I know that everyone else has already ranted and raved about Dana White trying to sell this card as the most stacked card ever, but now its my turn.
I will admit that the title match features the most dominant champion the company has ever produced in Jon Jones and features a worthy opponent in Glover Teixeira, but this isn't the title match that fans wanted and White damn well knows that. They wanted a re-match between Jones and Alexander Gustafsson who many think was the actual victor in their first fight. The co-main event isn't bad, but Anthony Johnson hasn't fought in the UFC in over two years and is making his light heavyweight debut in the company. He isn't even established in the division. His opponent Phil Davis isn't the most aesthetically pleasing fighter. One high profile match with Jake Ellenberger and Tarec Saffiedine was removed due to injury without a replacement match being made and another main card fight had a ranked opponent removed due to injury. Most stacked card ever? Please stop treating your fans like idiots Mr. White. We love the sport and will tune in to watch as we recognize the UFC is the premier MMA organization, but don't belittle us.
With that said, that doesn't mean the card isn't worth watching. It certainly is. It will have the highest of implications on the light heavyweight division without a doubt and there are a number of fighters bringing forth an exciting brand such as Johnson, Luke Rockhold, Jim Miller, and the card opener of Andre Fili and Max Holloway. If you want action the card has it. Hell, it has high stakes too. It just isn't the all-time best. But when an organization has held over 270 events it shouldn't be seen as a heavy disappointment when it doesn't reach those levels.
Here is the detailed breakdown:
(C) Jon Jones (19-1) vs. #2 Glover Teixeira (22-2), Light Heavyweight
Jones looked human in his last outing which has the world believing that it is possible for him to lose his belt. Rather than a rematch with Gustafsson though we get Teixeira who has won 20 in a row. This should be good...
Jones may no longer appear untouchable, but he still does what he does best: alienate the MMA fan base and kick some ass. Jones recently claimed that he didn't give it 100% against Gustafsson and that he intends to start giving his all once again to prove his dominance. His physical skills are still intact, but what about his psychology? This might be the biggest test of his career at this point due to that factor (and Teixeira is pretty good himself).
Teixeira is getting a raw deal from fans as all many of them want to see is Jones rematch with Gustafsson leaving Teixeira overlooked in the public perception. In the eyes of many, Jones has already defeated Teixeira. This is likely providing plenty of positive motivation for Teixeira as he has John Hackleman and Chuck Liddell in his corner to remind him of this while keeping him focused.
While I'm not going to say Jones is no longer the most dynamic striker in the UFC (I assure you he still is), but he has reigned in some of his creativity. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is difficult to say as that was what had so many opponents tentative against him in the first place is that they didn't know what he was going to do next. Still, with such a unique physical skill set, he does things no one else can do even when reigned it. There is reason though. Opponents often know that his spinning elbow is coming anymore and some of its effectiveness has been lost as a result. Now he utilizes an attack that picks his opponent apart. He is constantly attacking his opponents base with oblique kicks and your basic leg kicks and does it from a distance only he can get away with. As always, expect a lot of these. Gustafsson was much more active and caught Jones flat-footed a lot. Jones was least effective when Gustafsson was on the attack. Look for Teixeira to try and be aggressive.
Not that being aggressive is a problem for Teixeira. According to Fight Metric, Glover is the all-time UFC leader in strikes landed per minute. Jones may have the overall advantage in striking, but Teixeira is a much more accomplished boxer capable of throwing together much more effective combinations including mixing things up to the body. But as always the question is whether or not he'll be able to get inside of Jones range as it is with everyone. He'll throw out some probbing jabs with no intention of them actually landing to try and gauge the distance. His defense is solid too with a classic boxing stance and does a good job of blocking shots to the head with his arms. When he gets inside (I did say when) he rarely throws anything softly. Teixeira has some good (not great) leg kicks and will likely throw them at Jones lead leg often to wear out his base. Teixeira's power can't be ignored though. If there is going to be a highlight reel finish I would put my money on Teixeira's fists putting out Jones as Jones has never really been hit with a clean haymaker. Teixeira could change that.
Teixeira isn't your classic wrestle-boxer, though he does have some of the characteristics. For most of this nature, wrestling is their base whereas Teixeira's wrestling compliments his striking. He was able to hand in there in the wrestling department with Ryan Bader and largely did what he wanted with Rampage Jackson in the grappling department. His GNP is heavy as hell too and he doesn't necessarily need to be in top mount for it to be effective. I gotta believe that his BJJ is also more diverse than Jones as he does own a black belt and showed beautiful technique in wrapping an arm-triangle choke on Kyle Kingsbury. Jones should be wary about Teixeira's ability to latch onto a limb cause he can surely do it. Teixeira's sprawl has been very good too up to this point, though I wouldn't expect Jones to attempt to put him down much if at all.
