UFC 152: Official Preview and Predictions
By Tom Taylor
This Saturday, the UFC returns to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for UFC 152. It is a card that has been given several facelifts, as it has been damaged by fighter injuries, and injected with pieces of the cancelled UFC 151 card. Somehow, the end result is a card stacked with two title fights, a pivotal middleweight matchup, and entertaining fights throughout to boot.
UFC 152 was initially expected to be headlined by the organization’s first ever flyweight title fight, but with the addition of a light heavyweight title fight between champ Jon Jones and challenger Vitor Belfort, the flyweights have been bumped to the co-main event. Before we’re treated to these two title fights, the main card will showcase an exciting middleweight battle between Michael Bisping and Brian Stann, with title shot implications for the winner. Before that, a light heavyweight fight between Roger Hollet and Matt Hamill, and a featherweight fight between Charles Oliveira and Cub Swanson will kick-off the card. With such a solid main card, UFC 152 might even be able to erase the memory of UFC 150’s horrible pay-per-view buy-rate numbers. When the action begins on Saturday night, here’s what we might expect from the event’s main card.
Jon “Bones” Jones (16-1-0) vs. Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort (21-9-0)
In the weeks leading up to this fight, we’ve heard the phrase “old lion versus young lion” uttered several times. While this may be an accurate portrayal of the matchup, a more accurate description of the matchup might be “big, rangy, dynamic, and well-rounded light heavyweight champion versus middleweight whose only chances seem to lie in a sudden blitz.” Sure, Vitor Belfort has a legitimate chance against Jon Jones, but it isn’t difficult to understand why many fans question Belfort’s claim as a contender. But, this is MMA, and with hands as fast and deadly as Belfort’s, anything can indeed happen. The fact of the matter is, Jones, who is the youngest champion in UFC history, seems to be a different beast. Having dispatched Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, and Rashad Evans, all talented strikers, in recent memory, it’s difficult to imagine what chance Belfort has at dethroning the champ. Jones is as diverse a fighter as we have ever seen in MMA. He is a talented, powerful wrestler, with unpredictable, angular striking, and proven submission skills. It’s difficult to imagine a more challenging opponent to game plan for. Vitor Belfort will have his work cut out for him.
When the bout begins, watch for a characteristically confident Jones to take his time, pawing outwards at Belfort, picking his moment like a big cat on the hunt. Belfort, on the other hand, will likely attempt to use movement and footwork à la former lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar, biding his time too, until he seems an opportunity to unleash his signature attack: a freight-train-like barrage of punches. Jones will make it difficult for Belfort to identify a suitable moment to lunge, however, as he keeps his opponent at bay with a varying arsenal of kicks and punches, and maybe even a spinning elbow or two. This will be the story of the fights opening minutes, until Belfort decides to go for the gusto and launch his attack. Look for Belfort to back Jones up, quite possibly hitting the champion more than anyone has before, but still come up short as Jones outmanoeuvres him. From there, once the two fighters are in closer range, look for Jones to turn to his wrestling, tossing his smaller opponent to the mat, where a rainstorm of elbows will likely ensue. Belfort is game on the ground, and difficult to outmuscle, as he showed in his recent submission victory over Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, at UFC 142. Given this, he will likely survive Jones’s ground based attack until the first rounds conclusion. Cue the second.
When round two begins, look for a more aggressive Belfort to make an appearance. Patience and composure will be paramount for Belfort as he attempts to deal with the wild style of Jones, as frustration and rashness will push him into the champions trap. We can expect Belfort, a 16 year veteran of MMA, to keep his cool, but in round 2, he will certainly begin to feel some urgency. Look for Belfort to attempt to push the action a few more times, pressing forward, unleashing a spray of torpedo-like punches each time. Watch Jones to escape the blast radius each time, even if he picks up some cuts and swelling along the way. From there it will only be a matter of time until Jones grounds Belfort again, and this time, Jones’s ground and pound will seal the deal. With time to work, the champion will unleash an unrelenting meteor shower down on Belfort. And while Belfort will have probably silenced many critics, putting up a far better fight than expected, he will likely not escape the second round with Jones.
The Pick: In a fight where Jones might well emerge looking more battered than we’ve ever seen him, the champion beats Vitor Belfort by second round TKO.
Joseph Benavidez (16-2-0) vs Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (15-2-1)
The introductory tournament to crown the UFC’s first flyweight champ will come to a conclusion at UFC 152. Despite a few speed bumps along the way, the two men standing at the end of it all are former bantamweight title contenders Joseph Benavidez and Demetrius Johnson. In a matchup that could well have unfolded at 135 lbs, Benavidez and Johnson will vie to become the first 125 lb champion in the organization’s history.
