The UFC returns to over-the-air television this weekend and even tries to piggy back on arguably the most popular boxer alive. Oh yeah, and there are some great fights, too. Top lightweights Jim Miller and Nate Diaz will battle for what could be (but is not guaranteed to be) a title shot. The same stakes exist at welterweight as perennial contender Josh Koscheck faces off against fellow Divisional I NCAA wrestling national champion Johny Hendricks.
Will Hendricks become the first person since Georges St. Pierre to defeat both Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck? Will Jim Miller finally get the title shot he so desperately seeks? Can Lavar Johnson continue to make noise in the heavyweight division?
I'll attempt to answer those questions with these predictions about UFC on Fox 3.
What: UFC on Fox 3: Miller vs. Diaz
Where: IZOD Center, East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Saturday, the fight card starts with two dark matches at 4 p.m. ET, the six-fight Fuel card starts at 5 and the four-fight televised card starts at 8 on FOX
Predictions on the four televised fights below.
I want to be cautious about this fight. While I don't think Miller will be as hesitant to engage Diaz on the ground as Gray Maynard, I do think we should temper our expectations for brawling action (at least for the early portions of the fight). Miller is obviously the better wrestler and certainly the more athletic scrambler. If they do go to the ground, it's not as if he can't hold his own. But the water is treacherous there even if Miller's a better submission grappler than he is a striker (to say nothing of the reach disadvantage).
All I'm saying is the fight will probably start slow and heat to a boil as the rounds progress. And over time, I like the guy with better mat awareness, base and offensive wrestling ability.
I want to pick Hendricks and I want to say he'll win easily, but my gut just doesn't tell me that. It's true I have no idea what to make of a 34-year old Josh Koscheck. That's even more true given the camp turmoil and departure from AKA. Even still, while I respect Hendricks power I buy Koscheck's criticism of him: he is a little wild, too in love with striking and willing to counterfight. Against a guy like Koscheck - who has fought the best of the best at welterweight - I am reluctant to think Hendricks is hugely likely to get it done. Hendricks has the power and the skills if he applies himself and maybe gets a little lucky. I just don't see that as likely.
Palhares is the odds-on favorite to win and it's not hard to see why. He's a dynamic grappler with a skill set most people have little ability to handle. The professional grapplers I've spoken to about this bout tell me leg locks are often skills even black belts have a fairly basic level and Palhares' game is exquisite on that particular front. Also of note: some leg lock experts are merciful and give you the opportunity to tap before doing damage. Palhares affords opposition no such window. This isn't sport jiu-jitsu, but Palhares' game is well adapted for MMA.
I think this is a pick 'em bout. Either guy is legitimately capable of pulling this one out. Belcher's very well-rounded, but I often question his decision making. He is often far too willing to compete under terms created by his opposition, thereby giving a round or even the fight away
Johnson has the power to put anyone's lights out in MMA, but he's going to fall short here. His gas tank is not remarkable and while he packs a wallop, he does so at the expense of position and efficiency. Barry's speed is underrated as is his ability to counterstrike. If Johnson lands the big shot it's a wrap, but I suspect Barry will find a way to stay out of range until it's time to strike.