Jones has one of if not the best sprawl in all of MMA. I know I've already implied this, but it is important enough to mention again. It isn't that he has no skill on the ground, but his advantages are so much more pronounced on the feet, especially when you consider that the longer your limbs are the easier it is for your opponent to attach themselves to it. Remember Vitor Belfort's armbar attempt? We have never seen Jones' guard and his submissions have been a result of opponents shrinking up after a devastating beating for a choke or from side guard. That isn't to say that he sucks when he gets mount. His elbows from that position may be the most devastating form of GNP in the sport due to the velocity and angle he throws them at. As for his own takedowns, Jones showed that he can muscle down his opponent anytime he wants against Chael Sonnen easily scooping him up multiple times. Due to Sonnen being not nearly the caliber of striker that Teixeira is, don't expect him to employ this strategy. He doesn't want to be in Teixeira's range.
The biggest X-factor (this will be common) is stamina. Teixeira's fights usually don't last long and though he didn't gas against Rampage, he has never gone 5 rounds as Jones has multiple times. Outside of Teixeira's power and Jones psychology, I can't think of much else.
Many expect Jones to want to make a massive point with this match, but I don't think he will. He has likely gained a new respect for his opponents after the beating he received from Gustafsson and will play it safe. That doesn't mean that he won't win though. Teixeira will have his moments for sure, make it a fun match, and will take a round or two, but Jones holds the belt in the end. Jones by Decison
#4 Phil Davis (12-1, 1 NC) vs. #14 Anthony Johnson (16-4), Light Heavyweight
This makes for a classic striker vs. grappler matchup with a heavy favoring towards the grappler. Sorry guys... but the possibility for the KO is still there.
Davis scored the biggest victory of his career over Lyoto Machida last August only to be pushed aside by the company for a while as his victory was marred in controversy as most pundits believed that Machida won. Since then Davis has realized he needs to be more vocal to get noticed and has made the champ Jones his regular target. With a victory over Johnson, Davis could get that fight. More than likely though, he'll need one more match.
Like everyone else, I can't possibly understand how in the hell Johnson ever used to make the welterweight weight limits. He's big for a light heavyweight! Since officially moving to 205, Johnson has been nothing short of spectacular, winning 6 in a row with 4 finishes amongst those victories. While it isn't clear if Johnson can compete with the elite in the class, here is his chance to prove he can.
There is a misconception out there that Davis is a very limited striker and it is backed up by the fact he has scored exactly zero KO/TKO's in the UFC. I'm not about to proclaim Davis a KO artist, but his striking is well-rounded and certainly has sting to it. Jabs and front kicks are what I would most expect to see from Davis as he wants to stay out of Johnson's range and he throws them with good but not great efficiency. That will be difficult for him to do with Johnson (Davis 79' reach is massive, but Johnson is at 78'), but the last thing he want is to get into the range of the powerful Johnson. His leg kicks are killer when he gets his weight underneath him rather than letting lose on the fly. Its rare to see him throw just one punch as he usually combos up. While I agree with the majority of the public that Machida won, I won't deny that Davis showed great footwok and fluidity in most of his strikes (some looked awkward as hell), but most importantly is that he did a great job at landing shots from a distance and avoiding damage outside of a flurry in the first. That is a massive part of his abilities as Davis rarely takes significant damage.
When Johnson moved up in weight the biggest question was whether or not the power would translate. He answered that emphatically with his 4 finishes which brings his career total to 11, all by KO/TKO. While I like what Davis does, Johnson does everything just a bit better if not by a significant margin in some places. He doesn't seem to get enough credit for his kicking ability which is ludicrous considering he owns 3 KO/TKO's by head kick. But his leg and body kicks have a lot of snap to them and can certainly wear down an opponent. His punches aren't meant to wear down, they are meant to end fights. Everything is thrown with power on it with the greater firepower coming from his right hook. He has improved on his combos, but he still doesn't throw them all that often. It often only seems that way as he has such fantastic hand speed.