Johnson’s road to title contention was not as clear cut as that of Benavidez. At UFC on FX 2, Johnson and his semi-final opponent, Ian McCall, fought to a draw. Naturally, the two had to rematch to establish who would fight Benavidez for the title. The rematch, at UFC on FX 3, went much more smoothly for Johnson, who outhustled McCall en route to a clear cut decision win. Benavidez, on the other hand, left no room for question, as he flattened Yasuhiro Urushitani with a crippling punch and follow up ground and pound at UFC on FX 2. So finally, after some delay, UFC 152 will leave us with a flyweight champion. Undoubtedly the two top dogs in the new weight class, both fighters bring a lot to the table. Both talented wrestlers, Johnson’s bread and butter has become an unrelenting, punches-in-bunches style. Using flashy footwork, good head movement, and lighting fast strikes, Johnson has found what works for him, as he unleashes a high-volume output to beat his opponents. Benavidez on the other hand, relies more on his strength when it comes to striking. Case in point was his knockout win over Urushitani. While their styles are different, neither man is a slouch on the feet. Who will win the striking exchanges is difficult to say, but Benavidez does appear to hold an edge in the grappling department. Both men are talented wrestlers, but Benavidez has showcased his jiu jitsu on many occasions, securing half of his 16 career wins by submission. Still, this fight should be very competitive, and equally entertaining.
Expect Benavidez and Johnson to kick things off at a breakneck pace, characteristic of flyweights, as the two men meet in the middle of the octagon and start exchanging early. Both have said they intend to steal the show at UFC 152, and we can expect them to attempt to do so from the opening bell. Look for Johnson to circle Benavidez, back peddling as necessary, peppering his opponent with quick punches and leg kicks. Benavidez will return fire with an array of powerful punches. While Johnson will probably land more frequently, it will be the punches of Benavidez that immediately seem to be taking more of a toll. Expect a clobbering flurry from Benavidez to lead Johnson to shoot for a takedown. If Johnson is successful in this regard, watch the two flyweights scramble at speeds that make it look like they’re rolling down a hill together. As both men struggle for position, watch for submission attempts from the wily Benavidez. Johnson should escape these attempts, but it will become clear fairly quickly who the more powerful competitor is on the ground, as Benavidez achieves top position on several occasions, raining down ground and pound. This will likely be the theme of the fight’s opening rounds, as Johnson outworks Benavidez on the feet, but Benavidez does more damage everywhere. Finally, once this fight enters the championships rounds, look for a Benavidez combo to significantly shift the direction of the fight, as he rattles Johnson with some powerful punches, and follows him to the mat. From there, watch a game Johnson keep his cool initially, until an onslaught of Benavidez punches and elbows become too much.
The Pick: In an entertaining fight, Benavidez wins by fourth round TKO, becoming the UFC’s first ever flyweight champion.
Michael “The Count” Bisping (22-4-0) vs. Brian Stann (12-4-0)
It may not be a championship fight, but the winner of this middleweight scrap will definitely be narrowing in on a title shot. Stann, who lost to Chael Sonnen at UFC 136, has since rebounded with a first round blitzing of Alessio Sakara at UFC on Fuel 2. Bisping is also coming off a loss to Sonnen, although many thought he won the fight. Regardless, both men are again being spoken of as title challengers for the middleweight king, Anderson Silva, and the winner will take an important step up the middleweight ladder.
In the striking department, this match actually breaks down similarly to the co-main event matchup between Benavidez and Johnson. When it comes to pure power and strength, Stann, like Benavidez, holds a definite edge over his opponent. A former US marine, Stann is capable of knocking just about any middleweight silly. Bisping, on the other hand, is not especially well-known for his power, but does have fairly slick striking and solid footwork. Bisping also has a distinct advantage on the ground. While he is by no means a grappling whiz, he is leaps and bounds ahead of Stann in this department. Just look at their respective performances against Sonnen. Sonnen submitted Stann in a seemingly effortless fashion, but Bisping was able to grapple with Sonnen quite effectively. Given Stann’s strengths, Bisping might be wise to turn this into a grappling match. Whether he will do this remains to be seen. Regardless, the trick for Bisping will be avoiding the crushing power of Stann’s hands, while mounting his own offense. Bisping is as famous for his knockout loss to Dan Henderson as he is for his own victories, but his chin has not failed him since his loss to Henderson. If he fights smart, he should be able to stay out of the way of Stann’s heavy artillery.
