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UFC 84: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 84: Ill Will
Saturday, May 24th, 10 PM ET
MGM Grand Garden Arena, Nevada
Weigh-in: Friday, May 23, 7 PM ET, live online

Nearly all the favorites on the main card cashed at last month's UFC, partly due to horrible matchmaking. This edition of the Ultimate Fighting Championship should be one of the best we've seen in awhile, and it will help clear up a lot of confusion in two weight classes. Two light heavyweight fights will separate the contenders in that division, and the Sherk vs. Penn main event is something the lightweight division has been anticipating for years. This is also the second consecutive card to feature 11 fights, up from the typical 9 or 10.

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

Christian "The Hungarian Nightmare" Wellisch (8-3-0) vs. Shane Carwin (8-0-0)
Current Odds: Wellisch +135; Carwin -165

Carwin is making his UFC debut after cutting through the competition at small promotions en route to an 8-0 record; none of those fights made it out of the first round. He has a solid wrestling background and should hold a decent weight advantage over his opponent. Wellisch last fought in September, handling Scott Junk by heel hook submission. Wellisch has not been particularly impressive, so I will lean towards the hot up-and-comer. Prediction: Carwin, 1st round TKO.

Jason Tan (5-2-0) vs. Dong Hyun "Stun Gun" Kim (9-1-1)
Current Odds: Kim -300; Tan +240

Kim hasn't lost since his pro debut, and brings an impressive 5" height advantage into this bout. He's cut his teeth primarily in Japan's DEEP promotion and has extensive Judo experience. Prior to battling to a draw in his last fight, Kim finished his last five fights by KO or TKO. Tan had one prior run at UFC fame, falling to Marcus Davis via first-round KO at UFC 72 last June. Neither have much in their past performance to go on, so I'll lean with Tan in the large underdog role. Prediction: Tan, 3rd round TKO.

Jon Koppenhaver (5-1-0) vs. Yoshiyuki "Zenko" Yoshida (9-2-0)
Current Odds: Koppenhaver +135; Yoshida -165

Yoshida comes to the UFC from Japan, where he recently won the first Cage Force welterweight tournament. He is a 4th degree judo black belt but has won the majority of his fights via KO or TKO. Koppenhaver entered the UFC as a TUF 6 replacement fighter, losing in the competition but gaining redemption in his defeat of Jared Rollins on the show's finale. Koppenhaver is well-rounded and should have the strength edge, causing me to lean his way in this fight. Prediction: Koppenhaver, 3rd round KO.

Rich "No Love" Clementi (31-12-1) vs. Terry Etim (10-1-0)
Current Odds: Clementi -205; Etim +165

Rich Clementi has certainly been keeping busy. He defeated Sam Stout at last month's UFC 83, bringing his win streak to five. Just a week after that fight, he was tapped to fill in for an injured Rob Emerson on this card. He has looked excellent, but although he has plenty of experience his competition has been below average. His ground game is great, and his fight against Stout demonstrated that he can stand and trade punches as well. His opponent, Terry Etim, has 10 years of youth and 4" of height on Clement, but is coming off his first loss, a decision at the hands of Gleison Tibau. Etim has an excellent submission game and good Muay Thai, and his reach should give him an advantage in standup. His 8 months off is somewhat of a concern, but Clementi is a bit overrated due to his recent streak, and Etim possesses the skills to pull off the upset. Prediction: Etim, 3rd round submission.

Rameau "The African Assassin" Sokoudjou (4-2-0) vs. Kazuhiro "Kaz" Nakamura (11-7-0)
Current Odds: Sokoudjou -255; Nakamura +205

Sokoudjou received a lot of hype after 2 consecutive 1st round KO's in PRIDE, one against Minotoro Nogueira as an overwhelming underdog. He fell in his UFC debut to highly-regarded Lyoto Machida back in December, and since has lost a lot of that public support. Nakamura is also coming off a loss to Machida in September, his second consecutive decision loss. He also tested positive for marijuana in that Machida bout. Kaz cut his teeth in PRIDE, but failed to step up against the toughest competition there. Both have strong backgrounds in judo and grappling, but the edge goes to Sokoudjou in stand-up. Sokoudjou is the likely winner, but I can't justify playing him at this price until we've seen some more of him in the Octagon. Prediction: Sokoudjou, 1st round TKO.

Ivan Salaverry (12-6-0) vs. Rousimar "Toquinho" Palhares (7-1-0)
Current Odds: Salaverry -175; Palhares +145

Salaverry is 3-3 inside the Octagon, with his last fight occurring over a year ago. Consistency has been an issue, as he has only fought 3 times in the past 3 years, going 1-2 in that span. He is well-rounded, but his motivation here is questionable and he appears to be playing the gatekeeper role here against the up-and-comer. Palhares has fought exclusively in small Brazilian promotions, but has demonstrated an impressive submission game in his limited exposure. This fight will likely be spent on the ground, and I'll give the rookie the edge. Prediction: Palhares, 3rd round submission.

