I bagged on the preliminary card during those predictions, but I actually like the main card of the PPV. Barring the main event, all of the fights are very evenly matched and exceedingly difficult to predict. All of them will have an impact in the rankings of their respective divisions. And there should be some good finishes too (I won't say out of all of them... thats just asking for too much). What more does a fan want?
Whats that you say? You don't like the flyweight division? Demetrious Johnson is boring as a person and a fighter and you just don't care? The hell with you! Its gonna be a badass card and you know it!
Story Thus Far: This is going to sound cruel, but this is likely the least prestigious belt in the UFC. Most people just don't care for the little guys for some reason. And I find it to be a shame as Johnson has been making a hell of a stake as the most dominating champion in the UFC.
Based off of what I said in the last paragraph, I could leave it there with regards to how dominant Johnson has been and he continues to improve. After decision victories over Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez, and John Dodson, people complained he couldn't finish his opponents. He then submits John Moraga in a dominant affair and KO's Benavidez in the first round of their rematch. What else do people want to bitch about now? It seems he'll find a way to shut them up again.
Bagautinov wasn't the first Dagestani to make his way to the UFC as part of the Russian Invasion, but he is the first one to be getting a title shot. Riding an 11 fight win streak is an impressive feat, but I gotta be honest. He is getting his title shot based on the fact that Johnson has already beat more deserving opponents (including Benavidez twice). He shouldn't be discounted on account of this and anything can happen in this sport, but the truth is the truth.
Fighting Style: Speed, speed, and more speed is the best way to describe Johnson. He earned a title shot at bantamweight based on that attribute, but was overwhelmed by larger opponents there. That no longer became a problem once the UFC implemented the flyweight division and we now have a dominant champion. There is nothing flashy about his game. He is about as technically sound of a boxer and wrestler as there is which shows how effective the basics can truly be when they are stressed. Look at his KO of Benavidez. Perfectly thrown and timed punch. All there is to it.
Bagautinov is a three time International Master of Sport in Sambo... something fellow Russians Rustam Khabilov and Khabib Nurmagomedov can't claim even once. To spell it out, his wrestling is very good. He can get careless at times and leave himself open to a submission, but hasn't been finished yet. He shows a very good double leg shot that can blast his opponent to the ground. What I like about him that even though he prefers to throw punches (and has KO power), he realizes he needs to implement his takedwons to be successful. Maybe that Greg Jackson knows what he is doing.
What to Expect: Bagautinov loves to load up and throw bombs, but there is absolutely no way he would be able to land one of those on Johnson. Thus he'll be forced to rely on short and quick punches. That's not a bad thing though as Bagautinov has some fast hands... Johnson's are simply faster. Oh yeah... Johnson owns the better footwork too and will be dancing circles around the challenger landing a number of punches and leg kicks on Bagautinov moving in and out of range. Bagautinov will NEED to be more diverse in his strikng if he wants to have any success.
Don't look for Bagautinov to attempt a lot of takedowns, but it won't be because he isn't looking for them. Johnson doesn't stop moving and it isn't easy to takedown a constantly moving target. On the other hand, Johnson will have no problem going shooting in on Bagautinov. Johnson has landed at least 5 takedowns in every flyweight title fight except one... the one that lasted two minutes. Bagautinov has alright takedown defense, but no one with the wrestling of Johnson. This strategy keeps Johnson's opponents guessing and makes both his wrestling and striking more effective.
Bagautinov owns some underrated BJJ (so does Johnson) and is probably the most well-rounded ground fighter that Johnson has faced. Don't be surprised to see Bagautinov pull off a reversal or sweep of Johnson once Johnson has top control as Bagautinov is very strong. In fact, now that I think about it, Bagautinov might be OK with Johnson trying to take him down. It at least keeps him in close quarters and Bagautinov has full confidence on the ground.
X-Factors: Success can breed complacency and Johnson has had a lot of success recently. Especially when you think about how easy his last fight ended up being. Could Johnson be caught off-guard? I see signs of that... yet. I also can't help but remember how many people didn't give T.J. Dillashaw a chance against Renan Barao. Could Bagautinov be the next Dillashaw... or is he Moraga? Also, Johnson's gas tank is proven, Bagautinov's is not and 25 minutes is a long time.
