It has been nearly a month since a major UFC event has taken place. The fight night events are enjoyable, but it’s these events that get me psyched. I’m aware that this Fox card is weak in terms of big named fighters. I’ve always had this sentiment that you could never complain about a free card, even if it’s on Fox. Sure the name value isn’t great, but there are still appealing matchups.
The main event features Benson Henderson’s first fight, since losing his title to Anthony Pettis. He’ll be facing Josh Thomson, who will get a title shot if he wins on Saturday. There are still high stakes, despite their being no title fights. Then we have an intriguing heavyweight battle between Stipe Miocic and Gabriel Gonzaga. I highly doubt that fight will be going to the judges. There may not be much star value, but you can expect some devastating finishes.
Featherweight: Jeremy Stephens vs. Darren Elkins
This was easily the hardest fight pick to make on this card. Besides being knocked out by Chad Mendes, Darren Elkins has quietly been one of the top featherweights in the world. He’s an excellent grappler, who knows how to smother his opponents and works well in the clinch. It’ll be interesting to see if he can take down Jeremy Stephens, who is arguably the biggest featherweight in the division. After being inconsistent for most of his career, Stephens is on a two fight-winning streak for the first time since 2011.
Stephens has serious knockout power, while being a black belt in BJJ. While he’s strong for a featherweight, I’m not so confident that he can withstand Elkins’ pressure. He’s never had great cardio and tends to get frustrated if he doesn’t finish his opponent early, which leads to him being reckless. He may land some power strikes on Elkins, but he won’t be able to keep up with his pace. It’ll be a close scrap that will most likely be won on more ground control rather than significant strikes. Elkins will earn his fair share of takedowns and land short elbows from top position.
Winner via unanimous decision: Darren Elkins
Lightweight: Donald Cerrone vs. Adriano Martins
This is a very odd matchup that surprised everyone. Adriano Martins is relatively unknown only having two fights in major promotions. It’s hard to truly rate him because I simply haven’t seen enough of him. He’s a two-time world champion in BJJ, which shows that his best asset will be winning by submission. That will be hard to accomplish against an excellent grappler in Donald Cerrone. What will benefit Martins is that Cerrone doesn’t always follow the game plan. He may not have any issue in taking the fight to the ground.
Cerrone is very hard to judge, despite being extremely talented. His leg kicks are devastating, while being very well rounded. His issues are from a mental aspect, when you look at his past losses. He allowed his emotions to get the best of him against Nate Diaz. Then he showed no sense of urgency after losing in the first two rounds against Rafael Dos Anjos. Nobody can deny how talented he is, but he’s prone to having off nights, which makes it hard to fully trust him. I’ll still pick him here based on his lineage. He’ll pick Martins apart on the feet, before him finishing him off with a knee against the cage.
Winner via KO in the third round: Donald Cerrone
Heavyweight: Stipe Miocic vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
The battle of different generations will be taking place. We have Gabriel Gonzaga, who resembles the older heavyweight who uses power and boxing to win fights. Then we have Stipe Miocic, who is a former college athlete similar to newer heavyweights. Gonzaga’s revitalization has been exciting to watch over the past year. His boxing has improved greatly, while he’s relying more on timing rather than constant pressure. That’s what works best for someone that weighs in around 260 pounds like he does.
Miocic is one of the few prospects in the heavyweight division that has a legitimate shot of being a top contender someday. His precise boxing stands out the most, but his athleticism is what makes him special. The way he utilized different angles to decimate Roy Nelson was outstanding and he’ll need to do that here as well. Gonzaga is a well-built heavyweight, but he can be flat-footed at times. He’s also struggled against athletic heavyweights before losing decisively to Travis Browne and Brendan Schaub.
Gonzaga is always dangerous, especially if the fight gets to the ground where he’s one of the true submission specialists in the heavyweight division. He won’t get the fight to the ground though. Miocic’s speed and range will be too much to overcome. Gonzaga doesn’t respond well to punishment either, which will lead to a brutalizing finish.
Winner via TKO in the second round: Stipe Miocic
Lightweight: Benson Henderson vs. Josh Thomson
You hear the term “chess match” used mostly in Lyoto Machida fights, because he’s such a unique fighter. This fight does qualify for the simple reason that both fighters are very similar and calculating. They are both so well rounded that you’ll mostly likely see a competitive five round main event. The big story here is will Benson Henderson be more aggressive now that he’s not the champion anymore? It seemed clear that he became more timid, as champion by fighting not to lose.
While he’s trying to make an impression, Josh Thomson knows that he’ll get the next title shot with a win. He will need to be aware of Henderson’s takedowns at all times, along with his vicious leg kicks. Thomson can throw vicious kicks of his own, including a unique front body kick. We saw in Henderson’s loss to Pettis that he struggled to defend body kicks. While Pettis is more explosive, Thomson is more of an accurate striker which is why I’m surprised Thomson is somewhat of a heavy underdog.
I’m aware that Henderson is a former champion, who had a spectacular title reign. That still shouldn’t take away how dangerous Thomson is. Besides Gilbert Melendez, this is arguably the best striker that Henderson has had to face in his UFC career. I’m expecting him to look overpower Thomson in the clinch to not allow him to get comfortable. I’m sure will see them stand and trade at some point, but Henderson will eventually use his superior athleticism to dictate the pace of the fight. That will be the difference maker, along with having the cardio advantage. We saw in the past that Thomson tends to slow down in latter rounds during his battles with Melendez. It won’t be a controversial decision nor will it be a dominant win for Henderson.
Winner via unanimous decision: Benson Henderson
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