Since I started posting my predictions I have compiled a record of 18-6. I'll be completely honest though: that is much better batting average than what I usually swing. So I will take that for damn sure!
UFC 167 is being celebrated as the 20th anniversary show for the UFC (which happens to be 19 and a half years longer than my marriage lasted) and considering the dark ages that the UFC went through from the mid 90's and up through the first few years of the Zuffa Era, that is a mighty fine accomplishment. Headlining the card is the UFC poster boy Georges St. Pierre defending his welterweight title against Johny Hendricks. This has been anticipated for about a year now (ever since Hendricks sent Martin Kampmann's head into orbit at UFC 154... I don't care what you Diaz lovers say as the Condit match at UFC 158 only increased the anticipation) and many (including myself) view Hendricks as GSP's biggest threat to his longtime throne. The co-main event features Rashad Evans and his frequent broadcasting partner (and loudmouth) Chael Sonnen. Both men have challenged Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title and fallen (far) short. At this point it would likely be a scramble for relevancy to stay in the title picture for these two, but as shallow as the light heavyweight division is, its an outside possibility for these two.
Lets get down to it!
(C) Georges St. Pierre (24-2) vs. Johny Hendricks (15-1), Welterweight
GSP has been the champion since April of '08 and in that 5+ years he has successfully defended the title 8 times with none of the matches really being very close. He is an athletic freak of nature who also gameplans meticulously for his opponents (learned his lesson from the Matt Serra upset to end his first title reign prematurely) to lead to an often dominating performance. Some were concerned about his return from an 18 month layoff from a torn ACL last year, but he came back smart (if not strong) as ever and aside from a well-timed head kick, was never in trouble against Carlos Condit at UFC 154. He looked even better in his last defense against Nick Diaz this past March at UFC 158 stifling the Brazilian jiu-jitsu wiz and never allowing him to truly utilize his boxing centric style. The only complaint about GSP that people have anymore is his decision-friendly style (only one of those 8 title defenses was by stoppage), but considering the utter domination he has shown, that point can only be utilized from an entertainment point of view anymore.
Hendricks might have the pound-for-pound strongest one punch KO in the game as his absolute demolitions of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in less than a minute each have shown. What makes Hendricks scary is that he isn't a one-trick pony. He was an NCAA wrestling champion in 2006 and earned All-American honors all 4 years at Oklahoma State. His one loss came 3 years ago to Rick Story (whom GSP has been training with) by decision, but he has shown progression in his abilities and IQ since that time. His last match with Carlos Condit went the distance and showed his wrestling abilities and ability to take a shot. Couple everything in with his iron jaw and its easy to see why he is considered to be GSP's biggest threat.
I'm stoked for this match and have been for a year. Hendricks should have received the shot that Diaz got in March and proved it in his barn burner with Condit. This is one of the harder title fights to pick in recent memory and I have gone back and forth. GSP is a fantastic champion and a great representative for the sport... but as Anderson Silva proved in July, the king has to be dethroned at some point. I really hate picking against GSP (its the first time I ever have!), but I gotta go with Hendricks as GSP has proved susceptible to getting clipped from time to time. I also question if GSP's heart is in it like it used to be. Hendricks by KO 2nd Round
Evans seemed to be stuck in the #1 contender's role forever after he lost his title to Lyoto Machida, but has not been the same once he finally received his title shot. He used to display a smart gameplan attacking his opponents weakness and quickness in either his takedowns or his hands. The last time that was truly on display was at UFC 133 in August of 2011. He has gone 1-2 since then being outclassed by Jon Jones in his title shot and looking very lethargic in his loss to Lil Nog and only slightly better in a win over Dan Henderson. Is Evans at the end of the road? Evans has claimed that his divorce and relocation of camps necessitated an adjustment period, but that he has his eyes on the prize now. Considering this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, we'll just have to see.
Sonnen has experienced a resurgence since his his quick dismantling of Shogun Rua in August as many had largely written his off a sideshow attraction following his non-competitive match against Jon Jones (that seemed to be a pattern for Bones' opponents until Gustafsson). People pointed to his age (36) and lack of success in title bouts (0-3 in the UFC, 0-4 if you count OFFICIAL bouts in UFC/WEC) as to the reason that Sonnen's mouth is the only reason he is relevant any more. The question now is if the resurgence is due to Sonnen rediscovering his game thanks to a step down in competition (and it was a BIG step down) or has Rua fallen that far?
