The UFC holds its first pay-per-view event of 2014 with a doubleheader that features the best featherweight ever in the sport along with a man who is likely to become the best bantamweight in the division's history, the both of them teammates in Brazil. UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will defend his title against top contender Ricardo Lamas, and in the main event, UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao will fight Urijah Faber for a second time in their careers.
Will Barao get past Faber a second time? Does Lamas stand a chance against Aldo? Who will snap their losing streak in the battle between Mir and Overeem? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC 169: Barao vs. Faber
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
When: Saturday, the three-fight Fight Pass card starts at 6:30 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.
Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber
I take seriously the idea Faber has improved since he last faced Barao. I believe his striking combinations have expanded, but they still serve to set up his takedowns, back takes and submissions. I don't think Faber's speed has slipped, at least not noticeably. He's as explosive and as sharp as he's ever been.
I still wonder if that's enough. Barao is hittable as Michael McDonald proved, rocking the Brazilian early in their bout. He's not a better wrestler than Faber and will employing different styles, their skill levels are commensurate in MMA contexts. The problem is Barao, while something of a slow starter, can do more things and can make more adjustments. If plan A doesn't work, he's got quite a bit more than plan B. Faber, for all his strengths, doesn't have that sort of flexibility in his offense. He's very good at blitz opponents at distance, landing a straight punch and establishing the takedown. But if that doesn't work? Where can he pivot that Barao can't block? I don't see it.
Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas
Speaking candidly, this is a bit of a long shot for Lamas. Not impossible, but largely improbable. The American's best hope is to survive early. It's difficult to see where he can score a takedown until Aldo begins to coast late. Up until then, Aldo should be able to carve Lamas to pieces. Assuming the fight goes long enough, however, things could get interesting. Lamas has shown the propensity at featherweight to endure after struggling early. If he can push Aldo to the championship rounds and do significant damage, he might have a chance. Short of that, however, it's all Aldo.
Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem
One would think this would be a rout for Overeem. He's good enough to defend the takedown against Mir's takedown prowess and on the feet, well, it should just be a matter of time. And yet, here we have a scenario where Overeem is fighting for his employment after two bouts where competitors were able to hang on just long enough to watch the Dutch heavyweight wilt. I find it less than plausible that Mir has it in him to score a come back. He did so against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but typically loses in bouts where opponents began setting the tone and scoring damage early. Both Overeem and Mir have their issues, but this one ultimately is a function of Mir's options, which are few and far between.
This is about as close to a pick 'em fight as any on the card. I'm going to side with Bagautinov, but only because he's more selective and accurate with his punches. Lineker is about more willing to create a panic with a ferocious attack. That's fine against the vast majority of opposition, but not against someone who can match his speed, explosion and power.
I really wonder about this bout. Is this where Trujillo turns a corner as a prospect while Varner's stock irreparably slides? Or is this the contest where Varner reasserts himself? I can see a case where Varner uses superior combinations and perfectly-timed takedowns to cruise to a decision victory. I can also see a scenario where Trujillo uses his bruising power in the clinch to wear out and ultimately stop Varner. I'm going to side with the rising prospect. Varner's proven more in his career, by far, but there's something about Trujillo's imposing style that gives me optimism for his future.
From the preliminary card: