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UFC 95: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 95: Sanchez vs. Stevenson
Saturday, February 21st, 9 PM ET, tape delayed on SpikeTV
O2 Arena, London
Weigh-in: Friday, February 20th, 11 AM ET, live on
Current odds from

Paul "Tellys" Kelly (7-1-0) vs. Troy "Rude Boy" Mandaloniz (3-1-0)
Current Odds: Kelly -360; Mandaloniz +290

Kelly suffered his first loss a mere month ago, a 2nd round choke out by Marcus Davis in a match that saw him clearly outclassed in stand-up. Mandaloniz is as raw as they get, with his entire history consisting of just four fights and his only professional bout since September 2006 coming after his stint on Ultimate Fighter 6. His lack of recent experience should play against him, and while both like to stand and trade, Kelly's ground and pound should give him a solid edge. Prediction: Kelly, 2nd round TKO.

Per Eklund (14-3-1) vs. Evan Dunham (7-0-0)
Current Odds: Eklund -170; Dunham +140

The Swedish Eklund rebounded from his decision loss to Sam Stout by finishing Samy Schiavo via rear naked choke. Dunham's 7-0 record looks good on paper, but he has yet to face a quality opponent. He's also coming off a 3 round win just a month ago in the Palace Fighting Championships. Eklund is solid, well-rounded, and has the big-fight octagon experience which will be too much for Dunham to handle. Prediction: Eklund, 1st round TKO.

Mike Ciesnolevicz (16-3-0) vs. Neil "Goliath" Grove (7-1-0)
Current Odds: Ciesnolevicz +100; Grove -130

Grove will be a home crowd favorite, a former CageRage contender who was scheduled to fight for that promotion's heavyweight title before its demise. He is truly a goliath at 6'6" and 260+ pounds, and his karate expertise makes for a lot of KO's - only one of his seven fights has made it past the halfway point and that was his sole decision loss. Mike "C" put together a decent record in the IFL and is stepping in here for an injured Justin McCully. He's a Miletich camp fighter with a good wrestling background, but the size difference here will hurt his typical game plan. Both of these fighters are making their UFC debuts, but look for Grove to continue his KO streak. Prediction: Grove, 1st round TKO.

Junior "Cigano" Dos Santos (7-1-0) vs. Stefan "Skyskraper" Struve (16-2-0)
Current Odds: Dos Santos -300; Struve +240

Dos Santos made the most of his UFC debut, KO'ing Fabricio Werdum in the 1st round as a 6-to-1 underdog. Despite the win, it's still tough to gauge his skills after seeing only 81 seconds of him in the Octagon. Struve is a gigantic man who's been through a number of small promotions, showcasing his jiu-jitsu prowess with 75% of his wins coming by submission. Unfortunately, Santos has strong jiu-jitsu as well, and Struve will struggle to get a submission. Nonetheless, Struve's reach should provide him distance from the solid boxing of dos Santos, and his size and strength are enough to lean his way with the long odds. Prediction: Struve, 2nd round submission.

Terry Etim (11-2-0) vs. Brian Cobb (15-4-0)
Current Odds: Etim -280; Cobb +220

While Etim had a lot of luck with submissions in small promotions, he's struggled in the Octagon, compiling just a 2-2 record with 3 of those fights going to the scorecards. He most recently pulled an upset decision victory over Sam Stout as a 5-to-2 underdog, a fight in which he relied on a very sharp standup game. Cobb is coming up from the minor leagues where he fought really no one of note despite holding the Palace Fighting Championship lightweight title. Cobb comes from a wrestling background, but Etim will have a solid edge in standup and his submissions are good enough that he won't really be in danger on the ground. Prediction: Etim, 2nd round TKO.