Evans will most certainly try to stay on the feet for this match as he has a decided advantage there. Sonnen has never had much power in his punches, but he does have cardio for days and will look to grind out a decision over his colleague. People forget Evans isn't young any more either (34) and I haven't seen enough out of him over the last few years to make me believe he can keep a takedown machine like Sonnen off of him. Sonnen showed he could take Anderson Silva down and Evans would be the divisions best comparison to him in style (don't say Bones... he can't be compared to any one). Sonnen by Decision
Rory MacDonald is primarily known for three things: 1. Being GSP's teammate at Tristar Gym. 2. His lack of emotion which tends to give off a serial killer persona (I know its harsh... but has anyone seen signs of an actual personality in there?). 3. Being an absolute athletic freak of nature. MacDonald's one loss in the MMA game came in June of 2010 at UFC 115 to Carlos Condit at the tender age of 20 and it was a match he would have won had it lasted another 7 seconds. What is even scarier is that he has shown plenty of improvement since then. None of his matches in that time have been competitive. I admit his last match with Jake Ellenberger was a snoozer and he didn't show much, but the fact that Ellenberger, whose game plan typically relies on aggression, respected him enough to fight as passively as he did should speak volumes to the talents that this kid has. Its hard to find a weakness in him as his wrestling is usually overpowering and his stand up continues to show improvement. He is still only 24 and though he will never match GSP's popularity (not with that personality), he could match or even surpass his in-ring accomplishments.
Lawler was in similar shoes to MacDonald a long time ago. He was featured in the UFC's first venture into cable TV broadcasting on the Best Damn Sports Show Period in 2002 at the age of 20 winning his first 7 matches, 6 by KO/TKO. After a few setbacks at 170 he moved up to 185 and though he has had a respectable career in the meantime, he never came close to living up to the hype that surrounded him once upon a time. After Strikeforce folded into the UFC, he moved back down to 170 (where he is no longer routinely overpowered by his opponents) and has breathed new life into his stagnating career. He KO'd Josh Koscheck in surprising upset at UFC 157 and followed that up with another knock out of an overmatched Bobby Voelker in July. Say what you will about his career accomplishments, but Lawler has always been a fan favorite thanks to his brawling knock out or be knocked out style. He does have wrestling chops as well, but rarely utilizes them.
The UFC is promoting this as Lawler having a punchers chance (as they always do when a brawler seems to be overmatched with an opponent) and while there is some truth to that fact, there is not enough for me to justify picking Lawler. MacDonald's wrestling and overall better fight IQ overwhelms Lawler here and MacDonald grinds him out. As he proved in his last fight, MacDonald is content to keep it safe against a dangerous opponent in victory as well. MacDonald by Decision
Josh Koscheck (17-7) vs. Tyron Woodley (11-2), Welterweight
Koscheck is one of the UFC's favorites as he is an original TUF veteran and has 22 fights under his belt in the Octagon. Despite being a favorite of management though, he hasn't ever been a fan favorite thanks to his TUF house hijinks involving Chris Leben and his heel persona to golden boy GSP in his coaching stint on TUF season 12. Koscheck has put together a nice career that has been highlighted by receiving a title shot following the aforementioned TUF coaching stint against GSP. However, GSP picked him apart and he has not looked the same since. He KO'd an over-the-hill Matt Hughes in his first match after GSP and picked up a controversial split decision victory over Mike Pierce at UFC 143 before losing his next two match-ups against Johny Hendricks and a violent KO at the hands of Robbie Lawler. Koscheck still has dangerous striking and solid wrestling (backed up by his 4-time All-American status in college), but the athleticism isn't the same it once was. And are there signs of his chin being vulnerable? One KO doesn't make a chin weak, but age and years of abuse can certainly do that (ala Chuck Liddell) and at 35, Koscheck has seen better days.
