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UFC 96: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 96: Jackson vs. Jardine
Saturday, May 7th, 10 PM ET, live on PPV
Nationwide Arena, Columbus OH
Weigh-in: Friday, March 6th, 3 PM ET, live on
Current odds from

Aaron Riley (27-10-1) vs. Shane "Sugar" Nelson (11-3-0)
Current Odds: Riley -245; Nelson +195

Riley last saw the Octagon in November, knocking off Jorge Gurgel in a close fight that ended up being the official "fight of the night". That fight was nearly completely standup, though Riley looked a bit off his game as he wasn't able to finish despite having some decent opportunities. His upcoming opponent, Shane Nelson, made his UFC debut at the TUF 8 finale, beating George Roop by split decision. Nelson is a BJ Penn protégé, but was unable to secure a submission against Roop despite numerous attempts. Riley should be able to defend even better than Roop and will definitely outclass Nelson in stand-up action. Prediction: Riley, 2nd round TKO.

Brandon "The Truth" Vera (9-3-0) vs. Michael Patt (12-3-0)
Current Odds: Vera -525; Patt +425

Once heralded as a future heavyweight champion, Vera lost back-to-back fights to Tim Sylvia and Fabricio Verdum, prompting a drop in weight class. The change didn't improve his luck, as he looked absolutely tepid in taking a decision over Andy Reese in his light heavyweight debut and then lost to contender Keith Jardine. Despite his recents struggles, Vera looked in top shape against Jardine in losing a very close fight by split decision. Patt only lasted 2 minutes in his UFC debut, wrongly choosing to stand and trade punches with Tim Boetsch at UFC 88. Vera seems to be back in old form and this should be only a stepping stone on his way to light heavyweight contender status. But given Vera's recent performances, I can't recommend putting money on him at such high odds. Prediction: Vera, 1st round TKO.

Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch (8-2-0) vs. Jason "Hitman" Brilz (16-1-1)
Current Odds: Boetsch -140; Brilz +110

Boetsch has won 2 of 3 since entering the UFC. His loss to Matt Hamill represented his only fight against a credentialed opponent, though he was fighting on just 6 weeks notice. Brilz has 16 wins, most in minor promotions, including a decision win over former contender Jason MacDonald. His UFC debut was at Fight Night 15, where he KO'ed Brad Morris. Brilz is not a full time fighter and has appeared only 3 times since May of 2006. Both have collegiate wrestling pedigrees, though Brilz has the edge in submission skills. Nonetheless, Boetsch's wrestling should keep him out of danger on the mat and his standup power will make the difference. Prediction: Boetsch, 1st round TKO.

Kendall "Da Spyder" Grove (9-5-0) vs. Jason "Dooms" Day (17-7-0)
Current Odds: Grove -200; Day +160

Grove started off hot after his TUF 3 championship victory over Ed Herman, but has lost 2 of his last 3 to fall out of contender status. He did manage to pull a split decision victory over Evan Tanner his last time out to earn him another spot on a pay-per-view event. Day has not entered the Octagon since June, losing a very quick and one-sided bout to Michael Bisping. The 6'6" Grove will have a significant reach advantage, so Day will likely need to try to keep this one on the mat. Though Grove has the potential for improvement, Day is experienced enough and well-rounded enough to be worth a shot in the underdog role. Prediction: Day, 3rd round submission.

Tamdan "The Barn Cat" McCrory (10-2-0) vs. Ryan "The Lion" Madigan (5-0-0) Current Odds: McCrory -280; Madigan +220

McCrory is 2-2 since his UFC debut, falling to Akihiro Gono and, most recently, Dustin Hazelett. Madigan is making his UFC debut with only 5 professional fights under his belt, all in small promotions and none against a fighter of note. He is a kickboxer by trade, but may have some trouble considering his disadvantage in reach. This fight's tough to handicap without seeing more of Madigan, but he's at least worth a lean at the long odds. Prediction: Madigan, 3rd round TKO.

