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UFC 81: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 81: Breaking Point
Saturday, February 2nd, 10 PM ET
Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas
Weigh-in: Friday, February 1st, 7 PM ET, live online

The third UFC pay-per-view in just 5 weeks marks an interesting turn for UFC. The attention has been focused primarily on former WWE-superstar Brock Lesnar's UFC debut, overshadowing the "interim" heavyweight title bout to determine Randy Couture's replacement at the top of the heap. With two replacement fighters stepping into this event due to late injuries, a weak card has been made even worse, as top-to-bottom this isn't much better than UFC 80 just 3 weeks ago. It just might not be possible for the UFC to dilute their product any further.

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

Keita "K-Taro" Nakamura (14-2-2) vs. Rob "The Saint" Emerson (6-6-0)
Current Odds: Nakamura -255; Emerson +205

Nakamura last fought in a UFC Fight Night 9 preliminary bout, a decision loss to Drew Fickett at welterweight. He is coming down in weight here to fight at 155. His record is deceiving, as he is 0-2 in UFC events but undefeated in small Japanese promotions. He has 8 submission wins, all via rear naked choke. Rob Emerson was featured on The Ultimate Fighter 5, where he fought Gray Maynard to a no-contest in the finale, a fight where Emerson submitted after being on the losing end of a slam that simultaneously knocked his opponent unconscious. During the reality show he also faced two of the toughest competitors, Nate Diaz and Corey Hill, putting in good showings against both despite ending up with two losses. Both fighters are relatively inexperienced, but Emerson has shown some talent and I like him here as a good-sized underdog. Prediction: Emerson by decision.

David Heath (7-2-0) vs. Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch (6-1-0)
Current Odds: Heath -250; Boetsch +200

Heath has entered the Octagon 4 times, winning his first two and losing his last two, though the losses were against strong opponents Renato Sobral and Lyoto Machida. Boetsch is making his UFC debut, coming off a loss in the IFL following a 6-fight win streak in smaller promotions. Both are well rounded,but Heath's experience makes the 2-1 odds on this fight about right. I'll lean towards Boetsch whose decent wrestling game might let him stick around longer than Heath would like. Prediction: Boetsch, 1st round TKO.

Marvin "The Beastman" Eastman (14-7-1) vs. Terry Martin (16-3-0)
Current Odds: Eastman +185; Martin -225

Eastman is notable for winning his debut MMA fight over current light heavyweight champion Quinton Jackson back in 2000. He is a part-time fighter and full-time corrections officer, and has fought sporadically since his debut, but with more consistently as of late. He is currently the middleweight champion of the International Fighting Organization. Eastman is well-rounded but has never been spectacular, and at 38 years old is well past his prime fighting age. Martin is a striker who last appeared in Fight Night 11, losing to Chris Leben by 3rd round KO and taking his record within the Octagon to 2-3. I think the line is close to where it should be, but will lean towards Eastman, with his experience and what I see as a style advantage. Prediction: Eastman by decision.

Chris "Lights Out" Lytle (24-15-5) vs. Kyle Bradley (13-4-0)
Current Odds: Lytle -600; Bradley +450

Lytle is an experienced fighter who has never really distinguished himself other than a stint on TUF 4. Bradley is a newcomer to UFC who is on a 15-month, 7-fight win streak in smaller promotions. He is more of a striker and not a particularly good style match-up against Lytle who should be able to counter when standing and dominate on the ground. I can't imagine backing Lytle as such a huge favorite, especially since little is known about his opponent. A great bout to ignore at the betting window, but lean towards the underdog who has a puncher's chance at these odds. Prediction: Lytle, 1st round submission.

Gleison Tibau (15-4-0) vs. Tyson Griffin (10-1-0)
Current Odds: Tibau +320; Griffin -420

Tibau is a jiu-jitsu specialist holding a 3-1 record in UFC, with his only loss in the Octagon coming to Nick Diaz at 170 lbs. He has now moved down to 155 and will have a 4" height advantage. Griffin has only one loss in his career (to Frank Edgar) and is one of the top contenders in the lightweight division. Griffin is the stronger fighter but has been through two wars with Clay Guida and Thiago Tavares, either of which he could have easily lost. I'll back Tibau as a value play against public favorite Griffin. Prediction: Tibau, 3rd round submission.

