NEWARK, N.J. – Saturday April 27, after months of verbal warfare, UFC 159 goes down at The Prudential Center in New Jersey and all speculation comes to a screeching halt. In the main event, the enigmatic light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones meets the self-proclaimed “American Gangster”, Chael Sonnen, in what many believe will be a largely one-sided affair in favor of the young champion. In another war of words, middleweight Michael Bisping battles Alan Belcher in a bout with potential title implications (and, apparently, pink slips) on the line. In anticipation of these heated rivalries, we offer you a preview of the main card, complete with analysis and predictions.
Champion Jon Jones (17-1, 11-1 UFC) vs. Chael Sonnen (27-12-1, 6-5 UFC)
After having coached opposite one another on “The Ultimate Fighter 17”, Jones and Sonnen will finally have a chance to settle their much documented differences.
Regarded by many as the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, Jones, will attempt to set another record as he looks to tie Tito Ortiz for most light-heavyweight titles defended. The young champion, who holds an astonishing 10.5 inch reach advantage, possesses one of the most well-rounded skill-sets in the UFC. A versatile striker, he also uses exceptional wrestling to both impose his will on opponents and keep opponents from having their way with him. In becoming the youngest champion in UFC history, the athletic New Yorker finished four of his last five opponents en route to dominant victories. With wins over the likes of Lyoto Machida, “Ranpage” Jackson, “Shogun” Rua, Rashad Evans, and Vitor Belfort, he has displayed few weaknesses.
Sonnen, who looks out-gunned on paper, may be one of the best MMA wrestlers in the UFC. He also has showed in the past that his striking should not be overlooked. As evidenced in his first title fight with Anderson Silva, he floored the champ with capable boxing and used his excellent wrestling to maintain control until, with two minutes left in the fight, he was caught with a triangle and finished.
While both men have shown a lack of a defensive submission game, it’s likely the champion will never allow the fight to get there. Jon Jones uses his length and superior balanced attack to finish Sonnen by TKO in the middle rounds of this title bout.
Michael Bisping (23-5, 13-5 UFC) vs. Alan Belcher (18-7, 9-5 UFC)
Bragging rights are on the line as the Englishman, Bisping, takes on the American, Belcher, in what looks to be an early candidate for “Fight of the Night” honors. Both men, coming off of disappointing losses in which potential title shots were on the line, have made their disdain for each other very clear. While they both posses very well-balanced skill-sets, they have also shown ineptness for wrestling and, as a result, have wilted when the going gets tough.
Bisping, who was last seen being head-kicked into unconsciousness by Vitor Belfort, uses good footwork and movement to keep opponents at bay. However, he has also worked tirelessly to improve his wrestling and will hope to utilize it in this contest. Notorious for sticking and moving, the Brit has been successful at staying with the gameplan and, while not exactly entertaining, has been able to knock off some worthy opposition. Bisping prides himself in not allowing fights to turn into brawls and he will attempt to do just that on Saturday night.
Belcher, meanwhile, looks to rebound from a disappointing decision loss to Yushin Okami, in which he was outworked by the more superior grappler. Also a competent kickboxer himself, the American fighter uses good combinations and power to overwhelm opponents standing and, when fights have hit the mat, is also an excellent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt with quality submission skills. In a throttling of Rousimar Palharaes, Belcher showed a complete package when he was able to withstand adversity and shift momentum in his favor. He’ll need all of those skills to knock off the savvy Bisping.
In a very close back-and-forth bout, Belcher will use power and better submission skills to outpoint Bisping to a decision win.
Roy Nelson (18-7, 5-3 UFC) vs. Cheick Kongo (18-7-2, 11-5-1 UFC)
The evening’s lone heavyweight clash belongs to decorated grappler, “Big Country” Nelson, and French striker, Kongo.
“Big Country”, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt who prefers to strike, possesses big power and a granite chin. In five wins in the Octagon, he finished all five of the contests with strikes. His most success has come when he has been able to control with excellent grappling and land his patented overhand right. After knockouts of Matt Mitrione and Dave Herman, Nelson will try to make it three in a row.
A winner of three of his last four, Kongo has been at his best when able to intiate action with his enormous wingspan and encourage opponents to trade with him. While a competent striker, Kongo has also worked to improve on his wrestling, his one glaring weakness. In his last bout with Shawn Jordan, he displayed polished wrestling and was able to control the smaller man with clinch work and takedowns en route to a decision win. In Nelson, he will have to be prepared to use all facets of his game.
The grappling improvements will prove to be futile as Nelson uses striking to close the distance and finish the Frenchman by submission in the second round.
Phil Davis (10-1, 6-1 UFC) vs. Vinny Magalhaes (10-5, 1-2 UFC)
A battle of the more dominant grappling art, former Penn State wrestling standout, Davis, tangles with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt, Magalhaes. After a Twitter challenge from Magalhaes in which Davis agreed, the men have engaged in a heated exchange of words in the lead-up to this fight. The light-heavyweights now get the opportunity to back up all the talk.
An exceptional athlete, Davis has made no secret in where he prefers a fight to go. He blends phenomenal strength and athleticism to overpower opponents with his unparalleled wrestling pedigree. Even with basic striking and footwork, he has been able to close the distance and wear out challengers with expert grappling and control. Davis’ best traits have also been his only real achilles’ heel. In his only blemish, Rashad Evans was able to keep the fight up and use pinpoint striking to take a decision from the larger, more powerful man. Still, it’s a tough task for any man in the weight class to implement that strategy as it has only been done once.
Magalhaes, a decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt, is also partial to grappling with opponents and is comfortable from top or bottom. His best work has been done when he’s afforded the opportunity to bring a fight to the ground and dictate the pace with his excellent submission skills. While not the most technically sound in the striking department, he has enough tools to hold his own on the feet.
Look for Davis to utilize his superior gifts and better conditioning to ragdoll Magalhaes to a lopsided unanimous decision win.
Jim Miller (22-4, 11-3 UFC) vs. Pat Healy (29-16, 0-1 UFC)
Journeymen Miller and Healy will lead off the Pay-Per-View card in lightweight action pitting two of the division’s more successful grapplers.
Miller, a veteran of fourteen fights in the Octagon, has been a handful for all comers. A man who is prepared for a fight to go anywhere, he has displayed aggressive, well-rounded striking and an accomplished ground assault to push the pace against some the top fighters in the world. Last seen in 2012 in what many believed to be “Fight of the Year”, Miller battered Joe Lauzon with versatile strikes to earn a unanimous decision to close out the year. A fighter with the complete package, he can handle himself everywhere and compete with the best in the division.
Healy, on the other hand, implements a slow, methodical approach in fights. Known as a huge lightweight with more than capable wrestling ability, he tries to overwhelm adversaries with his size and clinch work and grind smaller men to the closing bell. Having competed at multiple weight classes, Healy has faced a who’s who of top talent over a 45-fight career. Returning to the Octagon after more than six years, he will try to keep his impressive six-fight win streak in tact as he battles Miller.
In this contest, Miller will prove to have too much firepower and beat Healy to the punch in all exchanges and take the unanimous decision victory over his larger and much slower opponent.
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski – USA TODAY Sports