Will Jon Jones
successfully defend his light heavyweight title for the first time, or will Rampage Jackson get the belt back? Can Matt Hughes
show he still has something left, or will Josh Koscheck
send Hughes another step closer to retirement? Will the unbeaten Travis Browne
take another step forward in the UFC
We'll answer those questions and more as we predict the winners at UFC 135
: UFC 135: Jones vs. RampageWhen
: Saturday, the preliminary card starts at 6 p.m. ET, the Spike TV fights start at 8 and the pay-per-view starts at 9.Where
: Pepsi Center, Denver
Predictions on the five pay-per-view fights below.
Jon Jones vs. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
The UFC light heavyweight title has been a hot potato since Rampage took it from Chuck Liddell
in 2007. Rampage defended it successfully only once before losing it to Forrest Griffin
. Griffin lost his first title defense to Rashad Evans
. Evans lost his first title defense to Lyoto Machida
. Machida barely beat Shogun Rua in his first title defense before losing the belt to Shogun in a rematch. And Shogun lost his first title defense to Jones.
But many UFC fans think Jones will be the one who finally goes on a long run as light heavyweight champion, the way Liddell did before Rampage beat him. Jones has the whole package as a mixed martial artist, and he's just 24 years old and still getting better. He could easily be the champion for years.
So does Rampage have a chance? I don't think he has a very good one. At age 33, I don't think Rampage is the same fighter he was in his 20s. He looks slower than the guy we saw beat Liddell twice, and he hasn't shown much sign of his trademark punching power since knocking out Wanderlei Silva almost three years ago. I think Jones-Rampage looks a lot like Jones-Shogun, with Jones winning in dominant fashion.Pick: Jones
Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck
Both of these guys are coming off long layoffs, with Hughes returning for the first time since losing to B.J. Penn in November, and Koscheck returning for the first time since losing to Georges St. Pierre in December. The biggest question about this fight is how Hughes and Koscheck will recover from their long layoffs, and from their decisive losses the last time they stepped into the Octagon.
But what we do know is that Koscheck is four years younger than Hughes and closer to his fighting prime than Hughes, and I think that makes Koscheck more likely than Hughes to be ready to bounce back from his loss and be ready to go -- even though Koscheck is the one who took this fight on short notice. Hughes is one of the all-time great UFC fighters, with an all-time record 18 wins inside the Octagon. But at this point in their careers, I think Koscheck is both a better wrestler and a better striker than Hughes, and I don't see Hughes getting No. 19.Pick: Koscheck
Travis Browne vs. Rob Broughton
Browne is coming off a great knockout of Stefan Struve in May, which improved his record to 11-0-1. He's a big, powerful heavyweight who hasn't yet shown that he can be a complete mixed martial artist but has shown that he can hit really, really hard.
Broughton hits hard, too, and he has a better ground game than Browne. But I don't see Broughton being able to take this fight to the ground, and if they stand and trade punches, that's exactly what Browne wants. Look for Browne to knock Broughton out.Pick: Browne
Nate Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi
When Nate's big brother Nick Diaz submitted Gomi in 2007, it was a major upset: Gomi was widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world at the time. But that was a long time ago, and no one should be surprised when Nate Diaz submits Gomi. A loss here will drop Gomi to 1-3 in the UFC and serve as another reminder that the Gomi of the Pride years is gone for good.Pick: Diaz
Ben Rothwell vs. Mark Hunt
Speaking of guys from the Pride days who don't have it anymore, it's kind of amazing that Hunt -- who has a career record below .500 and has lost six of his last seven -- is actually in the UFC at all. Hunt still has punching power, as Chris Tuchscherer found out the hard way at UFC 127, but if Rothwell is completely recovered from the torn ACL that has kept him out since June of 2010, he should beat Hunt easily.Pick: Rothwell