After a two-week hiatus, the UFC is back this weekend with card number 185. The event takes place in Dallas, TX and features a pretty talent-rich line-up. Typically, I would just come in and dump off a tourney for our readers, but this time, I'm actually going to present my first main card breakdown with my personal picks included. And yes folks, there's still a free tourney, because Crazy Aaron is, well...he's crazy, so that means another free tourney.
First, let's talk fights.
Henry Cejudo vs. Chris Cariaso
Cejudo made weight and didn't appear any worse for wear, which for me, is the most important part of the puzzle. People tend to worry about his cardio, but if we take a journey into the depths of our mind palace, we will recall that his last fight went to a decision, and his tank was running along just fine. As a matter of fact, his last three fights have gone to decision, so I would wager that with experience comes polish, and he definitely seems to be more impressive with each showing.
Cariaso is a scrappy fighter that made the most of his involuntary entry to the UFC when the MMA giant cannibalized the WEC. The thing is, when Chris takes a step up in competition, we see him drop the ball. Takeya Mizugaki is his most notable win to date, and when he made the drop to 125, he would see similar mixed results, winning fights with solid, mid-level talent, but not quite able to get over the hurdles of the next tier. This is where the term "gatekeeper" really hits its mark.
This time, he faces an upcoming prospect with a platinum level resume, but considerably less experience as a pro. Cariaso gets the experience advantage.
Cejudo has the edge on talent, obviously able to shine on the ground, but also displaying some good stand-up recently.
My pick: Henry Cejudo via UD (29-28)
Roy Nelson vs. Alistair Overeem
Alistair Overeem has finishing power and decent weapons between his hands and his knees, but he also has a really big button, like his entire mandibular area. He's running at a 50% win ratio inside the Octagon, with all 3 of his losses coming by way of knockout. His last win, a KO of Stefan Struve, looked impressive, but remember, Struve was out for 21 months with a serious heart condition right before that fight.
To his credit, he seems to have found the right fit with gyms, now a permanent member of Greg Jackson's team. All the past, swirling rumors of his being a prima donna and not being a participating member of the team, opting instead to rent space and bring along an entourage for training have been put to rest by both teammates and Jackson. This stability combined with Jackson's tutelage might be the key to unlocking his potential before the career sands in his biological hourglass run out.
Nelson has a hammer in his right hand, and when it lands, especially on a chin as questionable as Overeem's, it's lights out. The problem is, he relies heavily on it, often abandoning his wonderful ground game. He has an incredibly sturdy chin, having only been finished twice in his career, those losses coming from Mark Hunt and Andrei Arlovski. I personally think he can withstand anything Alistair throws his way, but if it goes to a decision, we might see Roy walking away without a win bonus, because Alistair is smart enough to outwork him and use his distance to get the W.
Mental advantage goes to Alistair. He also has the added bonus of coming off a win, which is likely a boon to his confidence.
Power and ground advantage go to Roy. He has the added bonus of a really big target on which to land that overhand right.
My pick: Roy Nelson via KO/TKO in round 1
Johny Hendricks vs. Matt Brown
I'd been on the fence with this one until I saw the weigh-ins. Johny looked the best I've seen him in years, like his weight had never been the well-known issue that history narrates for us. Hendricks carries plenty of power and has proven he can take a lickin' and keep on kickin'...ass.
The self-imposed pressure he's likely put himself under might be a key factor in this fight. He won the title in a fight many saw going for Lawler, then lost it that same year to Lawler. Ironically, several saw the fight actually in his favor in that contest. The point here is that of his last 3 fights, he's dropped 2, and only held the title for 9 months. The pressure to win impressively is likely foremost in his mind right now.
Brown has had one of the most enviable career arcs around, doing well in the beginning, hitting a 2-year rough patch that would see him drop 4 out of 5 fights, then going on a 7 fight tear, only losing the 8th to current champ, Lawler. That, combined with being one of the toughest SOGs around makes an impressive figure for anyone to face.
Power and ground advantage go to Hendricks.