Who Will Win:When things come easy for the greats is when they start to lose their edge. Look at how close Jon Jones' match was with Alexander Gustafsson after he decimated Chael Sonnen. Or Barao losing to Dillashaw after beating Urijah Faber. Or Anderson Silva falling to Chris Weidman after... almost everyone. I don't see that here though. Johnson is still a hungry dude. Barring a KO or quick sub due to Bagautinov being careless, he dominates for 25 minutes. Johnson by Decision
Story Thus Far: Though Dana White has stated that the winner of Robbie Lawler-Matt Brown will receive the next title shot against Johny Hendricks, everyone knows that title shots are fickle until they are set in stone in the UFC. Thus why MacDonald and Woodley both want to claim an impressive win here. The winner here could get dibs on Hendricks next.
MacDonald seems to have toned down ever so slightly on his psycho killer persona (see his post-fight interview after he defeated B.J. Penn for an example), but still seems very awkward socially. Beyond that though, he recovered nicely from his upset (at the time) loss to Robbie Lawler by smacking around Demian Maia in the final two rounds of their bout after surviving an early scare. If he can continue to be aggressive no one debates he has the talent to be champion sooner rather than later. Most fighters his age (24) are still prospects. He's one of the best in his division.
Woodley has shown awesome strides in his last few bouts which indicates he is still improving at the age of 32. It makes sense considering he made his professional debut only 5 years ago. Beating Josh Koscheck didn't turn a lot of heads, but finishing Carlos Condit (something no one had done in 8 years) certainly did. People constantly clamor on MacDonald's physical attributes, but Woodley's are just as impressive... just on a stockier frame.
Fighting Style: Its unlikely that MacDonald will ever not be known for his jab after that was the only weapon he used to dispose of Jake Ellenberger in what was the most disappointing bout of 2013. It is highly effective, but he has many other tools at his disposal. Big for 170, MacDonald has developed into a very good wrestler with very heavy GNP accentuated by his sharp elbows. Along with his jab, he keeps his opponents at bay with lots of kicks and has the power to put his opponents away if he sits down on his punches.
Woodley had a reputation as a bore to watch as he first entered the scene as he relied heavily on his impressive wrestling to stifle his opponents with lay-and-prey. He figured out the whole striking thing right before he transitioned into the UFC and has been devastating his opponents with his right hand in particular. As muscular as he is, you wouldn't expect him to be as fast as he is at closing the distance and uses it to either score punches or shoot for the takedown. If his opponents don't see the shot coming quickly, they stand little chance of stuffing it.
What to Expect: MacDonald has shown that he is perfectly content to stand on the outside and chip away at his opponents with kicks and jabs. The only time he has shown any urgency as of late was in the final round of his fight with Lawler as he felt he was down on the cards. Don't look for him to change that tactic.
Then again, Woodley took the fight right to Condit and overwhelmed him. MacDonald is much stronger than Condit with a fantastic sprawl (and just better overall wrestling), so he won't be able to bully him in the same way. That doesn't mean that he won't be pushing the pace and force MacDonald to do something other than jab. MacDonald is a very good counter-puncher and that is actually a very big part of his game. Look for him to score a lot of punches on the transition from his sprawl (much like he did with Maia). But Woodley is going to land some good punches on him too.
The ground battle has me highly intrigued. Ellenberger has been MacDonald's only opponent with a true wrestling pedigree and he was too tentative to use it. Woodley won't be. As much praise as I've given MacDonald's sprawl, Woodley's has been just as good if not better. But I really don't see this fight standing the whole time. MacDonald has better submissions, but Woodley likely has the edge on wrestling control. This could very well be a stalemate... but I'm leaning towards Woodley here.
X-Factors: Anyone know where MacDonald's first ever loss occured? That's right. Vancouver in the very building this fight takes place. Does he have a mental block in his home province? I don't think so... I'm just not sure what else to put here. Except... neither have a proven gas tank with regards to pushing the pace. If Woodley does push the pace (as I expect) that could be the difference.
Who Will Win: I really think Woodley will push a fun match out of MacDonald and it should be tight. Woodley has the power advantage while MacDonald has the bigger repertoire. Its very hard to guess, but my gut is telling me MacDonald pulls this one out. MacDonald by Decision
Story Thus Far: Its easy to forget that Cavalcante is a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion as he failed to defend it once and has fought sparingly in that time with just four fights in the three years since he lost it, including a no contest. No one expects a title run out of him now, but it may not be completely far fetched considering there is little depth in the division. Hell, Dan Henderson was being talked about for the title just last month (though no one really believed it)!
