By: Dylan Smith (@FightMartian)
UFC 187 takes place this Saturday, returning to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas with a stacked lineup featuring two high profile title fights and a main card full of contenders looking to earn a shot at the title in their respective weight divisions. This card is not without controversy though, as now former champ Jon "Bones" Jones was slated to defend his title against Anthony Johnson in the main event, but after his involvement in a hit and run accident which included him running a red light and injuring a pregnant woman and then fleeing the scene, UFC brass elected to strip the pound-for-pound king of his title and hand out an indefinite suspension. Insert Daniel Cormier, fresh off the first loss of his career in his bid at the title against Jones, he now gets a second chance at gold as he steps in to save the main event and take on Anthony Johnson for the now vacant UFC Light-Heavyweight Title. Add to that the co-main event featuring undefeated Middleweight champ Chris Weidman taking on Brazilian legend Vitor Belfort in a fight over a year in the making, and this card adds up to be one of the most anticipated of the year. I will be breaking down the main card and making my predictions below.
Joseph Benavidez (21-4) vs John Moraga (16-3)
Kicking off the main card is a Flyweight fight between two former title contenders who look to climb the ladder again and get another shot at the champion Demetrious Johnson. Benavidez has proven to be one of the best fighters in the lower weight classes, training out of team Alpha Male he possesses a very complete MMA game with great wrestling, savvy submissions, and powerful striking. Moraga is well rounded himself, with most of his wins by submission, he also has the power to finish a fight with his hands which is a rarity at flyweight and has the background in wrestling to hold his own on the ground against Benavidez.
This is a great fight to open up the main card between two of the most powerful fighters in the flyweight division. In a weight class not known for its finishes the UFC matchmakers did a great job putting these two finishers against each other. I think this will be a fight with lots of scrambles and plenty of action. However, I think Benavidez is just a little bit better anywhere the fight goes and will get the best of Moraga during the scrambles and battles for position. I wouldn't be surprised to see both fighters attempt submissions but I think the fast paced style of Benavidez will eventually overwhelm Moraga.
Prediction: Benavidez by Submission
Travis "Hapa" Browne (17-2-1) vs Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski (23-10-1)
In the only heavyweight bout on the card, we see the big boys throw down in a fight between two KO artist that should end with someone going to sleep.
Travis Browne looks to make it 2-0 after losing his bid at the title against Interim champ Fabricio Werdum. He could potentially earn himself another contenders fight with an impressive win over Arlovski. Standing at 6'7, Browne will look to use his huge frame to add another highlight reel KO to his resume as he is primarily a striker with good takedown defense and loves to score the finish. Andrei Arlovski is a former UFC heavyweight champion and has been impressive since his return to the UFC going 2-0. "The Pitbull" is also a finisher, with 16 KO victories on his record he is known for his powerful punches and aggressive style.
These two fighters are both former training partners when they trained together at Greg Jacksons camp for a number of years so they most likely know each others game pretty well. That being said, I think Travis Browne will be able to control this fight using his size advantage to control the distance on the feet and use power shots to end the fight early against the battle worn chin of Arlovski.
Prediction: Travis Browne by KO
Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (27-6-1) vs John "The Bull" Makdessi (13-3)
Originally slated as a highly anticipated #1 contenders fight between lightweights Donald Cerrone and Khabib Nurmagamedov, John Makdessi steps in after an injury to the undefeated Russian took him out of the fight. Donald Cerrone is riding a huge wave of momentum as he is comes in on the heels of a seven fight win streak and is one of the best fighters in the division. John Makdessi is 4-1 in his past five bouts but faces an uphill battle in this one, as this fight presents a huge step up in competition and will be the most high profile fight of his career.
