UFC 165 Main Card Breakdown

(*You can find my preliminary breakdown for the card at MMACanada.net.  It is chock-full of Canadian goodness.  I also did a main card breakdown for them, not realizing that they’d already had one put up.  D’oh.  Can’t hurt to post it here.)

“UFC 165” airs live on PPV, Saturday, September 21.  Preliminaries will be broadcast on Facebook/Youtube starting at 6:15 PM (EST).  Coverage will continue on Sportsnet 360, with televised preliminaries beginning at 8 PM (EST).  The main card starts at 10 PM.

Lightweight Bout: Pat Healy (0-1 UFC [1 NC], 29-16) v. Khabib Nurmagomedov (4-0 UFC, 20-0)

No matter what your stance is on the rules surrounding marijuana use and professional sports, you have to feel bad for Healy.  Defeating Jim Miller should have been the highlight if his career and it was until a failed drug test officially erased the contest and cost Healy two bonus awards totalling $130,000.  The fact that he’s still considered a top 10 lightweight is small consolation.  Rankings don’t feed the bulldog.

A look at the odds will show you that Healy is the underdog in this fight even after that fine performance, a testament to the reputation that Nurmagomedov has made for himself.  His grappling credentials are some of the most impressive in MMA, with mastery in both Sambo and judo.  If you lock up with “The Eagle” you better be ready to fly.  He also has a high motor that allows him to stay competitive on the feet, a necessity until he cleans up his undisciplined striking.  His worst performance was a win against Gleison Tibau, where he did just enough to win over the judges.  At his best, it only took him two minutes to bludgeon Thiago Tavares and he tossed around Abel Trujillo like he was a flyweight.  He has a staggering 20 fight win streak and at 24 years old, is nowhere near a finished product.

There are two ways to look at this booking for Healy: Punishment for hurting the UFC’s image or a chance for him to get right back into the title hunt by knocking off one of the best young fighters in the organization.  As dangerous as Nurmagomedov is, you’d want to face him now rather than in a couple of years when he might be unstoppable.  Nurmagomedov hasn’t faced an opponent yet who can pressure him like Healy will.  Undefeated records tend to go down in ugly fashion and ugly is just how Healy likes it.

Middleweight Bout: Costa Philippou (5-1 UFC, 12-2 [1 NC]) v. Francis Carmont (5-0 UFC, 21-7)

Carmont has to be relieved that he’s fighting in Canada.  His knack for squeaking out decisions in grueling contests that have fans heading for the washrooms has essentially turned him into a pro wrestling heel.  The only place he’s likely to get love at this point is on home soil.  He’s essentially become Bret Hart circa-1997.

Fighters that are frustrating to watch must be even more frustrating to compete against and Carmont is no exception.  He’s a strong wrestler with top notch cardio.  Even when he’s not connecting with takedowns, he is going to keep going until he gets one.  As we saw in his previous fights (and Phil Davis-Lyoto Machida), all of those attempts can add up even if they’re unsuccessful.  Carmont might not always be able to take the fight where he wants it to go, but it’s just as important that his opponent can’t either.

Philippou has all the tools to stifle Carmont and potentially knock him out.  His style is classic “sprawl-and-brawl” and he worked it to perfection in a gritty win against Tim Boetsch.  That TKO confirmed that Philippou is a top 10 middleweight.  Interestingly, Philippou only found himself in that position when Boetsch’s original opponent got injured.

That opponent?  Current UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman.

Philippou recently left the Serra-Longo camp, perhaps in anticipation of having to one day face Weidman, the camp’s star pupil.  He’ll have to get past Carmont first.

Heavyweight Bout: Brendan Schaub (5-3 UFC, 9-3) v. Matt Mitrione (6-2 UFC, 6-2)

For the social media inclined, please choose the appropriate hashtag:

#contrived #manufactured #unnecessary

It’s regrettable that the impetus behind this meeting is based on a Twitter beef.  It’s not even worth going over the specifics (suffice to say there are cheap shots ranging from Schaub’s much maligned chin to comments about Mitrione’s wife) and I’m not sure what would be sadder: that this whole situation is phony or that it isn’t.

