UFC 192 hits pay-per-view Saturday night with slightly different look than expected; with Johny Hendricks hospitalized due to a bad weight cut, the card lost its planned co-main event, and the fight between Joseph Benavidez and Ali Bagautinov has been promoted to the main card. That puts four of the top six light heavyweights in the world on full display in the top two fights, and a very scattershot set of weight classes put together on the undercard. Here’s what’s on tap for the main card on Saturday night:
Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson (UFC Light Heavyweight Championship)
Daniel Cormier enters with a title around his waist and the goal of proving he’s the next best thing to Jon Jones in the division. Gustafsson is trying to get some redemption after a January loss to Anthony Johnson, and a win here will earn him his own rematch with Jones.
The circumstances that have led to this matchup make it one of the weirdest main events in recent memory. Without Jones’ hit and run leading to him being stripped of the title earlier this year, this fight wouldn’t be happening in this spot in a pay-per-view headliner. Cormier and Gustafsson very well may have wound up squaring off, but it wouldn’t have been on top of a card with a belt on the line.
Because of the shadow looming large in the shape of Jones into this event, it’s a bit hard to take it seriously as a “title” fight. In a vacuum it’s an intriguing matchup between a rangy striker and one of the best wrestlers ever to step in the Octagon. In actuality, whomever wins this fight winds up getting the spot to welcome Jones back into the Octagon, and given how the former-Champ handled both of them, the man holding the title won’t be entering that bout as a favorite.
In the fight itself, the intrigue comes in how Cormier handles the reach advantage from Gustafsson, and how well the Swedish competitor utilizes that aspect of his game. Cormier’s going to be trying to wear Gustafsson down in the clinch and on the ground as best he can, and Gustafsson’s going to have to show that he can keep the fight standing and implement his strikes more than anything. He’s got an ok chance to win if that happens, because he’s got the type of power which can quickly accumulate damage, and as he showed in the fight with Jones he’s capable of hanging on the feet.
However, this fight’s really Cormier’s to lose. He hits hard in his own right, but where he excels is in absolutely draining his opposition on the cage and on the ground. If he can get Gustafsson down – certainly not the easiest proposition – he can be relentless with his ground attack, and can wear the Swedish fighter down throughout a 25-minute fight. This one’s not likely to end as quickly as Gustafsson lost to Anthony Johnson in January, but Cormier should still emerge victorious.
PREDICTION: Cormier by decision
Ryan Bader vs. Rashad Evans (Light Heavyweight)
What are we going to get out of Evans after 22 and a half months out of action due to numerous significant injuries? Ryan Bader enters this event on a four-fight winning streak, with all of those fights taking place in the time since Evans last fought. Cage rust isn’t always a death blow to a fighter coming back, but with Evans already at 36-years-old, there’s more chance that those knee issues have made it harder for him to be back near his best.
On top of the question of just what shape he’ll be in, it must be taken into account how he looked in his most recent outings. He was bested by the better man in Jon Jones, then had perhaps his worst career performance in a loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. He started to get it back a bit down the stretch in his fight with Dan Henderson, and then took Chael Sonnen out handily; he’s still got good striking, and his grappling game remains solid, the concern has to be how effectively he can implement everything through 15 minutes when he hasn’t competed in that much time.
On the other side of the cage, Bader’s done a fine job besting inferior grapplers with his wrestling and top game, but if he fails to get Evans to the ground here, or out-work him in the clinch, I’m not sure his striking game is the superior one here. He’s got power, but from a pure striking standpoint we’ve seen a lot more from Evans.
If the former champ can keep this fight standing, he can out-strike Bader on the feet and win enough of the fight to earn a decision. If he can’t keep that pace and winds up getting out-worked in the clinch and on the ground, this is Bader’s fight. Coin flip here.
PREDICTION: Evans by decision
Shawn Jordan vs. Ruslan Magomedov (Heavyweight)
Magomedov’s had a couple of solid performances in the UFC to move his overall record to 13-1, but despite Jordan having a number of losses on his record he represents a step up in competition. Magomedov’s got decent striking and solid grappling, but he’s not spectacular anywhere, and hasn’t shown consistent stopping ability.
Jordan has gotten stopped a few times, but he’s also got the type of power to make him a highly dangerous opponent for anyone who gets in the cage with him. He’s deceptively athletic, and showcased a different part of his game with a hook kick win in his last fight.
Jordan’s going to be looking for the stoppage early and often on the feet. It’s up to Magomedov to slow the fight down, wear Jordan out, and not let him land the KO blow. If he can do that, he can win this fight, but I think Jordan finds the finish at some point in this one.
PREDICTION: Jordan by TKO in the first round
Joseph Benavidez vs. Ali Bagautinov (Flyweight)
Bagautinov’s a fairly sizable guy for the 125 lb field, and he’s got a well rounded game that keeps him competitive on the feet and on the ground. However, this is one of those “anything you can do, I can do better” matchups with Benavidez.
The Team Alpha Male competitor is the second best fighter in this division by a wide margin, and falling to only Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson in his career is far from a black mark against him. Benavidez has power in his strikes not often seen at 125 lbs., and he’s got one of the best guillotines in the game.
Bagautinov is fighting for the first time since a long suspension due to a drug test failure, and curiosity on his return stems from whether or not he’s going to look different since getting caught for EPO use. Regardless, while he’s had some solid performances in the UFC to date, I just see Benavidez as a much better fighter in every aspect of the sport.
Benavidez is faster, he at worst hits just as hard, and his grappling and submission game is fantastic. He’s got great instincts for finishing fights, and if there’s an opening given at any point in this one, Benavidez is likely to take advantage.
PREDICTION: Benavidez via submission in the second round
Jessica Eye vs. Julianna Pena (Women’s Bantamweight)
Eye started strong against Miesha Tate in July, then got beat up for much of the last ten minutes. Her only win in the UFC thus far is because of a faulty ear from Leslie Smith detaching from her head, and she’s failed to live up to the promise shown before she got into the UFC.
Pena made a successful return from injury in April and once again looked great with her top game. She’s dangerous as hell on the ground in top position, and though her stand up game needs some more work, that wrestling and ground and pound base makes her an extremely tough fighter to compete against.
Eye has a decent striking game, but as we’ve seen she can get out-struck herself. I doubt Pena’s even planning to test that much, as her best chance to win is to take Eye down and beat her up from there. I think she accomplishes that goal.
PREDICTION: Pena by TKO in the second round