This could be the winner of the Fight of The Night award as both fighters are strikers and love to finish fights. Cerrone will possess an advantage in pretty much every facet of MMA but he also has all the pressure on him as he is the one with everything to lose. I think Makdessi should be able to keep this fight competitive with the right game plan, if he can mix up his strikes well and maybe mix in a few takedown attempts to keep Cerrone honest he could surprise some people with his performance. However, he will need to be at the top of his game to do this. Ultimately though, I think the experience of Cerrone will lead him to victory, as he has fought and beat some of the very best the lightweight division has to offer and should continue his winning ways by using his superior Muay-Thai skills to lead him to victory and set him up for a title shot in the near future.
Prediction: Donald Cerrone by (T)KO
(C) Chris "All American" Weidman (12-0) vs Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort (24-10)
After previously being scheduled twice, this championship fight will finally take place this Saturday night as Chris Weidman looks to defend his belt against the streaking Brazilian Vitor Belfort.
Best known for beating Anderson Silva twice, Chris Weidman defeated former champion Lyoto Machida in his last title defense and now looks to take out yet another Brazilian legend in Vitor Belfort. Weidman comes into the fight with an undefeated record and a skill set that has proved to be one of the best in MMA. The champs specialty is his wrestling/ground and pound, but he has proven to be elite in all other facets of his game which include striking and submissions. Under the tutelage of longtime coach Ray Longo, Weidman has shown improvements in every fight while also displaying little to no holes in his game thus far.
Vitor Belfort comes into the fight on the heels of a three fight finish streak in which he has looked nearly unstoppable. It should be noted that due to the Nevada State Athletic Commissions new rules, this will be Vitor's first fight without a TRT exemption in a number of years and speculation has run rampant about the physical condition he will be in come Saturday night as his body has undergone some serious changes while he has been off the synthetic testosterone. Nonetheless, Belfort remains a highly dangerous opponent as he has been knocking people out for the better part of his near 20 year legendary career. The Phenom's skill set is highlighted by his lightning fast hands and KO power, complimented by an underrated submission game in which he holds a BJJ black belt.
With both these fighters having a knack for the highlight reel finish, I do not see this fight going past the third round. I think Belfort will come out ultra-aggressive from the start as he usually does, looking to blitz Weidman early and look for the early stoppage. However, Weidman proved to have an iron chin in his last fight against Machida and I think he will attempt to use the aggression of Belfort against him and take this fight to the ground where he will look to finish Belfort with his vicious ground and pound.
Prediction: Chris Weidman by (T)KO
Daniel "DC" Cormier (15-1) vs Anthony "Rumble" Johnson (19-4)
Stepping in on short notice, Daniel Cormier takes this fight after originally being slated to take on Ryan Bader in June. "DC" will look to claim the gold after recently losing to Jones in January in his first bid at the title, previously going undefeated while never losing a round. His opponent, Anthony Johnson may be the scariest fighter in the UFC right now, going 3-0 since his return to the promotion after being cut in 2011. "Rumble" brings a nine fight win streak into the fight and a ton of momentum, displaying his KO power and taking out two of the division's most durable fighters, Alexander Gustaffson and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the first round by knockout.
DC is a former Olympic wrestler who has rounded out his game with fluid striking and a high fight IQ. While he does possess knockout power, DC prefers to use his wrestling/clinch work to smother and wear out his opponents with dirty boxing against the cage and an elite top game that led him to 15 straight victories.
Anthony Johnson is a knockout artist in the highest form, displaying extreme power in both hands and is capable of ending a fight with one punch. Rumble will try to win this fight by doing what he does best, winning by knockout. He will look to sprawl and brawl, using his power and aggression to discourage Cormier from getting in close. Johnson's best chance of winning comes early in the fight, as he has the most KO wins under a minute (4) in UFC history.
Ultimately, I think this fight will be determined by who can dictate where the fight takes place. This leads me to believe that the wrestling of Cormier will lead him to victory as long as he doesn't get caught in the first round by the power of Rumble. Cormier should be able to keep Johnson guessing by mixing his striking with takedowns and clinch work to keep Johnson from committing to power shots. I think Cormier will be able to exploit the suspect cardio of Johnson and wear him down enough to be able to secure takedowns to keep the fight on the ground and win using his wrestling and smothering top control.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier by Decision