Expect this match to unfold largely on the feet, as Bisping works the angles, and counters effectively as Stann wades in. If Bisping finds himself in trouble, he will use his takedowns to bring the fight to an area where he is in less danger. Stann’s chin is solid and will hold out despite his opponent’s best efforts, but the in and out, high volume style of “The Count” will be the catalyst for a Bisping win.
The Pick: Michael Bisping wins a hard-fought unanimous decision.
Matt “The Hammer” Hamill (10-4-0) vs. Roger “The Hulk” Hollett (13-3-0)
This bout will mark the return of Matt Hamill, a hearing impaired light heavyweight, who retired just over a year ago. When Hamill makes his return to the octagon, he will do so against the Canadian, Roger Hollett, who will be making his UFC debut. While it initially looked as though Hollett would not be able to make his UFC debut against Hamill, due to a contractual issue with Bellator, things have been straightened out, and the bout will go on as planned.
Hollett will carry a five fight winning streak into this fight, although he has not fought since November of 2011. Hamill has been out of action for even longer, having not competed since August of 2011. Given their long layoffs, it will be interesting to see if either competitor is affected by ring-rust.
As far as striking goes, Hamill isn’t exactly the most dynamic competitor. While he does have power in his hands (and feet, as he showed in his knockout victory over Mark Munoz at UFC 96 in 2009), his striking is typically fairly slow. Hollett, on the other hand, has won four his 13 career victories by knockout, and has looked increasingly comfortable on the feet in his recent fights. If he is able to turn this fight into a slugfest, Hamill, who has never appeared to enjoy being hit, will likely not come out on top. And while Hamill has a solid wrestling base, Hollett has showcased his jiu jitsu in his seven career submission wins. While Hamill will certainly be eager to re-enter the octagon with a win, at a glance, Hollett appears to be the fresher, more complete athlete.
Look for this bout to begin with a confident, eager Hamill ready to swing for the fences. Hollett should be fairly effective in his counter attack, punishing Hamill if he overcommits, driving “The Hammer” to shoot for a takedown. From there, Hamill, who is unquestionably strong, will look to reign down ground and pound on his opponent. Hollett will have prepared for Hamill’s wrestling, however, and should be able to bring the fight back to the upright position, where he will continue to outmaneuver Hamill. Hamill’s takedowns might make this a difficult fight to score, but in the end, the overall performance of Hollett should win him the fight.
The Pick: Hollett enters the UFC with a win, earning a unanimous verdict over Matt Hamill.
Cub Swanson (17-5-0) vs Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira (16-2-0)
Cub Swanson has looked a monster in his most recent performances, and will look to continue his streak against the talented prospect, Charles Oliveira. Both men will carry two fight winning streaks into this fight; Swanson recently knocking out George Roop and Ross Pearson, and Oliveira recently submitting Eric Wisely and Jonathan Brookins. At a glance, given their recent performances, this looks to be a classic grappler versus striker matchup. It will probably not unfold as such, however.
Oliveira has showed some of the most impressive jiu jitsu in the UFC today, but has lost when he gets overconfident. First, when he bit off more than he could chew on the ground against Jim Miller, and then when opted to stand with the ever dangerous Donald Cerrone. If Oliveira wants to beat Swanson, he should do everything he can to turn this into a grappling match as soon as possible. Swanson, knowing full well of Oliveira’s strengths, will have fine-tuned his takedown defense to prepare for this possibility. Swanson is also the stronger of the two fighters, and will not be easily muscled to the ground by Oliveira. If Oliveira is successful in dragging this fight to the floor, Swanson will be in trouble, but should have enough experience to defend himself and return to his feet. Against an opponent as unpredictable as “Do Bronx,” Swanson will need to apply everything he has learned on the ground to survive
There is no denying that Charles Oliveira is immensely talented, but this bout will likely be another case of too much, too soon, for the young competitor. We can expect this fight to look similar to Oliveira’s fight with Donald Cerrone, as Swanson forces Oliveira to scrap it out on the feet, and uses his strength to keep the fight there. As long as this bout lasts, it will be extremely entertaining, but given the finishing abilities of both men, don’t expect it to last long. Oliveira will do his utmost, attacking from unexpected angles, until a measured Swanson, calm under fire, throws a few back and seals the deal in the first round.
The Pick: Cub Swanson continues to build on his impressive win-streak, knocking Charles Oliveira out in the first round.