The UFC returns to New Jersey with a main event where the stakes for both champion and challenger are almost comical in how rare and utterly outlandish they are, a consequence of a bout booked on grounds entirely unrelated to sporting achievement. Still, the contest is real and the challenger not entirely outmatched. In fact, he tests to a fuller degree one of the most important aspects of any fighter's repertoire, takedown defense. The champion has so far performed superbly. Can he continue to do so?
Can Jon Jones retain his title and tie Tito Ortiz's light heavyweight record of consecutive title defenses? Will Chael Sonnen shock the world and win a title in a division he hasn't competed in in years? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for UFC 159.
What: UFC 159: Jones vs. Sonnen
Where: The Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
When: Saturday, the three-fight Facebook card starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.
The truth of this bout is that it shouldn't be happening. It's literally a last-minute, utterly desperate replacement fight that's crystallized into a heavily promoted, planned main event. Except it doesn't feel like a main event save for the celebrity of the champ and to a lesser extent the challenger. There's absolutely zero justification for this bout on sporting grounds. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either disingenuous or of poor intellect or both.
As for the fight itself, however, that doesn't necessarily mean this is a blowout. It well could be, but we should also prepare ourselves for the possibility that Sonnen's relentless takedown attempts could delay a swift ending (it will also be one of the more serious tests of Jones' skills here, too). I'd also contend Jones' more measured approach in recent bouts gives space for his contenders to breath a little bit longer than they ordinarily would.
But there's no denying the inevitability of the outcome. This fight is arguably a waste of Jones' time and while I extended my support to this bout initially, to say I've had second thoughts since then would be an understatement.
I'm going with the favorite here, but I recognize this bout is probably going to be a closely-contested affair. The problem, ultimately, is going to be Bisping's calculated, consistent pressure. Belcher might have success early, but he is not particularly adept at applying it across three hard-fought rounds. Bisping, for all of his shortcomings, is excellent in the sense of knowing when and how to apply pressure to fading opposition. It's actually something he doesn't get nearly enough credit for. Add in his offensive and defensive wrestling ability and it's hard to see a way Belcher wins if this goes past the first.
Nelson has his issues, but I see this very much as his fight to lose. He'll have to stay off the fence particularly and at range generally, but I really have a hard time seeing how Kongo avoids getting cracked. And if he does, that's probably going to be enough. There's probably a case to be made I'm deeply underrating Kongo and ignoring Nelson's foibles, but I see this bout's outcome as ultimately a function of chins. On those grounds, Nelson can't lose.
I tip my hat to both Davis and Magalhaes for either selling this fight or letting whatever portion of their mutual animosity bubble to the surface. It's raised the stakes and profile of a bout that began as something of a sleeper contest. Here's the problem: I'm not sure where there's evidence that Magalhaes has truly undergone enough skill development to truly make this competitive. He can't take Davis down and while he could pull guard or dive for a submission Masakazu Imanari-style, that's extremely low percentage stuff. Davis isn't exactly a sensational striker, but he doesn't have to be to win on Saturday night.
Some have suggested there's real upset potential in this fight. Maybe. I'm not convinced, however. Miller's only losses are to Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz. Is Pat Healy in the sort of rarefied air of those aforementioned fighters? Not really. And in terms of style vs. style, I'm guessing Miller's scrambling will undo any or most of Healy's takedown attempts. It should be noted Miller's a 'faster' grappler whose game emphasizes speed where Healy is much more about timing and positional control. Lastly, Miller's striking is leagues above Healy's even on the most basic measurements. Healy is tough, experienced and talented, but I'm not sure I understand why he's viewed as the upset pick of the night by some.
From the preliminary card:
Rustam Khabilov > Yancy Medeiros
Gian Villante < Ovince St. Preux
Sara McMann > Sheila Gaff
Bryan Caraway < Johnny Bedford
Leonard Garcia > Cody McKenzie
Nick Catone < James Head
Steven Siler > Kurt Holobaugh
* Yes, this time I really did pick all of the favorites, which I'm sure is going to be wrong. I just don't see any obvious upset picks as likely at this time.