Confidence and grit advantage go to Brown.
My pick (after much agonizing): Johny Hendricks via split decision (29-28x2, 28-29)
Carla Esparza vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
For obvious reasons, I'll be using first names only here. This particular fight is my pick for FOTN. Joanna is a great striker and has decent ground game. Her fight with Gadhela showed plenty of endurance and determination, and while it was a SD, it was a good showing of her toughness, which will definitely aid her in this fight.
Carla is an excellent wrestler with decent striking and a willingness to engage. She's durable and does exceedingly well under pressure. She has plenty of experience which should aid her, as well as the confidence that comes with being the champ.
Striking advantage and a predatory mindset (with 115 being so fresh and the Reebok deal being ushered in right behind it, these girls are all like sharks circling a wounded seal) goes to Joanna.
Ground and power advantage go to Carla with the added bonus of being the champ on a win streak that spans more time than Joanna's entire career.
My pick: Carla Esparza via UD (48-47)
Antony Pettis vs. Rafael do Anjos
Rafael is a big dude. Despite being an inch shorter than Pettis, he walks at or above 200 pounds, according to my trusted source. We've already seen him display brute strength with knockouts over Jason High and Ben Henderson, and we've also taken note of his durability with decision wins over Dunham, Njokuani, Bocek, Diaz and Cerrone.
He is not infallible, though. When paired off with athletes that have good wrestling, he stumbles. Khabib Nurmagomedov laid out a significant blueprint on how to beat him and do it convincingly. If Duke Roufus has done his due diligence (and I know he has), this gap in his game might be able to be exploited.
Pettis is a naturally gifted athlete that happens to have a great work ethic and a trusted coach guiding him along his champion journey. His striking is marvelous, and he has the unique ability to adapt and use every tool available to him, including the cage.
Before we get all caught up in that, we need to keep in mind that RDA is massive and powerful, and can dominate the fight with top pressure and slick grappling when it invariably goes to the ground. That's not to say that Pettis doesn't have slick grappling, because he does, and he has great transitions in the scrambles.
Both men are on win streaks, so confidence is likely evenly matched. Pettis is the more well-rounded fighter, and his striking is better. Advantage points there, as well as being the champion (RDA has to prove that he did enough to take the belt).
Power and top-pressure advantage as well as a bit of intimidation factor goes to dos Anjos. Rafael also gets the distinction of being my top pick for an upset, despite the fact that I went the other way with my official pick (if that makes sense).
My pick: Anthony Pettis via decision (49-46)
Now for the tourney. Before I link you guys, I wanted to give you some standard information about Kountermove.
Players use a $25,000 artificial salary cap to draft 5 fighters from the card before each event begins. Eachfighter has a salary designated by Kountermove -- salaries range from $3,000 to $8,000. The winners are determined based on how the fight plays out rather than simply a fight's outcome (pick'em format). Kountermove calculates a fighter's fantasy score based on the number of strikes, takedowns, submissions, dominant positions, and rounds won. Scoring data from the fights flows into the site in near real-time, so players can monitor their teams as the event happens. The data used in calculating a fighter's score is provided by UFC's official stats provider, FightMetric.
The site was started with the idea that MMA in general must market "up and coming" fighters to become a truly mainstream sport. "There are many great fighters out there that no one knows about because so much of marketing in MMA is geared toward the top fighters" said Aaron Ard, a co-founder of Kountermove.com, "we wanted to create a game that would create interest and engagement in preliminary fights as well as the headliners." Statistics are bearing this out; over 85% of Kountermove players' teams have at least one fighter competing on the preliminary card. No Kountermove player has won a major tournament without a preliminary card fighter on their team.
Here's the link to the $250 tourney:
You can follow Kountermove via their Twitter account, @Kountermove
Disclaimer: Kountermove is not an advertiser on Bloody Elbow, nor are we being paid to advertise the contest. They offered to provide Bloody Elbow readers with the free tournament and are fully responsible for the contest and any associated prize payouts.