Bader is similar to Cavalcante in the sense that many saw him as a potential title contender... difference is Bader never achieved that feat (even if it wasn't in the UFC) and no one can look at him in that light now. Being the only one to lose to Tito Ortiz over the last 5 years of his UFC career will do that. Bader is capable of beating the hierarchy of the division (he does own victories over Lil Nog and Rampage Jackson), he just hasn't consistently put it all together.
Fighting Style: Cavalcante owns a black belt in BJJ, but rarely if ever puts those abilities to good use... at least offensively. His guard is dangerous and often make his opponents think twice about jumping into it. He would much rather put his opponents to sleep though and has done so many times with ten KO/TKO's. Muay Thai is his striking base and it is as dangerous as anyone this side of Jon Jones in the division. Don't discount his boxing though. He has good footwork and technique even though he can seemingly be out of control.
No one questions the power in Bader's hands. Its the fight IQ that has been questioned. Remember his bull rush of Lyoto Machida? Nonetheless, he has become a high-level wrestle-boxer that can put together solid combinations and use solid angles when his head is clear. An All-American at Arizona St. in wrestling, that still serves as his base and he has done a solid job of implementing chokes into his arsenal and showed he has been working on his BJJ passing the guard of noted BJJ practitioner Anthony Perosh with ease his last time out.
What to Expect: I expect a slugfest. Cavalcante doesn't know how to fight any other way and has never gone the distance. Bader can certainly fight a more measured pace, but he is prone to being dragged into knockdown, slug-it-out brawl himself. This could be a simple as who lands the first clean shot cause they won't hold anything back.
Cavalcante isn't a bad wrestler (he held his own with King Mo), but if this fight lasts beyond 2 minutes, Bader is going to shoot for a takedown at some point, likely when he feels himself coming up short on a striking exchange. Cavalcante will certainly stuff some of them, but he won't be able to stop them all, at least not from Bader. I admit I'm curious to see how Bader's top control would look against Cavalcante... it would reveal a fair amount about where both fighters are at.
Cavalcante has a horrible history of leaving himself wide open to eat shots. Often times his aggressiveness has made it difficult to land a clean shot on him, but if Bader turns into the aggressor ala Thiago Silva, he should have little trouble hitting him square. Bader himself has shown much better movement, but can make himself open at times too.
X-Factors: This will be Cavalcante's first fight in North America in two years. He has done so plenty before, but will he be adjusted to the travel and atmosphere? I don't anticipate a problem... but you never know.
Who Will Win: This one is very hard to predict. It really feels like it is going to depend upon who lands the first clean shot. Rather than take my word for it I would say your odds are better with the flip of a coin. Its what I'm doing. Bader by KO 1st Round
Story Thus Far: Nostalgia will likely attack many as Arlovski looked at one point and time like he would be a dominant force at heavyweight for many years to come when he obtained the UFC heavyweight title. That was back in 2006 though... a very long time ago. Arlovski can still put forth some good efforts, but no one expects him to ever compete for the title again much less win it at the age of 35. Still, its fun to see the UFC bring him back to the fold after 6 years away.
Three years ago Schaub picked up his fourth straight victory (which was over Mirko Cro Cop) and was seen as a top up-and-comer. Funny what two straight KO losses will do. He has since righted his ship with two straight wins using smarter tactics and appears to have matured. No one expects a title run from Schaub either, but an appearance in the top 10 doesn't sound ludicrous. In fact, it sounds downright realistic.
Fighting Style: Arlovski's best weapon has always been his hand speed as he can seemingly punch his opponent out of nowhere with powerful and technically sound combinations. His KO power is often overshadowed by his glass jaw as seven of his ten losses were from KO/TKO. Thus Arlovski trading punches often seems to be a risky endeavor, though his chin has held up recently, including some solid shots from Anthony Johnson. His base is in sambo, but he isn't the strongest wrestler. He is still capable of surprising with a quick submission and has an awesome sprawl.
As a former professional football player, Schaub's athleticism shines through in his standup. Like Arlovski, his hands a pretty quick and does a solid job of using his 78' reach to keep his opponents at bay. He ruined his reputation as a grappler with his appearance at Metamoris over the summer of 2013, but he really isn't as bad as you would think. He is a brown belt in BJJ, controlled a stronger Lavar Johnson on the ground, and has an affinity for the d'arce choke.
