FIGHT! Picks: UFC 117 Silva vs. Sonnen *UPDATED*

Darth Raider is suiting up for the UFC’s first visit to Oakland on Saturday night, when Anderson “The Spider” Silva will submit his formal response to Chael Sonnen’s months-long campaign of often-funny, sometimes confusing, at times completely insane pre-fight psychological warfare. Here are FIGHT!’s picks for Saturday night’s bouts with odds courtesy of bodog. We are currently 75-40 with our picks in 2010.

Anderson Silva (-525) vs. Chael Sonnen (+350)

Legendary kickboxer Joe Lewis once said of grappling that 90% of fights may end on the ground but they all start on the feet. Silva vs. Sonnen will start on the feet like all the rest and that is where “The Spider” has a distinct advantage.

The long-limbed lefty is lethal with all eight limbs and will switch stances when the mood strikes him. Chael Sonnen’s boxing is good enough for MMA but the would-be politician toes Team Quest’s party line – take your opponent down, play tight, and grind them down with punches and elbows. Silva is vulnerable to those takedowns, but like Demian Maia, the last man to beat Sonnen, he has a viable submission game from his back, utilizes his long legs to control guys with body triangles from the bottom and is able to escape to his feet using upkicks.

If Sonnen is sincere about “taking the fight” to Silva then we can expect a surgical dismantling a la Silva’s fights versus Leben, Franklin, Irvin, and Griffin. If Sonnen secures a takedown and lands in Silva’s guard, he might be surprised by how legit Silva’s BJJ black belt really is, or he may just eat some vicious elbows to the top of his head like Travis Lutter did.

Whatever Sonnen is bringing to this fight, Silva has an answer for it. And Sonnen’s masterful trolling seems to have done what Joe Silva’s recent matchmaking could not – motivate Silva to save his dancing until after he’s finished his opponent.

FIGHT! Pick: Silva

Jon Fitch (-125) vs. Thiago Alves (-105)

Back in 2006 Jon Fitch was a dominating wrestler who used top control to grind out wins and Thiago Alves was a promising prospect with devastating muay Thai and solid Jiu Jitsu. Fast forward four years and…not much has changed. Fitch’s striking has improved and Alves’ takedown has improved but neither fighter has given any indication recently that this fight will go any differently than it did the first time.

Alves’ last fight was a decision loss to GSP 13 months ago in which he was taken down repeatedly by the champ. Now, GSP’s takedowns and top control are next-level, but Fitch is good enough to get Alves on the ground and pragmatic enough not to let Alves tear up his legs and drop him with short punches before taking a shot like Fitch’s AKA teammate Josh Koscheck did.

Additionally, Alves skipped media workouts on Weds. to focus on his weight cut which is not a good sign considering his past problems with making 170. The knock on “The Pitbull” is that he trains lackadaisically which doesn’t bode well against a relentless grinder like Fitch.

FIGHT! Pick: Fitch

Clay Guida (-125) vs. Rafael Dos Anjos (-105)

Dos Anjos has performed well in the UFC but Guida is a step up from the quality of competition he has faced thus far. The Brazilian shows good submission skills but Guida only gets submitted after sustaining serious damage on the feet (see: Huerta, Florian) and Dos Anjos is unlikely to hammer “The Carpenter” standing up. Look for frenetic takedowns and heavy top control from Captain Caveman has he looks to string a few wins together.

FIGHT! Pick: Guida

LIVE DOG Matt Hughes (+135) vs Ricardo Almeida (-165)

Matt Hughes is finished. The game has passed him by. His shot is gone. This has been the lazy scouting report on the former UFC Welterweight Champion since his first loss to GSP. But the fact of the matter is that in the last three years Hughes has only lost to two men; GSP, and Thiago Alves.

GSP is a universally-agreed-upon top-three pound-for-pound guy, and Alves is ranked #3 in the welterweight column of FIGHT! Magazine’s much-maligned but more-accurate-than-anyone-likes-to-admit rankings. There is no shame in being outwrestled by GSP or out-struck by Thiago Alves. Knee injuries and the wear and tear of a lifetime of wrestling and fighting may have cost Hughes a step and taken his once-explosive shot, but his grappling looked good against Matt Serra and his kickboxing looked strong against Renzo, for what it’s worth.

Almeida has looked good since returning to the Octagon in 2008, losing only to Patrick Cote, and dropping to Welterweight for his last fight, a submission victory over Matt Brown. Brown is tough, but Hughes is tougher. The former champ is definitely on the downside of his storied career but I think it’s too early to start digging his grave.

FIGHT! Pick: Hughes

Junior Dos Santos (-325) vs. Roy Nelson (250)

I am avoiding Nelson vs. Dos Santos like the plague. I like Nelson as an underdog but I don’t like betting against athleticism. Not that Nelson isn’t athletic, but he seems too attached to the idea that he can do everything exactly the way he wants, train on his own terms, eat like shit and still fight his way to a UFC title shot. And that, my friends, flies in the face of all that is sacred in the fight game. Dos Santos hasn’t had to show his Jiu Jitsu game since being in the UFC so it could be incredible or incredibly pedestrian. Too many questions in this one to feel comfortable picking either way.

Dustin Hazelett (-115) vs. Rick Story (-115)

I really like Dustin Hazelett and his game. I really don’t like ring rust, or match-ups that pit pure Jiu Jitsu guys against wrestlers.

On paper, Rick Story would seem to play into Hazelett’s strength, which is using his long limbs to pull off submissions from the bottom. Really, Hazelett’s flow is such that he can pull off a sub in any position, which gives him a realistic shot of stopping Rick Story, who more than likely is going to rush in with a few winging punches and take him down with a power double.

But Story is not going to hang out in Hazelett’s guard and wait for something to happen – chances are he won’t even land in guard, instead swinging Hazelett’s legs out to land in side control. If he does land in guard he’s going to be working to pass, throwing punches and elbows and scrambling. And he’s not going to gas like he did in Abu Dhabi because it’s not going to be 120 degrees in the Octagon in Oakland.

If Story can get the fight away from Hazelett’s improved stand-up skills, he’s likely to grind out a three-round decision.

FIGHT! Pick: Story

Anderson Silva (-525) vs. Chael Sonnen (+350)
FIGHT! Pick: Silva Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Jon Fitch (-125) vs. Thiago Alves (-105)
FIGHT! Pick: Fitch Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Clay Guida (-125) vs. Rafael Dos Anjos (-105)
FIGHT! Pick: Guida Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

LIVE DOG Matt Hughes (+135) vs Ricardo Almeida (-165)
FIGHT! Pick: Hughes Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

Dustin Hazelett (-115) vs. Rick Story (-115)
FIGHT! Pick: Story Resulting Outcome:  CORRECT

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