UFC 124 Preview & Predictions

Ariel Shnerer / December 9, 2010 - 5:24pm

Pound-for-pound warrior and UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre will be in action this Saturday night at UFC 124 as he defends his title against cocky American challenger Josh Koscheck in his hometown of Montreal, Canada.

Following recent coaching stints on this past season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and months of instigating and verbal bashing, St-Pierre is hungry to get his hands on Koscheck, who is planning his own revenge as he hopes to erase the memory of a 2007 loss to St-Pierre.

The Bell Centre crowd, which is expected to set gate and attendance records for the UFC, can expect a competitive meeting between two of the top welterweights of this era.

Both evolved and matured fighters since their first clash, the winner of Saturday’s welterweight title bout will emerge as the undisputed king of the division.

Here’s a closer look at what’s in store:

-Georges St-Pierre (20-2) vs. Josh Koscheck (15-4)

Every time the pound-for-pound best fighter in the sport is in action, the world is buzzing. This Saturday night will be no exception as St-Pierre will defend his UFC crown in a rematch against the American Kickboxing Academy prodigy Koscheck.

St-Pierre, who holds wins over nearly every top welterweight in the sport, is coming off decisive decisions over Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves, as well as a late stoppage of B.J. Penn.

Initially a Kyokushin karate fighter, the 29-year-old Canadian has evolved into the most well-rounded combatant in the game. Since he debuted in 2002, St-Pierre has earned a BJJ black belt and developed an aggressive wrestling base. Few fighters, including Koscheck, have been able to stop St-Pierre’s relentless takedowns.

The well-travelled champion trains all over the world, honing his skills alongside the likes of UFC contenders Kenny Florian and Rashad Evans, in addition to K-1 fighter Jerome Le Banner, BJJ black belt Renzo Gracie and Muay Thai guru Jean-Charles Skarbowski.

St-Pierre’s trainers include Tristar Gym head coach Firas Zahabi, the master gameplanner Greg Jackson, Muay Thai instructor Phil Nurse and strength and conditioning innovator Jonathan Chaimberg.

With flawless gameplans, a masterful set of abilities and a proven winning track record, it will be tough to bet against the Montreal native in his hometown as 20,000 raging fans will be chanting his name.

It takes an entire lifetime to build a legacy like St-Pierre’s, but it only takes one defeat to lose everything, including his championship and big-time sponsorship deals with Gatorade, Under Armour and ESPN.

St-Pierre has experienced a fall from grace in the past, losing his title to Matt Serra in what was arguably the biggest upset in MMA history. He knows what it feels like to lose it all and he will do everything in his power to prevent the glory from slipping away again.

After avenging his only career losses to Serra and Matt Hughes in destructive fashion, St-Pierre has cemented himself as one of the greatest fighters in history. The champion has everything to lose on Saturday night, while the challenger Koscheck has no pressure on his shoulders.

Unlike St-Pierre, the brash 33-year-old comes from a decorated wrestling background, having won the NCAA Division I title in 2001. Koscheck had only two prior victories before his stint on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.

UFC observers have witnessed Koscheck’s subsequent evolution as a mixed martial artist. Previously reliant on his extensive wrestling pedigree, Koscheck has developed heavy hands and dangerous striking. Koscheck’s knockout victims include Frank Trigg, Yoshiyuki Yoshida and Dustin Hazelett. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania native has also earned a brown belt in Dave Camarillo’s Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu. “Kos” put his submission skills to the test when he forced athletic powerhouse Anthony Johnson to tap out at UFC 106 last November.

Koscheck is arguably the last fighter to win a round against St-Pierre with some ringside observers scoring the first round of their August 2007 tilt in the American’s favor. For their first fight, however, Koscheck admits he was unprepared to deal with St-Pierre’s wrestling. Given his collegiate wrestling base, Koscheck naturally assumed we would have a clear-cut advantage, but he was proven wrong as St-Pierre put him on his back and made him work for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory.

St-Pierre and Koscheck have had a mutual opponent in flashy Brazilian striker Thiago Alves. St-Pierre dominated Alves for five rounds, controlling him with his takedowns. But Alves was able to outstrike Koscheck at UFC 90, earning a hard-fought three-round decision.

