After one of the biggest fights in boxing history we’re back to MMA and the UFC, where the man many think of as the best pound for pound fighter on the planet resumes his title reign against a challenger who he doesn’t have a significant height/reach advantage over. Throw in a bantamweight title fight and some genuine fights of note and this begins what could be one of the greatest stretches in UFC PPV history from now until the end of the year.
And now, as always, it’s time to break the main card down as a staff and predict the winners (and losers) from this weekend’s PPV card. Joining me are:
Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Keyes: I’m not going to waste too much time on this pick as I do not really see the point. Jones has cleared the UFC light-heavyweight division out and I see no real challengers left for him at this stage going forward. Seeing as the UFC have talked Gustafsson’s chances up based on the length of his limbs rather than his skill-set shows you that Jones really has robbed them of not only competitive fights at 205lbs, but also marketable fights. This is not intended as a knock against Gustafsson, far from it as I think he is a fantastic fighter with a bright future in the sport, but rather a testament to how dominant Jones has become as a fighter. Jones
CY: The UFC have done their best to make this fight appear more competitive than it probably is. Yes Gustafsson is a tall, long fighter with excellent footwork but I question whether he will be able to control the distance long enough to implement those weapons and do enough significant damage to claim the belt. I foresee Jones making up the space and utilizing his wrestling up against the fence before grounding Gustafsson and dominating from the moment it hits the canvas. Jones
SOHN: It’s tempting to think Gustafsson stands the best chance of dethroning Jon Jones because the size differential is not as obvious as it normally is for Jones. Won’t matter. Gustafsson could be noticeably taller with a significant reach advantage and Jones would be still be the better fighter. After watching Silva get crushed by Weidman, Jones is going to be on red alert for every second of every fight.
Frederick: I don’t know how Gustafsson wins this fight honestly. The UFC wants you to believe he has a chance, and maybe he does, but that says more about Jones that it does about Gustafsson. Jones is great, there is no other way to put it. As much as we have said this about Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre and even Jose Aldo, when you see Jones, you are seeing possibly the greatest of all time. He will continue to show why on Saturday. If Jones ever moves up to heavyweight, which seems sooner than later, Gustafsson will reign on top. But not now. Jones
Sawitz: I love Alex Gustafsson but I’m not sure if he’s quite ready to tackle Jones right now, career wise. He looked good against Shogun but not fighting Mousasi didn’t give us a look into how much better he’s gotten in the time since. If he had destroyed Mousasi I’d have been a bit more hesitant to just presume Jones with a win. Jones keeps looking better and better with every fight. I can’t pick against him at this point. Jones.
Renan Barao vs. Eddie Wineland
Keyes: Barao has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years and has definitively dusted off the criticism that his burgeoning reputation as a top level bantamweight may have been as a result of a padded record in Brazil. Put me down for another Barao victory here, as I can’t see Wineland offering Barao too much in this one anywhere other than on the feet, where Barao will have a slightly more diverse range of strikes. Barao
CY: Barao is a true champion regardless of the interim tag and has showed his class throughout his time in the UFC. Wineland is also a very impressive bantamweight but I feel the former WEC champion will have to put on the best performance of his career if he’s is to emerge with the belt. I expect Barao to slowly feel his way into the contest by using a Muay Thai heavy attack to wear down his opponent, increasing the pressure as the fight concludes and exploiting any mistakes his opponent begins to make. Barao
Sohn: Barao is going to beat anyone and everyone in the bantamweight division, including Dominick Cruz if he ever comes back. Wineland is an awesome fighter, but so is Urijah Faber, Michael McDonald, Scott Jorgensen, and so on. If Wineland couldn’t beat Faber and Benavidez, he won’t beat Barao. Barao
Frederick: Again, another title fight that I see as being lopsided. Wineland is a good puncher and can be criminally underrated as a fighter at times, and yes he has put two solid performances together in his last two fights, but Barao is at a whole other level in the bantamweight division. He may dominate this fight too easily. Wineland can land a lucky punch, and that is about as much hope as he has. Barao
Sawitz: Wineland’s a tough, tough out but Barao is a smaller version of Jose Aldo in many ways. Everything you needed to know about Barao you learned in the MacDonald fight; in an insanely close three rounds he turned it on in the fourth and choked out the young contender. Barao/Cruz looms large in early 2014 and I don’t think Wineland spoils that. But it’ll be closer than you think. Barao
Brendan Schaub vs. Matt Mitrione
Keyes: Despite being a matchup of two very middling UFC heavyweights, this could be a real fun fight for the fans. Both fighters preferred method of victory is through their fists and I can’t really see this changing due to each man’s rudimental level of grappling likely cancelling one another out. I’m going to go for Mitrione here, as he has shown the better striking defence and variety of attack compared to Schaub and for a heavyweight in the UFC division, Schaub has shown himself to have somewhat of a soft chin.