Everyone knows that Davis is great on the ground, but similar to how many under appreciate Davis' abilities on his feet, they do the same with Johnson's ability on the ground. He isn't a submission artist at all, but he was a junior college champion in wrestling. Problem is we haven't seen a whole lot of his wrestling since he made the jump in weight. Was he able to control his opponents only because he had such a large size advantage over them? While it certainly helped, I think Johnson could hold his own with most at 205. He did get Andrei Arlovski down after all and that isn't an easy task. However, I will be shocked if Johnson tries to get Davis to the ground. Davis has too many advantages there. But Davis getting Johnson down? I admit Johnson has a good sprawl, but the only opponent he has faced with a wrestling pedigree similar to Davis was Josh Koscheck and Kos was able to get him down.
At this juncture, Davis may be the best wrestler in the division. I know that Rashad Evans dominated him on the ground two years ago, but Davis is an excellent student and Evans is two more years out of his best days and coming of a severe knee injury. Davis' only real competition is in the form of Daniel Cormier. My favorite aspect of Davis on the ground is that he owns to most devastating knees to the body from the ground that I have ever seen. I'm shocked he hasn't stopped a fight with them yet. Some see him as a submission specialist and he does have a nice anaconda choke and arm submissions. If I'm not mistaken though, he has only caught his opponents from side control and in scrambles. Still, I think he is skilled enough to catch Johnson if presented the opportunity. His double leg is explosive enough to catch Lyoto Machida off-guard so I'm sure at some point he'll find success flooring Johnson at some point.
Both are solid in the clinch, but Davis is such an expert in leverage that I would expect him to own the advantage there. Davis also has a much better tank than Johnson. Its true he took Arlovski to decision, but the majority of the last round was Johnson leaning Arlovski against the fence. The deeper it goes the better it looks for Davis.
Johnson will have to catch Davis early and he is more than capable. If Davis wasn't such a smart fighter I would probably be inclined to say Johnson takes it. But I can't. Through in the fact that Davis is angling for a shot at Jon Jones now and wants to make some sort of statement, I expect him to finish Johnson. Davis by Submission 3rd Round
#5 Luke Rockhold (11-2) vs. #13 Tim Boetsch (17-6), Middleweight
Many feel that this is quite a lopsided bout with Boetsch being a sacrificial lamb for Rockhold. But isn't that what they said before he faced Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard?
Is it just me, or did Rockhold look very determined to prove a point in his last bout against Costas Philippou? After being decapitated by Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut, Rockhold knew that he had to make up some lost ground and did so emphatically. He is a legitimate threat to make a title as he is very well-rounded and a massive middleweight at 6'3 with awesome finishing acumen. While many remember that he defeated Tim Kennedy, people tend to forget that he does own a victory over Jacare Souza.
Boetsch is on shaky ground and the best way to stabilize it would be to land the Hail Mary opportunity he is being given here to get into the title picture. He was considered a dark horse in the division just 18 months ago. But 2 losses in your last 3 fights (and saved from three in a row due to inept judging) will change the public perception of that possibility in a hurry. He losses here and he'll forever be thought of as a gatekeeper.
Rockhold doesn't get enough credit for his patience. He doesn't force anything that isn't there and waits for the hole in his opponents defense to open up. While he ended up being too patient against Belfort, he didn't rush anything against Philippou and was still able to make short work of the former boxer. By far his most effective weapon while standing is his wide barrage of highly accurate kicks. They are thrown with exquisite technique and can cause his opponent to drop from shots to the body... just like Philippou did. His fists are used in shorter range and are excellent weapons to use for an aggressive opponent as a counter. Rockhold has been tentative against opponents that are notorious for being able to end a fight quickly (worked against Jacare, not so much Belfort). Boetsch is powerful, but isn't seen in that light. So expect an aggressive (yet patient) Rockhold to show up.
Rockhold could be making a mistake in that approach as Boetsch is tough and showed he is capable of turning around a fight in a hurry against Yushin Okami. Boetsch is most effective in close range where he can use his strength advantage to push his opponent against the cage and deliver punishment whether it be with short punches or knees delivered in a collar tie up. That will be exceedingly difficult for him to do with Rockhold's length and Boetsch's lack of speed. Boetsch threw a lot of front and leg kicks against Lombard with some success and he could try that here, but Rockhold is much more successful from range than Lombard ever has been. Rockhold wouldn't make him pay with a takedown... but a return kick could be even more devastating.
The most obvious advantage that Boetsch will have is in his wrestling where he can again take advantage of his tremendous strength. He was a state champion in high school and a decent collegiate level wrestler. Most of his takedowns have come from the clinch as he obtains underhooks and either trips or muscles his opponent down, but will go for telegraphed singles and doubles. Problem is that his takedowns have dried up since he took a step up in the level of his competition and he has actually been the one struggling to stay on his feet. Even worse though is how laughable his guard is as he offers next to nothing from there. He does own an effective guillotine, but that seems to be the extent of his submissions.