While Koscheck will undoubtedly be well prepared for battle after a strong training camp alongside Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch, Mike Kyle and Josh Thomson, all signs point to St-Pierre possessing an advantage come Saturday night.

Koscheck has improved significantly since their first meeting, but so has St-Pierre, who continues to perfect his craft by seeking out training partners all over the world. Most recently, the Canadian made a trip to the Philippines where he was able to train with boxing great Manny Pacquiao.

While his dominance is indisputable, St-Pierre has come under fire for going the distance in wins over Alves, Fitch and Hardy.

St-Pierre will likely engage Koscheck with his strikes in an attempt to please his hometown crowd and earn a stoppage win. However, if things don’t go his way, the intelligent champion will instinctively pursue a takedown and work from top position where he is most comfortable.

Koscheck’s improved preparation and readiness for St-Pierre’s shot could be a difference maker.

However, St-Pierre, who has been angered by Koscheck’s persistent trash talk, has promised to show us new tricks in his stand-up arsenal. While a dangerous puncher like Koscheck is always a threat to win by knockout, St-Pierre may very well be too good for anyone in the division.

While his recent fights have gone 25 minutes, expect a more aggressive St-Pierre who is willing to stand and trade. With that being said, it would be unsurprising to see St-Pierre batter Koscheck with his underrated repertoire of strikes before stopping him in emphatic fashion.

Verdict: St-Pierre via TKO, Round 3

-Stefan Struve (20-4) vs. Sean McCorkle (10-0)

The co-feature will feature the two tallest fighters since a UFC 44 bout between Tim Sylvia and Gan McGee.

The 6’11” Struve, 22, has limitless potential in the sport. Despite his young age, Struve has already amassed 20 professional fights since his debut in 2005.

The Team Schreiber member is 4-2 in the UFC with his only defeats suffered at the hands of top heavyweight contenders Roy Nelson and Junior dos Santos.

In his last appearance, Struve overcame a strong start from Christian Morecraft before knocking him out in spectacular fashion.

Additionally, the Dutch kickboxer has exhibited a crafty ground game throughout his UFC stint, submitting the likes of Denis Stojnic and Chase Gormley.

The unbeaten 34-year-old McCorkle, who stands 6’7″, made his UFC debut this past September, submitting Pride and K-1 veteran Mark Hunt in just over one minute.

The C-4 MMA product has made a career of trash talking his opponents online. A longtime staple of the popular MMA Underground forum, McCorkle has repeatedly insulted Struve on the Internet.

This unlikely co-main event will surely be an entertaining affair. While the “Skyscraper” Struve is the taller competitor, McCorkle possesses a clear size and weight advantage, which could be a factor.

However, Struve’s youth, countless skills and ability to adapt could lead him on a path to victory.

With the Internet community watching closely, expect Struve, who is motivated after all of McCorkle’s trash talk, to come out strong. He has repeatedly stated McCorkle is not in his league and he is hell-bent on proving it in the octagon with his fists.

Verdict: Struve via Unanimous Decision

-Jim Miller (18-2) vs. Charles Oliveira (14-0)

This compelling lightweight pairing will propel one of these fighters to the next level in the UFC’s highly competitive 155-pound division.

Miller, 27, is a proven grinder with a vast set of skills. The former NCAA Division I wrestler and BJJ black belt has lost only twice in his career. The losses were decisions against Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, the UFC’s No. 1 and No.2-ranked lightweights.

A product of AMA Fight Club, Miller’s notable octagon wins have been decision triumphs over Gleison Tibau, Mark Bocek, Mac Danzig and Matt Wiman.

Oliveira, 21, is one of the youngest and brightest prospects in the UFC. A BJJ brown belt, the submission magician forced both Darren Elkins and Efrain Escudero to submit in his two UFC bouts.

The Sao Paulo, Brazil native held his own standing against Escudero with an impressive armory of unorthodox kicks.

