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UFC 79: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 79: Nemesis
Saturday, December 29th, 10 PM ET
Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, NV
Weigh-in: Friday, December 28th, 7 PM ET, live online

2007 has been an exciting, yet controversial year for mixed martial arts, and what better way to end it than with one of the better fight cards UFC has offered in some time? The latest installment of the Ultimate Fighting Championship promises a much better event than the previous two lackluster cards. The long-awaited showdown between Wanderlai Silva and Chuck Liddell has finally come to fruition, albeit a bit late with both fighters coming off 2 consecutive losses. Matt Serra's withdrawal left fans with a promising rematch between welterweight stars Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, with the winner being awarded the interim championship. And a third fight features PRIDE sensation Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou against promising up-and-comer Lyoto Machida, a fight with plenty of implications in a very deep light heavyweight division.

Here's a preview of Saturday night's fights, with current odds from

Mark Bocek (4-1-0) vs. Doug Evans (5-1-0)
Current Odds: Bocek -115; Evans -115

Evans hung tough against Roger Huerta in the TUF 5 finale, but both of these fighters have a strong ground game and this will likely come down to intangibles and game plan. Lean towards Evans in a coin-flip type match. Prediction: Evans, 3rd round submission.

Roan "Jucao" Carneiro (11-6-0) vs. Tony DeSouza (10-3-0)
Current Odds: Carneiro -140; DeSouza +110

DeSouza hasn't fought in over a year, with his last bout ending in a 2nd round KO at the hands of Thiago Alves. Carneiro is 1-1 in UFC Fight Night Events and is making his pay-per-view debut. Both have great ground games, though Carneiro holds the talent edge. At the current odds, this is too close to call. Prediction: Carneiro, 2nd round submission.

Jordan Radev (11-2-0) vs. Dean "The Boogeyman" Lister (9-5-0)
Current Odds: Radev +265; Lister -325

Radev is a former Olympic wrestler who lost his UFC debut at Fight Night 10 by 1st round KO to Andrew McFedries. Lister is a submission specialist who has bounced around a number of promotions (PRIDE, KOTC) before landing in UFC where he has amassed a record of 2-1. Lister is the much more skilled of the two and should be able to counter Radev's groundwork. Prediction: Lister, 1st round submission.

Nate Mohr (8-4-0) vs. Manny "The Pitbull" Gamburyan (5-2-0)
Current Odds: Mohr +335; Gamburyan -415

Gamburyan looks to be a promising fighter, but lost to Nate Diaz due to shoulder injury in his UFC debut in the TUF5 finale, though he looked to control the fight throughout. Mohr hasn't had much experience and has generally looked poor in his fights thus far. This is only Gamburyan's 2nd fight in almost 4 years, so his lack of experience works against him, and I can't see backing him at these huge odds, though he should take this one. Prediction: Gamburyan, 2nd round KO.

Luiz "Banha" Cane (7-0-0) vs. James "The Sandman" Irvin (12-4-0)
Current Odds: Cane -185; Irvin +155

Irvin blew out his knee fighting Thiago Silva back in UFC 71. He is 2-3 in the UFC and seems to be a stepping stone for the undefeated Cane, but Cane's relative inexperience makes it tough to back him. Small lean on Irvin and his big strikes at the current odds, although the injury dampens my enthusiasm. Prediction: Irvin, 1st round KO.

Soa "The Hulk" Palelei (8-1-0) vs. Eddie "The Manic Hispanic" Sanchez (7-1-0)
Current Odds: Palelei -150; Sanchez +120

Palelei hasn't been in the spotlight, having only one big fight at PRIDE 28, ending in a loss. Sanchez had a turn in the spotlight against Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic in Cro Cop's UFC debut, losing by TKO in the first round as a +1100 underdog, although he did bounce back with a win against Colin Robinson in UFC 72. Palelei fights with Team Quest and holds a 35 lb. and 2" height advantage in this matchup. Both are big hitters, but Sanchez is the better bet as a very live underdog. Prediction: Sanchez, 2nd round KO.

Rich "No Love" Clementi (29-12-1) vs. Melvin "The Young Assassin" Guillard (20-6-2)
Current Odds: Clementi +190; Guillard -240

Guillard's last fight was a loss to Joe Stevenson at Fight Night 9, a fight in which he tested positive for cocaine and was handed an 8 month suspension. He is 2-2 since 2006 against sub-prime competition. Clementi has plenty of experience, but has not impressed thus far. Guillard looks much better on paper, but the line is a bit high to make this a bet. Prediction: Guillard, 1st round KO.

Lyoto Machida (11-0-0) vs. Rameau "The African Assassin" Sokoudjou (4-1-0)
Current Odds: Machida -130; Sokoudjou +100

Machida is a solid up-and-comer with a great resume and no losses to his name so far. Sokoudjou is relatively new to professional MMA, but has a 30 second KO over "Minotoro" Nogueira, and has won his last four by 1st round KO or TKO. I've backed Machida in his last two and see no reason to change the trend here. Prediction: Machida 1st round KO.

Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell (20-5-0) vs. Wanderlai "The Axe Murderer" Silva (31-7-1)
Current Odds: Liddell +105; Silva -135

Liddell is coming off two consecutive losses, first to Quinton Jackson and then Keith Jardine. Liddell's stock has plummeted, but I'm not buying the news of his demise quite yet. Silva is also coming off 2 losses (Dan Henderson and Cro Cop) and will have only have fought once in the past 15 months leading up to this match. It's no secret that PRIDE fighters have struggled in the Octagon, but that is likely already priced into the lines. Both are tremendous strikers, and the talent level is fairly even, so this will come down to motivation, training camp, and game plan. Expect Liddell to come in refocused and with improvements to the flaws he's shown the last two times out. Prediction: Liddell, 2nd round KO.

Matt Hughes (41-5-0) vs. Georges "Rush" St-Pierre (14-2-0)
Current Odds: Hughes +185; St-Pierre -225

GSP is a deserving favorite in this fight, as a rising star 8 years Hughes' junior and winner of the last bout between these two. This interim fight was set up on only a month's notice, and the short notice may spell trouble for both GSP, now with a short camp, as well as Hughes, who is now preparing for a completely different fighter. Hughes has been relatively inactive, with only one fight in the last 13 months, a decision win over Chris Lytle back in March. While his inactivity may play against him, he has only 2 losses in his last 22 fights (against St-Pierre and BJ Penn). Hughes submitted GSP in the first round of their 2004 bout, but lost by TKO in their last match at UFC 65 - a fight in which GSP was warned after two unintentional groin kicks. GSP's only career losses were to Hughes and his recent upset loss at the hands of Matt Serra, though he looked better in his comeback decision over Josh Koscheck. It's also worth noting that Hughes was coming off a war against veteran BJ Penn only 2 months before his loss to GSP, and his game plan will be much different than in that fight, where he was stymied in his takedown attempts and resorted to trading strikes with GSP. GSP has the talent edge, but Hughes' experience, cardio, and exceptional wrestling should give him a good shot if he comes in with a better game plan, and he is worth a play at almost 2-to-1. Prediction: Hughes by decision.

Picks (22-20 -4.35 units; Best Bets: 6-5, +0.40 units)
Eddie Sanchez +120
Lyoto Machida -130
Chuck Liddell +105
Matt Hughes +185 (Best Bet)

Opinions (29-23 -3.05 units)
Doug Evans -115
Roan Carneiro -140
Dean Lister -325
Manny Gamburyan -415
James Irvin +155
Melvin Guillard -240

Jay Graziani

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