Thiago Silva (12-0-0) vs. Antonio "Samuray" Mendes (14-2-0)
Current Odds: Silva -650; Mendes +500

Silva is a strong striker, most recently defeating Houston Alexander by TKO. His 12-0 record is impressive, but he hasn't faced many quality opponents. Mendes has fought in Brazil and throughout Europe, but lacks wins over noteworthy fighters. This looks like a stepping-stone in Silva's rise through the UFC, though the line is a bit high to wager against an untested newcomer. Prediction: Silva, 1st round TKO.

Tito "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Ortiz (15-5-1) vs. Lyoto Machida (12-0-0)
Current Odds: Machida -225; Ortiz +185

Ortiz has fallen out of favor, due to his loss to Chuck Liddell followed by an uninspiring draw to Rashad Evans. Too many celebrity distractions have also hampered his UFC credentials, including his appearance on "Celebrity Apprentice". Nonetheless, Tito still possesses amazing talent, and don't overlook the fact that all his losses have come to top-notch competition. Machida is clearly one of the most talented up-and-comers in the UFC, and his unique karate-based style has presented some matchup problems for his opponents. However, Machida seems vulnerable to a solid ground game, Ortiz's specialty, and Tito's experience level and cardio is top-notch. If Ortiz takes this to the mat and focuses on setting up his patented ground-and-pound, he has a very solid chance here at generous odds. Look for him to keep this fight on the ground, even if he's forced to rely on "lay-and-pray" to edge out a decision win. Prediction: Ortiz, 3rd round TKO.

Wilson Gouveia (10-4-0) vs. Goran Reljic (7-0-0)
Current Odds: Gouveia -155; Reljic +125

You might remember Goran Reljic from "Trboulje 1 - Croatia vs Slovenia". Or not. Reljic is an unknown Croatian fighter who is undefeated, but has only fought in small European events. He will get his shot in the spotlight against Gouveia, who has won his last four since falling to Keith Jardine via decision back in the TUF 3 finale. Tough to predict this one without knowing more about Reljic, but I'll lean with the more experienced Gouveia. Prediction: Gouveia, 2nd round TKO.

Wanderlai "The Axe Murderer" Silva (31-8-1) vs. Keith "The Dean Of Mean" Jardine (13-3-1)
Current Odds: Silva -170; Jardine +140

If A beats B and B beats C, then common sense tells you A must beat C, at least when you're taking the SATs. Unfortunately logic like that rarely helps in picking fights. The Axe Murderer may be coming off three straight losses, but they were to elite-level fighters, including his last opponent, a resurgent Chuck Liddell, in a slugfest that showed Silva at least has the heart to withstand 3 rounds of punishment. There is some concern about his ability to bounce back, but he showed some flashes of greatness against Liddell and still has enough in the tank. Jardine has recent wins over contenders Forrest Griffin and an off-his-game Chuck Liddell, but has struggled at times, as shown by his losses to Bonnar and Alexander in the last 2 years. Silva is the much more experienced, though younger, fighter, and looks good as a mid-range favorite. Prediction: Silva, 3rd round TKO.

B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn (12-4-1) vs. Sean "Muscle Shark" Sherk (32-2-1)
Current Odds: Penn -265; Sherk +215

Sherk reigned atop the lightweight heap for what seems like an eternity, but that is primarily due to lack of solid competition in his weight class. There are also some major question marks concerning his extended layoff and the repercussions of his positive drug test. Were his early victories a consequence of being "juiced-up"? While he's vehemently denied the allegations, the results are there in black and white, and one has to wonder if steroids have played any part in his previous accomplishments. Penn, on the other hand, seems to be in top physical form as evidenced by his handling of Joe "Daddy" Stevenson. Penn has always had the talent, but often lacked motivation and discipline. With a newfound focus, and a more natural weight class, Penn is a definite force to be reckoned with. Sherk's only advantages lay in the strength and (possibly) cardio departments, and that may have potentially been neutralized by his doping issues. Penn's height advantage and experience against larger opponents erode that edge considerably. Penn's smart jiu-jitsu presents a very problematic match-up for the ground-and-pound Sherk. Prediction: Penn, 2nd round submission.

Picks (2008: 11-6 +5.85 units; Best Bets: 4-1, +3.00 units)
Terry Etim +165
Tito Ortiz +185 (Best Bet)
Wanderlai Silva -170
B.J. Penn -265

Opinions (2008: 14-8 +5.50 units)
Shane Carwin -165
Jason Tan +240
Jon Koppenhaver +135
Kaz Nakamura +205
Rousimar Palhares +145
Antonio Mendes +500
Wilson Gouveia -155

Jay Graziani

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