The time is now – this has been the trademarked UFC slogan for the final moments of 2014 on into the first half of 2015. Why? Because this is probably going to be the “golden age” of the UFC in terms of recent history. I don’t remember a time before where we had such high profile bouts stacked up next to each other like this. So many title fights. So many MMA celebrities taking the spot light. But the one match up that has been the most talked-about will occur this weekend when UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones defends his belt for an 8th time as he takes on his bitter rival, the undefeated, Daniel Cormier. UFC 182 is set to start 2015 off with a bang and hopefully set the bar higher than it has ever been set. With that said, here is what we can expect out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 3rd, 2015:
Hectory Lombard vs. Josh Burkman
Starting off the main card action is a very intriguing bout in the welterweight division. Hector Lombard is known to be one of the most feared fighters on the UFC roster to this day as virtually nobody wants to risk their progress in the division by going up against him. He received considerable momentum when he dominated Jake Shields, and then Nate Marquardt and Rousimar Palhares before that. However, Josh Burkman does not seem to be phased. Burkman was a long-time UFC veteran before he was released from the promotion back in 2008. Since then, he has improved through leaps and bounds while compiling a 9-2 record outside the UFC. He steps back into the UFC’s stacked welterweight division and is taking on one of the most intimidating challenges of his career.
Hector Lombard is a feared fighter in the cage because of his explosive assault. He is a physical specimen that is virtually carved out of muscle. At just 5 foot 9 inches tall, Lombard is a fire hydrant that swings some of the hardest punches the division has ever seen. Hector is known for coaxing his opponent into range, and once the time his right he explodes forward with vintage Vitor Belfort-like hand speed. Both of his hands contain one-punch knockout power, and his speed and ferocity makes him something to fear on the feet. In combination to his threatening striking approach, Lombard brings some of the best Judo skills to the UFC. Because of his short frame, his hips are naturally lower than most of his opponents’, which makes his Judo that much more effective. Combine this with his incredible takedown defense and a solid understanding of submissions, and you get one dangerous, complete welterweight contender who is knocking on the door of the title shot.
The only real knock against Lombard however has been his cardio. Generally he is forced to pace himself and limit his output into short, violent bursts of energy with everything in between being nothing but staring and feinting. Lombard has been getting better and better at making the best of his attacks and learning how to time his opponents really well. It would be smart for Burkman to try and disrupt Lombard’s timing with kicks and punches from range where Burkman should be more comfortable as he has the much longer frame. However, even though Burkman holds the advantage on the outside, it is unlike him to fight smart and calculated. Burkman likes to jump into the fire and go blow-for-blow with his opponents. He also has a bad habit of over-committing with his punches, which could leave him exposed for either the hands of Lombard, or the takedowns.
Look for Lombard to definitely have the most success throughout the majority of this bout. It would be wise for Burkman to just simply be set on getting out of the first round alive, and then start to work his game from there knowing that Lombard will most likely fade as the fight goes on. Expect Burkman to stay active on the outside with kicks and long punches, but Lombard shouldn’t have much problem timing his opponent and getting the fight into his range where he can either land devastating punches, or take the fight to the ground. Burkman has never been knocked out in his long, experienced career, but the chin doesn’t recover and we might see that if Burkman doesn’t fight smart. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t really matter as Lombard can take the fight to the ground if he doesn’t like what he sees on the feet. From the top position, expect Lombard to suffocate his opponent, batter him with punches, and make the fight hell for Burkman. The only real threat Lombard will have to watch out for his Burkman’s sneaky submission game which could make a real presence later in the fight. With that said, expect either a first round finish for Lombard, who’s power can knockout out anyone regardless of if they have never been finished before, or it’ll be a decision for Lombard who grinds his opponent down with takedowns, top control, and paces himself.
Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Louis Gaudinot
Action continues in the flyweight division between two of the division’s most entertaining fighters that we’re definitely going to want to keep an eye on. Kyoji Horiguchi is Japan’s best chance in the 125lb weight division, and is sitting at a comfortable 3-0 in the UFC while his opponent, TUF 14 competitor Louis Gaudinot, is at an uncomfortable 1-2-1 after his most recent win against Phil Harris was overturned due to a failed drug test. Both of these guys are prone to banging it out on the feet, but have pretty solid grappling skills as well. Look for this fight to be a front-runner in a potential fight of the night performance.
On the feet, the edge has to go to Horiguchi who is definitely the more powerful striker of the two. Horiguchi has finished two of his three UFC wins by strikes, and is one of the division’s hardest hitting fighters. His best weapons are his hands which pack one-punch knockout power. Horiguchi also has very good timing, and likes to wait on the outside, create angles, and calculate his opponent before committing to anything. This could be one of his biggest strengths, but could also be his biggest weakness. Waiting around on the outside for the right time to strike can definitely produce a knockout, but it can also set you behind on scorecards. Luckily for Horiguchi he has a good wrestling game to get the fight on the mat where he can make up for his lost points with brutal ground and pound. Horiguchi isn’t known to look for submissions, but he isn’t prone to getting caught either. All in all he has a good base, stays out of trouble, and just delivers bomb after bomb.