Rockhold is no wrestler by any means. But he is very savvy and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get Boetsch on the ground at least once. Once there Boetsch will likely be in trouble. It has been a while since Rockhold forced anyone to tap and Boetsch isn't easy to get in a hold, but Rockhold is the best submission expert that Boetsch has faced. Without getting into specifics, remember that Rockhold survived a good amount of time on the ground with Jacare. Still, I don't expect to see this strategy employed much if at all from Rockhold as he'll have too much of a standup advantage and his wrestling is exactly poor, but is underwhelming for a top tier fighter. He does have a good sprawl and will need to have it ready to use.
While Boetsch is tough, he has been giving way to fatigue at times and had his performance affected by injuries (such as eye pokes) at other times and Rockholds kicks hurt like hell. Rockhold has been able to go 5 rounds twice with no problem. But he also has 9 first round finishes. If anyone is going to end the fight with one punch though (not kick), it is absolutely going to be Boetsch as Rockhold's chin can be questioned.
While Boetsch pulled off upsets over Okami and Lombard, they were much more one-dimensional than Rockhold and required closer quarters to implement their fight plan as opposed to Rockhold. I see this one ending early. Rockhold by TKO 1st Round
#9 Jim Miller (23-4, 1 NC) vs. Yancy Medeiros (9-1, 1 NC), Lightweight
Miller gets a new opponent with about a weeks time as Bobby Green was forced out due to injury and Medeiros gets a chance to prove himself as a result... despite not having an official UFC victory.
Miller has been around the UFC for quite a while and as a result we've got a pretty good read on what he is: A top-level gatekeeper who isn't quite good enough to be a contender. While Jon Fitch, Yushin Okami, and Jake Shields were similar in that description (if not better), Miller puts on fun fights as well with 3 Fight of the Night bonuses and 3 Submission of the Night bonuses, so job security isn't something that he is gonna have to worry about.
Medeiros is getting a huge opportunity here. His first UFC bout ended prematurely thanks to a broken thumb and though he won his second, it was overturned to a no contest after he tested positive for marijuana. So does that put him on shaky ground? How he performs against Miller will likely decide that as he is a definitive step up in competition. Miller is easily favored, but if Medeiros makes it competitive and exciting in a loss, he'll likely get another opportunity.
People like to rag on Miller's standup a lot, but it isn't as bad as people make it out to be. True, he lacks power in his strikes, but it isn't like Joe Lauzon tripped and cut himself open in their bloodbath war. Miller recognizes that striking isn't his strength and knows how to best utilize it to compliment his world class grappling. His boxing is very orthodox, though he himself is a southpaw which causes some opponents problems. He has a good jab and throws in short combinations with his punches and leg kicks. Miller is also well-reputed for his grinding style so despite Medeiros having a size advantage, expect Miller to grind things out against the fence quite a bit. He uses the clinch there quite often to set up his takedowns.
Medeiros will look to keep the fight standing as 6 of his victories have come by way of KO/TKO as well as his no contest before it was overturned. What many need to remember is that all of those official KO/TKO's came when he was at middleweight. He didn't drop to lightweight until he came into the UFC. His 77' reach is a good indication of his former weight class. He could do a better job of utilizing his reach, but he prefers to bully his opponents around the ring and press forward swinging away hoping that he connects someway somehow. It worked on Edwards as he connected on a glancing uppercut to put him on the ground. I'd say that makes for a pretty good indication of his power.
The biggest question with regards to Medeiros is how is the quality of his grappling. He does train with Team Gracie which is full of high level BJJ practitioners so you know that he does get plenty of training... but training and competition in the Octagon are two completely different things. And Miller is about as savvy as they come. If nothing else Medeiros will have a strength advantage and the last time Miller faced someone like that was Pat Healy which was a loss for Miller before being overturned. And Healy's size had a lot to do with it. Foreshadowing perhaps?
Miller isn't often thought of as a BJJ expert which is unfair to him as 13 of his victories have come by submission including subs over reputed grapplers Charles Oliveira and Fabricio Camoes. A big part of the reason is that he beautifully combines his collegiate wrestling abilities with his BJJ abilities which is something that many struggle with. Few are more active in looking for subs than Miller is. He is very slick in scrambles too which surprises many as he doesn't seem to be the quickest dude and his transitions are silky smooth. He doesn't often look for the traditional single or double legs as he relies more on trips than people would think with his wrestling background, but makes sense when you realize that he isn't the biggest guy. His own takedown defense is pretty spotty against larger competitors which will bear watching.