Gray "The Bully" Maynard (6-0-0) vs. Jim Miller (13-1-0)
Current Odds: Maynard -175; Miller +145

Maynard looked lackluster in ground-and-pounding Rich Clementi to a decision win his last time out. While his takedowns and ground control are great, he has trouble finishing fights and barely managed to squeeze out decision victories in his last three bouts. Miller is 2-0 in the Octagon, most recently defeating Matt Wiman by decision at "Fight for the Troops". Both fight from a wrestling base, though Maynard is much more skilled. Miller will have to rely on his jiu-jitsu, which should be well-defended by Maynard. While Gray has seemed to struggle at times, he has faced tougher opponents and his style is effective, if sometimes boring. Prediction: Maynard by decision.

Matt "The Hammer" Hamill (5-2-0) vs. Mark "The Philippine Wrecking Machine" Munoz (5-0-0)
Current Odds: Hamill -160; Munoz +130

Hamill bounced back from losing 2 out of 3 to pound out Reese Andy. He is far from a finesse fighter, preferring to use his strength and wrestling ability to power his way to wins. His only two losses so far have come against Rich Franklin and Michael Bisping, both elite-level opponents. He took Bisping to a very close split decision and hung with Franklin into the 3rd round. Munoz is making his Octagon debut, migrating over from UFC-owned WEC. Although Hamill's wrestling is often seen as a strength, Munoz has an even better wrestling pedigree. While Munoz hasn't had to face any major challenges yet in his career, he's undervalued in a fight that is very winnable for him. Prediction: Munoz, 2nd round TKO.

Pete "Drago" Sell (8-4-0) vs. Matt "The Immortal" Brown (8-7-0)
Current Odds: Sell -155; Brown +125

Sell broke a 4-fight UFC losing streak by winning a decision over Josh Burkman in his most recent Octagon appearance, his first since dropping down to welterweight. Matt Brown came in on two weeks notice to defeat Ryan Thomas in November. He's looked better recently than his record might indicate, but his vulnerability to submissions and susceptibility to takedowns should turn out to be a real liability. If Sell's smart, he'll keep this on the mat as long as possible. Prediction: Sell, 2nd round submission.

Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga (10-3-0) vs. Shane Carwin (10-0-0)
Current Odds: Gonzaga -155; Carwin +125

Gonzaga made short work of Josh Hendricks at UFC 91, taking just over a minute to score the knockout. This will be Carwin's third bout in the UFC, though his first against a big-time fighter. His first two fights took a mere 2:15 combined, both brutal knockouts, and none of his fights to date have made it out of the first round. While Gonzaga has no problem standing and punching his way through a fight, his ground skills and submission game pose a large edge over Carwin. If Gonzaga can weather the early storm from the hard-hitting Carwin, he'll be able to move the fight to the mat where he holds a strong advantage. Prediction: Gonzaga, 2nd round TKO.

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (29-7-0) vs. Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine (14-4-1)
Current Odds: Jackson -350; Jardine +280

Rampage disposed of Wanderlai Silva via a brutal 1st round KO that left his opponent out cold. That made for 7 wins in his last 8 fights, with his only loss coming via 5-round decision to Forrest Griffin. Jackson is hoping to spring back for a chance to reclaim the title, while Jardine has slowly been climbing the ranks in hopes of finding his own title shot. Jardine has looked great at times, but his chin is questionable and that will spell trouble against Jackson. Jardine has also had trouble stopping fights, earning only two stoppages in his six UFC victories. While Jackson is the deserving favorite, this line's a bit high and Jardine is worth a bet. Prediction: Jardine, 3rd round TKO.

Picks (2009): 4-7 -5.20 units; Best Bets: 1-1 -0.75 units
Tim Boetsch -140
Gray Maynard -175
Mark Munoz +130 (Best Bet)
Gabriel Gonzaga -155

Opinions (2009): 7-12 -6.55 units
Aaron Riley -245
Michael Patt +425
Jason Day +160
Ryan Madigan +220
Pete Sell -155
Keith Jardine +280

Jay Graziani

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