The best light-heavyweight fighter in the entire world returns to the cage on Saturday night for UFC 165, and said fighter – Jon Jones – will be defending his crown once more, this time against upstart Swede Alexander Gustafsson. Here’s a breakdown of the main card:
Pat Healy vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
This exciting lightweight affair features two rising talents. Both Pat Healy and Nurmagomedov have been impressive in the UFC, and both seem to have loads of potential in making a real impact. The Russian, Nurmagomedov, specializes in his Sambo skills as he favors aerial slams, suplexes, and overall domination. He’s among one of the stronger physically at 155lbs, and his exciting wrestling style maintains aggression – something fairly uncommon in MMA. His opponent, Pat Healy, is a very experienced journeyman who shocked the MMA scene by submitting Jim Miller in the third round. Healy is also aggressive and relies on takedowns, pressure, and constant volume to wear his opponents down until he finds a submission or he sweeps them on points. This is a very closely contested match-up.
One of the biggest x-factors in this bout will be Khabib’s back-control. We saw how consistent Khabib is at getting the back when he faced Abel Trujillo, a talented prospect, and it’s safe to say that this fight will be his if Healy lets him take his back. However, Healy is a very smart and experienced fighter and I’m expecting he’ll plan accordingly. Expect Healy’s intelligent game-planning to prove efficient as he cancels out Nurmagomedov’s Sambo with his own wrestling. This will be no walk in the park, but Healy’s experienced against top competition should favor him. Expect some back-and-forth exchanges to ensure on the feet – an are that they’re also very even in. It’ll be Healy by a close decision as he out-grapples Nurmagomedov and defends against his dangerous suplexes.
Pat Healy via Split Decision
Costa Philippou vs. Francis Carmont
Making a highly anticipated return to the Octagon is the rising dark-horse of the middleweight division, Costa Philippou. His last bout, a come-from-behind TKO over Tim Boetsch, took place at the end of last year. Since then, he was forced out of a bout due to a cut suffered in training, and hasn’t been able to return. Currently riding a 5 win streak – all of those in the UFC – we’ll see if his time on the shelf has hindered his momentum. Looking to play the role of the spoiler is the Canadian prospect, Francis Carmont. While Carmont is also riding a 5-UFC win streak, it hasn’t came without controversy. Carmont’s wrestling style has edged him past his last two opponents on the score card in decision that many felt should have gone the other way. Carmont will get a chance to make a big statement if he can pull off the victory against the red-hot Costa Philippou.
When you break this fight down, it really is your typical “striker vs. wrestler” match-up; Carmont will be pursuing the takedown while Philippou will be trying to work his stand-up. We saw this in Carmont’s last bout, against dynamic striker Lorenz Larkin. Carmont kept Larkin on the defensive with many takedown attempts, but did succumb to many of Larkin’s striking techniques. While Philippou is a much different styled striker than Larkin, this shows that Carmont is susceptible to being out-struck when he can’t always get the takedown. Philippou brings heavy hands and a strong boxing background that will be Carmont’s big enemy. Combine that with Costa’s proven takedown defense, which has been absolutely stellar, and you get a knockout just waiting happen.
Costa Philippou via 2nd Rd KO
Brendan Schaub vs. Matt Mitrione
In another “striker vs. wrestler” match-up, we have the grudge match between two heavyweights. Both Schaub and Mitrione have made their disdain towards eachother very apparent. Schaub has played the role of the bad guy ever since his lack-luster victory over Lavar Johnson, and he seemingly turned himself into a once-promising young pup to an uninteresting grinder. Mitrione on the other hand has kept things explosive as he is fresh of a 19-second KO over Phil DeFries. While Mitrione has struggled in the past against bigger opponents who can grind him down, expect a motivated Mitrione to do what he does best, knock people out.
Schaub’s chin has always been in question ever since he lost two consecutive bouts by knock-out. It’s plausible that these KO losses have had the “GSP-effect” on Schaub, and has now evolved him into being a more defensive fighter who fights not to lose rather than to win. With that said, it’ll be up to Mitrione to make this not happen. Mitrione’s biggest key in this fight will be his footwork and his counter-striking. Schaub likes to charge in head first, reaching for the hips, and then try to work his opponent to the ground. If Matt can see this coming and counter with his dangerous uppercut or perhaps some other sort of striking technique, than he’ll no doubt be able to finish Schaub. However, if Schaub can complete the takedown, it could be a long and grueling night for “Meat head”. I predict Schaub to have some early success as he completes the first takedown or two, but I do believe Mitrione’s wrestling defense will be prepared to get back to his feet. Once Schaub begins to slow and Matt starts to find his rhythm, look for a stunning finish late in the fight.
