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.

The Bigger They Are

If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything…it’s that you can kill anybody.

It was billed as one of the most intriguing title contests in recent memory and to say that Chris Weidman/Anderson Silva lived up to the hype would be an understatement.  That is not to say it was a great fight, it was a rather bizarre affair and an inarguably disappointing performance from Silva.  I give all the credit in the world to Weidman who I see as someone who will have several successful title defenses, but to say that Silva’s behaviour had nothing to do with the title changing hands would make me look more foolish than the man himself.  I’d even go as far to say that a Silva in his prime might have actually been able to get away with that kind of chicanery.

As I stressed in my main card preview, there were just too many factors working against Silva and in Weidman’s favour to view this as another routine defense for Silva.  So much of what I was reading and hearing revolved around Weidman’s virtues, with the arguments for Silva mostly comprised of He’s Anderson Silva!  Two or three years ago, that argument might have held weight.  In the here and now, we’re reminded of the harsh reality of professional sports.

If Silva, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, can lose…then who might be next?


The UFC has taken a lot of deserved criticism for their recent handling of title matches.  Jon Jones has had to defend his belt against two middleweights.  Georges St-Pierre talked the matchmakers into granting him his (highly profitable) grudge match with Nick Diaz, who was coming off a loss and a year-long drug suspension.  José Aldo faced Frankie Edgar, who was 1-3-1 in his last 5 fights.  There were perfectly valid reasons (injuries, intrigue, incompetence) for making those match-ups, but none of them involved the challenger legitimately earning their spot.

With all that nonsense out of the way, there is now at least some semblance of a meritocracy.  Antonio Silva was granted a second shot at Cain Velasquez based on the fact that he knocked out Alistair Overeem, the presumed number one contender.  It didn’t go well for Big Foot, but the logic was sound.  The UFC wanted to set up a rematch between Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, but Cat Zingano ruined their plans with a 3rd round comeback finish (due to a Zingano injury, Tate would later get the title shot anyway along with a juicy TUF coaching spot opposite Rousey).  Those are a couple of minor examples where the UFC did right by its winners.  Four more upcoming match-ups not only feature the worthiest of challengers but the possibility that a group of nigh invincible champions will fall.

In order of least likely to most likely to see a title change:

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

September 21, 2013 – UFC 165

How Gustafsson got here:

…by growing up.  Gustafsson’s only career loss came against Phil Davis in a fight that he was winning until he decided to take it to the ground.  Davis, a stronger grappler, was able to reverse the situation and sink in a match ending anaconda choke.  Since then, Gustafsson has fought a lot smarter, dominating when he’s supposed to and playing to his strengths to overcome the likes of Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.  The victory over Shogun was a signature win and enough to cement Gustafsson as the number one contender, something many fans and critics had been clamoring for.

The match-up will also do wonders for dispelling the notion that Jones is only getting by on his physical gifts and that he is only capable of beating fighters who are past their prime.  Neither criticism is particularly valid, but a win over Gustafsson should be hater-proof.

Why Gustafsson could win:

I’m honestly not sure he can.  The only reason I added this match is because my uncle was working hard to convince me that the Swede is a live underdog.  I’m not seeing it.

If I had to make an argument for Gustafsson, it would go beyond just the fact that he can match the champ’s reach.  With every fight, Gustafsson gets better and better at using his range to score points and keep his opponents off balance.  When you can sweep the scorecards against Shogun, the most aggressive light heavyweight around, you have to be doing something right.

Another department that Gustafsson has improved in is his takedown defence and controlling scrambles.  They will have to stress this in his training as Jones has a good shot and an array of throws with which to set up his merciless ground and pound.  His best chance remains on the feet.

Let’s not forget that Jones had trouble with Lyoto Machida in the first round of their match.  If Gustafsson can do a reasonable job of emulating Machida’s tactics, an upset could be in order.

Why Gustafsson could lose:

As much as people talk about Jones never facing someone built like him, the same could be said for Gustafsson.  Does anyone think Gustafsson would have been able to pick apart Thiago Silva and Shogun so efficiently without those freakish limbs?  If all things are equal body-wise, I’m not sure there’s any area skill-wise that Gustafsson can claim an advantage.  Jones is faster, more explosive, more creative with his strikes and a monster on the ground.  Gustafsson should be able to go the distance, but expect Jones to take all five rounds.