Considering that Schaub and Mitrione are a combined 15-4, you’d think this was a more important match up than it actually is.  The majority of these wins have come against opposition that is no longer in the UFC: Chase Gormley, Chris Tuchscherer, Mirko Cro Cop, Tim Hague, Christian Morecraft, Phil De Fries and the immortal Kimbo Slice.  Once you reach this level, there are no easy fights but it’s fair to say that that list has a “canned” quality to it.

We all know why this fight is on the main card.  Should the initial bouts fail to create fireworks, the inevitable earth shattering knockout one of these men will provide will surely be enough to ignite the crowd.

Bantamweight Interim Championship Bout: Renan Barão (5-0 UFC, 30-1 [1 NC]) v. Eddie Wineland (2-2 UFC, 20-8-1)

UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz won’t be back until at least 2014, making every defence of the interim belt even more meaningful.  It’s becoming easy to make an argument for Barão being on the same level as (if not superior to Cruz).  The term “undisputed” doesn’t mean what it used to.

Wineland seems like an unlikely challenger, having dropped his first two fights in the UFC.  It helps that those two fights were against Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, two all-time greats, and that neither of them could put Wineland away.  He finally broke out with wins against two perennial top ten fighters: a KO of Scott Jorgensen (the first to defeat him in such a manner) and a split decision (not as close as it looked) over Brad Pickett.  Wineland is another challenger with the misfortune of going from preliminary fighter to title challenger.  The UFC needs to do a better job of anticipating who is going to break from the pack so as to give them proper exposure.  I applaud Wineland for being the last man standing amongst the contenders in what is rapidly becoming a deep division.  He’s in the prime of his career and he’ll never be in better position to capture a world title.

If only that world title wasn’t held by Barão.

Opening as a 5-1 favourite, the odds have actually tilted even further his way as fight night approaches.  That sort of thing happens when you’ve won 30 of your last 30 fights (not including a no-contest in 2007).  A training partner of José Aldo, at times Barão has looked like a more compact version of the featherweight kingpin.  Bruising leg kicks, inhuman timing and a slick ground game: the hallmark of the Nova União camp, skills that Barão has honed to perfection making him all but unbeatable.  It will take everything Wineland has and a whole lot of luck to create an upset and interrupt the anticipated Cruz-Barão unification bout.

Light Heavyweight Championship Bout: Jon Jones (12-1 UFC, 18-1) v. Alexander Gustafsson (7-1 UFC, 15-1)

The ridiculousness of the pre-fight hype surrounding Jones’s and Gustafsson’s respective measurements has been discussed ad nauseam, so I won’t pile on.  I’ll just say that if Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva don’t get the same treatment in December, I will be sorely disappointed.

The problem with hyping up a Jones fight, as magnificent as he is to watch, is that all of his challengers have seemed like they were chosen out of necessity as opposed to an overwhelming desire to see them fight or their viability as a true threat.  Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida (who presented Jones with some unique problems) were holding down the fort until Rashad Evans got healthy.  From a perception standpoint, Jones is facing some of the same criticisms that Floyd Mayweather has had to deal with.  His opponents are viewed as not being in their prime and they look even worse after he’s through with them.  Being the best can make you your own worst enemy.

Let’s look at the positives: This is still the same guy who is essentially undefeated.  This is still the same guy who in just 5 years as a pro once defeated 5 straight former UFC light heavyweight champions.  This is still the guy who might already be the greatest light heavyweight of all time.

And Gustafsson is no slouch.  The UFC’s ad campaign is a necessary evil, since “The Mauler” excels in so many aspects of MMA that he lacks a significant hook.  It doesn’t help that he didn’t exactly kick the door down in his wins over Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.  They were certainly one-sided, but they lacked a signature moment.  A finish of either man would have done wonders for Gustafsson’s Q rating.  Prior to those wins, Gustafsson did have an excellent finishing rate.  He surprises opponents with his deceptive punching power and a meat-and-potatoes ground game that makes good use of his long, lanky body.  Just going by BJJ belt ranking (a dubious proposition in MMA), Gustafsson should have a slight advantage on the ground.

There will be methodical feeling out process in the first round.  Both men fight intelligently and will take their time looking for openings.  A finish is difficult to foresee here as neither man is likely to sacrifice good sense or position in search of a crowd pleasing ending.  There is just too much on the line.  Expect a chess match between two of MMA’s youngest and brightest and don’t be surprised if there’s a rematch somewhere down the road.

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