UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship Match (5 rounds)
Jon Jones (17-1, 11-1 UFC) vs. Chael Sonnen (27-12-1, 6-5 UFC)
Given my tendency to be a contrarian when it comes to fight analysis, you might expect me to write at length about how Chael Sonnen could potentially defeat Jon Jones. After all, Jones is a massive 10-1 favorite to win the match. That’s rare enough for any fight in MMA, but for the underdog in this situation to be a fighter as good as Sonnen is just unheard of.
The cold reality for Sonnen is that he wins fights one way – by landing takedowns and dominating from top position on the ground. Sonnen isn’t a knockout artist; his last TKO win was against Kyacey Uscola in 2007. He isn’t a submission master either, as he has only won four fights by submission in his 40 fight career. Instead, Sonnen wins decisions, and since joining the UFC middleweight division, he’s been excellent at it.
Against Jon Jones, Sonnen’s path to victory is the same as it was against Anderson Silva. He needs to take the fight to the ground repeatedly, and score points with strikes while staying out of submissions, eventually winning the fight by decision. And that’s the problem – against Silva, Sonnen was fighting a middleweight with good takedown defense. Against Jones, Sonnen will be fighting a light-heavyweight with outstanding takedown defense – Jones has never been taken down in his MMA career.
Of course, just because Jones hasn’t been taken down doesn’t mean he can’t be taken down. It might not seem ridiculous to suggest that Sonnen could be the first to do so. After all, Sonnen is a very good wrestler who always fights very aggressively, regardless of who his opponent is. If Sonnen shows that same aggression against Jones, perhaps he’ll find a way to land a takedown.
But one takedown won’t be enough. If Sonnen wants to win a decision in this fight, he’ll have to land takedowns in at least three rounds out of five. Not only will Sonnen have to land those takedowns, he’ll have to keep Jones on his back while landing strikes and staying out of submissions. That outcome might be within the realm of possibility, but I’ll be shocked if the fight actually unfolds that way.
To put it bluntly, Jones is the much better striker and grappler, the better wrestler, the bigger fighter, and has better conditioning than Sonnen. The big advantage Sonnen has always had – his ability to dominate the takedown game – won’t exist in this fight. Instead, Sonnen will have to pull a rabbit out of his hat, finding some way to catch Jones with a strike that knocks him out, or putting him in a surprising submission hold. It’s a nearly hopeless situation for him.
I liked the idea of this fight when Sonnen was going to replace Dan Henderson on short notice at UFC 151. I hate the idea of this fight now. Hopefully after Jones finishes Sonnen, he can finally move on to competing against fellow light-heavyweights who genuinely earned their opportunity to face him.
Pick: Jon Jones by submission
UFC Middleweight Match (3 rounds)
Alan Belcher (18-7, 9-5 UFC) vs. Michael Bisping (23-5, 13-5 UFC)
Alan Belcher is an overrated fighter in my opinion. I felt that way before his match against Yushin Okami at UFC 155, where Belcher closed as the betting favorite in most spots, and I still feel that way now. Belcher got a lot of hype behind him after winning four fights in a row, but the opponents he beat during that winning streak – Wilson Gouveia, Patrick Cote, Jason MacDonald, and Rousimar Palhares – were all far from the top of the division. Against a tougher opponent in Okami, Belcher landed a couple hard strikes, but otherwise was unable to produce much offense.
Belcher’s flaws are what they always have been – he gets hit too easily, and he doesn’t have particularly good takedown defense. Belcher often throws kicks to the body, and while he’s a hard kicker, these kicks often get caught by his opponents, who use them to take Belcher down.
Against Michael Bisping, Belcher will be facing an opponent who is well equipped to take advantage of Belcher’s weaknesses. Bisping is a very good volume striker who should be able to score a lot of points on Belcher throughout a three-round fight. He also has decent takedowns, and as long as he attempts to get Belcher to the ground, he should be successful at some point.
If this fight goes to decision, it should be with Bisping as the winner, as I cannot imagine Belcher landing more strikes and takedowns throughout the fight. If that is the case, then Belcher will need to finish Bisping if he wants to win. While that’s not unlikely to happen, it’s not enough for me to favor Belcher to win this match.
Pick: Michael Bisping by decision
UFC Heavyweight Match (3 rounds)
Cheick Kongo (18-7-2, 11-5-1 UFC) vs. Roy Nelson (18-7, 5-3 UFC)
Roy Nelson has made a habit out of proving me wrong recently. I felt that Nelson was an overrated heavyweight, and picked both Dave Herman and Matt Mitrione to beat him, based on the idea that those fighters could avoid the early KO and end up winning on points. Well, neither man avoided the early KO; Nelson finished Mitrione in three minutes and Herman in just 51 seconds.
Against Cheick Kongo, I’m very tempted to pick against Nelson again. The idea is that, if Nelson doesn’t win by knockout, he’s almost definitely going to lose by decision. There have been too many times that I’ve seen Nelson reduced to a punching bag later in fights, exhausted and unable to attack effectively. I can definitely see Kongo clinching Nelson to oblivion, landing hard knees to Nelson’s protruding gut.
