From the ashes of UFC 151 comes UFC 152, assembled from the tears of disappointed fans and the angry spittle of one Dana White. The supposed villain, Jon Jones, will likely receive his comeuppance from the fans when he enters the Octagon to face the hero by default, Vitor Belfort, who bravely (foolishly?) accepted a fight with Jones on a month’s notice.
Nevermind that Jones’ presence only makes this card better than it was initially slated to be; I can tell you that I am not angry with seeing the bouts of UFC 151’s underwhelming card get dispersed throughout other events in the coming months. Of course, I’m not a promoter who lost tens of millions of dollars, a fighter who had his payday delayed, or a fan who had already purchased airline tickets and reserved a hotel. By my estimation, those are the only ones who should be mad at Jones, by the way…and some of that scorn should also be reserved for White and the UFC for not creating a card that could withstand a canceled main event.
On to the picks! I know you’re dying to see who I picked in the main event, after all.
Charles Oliveira vs. Cub Swanson
This is, simply put, a great matchup. Both of these guys are supremely talented featherweights and on a roll, but of course, only one can take the next step towards title contention.
Oliveira defeated Eric Wisely and Jonathan Brookins with impressive jiu-jitsu work. His calf slicer submission against Wisely, a solid fighter with tons of experience, was particularly representative of Oliveira’s instinctive, opportunistic grappling game. It’s easy to forget that Oliveira is just 22 years old, especially considering that this will be his eighth fight inside the Octagon and 19th as a professional.
Meanwhile, Swanson broke a long streak of alternating wins with losses by winning his last two fights by TKO against opponents George Roop and Ross Pearson. The Pearson fight was particularly impressive as Pearson is no slouch himself when it comes to trading blows.
Despite Oliveira’s own striking talents, which often come in the form of flashy, athletic maneuvers such as flying knees, the advantage goes to Swanson in both power and technique when both men are standing. This fight is intriguing, though, because the area where each fighter has an advantage is also an area where the other is not exactly inept. While Oliveira is a very active, talented grappler, Swanson is good off of his back both at controlling opponents and working back to his feet.
While Oliveira’s flashy standup will create opportunities for Swanson to land big strikes, Swanson’s aggressive tendency to work back to his feet off of his back will create opportunities for Oliveira to seize submissions. Despite high talent levels of both men, I don’t see this one going to a decision. In a fight I could see going either way, I think the most likely outcome is that Swanson’s standup will lead to a stoppage win over Oliveira.
Prediction: Swanson by KO/TKO
Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett
These two men have each had an interesting path to this matchup. Hamill retired after UFC 133, but when his injuries healed and he started helping other fighters train, he realized he still had some competing left to do. Meanwhile, Hollett’s debut was initially blocked by Bellator Fighting Championships, who used their right to match any offer he received, even after they dropped him, to keep him from fighting Vladimir Matyushenko. The UFC removed him from the card, and what do you know? The next day, Bellator decided that they weren’t going to match the UFC’s offer and he was free to do as he pleased. Nice, right?
Fortunately for Hollett, Matyushenko was injured and vacated a spot on the card for Hollett to step in and face Hamill. Unfortunately for Hollett, even at 35 years old and with a history of injuries, Hamill has the grappling ability to tie up Hollett and frustrate him, if he chooses to.
The problem is that Hamill often decides to try his chances in the standup, where I think Hollett will have the advantage. Hollett throws a confident jab and mixes kicks with his punches to keep opponents off guard, as he did against John Hawk in his lone Bellator appearance. Hamill’s boxing is some of the ugliest in MMA, with hands kept low, elbows way out and plenty of looping punches flying in the general area of his opponents, but it has somehow proved effective for much of his career. Given the chance, though, I think Hollett could use his movement and technical superiority to outpoint Hamill standing up.
Still, I have faith that Hamill will smartly close the distance when possible, and if Hawk was able to tie him up enough to win a round or two (depending on which judge you asked), Hamill should have even more success. I see Hamill getting some timely takedowns and controlling Hollett on the way to a decision victory.
Prediction: Hamill by decision
Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann
These guys both were getting towards title contention before each had their momentum slowed by one Chael P. Sonnen, who later at least showed a little mercy by heading off to the light heavyweight division. Now, the door is open for one of these men to get back into the title picture with an impressive victory this weekend.
On paper, this looks like a good standup battle. Bisping would appear to be the more technical of the two strikers, but that’s also a nice way of saying, “He doesn’t hit nearly as hard as Stann does.” People tend to regard fighters who don’t have a lot of power as “technical” strikers. I’m not saying Bisping’s technical ability isn’t there, but he debatably got outstruck by Matt Hamill a few years ago, for Pete’s sake. Ernesto Hoost he ain’t.
