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UFC 97: Preview and Predictions...By Jay Graziani

UFC 97: Redemption
Saturday, April 18th, 10 PM ET, live on PPV
Centre Bell, Montreal
Weigh-in: Friday, April 17th, 6 PM ET, live on
Current odds from

Sam "Hands of Stone" Stout (13-5-1) vs. Matt "Handsome" Wiman (10-4-0)
Current Odds: Stout -125; Wiman -105

Stout is a poor 2-4 in his UFC matches, though all have gone the distance save one, a first round submission loss to Kenny Florian nearly three years ago. Stout is coming off a disappointing decision loss to Terry Etim in a match which saw him as a 3-to-1 betting favorite. Wiman is also trying to bounce back, in his case from a decision loss to Jim Miller which ended his 4-fight winning streak. Wiman looked helpless in that fight against a newcomer fighting on just a few weeks notice, but expect him to step it up against Stout in what should be a close fight. Prediction: Wiman by decision.

Ryo "Piranha" Chonan (15-9-0) vs. TJ Grant (13-2-0)
Current Odds: Chonan -200; Grant +160

Chonan returns to the ring after losing a decision to Brad Blackburn in December, a fight which saw him start slowly, only to pick up the pace too late to notch the victory. Grant is making his UFC debut, and though he's won 7 of his last 8, the level of his competition has been much below Chonan. While Grant brings a mean submission game, Chonan has only tapped out once and his experience should carry the fight for him. Prediction: Chonan by decision.

Mark Bocek (6-2-0) vs. David Bielkheden (13-6-0)
Current Odds: Bocek -285; Bielkheden +225

Bocek has run into somewhat of a brick wall in the UFC, losing 2 of his last 4 and needing the 3rd round in both wins. Bielkheden had a decent, if boring, effort in his win against Jess Liaudin. Both fighters are ground specialists and submission experts, but expect Bocek to be more aggressive and effective in takedowns, riding the fight out from top position to grind out a victory. Prediction: Bocek, 2nd round TKO.

David "The Crow" Loiseau (18-8-0) vs. Ed "Short Fuse" Herman (14-7-0) Current Odds: Loiseau -125; Herman -105

Loiseau enters the Octagon for the first time since back-to-back losses to Rich Franklin and Mike Swick back in 2006. He's been fighting since 2000, accumulating a 4-3 record in the UFC while also bouncing around smaller promotions. Though he's won 3 straight, he's struggled against top-level opponents. Herman has gone only 3-3 since his loss to Kendall Grove in the TUF 3 finale, recently falling at the hands of Alan Belcher via split decision. While Loiseau is hardly a household name, he has the skill set to dominate Herman in standup and should be able to defend the takedown well enough to stay out of Herman's trademark ground and pound. Prediction: Loiseau, 3rd round TKO.

Jason "The Athlete" MacDonald (21-11-0) vs. Nate "Rock" Quarry (10-3-0)
Current Odds: MacDonald -135; Quarry +105

Since beating Chris Leben in 2006, MacDonald has alternated wins and losses. I suppose that means he's due for a win here, considering his last outing saw him submitted by Wilson Gouveia's elbows in the first round. Quarry is 2-1 since 2007, with his only loss in that span coming to jiu-jitsu whiz Demian Maia. MacDonald, with 17 submissions to his name, will look to exploit that same game plan and keep Quarry on the mat where's he's much less dangerous. MacDonald has the talent to win this fight, expect to see an inspired effort out of him in front of a crowd of fellow Canadians. Prediction: MacDonald, 3rd round submission.

Denis Kang (31-11-1) vs. Xavier "The Professor X" Foupa-Pokam (20-9-0) Current Odds: Kang -360; Foupa-Pokam +290

PRIDE veteran Kang lost his UFC debut to Alan Belcher as a nearly 3-to-1 favorite. That loss was his fourth in seven fights. He's playing the gatekeeper role for Foupa-Pokam, who is making his UFC debut after finding some success in small European shows. Despite losing to Belcher, Kang was ahead most of the fight using his ground game, and the same strategy should serve him well in this fight. While Foupa-Pokam is a dangerous striker, he's been submitted 4 times and will probably see the same happen here. Prediction: Kang, 1st round submission.