Woodley has lost some of the luster that he had when he was coming up through Strikeforce a few years ago as the next big thing in the division, but should still be considered on to keep an eye on. True, he is 31 and should no longer be considered a prospect, but he doesn't have a whole lot of mileage on his tires. After losing out to Nate Marquardt for the Strikeforce title in July of '12, Woodley made a statement in his UFC debut by knocking long time veteran Jay Hieron senseless in just 36 seconds at UFC 156. He lost to Jake Shields in his sophmore effort that has semi-controversial but also showed his fight IQ and cardio could use some improvement. Despite his heavy hands he displayed against Hieron, Woodley's background is in wrestling as he was a 2-time All-American at Missouri. The rest of his game (yes, including his striking) is still developing.
I see this as two fighters on two different paths. Koscheck is descending, Woodley is ascending. And perhaps I shouldn't look so much into this, but Koscheck has been quiet (for him at least) as of late and head games have always been part of his schtick. Is his confidence waning? And Woodley looked like a bull the last time he came off a loss. I gotta go with what recent history indicates. Woodley by TKO 1st
Many are surprised that this match made the main card, but I think that it is good to see the flyweights getting some love. The boring 125 pounder match has been rare. Elliot was most notable for KO'ing Jens Pulver (not the accomplishment it once was) before he came to the UFC, but changed that in his debut as he took it right to TUF 14 bantamweight winner John Dodson in a FOTN decision loss. He has since won his last two fights against Jared Papazian and Louis Gaudinot by unanimous decision. He was a collegiate wrestler and has used that background to land a number of takedowns and using some effective ground and pound. Even though that sounds boring, Elliot has produced fan friendly affairs and shown improvement in each bout.
Bagautinov had a good amount of hype behind him in his debut against Marcos Vinicius in September and produced a a violent ending to the match via strikes to a downed opponent. He is part of the Red Scare invasion (there is nothing politically incorrect with that, right?) that is sweeping the UFC from Russia and though he is known primarily for his fast and powerful fists, he has a solid all-around game as he showed against Vinicius, executing takedowns and submission attempts in addition to his stand-up game. As with most Russians coming in, he is a decorated sambo practitioner along with a wrestling background.
This match up has a lot of FOTN potential to it as both of these guys are aggressive and love to swing. I expect a stand-up battle as their wrestling backgrounds will likely negate one anothers game. This one is pretty much a pick 'em though. Until it dissipates, I'm going to continue to go with the Russian mystique. Bagautinov by Decision
Cerrone has been a fan favorite since coming to the UFC from the WEC, but seems to have a mental block as he has not been able to get over the hump in big matches. His UFC record is 7-3, which is nothing to scoff at by any means. But each time the stakes raise and the competition improves as shown by his matches with Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis, and Rafael dos Anjos, a different Donald Cerrone seems to show up than the one that regularly makes appearances. It has been well documented that he has seen a sports psychologist to overcome this issue, but it didn't seem to do the trick in his last match against dos Anjos. Nevertheless, Cowboy is still a handful for any opponent with his vaunted kickboxing and slick submission game (13 of his wins have come by submission) as well as the difficulty opponents have in putting him away. But what would you expect from a guy who rides bulls for fun? With 8 FOTN's out of his 20 UFC/WEC matches, a boring Cerrone match is as common as a genuine Elvis siting.
Dunham is just as notoriously tough and a similar reputation when it comes to putting on a barn burner. He is the owner of 3 FOTN's in his last 7 appearances and has ofter thrown caution out the window. He owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and owns 6 wins by submission, but it has been about 4 years since he last picked up a victory by that route. Slugfests have become the prefered route to victory over the last few years. The lasting images of Dunham have been a crimson mask of blood in his matches with Sean Sherk and TJ Grant. Dunham has only been finished once in his career (by a Melvin Guillard at his best), but would be wise to avoid a judges decision as he has been robbed of victories twice in his matches against Sherk and in his last outing to Rafael dos Anjos. Perhaps his best pre-match strategy would be to send the judges a fruit basket.