I think that Stann can actually hang with him in a straight standup fight, especially because Stann’s aggressiveness and the threat of power he possesses will keep Bisping honest. The real question here is whether Bisping thinks he’s the better grappler, and if he does, whether he can take Stann down.
I can see Bisping shooting behind his straight right when given the opportunity, especially if he gets tagged by Stann a couple of times. Stann’s takedown defense has not been on display much recently, as no one would have expected him to stop Sonnen’s shots and his other recent opponents weren’t trying to take him down.
Stann is a somewhat dangerous pick here, simply because I can see Bisping’s movement allowing him to land with more regularity, which the judges often respect. However, Stann will land the louder strikes and score extra points with the judges as a result. Even so, I can see Stann catching Bisping at some point and surprising a lot of people with a stoppage, anyway.
Prediction: Stann by KO/TKO
UFC Flyweight Championship
Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson
Johnson has already faced the man who was the consensus top flyweight in the world twice now, so it’s safe to say he’s acclimated to fighting at 125 pounds. In Benavidez’s lone appearance at flyweight, he showed his power made the trip with him, knocking out Yasuhiro Urushitani in impressive fashion six months ago.
Now, the two face off to see who can earn the historic honor of being the UFC’s first flyweight champion. Johnson looked much better in his second fight at 125 than he did the first time around, as he didn’t seem anywhere close to running out of gas in his second matchup with Ian McCall. He also showed that he is able to make adjustments to swing fights in his favor. That could be big if his film study on Benavidez has gone well or turned up anything for him to exploit.
Benavidez has an important edge in raw power, as he is likely the hardest hitting flyweight in the UFC. This should keep Johnson on his toes and will allow Benavidez to threaten throughout the fight with good combinations and well-timed counters. Johnson fancies himself a speedster and will need to be one if he wants to get in and out without getting tagged.
On the mat, Benavidez is very tough. He has an active submission game and is very strong in clinches and when controlling opponents, as well. I find it doubtful that Johnson will have much going for him if the fight goes to the ground, and if he ends up in a bad position like he did the first time he fought McCall, Benavidez could put him away. Johnson will really need to peck away at Benavidez as much as possible. There’s little hope of Benavidez getting tired; he’s been dragged into deep waters before and had no trouble treading water.
This should be a close fight with a frenetic pace. With that said, I favor Benavidez because of his power and strength advantages. I can see Johnson winning a decision based upon more offensive output and a higher volume of strikes landed, but it doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario. It’s likelier that Benavidez either hurts Johnson or gets enough done standing up and on the mat to win a competitive, but comfortable, decision.
Prediction: Benavidez by decision
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort
Belfort is a former light heavyweight champ himself, but don’t be fooled. His title was won in fluky fashion when one of the first punches he threw at then-champion Randy Couture grazed Couture’s eyelid, cutting it and forcing a stoppage. Since the cut was caused by a punch (with a big assist to the seam of the glove, which was what made contact with the eyelid to damage it), the title changed hands and Belfort was champ. When Couture came back, he beat the tar out of Belfort up against the cage round after round until Belfort couldn’t continue, so that wasn’t exactly a legitimate title reign.
Anyway, to get back on topic, Belfort has history at light heavyweight but is clearly better suited at middleweight at this point. He will be the smaller fighter this Saturday night, as if Jones didn’t have enough working in his advantage already. His duty will be to get inside of Jones’ ginormous reach in order to land a quick succession of punches that will rock the champ and leave him vulnerable.
It’s a tall task, considering that Jones not only has the longest reach in the sport, but also uses it extremely well. With push kicks, spinning back kicks, and even kicks to the knee joints of his opponents, he is hard to get close to, let alone inflict damage upon. Belfort has hardly been the most aggressive fighter for most of his career, either, often choosing to be strangely cautious in his approach. That style would spell his doom in this one, as it would only allow Jones to pick him apart at range.
I don’t think Belfort can take Jones down, although Jones may be able to get Belfort to the mat, especially from the clinch, where Jones has excellent strength, balance, and technique. On the mat, Jones has some of the better ground and pound in the entire sport, and Belfort has shown that defending strikes from his back is not his strong suit.
Standing up, things don’t look much better for Belfort, who is mostly a one-trick pony and will be dealing with a non-stop flow of diverse, punishing strikes from one of the more creative offensive fighters in the sport today. Simply put, Belfort has very little chance to win here.
Prediction: Jones by KO/TKO