CY: Should be a fun fight for as long as it lasts. Both men are decent heavyweights who are looking to gain some momentum in a increasingly divided heavyweight division. I expect Schaub to start fast and try keep Mitrione on the defensive by tying him up and using the clinch but I can see Mitrione being able to escape, cut angles and land big, heavy shots. Mitrione
Sohn: Schaub should win this fight. He’s better, more naturally gifted, younger, more talented, more well-rounded. He should win. But there’s gotta be an upset somewhere, and this is it. Mitrione finds a way to connect and put Schaub down. Mitrione
Frederick: This may be the most intriguing bout on the main card when it comes to figuring out where both men go from here. Both could really use a win and neither can afford a loss all that much, but Schaub likely needs the win more. He played it safe in his last fight and may elect to do so again. Mitrione is coming off that company-induced suspension, so maybe his seat is a little hotter than it may seem on surface. This is a toss-up to me, but I think Mitrione’s power in his hands and Schaub’s suspect chin are difference makers. Mitrione
Sawitz: Brendan Schaub has legitimate grappling tools; he had a reputation for tapping guys well before he came to fame on TUF 10 with Mitrione. Unfortunately his running performance at Metamoris makes his boasting of his ground game kind of funny, actually, and that’s where he can get it done. Crazily enough Mitrione has never taken anyone down in his UFC career nor attempted a single takedown. Schaub’s key to victory will be mixing up his strikes and get Mitrione to the ground; that’s been tough as “Meathead” has been fairly good at defending takedowns historically. Schaub was supposed to get pounded out by Lavar Johnson, remember, and he turned that into a grappling clinic between someone who knows what they’re doing and another who’s idea of grappling is hitting pads. Schaub
Costa Philippou vs. Francis Carmont
Keyes: Philippou had somewhat of a coming out party against Tim Boetsch last time out at UFC 155, as it was his dominant performance over a middleweight many had fancied to better Philippou that really made people stand up and take note. Carmont has not really impressed me too much of late with lacklustre performances against opponents that he should really be clearing out rather than just skating by. This is a big step up in competition for Carmont and is a make or break fight somewhat for Carmont’s relevancy in the division. For me, Philippou will prove a step too far for Carmont and likely punish the Canadian on the feet early. Philippou
CY: The forgotten man Phillipou has flitted under the radar despite an impressive winning streak and after a long injury lay off an eye-catching win would put him back in the title hunt. He will have to bring the fight to Carmont, who has underwhelmed despite going unbeaten in the UFC, yet I feel the hometown boy could squeeze out another highly questionable decision if Phillipou is unable to clearly dominate the contest. Carmont
Sohn: Carmont has the definite size advantage, but I like Philippou here to build on his momentum with that KO of Tim Boetsch. His list of victims is slightly more impressive than Carmont’s. Philippou
Frederick: I’m not gonna lie- I think this could be a boring fight. Carmont is lucky to have a five-fight win streak as I personally thought he lost his last two fights. Philippou has looked very solid in winning five straight fights and is very underrated at 185 pounds. He has some good wins but still has a lot of room for improvement. This is pivotal for both as the winner takes a big step towards title contention while the loser goes right back down the rankings. Philippou
Sawitz: Francis Carmont is on a five fight win streak that no one really takes seriously. The winner probably moves one fight away from the title and the loser gets to rebuild. I think the former Team Serra product gets it done, gets it done violently, and potentially sets up an interesting fight with former teammate Chris Weidman for the middleweight title.
Pat Healy vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Keyes: Healy had a memorable UFC debut for both the right and wrong reasons. Managing to finish Jim Miller is commendable enough, but to also put on the kind of performance that Healy and Miller displayed for us had everyone talking about Healy’s prospects in the lightweight division and then the drug test happened. While marijuana is perhaps not the worst drug to get popped for in sports, Healy will still need to pull out another big performance to try and recapture some of that lost momentum. Nurmagomedov really needs to show more diversity in his MMA game to best Healy on Saturday than he did last time out against Abel Trujillo, where he attempted 27 takedowns, however I do not see that making any real difference anyway. Healy is a good enough wrestler to stifle Nurmagomedov’s grappling and should have more than enough about him to deal with the young Russian in nearly every other facet of the fight. Healy
CY: or me this is the most intriguing fight on the main card. The winner could find themselves in the title picture in the not too distant future and stylistically this match up presents a myriad of possibilities. The unfancied Healy is now beginning to hit his prime and has only lost to Josh Thomson, since moving down a class to lightweight. His Russian opponent will be an extremely difficult test and I expect a highly competitive fight which will showcase the quality of their grappling credentials but I feel the experience of Healy will give him the edge down the home straight. Healy
Sohn: Healy’s eye-opening comeback win against Jim Miller was overturned because of weed. He still won that fight in everybody’s book. Nurmagomedov is a very tough out and is 20-0. But if the Miller fight showed us anything, it’s that when the fight gets tough, Healy gets tougher. Bam Bam is going to squeak one out and hand “The Eagle” his first loss. Healy
Frederick: This could be either very good or very boring as well. Both men like to utilize the wrestling and the submission, and Nurmagomedov showed how he can take people down with his 21 takedowns of Abel Trujillo in his last fight. Healy is a hard-nosed veteran who has not had the best of luck in his career, and some of that has been brought on by himself. The winner will easily be in the title discussion, especially as long as most of the lightweight top-ten fighters continue to lose. This is tough for me to pick but I like Nurmagomedov just a little bit better as far as winning this fight. Nurmagomedov
Sawitz: I love Khabib the fighter … but I hate typing that name during PBP. His “record” against Trujillo is a bit of a misnomer though; a lot of his takedowns were really mat returns and shouldn’t have been called takedowns. Regardless he’s a wrestler who loves slamming the crap out of guys. Healy is more of a positional guy with his wrestling and just destroyed Jim Miller in the latter half of their fight. If Nurmagomedov wins impressively don’t discount him getting a title shot next. Nurmagomedov
Tags: Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 165