According to MMA math, Cerrone lost to dos Anjos and Dunham beat dos Anjos (I don't care what those judges said), therefore Dunham should beat Cerrone. But it is also important to consider that Cerrone has said this is his last match at lightweight and will be dropping to featherweight. That takes all of the pressure off of him as this match will not affect his divisional standing. And a Cerrone with little pressure is an awesome Cerrone. As with the flyweights on the main card, this is a FOTN candidate and perhaps (with Dunham involved) a bloodbath. Cerrone by Decision
Leites' career has unfortunately been defined by his disaster of a title match against Anderson Silva over 4 years ago as his primary strategy consisted of laying on the ground trying to coax Silva into his guard (I wish I was joking, but I'm not). Leites isn't a bad fighter though, he is actually quite good. He is a highly regarded Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner (black belt) and has 13 submission victories to prove that. His striking has improved over the years to the point that he was holding his own against Tom Watson in his return to the UFC after 4 years away in August. But as that match also showed, his biggest issue is still his propensity to gas. If he were to ever solve that problem, Leites could be a dark horse in the division.
The best way to describe Herman is ballsy. His attempt to continue to fight against Aaron Simpson after blowing out his knee proves it. So does his willingness to appear on Strikeforce's last card against Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza when no one else would. As does his FOTN battle with Trevor Smith in his last appearance. Though it has produced fan-friendly results at times, it has also gotten the best of him more often than not as he has 6 submission loses on his resume, though only one of those came in the last 5 years. Herman has been around for a while now and likely has peaked, but is still a hell of a test. He owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and considering he trained for a long time with Team Quest, you know he has wrestling chops.
Even though both are jiu-jitsu black belts and own 13 submission victories, lets not kid ourselves: Herman is not on the same level as Leites with his grappling. Don't get me wrong; Herman has a solid ground game, but has shown susceptibility to elite grapplers (see his matches with Souza and Demian Maia). I expect similar results this time around. Leites by Submission 1st Round
Brian Ebersole (50-15-1, 1 NC) vs. Rick Story (15-7), Welterweight
Perhaps Ebersole will always be best known for the 'hairrow' commonly seen on his chest and that is a shame considering he is actually a very skilled fighter. With 67 fights on his resume you know he has seen it all; but he hasn't experienced it all as he has never lost by KO/TKO in all that time. That has to be one of the most impressive statistics floating around out there as he has faced a number of heavy hitters in there. He has also proven to be very slick in escaping submissions as witnessed by his escape of the guillotine by James Head and the anaconda choke of TJ Waldburger. He is somewhat of a nomad as he has been training out of Thailand for a few years. However, he has been off for over a year following his loss to Head and may be susceptible to ring rust.
Two and a half years ago, many thought that Story would be in Hendricks shoes by this point in his career. He is responsible for the lone blemish on Hendricks record and was riding a 6 fight winning streak in the UFC. Then Charlie Brenneman upset him as a last minute replacement and Story has never been the same since, losing 4 of 6 since that streak. Story was a collegiate wrestler with a tendency to grind out victory and is very strong for a welterweight. He has a very aggressive style that has usually suited him well as aggression usually leads to mistakes, but he has only been stopped once in his career. He has been training with GSP in order to help him prepare for Hendricks and I'm sure he has picked up a tip or two in the meantime.
This is an interesting clash. Ebersole has struggled with the bigger, stronger fighters (see James Head, Hector Lombard) and Story with crafty veterans (see Mike Pyle, Demian Maia). Something has gotta give here. I think Story's training in Canada will be beneficial for him and he picks up enough from up north to pull it out. Story by Decision
Perez has been groomed by the UFC to be a potential gateway to the Mexican market. This is a heavy load to bear, especially for a 23 year old, but he does certainly have potential and promise. He has a solid 3-1 record in the UFC, but none of his victories (all via 1st round stoppage) have come over anyone still on the UFC roster. He did get a step up in competition in his last match, a split decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki, and continued to show promise, but also showed that there are holes in his game as well as he was unable to do much with the takedowns that he scored in the match. Considering you learn more from your losses than you do from your wins, I expect Perez to show some growth. He is extremely aggressive and has solid wrestling and stand-up. 4 of his 5 losses have come by decision, so the longer the fight goes the more trouble he is in.
Figueroa is 2-3 in the UFC, though it may be more appropriate to label one of those victories as a no contest as he defeated Alex Caceres via decision thanks to a 2-point deduction for multiple kicks to grapes. Throw in the fact his other victory was over a 41 year old Jason Reinhardt (owner of exactly zero UFC victories) and has lost two in a row, this is likely a win or go home situation. He has a solid standup game, but is prone to swinging wildly without much technique. He owns a limited ground game, though he has yet to lose by submission.
