The UFC gets back to business tomorrow night with UFC 152: Jones Vs Belfort and we’ve got our full preview and predictions for the night’s big fights for you below.
Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort
At first glance a 185lb’er moving up to 205lbs on four weeks notice to fight the champion would seem like a complete mismatch, and to an extent it is, but in Vitor Belfort we have some one who does have the ability to pose Jon Jones some genuine problems.
For one thing Belfort’s well accustomed to fighting at light-heavyweight even though he’s spent the last few years plying his trade at middleweight, and has fought a number of leading lights in that division over the course of his career. He’s a heavier-hitter than Jones, has good boxing technique, a solid chin and should have a speed advantage over his adversary.
However, he also runs into the same problem as many of Jones other opponents have done in the past – he’s working at a major size disadvantage. The champ will enjoy a four inch height advantage, but more importantly a staggering 12.5 inch reach differential.
That means he’s got no choice but to try to get inside to land a telling blow that could chance the course of the fight. That’s easier said than done as Jones lanky limbs allows him to keep opponents at bay, and if they do try to close the distance he’s good in the clinch and has a plethora of tricky, yet effective throws and sweeps at his disposal.
Belfort’s no slouch on the ground, but Jones has a tendency to dominate if he’s on top, with his long limbs again coming to his aid, allowing him to fire off rapid elbow strikes from what his opponents would normally be considered relatively safe positions on the mat, and that’s hard to adapt to – especially with just a four week training camp.
If Belfort can somehow get Jones to the ground then that would be interesting as we’ve never really seen the champ tested in this regard and ‘The Phenom’ has very aggressive and effective ground and pound of his own, but unless he hurts him on the feet first I suspect he’ll struggle to get him in such an advantageous position.
Cardio wise Jones has shown no major problems and should be able to go five tough rounds, whereas there might be some question marks over Belfort given the lack of a full training camp and having to operate at 205lbs after a long absence from the division.
There’s always the chance of an upset, particularly if Jones mind isn’t 100% focused on the task at hand after everything that’s gone on over the past few months, but realistically the odds are still stacked in his favor. I suspect the reach advantage will prove to much of a problem for Belfort and he’ll get disheartened and tired as Jones begins to pick him apart from a relatively safe distance, leading to a finish in the third round.
Jon Jones to win by TKO in Rd4.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson
Benavidez and Johnson have been two of the top contenders at bantamweight in both the UFC and WEC despite being undersized, so both should shine tomorrow night now that they are correctly installed at 125lbs where the winner will be crowned the first ever flyweight champ.
Of the two Benavidez wields more power in his punches, but Johnson is lighter on his feet and has the faster hands, allowing him to dart quickly in and out of range and score points while doing so.
Both men are good wrestlers, but while Johnson is again quick and tricky, Benavidez is stronger, has more of a submission threat and I’d wager is generally more technically accomplished to boot so if either fighter is going to have prolonged periods of control on the mat I’d expect it to be him.
The pace is likely to be fast and furious here, but both men are very well conditioned and now fighting at their natural weight class so I’m not expecting to see any let up in the action if we do go the full five rounds.
Benavidez has been outclassed by a quicker opponent before – Dominick Cruz – but Johnson isn’t quite at that level and I think that over five rounds it’s Benavidez who’ll have landed the more meaningful blows on the feet and got the better of the exchanges on the mat to eek out a close decision victory.
Joseph Benavidez to win by decision.
Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann
Bisping’s pre-fight chatter has drawn plenty of attention to this middleweight encounter and that’s a good thing as this is a fight that’s well worth watching.
The stand-up battle will be intriguing here. Bisping is technically the more sound striker – he’s relatively quick, has got very good footwork and fires off crisp combinations of punches and kicks with regularity. He gets a lot of criticism for his power, and he’s certainly not a KO artist, but neither is he throwing the sort of punches you can just walk through. However, Stann has a strong jaw so I don’t anticipate Bisping picking up a ‘KO Of The Night’ bonus tomorrow evening.
On the other hand, Stann has genuine knockout power, particular at middleweight, and considering that Bisping’s chin has been a little suspect that could be his key to victory. He’s a little more labored with his general movement compared to his opponent and doesn’t have his slick combinations either, but his skills are relatively solid and it would be unwise of Bisping to underestimate him in the cage.
