The experts weigh in on UFC 128
Here are our picks for UFC 128:
Mirko Filipovic versus Brendan Schaub
Jon Anik: Schaub by TKO. Two men going in opposite directions. A former member of the Buffalo Bills practice squad, Brendan Schaub is entering his MMA prime. "Cro Cop" is far removed from his. The UFC heavyweight division is in dire need of a new, young name on which to build. Schaub is that guy. And this is the pick to click.
Josh Gross: Schaub by decision. I'm not a big believer in Schaub as some sort of serious prospect in the heavyweight division, and this fight will be an indicator on which direction he's headed long-term. There's always the possibility that Filipovic pulls off something devastating, but it's been so long no one can seriously expect him to do so. Reluctantly, I'm picking Schaub to handle the rough patches en route to a points win.
Franklin McNeil: Schaub by TKO. Schaub showed that he is ready to take the next step in becoming a contender in his most recent fight -- a unanimous decision over Gabriel Gonzaga. He can go hard for three rounds, which could prove beneficial against Cro Cop. Schaub will end this fight in the second or third round.
Chuck Mindenhall: Schaub by TKO. As much as Cro Cop would like to file that Frank Mir fight away as an aberration, the truth is he has slowed down increasingly over the last three years, looking older than his 36 years. Meanwhile, Schaub is just coming into his own, and as he makes his way up into heavyweight contention, this fight will just be a handshake in the stairwell as they go in their own directions.
Brett Okamoto: Schaub by TKO. Filipovic didn't want to be at UFC 119. It showed and Frank Mir finally put him out of his misery with a minute left in the fight. The fact he wasn't into the fight might be a good enough excuse for some, but the reality is Cro Cop ain't Cro Cop anymore. At 36, the miles have built up on the famed kickboxer, so soak in his remaining fights now. There might not be many left.
Darius Ortiz: Schaub by TKO. Filipovic has that schoolyard bully mentality: back up and his confidence explodes; fight back, and his psyche implodes. Schaub will survive some early assaults, land some leather and Filipovic will fold soon after.
Nate Marquardt versus Dan Miller
Anik: Marquardt by decision. Dan Miller accepts the fight with Nate Marquardt on short notice, as he replaces Japan's Yoshihiro Akiyama. Miller is always game, but has labored when facing the elite middleweights. Marquardt qualifies as such and it's simply the wrong time to face Nate the Great, who has dropped two of his last three.Gross: Marquardt by TKO. Marquardt is better than Miller, a replacement for Yoshihiro Akiyama on a week's notice, and he should win. Of course, Miller was training for a fight on this card and he's fighting in his home state, so it's not impossible to imagine him pulling off something special. Just highly unlikely.
McNeil: Marquardt by decision. After dropping three in a row, Miller has won his past two fights. But those wins have come against fighters who have limited stand-up skills. Marquardt will test Miller standing, and that will be the difference in this bout. As Michael Bisping showed, Miller is vulnerable to right hands.
Mindenhall: Marquardt by decision. Didn't we see this the last time the Octagon visited New Jersey? At UFC 111, Ben Saunders leaped at the chance to fight Jon Fitch on short notice and paid through his nose with the loss. With Akiyama out, you've got to admire the willingness of Jersey native Dan Miller to jump off the undercard and fight Nate Marquardt on short notice but if there's one thing we know through 40-plus fights, it's that Nate the Great doesn't lose twice in a row.
Okamoto: Marquardt by TKO. Which version of Marquardt do you believe in? I still believe in the flashy guy who knocked out Martin Kampmann and Demian Maia -- not the underwhelming one who lost to Yushin Okami and Chael Sonnen. Miller has never been finished, but Marquardt has something to prove and I think he's up to the task.
Ortiz: Miller by decision. In a bout between two guys who seem to come up short against the upper echelon, I'm picking Miller to edge by Marquardt -- he's a little hungrier, has a few less ticks on the odometer and will have the crowd to buoy him through tense moments.
Kamal Shalorus versus Jim Miller
Anik: Miller by decision. All Jim Miller does is fight. Since signing with the UFC late in '08, he has been among the Octagon's most frequent visitors, with nine fights (8-1). Perhaps he deserved a more high-profile opponent in this spot, but this is an appreciable test. Former UFC champion Pat Miletich called Shalorus one of the top-three wrestlers to ever grace his gym. High praise, indeed. Miller halted the Charles Oliveira hype in his last appearance with a slick submission and is the more well-rounded party. He'll be out there grindin' and will hand Shalorus the first loss of his MMA career.
Gross: Miller by decision. Shalorus is making his UFC debut after a nice run in the WEC. However, he never faced someone as good as Miller, one of the most consistent and consistently underappreciated lightweights in the UFC. Shalorus' wrestling and power makes him dangerous, but I think Miller has too much for him, especially as the Iranian slows down.
McNeil: Miller by decision. It's not Miller's fault that he keeps getting matched against lightweight noncontenders. Miller continues to defeat these fighters, but it has yet to earn him a high-profile opponent. Shalorus, who will make his UFC debut, isn't a 155-pound contender and Miller will beat him. Maybe this win will finally land Miller a top-five lightweight foe next.
Mindenhall: Miller by decision. Jim Miller is the best-kept secret in the UFC, even though he has been on virtually every PPV through nine UFC fights and painted the UFC 100 canvas red with Mac Danzig's blood. His one loss in that stretch was against wrestler Gray Maynard. Enter the dogged wrestler Shalorus from the WEC, who has to like his chances stylistically here. But if Miller has to get dirty to get it done, he'll do just that.