The notorious green-haired flyweight in Louis Gaudinot definitely has his work cut out for him, but he brings a very well-rounded game to the table just like his opponent. Gaudinot doesn’t have the power that Horiguchi does on the feet, but he does have a bit wider variety of arsenal as he likes to attack the leg with kicks while Horiguchi is primarily all hands. Where Gaudinot shines however is on the ground and during scrambles. While wrestling isn’t necessarily his strong-suit, Gaudinot boasts a dangerous submission game that was put on display when he tapped John Lineker with a nasty guillotine in their bout.
All in all, Horiguchi has the right style to shut Gaudinot down and probably even get a finish. On the feet, Gaudinot needs to stay busy and try to get ahead on points even though he’ll be throwing the weaker strikes. Avoiding Horiguchi’s power and keeping him frustrated will be a must. Expect Horiguchi to be able to get this fight down to the ground though as he is not only the better wrestler, but also the stronger of the two. From there, Horiguchi should be able to thwart off submissions and batter his opponent for the majority of the fight. Expect Gaudinot to be relentless off his back though and try to get something going. It should be a fun fight, but I’m going with Horiguchi by decision if he doesn’t get a 3rd round TKO.
Nate Marquardt vs. Brad Tavares
In a do-or-die bout for both fighters, these middleweights will do battle between a real experienced MMA veteran in Nate Marquardt, and a young, former top prospect in Brad Tavares. Both men are recovering from low-lights in their careers when Marquardt’s UFC return was met with two back-to-back knockout losses while Tavares saw his five-fight winning streak snapped by two consecutive losses. Now, they both look to get back to their winning ways.
Even though Marquardt didn’t look his best at welterweight, he did make a triumphant return to middleweight when he out-matched James Te Huna earlier last year. Even though Marquardt is most well known for his versatile striking approach, he showcased his submission skills against the striker in Te Huna which I think will make another presence here Saturday night. On the feet, Marquardt is known for mixing it up extremely well. He packs some good power in his punches, but his most powerful punches come from within the clinch. Elbows, knees, and tight combinations inside are what makes Marquardt a dangerous fighter. Like I said, he couples that with a strong submission game and some good wrestling skills to back that up. While he has been out-wrestled before in his career, I don’t think Tavares has the wrestling to do that, so if the fight hits the ground is should be all Marquardt.
Brad Tavares’ best chances at winning this fight are going to be on the feet. At this point in Marquardt’s career, it’s unknown whether or not he has the chin to survive Tavares’ hardest punches, but even if he does he could find himself on the losing end of a decision. Tavares isn’t known for packing the most amount power either, but he does throw some technical punches on the feet. Furthermore he mixes it up well when he punches into a clinch, or punches into a takedown attempt. Tavares isn’t the most effective grappler, or even striker for that matter, but his full package is what makes him a durable, tough guy.
In conclusion this should be a walk-in-the-park for Nate Marquardt as long as his chin doesn’t fail him. Striking at range with Tavares is going to be the area he wants to avoid, and should instead try to get the fight into the clinch where he’ll hold advantages in speed, technique, and athleticism. Expect some grueling clinch work out of both fighters, but once Marquardt gets the fight to the ground, he should be able to lock up in the submission somewhere in the latter half of the fight.
Donald Cerrone vs. Myles Jury
In our co-main event of the evening we have a lightweight bout that could spark one of the division’s top contenders. Donald Cerrone is obviously in his prime as he has rattled off an impressive 5-fight win streak, with 4 of those being finishes. He takes the undefeated Myles Jury who is 6-0 in the UFC with his most impressive wins being over Michael Johnson, Diego Sanchez, and Takanori Gomi. This is a very important fight to have in the 155lb division, and I’m very excited for it.
Donald Cerrone is obviously most well known for his striking game. His kicks are, outside of Anthony Pettis, the best in the division. But rather than an unorthodox style like Pettis, Cerrone brings a much more patented Muay Thai style. He doesn’t throw many flashing techniques, but is rather limited to round kicks to all three parts of the body, front kicks, and knees. While he isn’t the flashiest striker, he is very effective as he throws everything with brutal power and virtually no wind up. With that said, his kicks are definitely Cerrone’s best weapons on the feet. His punches, while they are technical and straight, don’t pack the most amount of power and he is known to get hit a lot when trying to box with his opponent. Nate Diaz, Rafael dos Anjos, and Eddie Alvarez have all exploited Cerrone’s lack of head movement and head defense when his kicks are taken away from him and he is forced to box. However, Cerrone is a very well-rounded fighter who can land takedowns when he wants to, but also has a very underrated submission game.
Myles Jury on the other hand has a style that matches up very well against Cerrone. It’s safe to say that Jury’s biggest weapon isn’t his hands, feet, or his grappling skills, but rather his head. Jury is one of the smartest fighters in the lightweight division and that has been proved by his 6-0 UFC record at just 26 years of age. Physically, he is nothing to marvel at, but it’s his game planning, impeccable timing, and movement that makes him so good. Jury can bring pretty much any look into the fight that is needed of him. He can play the matador, he can brawl, and he can fight chess-matches. Whatever approach he brings he showcases technically sound punches, but the freedom to move and not be quite as square and rigid as Cerrone is. In the grappling departments Jury has solid wrestling skills and great scrambling abilities. He is always one step ahead of his opponents and dishing out punishment wherever the fight goes.
