IFL Finals (note to self: never underestimate Deividas Taurosevicius again, no matter how difficult his name is to spell), I’m a little lighter in the wallet.
Chuck Liddell (-350) vs. Keith Jardine (+270)
Predictably, Liddell is the heavy favorite here. Liddell needs this win after losing his belt to Quinton Jackson, and Jardine is a good opponent for a counter-puncher with good takedown defense, which describes Liddell perfectly.
The UFC originally wanted to match Liddell against Pride import Wanderlei Silva in this match, but Silva wanted more time to prepare for his move to the U.S. Instead of waiting until November like Silva claims to have requested, the UFC chose to put Liddell against Jardine, who is coming off a TKO loss to Houston Alexander.
Jardine is far from an easy opponent. He’s extremely aggressive and has good punching power. He ran right through Forrest Griffin last December, and looked impressive doing it.
But if Jardine tries the same approach against Liddell that he’s shown in recent fights, he’s going to wake up in the dressing room. Liddell loves for guys to come right at him. His footwork is great for evading a charging opponent and, like so few MMA fighters, he can strike effectively even while moving backwards.
My pick: Liddell.
Assuming he doesn’t take Jardine lightly, Liddell should get the win here. Jardine probably knows he needs to be more tactful than usual, but once he gets hit and becomes frustrated, a fighter usually reverts to what he knows best, which for Jardine is pure aggression. I’ll be surprised if it goes more than one round.
If Liddell does lose, look for Dana White to have a heart attack at ringside, as the big money Liddell-Silva bout he’s planning for New Year’s Eve will be dismantled.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (-300) vs. Forrest Griffin (+230)
For many American fans, “Shogun” is the best fighter they’ve never heard of. He seemed poised to take over in Pride before its collapse, and the UFC is now begrudgingly marketing him as a contender for the 205-pound belt. First he has to get past Griffin, who is better than he gets credit for.
The loss to Jardine hurt Griffin’s status, especially since it came soon after his decision loss to Tito Ortiz. Two lackluster decision wins also made him seem like he might have been overinflated to begin with. But Griffin has real skills when he doesn’t fight conservatively. He may have lost some confidence in the last two years, but if he could pull out a win over “Shogun” it would catapult him to the top.
My pick: Rua.
“Shogun” is a buzzsaw in the clinch and has deceptively good submission skills on the ground. Griffin might have better strikes from long range, but that’s probably the only advantage he has. Look for “Shogun” to make a dramatic debut, though it could be a war.
Jon Fitch (-115) vs. Diego Sanchez (-115)
As the odds indicate, this is a tough one to call. Fitch has quietly climbed up the ranks, but Sanchez remains one of the few TUF stars who has proved himself in the tough battles. His loss to Koscheck was the result of a bad gameplan, but Fitch is a better style match-up for him.
My pick: Sanchez
He needs this to get back on track, and I think we’re going to see the athleticism and overwhelming aggression of “The Nightmare” propel him to victory.
Thiago Tavares (+120) vs. Tyson Griffin (-150)
I’m a little surprised to see Griffin as the favorite here. He’s been touted as a lightweight poster boy for some time, but his loss to Frank Edgar showed some major weaknesses. I think people are underestimating Tavares, and if I were going to lay down a bet in this event this would be the fight.
My pick: Tavares.
He’s got phenomenal submissions and great cardio. He’ll outlast and outperform Griffin.