Miller will make the Brazilian work by instigating the clinch and roughing him up in close quarters. However, Oliveira will do well enough keeping his distance and inflicting punishment. If the action spills to the mat, it remains to be seen who will have an edge. Both fighters have showcased glimpses of greatness in their respective submission games and the grappling could therefore be evenly matched.

A decisive victory over a household name the caliber of Miller will surely secure Oliveira’s spot in the top 10 of the UFC’s lightweight division. Meanwhile, Miller, who is often his own biggest critic, can finally make his case for a lightweight title opportunity if he becomes the first man to dispatch the talented Brazilian.

Verdict: Oliveira via Unanimous Decision

-Joe Stevenson (31-11) vs. Mac Danzig (19-8-1)

In another exciting lightweight affair, two former winners of “The Ultimate Fighter” will square off.

Both Stevenson and Danzig desperately need to rebound from losses to remain contenders in an increasingly stacked division, especially with the recent WEC merger.

Stevenson, 28, won the second season of “TUF” before going on to record wins over the likes of Yves Edwards, Melvin Guillard, Kurt Pellegrino, Gleison Tibau, Nathan Diaz and Spencer Fisher.

The BJJ and Judo black belt already had a taste of the spotlight when he challenged then-UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn at UFC 80 in January 2008. The devastating loss was a game changer for Stevenson, who has since dropped bouts to Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez and George Sotiropoulos.

The one-sided loss to Sotiropoulos was an eye-opening one for Stevenson, who has since joined Greg Jackson’s camp in New Mexico where high-level training partners are abundant.

Stevenson is most impressive when he mixes up his game and avoids a one-dimensional boxing attack, evidenced by recent wins over Diaz and Fisher in which he put his grappling credentials to the test.

Danzig, 30, won the sixth season of “TUF” by submitting Tommy Speer. He subsequently submitted BJJ ace Mark Bocek, a tremendous feat, before dropping three straight fights to Clay Guida, Josh Neer and Jim Miller.

The Millennia Fight Team pupil is coming off a controversial technical submission loss to Wiman in which he denies ever actually submitting to the fight-ending guillotine choke.

Danzig would have been well-advised to work on his submission defense before fighting Stevenson, who has claimed three UFC foes with his lethal guillotine choke.

The Pennsylvania native Danzig will be competitive early on,  but the fan favorite Stevenson will go in for the kill as soon as he sees an opening.

Verdict: Stevenson via Submission, Round 2

-Thiago Alves (17-7) vs. John Howard (14-4)

In an electrifying welterweight match-up, two dangerous strikers have promised to go toe-to-toe for the Montreal crowd.

Alves, 27, is a product of American Top Team where he trains under Ricardo Liborio in Coconut Creek, Fla.

The Brazilian was considered by many to be the best fighter of 2008 after victories over Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Koscheck. “The Pitbull” has since dropped two fights, albeit against the consensus No. 1 and No. 2 welterweights in the game.

A BJJ brown belt with death-dealing strikes, the Muay Thai wrecking machine will look to rebound from successive decision losses to Fitch and St-Pierre when he tangles with a fellow banger.

Howard, 27, is a member of Wai Kru MMA. The Boston native has a BJJ purple belt to go along with his ferocious fists.

After back-to-back split decision wins over Chris Wilson and Tamdan McCrory in the UFC, Howard recorded knockouts over longtime veteran Dennis Hallman and submission specialist Daniel Roberts.

In his most recent bout, Howard was stopped by Jake Ellenberger in a hard-fought battle, which saw Howard demonstrate his fortitude and toughness, fighting through an exceptionally swollen eye before the referee halted the fight.

Howard is a dangerous contender in the welterweight division, but he is taking a substantial leap in competition against a former title challenger in Alves.

Alves’ combination of competent grappling, ruthless striking and savage killer instinct may be too much for Howard to overcome.

The major question mark surrounds Alves’ weight cut. The Brazilian has struggled to make 170 pounds in the past and conditioning has often been a factor in his bouts.

However, Alves knows he can’t afford a third straight loss in the octagon. As such, he will bring his A-game into Montreal’s Bell Centre as he will look to unleash his Muay Thai fury on Howard.

Verdict: Alves via KO, Round 1