Six. That’s the number of main-event caliber fights scheduled to take place at UFC 194.
Even after two months filled with captivating matchups, Joe Silva and Sean Shelby somehow managed to stockpile a handful of intriguing fights to enjoy on Dec. 12. By night’s end, the world will have a better idea of who its best fighter is at 185 and 145 pounds.
Here’s how we see the night breaking down:
- Marcio Alexandre def. Court McGee via decision
- John Makdessi def. Yancy Medeiros via decision
- Joe Proctor def. Magomed Mustafaev via submission
- Kevin Lee def. Leonardo Santos via decision
- Warlley Alves def. Colby Covington via decision
- Tecia Torres def. Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger via decision
- Urijah Faber def. Frankie Saenz via submission
Demian Maia vs. Gunnar Nelson
With 11 years of disparity between these two grappling greats, let us just take a moment to be thankful they managed to cross paths before Demian Maia, 38, called it a career.
Maia started his career as a fundamentally flawed fighter, relying far too much on his status as one of the greatest BJJ practitioners the sport’s ever seen. That approach cost him a few times, never more apparent than his five-round drubbing against former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. And so he started closing the gap between his grappling and other tools like, say, his boxing.
Both of those tools are what make this such a close fight with Gunnar Nelson. While Nelson may not be quite as good of a grappler as Maia is on the canvas, he’s got far more fluidity in his footwork and strikes. If the Icelandic fighter can keep it standing, he should win this fight.
Prediction: Nelson def. Maia via decision
Max Holloway vs. Jeremy Stephens
Max Holloway had every opportunity to make a statement heading into his last fight against Charles Oliveira. Slated to face a fellow top-10 featherweight for the second straight contest, Holloway could have inched his way closer to the title in August. He ended up winning that fight, but only after Oliveira suffered a bit of a freak injury inside two minutes of the first round.
Holloway gets his third consecutive top-10 145 pounder on Saturday in Jeremy Stephens. Chances are Holloway’s crisp boxing and above-average footwork get him the win here — and not by any freak injury.
Stephens hasn’t looked all that impressive at featherweight, losing to perennial top contenders Cub Swanson and Oliveira (both of whom lost to Holloway, mind you). A victory over Dennis Bermudez was fun and all, but it’s not necessarily the type of win that affords you any sort of confidence picking Stephens here. Not with the way Holloway’s looked since losing to Conor McGregor in 2013.
Prediction: Holloway def. Stephens via decision
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Yoel Romero
Considered by many the final test Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza or Yoel Romero need to pass before punching their ticket to a middleweight title shot, this could also be the final opportunity either man has at a title run. At 35 and 38 years old, Souza and Romero, respectively, may not have enough time to muster up another run at 185 pounds.
Souza, who’s previously held a middleweight title under the Strikeforce banner, was previously known as a bit of a one-trick pony. But like Demian Maia did before him, “Jacare” worked on his striking, unleashing it for the UFC public to see in a first-round TKO over former middleweight title contender Yushin Okami. He’s still retained much of the fight-ending submissions that first earned him success in the early portions of his career, making him a tough fight for anyone at 185.
Surprisingly enough, Romero — who only started his professional fighting career six years ago — is the more dangerous fighter on the feet. And it’ll pay dividends at UFC 194, considering it won’t be easy for Souza to take the Olympic silver medalist wrestler down to the canvas.
Prediction: Romero def. Souza via TKO
Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold
The first of two title fights, you certainly have enough in your arsenal to make an argument that it should be the final act in this pairing.
For as much as either contestant has accomplished in previous outings and for as many legendary Brazilian fighters as either man has toppled in recent years, this is a career-defining moment needed by Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold. A co-headlining matchup between undefeated UFC middleweight champion Weidman and former Strikeforce middleweight titleholder Rockhold, this is — on paper, anyway — quite possibly the greatest middleweight title matchup the UFC has ever seen. And that should say a lot about these two, considering what championship matchups lie in the vault.
It starts with the champion.
Weidman’s pressure-first approach proved to be the answer to the impermeable aura surrounding Anderson Silva in 2013. It was also the answer to the resurgent puzzle otherwise known as a middleweight Lyoto Machida a year later. You could argue testosterone-replacement therapy (or lack thereof) had more to do with Weidman’s victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC 187 earlier this year, but “The All-American’s” pressure played a pivotal role in that victory, too. For obvious reasons, his no-nonsense, move-forward gameplan will need to be firing on all cylinders come Dec. 12.
Problem for Weidman is Rockhold knows exactly what the champion is looking to do. Much like Holly Holm’s gameplan against Ronda Rousey at UFC 193, Rockhold needs to buy himself some space to see his hand raised at UFC 194. His footwork will far and away be his biggest weapon coming into this fight.
And while Weidman will almost inevitably grab hold of the American Kickboxing Academy standout, it may not be that simple this time around. Weidman’s almost always held a sizable advantage on fight night. That may not necessarily be the case here, considering the champion’s decided to keep his weight relatively low — “welterweight” low, according to him. It could cost him at UFC 194, as he faces a taller, longer opponent who could quite possibly have a few pounds on him by the time they step into the cage.
It ends with the challenger.
Prediction: Rockhold def. Weidman via decision
Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor
We’ve known this matchup was set to take place on two occasions now. We’ve had plenty of time to go back and forth on how we anticipate this fight turning out and your author is bound to change his mind at least once or twice between publication and fight night.
But that’s what makes this such an intriguing matchup; much like the preceding title fight, we really have no idea which one of these fighters will have a shiny new carry-on to bring home to Rio de Janeiro, Dublin, Long Island or Santa Cruz.
If nothing else, this matchup comes down to the psychological warfare imposed by Conor McGregor and what effects it may have had on Jose Aldo.
If Aldo can swallow enough of his pride to excuse himself from a stand-up affair when needed, he’s got as good of a chance to defend his title as he’s had in any of his previous matches. Between his wrestling, clinch work and grappling abilities, the Nova Uniao fighter has more ways of winning this bout than his challenger, but he just needs to understand which of those tools best suit him here.
For as elite of a striker as Aldo may be, Conor McGregor’s style just seems a bit better. He’s more fluid in his movements, more damaging in his strikes. He’s also proven to be able to take a punch, which should sway Aldo from standing and banging with the heavy-handed Irishman here.
But McGregor knows all these
tings things. For as much as he welcomed Chad Mendes to take him down just so he could “butcher [him] from the bottom” at UFC 189, McGregor knew his best chances came while both his feet were planted on the canvas. He knows that in order to win this fight, he needs to keep it standing, which is why he’s going out of his way to say Aldo and any one of his potential challengers will turn into a “panic wrestler” shortly after receiving a damaging straight left.
So, will Aldo be wise enough to take the fight to safer waters after eating a few of those left hands? We’ll see, but my gut tells me he won’t. Self confidence only goes so far before it becomes arrogance, and arrogance almost always victimizes the sport’s best at one point or another.
Prediction: McGregor def. Aldo via TKO