Jon Jones, the man at the centre of the UFC 151 cancellation controversy in Las Vegas, is back in the spotlight on Saturday night at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
Jones has set his sights on successfully defending his light heavyweight title against Vitor Belfort, who will have a large contingent of Brazilian fans backing him up.
Also on what will be one of the deepest cards in recent memory is the inaugural UFC flyweight title fight between Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson, as well as a battle between top 10 middleweights Michael Bisping and Brian Stann.
Let’s dive into the main card and go over what to expect on Saturday night.
Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira, (16-2, 4-2 UFC, plus one no-contest) vs. Cub Swanson (17-5, 2-1 UFC)
This matchup features two men who are surging up the featherweight rankings.
The WEC veteran Swanson, 28, has bounced back from losing his UFC debut to the very talented Ricardo Lamas by scoring highlight reel knockouts of both George Roop and Ross Pearson.
In his last nine fights he’s only lost three times and those were to Lamas, Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo, nothing to shake your head at.
Oliveira, 22, has seemed to have found his niche at 145 pounds. In his featherweight debut in January he submitted Eric Wisely in the first round with the UFC’s first ever calf slicer and followed it up with an anaconda choke of Ultimate Fighter Season 15 winner Jonathon Brookins.
Swanson didn’t seem to have much of a chance when he faced Pearson and look how that wound up. That being said, Oliveira has only lost to top five lightweights Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone and has looked phenomenal as featherweight. If he can avoid the big shot and get the fight to ground the Brazilian should be able to finish.
Winner: Oliveira via second round submission.
Matt “The Hammer” Hamill (10-4, 9-4 UFC) vs. Roger “The Hulk” Hollett (13-3, 0-0 UFC)
“The Hammer’s” retirement lasted a little over a year and it’s been close to two of them since his last victory. The 35-year-old has lost back-to-back fights to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson, but people seem to forget he had a five fight winning streak prior to those losses.
Hollett had quite the journey securing his first UFC bout as first he was in, then he was out, and now he’s back in again. With the Bellator contract grumblings behind him the Halifax, Nova Scotia native can try to extend his five fight winning streak under the bright lights of the world’s top promotion.
The Canadian hasn’t fought in over 10 months so expect some cage rust out of both fighters. They each should have their moments but Hamill has virtually spent his whole career in the Octagon while Hollett is entering it for the first time. If his cardio is up to par Hamill grinds out a decision.
Winner: Matt “The Hammer” Hamill via unanimous decision.
Michael “The Count” Bisping (22-4, 12-4 UFC) vs. Brian “All American” Stann (12-4, 6-3 UFC)
In a fight the UFC Countdown show billed as a reincarnation of The War of 1812 during its bi-centennial year, these two middleweights look to take a giant leap towards title shot contention and a possible meeting with Anderson Silva.
Bisping, 33, is British wherever he goes unless it’s in Canada where he then fully embraces the Commonwealth. “The Count” just had his four fight winning streak broken in January by the consensus second best middleweight in the world Chael Sonnen, a fight that many saw in favour of the Brit.
The US Marine Stann is as red, white and blue as you can get and the exact opposite of the trash talking Bisping when it comes to pre-fight hype. The 31-year-old has won four of his last five (the loss was to Sonnen) and packs the most one-punch power in the division.
He’ll have to land that explosive blow to beat Bisping, no easy task considering the Englishman’s technical boxing, slick footwork and overall workmanlike fighting style. It’s happened once before, when Dan Henderson put Bisping to sleep at UFC 100, but it won’t happen on Saturday night.
Winner: Michael “The Count” Bisping via unanimous decision.
Inaugural Flyweight Championship bout (125 pounds)
Joseph “Joe B-Wan Kenobi” Benavidez (16-2, 3-0 UFC) vs. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (15-2-1, 3-1-1 UFC)
Finally the little guys get to perform on the big stage.
Both of these two fighters are receiving a second crack at gold under the Zuffa banner.
For the 28-year-old Benavidez he came up short in his bid for the WEC bantamweight title losing a close split decision back in August, 2010, to Dominick Cruz.
Cruz, the current UFC bantamweight champ and one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, has handed the much shorter Benavidez both his career losses.
It hasn’t deterred “Joe B-Wan Kenobi” who has gone on to win four in a row since that last defeat including his flyweight title tournament semi-final against Yasuhiro Urushitani in March.
Johnson, 26, also had his championship opportunity thwarted by Cruz at bantamweight nearly a year ago. Following that loss he dropped down to the newly formed 125-pound division and fought Ian McCall to a draw before winning the rematch unanimously and punching his ticket into the finals.
If you’re a betting man be enticed by Johnson as an underdog because this is a super close matchup. Benavidez gets the nod in power and wrestling while Johnson takes the speed and athleticism.
Not sure that he’ll finish but Benavidez has much more potential to stop the fight at any moment allowing him to take more risks throughout the bout. Johnson on the other hand needs to be on point at all times which may make him more tentative than he should be.
Winner: Joseph “Joe B-Wan Kenobi” Benavidez via split decision.
Light Heavyweight Championship bout (205 pounds)
Champion Jon “Bones” Jones (16-1, 10-1 UFC) vs. Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort (21-9, 10-5 UFC)
So it’s not Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida, “Shogun” Rua or Chael Sonnen fighting Jones, even though they were all offered the fight before Belfort, but this matchup still carries some intrigue.
Jones, 25, has been untouchable throughout his four-and-a-half year career with his lone loss coming by way of disqualification in a fight he clearly was going to win.
Since beating Ryan Bader last February to earn himself a title shot, “Bones” has taken out four former champions in Rua, Machida, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans, all of them in light heavyweight title fights.
He can make it five former champions in a row if he’s victorious over Belfort, the UFC light heavyweight title holder over eight years ago.
The 35-year-old has been fighting as a middleweight recently and when he steps into the Octagon it will be his first time competing at 205 pounds in five years to the day.
With his size disadvantage and the dominance Jones has consistently displayed it’s no wonder why the Brazilian enters this fight an astronomical underdog.
God bless Belfort (have to mention religion with him) for stepping up and taking this fight. Unfortunately it won’t end well for him as the champ has him outmatched in every facet of the game except punching power.
That can and will be easily avoided by Jones’ dynamic striking and the use of his reach that will eventually allow him to pick “The Phenom” apart and finish convincingly.
Winner: Jon “Bones” Jones via second round TKO.