Who wins the Chris Weidman-Luke Rockhold bout for the UFC Middleweight Title at UFC 194, and how? Which undercard fights on Saturday’s event are you most anticipating?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
This is my fight of the year. I’ve been clamoring for these two to face off in the only logical middleweight title tilt for quite some time, and barring something horribly ill-timed, we’re almost there. Trying to pick a winner in this fight is almost like dealing with an irresistible force paradox. It’s not even that it’s really hard to pick a winner in this fight, it’s more that it’s nearly impossible to pick a loser. Two fighters, in their prime, with no discernible weaknesses. There is a huge separation between these two and the rest of the field, and the winner here could carry the title for quite some time, assuming he doesn’t lose it to the other one in a rematch down the road.
Chris Weidman may be lacking in personality at times, but he more than makes up for it with a complete package of wrestling, power, and toughness. In only his tenth professional fight, he did the unthinkable and knocked a clowning Anderson Silva out in a match virtually no one gave him a chance to win. He was still an underdog in the rematch with Silva, and while some tried to write that second victory off as a fluke due to Silva’s broken leg, that is not the case. Weidman was dominating that fight, almost knocking Silva out again in the first round. Since that first title defense, he’s taken out Machida in one of the better fights of 2014, and survived a first round Vitor Belfort tornado to knock the Phenom out in the first round.
Weidman’s bread and butter is his wrestling, which is about as good as you’ll see in MMA. What a lot of people may not know is that Weidman has a wingspan that ranks as among the widest in the middleweight division. Silva spent much of his career picking apart people from the outside, and he was usually aided by a reach advantage when he did so. Weidman was one of the few opponents that the Spider fought who had a slight bit of range on him. Couple that with very natural power, and Weidman’s striking game cannot be taken lightly. With all that though, perhaps Weidman’s biggest asset is the ability to take very hard shots to his person, and not even appear fazed. He shrugged off the best Lyoto Machida had to offer, and survived the Vitor Belfort tornado of strikes without so much as a pause. That type of granite chin will keep him in a lot of fights that others may bow out of earlier.
Like Weidman, Luke Rockhold is a very large middleweight with good range. He’s only suffered one loss since 2007, that by way of highlight-worthy spinning heel kick from a TRT-infused Belfort. He’s shown a propensity to finish, with 12 of his 14 victories ending inside the distance, nine of them by way of submission. He’s only been getting better during his time in the UFC, His last four fights have lasted just a little over eighteen minutes combined, meaning his fight time averages under a round a piece. Particularly memorable was his destruction of the aforementioned Machida. Rockhold put a vicious beating on the former light heavyweight champ in the first round, before choking him out midway through the second.
Rockhold is a former Strikeforce middleweight champion, and maybe even more so than Weidman, he looks like he’d have no problem moving up to 205 lbs. At 6’3″ he looks like he has no fat at all on his body, and has managed to pack on a crazy amount of dense, lean muscle mass. He’s also unusually fast for his size, and dictates range very well and mixes in some pretty lethal kicks to help keep his opponents guessing. He’s very comfortable on the ground, with the rear-naked choke being his submission of choice for five of his finishes. His muscles are hardly for show, as he’s about as strong a middleweight as we have in the UFC.
I’ve been leaning toward Rockhold for a while now, and I’m sticking with that pick. If we want to do some MMA math, Rockhold demolished Machida inside of two rounds, while Weidman beat the Dragon by decision in a highly competitive fight. Rockhold also “looks better,” being a bit more ripped in his physique. No, that is hardly anything to base a fight prediction on, and I’m obviously discounting another common opponent in Vitor Belfort. Belfort knocked Rockhold out in a round while suffering the same fate to Weidman. But in this exercise of subjectivity, I may just be trying to justify a gut feeling. I can’t begin to answer how this fight is going to end, what it’s going to look like, or how long it’s going to go. These guys are both almost unbeatable. I’m close to talking myself into putting money down on the +17500 line for a draw here. This fight is everything an MMA fan wants to see, and I cannot wait for it to get here.