Josh "Kos" Koscheck (12-3-0) vs. Paulo Thiago (10-0-0)
Current Odds: Koscheck -600; Thiago +450

This will be Koscheck's 3rd fight in just 4 months. His career was rising exponentially until decision losses to Georges St-Pierre and, more recently, Thiago Alves, threw the brakes on his title aspirations. Paulo Thiago is making his UFC debut, though he's undefeated in smaller promotions in his native Brazil. Like most of his UFC-bound countrymen, his jiu-jitsu is solid and will help neutralize Koscheck's great wrestling. Look for Kos to bounce back with a solid standup attack leading to an easy win. From a value standpoint, however, Kos continues to be overpriced and I'd lean against him at these inflated odds. Prediction: Koscheck, 2nd round TKO.

Demian Maia (9-0-0) vs. Chael Sonnen (21-9-1)
Current Odds: Maia -285; Sonnen +225

Maia is an impressive 4-0 since entering the UFC, including a convincing 1st round submission of Nate Quarry. His jiu-jitsu is off the charts, with all 4 of his UFC wins coming by submission, and 3 of the 4 winning Submission of the Night honors. This will be Sonnen's first UFC fight since May of 2006, though he has bounced around other promotions putting together a 7-1 record in the interim. During that time he was a contender for the WEC middleweight crown before that division was absorbed into the UFC. Unfortunately Sonnen fights from a wrestling base which looks like a very bad matchup against the wily Maia. Prediction: Maia, 2nd round submission.

Nate "The Great" Marquardt (27-8-2) vs. Wilson Gouveia (12-5-0)
Current Odds: Marquardt -315; Gouveia +255

Marquardt unloaded on Martin Kampmann his last time out, showcasing his stand-up even though he's known primarily as a grappler. Gouveia's last pay-per-view appearance was in May, a TKO loss to Goran Reljic, though he rebounded with solid wins over Ryan Jensen and Jason MacDonald. At these long odds, I'll lean towards the underdog. Prediction: Gouveia by decision.

Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy (20-6-0) vs. Rory Markham (16-4-0)
Current Odds: Hardy -125; Markham -105

Hardy looked good in his UFC debut, defeating Akihiro Gono via split decision as a 3-to-1 underdog. That win gave Hardy 9 victories in his last 10 fights dating back over 2 years. As a British fighter, Hardy should get plenty of crowd support. Markham also has only one fight under his belt in the UFC since migrating from the IFL, a 1st round KO of Brodie Farber at UFC Fight Night 14 in July, and a feat which earned him Knockout of the Night honors. Both should be willing to stand and trade punches, so count on this barnburner ending early. I'll give Markham the edge based on power and chin. Prediction: Markham, 2nd round TKO.

Joe "Daddy" Stevenson (29-9-0) vs. Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (19-2-0)
Current Odds: Sanchez -315; Stevenson +255

Stevenson was a lightweight title contender until looking rather pedestrian in losing 2 of his last 3 bouts, submissions at the hands of BJ Penn and Kenny Florian. Sanchez's sole two losses came in his only fights of 2007, bouts against top welterweight contenders Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. He has since rebounded to win his last two and now moves down to lightweight. Sanchez hasn't received the public accolades he deserves, having not appeared on a UFC pay-per-view card in nearly a year and not appearing in a featured bout since his loss to Fitch. Sanchez has only two losses and both have been by decision to elite opponents. Sanchez's move down in weight should not bear heavily on this fight, seeing as Stevenson started at welterweight himself. Stevenson has looked horrible his last few times out, and while he's due for a bounce-back effort he is facing the wrong opponent for that rebound. Betting on Sanchez may look expensive at this price but he's the far better fighter with a stellar track record. Prediction: Sanchez, 2nd round submission.

Picks (2009): 2-5 -4.20 units; Best Bets: 1-1 -0.75 units
Per Eklund -170
Neil Grove -130
Terry Etim -280
Diego Sanchez -315

Opinions (2009): 4-9 -10.00 units
Paul Kelly -360
Stefan Struve +240
Paulo Thiago +450
Demian Maia -285
Wilson Gouveia +255
Rory Markham -105

Jay Graziani

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