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UFC 80: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 80: Rapid Fire
Saturday, January 19th, 3 PM ET
Metro Radio Arena, England
Weigh-in: Friday, January 18th, 11 AM ET

As usual, the UFC follows up a decent event with a lackluster card. I guess the tagline "Rapid Fire" refers to how fast the UFC is throwing sub-par pay-per-views at us. UFC 80 is squeezed in between two other pay-per-views less than a month apart, and is being held in England, hurting PPV interest in the U.S. So, we are stuck watching a minor league card at 3:00 in the afternoon while the UFC tries to expand its international market. What should be a solid and entertaining Lightweight title fight is precluded by what might be the weakest undercard of the year. Not a great way to start 2008.

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

Per Eklund (12-2-1) vs. Sam "Hands of Stone" Stout (12-3-1)
Current Odds: Eklund +230; Stout -290

Stout has not fared well in the UFC, splitting with Spencer Fisher and losing to Kenny Florian to accumulate a 1-2 record. Eklund has bounced around minor promotions, most recently winning by unanimous decision during Bodog Fight - Vancouver in August. Stout is a good striker with a great chin and excellent endurance. If Stout can keep the fight off the mat, he should easily outstrike Eklund and wear him down en route to a late round KO win. Prediction: Stout 3rd round KO.

James Lee (13-2-0) vs. Alessio "Legionarius" Sakara (11-6-0)
Current Odds: Lee +135; Sakara -165

Lee is a King of the Cage veteran who also has a single PRIDE win to his name. He is a submission specialist who has lost only twice, the most recent loss being over 4 years ago. Sakara, a former professional boxer, is 2-3 with one no contest since first entering the Octagon for UFC 55. His last fight saw him get demolished by Houston Alexander at just over a minute into the fight at UFC 75. This is Sakara's last fight before stepping down to 185, and Lee should be able to give him a handful with his superior ground skills. This may be a quick one, as none of Sakara's past four fights have made it out of the first round. Prediction: Lee, 1st round submission.

Paul "Tellys" Kelly (6-0-0) vs. Paul "Relentless" Taylor (8-2-1)
Current Odds: Kelly +180; Taylor -220

This bout pits two Brits against each other in front of their home crowd. Kelly has put together an undefeated record against tomato cans, and is making his UFC debut fighting out of Mike Bisping's camp. This will be Taylor's third UFC fight. He has gone 1-1, most recently falling to Marcus Davis via armbar submission at UFC 75. Taylor holds the experience, height advantage and striking edge, while Kelly is stronger and more dangerous on the ground. This should be an entertaining, high-action fight, and I'll lean towards Kelly to ground-and-pound it out as an almost 2-1 underdog. Prediction: Kelly, 2nd round TKO.

Antoni Hardonk (5-4-0) vs. Colin "Big C" Robinson (9-3-0)
Current Odds: Hardonk -340; Robinson +280

Robinson lost his only fight in the Octagon at UFC 72, as one of the "local talent". Hardonk is coming off back to back losses to Justin McCully and Frank Mir. I can't see a reason to put good money on either of these two fighters. Hardonk certainly has the talent and experience edge, but it's tough to lay 3-to-1 on a guy whose record is barely above .500. I'll lean towards a value play on Robinson. Prediction: Hardonk, 3rd round TKO.

Jorge "El Conquistador" Rivera (14-6-0) vs. Kendall "Da Spyder" Grove (8-4-0)
Current Odds: Rivera +265; Grove -325

Rivera is coming off a loss to Terry Martin nearly a year ago. He is 3-4 in the Octagon in a sporadic and uninspiring career that saw him bouncing around unsuccessfully between different promotions. Grove is a massive 6'6", giving him a 5 inch height advantage over Rivera. Grove was 3-0 inside the Octagon until losing to Patrick Cote. Grove should be able to use his reach while standing, and has the better submission game when the fight hits the ground. The only worry is Grove's chin, and Rivera will look to be aggressive with the strikes early on. Prediction: Grove 2nd round submission.

Wilson Gouveia (9-4-0) vs. Jason "The Punisher" Lambert (23-6-0)
Current Odds: Gouveia -145, Lambert +115

This bout was originally scheduled for UFC 76 back in September until Gouveia suffered a broken nose and had to withdraw. Gouveia is on a three-game win streak since losing to Keith Jardine on the TUF 3 finale. Lambert is coming off a 2nd round KO of Renato Sobral at UFC 63. Both are up-and-comers who need a win to make a name for themselves. This fight is nearly even so I'll lean towards Lambert and his strong ground-and-pound. Prediction: Lambert, 3rd round TKO.

Jess "The Joker" Liaudin (12-8-0) vs. Marcus "The Irish Hand Grenade" Davis (13-3-0)
Current Odds: Liaudin +275; Davis -345

Liaudin has quietly been amassing UFC wins, with 1st round wins on the undercards of UFC 70 and UFC 75. Marcus Davis now has 10 consecutive wins since his loss to Melvin Guillard in the TUF 2 finale. Davis is the deserving favorite and should cruise through this one, but I can't see backing him at such a high price. Prediction: Davis, 2nd round KO.

Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga (8-2-0) vs. Fabricio "Vai Cavalo" Werdum (9-3-1)
Current Odds: Gonzaga -225; Werdum +185

Gonzaga got a huge popularity boost after his fluke KO of Cro Cop back in UFC 70, but plummeted back to earth after being roughed up by Randy Couture. Gonzaga's jiu-jitsu is top notch and he can strike to boot. He looks to avenge his only other career loss in this bout. Werdum has struggled, losing 2 of his last 3, with losses to Andrei Arlovski and "Minotauro" Nogueira. He is likewise a master grappler and has never been knocked out or submitted in a professional fight. The first time these two met was 2003 and early in both of these fighter's careers. The odds are pretty spot-on, but maybe some value in going with the lesser known fighter in Werdum. Prediction: Werdum by decision.

BJ "The Prodigy" Penn (11-4-1) vs. Joe "Daddy" Stevenson (28-7-0)
Current Odds: Penn -300, Stevenson +240

With Sean Sherk being stripped of the lightweight title due to steroid use, this bout pits longtime UFC star BJ Penn with TUF 2 winner Joe Stevenson for the title. Penn has lost only 4 times in his long, but frequently inactive, career - to light heavyweight phenom Lyoto Machida, welterweight champions Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes, and a 25 minute split decision to Jens Pulver. He is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert, back to a more natural weight class, and in fantastic shape by all reports. And we are getting him laying only 3-to-1 against a reality show winner? Stevenson is on a four fight win streak since dropping down to lightweight and is 5-1 overall within the Octagon. Both have fought up in weight, with Penn having a bit more success. I give Stevenson plenty of credit, but these fighters are in two different leagues right now. Prediction: Penn, 3rd round submission.

Picks (2007: 25-21 -2.10 units; Best Bets: 6-6, -0.60 units)

Sam Stout -290
James Lee +135
BJ Penn -300 (Best Bet)

Opinions (2007: 33-25 -2.05 units)

Paul Kelly +180
Colin Robinson +280
Kendall Grove -325
Jason Lambert +115
Marcus Davis -345
Fabricio Werdum +185

Jay Graziani

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