UFC 165 predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

On the heels of the best boxer alive competing, the UFC is placing their best light heavyweight and potentially best MMA fighter on display in a defense of his title that, if successful, will break division records. Jon Jones returns to action against challenger Alexander Gustafsson in Toronto at the top a commendably stacked card where the co-main event is also a title fight.

Can Jones break Tito Ortiz's title defense record on Saturday? Can Gustafsson throw a wrench into the American's plans? Is Renan Barao still on a collision course with Dominick Cruz? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.

What: UFC 165: Jones vs. Gustafsson

Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When: Saturday, the four-fight Facebook card starts at 6:15 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.

Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson

This is a game where anything can happen. If Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman isn't evidence of that, well, nothing is. Gustafsson is an excellent fighter who, on his best day and with a stroke of luck, can beat any light heavyweight in the world. The problem is that's going to be a pretty rare day, statistically speaking, and Saturday isn't it. Jones is just too good for Gustafsson. Actually, he's probably too good for the entire division. No matter how this fight is marketed, Jones still retains a reach advantage and unlike the Swede, knows how to use it while fighting tall. He's also a far superior wrestler to Gustafsson. There are some paths to victory for the challenger, most likely among them keeping the contest on the feet while using angles and jabs. In the end, though, that's not much to hang your hat on against a man who is arguably the best fighter alive.

Pick: Jones

Renan Barao vs. Eddie Wineland

I have a deep and unabiding respect for Wineland. He has clawed his way to this position after a number of setbacks, ultra-tough fights and other innumerable obstacles. He's a fighter's fighter and with good reason. But all the admiration in the world isn't enough to carry him to victory on Saturday. At least not against Renan Barao. The Brazilian is simply too much for him in virtually every department. I do think Wineland will make things interesting early and will stop a lot of Barao's takedowns. And the truth is Barao's game is dependent on how well he can mix it up. The issue is that over time I don't see a strong case for Wineland to score more offense than Barao. He'll be reacting more than attacking and even if he nullifies a bit of Barao's game, it's hard to see how his offense will really ever get off the ground.

Pick: Barao

Brendan Schaub vs. Matt Mitrione

This one is a bit of a tough call, but I'm going to side with 'Meathead'. I do wonder if Schaub's ability to absorb damage has been diminished (and it wasn't great before). I also have questions about whether Schaub will be able to keep Mitrione in the clinch or on the floor long enough to win on control. I'm not necessarily the world's biggest believer in the upside of Mitrione, but despite his age he seems to have more in the tank now than Schaub.

Pick: Mitrione

Costa Philippou vs. Francis Carmont

This should be Philippou's fight to lose. He should be able to get the takedown if he needs it and should be able to box Carmont on the inside, generally out of the Canadian's kicking range. He's a better fighter in general who has defeated better opposition. That should be enough.

Pick: Philppou

Pat Healy vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov

Healy had, in some senses, the performance of his career against Jim Miller in his UFC debut. He capably used his size and heavy top control to keep Miller exhausted, reacting and ultimately submitting. I'm not convinced he'll be able to do that to Nurmagomedov. He might, of course, but I tend to believe the Daegestani will be to return more quickly to his feet if it comes to it. And on the outside, Healy doesn't have much for Nurmagomedov's striking. I also think we face a scenario where it could be Healy who finds himself on his back.

Pick: Nurmagomedov

From the preliminary card:

Mike Ricci < Myles Jury
Ivan Menjivar > Wilson Reis
Chris Clements < Stephen Thompson
Mitch Gagnon < Dustin Kimura
John Makdessi < Renee Forte
Michel Prazeras > Jesse Ronson
Roland Delorme > Alex Caceras
Nandor Guelmino < Daniel Omielanczuk

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