Friday, May 22, 2015

UFC 187!

Let's get away from the heavy stuff for a minute and do some predictorizing.

Main Card

Joe Benavidez vs. John Moraga: Benavidez has four losses in his career: two to Dominick Cruz, two to Demetrious Johnson.  One loss to each guy was a split decision.  Moraga's record is almost as impressive: one loss to DJ and two to John Dodson, who is the only non-DJ active fighter that might be able to take Benavidez.  But I'll take a guy who fought his way into a bantamweight title fight, gave up six inches to Cruz, and damn near beat him over someone whose most impressive victory is over Chris Cariaso.

Pick: Benavidez by third round KO.

Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski: Browne was becoming a bigger name in the heavyweight division before he got whooped all over by current champ ("champ", I suppose) Fabricio Werdum.  Arlovski... where the hell did he come from?  He got dumped by the UFC after getting KO'd over and over- at the time his record was 15-9, with seven of those losses coming via knockout- then strung together enough wins to earn another shot amongst the fairly thin roster of UFC heavyweights.  Then he takes down Brendan Schaub and Bigfoot, which, they may not be world-beaters, but they're not half-dead bodies getting thrown in there at the last minute against someone they have no business fighting (see: Camozzi, Chris).

It's hard to gauge what to expect from a guy in Arlovski's position.  Fighters of all stripes who have taken several KO losses, especially consecutively, often just continue to fall apart.  In boxing this is sometimes masked by setting them up against weak opposition, but even if Arlovski benefited from that initially, he faced Anthony Johnson in the WSOF without getting KO'd and beat two reasonable UFC-level heavyweights.  Thus, even though Browne throws down harder whoopins than a Southern grandma, it's hard to assume this is going to be a one-sided beatdown the way it almost certainly would have been two years ago.

That doesn't mean it won't be a beatdown, though.

Pick: Brown by second round KO (caveat: the second round KO is more likely than Browne winning).

Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi: Cerrone recently told a story about getting punched in the face by a road raging driver at Whole Foods, then walking away because it was the smart thing to do.  If Donald Cerrone is a badass- which he is- the idea of a Cerrone with that level of self-control should make unusual mixtures of fluids run down the legs of most of his opponents.  Not all; dos Anjos is the champ, Khabib needs to worry more about his knees than whether someone else can beat him, and Benson Henderson doesn't give a fuck.  It applies to everyone else, though, and John Makdessi is part of everyone else.

Pick: Cerrone by first round submission.

Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort: Where is this fight taking place?  Vegas?  The land of actual drug testing?  Vitor will be lucky to walk out of there with his mohawk still attached.

Pick: Weidman by second round KO.

Anthony Johnson vs. Daniel Cormier: Hey, I called this one!  It never mattered that Cormier had just lost to Jon Jones; Gustafsson obviously couldn't be the fill-in, since Johnson had beaten him for the title shot, and once you hit #4 in the rankings you're already down to Rashad Evans, who hasn't fought in a year and a half.  Ryan Bader is #5 on the strength of the good-not-great wins he's built his career from (most recently Phil Davis, who just bolted for Bellator's money, and try to make the argument his departure had to do with the realization he'll never be a UFC champ).  Cormier was the only even theoretically championship-level opponent left.  What happened to the depth in this division?

In any case, AJ is on such an extraordinary run since turning his career around that, no matter what people think of his chances to beat Jones, hardly anyone appears to dispute the notion that he at least has the best chance of anyone.  Beating the guy who nearly beat Jones is, of course, no guarantee of his performance in that fight, but given how quickly he wrecked Gustafsson, it made the prospect of Johnson-Jones quite exciting.  And it means that no matter how much respect you give Cormier as a fighter, it's hard to find ways to favor him here.

And yet...

