Predictions for UFC on FOX 5: Main Card
This weekend's UFC on Fox 5 features arguably the most talent-rich MMA card to ever air on live network television.
The card is headlined by a title fight between lightweight champion Benson Henderson against top contender Nate Diaz. The event also features a light heavyweight showdown between Pride legend Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and the surging Alexander Gustafsson. B.J. Penn returns from retirement to face Georges St. Pierre protégé Rory MacDonald. The main card gets kicked off with a gritty matchup between 'Ultimate Fighter' alumns Matt Brown and Mike Swick.
With a variety of big names comes an array of budding storylines. Veterans look to hold off MMA's new breed of youth. The youngest of the UFC's hard knocks, bad boy brothers from Stockton, Calif. gets his shot at UFC gold. Can a veteran fighter, plagued by injury and illness, build on a comeback? And a former champion hopes to cement his legacy, while a current champion looks to create one.
Here are my predictions for UFC on Fox 5's main card.
Where: Key Arena in Seattle, WA
When: Saturday, December 8 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Watch: Facebook undercard fights at 4:20 p.m. ET, preliminary fights on FX at 5 p.m. ET, main card fights on FOX at 8 p.m. ET
Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz
In his third UFC title fight, Henderson will fight for the first time against someone not named Frankie Edgar. So far in his UFC career, Henderson has typically been the taller and larger fighter against his opponents. While he will probably weigh a fair amount more than Diaz come Saturday night, he will be giving up three inches in height and six inches in reach.
Henderson obviously holds advantages in the wrestling and strength departments. Those areas have been Diaz's struggling points in the cage, as evident by his fights with Clay Guida, Gray Maynard and MacDonald. Take those aspects and add to them Henderson's submission defense, as well as his insane limb dexterity as showcased against Donald Cerrone, and you have a formidable opponent for the challenger. The champ is definitely the better kicker. Both Nate and his older brother, Nick Diaz, never seem to focus too much on checking kicks. Henderson's keys to winning this fight will be to batter Diaz's legs and either press the action against the cage or take him down and maintain top position.
Diaz has looked magnificent since returning to lightweight. He seems to have taken his boxing skills and overall tactics to another level. You can bet he will once again look to overwhelm his opponent with high-volume striking. His height and reach advantages will certainly help with that. Diaz also possesses one of the craftier guards in the lightweight division. Against the champ, who seems to leave his neck out at times, he is a legitimate scare.
This is an interesting clash of styles and skill sets. Since joining the UFC, Bendo's last five fights have all gone to the judges and he has not scored a finish since 2010. Meanwhile, 14 of Diaz's 16 career wins have come by submission or TKO. Henderson knows how to win rounds. Diaz knows how to finish fights. I give Diaz the edge in terms of cardio, but Henderson also quality cardio and is the only one with experience in the fourth and fifth rounds.
I could easily see the story of this fight being Henderson taking punches, getting inside and tossing Diaz around. However, I have a great belief in Diaz's reach, constant offense on the feet and ground, plus those beautiful punches-in-bunches.
Winner: Nate Diaz takes the belt.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Now, this fight could go a few different ways. It ultimately depends on which Shogun shows up. It's pretty safe to say we are going to see the best Gustafsson yet... because that is what we always see.
The Swedish native makes his first foray into the light heavyweight elite. Although not the most publicized fighter, some have pegged Gustafsson to be the best bet to down the reigning Jon Jones. Most of that belief is due to his athleticism and 6' 5" height. He is constantly building on his techniques and improving his physical shape. In training at Alliance with the likes of Phil Davis, the first man to defeat him, he showed that he is focused and does not let pride get in the way of progression. His footwork against Thiago Silva was fantastic. I predict a similar game plan this weekend of moving around, creating angles to set up his precise boxing with an abundance of jabs being thrown. I also see him looking to take the fight to the ground and do damage while smothering from on top.
Shogun is facing a larger and more physically gifted fighter. For him to win, I see two options: 1. Come in with improved cardio and a precise game plan. Don't try any new moves or change fighting styles, but keep a keen eye out for the right openings to strategically impose that style. 2. Come out of the gate like a bat out of hell. He can't afford to let Gustafsson build a rhythm and pick his shots. Racing across the cage and firing off his vicious Muy Thai could be enough to confuse the Swede.
Like I said, it all depends on Shogun. With that in mind, it seems Gustaffson is just the stronger fighter, both in terms of physique and technique. Dana White recently said this fight will determine the next number one contender. I feel "The Mauler" is more ambitious and focused at this point in his life than the Pride legend. A Gustafsson win is not a foregone conclusion, but it will take a bit more out of Rua to have his hand raised.
Winner: Alexander Gustafsson gets a date with Jon Jones (after Jones pulverizes Chael Sonnen).
B.J. Penn vs. Rory MacDonald
This is a bad fight for B.J. Penn.
Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan and usually find myself rooting for a Penn victory, but he has everything to lose and very little to gain. He is coming out of retirement against a skilled, physical specimen. He hopes to attain the glory he lost and leave his mark as an all-time great. With the exception of knocking out Matt Hughes, Penn has not looked too stellar since losing his belt to Edgar at UFC 112 in April, 2010. On the other hand, Penn looks hungry. A reoccurring theme with him is the quality of his training. How he was not training properly, but now he is. It is understandable to dismiss his proclaimed desire and focus, but in documenting his diet and bringing in strong, athletic training partners like Tyron Woodley, the former lightweight kingpin is on the right track towards setting himself up or success.
Unfortunately, that track leads to MacDonald. Penn wants his glory back, but MacDonald does not carry the accolades or status to provide what he seeks. The 22-year-old's two biggest opponents have been the vastly undersized Diaz and Carlos Condit, who he lost to via third round TKO. He is fully capable, though, of road blocking the Hawaiian's comeback parade. The Canadian comes from the new generation of MMA fighters who start their training in multiple aspects, as opposed to expanding from a single discipline. MacDonald is a very calm and composed young man, which he maintains inside the octagon. You won't see starstruck eyes out of him when he stares down his biggest name opponent to date. Both GSP and head Tristar trainer Firas Zahabi are both sure he will be a future champion. Talk out of that gym even pegs MacDonald of being capable of giving the welterweight champ a rough time during some training sessions. If he loses, it just shows he has a little more work to do before his time comes. With a win, he defeats a former pound-for-pound contender and confirms he is ready for the best the division has to offer.
If Penn wins, he only beats a fighter who was not ready for the big time just yet. Penn is tricky, technical and scrappy, but I don't see that being enough against the young gun, MacDonald. He is too physically imposing. He tossed Diaz around the cage like a ragdoll. I expect Penn to give a more competitive fight, but for the action to look quite similar.
Winner: Rory MacDonald
Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown
Barn-burner alert. Both of these guys bring high-intensity and lots of action into the cage. This fight could go either way.
Swick was on the sidelines for nearly three years before returning with a knockout victory against DaMarques Johnson at UFC on Fox 4. To be honest, I'm rooting for him. Everyone loves stories of overcoming life adversity. Brown is currently riding a three-fight win streak. One of those wins was a unanimous decision over the hyped professional kickboxer turned mixed martial artist, Stephen Thompson.
They both have good striking and a decent ground game. I give the striking edge to Swick and the ground advantage to Brown, but I would not be surprised if either fighter bested the other in any area.
Winner: Mike Swick assembles a two-fight win streak.
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