The UFC's light heavyweight belt is up for grabs on Saturday as the champion defends against a sort-of top contender in a bout that essentially decides who former champ Jon Jones possibly faces next. The card also features an important women's bantamweight contest, a flyweight contender clash, UFC debuts and more.
Will Cormier defend the belt for a second crack at Jones or is it the Swede's turn to get revenge? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday night.
What: UFC 192: Cormier vs. Gustafsson
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
When: Saturday, the three-fight Fight Pass card starts at 6:40 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 main card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight pay-per-view card kicks off 10 p.m.
More Coverage: UFC 192 Results | UFC news
Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Everyone should think highly of Gustafsson's abilities basically anywhere a fight takes place. He has good takedown defense, an excellent jab, strong footwork, great jiu-jitsu from top and bottom and the list goes on. He's a high-quality fighter capable of beating most guys in his division. Ultimately, though, I don't see him stopping Cormier from securing one underhook and pressing Gustafsson against the fence. That one underhook, it turns out, is all Cormier really needs. From there he has an assortment of attacking techniques to deal with virtually every scenario. Gustafsson knows this and will be diligently working behind his jab and keeping his back off the fence. Is that really a viable strategy for five rounds? Maybe. I've underrated Gustafsson before, but I have my doubts here.
Look, I'm not convinced Bader is a better fighter than Evans. That's not what a pick for the Power MMA light heavyweight means. As we saw with Uriah Hall and Gegard Mousasi, you don't need to be a 'better fighter' to defeat someone in a fight. You just have to be better in that circumstance (a little luck doesn't hurt, either). The layoff for Evans is too much to overlook. That's especially true when you look at the nature of the injuries that kept him out as well as Evans' self-professed concerns about his future in the sport.
Could Evans walk into the Octagon and blow the doors off of Bader? Maybe. Dominick Cruz seemed to have zero ring rust issues. Fighters don't suffer from that equally. But it's all speculative. I'll rest with the more sure thing even if I'm slightly uncomfortable doing so.
Shawn Jordan vs. Ruslan Magomedov
Jordan's making a lot less mistakes about distance closing and strike selection than he once did. That's opened up his arsenal a lot more and made him more of a physical threat moving forward as well as on the inside. I like him to bully Magomedov precisely there en route to a TKO stoppage.
Pena's forward push to close distance, striking at a variety of ranges before she can get enough underhooks and hip positioning to score a takedown all followed by relentless guard passing is a lot to handle. So much to handle, in fact, that I don't like Eye's chances here very much. There's a certain kind of physicality Pena uses that she marries with sharp technique, whether it be in expertly securing body locks or how to hold mount on a struggling opponent. Eye's got a wicked punch, and is probably a better striker at range, but Pena will likely do everything in her power to not have this fought in that space.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Ali Bagautinov
Now promoted to the main card from the preliminary card, the bout has a slight degree of weight added to it. I'll say I like Benavidez's chances for a few reasons. One, he's not coming in from the kind of layoff Bagautinov is. Two, is there a difference in ability assuming Bagautinov is now clean (even though he wasn't thoroughly tested)? Three, Benavidez is faster and can force Bagautinov on his heels, making reactive decisions to Benavidez's level changes and feints. That reduces the Russian's considerable power, although it's still a serious threat no matter what. This could end up being very competitive as Bagautinov is hard to take down and a decent scrambler, but I'm going to go with the speedier flyweight who'll be forcing the action on his terms.
From the preliminary card:
Yair Rodriguez def. Dan Hooker
Albert Tumenov def. Alan Jouban
Rose Namajunas def. Angela Hill
Islam Makhachev def. Adriano Martins
Sage Northcutt def. Francisco Trevino
Sergio Pettis def. Chris Cariaso
Derrick Lewis def. Viktor Pesta