If the fight goes long it is very much a question how deep Medeiros' gas tank goes. He has gone the distance before, but it was at middleweight and its tough to say how much the weight cut affects him. The other question is whether Miller is in decline. He was outstruck by Camoes and Healy beat him down after the first round of their fight.
Miller is a very disciplined fighter and Medeiros is... not so much. He overwhelmed Edwards simply because he was a much larger opponent and may be able to do so to Miller. But as savvy as Miller is I think Medeiros is a riddle that he can solve. He'll either gas out Medeiros or catch him with a submission early. I'll say Miller by Submission 1st Round
Max Holloway (8-3) vs. Andre Fili (13-1), Featherweight
At 22 and 23 respectively, Holloway and Fili represent the new guard in the division. The winner here will likely get a shot at a ranked opponent next.
Its hard to believe that Holloway has been around the UFC for two years and seven fights at this point. He's received a mixed bag of opponents during that time as none of those he owns victories over are with the company at this point, but all of his loses have come to ranked opponents (Dustin Poirier, Dennis Bermudez, and Conor McGregor). This fight will be the most accurate representation of his talents.
Fili made his UFC debut on very short notice (10 days) and missed weight as a result. But that doesn't take away from how awesome he looked as he put a massive beatdown on Jeremy Larsen. He has some solid wins on the independent circuit, but hasn't faced near the level of competition that Holloway has. I don't expect that to be an issue as he can lean on his Team Alpha Male teammates to help him prepare for what to expect.
Holloway is a lanky featherweight at 5'11 and does a very good job of utilizing that reach. He doesn't have a whole lot of power as it is difficult to pack a lot of muscle on his frame while staying at 145, but he throws and lands a lot and will wear his opponent out with that approach as he did to Will Chope in his last outing. His technique is impeccable as both his kicks and punches are very crisp. He throws everything with good technique too including flying knees and roundhouse kicks and shows good work out of the clinch as well. He tends to get hit a lot himself due to his high volume approach, but he actually does a reasonable job of avoiding many of his opponents strikes and is continually improving in this aspect too. He has shown to have a pretty damn good chin too. He doesn't like working against the cage, but is capable and throws good knees there.
Fili is a bit shorter at 5'9, but will own about a 3' reach advantage over Holloway and knows how to use it between his jab and kicks. He is very aggressive has good power in his fists as his 7 KO/TKO's indicate. He has awesome flexibility to lift his knees to his opponents face and they connect with a lot of impact. Being a part of Team Alpha Male, he has had the pleasure of working with Duane Ludwig, so you know that I'm going to state that his technique is improving. His footwork needs some work, but he does a good job of using different angles. He does have a tendency to walk right into his opponents range without a lot of head movement and that will be a problem for him against the ever so active Holloway. I expect that he'll get tagged an awful lot.
Here's where I'm more confident in Fili's abilities though. Fili isn't a world-class grappler by any means, but he has a good wrestling background and has good single and double leg takedowns to get the fight on the floor. Often times he'll simply explode into his opponent to put them on their butt. Once the fight is there he is aggressive in either looking for a choke or taking the mount. His GNP is very heavy and powerful. I was quite surprised at his quickness in transition as he is large for a featherweight, but can take his opponent's back rather quickly. His guard is very active too as he looks for a triangle or to escape. This is likely going to be the defining factor of the fight as Fili actively looks for takedowns whereas Holloway doesn't.
What often surprises many people is how effective the takedown defense of Holloway is according to Fight Metric. A lanky featherweight with no wrestling experience is often an easy takedown mark. But... how many have noticed what type of fighters have been placed before Holloway? McGregor was able to get him down multiple times after he had already blown out his knees and Dennis Bermudez had good success as well. He is capable of defending submissions and avoiding a lot of damage to say the least, but hasn't shown he knows how to get one himself. As we've already discussed, Fili has at least done that much. I think he can do it... but that is just speculation at this point.
Cardio shouldn't be a problem for either fighter as Holloway is established for having a deep tank and Fili has done well not to gas on the refional circuit. But the X-factors to look at are aggression and takedowns and how the judges score that.
I know that I've already tipped my hand. It'll be a close fight and a damn good way to kick off the main card. But Fili will press the action and score takedowns and he'll need them due to Holloway's strong chin. Fili by Decision
Record for last Card: 11-2
Record for Year: 90-51-1