The UFC's fourth event on FOX is upon us this Saturday and aims to settle light heavyweight contendership issues. The event also gives two fighters - Mike Swick and Jamie Varner - the ability to restart their careers in the welterweight and lightweight divisions, respectively. Varner is on his way after a strong performance at UFC 146, but must have a strong showing against another difficult challenge to even get in the back of the title shot queue. Swick is simply trying to back on the horse.
Who will emerge as the top light heavyweight contender? Can Varner continue the momentum he earned after UFC 148? Is Swick really ready to be back at welterweight? I try to answer these questions and more with predictions for Saturday's event.
What: UFC on FOX 4
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Saturday, the six-fight Fuel preliminary fight starts at 5 p.m. ET and the four-fight main card on FOX begins at 8.
Predictions for the four main card fights airing Saturday on FOX are below.
I believe Brandon Vera has the ability to beat many if not most light heavyweights. His problem has never been a skill deficiency, but an application deficiency. He hasn't applied himself in the gym as he should have (I've heard this from others in his camp, not just Vera's own testimony) and in the Octagon hasn't applied his offense effectively. He seems inert at times waiting for something in the fight to happen rather than defining the complexion of the fight.
I'm not entirely sure if this makes sense, but Rua is a more capable winner in the UFC. Outside of perhaps the early performances against Griffin and Coleman, Rua at least does his best to implement his offense. That should probably be all the difference that matters.
When faced with big opportunities, Vera is capable of rising to the occasion. I thought he beat Couture, to be perfectly honest. But at 34 and in what is his last meaningful fight should he lose, does he really have what it takes this time to get past Shogun? I have too many doubts to say yes even if I grant Vera has the skills to get it done.
My general sense about this fight is that Machida's game will be too difficult for Bader to shut down, particularly as the fight goes late. Machida will work the outside until he rushes in, at which point he'll be able to potshot Bader (if not more). I have a hard time seeing Bader methodically work his way on the inside after cutting off the cage round after round.
Lauzon is the rightful favorite here. His aggressive style and ability to change positions in scrambles quickly (typically in an advancing direction) makes him incredibly dangerous. The issue for me is Varner is something of a strong starter, too, has good takedown defense and accurate boxing. If he can stop Lauzon's early attacks, he should be in good shape to win in rounds two and three. As impressive as his performance was against Edson Barboza, I'm not here to declare Varner is back. He's got more work to do before we can believe it. But if he shows up in shape and ready to defend against a tough first-round challenge, this is his fight to lose.
Who knows where Swick is anymore? The guy hasn't fought in two years and it's hard to tell how much time off from injury and rehab has set back his development. He's trained as much as possible in those two years, but between trying to deal with injuries and what must've been frustrating moments, there's no way to know how competitive he must be. Still, even a depleted Swick should be able to get by Johnson. It's all conjecture, but I suspect he'll still have better speed than his opposition. Whether he'll have his trademark aggression is another issue, but with reasonably proactive offense and good takedown defense, he should be able to cruise to victory.