The UFC offers up what is unmistakably the best card of the year to date. In the main event, two of the organization's and world's best welterweight vie for the vacated title of Georges St-Pierre, which is important enough, but it doesn't stop there. The UFC has added two more highly-important welterweight bouts to the main card as a means of sorting the division. There's also a highly-intriguing lightweight bout on the main card between a rising talent and decorated veteran. To top it all off, high-level prospects in Justin Scoggins and Alex Garcia make an appearance to take the next steps in their careers.
Will Johny Hendricks pick up where he left off with GSP and claim the welterweight title? Is this the apex of Robbie Lawler's resurgence? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
When: Saturday, the four-fight Fight Pass card starts at 6 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 2 card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.
Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler
I have no issue with anyone picking Lawler. With two high-octane power punchers like this, any pick is basically defensible. And more than defensible, there are good reasons to think the counter punching of Lawler's right hooks might be kryptonite for Hendricks leaping left straights. However, I actually think Hendricks is going to go back to his wrestling for this one. Anyone who can take down GSP can do the same to Lawler. From there, Hendricks has monstrous ground and pound, not to mention a supremely underrated submission game. Lawler isn't a slouch anywhere, but isn't nearly the threat off of his back. I mean that either as a guard player or someone who can consistently return to his feet despite top pressure. Hendricks' scrambling is a bit overrated given his occasional reckless attacks, but has reliably better skills in that department relative to Lawler.
If the two choose to slug it out, well, hold onto your seat. However, Hendricks has a more diverse skill set and skills win fights. He might also have the edge in speed. In the end, that should be the difference.
If this were a five-round fight, I'd be very comfortable picking Condit. He has essentially 'perfect' cardio, an ungodly ability to take damage and a tendency to turn up the offense the later the fight goes. With three rounds, however, things are significantly tougher. Woodley will be able to establish the takedown for all three rounds, although I don't suspect he'll be able to stand at range from Condit. Underneath, Condit's guard is a handful. He's active with short, slashing elbows, but most importantly, he's excellent at threatening sweeps. That disrupts the top player's balance and ability to pass guard or throw heavy shots, at a minimum. If the judges aren't horrible, that should mean Condit will have done enough to earn the win. Woodley is fast on the feet and can close distance with clubbing shots very quickly, but can't match Condit's combination striking. On the ground, Condit should be able to nullify everything but the takedown.
This is a sensational fight and pits two lightweights at the appropriate time in their careers to answer the most pressing questions about their ability. Is Myles Jury the next top talent in the division? Does Diego Sanchez still have what it takes to swim with the sharks? There's reason to believe the answer is 'yes' to both of those questions. There's also a reason to hold onto skepticism, which is why these two are fighting. Generally speaking, I suspect Jury will approach the fight tactically for at least a round, probably two, before the Sanchez 'frate trane' takes over in the third. Jury has the skills to maintain distance or find superior position in scrambles, but I don't know how long he can sustain that against the unrelenting pressure. I'll betting on the guy pushing more offense as Sanchez has a way of just willing himself into victory.
Shields is a superb welterweight. Lombard is a ultra-talented middleweight who had an excellent welterweight debut against a respected competitor. Still, I'm worried this might be a bit of a stalemate. Shields is going to want to shoot as carefully as he can, but Lombard's takedown defense is borderline impenetrable. The judoka's scrambling ability is also outstanding. That means there's going to be long periods of action where Shields is waiting for an opportunity given that Lombard has a propensity to have a pose off when an opponent is reluctant to engage. Ultimately,though, I don't see how Shields is going to get Lombard to the ground long enough to do much. Shields' striking on the feet isn't particularly pretty, but it's surprisingly efficient. Yet, even if we grant that, can he really be more effective in the very realm where Lombard has enjoyed the most success of his career as a lightning quick, dominant power puncher?
Ovince St. Preux vs. Nikita Kyrlov
Krylov had a nice knockout win in his last UFC outing and the weight drop to light heavyweight is a sensical one, but sorry, I absolutely do not believe in his ability to consistently perform at this level. St. Preux is occasionally reckless, but I doubt Krylov will make him pay.
From the preliminary card:
Kevin Gastelum --> Rick Story
Raquel Pennington --> Jessica Andrade
Dennis Bermudez <-- Jimy Hettes
Sean Spencer --> Alex Garcia
Renee Forte <-- Frank Trevino
Will Campuzano --> Justin Scoggins
Robert McDaniel <-- Sean Strickland
Daniel Pineda <-- Robert Whiteford