Johnson is only two inches shorter than Jones, but his reach is six inches less (78" vs. 84").  It's still an advantage over Cormier (72"), and the sheer power he brings could theoretically make it easier for him to keep Cormier at bay.  But Cormier was a heavyweight for most of his career, which makes him better suited than most LHWs to take shots in an attempt to land takedowns on a guy with zero career submissions and no reputation for much of a ground game whatsoever.

I don't think Johnson gets the finish here.  That gives Cormier every opportunity to grind out a decision.  The betting gods surprisingly agree- Cormier is slight favorite, despite Johnson's increasing popularity and capability to end a fight at any moment.

And yet...

Some part of me wants to see the AJ redemption tale finish itself off, even though I'd be just as happy to see Cormier finally win some kind of a title.  And it's close enough that neither pick is dumb.  But I'm picking this to go the distance, and I can't figure out how that happens without Cormier grinding Johnson into the mat and pissing everyone off in the process.

Pick: Cormier by unanimous decision (49-46 x2, 48-47)

Other Interesting Fights

Rose Namajunas vs. Nina Ansaroff: Namajunas has been supplanted as the golden child of the strawweight division by Paige VanZant, but she's still the higher-ranked fighter.  As it should be: her pro record is only 2-2, but her losses were to Carla Esparza and Tecia Torres, and her skill set suggests she should be able to maintain at least a top five or six ranking as long as she wants.  The long-term question of whether she has the potential to be champ became a lot murkier with the rise of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but fortunately for her, this is a back-on-track fight, not being launched into another divisional buzzsaw.

Or is it?  All the lighter weight classes currently suffer from divisional depth, so it's a little tougher to judge Ansaroff based on previous opponents.  She has zero noteworthy wins, but apart from Casey Noland, her losses are no more shameful than any of Namajunas'.  Most interesting about her, however, is that four of her six wins have been via KO.  That's a substantially higher percentage than even Jedrzejczyk or Joanne Calderwood, the two most noteworthy strikers in the division.

I declared that if Namajunas wins here, a battle against VanZant would come next.  I'm still going to call that, even if only because Dana White wants it so badly his mental energy knocks Ansaroff down and lets Namajunas finish the fight.  If Ansaroff wins, it's going to throw some of the divisional promotion into disarray, so if you're a conspiracy theorist, that's good reason to back Namajunas.  Even if you're not, Namajunas should still have the ability to win here, but we're going to find out just where she is as a fighter, and possibly if we should ever hope to see her earn a title shot.

Pick: Namajunas by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)

John Dodson vs. Zach Makovsky: This fight is not so interesting on its own merits, but rather in how it speaks of the division overall.  If Dodson wins- and he will- a look up and down the division brings up the question of why women's bantamweight is frequently dismissed as having no depth, while men's flyweight rarely gets a word one way or the other.'

The divisional depth in both cases is not great.  And they're not the only divisions with depth issues; as previously mentioned, the light heavyweights are astonishingly thin.  But they're both divisions that appear thin in part due to the absolute dominance of their champions.  DJ might not be as dominant as Ronda Rousey in terms of his performances, but he still beats everyone they throw at him, and it's rarely close.  In fact, DJ has the same number of top 10 wins- he's beaten the current #1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 10, whereas Rousey has wins over #1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 9.  Henry Cejudo is the only fighter in either division that is perceived as having more than a dreamer's chance at overtaking the current champ.

Dodson is the #1 contender in the flyweight division.  He's going to crush Makovsky, who is not only not really a prospect, he hasn't finished a fight in four years.  And Makovsky is the division's #9 guy.  I'm not saying women's bantamweight is being treated unfairly; I think widespread perception of the division is skewed because Rousey ruins everybody's shit, but it's not super deep.  Disregarding the very similar situation in men's flyweight is where the balance gets out of whack.  If it's happening because DJ is a quiet champ and no one really pays attention to those guys at all, that's probably the best case scenario, but it's hard to see that as the only reason the dialogue runs the way it does.

Pick: Dodson by first round KO.

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