UFC 128: A Bettor’s Guide

Written by: AJ Hoffman

UFC 128 is one the most anticipated cards in recent memory, mostly due to the headliner featuring Mauricio “Shogun” Rua defending his light heavyweight title against Jon “Bones” Jones. Inexperience has not shied Vegas  away from Jones, installing him as the favorite over the champion. On paper it appears a good night for favorites, but you can be the judge. The card is handicapped below.

Don’t forget to make your own picks in our UFC 128 Fan Pick’em Contest!

PRELIMINARIES

Erik Koch
(-170)
VS Raphael Assuncao
(+140)

Koch is pretty underrated coming into this fight, considering to this point his only loss under the Zuffa banner has been to Chad Mendes. Assuncao struggles to put together combos and will probably be forced into takedown attempts. I don’t see it working. Expect a dominating 15 minute performance by Koch en route to a unanimous decision. KOCH DEF. ASSUNCAO BY DECISION

Nick Catone
(-240)
VS Costantinos Philippou
(+190)

Philippou is making his UFC debut after a run in Ring of  Combat. There isn’t a lot of film on him, but he looks pretty solid. Catone is a frustrating prospect, going 2-2 so far in the UFC. He has looked good in defeat and poor in victory, which makes him tough to read. Catone is not good enough to deserve these odds, so my pick is Philippou at this number. PHILIPPOU DEF. CATONE BY DECISION

Joseph Benavidez
(-350)
VS Ian Lovelan
(+250)

For those of you who didn’t pay attention to the lighter weights before they made the move to the UFC, Benavidez was one of the best 135 pounders under the WEC flag. Both of his career losses are to Dominick Cruz, and both decision. Loveland has put together a solid run of his own, but I give him little chance in this contest. Lots of takedowns, lots of elbows from top, and eventually a choke. BENAVIDEZ DEF. LOVELAND BY SUBMISSION (RD 2)

Gleison Tibau
(-165)
VS Kurt Pellegrino
(+135)

Tibau is a really confusing fighter. He is huge at 155 pounds, and he hits hard, but is not a clean striker. He is great at getting it to the ground, but never seems to know what to do once it is there, much less how to keep it there. Pellegrino starts slow, and will probably get beat up for a round, but I think he will control the fight on the ground in the late rounds to take a decision. PELLEGRINO DEF. TIBAU BY DECISION

Ricardo Almeida
(-170)
VS Mike Pyle
(+140)

This is a matchup of two great jiu jitsu players. Pyle has the slightest of edges on the feet, but is not a good defensive wrestler. He could end up on his back a lot. While both are top level grapplers, I can’t picture Almeida being outworked in that department. He may not get a submission, because both guys will probably be very careful on the ground out of respect to the other’s game, but Almeida should control the fight enough to seal a decision. ALMEIDA DEF. PYLE BY DECISION

Edson Barboza
(-260)
VS Anthony Njokuani
(+200)

Barboza has quickly become a name to watch at 155 pounds. He has outstanding strikes, great speed and is excellent on the ground. Njokuani is a great striker in his own right, but Barboza’s speed will just be too much. Barboza can choose where he wants to win this fight, but I see him finishing it on the floor, likely with a choke. BARBOZA DEF. NJOKUANI BY SUBMISSION (RD 2)

Luis Cane
(-210)
VS Eliot Marshall
(+165)

Cane has looked rough the last couple of times out. Marshall is a much different fighter than “Little Nog” and Cyrille Diabate though. Marshall is not a powerful striker. Marshall will struggle to get this to the ground without eating punches. I expect Cane to get back to what made him a top prospect in the first place and ground and pound Marshall until the ref stops things.

