Breaking down the UFC 124 main card
There's nothing like a couple of months' worth of reality television to build a rivalry, and in the case of UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and challenger Josh Koscheck, their running duel on season 12 of the "The Ultimate Fighter" has supplied adequate -- if not overwhelming -- prefight buzz.
That's because St. Pierre resides in the magical zone few champions ever reach: simultaneously at the top of his physical and mental games. Meanwhile, Koscheck's limited verbal repartee makes one hope he has put in much more work on coming up with new strategies for the fight itself.
But hey, everybody likes a throwdown to settle some bad blood, right?
Koscheck is still an exceptionally gifted fighter with the right skill set to pose problems for the dominant welterweight champ. There are a handful of 170-pounders on the planet who could hope to outwrestle St. Pierre in an MMA match, and right now, former NCAA champion Koscheck is on the short list.
Here's a breakdown of the top fights on the UFC 124 main card.
Diaz-Jackson is a handy reminder that anything is possible in a fight -- so much so that one contest might not accurately represent the relative skills and likely outcome of a bout. Each fighter scored a one-sided first-round stoppage in their first two bouts. Diaz landed a third-round submission in the spirited rubber match, a fight far more competitive than the two that preceded it. Each fight, watched separately, would invalidate the likelihood of the other two.
It's a pretty good rule, and one you're welcome to invoke in any argument when discussing rematches, MMA in general, climate change or whatever.
That's why I think Koscheck could have a pretty good chance at unseating St. Pierre, despite all the indicators that suggest otherwise. GSP has steadily improved since their first match, which he won by one-sided decision, dominating Koscheck and outwrestling him to boot. Koscheck's attempts at mind games while the two coached "TUF" fell flat. Despite this, it seems too easy to simply check the box here and expect more of the same.
To pull off the upset, Koscheck will have to make something big happen early. He can't concede the first takedown, and he has to be more effective on the feet. Although St. Pierre is a dynamic striker with a ridiculously deep bag of tricks, Koscheck tends to rely on a big overhand right as his bread-and-butter move.
The problems with attacking St. Pierre are that his takedowns are the best in the sport and he can knock you silly. As a result, opponents are paralyzed contemplating all the terrible things he could potentially do. Koscheck has to come out banging and aggressive, and keep pushing forward. Standing around and waiting for something to develop is almost always going to be a losing strategy against St. Pierre, who has too many options against anyone at 170 pounds.
Koscheck has to go for broke to win this one, pulling a page from the Matt Serra playbook. He's either going to land something huge in the opening round, plant GSP on his back and pound him out, or he won't. If it's the latter, look for GSP to craftily pick his moment to take Koscheck down, at which point he'll thump him up, improve position and plant all the ugly seeds of doubt in Kos' head. It's a grim thing St. Pierre does to opponents, and you can see it on their faces when everything they try only makes things worse.
If this goes past one round and Koscheck doesn't land a big punch for an early stoppage, I like St. Pierre by a fourth-round win, mostly because he seems peeved at Koscheck's attempts to rattle him. St. Pierre also probably wants to end it inside the distance to quiet the critics knocking his string of decisions in recent bouts.
If Kos does pull the trick, I'll be the first to cite the Diaz-Jackson Rule.
You always have to respect fighters who have had more bouts than birthdays. Dutch youngster Struve has put together a decent UFC body of work since his brutal debut, in which he was starched by Junior dos Santos in less than a minute. Since then, the 6-foot-11 Struve has notched four wins, with his only other loss coming to Roy Nelson. Scaling in the 240-pound range, Struve, 22, is both freakishly tall and, for the weight class, physically undersized. He's still filling out, and as such needs to rely on his submissions and long limbs to be effective.
McCorkle, meanwhile, is Struve's physical opposite. After lobbying the UFC on message boards and elsewhere, the unbeaten 6-7 vet of the Midwestern circuit got his chance against Mark Hunt at UFC 119, and he came up big. Scoring a kimura from the bottom, McCorkle did very well for an Octagon first-timer, especially stepping in against a veteran slugger in Hunt.
That said, I think Struve's challenge with heavyweights will be the strength factor. Given McCorkle's massive frame, it isn't going to get any easier in this one. Struve's best chance is to grab a sneaky submission or land something big on the feet. Either way, McCorkle may just be too strong to be deterred.
Look for McCorkle to pick his spot for a takedown, establish position and proceed to deliver some effective ground-and-pound en route to a second-round stoppage. Size matters, and McCorkle will make that eminently apparent.
UFC 124: St. Pierre vs. Koscheck
Get ESPN.com's full coverage of Saturday's UFC 124 event.
As one of the more extreme weight-cutters in a sport dominated by them, Alves vacillates between pushing himself to maximum gain at fight time and simply reducing too much and losing stamina. He walks around at well over 190 pounds, and at times the size and strength he brings into bouts can be accompanied by a lethargic performance.
Granted, Alves' two worst showings -- decision losses to St. Pierre and Jon Fitch -- might have happened to just about anyone, in any condition, but the 27-year-old Alves is so big for 170 at this point, you wonder how long he can stay effective at the weight. The problem is this: At 5-9, he would make for an exceptionally short middleweight.
At his best, Alves is an excellent striker, with thumping leg kicks and creative combinations, along with good takedown defense.
Howard's task here is obvious: He'll have to get Alves to the floor and make that weight cut work against his opponent. Fitch did it in both of his wins against Alves, holding him down and burning the Brazilian's gas tank to empty. But Fitch is a master of that style, while Howard will probably have to pay a stiff price to close the gap.
Alves is dangerous from any position on his feet, using tie-ups and exchanges to land big shots, and his upper-body strength is especially imposing in the early going. Still, Howard showed a lot of moxie in his third-round TKO loss to the tough Jake Ellenberger.
Howard should be able to score some takedowns, but he'll also be baited into big exchanges. Look for Alves to close the show with a barrage in the third round after a fan-pleasing, back-and-forth match.
Jason Probst is a contributor to Sherdog.com.
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