Just some main card picks for this weekend. It's a post from my blog, which I write taking into consideration a lot of the people who read it may not have the knowledge that most BE readers have so there's a fair bit of stating the obvious on the go.
My blog is trianglechokemma.wordpress.com if you fancy a read.
Light heavyweight: Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis
In a fight that could determine the next contender for light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, former champion Rashad Evans takes on undefeated prospect and physical freak Phil Davis in a five round fight.
There have been three previous five round non-title fights in the UFC, and I think this is the first one where two extra rounds won't actually make much difference to the outcome of the fight. Both athletes always turn up to fight in excellent condition and should have the energy to complete the full five.
I favour Rashad Evans for a couple of reasons. Although Davis has much more impressive amateur wrestling credentials, I don't see him gaining much advantage through them. Evans is one of the fighters who has best adapted the wrestling game for MMA, as demonstrated in his fights against the likes of 'Rampage' Jackson, who he was able to take down repeatedly on the way to a decision win. In comparison, Davis struggled to take down Rogerio Nogueira in his last fight, with L'il Nog stuffing may of his takedowns, despite being highly susceptible to them in his fights with Ryan Bader and Jason Brilz. Ultimately, I think each fighter will be able to hit a couple of takedowns over the course of the fight, but they will largely cancel out each other's grappling for long stretches.
When it comes to the stand-up game, Evens clearly has the advantage over Davis. Though Davis is competent on the feet, and is able to land powerful kicks thanks to his long, tree-trunk legs, his kickboxing is not particularly dynamic, consisting mainly of single punches and kicks without throwing many combinations. Evans, on the other had, is much more dynamic, and can use speed and feinting to close the distance and land strikes on the inside, negating any reach disadvantage he will face against Davis. He also packs a great deal of power, as he has shown repeatedly with high-profile knockouts of Tito Ortiz, Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell.
I don't expect a particularly explosive fight, with each fighter biding their time trying to implement their game plans. I imagine Davis will attempt to take the fight to the mat and dominate from top-position, and Evans trying to land combinations on the inside, setting up the occasional takedown. This should be able to propel him to a late TKO or decision victory.
Another title eliminator, this time in the middleweight division and only three rounds. This is unfortunate for Michael Bisping, as I think five rounds would have actually benefited him thanks to his outstanding cardio, and Chael Sonnen's tendency to tire and leave himself open to submissions late on.
Most predictions for this fight seem to centre around Sonnen being able to take Bisping down and maintain control, landing punches from guard. I agree with this, though I don't think it will be easy for Sonnen to achieve. Bisping has excellent takedown defence (especially considering his origins in the UK), and even when he is taken down, he is often able to retain guard, and either get back to his feet or sweep for dominant position. He is certainly capable of continuing to do this in this fight, though I expect Sonnen's takedown attack to be relentless, and he'll be able to force a few takedowns in each round to decisively influence the judges.
I doubt this fight will end in a finish. Even if Sonnen can have consistent success taking the fight to the floor, Bisping has excellent submission defence, and is unlikely to be troubled in that regard. Equally, even if Bisping can mount a sustained attack on the feet, he does not possess the power to really hurt Sonnen. One only needs to revisit Sonnen's fight with Nate Marquardt from UFc 109 to see him walk through all manner of punches and knees to grab hold of Marquardt, and drag him to the ground. I could even see Bisping getting out-boxed in the opening stages of the fight due to his tendency to start slow, and Sonnen's improved boxing. Finally, although Sonnen has been submitted MANY times in the past, Bisping's guard should not be any where near dynamic enough to initiate a successful submission. I'll pick Chael Sonnen via unanimous decision.
Middleweight: Damien Maia vs. Chris Weidman
Weidman is on a tear in the UFC, arriving as an undefeated prospect and quickly rattling off three wins. The result is that, even as a late replacement, the Serra-Longo product is actually the favourite against Maia, a veteran of twelve UFC fights.
Maia has only lost three fights in his career. Against Anderson Silva, Mark Munoz (a very close fight), and Nate Marquardt. That is the best fighter in the world (and probably ever), and the number 4 and 5 ranked middlewights. He also has a first round submission victory over Chael Sonnen, the consensus number 3 middleweight in the world. With all this in mind, Maia must not be underestimated. His jiu-jitsu is among the very best in the world, in any weight division, and can suffocate opponents offence from any ground position, even if he is unable to actually submit them. On top of all that his wrestling is also underrated, with there being very few fighters that he has been unable to get to to ground. Finally his stand-up has radically improved in the last year or so.
With all that said, I am leaning slightly towards Weidman. I think his wrestling ability will be enough to keep the fight standing, and he packs more power in his punches, as well as probably possessing a wider range of offence standing than Maia. I don;t expect that Weidman will want to grapple too much with Maia, but this is a man that was competitive with André Galvao at the ADCC Championships. I would not be at all surprised if Maia could catch Weidman in a submission (though it would have to be something like the calibre of his lateral drop to triangle submission of Sonnen), but Weidman may just have enough to pick his shots on the feet, and emerge with a close decision win.