With Keefe on vacation this week in the lovely town of Auburn, NY, I’m flying solo for this rendition of The Sports Brief’s UFC 86 predictions. I’ll actually be on vacation myself in Virginia Beach, VA, but don’t think for a second that I’ll miss two of my favorite fighters on this card in Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Ricardo Almeida. 

Top to bottom, I don’t think this card has the luster and allure as others, such as UFC 84 have had in the past. Part of the reason is the lack of marketability in the fighters. “Rampage” and Griffin is a very marketable main event, but with both fighters being shelved for the taping of TUF7, I think it’s hurt their appeal and interest from the fans, which is becoming a bit of an unfortunate trend for some of the high-profile stars in the UFC. The most recent case has come in the announcement of TUF8, which will pit former Heavyweight champ Frank Mir opposite current interim UFC Heavyweight champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. They’ll most likely fight at the end-of-the-year show around New Year’s, which means neither will have fought for over 10 months when they finally clash. God forbid one of them gets hurt, Matt Serra.

But that’s enough ranting from me. On to the picks! 

Preliminary bouts  

Jorge Gurgel def. Cole Miller via decision

Ben Saunders def. Jared Rollins via 2 nd round submission

Melvin Guillard def. Dennis Siver via (T)KO in the 1 st round

Justin Bucholz def. Corey Hill via submission in the 2 nd round

Gabriel Gonzaga def. Justin McCully via decision

Televised bouts  

Tyson Griffin v. Marcus Aurelio

Aurelio fought some of the best lightweights in the world for three years over in PRIDE; he’s never been stopped in his career. Griffin, meanwhile, hasn’t finished an opponent since 2006. You can credit Griffin for stopping several opponents early in his career, including current WEC featherweight champ Urijah Faber, but I attribute that more to Faber fighting out of his weight class as opposed to being soundly beaten by a better opponent. I thought Griffin elevated his status in his last victory over Gleison Tibau at UFC 81, but Aurelio has rattled off two impressive wins since dropping three straight fights. One of those wins came on one of the best armbar maneuvers I’ve seen since watching MMA. Aurelio is a proven veteran, and while Griffin will be game, I think Aurelio will simply be too wily, smart and more prepared.

Marcus Aurelio def. Tyson Griffin via decision  

Joe Stevenson v. Gleison Tibau

This is a great matchup for Stevenson in a comeback fight after his championship loss to BJ Penn earlier this year at UFC 80. He was outclassed by Penn in that fight, but show he can compete at an extremely high level. In Gleison Tibau, I think Stevenson gets to face a fringe prospect at best whose name carries more weight than his game. He’ll be a low level threat for “Daddy”, and I think he’ll look for the takedown to control the fight from there. However, I see Stevenson working well out of guard and eventually sweeping Tibau, achieving the mount and then working a rear-naked choke.

Joe Stevenson def. Gleison Tibau via submission (rear-naked choke) in the 2 nd round  

Josh Koscheck v. Chris Lytle

For me, this is one of those classic fights where I am completely biased to one of the combatants and pick for him out of adoration or against him out of pure spite. I’d say I’ve been wrong on picks like that 9 out of 10 times. And something tells me this is one of those trap fights, so I’m going to pick Koscheck even though I’ll rooting for Lytle. Koscheck has always come across as an arrogant d-bag since his days with Bobby Southworth on the original TUF series. He was a lay-n-pray guy back in his early days, and for the most part, I still think he is. I thought he was fortunate in his victory over Hazelett, and I don’t think he’d beat him in a rematch.

Lytle, meanwhile, is becoming the Chris Leben, Heath Herring and Tito Ortiz of the welterweight division. He’s essentially a gate-keeper; if you’re a rising prospect or fringe contender, throw him in with Lytle and see how it pans out. I’m hoping Lytle catches him with a right hook then pounces for the finish in the 2 nd round, but something tells me Koscheck will utilizes his incredible wrestling skills and ride out a lackluster decision.

Josh Koscheck def. Chris Lytle via decision

Patrick Cote v. Ricardo Almeida

This is my favorite fight on the card. I enjoy watching both of these fighters, but Almeida has become a personal favorite. His black belt jiu-jitsu is world class, and his submission over Rob Yundt was amazing. I think there’s still ring rust there, as he took off almost four years from MMA competition. But if he gets this fight to the ground, it’ll be over before Cote’s back even hits the mat. Cote has dynamite in his hands and has put that on full display in his recent string of knockout victories over Jason Day, Kendall Grove and Drew McFedries, who was a feared and respected striker in his own right. If Cote keeps this on his feet, he’ll certainly prevail, but I don’t see that happening. I look back on his losses to Travis Lutter and Joe Doerksen; those give me enough support to believe that Almeida will lock in a submission and re-establish himself as one of the elite contenders at 185. 

Ricardo Almeida def. Patrick Cote via submission in the 1 st round  

Main Event

Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson v. Forrest Griffin

Up until his victory over Shogun, I can’t say that Griffin had a substantial victory over a big name opponent yet. In my eyes, he was still a fringe contender who had yet to prove he belonged among the UFC’s elite, nevermind the world’s. And while I do believe Rua’s health – or lack thereof – played a role in that fight, Griffin smother him with attacks and wore down the last man to defeat Jackson before finally securing a fight-ending rear-naked choke. It was an impressive victory for Griffin, and while I don’t think he was the most deserving of a title shot, he was certainly a very marketable solution.

I’m reading comments by many people who seem to think that Griffin training with Wanderlei Silva means he’ll have the gameplan to dethrone the champ by smothering Jackson up against the cage and overwhelming him with strikes. It’s a valid argument, and certainly one worth discussing. But I don’t agree with it. At all. 

Silva is a completely different fighter than Griffin. He has a better chin, better, more compact and powerful strikes, and knees are at a premium in his arsenal. Griffin is a more tactical fighter. He’ll throw kicks and his punches are accurate, precise and very deliberate. But that’s when he’s on the outside. He has a tendency to stand in the pocket when he’s in trouble and trade, and when you have a glass jaw and your punches aren’t as powerful as your opponents, that won’t work out very well. 

Jackson, meanwhile, has evolved into one of the most complete MMA fighters in the world. Against Eastman and Liddell, he showed that his striking is efficient, powerful and well groomed. Against Dan Henderson, he displayed an excellent ground game, terrific cardio and has shown time and time again that he has a solid chin. 

I think Griffin will put up a solid fight here, and I think he may actually have the champ in trouble at some point. But Jackson is too well rounded and very tough. He’ll work his way inside, sustaining any punishment on his way in, and find himself in the pocket with Griffin trading bombs. At that point, advantage goes to Jackson, who will wobble the challenger, land a big takedown and finish the fight with some ground-n-pound before the ref stops the fight and Jackson retains the belt. 

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson defeats Forrest Griffin via (T)KO in the 2 nd round

I’d love to hear your feedback on these fights and who you think will win this weekend in Las Vegas. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the fights.


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