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UFC 82: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 82: Pride of a Champion
Saturday, March 1st, 10 PM ET
Nationwide Arena, Columbus OH
Weigh-in: Friday, February 29th, 4 PM ET, live online

UFC 81 proved to be a lucky day for the underdogs, as they went a respectable 4-5 to pick up about 2 betting units. The hype surrounding Brock Lesnar proved to be too much, as he was dispatched fairly quickly by octagon veteran Frank Mir. UFC 82 finds Anderson Silva, widely regarded as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, returning to Ohio to once again defend his middleweight championship in a unification of PRIDE and UFC Middleweight titles. MMA Legend Mark Coleman is also in Columbus, to take his place as the 5th fighter inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

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

John "The Hurricane" Halverson (16-5-0) vs. Jorge Gurgel (11-3-0)

Current Odds: Gurgel -205; Halverson +165

Halverson has a single UFC notch in his belt, a 20 second TKO loss to Roger Huerta at UFC 67 just over a year ago. He has won 3 straight minor promotion fights since then to earn another shot in the Octagon. His opponent is a BJJ expert who has a 2-2 record in UFC. He is coming off a decision loss to Alvin Robinson in UFC 67 this past October, but is much more experienced and is a well-deserved favorite. Prediction: Gurgel, 2nd round submission.

David Bielkheden (12-5-0) vs. Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (17-2-0)

Current Odds: Bielkheden +400; Sanchez -550

Diego Sanchez was undefeated and on the fast track to the top of the UFC before running into Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Now reeling from two straight losses, he needs a strong showing here to keep his name in the mix of the welterweight division. Bielkheden has a sparse record, with all his fights coming in small events with the exception of a single loss in PRIDE. Sanchez should win, but not much value in betting him, with shaken confidence, against a relative unknown wielding a decent skill set. I'll pass on this fight but lean to the dog. Prediction: Sanchez, 1st round submission.

Dustin Hazelett (10-3-0) vs. Josh "Kos" Koscheck (9-2-0)

Current Odds: Hazelett +340; Koscheck -440

This fight may not be broadcast, but has a good chance of ending up as the best fight of the night. Hazelett is only 21 years old, but he has won 3 straight since dropping his UFC debut in October of 2006. He has a strong jiu-jitsu game due to training under Jorge Gurgel. Koscheck is among the top prospects in the welterweight division, but is coming off a decision loss to the always-impressive Georges St. Pierre. He is a well-rounded top contender with a tremendous wrestling background. Koscheck should win but Hazelett is worth backing as a longshot. Prediction: Koscheck by decision.

Luigi Fioravanti (11-3-0) vs. Luke "The Silent Assassin" Cummo (6-4-0)

Current Odds: Fioravanti +135; Cummo -165

Fioravanti is primarily a striker with 7 of his wins coming by TKO. He has not been lucky in the UFC, accruing a record of 2-3 thus far. He lost his last two UFC fights, but is coming off a 1st round TKO win in a Pacific X-treme Combat event this past July. Cummo has had an up-and-down career but is coming off two straight wins. He is also a striker, so this bout should see plenty of stand-up action. Nether of these fighters have really stepped up against tough competition, so this fight is too close to call. I'll lean to the underdog. Prediction: Fioravanti, 2nd round KO.

"Irish" Jake O'Brien (10-0-0) vs. Andrei "Pit Bull" Arlovski (11-5-0)

Current Odds: O'Brien +285; Arlovski -355

O'Brien has quietly been making his way up the UFC ladder, with 3 wins in the octagon, his most recent a decision over Heath Herring at Fight Night 8. However, he has not stepped in the Octagon since that fight over a year ago. He is a strong wrestler with good ground-and-pound, with 8 of his wins coming by KO or TKO, and the other 2 going to decision. He faces a tough opponent in Arlovski, whose only losses since 2002 have come at the hands of Tim Sylvia. Arlovski has also been inactive, with his last fight a decision win over a very tough Fabricio Werdum at UFC 70 last April. Despite his inactivity, Arlovski is still among the top heavyweights in MMA today, and should pose a very difficult hurdle for the relatively inexperienced O'Brien. Prediction: Arlovski, 3rd round KO.

