This weekend the UFC returns to FOX with a fight card wracked by injuries and fight cancellations. The Lavar Johnson-Brendan Schaub bout was scrapped when Schaub was pulled from the bout, Ultimate Fighter Michael Chiesa had his bout scrapped with Marcus Levesseur, Bryan Caraway and T.J. Dillashaw were forced out of their bouts with Mike Easton, and so on.
Will all of that being said however, this is still arguably the strongest card the UFC has put together all year, and on free television. Benson Henderson will defend his lightweight title against Nate Diaz, Alexander Gustafsson takes on former champion Mauricio Rua, and BJ Penn returns to battle the surging contender Rory MacDonald. Who's going to make their name? Who's going to take home the W (and possibly the belt)? I'll try to answer that with these fight predictions.
Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz
This fight should be fireworks. With Diaz's come forward, in your face approach to striking and his deadly submission game, Diaz might very well be just the 4th ever Ultimate Fighter winner to take a UFC title. However, he's got current the current champ to watch out for. Benson Henderson has a grinding, physically dominant style, and an excellent submission defense, along with powerful strikes on the feet.
The fight should play out 1 of 2 ways. If the fight stays on the feet, look for Diaz to occasionally lure Henderson into a brawl, perhaps even stunning him, but ultimately to lose the points game and get outstruck by a more technical Henderson. Should the fight hit the mat, look for Henderson to be on top and avoiding submission attempts and scrambling at a frenetic pace. This should go 5 rounds, and it should be a fight of the night.
Henderson via decision.
A classic fight scenario, one that the UFC has put together time and time again: the old guard or former champion against the up and coming fighter. In Gustafsson, the UFC has found a tall fighter with vastly improving all around skills, knockout power, and finishing instincts on the ground. Gustafsson has looked tremendous in his most recent outings, brutalizing Matt Hamill and picking apart Thiago Silva, but in "Shogun" he faces a big step up in competition. The former champ has well documented knockout ability (as well as a submission victory over Kevin Randleman that Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg will never forget), but he's taken an extreme amount of punishment over the last couple of fights. Couple those bouts together with his gym wars, and I think we're seeing a "Shogun" on the decline. I think it's an entertaining brawl, but one I think Gustafsson takes either with a late finish or a decision.
Gustafsson via decision.
BJ Penn vs. Rory MacDonald
By now, everyone has probably seen the shirtless shadow boxing video that BJ Penn put out, and by now, everyone has at one point or another thought the same thing: Penn looks good. Not the Phil Baroni frame that will get you women at a night club, but like an athlete and professional fighter should look. Then you remember that Penn has said this before, that this is the best shape he'll have been in, that he's never felt better, pre-fight banter that's old hat. But every time, we believe him (to a degree).
In MacDonald, he's facing an up and coming Canadian bulldozer who holds a massive size and youth advantage. Ares, apart from a loss to former interim champion Carlos Condit, has remained perfect in his MMA career, with 12 finishes in 13 fights. So does a rejuvenated Penn defeat a MacDonald? I don't think so. Penn in his athletic prime dropped 2 fights to a younger Canadian phenom in Georges St. Pierre, and I don't see him taking out a monstrous welterweight who trains with and eerily resembles the champions early form. That being said, I expect to see the best BJ Penn to date, and even in defeat he'll make it known why he held two different UFC titles.
Rory MacDonald via TKO in the 3rd.
Once again we find knockout artist Mike Swick in the opening bout on a UFC on FOX card, and once again we find him against a middler in the UFC. Swick should get past Brown, who's won 4 of last 5, but I don't expect it will be easy. If Brown beats Swick, it will say more about how much Swick has fallen from the welterweight elite than how improved Brown is (no offense to a talented Brown). This bout should just be a for-the-hell-of-it kind of fight with neither man taking too many steps forward or backward with a win or loss. Look for Swick to have a repeat performance of his last bout here.
Swick via KO in the 2nd.
Mike Easton defeats Raphael Assuncao via TKO in the 1st round.