Matt Mitrione via 3rd Rd TKO
Renan Barao vs. Eddie Wineland
For the Interim Bantamweight Championship, the “unofficial champion” Renan Barao puts it all on the line to face the sturdy test known as Eddie Wineland. Barao has been waiting to fight for the real belt for nearly two years now, but has been active in defending his Interim belt. Carrying a stunning 30-fight win streak into the Octagon with him, Barao has been sensational in every appearance we’ve seen. His Muay Thai-styled striking combined with his word-class Jiu-Jitsu has made him one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Looking to take his dreams away from him is the hard-nosed iron-hearted slugger, Eddie Wineland. Wineland made his intentions known when he knocked out Scott Jorgensen back in summer of 2012, and showed the world of his true potential. A split decision over the tough Brad Pickett, and he’s now in contender-ship for the title.
When breaking this fight down, you may be shocked to believe that Wineland only has a punchers chance – but unfortunately that’s exactly what it is. Wineland is tough, durable, and has the punching power to sprout an upset-KO. However, Barao is a champion-level fighter and will not let that happen. Expect Barao to maintain range with his kicks, and use clinches to keep Wineland from getting comfortable. Some back-and-forth wrestling may ensue, but know that if the fight hits the mat, it’ll be all Barao. Barao’s jiu-jitsu is on another level, and could very well submit Wineland from his back, let alone if he gets ontop. Eventually, expect the precise striking to carry Barao to an easy decision if he doesn’t score a submission late in the fight.
Renan Barao via Unanimous Decision
Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
And now it’s time for the main event. The light-heavyweight title is on the line for what is one of the most highly anticipated titles fights of this year. Alexander Gustafsson, a former dark-horses of the 205lb division, finally gets the chance he’s been fighting for his whole UFC career. The Swede has been impressive in defeating Mauricio Shogun Rua and Thiago Silva in two of his biggest wins. Gustafsson provides never-seen-before challenges for Jon Jones so this definitely has an “upset in the making” story behind it.
Jon Jones, nothing short of impressive, has brought terror and dominance to the 205lb division ever since he was added to roster back in August of 2008. Jones has defeated fighters in ways they’ve never imaged, and has dominated the very best in the division. Now, in his sixth consecutive title defense, he faces Gustafsson. This fight really doesn’t have much in it for Jon Jones in terms of earning something. Really all this fight is doing is giving Gustafsson a much-deserving opportunity at the title, and possibly re-establishing Jones’ claim as the number-one pound for pound fighter in MMA.
The unique challenge Gustafsson brings Jones in this fight is his length. Jones has always had an undeniable advantage over every one of his opponents when it came to reach, height, and distance. Jones has the longest reach in the UFC, and utilizes it remarkably. However, Gustafsson has a very long reach as well, and he too uses it incredibly. Gustafsson’s biggest chance in this fight is to keep the fight on the outside, a place no other man would dare to combat Jones. However, Gustafsson has slick, fluid boxing, and his outstanding footwork could pose problems for the unorthodox Jones. With that said, Jones is the man with more tools. Even if Jones decides to keep the fight standing, the different striking techniques he has could very well chop and slow down Gustafsson’s movement into a creeping halt. The leg, body, and head kicks will definitely be Jon’s biggest weapon on the feet.
Expect Jones to target the legs and the body like he usually does; turning side kicks to the knee, front kicks up the midsection, and perhaps some spinning back kicks to the ribs will find their mark. Eventually, Gustafsson will realize even his reach will is merely a useless statistic, as Jones is the one who will still have control and dictatorship over the range. Jones will keep Gustafsson on the outside, chop him down, and eventually get the fight to the ground where he’ll more than likely finish it. Huge ground and pound combined with skin-slashing elbows to bloody Gustafsson up, and eventually give Jones the submission victory in the second round. A valor and respected attempt on Gustafsson’s part, but it’ll be Jon Jones who remains champion.
Jon Jones via 2nd Rd Submission