Can Chael Sonnen score one notable light heavyweight victory before departing back to middleweight? That's one question to consider. The other is does it even matter. If there's one thing the main event in the UFC's debut on FOX Sports 1 signals, it's that it's there to entertain more than to assert any real divisional relevancy.
And that's ok, largely because the rest of the fight card is remarkably good. It's filled with fighters across the UFC's weight classes, surging prospects, top contenders, heavy hitters, sensational grapplers and more. It's not a perfect card and the main event is almost a distraction, but UFC fans should be highly pleased.
What: UFC Fight Night 26: Shogun vs. Sonnen
Where: The TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
When: Saturday, the three-fight Facebook card starts at 4:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 undercard starts at 6 p.m. followed by the six-fight main card on the same channel at 8 p.m. ET.
Mauricio Rua vs. Chael Sonnen
There truly is a way to see this for either guy. If you believe in Shogun, you probably think he's going to crush Sonnen as long as they're on their feet. Sonnen will probably get the takedown and even spend some time on top, but you suspect Shogun's sweeps and submissions will eventually find the mark.
There's also a case for Sonnen. Shogun's takedown defense is fairly terrible. While it's true Shogun may have at one time been a true submission threat, the days of kneebaring Kevin Randleman are over. He's shop worn and simply not as successfully aggressive as he once was. Sonnen will get the takedowns when he needs them and grind out a decision on top.
The problem with this bout is that when both fighters are past their peaks, you can never be sure which of their weaknesses they'll be unable to hide or control. Of the two, Sonnen is less damaged. His wrestling advantage is also hard to ignore. I'm going to pick him to win here, but I do so very reluctantly.
Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne
As much as Overeem's UFC run has been a bit of a disaster (i.e. the elevated T:E ratio and upset loss to Antonio Silva), I still like his chances here. Overeem's gas tank isn't particularly great, but I'm not confident Browne can drag the Dutch heavyweight that far. He might have to defend a takedown or two, but eventually this will be contested with striking exchanges. For all of his other problems, Overeem can thump, to say nothing of how well he blends combinations.
That should be sufficient to earn the stoppage and get back on track.
Urijah Faber vs. Yuri Alcantara
Alcantara might have the most slept-on resume in the UFC. This is a guy who knocked out Ricardo Lamas, stopped Iliarde Santos, decisioned and nearly arm barred Michihiro Omigawa plus more. The problem is he lost a decision to Hacran Dias after the Brazilian using stifling wrestling and top control. Dias is no pushover, but if Dias can do it, Faber can do something similar. Faber prefers to win scrambles with front head locks and back takes from turtle position, but the trick generally for Faber is his speed and explosion keeps the opponent guessing. He often initiates the scramble, which is why he usually wins them. He'll do that for a win here, too.
Matt Brown vs. Mike Pyle
This is a really tough one to call. Both are savvy veterans who are having a bit of a late career resurgence. Pyle is more of a ground operator while Brown tends to favor striking exchanges, however, both have competencies in all dimensions of the game. This is a pick 'em fight if there ever was one, but I'll side with Pyle, if just barely. Brown's ability to absorb punishment seems a little more diminished than Pyle's. Either can win here, though, and the end might be as quick as it is electrifying.
Uriah Hall vs. John Howard
For all of Hall's issues, a) he's working diligently on them and b) I'm not at all convinced Howard is the guy to exploit them. What Howard is good at, Hall is better. It's true Hall's weaknesses in the takedown defense phase of the game are known and real, but I have a hard time believing Howard can demonstrate superior skill differential there to take a decision or earn a stoppage.
Joe Lauzon vs. Michael Johnson
Stated plainly, if the Johnson who showed up for Reza Madadi competes here, he's getting bulldozed. I actually think Johnson is significantly better than that, but the problem is there's nothing Johnson's going to show Lauzon that the Massachusetts-native hasn't seen before. Add to that the dramatic difference in submission ability and Lauzon is likely to bring the hometown crowd to its feet in roaring approval.
From the preliminary card:
Brad Pickett < Michael McDonald
Conor McGregor > Max Hollaway
Mike Brown < Steven Siler
Diego Brandao > Daniel Pineda
Manny Gamburyan < Cole Miller
Cody Donovan < Ovince St. Preux
Ramsey Nijem > James Vick