The big x-factor in this bout is going to be pacing. Cerrone wins this fight 10 times out 10 if he fights at his slow, methodical, chess-match pace. He is simply too powerful and has too many effective weapons to completely shut Jury down if it goes down like that. However, I don’t think it will. Jury is as smart as they come and always has the correct game plan. Cerrone has struggled when pushed backward and forced to brawl, and I think that is what jury will make him do. Look for Jury to get his hands on Cerrone early, push him against the cage, and constantly bring the fight to him. While I think Cerrone should be able to defend the majority of takedown attempts, Jury should still be able to land some, steal rounds, and ultimately never let Cerrone breathe. It should be an action-packed affair, but an ugly one that leaves Jury with a 7-0 UFC record.
Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier
At this point I really don’t care who wins between these two, I just want it to happen already. The hype, the build-up, the trash talk, etc., is all fun, but there comes a point where you just want it to happen and that moment will finally come Saturday night when the UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones meets his bitter rival in Daniel Cormier. It’s an intriguing mash-up of polarizing styles, and because of how elite both guys are, I think we’re going to see both men implement their game plans and have success.
Jon Jones is a real jack-in-the-box when it comes to fighting. You never know what he is going to throw at you, but no matter what he does it is effective. Jones, on the feet, can bring a lot of different looks. He has his traditional Muay Thai look where he slams kick after kick into the thigh and knees of his opponent, and then goes high. His hands aren’t the most powerful weapons in his weapon chest, but they are straight, technical, and keep him out of harms way. Then he has his more unorthodox look where he looks for spinning elbows and flying knees for a chance to get in tight to showcase his devastating clinch game. The thing that really ties everything together though is his Greco-Roman wrestling. When Jon Jones wraps you up in the clinch, it is virtually impossible to stay upright as his long frame gives him the leverage to throw you down at weird angles that you can’t defend. From the top position, Jones is brutal as he makes full use of elbows and punches from the top all while keeping you wrapped up and controlled with his long legs and excellent top game. No matter where the fight goes, Jon Jones tools that can just completely dismantle you and break you down.
Daniel Cormier on the other hand is a more meat-and-potatoes fighter, but it’s this simplicity that matches up so well against the endless arsenal of techniques that Jones has. Cormier’s strong suit is his wrestling skills and its his wrestling that is going to be his main frontal attack against Jon Jones. No one has been able to out-wrestle Jon Jones because they just physically couldn’t, but Cormier now has that opportunity with his stocky, heavyweight build; this should help neutralize Jon’s threat of takedowns in the clinch. On the other hand, Cormier also presents some really good hands on the feet. It’s nothing to marvel at, but he throws good, technical combinations with some decent power, and has all the mechanics to make him a very difficult guy to strike with. Cormier is excellent at rushing his opponents with punches in pursuit of the clinch; he plugs you up against the cage and completely immobilizes you. Cormier’s short, stockier frame is going to be very advantageous in this position because he’s going to be right around Jones’s waist and should be able to control his weight and posture very easily in the clinch all while delivering uppercuts and punches to soften him up.
The real question that everyone is raising is whether or not Cormier can make it into his range. He is going to be stepping in at about a 12-inch reach deficit, which is going to make it so incredibly difficult to get inside. Jones likes to frame with his lead hand, circle out, and use his kicks to keep his opponent at bay. Cormier should be able to get past the kicks, but it’s important that he doesn’t take too many of them. Cormier has had knee injuries in the past, and Jones has near-perfect accuracy with them. Cormier can not wait on the outside for the right moment, he has to just push forward and get out of that zone. From there, expect Cormier to put his weight on him, immobilize him against the cage, and wait for an opportunity to try and get the fight to the floor. This is going to be very difficult as well because of Jones’s ability to do damage inside the clinch. I’m predicting a large majority of this fight to be spent in the clinch, and it could even get a little boring. But it’s all part of the plan to make Cormier the champion. If Cormier does become successful with a takedown, look for him to pretty much dominate the round as he’ll stay heavy on top and chain-wrestle to keep the fight there. The only real threat he has is the guard of Jones, but Cormier should be able to land his takedowns in a way that keeps him in half guard or side control.
With his back pressed against the cage, the ball will be in Jones’s court. Because of how skilled of a Greco-Roman wrestler he is, expect Jones to slowly but surely figure out ways to damage Cormier, and eventually escape back to striking range. Knowing that he has to make the most of his time at striking range, look for Jones to get a little wild and crazy on the feet, and really throw everything he has. It’s during this time that Cormier has to watch out for the big knees, kicks, and straight punches down the pipe. I’m predicting a dominating first three rounds from Cormier as he neutralizes Jones and implements his suffocating game plan, but once Jones gets into desperation mode and adjusts, he should be able to land a knee or something else on Cormier coming in to spark a finish in the fourth round.