Chris "The Professor" Wilson (13-3-0) vs. Jon Fitch (15-2-0)

Current Odds: Wilson +500; Fitch -700

Wilson is making his UFC debut here as a replacement for an injured Akihiro Gono. This is a classic matchup of a striker versus a grappler, and the wrestler usually wins out. Never mind that in this case the wrestler is among the top MMA prospects in the game today. Fitch has won 14 straight and is shooting to the top of the welterweight division. Wilson is moving up from some small events and is facing a nearly impossible fight here, but the chalk on Fitch is too much to even consider betting. Prediction: Fitch, 1st round submission.

Yushin "Thunder" Okami (20-4-0) vs. Evan Tanner (32-6-0)

Current Odds: Okami -245; Tanner +195

Okami bounced back from his decision loss to Rich Franklin by defeating Jason MacDonald by decision at UFC 77 in October. He is a great ground-and-pounder and a top title contender. Evan Tanner brings an impressive resume into the Octagon, with nearly 40 fights and a former UFC title to his name, though he has been inactive for nearly two years. Okami is 11 years Tanner's junior and also holds a size advantage. Okami should be heavily favored here and is worth a play, particularly considering Tanner's long layoff. Prediction: Okami, 2nd round TKO.

Alessio "Legionarius" Sakara (12-6-0) vs. Chris "The Crippler" Leben(17-4-0)

Current Odds: Sakara +115; Leben -145

Sakara is on just 5 weeks rest since beating James Lee by 1st round TKO at UFC 80. He is only 3-3 with 1 no contest since making his UFC debut in October of 2005, though the move down to middleweight from light heavyweight may help his striking-based style. Leben comes from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, and is 7-3 since making his debut in the Octagon. He is also a striker, but a little more versatile in the ring than Sakara. Sakara's last 5 fights have all ended in the first round, and given the fighting styles in this bout, this result may not be much different. Leben is the better all-around fighter and is worth a shot at short odds. Prediction: Leben, 1st round submission.

Heath "The Texas Crazy Horse" Herring (27-13-0) vs. Cheick Kongo (11-3-1)

Current Odds: Herring +135; Kongo -165

Herring has lost 2 of his 3 fights since migrating to the UFC, most recently losing to Minotauro Nogueira last July. All 3 of his fights in the Octagon have gone the distance. Kongo is 4-1 in the UFC, with the past three also all ending by decision. Kongo is now considered among the top of the heavyweight division, though he has yet to be truly tested. He should have the advantage in striking, but the scales will tip in Herring's favor on the ground. Slight edge to Kongo, but this fight is close and best to pass on. Prediction: Kongo by decision.

Anderson "The Spider" Silva (20-4-0) vs. Dan "Hendo" Henderson (22-6-0)

Current Odds: Silva -140; Henderson +110

Silva is widely considered to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the middleweight division and at the top of pound-for-pound fighter rankings. He is undefeated in 5 fights since first entering the Octagon and can fill a highlight reel with his brutal knees and elbows. Henderson is not only the PRIDE Middleweight champion, but Welterweight title-holder as well, a well-rounded fighter with great wrestling and knockout power. His UFC debut was spoiled by current Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a decision. Silva is usually tough to back as an overpriced public favorite, but the quality of his opponent here has kept the line low enough to be bettable in what should prove to be an excellent fight. Prediction: Silva, 2nd round TKO.

Picks: (2008: 5-3 +2.40 units; Best Bets: 3-0, +3.00 units)

Dustin Hazelett +340
Yushin Okami -245 (Best Bet)
Chris Leben -145
Anderson Silva -140

Opinions: (2008: 6-4 +3.25 units)

Jorge Gurgel -205
David Bielkheden +400
Luigi Fioravanti +135
Andrei Arlovski -355
Jon Fitch -700
Cheick Kongo -165

Jay Graziani

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