It's not the card it once was, but there's still a lot to like on Saturday as two UFC titles are up for grabs. The fight card also features something of a number-one contender's bout at lightweight as well as elite, ranked talent squaring off for supremacy from flyweight all the way to heavyweight.
What: UFC 187: Johnson vs. Cormier
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Saturday, the three-fight Fight Pass card starts at 6:30 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.
I've struggled with this pick quite a bit. If you're thinking Johnson stuffs takedowns and blasts out Cormier, I don't see how anyone could possibly argue that's not a rational way to think about this fight. For me, however, I just keep finding myself coming back to Cormier's patient if overwhelming offense. Johnson's takedown liabilities are not from the outside where he forces far away doubles. It's in the clinch, the very space where Cormier has a big bag of tricks. Does that mean the two-time Olympian will be able to get there? We'll find out. My hunch, though, is that, yes, he will. And once there, 'Rumble' is going to be unable to use all of the weapons that make his reformation such a scary thing.
Stranger things have happened, but I'm expecting Weidman to cruise here. He's going to apply heavy forward pressure, something just shy of reckless. That will help take away Belfort's timing, range and other building blocks towards meaningful offense. But I don't think he'll finish it there. After getting the fight to the floor, I'm betting it's a combination of brutal ground and pound from tough rides mixed with submission attempts that, one way or the other, force a stoppage before the end of the second round. Weidman's ability to interweave strikes, sub attempts and punishing rides is too much for almost any middleweight, including Belfort.
Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi
This might be more competitive than is anticipated depending on how Cerrone chooses to fight. If he's really diligent about staying out of punching range, it shouldn't be too competitive. If he slacks there, however, Makdessi could very well tune him up. On the ground, Cerrone has all the advantages, but Makdessi's takedown defense is actually pretty sturdy. In the end, I expect Cerrone to pick up the win, but it might go a lot longer than some suggest because of how careful 'Cowboy' has to be about opening up his offense.
I'm just not buying the 'Arlovski is back' argument. Maybe I'm wrong. It certainly wouldn't be the first time. But I'm not convinced he beat Brendan Schaub and as we've seen, Antonio Silva's ability to take a shot has been compromised as the years and tough fights have understandably worn on him. Browne, by contrast, is looking quite formidable. His setback against Fabricio Werdum aside, he's firing on all cylinders. His takedowns are great (as is his defense there), he can punch from range and is totally proactive with pressure. Arlovski's got the power to end any fight with one shot, but I'm not convinced he can do that against Hapa.
Here are two fighters I couldn't possibly have more respect for, both for athleticism/technical prowess as well as their unrelenting style of competing. The problem for Moraga, though, is that he's not quite as fast nor as crafty as Benavidez. He is bigger and might be stronger, and that's worth noting. But against Benvidez's ability to get in and out of range as well as transition both on top and underneath to - at a minimum - a neutral position will be too much for Moraga to manage over three rounds.
From the preliminary card:
John Dodson def. Zach Makovsky
Dong Hyun Kim def. Josh Burkman
Uriah Hall def. Rafael Natal
Rose Namajunas def. Nina Ansaroff
Mike Pyle def. Colby Covington
Islam Makhachev def. Leo Kuntz
Justin Scoggins def. Josh Sampo