Eliot "The Fire" Marshall (6-1-0) vs. Vinicius "Vinny" Magalhaes (2-3-0) Current Odds: Off The Board

Marshall's UFC debut was the TUF 8 finale, giving him an official 1-0 UFC record, though he only went 1-2 in "unofficial" matches during the reality show. While he looked great against Bruchez in the finale, his .500 record against inexperienced opponents leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Luckily he gets to face another newbie, fellow TUF 8 alum Vinny Magalhaes. He had a 2-2 record going into TUF, also defeating Bruchez and, like Marshall, losing to eventual champ Ryan Bader. Both fighters' strength is submission, though Magalhaes is a notch better and a deserving favorite. Prediction: Magalhaes, 1st round submission.

Steve "Robot" Cantwell (7-1-0) vs. Luiz "Banha" Cane (9-1-0)
Current Odds: Cantwell +215; Cane -275

Cantwell was the WEC Light Heavyweight champ when they folded and won his UFC debut against Razak Al-Hassan. Cane struggled in beating Sokoudjou (who was released form the UFC), and though he's favored he's going to need to put up a better effort to notch the win this time. Cantwell is worth a shot at the long odds. Prediction: Cantwell, 2nd round submission.

Cheick Kongo (13-4-1) vs. Antoni Hardonk (8-4-0)
Current Odds: Kongo -290; Hardonk +230

Kongo put an utter beating on Mustapha al Turk to give him his 4th win in 5 fights dating back two years. Hardonk's moving up the ranks, having won three straight, all by TKO. Both are kickboxers, but while Hardonk has an advantage on the ground, Kongo's takedown defense has looked great lately and he should be able to keep himself out of trouble. Nonetheless, I'll take a shot at Hardonk who can still hold his own in standup even if he can't maneuver the fight to the mat. Prediction: Hardonk by decision.

Krzysztof "The Polish Experiment" Soszynski (16-8-1) vs. Brian "All-American" Stann (6-1-0)
Current Odds: Soszynski 170; Stann +140

Soszynski submitted Shane Primm to win his UFC debut in December after an appearance on TUF 8, a tournament he was favored to win before bowing out in the semifinals. Though he has a long resume, including a stint in the IFL, his fight history doesn't speak much for his ability to handle top-level opponents. Stann is a former Marine and WEC fighter whose only loss is against Steve Cantwell, the fight in which Stann lost the WEC Light Heavyweight title. These fighters are plenty familiar to each other, having trained on Team Quest together. This should be a close fight, but I give Stann a puncher's chance at this price. Prediction: Stann, 1st round TKO.

Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell (21-6-0) vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (17-3-0)
Current Odds: Liddell -200; Rua +160

Once highly regarded, Rua hasn't had much luck since his days in PRIDE, losing his UFC debut to Forrest Griffin and then looking absolutely pathetic in slowly wearing down a 44-year old Mark Coleman. Granted, it was Rua's first time in the Octagon after an 18-month knee injury hiatus, but that doesn't explain his lack of conditioning or struggles to finish a near-helpless opponent. While Liddell is reeling, losing 3 of his last 4, he was winning the Evans fight on most fans' scorecards before being caught by a bullseye right hand. While talk of Chuck's retirement may seem premature, a loss here may very well end the UFC career of either of these fighters. Look for a quick pace in the early standup, but Liddell's counterpunching and conditioning should turn things further his way the longer the fight progresses. I'll probably make a token bet on the Iceman just for old time's sake, but the line's spot on and Chuck's chin has been more than a little suspect lately. Prediction: Liddell, 3rd round TKO.

Anderson "The Spider" Silva (23-4-0) vs. Thales Leites (14-1-0)
Current Odds: Silva -600; Leites +450

Such is the state of the middleweight division that a win over 7-4 Drew McFedries is apparently enough to earn a fighter a title shot. Leites took out McFed to cap a run of 5 straight wins since he lost a decision to Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut. Nonetheless, Silva has looked near-superhuman at times, expect him to have a little extra motivation after a disappointing win over an injured Patrick Cote. The line's high enough to lean towards Leites - after all, Silva has to screw up sometime, right? Prediction: Silva 2nd round TKO.

Picks (2009): 5-10 -8.15 units; Best Bets: 1-2 -1.75 units
David Loiseau -125
Steve Cantwell +215
Antoni Hardonk +230
Brian Stann +140

Opinions (2009): 7-18 -14.55 units
Matt Wiman -105
Ryo Chonan -200
Mark Bocek -285
MacDonald -135
Denis Kang -360
Chuck Liddell -200
Thales Leites +450

Jay Graziani

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