But at some point, I have to acknowledge that a Nelson KO win might actually be better than a 50-50 possibility. After all, all of Nelson’s five UFC wins have been by KO, and his losses were all to high-level opponents in Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, and Fabricio Werdum. Meanwhile, Kongo is very old in MMA years, and is known for having a somewhat brittle chin. I hate doing this, and I certainly don’t think Nelson should be a -240 favorite, but…
Pick: Roy Nelson by KO
UFC Light-Heavyweight Match (3 rounds)
Phil Davis (10-1, 6-1 UFC) vs. Vinny Magalhaes (10-5, 1-2 UFC)
This is a very interesting fight, one that will match the dominant wrestling of Davis against the world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu of Magalhaes. But unlike many prognosticators on the internet, I don’t think Magalhaes has a very good chance of winning this one. Let’s explore the possibilities…
Magalhaes by KO? I shouldn’t completely dismiss the chances of this happening, as Magalhaes does have two TKO wins on his record. But it will be very hard for him to win this way against Davis. For one, I don’t think this fight will stay standing for very long. Even if it does, though, Davis always makes it a priority not to get hit. If Magalhaes is reduced to ten significant strikes in the match, the likelihood that one of them is a knockout shot is very low.
Magalhaes by submission? The single most likely way for Magalhaes to win for sure, but to do so, he’ll have to win a grappling match against Davis while operating from bottom position on the ground. If anybody could do it, Magalhaes can, but Davis is no joke from top position. We’ve seen high-level BJJ practitioners get shut down by dominant wrestlers before, and I anticipate that will happen again in this fight.
Magalhaes by decision? I doubt it. Again, Davis will be the fighter landing takedowns and working from top position. For Magalhaes to win on the judges’ scorecards, he’ll need to probably win the ensuing grappling match by an overwhelming margin. It’s possible, but not likely.
By far, the most likely result here is that Davis takes Magalhaes down without too much struggle, and proceeds to control Magalhaes while landing strikes, eventually winning by decision. I’ll be surprised if Magalhaes can stop Davis here.
Pick: Phil Davis by decision
UFC Lightweight Match (3 rounds)
Pat Healy (29-16, 0-1 UFC) vs. Jim Miller (22-4, 11-3 UFC)
While I think Jim Miller is definitely a more talented fighter than Pat Healy, I also think Healy could represent a very tough stylistic match for him. Miller definitely has more well-rounded abilities than Healy; he’s the better striker and has much better Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Still, a couple of numbers jumped out at me during my stats breakdown of this fight the other day. One is that Healy attempts 7.9 takedowns per 15 minutes. The other is that Miller only defends 42% of takedowns attempted against him.
Pat Healy is nothing if not consistent. He’s a huge lightweight, and is likely to clinch with Miller and try to take him down. He’ll probably have some success with the takedowns. But where I favor Miller in this fight is that his level of competition has been much higher than Healy’s. While Miller has been facing the likes of Benson Henderson, Gray Maynard, Nate Diaz, and Gleison Tibau, Healy has been facing opponents like Mizuto Hirota and Maximo Blanco. In the end, I think Miller’s talent, particularly on the ground, will be enough for him to get his hand raised in this fight.
Pick: Jim Miller by decision
Lightning round for the prelims…
-I know it’s easy to dismiss Yancy Medeiros, but I wouldn’t. Medeiros has good Muay Thai and takedown defense, and I think has a very good chance of winning against Rustam Khabilov. Still, Medeiros is dropping two weight classes and coming off a three-year layoff. I’ll stay smart and pick Khabilov.
-I can’t understand why Gian Villante has had hype behind him in the past, because he has yet to prove himself against good competition. I think Ovince St-Preux will out-strike him and end up winning by decision.
-As long as Sheila Gaff can keep her fight against Sara McMann standing, she has an excellent chance of winning. But let’s be honest, McMann is a world-class wrestler who won’t have much difficulty taking Gaff down. McMann by submission.
-Since I’ve been tempted to pick the underdog a couple times already, I’d feel terrible to go a whole card without picking one. So I’m going to pick Bryan Caraway to beat Johnny Bedford despite taking this fight on very short notice. Bedford is definitely the better striker, but has a history of losing by submission, and I think Caraway is very well-equipped to take advantage of that.
-It seems that a lot of people hate Cody McKenzie for being a one-trick pony in the UFC, but I respect a fighter who can find ways to win despite a lack of talent. With that said… I can’t even find a way to pick McKenzie to beat Leonard Garcia! As long as Garcia stays out of the guillotine choke, he wins this fight. Garcia by TKO.
-I’m sure when Nick Catone decided to move down to the welterweight division, it was with the idea that he would be bigger than his opponents. Against James Head, that won’t be the case. It’s a competitive fight, but I think Head can keep it standing and out-strike Catone.
-I’ve picked Steven Siler to win every UFC fight he’s been in, and after winning his first three fights, he was dominated by Darren Elkins in his last one. I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. Siler’s takedown defense just isn’t good enough to win consistently. Kurt Holobaugh should be able to land takedowns on Siler and win by decision.