MAIN CARD

Brendan Schaub
(-280)
VS Mirko Cro Cop
(+210)

Cro Cop is one of my favorite fighters of all time, but he has not been in his prime in a good 5 years. Schaub is obviously on the rise. He is one of the best athletes in the heavyweight division, and has developed into a solid striker with a good ground game from top. I can’t imagine Filipovic trying to take this to the ground, and Schaub takes the next step towards the upper tier of heavyweight contenders. SCHAUB DEF. CRO COP BY TKO (RD 3)

Jim Miller
(-260)
VS Kamal Shalorus
(+200)

Kamal is obviously a physical specimen, and no one can question his wrestling abilities. What you can question is why such a world class grappler seems to forget about that aspect of his game when he is in the cage. He wings wild punches and rarely takes the fight to the mat. Miller is too experienced to get into wild exchanges with Shalorus. I look for him to avoid the bombs until Shalorus inevitably tires out. Miller is a good wrestler in his own right and could take this fight to the ground himself. Either way, Miller is by far the more complete fighter. Miller will prove he belongs at the elite level of the lightweight division. MILLER DEF. SHALORUS BY SUBMISSION (RD 3)

Nate Marquardt
(-300)
VS Dan Miller
(+220)

Miller is actually a pretty good value at this number, but I don’t see a lot of ways for him to win this fight. Marquardt, coming off a loss to Yushin Okami, will be looking to prove he still belongs at the top of the heap of fighters below Anderson Silva in the middleweight division. Miller is durable, and hasn’t been finished, but I don’t see how he gets in to use his wrestling on Nate. Marquardt will keep this on the feet for the most part, where he has a huge advantage. May not be exciting, but expect Marquardt to add another feather to his hat. MARQUARDT DEF. MILLER BY DECISION

Urijah Faber
(-450)
VS Eddie Wineland
(+325)

Again, Wineland may be a value at this number, but Faber is just too good. At 135 lbs. Faber is going to be the stronger fighter 9 times out of 10. His standup is good enough to dictate where the fight goes. Wineland is dangerous standing, so expect Urijah to take it down and work some of his smothering ground and pound before choking Wineland out. A win for Faber probably sets up a bout with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. FABER DEF. WINELAND BY SUBMISSION (RD 1)

MAIN EVENT

Shogun Rua
(+160)
VS Jon Jones
(-200)

This is one of the toughest main events to call in quite a while, which is part of the reason why this betting line is a head scratcher. Jones is truly an elite prospect, and I have little doubt that he will someday sit atop the light heavyweight division, but I do believe that Shogun is too much at this point. Jones has done a lot for a 23 year old, but at that age Shogun had already beaten Rampage Jackson, Ricardo Arona, “Cyborg” Santos and Alistair Overeem. Jones has not faced that type of competition. His biggest strength in this fight will be his wrestling. Shogun is not a particularly strong defensive wrestler, and Jones proved against Ryan Bader that he can take a fight down from anywhere in the cage. Shogun will need to utilize leg kicks early to take spring out of Jones’ legs. While Jones’ technique is rapidly catching up, he has been able to get by on sheer athleticism to this point. He will need to prove that he is indeed a GREAT fighter to take Rua’s title. Rua just beat the last “unsolvable puzzle” in Lyoto Machida, and you can argue that he did it twice. Shogun is also a great ground fighter, which is often overlooked due to his stand up game. He will probably need it against Jones. I expect this to be a war. Shogun has been in them before. Jones has not. Shogun by TKO late. RUA DEF. JONES BY TKO (RD 5)

SAFEST PICKS BARBOZA, BENAVIDEZ
RISKIEST PICKS RUA, PELLEGRINO
CONSERVATIVE PARLAY BARBOZA, BENAVIDEZ, FABER, KOCH- PAYS 5/2
MODERATE PARLAY BARBOZA, MARQUARDT, ALMEIDA, PHILIPPOU- PAYS 15/2
AGGRESSIVE PARLAY RUA, ALMEIDA, J. MILLER, PHILIPPOU- PAYS 16/1
LOTTERY TICKET PARLAY ALL 12 FIGHTS- PAYS 359/1

(all head shots used courtesy of UFC.com)