If this fight stays standing, expect some wild exchanges. But Perez is coached by Greg Jackson and will likely exploit the hole in Figueroa's game and take it to the ground. There is always a first for everything and I expect Figueroa to tap for the first time. Perez by Submission 1st Round
High is a touted (but not exactly highly) prospect (at age 32, I use prospect for lack of a better word) within the division after being given a relatively raw deal to start his UFC career. He lost his debut to Charlie Brenneman in 2010 and didn't get a chance to redeem himself until three years later... when he was fed to Brazilian uber-prospect Erick Silva on short notice. He has since shown well obtaining a first round submission victory over James Head to obtain his first UFC victory. He was a collegiate wrestler, has nice strength, and has shown a great propensity for submissions with 8 on his ledger. His striking is nothing to sing praises about, but he can certainly hold his own with most opponents. He is fundamentally sound though and its unlikely that he will beat himself.
Lapsley is making his UFC debut here and there really is no other way to describe him then as a journeyman as he has participated in Bellator, King of the Cage, and Elite XC organizations just to name a few. I had to do some research on him and found that like most journeyman he does everything well, but nothing great, largely relying on submissions to finish his opponent, owning 15 victories that way. He was also involved in the coolest no contest as I have ever seen in my life as he and Aaron Wetherspoon KO'd each other simultaneously in their first match together. Its totally worth looking up.
High's fights have either ended early or gone the distance as of late. I expect that trend to continue as Lapsley struggles to adjust to the Octagon lights for the first time and gets caught early. High by Submission 1st Round
If you are reading this you have no doubt already heard of lightweight champion Anthony Pettis' younger brother Sergio and the hype behind him. He is a mini version of his older brother, combining beautiful technique with explosive creativity with his strikes. He is as capable with his feet as he is with his fists and though strength has yet to truly develop in his game (whether it be striking or grappling), he is still just 20 years old. With that being said, he is still a long ways away from being on the same level as his brother. His wrestling needs some work (remember how his brother performed against Clay Guida?) and it will likely be a couple of years before he truly tightens that up (which his brother eventually did).
Campuzano is returning to the UFC on short notice (Vaughn Lee originally got the call) for his second go round. He had a 1-4 UFC/WEC record, including losses to mainstays Eddie Wineland and Chris Cariaso. He has found a new home at flyweight since his release, scoring 5 wins without a loss since that time. He is fairly lanky (5'9) for a bantamweight and is an OK striker, but nothing special. The same could be said for his grappling. As I stated that he has largely been fighting at flyweight, I anticipate he will drop back there for his next fight, largely utilizing this as an opportunity to get back into the UFC.
Most people will be looking for Pettis to score with a highlight reel KO. And there is a good chance it will happen. I just don't think it will happen right away. He'll wear down Campuzano with his solid technique before Campuzano is weary enough to go down late in the fight. Pettis by KO 3rd Round
Villante is stepping in on short notice for Robert Drysdale whose urine proved to be to hot to pass the Nevada pre-fight drug test. Villante had a disappointing UFC debut against Ovince St. Preux that was cut short thanks to an eye poke and resulted in a technical decision loss. He showed promise in the Strikeforce organization accruing a 3-2 record, including 3-1 at light heavyweight. He participated in both football and wrestling during high school in college and developed a friendship with Chris Weidman during his college years. His ground game is developing, but still has a ways to go. Formerly fighting as a heavyweight, his strength has translated quite well to the lighter weight class.
Donovan reminds me of Lapsley from the earlier preview: a journeyman who does everything well and nothing great. He is 1-1 so far in his UFC career with his victory coming over Nick Penner (another journeyman) in a highly entertaining brawl that showed little technique and his loss to (like Villante) St. Preux. The most obvious trait he possesses is a questionable chin as he rocked multiple times by Penner and was KO'd by St. Preux. This does not bode well.
I'm sure that Donovan will do all he can to make this an entertaining scrap... but Villante is too strong and Donovan's chin too questionable. Villante by KO 1st Round
If you wish to see my previous predictions (I'm sure you really don't care, but I'll at least throw it out there) go to daheadbangermma.blogspot.com