In other aspects of the fight I believe Bisping is the more well-rounded of the two. Stann is big and strong, but he’s not much of a wrestler and his takedown defense isn’t the best. Being from the UK Bisping’s wrestling is perhaps under-rated, but I wouldn’t put it past him to be able to take the American down if he chose to – though he does prefer just to keep it standing.
Bisping also has surprisingly competent BJJ skills, though it’s something he appears to have honed more towards the defensive side of the game in order to allow him to get quickly back to his feet if put on his back, and in this fight I wouldn’t expect it’s something he’ll have much use for.
This should be a closely contested fight and there’s certainly an argument to be made for either fight walking away with their hands raised. I favor Bisping overall though as he’s faced a large number of heavy-hitting middleweights in the past and only against Dan Henderson has he actually been stopped in his tracks. I think his greater accuracy and volume of punches will be the difference here that earns him the win on the judges scorecards.
Michael Bisping to win by decision.
Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett
Hamill returns from a year out “retired” and welcomes Hollett to the UFC in a fight that’s unlikely to get to many fans overexcited.
On the feet I’d have to say Hamill’s stand-out feature is his toughness and durability. The man can certainly take a punch and has decent power, but he’s never had much finesse and has a somewhat plodding, predictable approach.
Hollett is somewhat similar, also having reasonable heavy hands, but not really being all that fleet of foot. He’s a better counter-striker than Hamill though and could find openings in Hamill’s guard.
Wrestling wise Hamill is the better of the two, though to be honest I think his abilities eroded a little bit over time and he often simply abandons that aspect of the game entirely in favor of just slugging it out. That’s probably a mistake as he’s actually got pretty good ground and pound and if he gets Hollett on his back he should be able to gain the upper-hand in this fight.
On the other side of the coin though, Hamill is not the best fighting from his back and Hollett has a decent submission game, so that’s going to be something he needs to be wary of on the mat.
Hamill’s year out leaves some questions. Will it have rejuvenated him, or is it just going to leave us with a rustier version of a fighter past his best? If it’s the latter then Hollett has a decent chance to spoil his return to the Octagon, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and wager that if nothing else his all-round toughness will allow him to scrape together the kind of win that’s not exactly going to strike fear into the rest of the 205lb division.
Matt Hamill to win by decision.
Cub Swanson vs. Charles Oliveira
This is a fight I’m really looking forward to between two of the most exciting fighters in the featherweight division.
Swanson is as hard-nosed fighter and his swashbuckling, all-action stand-up style is fun to watch. He’s got good boxing ability and has a penchant for mixing that up with flashier, more unpredictable techniques. He’s also quick, but his enthusiasm for pushing the pace and being offensive can leave him a little open to defensive mistakes.
Oliviera is also a highly entertaining stand-up fighter who’s pretty versatile, offering different looks with kicks to the legs and to the head along with knee strikes in addition to his punches, all thrown with good technique. While not necessarily a clean KO specialist, the Brazilian’s combinations can quickly take their toll on his opponents.
That means the striking battle could be closely contested, but if the fight goes to the mat then look for the fight to swing heavily in Oliveira’s favor. His Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is excellent and he’s as comfortable fishing for submissions off his back as much as on top, while also being good in the scrambles.
Swanson’s best bet will be to keep this fight standing, but that’ll be easier said than done as Oliveira does a good job of transitioning to the mat from the striking.
Swanson’s a fun fighter to watch and has lots of ability, but I’ve always felt like Oliveira could really be something special and a major player in this division – especially given that he’s still just 22! Overall I think he’s the more creative, versatile fighter here and I think he’ll find a way to win, with a submission perhaps the most likely option.
Charles Oliveira to win by submission in Rd2.
Igor Pokrajac vs. Vinny Magalhaes
TJ Grant vs. Evan Dunham
Sean Pierson vs. Lance Benoist
Jimy Hettes vs. Marcus Brimage
Seth Baczynski vs. Simeon Thoresen
Mitch Gagnon vs. Walel Watson
Kyle Noke vs. Charlie Brenneman