Jon Jones - Chael Sonnen
Chael Sonnen should not, for all intents and purposes, be fighting Jon “Bones” Jones. It’s not that he’s making up the numbers. Far from it. In fact, Sonnen is unquestionably an elite middleweight fighter. But, and here is the biggest but – Chael Sonnen [27-12-1] has never fought at 205 pounds - the same realm of weight that Jon Jones has come to dominate imperiously.
Sonnen once gave Anderson Silva the most harrowing four rounds of his UFC career in 2010 and he’s been living off this near victory ever since. Sure the rematch was a dud and he was routed by Silva, but what’s Sonnen supposed to do? Stay in the middleweight division, where he was unlikely to topple Silva in a third outing? Or perhaps move up to light-heavyweight and face a champion in Jon Jones [17-1] almost as dominant as Silva has been.
So on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Sonnen will make his light heavyweight bow against a man who is expected to destroy him in a more comprehensive way than even Anderson Silva managed to in their second outing. It will be Sonnen’s last chance in the big leagues, unless of course something out of the ordinary happens.
Sonnen who is a pressure fighter reliant on striking in high volumes, trying to keep his opponents on the back foot will more than likely attempt to do the same against Jones. After all, what alternative is there when Jones is one of the best wrestlers in the sport, whose ability to defend against takedown goes on unmatched. If Sonnen is able at all to even get close enough to Jones will be a miracle in itself. Jones has a gargantuan 11-inch reach advantage and is equally one of the most feared strikers in the sport, relying on accuracy and power rather than volume.
Sonnen has no choice but to adopt a strategy that in the end that will still result in his demise. But often, doing what you do best can be the only stay of execution. Jones is overwhelming a favorite for all the right reasons and is unlikely to find in Sonnen what he has not seen before in his already legendary career.
Michael Bisping - Alan Belcher
Unlike the Jones - Sonnen fight, the matchup between Bisping and Belcher is far from a foregone conclusion. Belcher [18-7] was on a four-fight winning streak when he lost to Yushin Okami at UFC 155. Had it not been for that defeat a potential match-up with 185 pound supremo Anderson Silva may have come to fruition. Instead Belcher lost and now has to take on the dangerous, awkward and very tricky Michael Bisping [23-5].
Belcher who has some impressive jiu-jitsu skills and upright striking is also capable of going to the ground and trying to obtain victory on the mat. This bodes well for a cerebral and tactical match-up given Bisping’s propensity to land takedowns. Sure, Bisping might have lost against Vitor Belfort by being kept off balance with punches, and has lost two of his last three fights. But if Bisping is capable of one thing, it’s being adept at keeping fights on the mat or recovering and going back to trading on the vertical. Both guys have enough gas in the tank to go the distance which could lead to an all the more engrossing spectacle.
Phil Davis - Vinny Magalhaes
Magalhaes is going to have a tough time against Phil Davis in the same way that everyone who fights “Mr. Wonderful” has innumerable problems. Davis is a few fights away in the light-heavyweight class from fighting Jon Jones. He’s quickly becoming a complete fighter, but alas this is something that can’t be said for the Brazilian.
Both Davis and Jones also have a number of attributes in common. Davis, a wonderful wrestler in the same vain as Jones, was a four-time NCAA wrestling All-American. His long frame (similar to Jones’) is perfect for any ground-work that his opponent may goad him into. Just look at the way he methodically took apart Wagner Prado at UFC 153. He mixed trading blows with takedowns to easily gain a victory.
As for Magalhaes, a former Ultimate Fighter alum, he suffered four defeats in his first seven fights, but has since recovered to emerge victorious in eight of his last nine outings. Magalhaes may have some accomplished grappling skills but is unlikely to trouble the more well-rounded game of Davis who undoubtedly has his eyes on the biggest prize - Jon Jones.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.