Featherweight Title Bout: Chan Sung Jung (3-0 UFC, 0-2 WEC, 13-3) v. José Aldo (4-0 UFC, 8-0 WEC, 22-1)

August 3, 2013 – UFC 163

How Zombie got here:

…as much as anything, we’re the ones who have put Jung in this spot.  The Korean Zombie became an instant sensation in his WEC debut against Leonard Garcia.  I remember showing that fight to everyone I knew, not caring if this was a legit new star or an oddity.  Thankfully, he’s turned out to be the former and his distinct, exciting style carried over to the UFC where he found the wins to match the adulation.  A submission win in a rematch with Garcia removed any doubt that he was the better fighter.  He followed that up with an astonishing 7 second knockout of Mark Hominick (who had previously fought Aldo) and by coming out on top in another fight of the year candidate against Dustin Poirier.

When Anthony Pettis suffered an injury, there were two possible replacements for UFC 163: Ricardo Lamas and Zombie.  Despite his last three wins all coming against top ranked featherweights, Lamas remains relatively unknown.  The UFC sees dollar signs with the Jung-Aldo match so the Zombie gets to feast.

Why Zombie could win:

If he lives up to his moniker, there’s a chance he could outpace Aldo.  People often point to a difficult weight cut as to why Aldo faded in the Hominick fight.  What they forget is how Hominick stayed aggressive and even though he lost the majority of the rounds, it wasn’t as one-sided as the scores suggested.  Zombie doesn’t have Hominick’s consistency; rather, I expect his scrappy and unpredictable nature to work to his advantage.

There’s also the issue of Jung’s resiliency.  He’s only been finished once in his career (a picture perfect head shot courtesy of George Roop).  That stat is made even more incredible by the fact that he regularly engages in all-out wars that are undoubtedly shortening his lifespan.  Aldo is no stranger to decisions, having gone the full five rounds with Hominick, Kenny Florian and Frankie Edgar.  Neither Florian nor Edgar known for their risk-taking, so it should be interesting to see how Aldo reacts to an opponent who has no regard for his own well-being.

Why Zombie could lose:

As mentioned above, the UFC couldn’t wait for an excuse to put Zombie in the cage with Aldo.  He’s an international property and he’s got a cool gimmick that has caught on like wildfire in North America.  You could easily make an argument that his popularity exceeds his credentials.

It’s always fun to look at results and say that one guy is finishing his opponents while the other guy is winning by decision, but that doesn’t tell the story of Aldo’s dominance at 145.  Facing a murderer’s row of opponents (Urijah Faber, Hominick, Florian, Chad Mendes, Edgar), Aldo has rarely been in danger.  A lack of finishes speaks to how high the level of competition is when you reach Aldo’s level.  He’s soundly beaten elite strikers, elite jiu-jitsu practitioners and elite wrestlers.  That’s not a good sign for Zombie, who is more of a jack of all trades.

Welterweight Title Bout: Johny Hendricks (10-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Georges St-Pierre (18-2 UFC, 24-2)

November 16, 2013 – UFC 167

How Hendricks got here:

…by smashing just about everyone who got in his way.  Nobody on this list has been waiting longer or had a stronger claim to a title shot than Hendricks, who was egregiously passed over as a challenger in favour of Nick Diaz.  While the Stockton bad boy was losing to Carlos Condit and getting lifted, Hendricks was tearing through the division.  From March 2011 to March 2013, Hendricks had one of the most impressive runs in welterweight history.  A riveting win over Condit capped off a six-fight streak that displayed Hendricks’ guts (close split decision wins against Mike Pierce and Josh Koscheck) and sheer supremacy (finishing Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in less than one total minute).  Bigg Rigg might not have the name recognition or a squeaky clean look, but the UFC couldn’t ignore his results any longer.

Why Hendricks could win:

Anyone who has seen a St-Pierre title fight is familiar with the image of the champ scoring a takedown, establishing top position and neutralizing his victim for 25 minutes.  That’s how you defend your title in the toughest division in the UFC.

It’s hard to imagine Hendricks suffering the same treatment.  He’s lived up to the hype of being a 2-time national champion wrestling for Oklahoma State University.  That background has forged him into a mini-Iceman, able to control where the fight goes and set his opponents up for his infamous left hand.  A dream scenario sees GSP relying on a takedown heavy gameplan that Hendricks is able to stifle until the champ makes a rare mistake that leads to him getting laid out.

