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UFC 91: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 91: Couture vs. Lesnar
Saturday, November 15th, 10 PM ET, live on PPV
MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Weigh-in: Friday, November 14th, 7 PM ET, live on and
Current odds from

Matt "The Immortal" Brown (7-7-0) vs. Ryan "The Tank Engine" Thomas (9-2-0)
Current Odds: Brown -205;Thomas +165

Brown was tapped just two weeks ago as a replacement for the injured Matt Riddle. He s 7-7, including 1-1 in the UFC, since debuting on The Ultimate Fighter 7. Thomas made his UFC debut as a replacement himself, losing to Ben Saunders in August. Brown is a heavy striker, but could be vulnerable to submission, Thomas' best chance to win here. I'll give the talent edge to the hard-hitting Brown. Prediction: Matt Brown -205, 1st round TKO.

Alvin "Kid" Robinson (9-3-0) vs. Mark Bocek (5-2-0)
Current Odds: Robinson -110; Bocek -120

Robinson has been away from the Octagon for nearly 10 months since losing to Nate Diaz. He has a solid Gracie jiu-jitsu background which has served him well, with 8 of his 9 victories coming via submission. Bocek is coming off a 3rd round submission loss to Nate Diaz, bringing his record to 1-2 in the UFC. Bocek's strength is his ground game, but he will be unlikely to find success in submissions against Robinson. I see Robinson as the favorite, despite the line saying otherwise. Prediction: Robinson, 2nd round submission.

Jeremy "Lil' Heathen" Stephens (13-3-0) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (11-2-0)
Current Odds: Stephens -135; dos Anjos +105

Stephens is 2-2 since entering the Octagon, most recently falling to Spencer Fisher by unanimous decision. Rafael dos Anjos is making his UFC debut, hailing from Brazil. Stephens will prefer to keep this standing, while dos Anjos will look to take it to the mat where he holds the edge. Tough to handicap this one without having seen more of dos Anjos, but I'll lean towards the underdog with the better submission game. Prediction: dos Anjos, 1st round submission.

Jorge "JG" Gurgel (12-4-0) vs. Aaron Riley (26-10-1)
Current Odds: Gurgel -120; Riley -110

Gurgel is a disappointing 3-3 in the UFC despite his stellar jiu-jitsu pedigree. Notably, 5 of his 6 UFC fights have ended by decision, suggesting Gurgel has trouble finishing. Riley is making his third attempt to break into the UFC after failing in both of his previous Octagon trips, the most recent being nearly 3 years ago. He is 3-2 in minor promotions since then, but has often relied on his submissions despite being a Golden Gloves champion. If he is forced into a jiu-jitsu match, Gurgel will have his number. Gurgel's last-second loss to Cole Miller is influencing this line too much, as the odds would be much higher had he lasted 12 seconds longer and gone to 4-2 in the UFC. Prediction: Gurgel, 2nd round submission.

Dustin Hazelett (11-4-0) vs. Tamdan "The Barn Cat" McCrory (9-1-0)
Current Odds: Hazelett -185; McCrory +155

Hazelett has a great submission background, but has gone only 4-2 since first entering the Octagon. As a towering 6'4" welterweight, McCrory has always enjoyed a height advantage. That edge will be mostly countered here against another tall welterweight in Hazelett. McCrory hasn't looked particularly impressive in his fights, and Hazelett has the better resume against tougher opponents. With McCrory's reach advantage neutralized, look for Hazelett's jiu-jitsu edge to dominate the fight. Prediction: Hazelett, 1st round submission.

Nate "Rock" Quarry (10-2-0) vs. Demian Maia (8-0-0)
Current Odds: Quarry +190; Maia -240

Quarry hasn't made the most of his 6 fights in the Octagon, losing to Rich Franklin in an early title shot and fighting only mid-level opponents otherwise. He'll have his hands full here with Maia, who has 3 straight submission wins since entering the UFC, each of which earned "submission of the night" honors. While Quarry is competent in his own right, the submission edge is too far in Maia's favor here. Prediction: Maia, 2nd round submission.

Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga (9-3-0) vs. Josh "Heavy" Hendricks (15-4-0)
Current Odds: Gonzaga -400; Hendricks +300

Hendricks is making his UFC debut coming in with a solid wrestling skill set and, despite his size, is comfortable in submissions. At UFC 86, Gonzaga picked up his first win since dropping two straight to Randy Couture and Fabricio Werdum, making short work of Justin McCully. This apparently is the obligatory "brand new guy against reeling UFC veteran" match for this card, and as usual, the underdog is overmatched, but the favorite can't be bet at the astounding price, given the amount of no-name upsets we've seen in this situation. Prediction: Gonzaga, 1st round TKO.

Kenny "KenFlo" Florian (10-3-0) vs. Joe "Daddy" Stevenson (29-8-0)
Current Odds: Florian -185; Stevenson +155

Florian looked good in his defeat of Roger Huerta, demonstrating improved striking in notching his fifth consecutive win. Stevenson moved a step closer in his return to contender status with a win over Gleison Tibau at UFC 86. He also was recently awarded a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. These are the top two contenders in the lightweight division, and both are well-rounded with plenty of Octagon experience. I see this as closer than the betting line reflects, so will side with the underdog. Prediction: Stevenson, 2nd round TKO.

Randy "The Natural" Couture (16-8-0) vs. Brock Lesnar (2-1-0)
Current Odds: Couture +120; Lesnar -150

This highly anticipated match-up pits two former wrestling standouts in what may end up being a changing-of-the-guard in the UFC heavyweight division. Couture will be giving up 14 years in age and over 40 pounds to his opponent, but he is also a 3-time UFC champion in 2 weight classes facing a relatively untested newcomer. Lesnar has shown dominating power in his few fights, but also displayed some technical weaknesses and mistakes that a more experienced fighter would avoid. Keep in mind that this fight was Couture's choice - he could have had a comeback fight against a less-intimidating opponent, or even remained retired until a Fedor showdown was ironed out. This hints that Couture has already found weaknesses in Lesnar's skills that he thinks he can exploit. It will be almost 15 months since Couture last entered the Octagon. How long ago did Couture pick out the holes in Lesnar's game that he has since been training to exploit? Lesnar has known about this fight since August; Couture may have been fight planning for months before, anticipating his return from "retirement". While Lesnar matches up well physically against Couture, his struggles in finishing off Heath Herring suggest he may have trouble ending this fight; and his limited skill set will be tested to the max by Couture. "The Natural" has shocked fans time and time again by reinventing his game to strategically exploit his opponents' weaknesses. Public money is on Lesnar as the odds on Couture have been getting steadily better. I'll back Couture's experience and superior fight-planning, but Lesnar's speed, power, and youth will keep me from making it a best bet. Prediction: Couture 3rd round TKO.

Picks (2008: 24-19 -2.15 units; Best Bets: 8-5 +0.90 units)
Alvin Robinson -110 (Best Bet)
Jorge Gurgel -120 (Best Bet)
Dustin Hazelett -185
Joe Stevenson +155
Randy Couture +120

Opinions (2008: 32-29 +18.00 units)
Matt Brown -205
Rafael dos Anjos +105
Demian Maia -240
Gabriel Gonzaga -400

Jay Graziani

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