What to Expect: It really is crazy how similar that these two are. Quick and athletic big men who prefer to strike with fragile jaws. There are differences though. Arlovski is the more dynamic of the two striking with some kicks and flying knees every now and then. Either one could get caught at anytime, but his explosiveness combined with his combos will give Arlovski the advantage there.
Schaub has concentrated on getting fights to the ground as of late, seemingly accepting the fact that he owns a glass jaw. Schaub is confident in his own power, just not his chin. Look for him to shoot early and often with Arlovski. He got Johnson and Matt Mitrione down quite easily, but neither of them have the same caliber sprawl as Arlovski.
I fully acknowledge that Arlovski isn't a fantastic grappler, but I do believe that he has an underrated submission game. It isn't seen enough as he rarely goes to the ground, but Schaub would be well advised to be cautious of it. Just like their sprawls, Johnson and Mitrione offered little threat on the ground.
X-Factors: Anyone else remember the vacant stare on Arlovski's face after being KO'd by Fedor? Or Schaub climbing the air after being put away by Ben Rothwell? They may not be X-factors, but they are imprinted in my mind.
Who Will Win: I know that Arlovski isn't the same dude who was once champion, but I think that he can still squeeze out a few more wins against high level competition (note I didn't say elite). Schaub is one of those. His sprawl will allow him to stay upright and I think he catches Schaub first. Then again, it could be like Bader-Cavalcante and depend on a coin flip... Arlovski by TKO 1st Round
Story Thus Far: It seems Jimmo is doomed to forever be a target for the wrath of fans. Nonetheless, this fight represents a massive chance for Jimmo to make an impact and jump into the rankings. His losses in the UFC have come against solid opponents in James Te Huna and Jimi Manuwa, so it isn't like we are discussing an asinine idea here. He won't ever get a title shot, but could become a ranked gatekeeper.
In what is somewhat of a mystery to me, St. Preux is ranked ahead of Jimmo despite not having fought the same level of competition. But a 3-0 record in the UFC is better than 3-2, so perhaps that is what pulls the former Strikeforce import ahead in the eyes of many. Jimmo would represent his signature win. The former University of Tennessee linebacker is still fairly raw at 31 and still has room to grow.
Fighting Style: Jimmo is a very smart fighter, which often translates to being a safe fighter who doesn't take risks. Its absolutely true in this case as well. He is a talented kickboxer with KO power in his fists, but quite often opts for the option where he grinds his opponent against the cage or on the ground. You see why many fans don't care for him? If on the ground he opts for control as opposed to sniffing for a submission. Again, another boring feature. If given room, he can show his variety of kicks honed from being a second degree karate black belt. He can be exciting... just usually doesn't go that route.
St. Preux isn't a finished product, but is still efficient. His football background really shines through as he is very athletic and can cover ground in a hurry, which is a great help when he makes his shots. There are times where he shoots from too far out though. Owning a long 79' reach that he uses fairly effectively with the jab, he also does a lot of damage with leg kicks. Combinations he still has difficulty putting together, but he owns some devastating GNP and is likely to end the fight if he gets the mount.
What to Expect: Everything in my mind screams that this is going to be a traditional Jimmo fight. Look for some tentative kicks from a distance to be exchanged from both before Jimmo tries to clinch things up and make it the grind fest many expect. It isn't pretty, but it has picked him up a number of wins thus far.
Sean O'Connell coaxed a fun fight out of Jimmo by pushing the pace and being the aggressor. But O'Connell was also KO'd in the first round. St. Preux isn't looking to have a fun fight... he is looking to win. But I like the idea of aggressively attacking Jimmo's legs with kicks. If he can keep Jimmo from closing distance and clinching up, St. Preux will be the favorite.
St. Preux has developed some very good takedown defense with a good sprawl. He can expect plenty of attempts from Jimmo, but he'd better be careful to make sure Jimmo doesn't just push him against the fence if the takedown doesn't work. I can't say, but it often seems that Jimmo is just as happy to clinch against the fence as work from top position on the ground. Few are as effective there.
X-Factors: Hometown cooking for Jimmo? I usually try to avoid saying that... but remember the Diego Sanchez debacle?
Who Will Win: Many are hoping that Jimmo doesn't grind out another victory, but winning in a boring manner ensures better job security than losing in a spectacular manner. Jimmo is simply a smart fighter and can beat St. Preux in more places than St. Preux can beat him. Jimmo by Decision
Record for last Card: 8-3
Record for Year: 131-78-1