Okamoto: Miller by decision. Miller scored a unanimous decision win over Mark Bocek the last time the UFC visited his home state and all signs point to a repeat performance. Shalorus is a terrific wrestler, which has given Miller trouble in the past, but his overall skill set isn't on the same level. This is Miller's fight to lose.
Ortiz: Shalorus by decision. Styles make fights and I don't like Miller's style against Shalorus. Miller might have his moments and come close to submitting the Iranian but I don't think Miller will be able to stave off Shalorus long enough to do significant damage or rack up points in the judges' eyes.
Urijah Faber versus Eddie Wineland
Anik: Faber by submission. One of the most popular fighters in the world, the time has come for Faber's UFC debut. Get some. Wineland is the far less heralded former WEC champion, but he hasn't faced the gauntlet of champions and contenders, as Faber has. Look for a patient Faber to wear down Wineland early with kicks, before eventually landing the decisive blow and finishing with a rear naked choke.
Gross: Faber by submission. Faber appeared to handle the weight cut to 135 very well in his debut there last November. It will take a special bantamweight to stop Faber, and I don't see Wineland, the former WEC 135 champ (way back in 2006), as that guy. Faber has his way with Wineland and finds a submission at some point in the fight.
McNeil: Faber by submission. Faber debuts on a UFC card and at his natural weight (135 pounds). As great as he's been competing against larger foes, expect Faber to be even greater at bantamweight. He has the perfect foe to make an immediate impression -- Wineland is susceptible to submissions. Faber can finish a fight standing or on the ground; Wineland won't be standing when the end comes.
Mindenhall: Wineland by TKO. Bantamweights fly around as if they have bird bones, and former WEC featherweight champ Urijah Faber and former 135-champ Eddie Wineland will bring it. Wineland has won back-to-back knockout of the night honors, and Faber looked hell-bent in his bantamweight debut against Takeya Mizugaki. It's a mini-superfight, but out here on the limb says Wineland uses the cleft in Faber's chin as a bull's-eye.
Okamoto: Faber by submission. Wineland's movement and footwork is terrific, and if given the opportunity, he's capable of picking Faber apart standing. Problem is, I don't think he'll get that opportunity. Ironically, I don't think people are giving Wineland enough of a chance, yet I'm predicting what plenty others are. The California Kid's first UFC fight will be a happy one.
Ortiz: Faber by KO. This one will be over before it really ever gets started, so don't blink, go to the bathroom, step out to lie to your girlfriend about wherever you really are, etc. -- someone's getting laid out and I don't think it will be Faber.
Mauricio Rua versus Jon Jones
Anik: Jones by TKO. I've been saying since August that I'd favor Jon Jones to beat any light heavyweight in the world. So, no surprise on this end when Jones climbed to a 2-1 favorite against one of the most accomplished 205ers in MMA history. Distraction and media attention abounds, as Jones steps into his first title fight. "Bones" is the closest thing in MMA to the NBA's LeBron James, with a sick combination of size, speed, athleticism and power. Parlay those assets with an ever-improving skill set and Jones will rule the day. The 23-year-old phenom gets his first taste of UFC gold.
Gross: Rua by KO. I understand why Jones is the favorite and why many have picked him to become the new UFC light heavyweight champion. I can't join the club for a couple of reasons. Jones has never been tested in a fight, and I believe Rua is the man to do that. Also, "Shogun" is a big step up from Ryan Bader or Vladimir Matyushenko or Brandon Vera. The way I see it, Jones goes down in a war. This is a fight worth watching.
McNeil: Jones by TKO. The question has never been, "Will Jones become UFC light heavyweight champion?" -- it's when. The time is Saturday night at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Jones possesses skills that Rua has never witnessed firsthand in the cage. To overcome Jones' superior reach and speed, Rua must take risks. Rua will take one risk too many and get caught, most likely in the fourth round.
Mindenhall: Rua by KO. Three years ago, Mauricio Rua was today's Jon Jones, a ruthlessly hard-striking, multiply dangerous young gun whom people spoke of when defining words like "invincible" and "juggernaut." Today, he's the champion. The very young, very athletic Jones will bring his full eclectic striking game in with absolute confidence, but how he reacts to taking a big shot remains to be seen. (We say he won't, because he'll be unconscious).
Okamoto: Jones by TKO. Everybody has a "Wow, Jon Jones is really, really good" moment. Mine was when he tossed Brandon Vera to the ground and fractured his face in three places with an elbow. There's concern over how Jones will fare when he's finally faced with adversity. Well, someone has to put him in deep water first, and if that turns out to be Rua, I expect Jones to swim, not sink.
Ortiz: Rua by KO. Youth, speed, hunger, athleticism, creativity, eye of the tiger, longest reach in the Octagon -- Jones possesses all of 'em, but there's no substitute for the kind of experience Rua has as a fighter. Jones' time will come soon enough, but Rua isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
You've read what we have to say. Now it's your turn. Vote for the last men standing at UFC 128 here.
Jon Anik is the host of "MMA Live." Follow him on Twitter at Jon_Anik.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at Franklin_McNeil.
Chuck Mindenhall covers MMA for ESPN.com and is a features writer at FIGHT! magazine. He can be followed on Twitter at @ChuckMindenhall.
Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.
Darius Ortiz is the boxing and MMA editor for ESPN.com.
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