Moving down the card that is an embarrassment of riches, the Ronaldo Souza vs. Yoel Romero fight holds particular intrigue as the winner should be the next challenger to whomever wins the Weidman-Rockhold co-main event. Assuming no injuries, we could see the victors of those respective bouts match up within the first four months of 2016. Max Holloway is coming on gangbusters, and a win over the exceptionally violent Jeremy Stephens is going to put him a fight away from a title shot. That is of course, assuming Stephens doesn’t spoil his plans. He’s a huge featherweight (maybe too huge as he missed weight by close to five pounds in his last fight), and his flying knee finish against Dennis Bermudez showed he can put someone’s lights out at any moment. Damien Maia and Gunnar Nelson have the potential to put on one of the higher level grappling matches we’ve seen in a while, and having Urijah Faber and Tecia Torres is always a treat. Top to bottom, this is the best card I’ve ever seen, and Saturday can’t get here fast enough
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I have to go with Weidman. I know Rockhold is really good, but Weidman has fought the tougher guys. Weidman is also extremely aggressive and I think that works against Rockhold, who’s know for being a bit of a slow starter. I do think the fight goes to a decision because I can’t imagine either guy being stopped, and that’s another area where Weidman’s aggression pays off. I think Weidman comes out and pops Rockhold in the mouth early and sets the tone as he takes the early rounds. I think the judges will favor Weidman constantly coming forward. I can’t imagine either guy being on his back for long, so I think it stays on the feet a lot and Weidman’s aggression helps him there. Rockhold has some slick submission skills (as does Weidman) but I don’t think that will come into play that much. The only thing that worries me about Weidman is that it seems as though he’s sometimes bothered by the outside talking. His comments about “You better get on board” after his win over Vitor Belfort sounded like a guy who desperately wants fans to cheer him. I don’t think that’s a good look for a guy who’s one of the best fighters on the planet.
As for other fights of interest, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Yoel Romero promises to be a hugely exciting fight. Romero is a tough guy, but I think Jacare finishes him in the second round with an explosive series of elbows or perhaps a great submission. Jacare is the most dangerous guy in the division in my eyes, and I think he sends a message to the champion. I’m really pumped for this fight and it’s hard to believe that this fight is third from the top. That tells you how great UFC 194 is.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Though all of the high profile fights taking place this week are all pretty closely contested, I’ve been able to pick out my favorite to win in every contest and stick by my initial prognosis. Except for this one. I can’t recall a fight that I have waffled on so much as these two are so damn closely matched that it isn’t even funny. Weidman is the better wrestler, but Rockhold is so damn dynamic with his submissions. Weidman has the better pure boxing, but Rockhold is long and explosive. Weidman has never wilted on the big stage (and he has been in some BIG fights), but Rockhold’s gas tank has never been in question the way Weidman’s was after his fight with Machida. Who do I pick!?! I’m gonna go with Weidman because… I don’t know. I guess because I like the dude better than I do Rockhold (not that I have an issue with Rockhold). I’m more comfortable picking it to be a pencil-thin decision than I am picking a winner, so I’ll say that in confidence since I couldn’t pick a winner in that style.
DAN MOORE, MMATORCH UK COLUMNIST
Luke Rockhold has looked phenomenal in his last two appearances, but I’ve backed against Chris Weidman before and it didn’t work out well. Rockhold can certainly do a bit of everything, but Weidman is an exceptional wrestler. It may not be pretty to watch on Saturday night but I expect Weidman to look for takedowns and then dominate from top control. If Rockhold can keep it at range he’s got a chance because of his finishing power, but I have confidence in Weidman that he can do enough to win at least three of the five rounds.
As for the rest of the main card, every fight on it looks fantastic on paper. If any main card is going to surpass the outstanding UFC 189, this is the one to do it. Holloway vs. Stephens will be a straight-up slug fest that’ll make your eyes water watching them take turns dishing out punishment. Romero vs. Souza is intriguing for a number of reasons and is a long time coming. Maia vs. Nelson is my only concern for a dud fight. It could be very entertaining but there’s a real possibility that they nullify each other on the mat and we’re left with three rounds of dull evasive stand-up.
[Photo (c) Joe Camporeale via USA Today Sports]