The UFC is putting on what is arguably the best card of the year on Saturday with their seventh installment on FOX. One doesn't know if this is a trend that will continue, but gone are the FOX cards that had co-main events as headliners. Saturday offers a chance to settle who the best lightweight in MMA is today, whether a former Olympian can move one step closer to earning a title in professional mixed martial arts and much, much more. From top to bottom, UFC on FOX 7 is a first-rate matchmaking and promotional effort from Zuffa.
Can Benson Henderson defend his title against Melendez or will the former Strikeforce champ finally prove he's the best lightweight on earth? Will Daniel Cormier be able to make a statement against former champion Frank Mir or is this Mir's turn to get back to his winning ways? I answer these questions and more with predictions for Saturday's event.
Where: The HP Pavilion, San Jose, California
When: Saturday, the two-fight Facebook card starts at 4 p.m. ET, the six-fight FX card starts at 5 p.m. and the four-fight main card starts on FOX at 8 p.m.
It certainly would be foolish to suggest Melendez can't compete in the top ten or top five of the division at lightweight, but I will confess to not being as enthusiastic about his chances as some of his supporters. His game is in many ways similar to Henderson's, although the UFC champ incorporates a healthy dose of kicks to his offensive arsenal. The difference for me is the ability to apply pressure. Both are excellent at it, but Henderson has proven to be far better at resisting it when opponents attempt to apply it to him. Both end up creating a lot of unnecessary scrambles from loose positional control, but of the two I suspect Henderson is the better wrestler and more physically powerful. The trick for Henderson is getting Melendez to back up. It cuts down on his output, reduces his boxing to reactionary and generally makes his game defensive in a way that suits the UFC champ's needs. I believe he can do it.
I have a hard time seeing how Cormier loses here. Sure, if he plays a jiu-jitsu game with Mir, the former UFC heavyweight champion could make things ugly for the former Olympian, but Cormier's fight IQ is far too high to compete on those kinds of terms. This fight will likely be kept standing, either at range or in the clinch. The key distinction between the two in terms of fight outcome, though, is speed. Cormier's got a ton of it, far more than Mir. At heavyweight, it's a priceless commodity. I expect Cormier to avoid any and all takedown attempts from Mir while using his speed, footwork and angles to land devastating strikes on the inside. He could end up going on the inside, too, if need be, but either way this is his fight to lose.
I struggled a bit with this one. Thomson's been inconistent and injury-riddled for so much of his career. Nate Diaz is incontestably one of the best lightweights on earth. A win by him wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. Yet,the type of game plan used by Rory MacDonald and Benson Henderson isn't out of reach for Thomson. He'll have to be firing on all cylinders and not lapse into long boxing exchanges with Diaz or fall into his guard after a takedown. But if he can score first, move behind Diaz and control him - which he is capable of doing - he can score a decent upset on Saturday night.
For all of his faults, Brown is a fairly improved fighter, veteran of the game and can take advantage of talented fighters who show up sloppy on fight night. While Mein could be overcome by the moment, I doubt it. I suspect the rising welterweight is going to look good again with his crisp outside striking, control in the clinch and use of physical size. I'm not going to count Brown out as hopeless, but Mein's game is just too technical. Frankly, it's also too ferocious, but in a calculated way. That's not typically the kind of opponent Brown finds a ton of success against.
From the preliminary card:
Darren Elkins < Chad Mendes
Francis Carmont < Lorenz Larkin
Myles Jury > Ramsey Nijem
Joseph Benavidez > Darren Uyenoyama
Jorge Masvidal < Tim Means
T.J. Dillashaw > Hugo Viana
Roger Bowling < Anthony Njokuani
Clifford Starks > Yoel Romero