It’s somewhat unfair to bring it up, but St-Pierre’s ability to take a punch has been in question since his last loss to Matt Serra.  Since then, you can count on one hand the number of times he’s actually been rocked but people still insist that he’s always one solid punch away from losing the strap.  If there’s any credence to that theory, Hendricks is surely the one to prove it.

Why Hendricks could lose:

Hendricks’ only career loss was to Rick Story and surprisingly it was a match in which he was out-grappled.  While that loss clearly made him a better fighter, it’s worth noting that he is not unfamiliar with being put in bad positions.

On paper, Hendricks presents a lot of the same problems as Josh Koscheck, who boasted that he had the advantage as long as he could keep the fight standing against St-Pierre in their rematch.  St-Pierre was able to pick Koscheck apart with stiff jabs and was never in any real danger for the duration of their bout.  There is no evidence that Hendricks is uniquely equipped to deal with the latter.  Against a similarly gifted striker in Condit, Hendricks relied on his chin to absorb damage so he could get in close and attack.  He didn’t shut Condit down, he was able to land more consistently and land harder.  Getting St-Pierre to engage in a firefight like that is a near-impossibility.  Even with 25 minutes to work with, Hendricks will have to avoid getting desperate and focus on winning rounds if he cannot finish St-Pierre.

Lightweight Title Bout: TJ Grant (8-3 UFC, 21-5) v. Ben Henderson (7-0 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 18-2)

August 31, 2013 – UFC 164

How Grant got here:

…he went on a diet.  Fighting at 170, Grant had a respectable 3-3 record in the UFC, but there was no indication that he’d be challenging GSP anytime soon.  Changing weight classes is a popular move for fighters who appear to be stuck in a rut and it’s hard to name anyone who has made it work out better than Grant.  This wasn’t a big name moving down in the hopes of getting an immediate title shot.  No, Grant made the decision to jump into the increasingly deep lightweight waters.  The results speak for themselves: Five straight wins including a first round TKO of Gray Maynard, the only person to ever dispatch him that early.  He’s an exciting fighter and a proven finisher, leaving fans starving to see him test Henderson who has been criticized for being too safe.

Why Grant could win:

To understand why Henderson always seems to go to decisions, you have to look at his last few fights.  As great as Clay Guida, Edgar and Gilbert Melendez are, none of them are known for their finishing prowess (there was also Nate Diaz, but Henderson had an overwhelming physical advantage that he won’t have with the sizeable Grant).  If you know that your opponent doesn’t have the tools with which to put you away, it affords you certain luxuries.  Luxuries that Henderson won’t have against Grant.

This is not to say that Grant is necessarily better than the aforementioned names, only more likely to look for a finish.  The Maynard fight stands as proof.  Canadian MMA aficionado “Showdown” Joe Ferraro expressed his dismay at seeing his friend Grant willingly trade punches with Maynard.  One mistake and the fight easily could have gone the other way, but it is Grant’s temerity that has got him this far.  Don’t expect him to change his approach now that he’s this close to being the best in the world.

Why Grant could lose:

It’s a hard thing to quantify, but Henderson definitely seems to have the same gift as St-Pierre for attacking an opponent’s weaknesses.  This is likely why both men are maligned as “point fighters”.  I’ve never been a fan of using that term in a derogatory fashion because the last time I checked scoring points was how you won games.  Henderson wins games.

To draw another St-Pierre comparison, Henderson is unparalleled as an athlete in the lightweight division.  He’s incredibly strong and agile and he has an unlimited gas tank.  Grant has assured everyone that he normally trains for five round fights, but it’s an entirely different beast once you actually reach those championship periods.  Fighting Henderson can be a frustrating experience and Grant’s mental strength is going to be as important as his physical ones.  The last thing Grant wants is to go to the scorecards with Henderson, who has shown a knack for pulling out close decisions.


As fun as it is to say, upsets are not contagious and the fall of Silva has no metaphysical impact on the rest of the title holders.  However, for the first time in a while you get the feeling that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the titles did change hands.  It remains to be seen if MMA will be like every other sport, with competitors being inextricably attached to each other in their respective eras: Spouting off names like Liddell-Ortiz-Couture or Minotauro-Cro Cop-Fedor or Silva-St-Pierre-Jones can conjure up unmistakeable images and provide timestamps for the most important events in this young sport.  Perhaps one of Gustafsson, Zombie, Hendricks or Grant will be the first to take their place in the world that’s coming.