Rob "Monster" Yundt (6-0-0) vs. Ricardo "Big Dog" Almeida (8-2-0)
Current Odds: Off the Board

Yundt is stepping in on extremely short notice, about 4 days, to replace a bronchitis-ridden Alan Belcher. He is 6-0 in the Alaska Fighting Championships, his only professional MMA experience. Almeida does not exactly have a long list of MMA accomplishments himself with only 10 fights to his name, and he has been out of the MMA game for almost 4 years, with his last fight in May 2004. He is a BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie, and while rusty still has excellent skills and wins over a number of decent opponents, Almeida should be a heavy favorite here. Prediction: Almeida, 1st round submission.

Jeremy "Gumby" Horn (79-16-5) vs. Nate "The Great" Marquardt (25-7-2)
Current Odds: Horn +210; Marquardt -260

Amazingly, this will be Jeremy Horn's 101st mixed martial arts fight, and he is still only 32 years old. He is stepping in late (as of January 9th) to replace an injured Thales Leites in this match. His jiu-jitsu is good and he has plenty of weapons in his MMA toolbox, but he hasn't beaten anyone relevant in quite some time, and is only 3-2 in the last 2-1/2 years since losing to Chuck Liddell at UFC 54. Marquardt's last fight saw him lose to Anderson Silva in a title bout, but it is hard to hold that against him considering how dominant Silva has been. Prior to that he was on a 3-year (albeit only 7 fight) win streak. He is an excellent grappler and 7-time Pancrase champion. Though coming off a loss, Marquardt is the better fighter, and that combined with the short prep time for Horn makes for a decent bet on Marquardt. Prediction: Marquardt, 3rd round submission.

Frank Mir (10-3-0) vs. Brock Lesnar (1-0-0)
Current Odds: Mir +135; Lesnar -165

Though not the main event, this is the most anticipated fight on the card. Lesnar, former WWE superstar, former NCAA wrestling champion, and former NFL tryout makes his UFC debut. He has teamed up with Minnesota Martial Arts Academy (whose ranks include former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk), and has fought once before in MMA, a first round win in K-1 coming by tapout via strikes in just over a minute against a tomato-can opponent. His size (2" and 25 lb. advantage in this matchup) and wrestling ability will be strengths, but we have yet to see much of his submissions or striking outside of the WWE. Mir has a mean jiu-jitsu game and plenty of experience as former UFC heavyweight champion, though he seems to have lost a step since his unfortunate motorcycle accident in 2004. He is probably best known for breaking Tim Sylvia's forearm by armlock on the night he took the championship. Since his return to the UFC, he is only 2-2 with both losses coming in the first round, though the only real contender in that span was Brandon Vera (who defeated Mir via 1st round TKO). This line is a bit high for a newcomer to the UFC, but it has come down from the opener. Lesnar's takedowns and size will be too much for Mir and I see this ending by a Lesnar ground-and-pound fairly quickly in the first round. Prediction: Lesnar, 1st round TKO.

Tim "The Maine-iac" Sylvia (24-3-0) vs. Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira (30-4-1)
Current Odds: Sylvia +155; Noguiera -185

As usual, Tim Sylvia holds an impressive height advantage in this match, 4" over Minotauro. Nogueira fought only once in 2007, an unimpressive decision win over Heath Herring. He has fought since 1999 and has battled a virtual who's who of UFC and PRIDE heavyweight greats. Sylvia is primarily a striker/wrestler who often tries to ride his way to a decision, as in his last fight against Brandon Vera at UFC 77. He has lost to only Randy Couture, Frank Mir, and Andrei Arlovski in a career that spans back to 2001. Sylvia has been the on-again, off-again UFC heavyweight champion, though he is only 4-3 in career title fights in a fairly lackluster division. Despite his last performance, Nogueira is still on top of his game, and while Sylvia is often taken too lightly by the betting public, value is on Nogueira here as his submission skills are worlds better than Sylvia's. Prediction: Nogueira, 2nd round submission.

Picks (2008: 2-1 +1.00 units; Best Bets: 1-0, +1.00 units)

Rob Emerson +205
Gleison Tibau +320
Nate Marquardt -260 (Best Bet)
Brock Lesnar -165
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira -185 (Best Bet)

Opinions (2008: 3-3 -0.60 units)

Tim Boetsch +200
Marvin Eastman +185
Kyle Bradley +450
Ricardo Almeida

Jay Graziani

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