Mikey Garcia - Juan Manuel Lopez
There was a time when Juan Manuel Lopez was supposed to cement a fixed place in boxing’s pound for pound rankings. There was also a time when “JuanMa” was destined to feature in a super fight with Cuban Olympian Yuriorkis Gamboa. Neither materialized as Lopez [33-2], a former featherweight titlist stepped into the ring with Orlando Salido in 2011. He proceeded to lose via an eighth round knockout. While Salido was a renowned and highly durable slugger, it was deemed a shock. But when they met again in 2012, Lopez lost a second time to Salido, this time in the tenth round.
After the second loss, Lopez faced a yearlong suspension and fine for comments he made during a post-fight interview. When he returned, a couple of low key fights have supposedly made him ready to face current featherweight titlist and meteorically rising star - Miguel “Mikey Garcia”. Unlike Lopez, Garcia has been active for the last 12 months, dominant in his wins and has shown very little chance that his unblemished record will get marked. In fact in his last outing, Garcia, who is trained by his brother and 2012 Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year, Robert Garcia faced Lopez’s arch-nemesis Salido. He proceeded to floor him four times en-route to a resounding victory.
Either the Salido that Garcia faced was too battle worn from his fist-buffets with Lopez or Garcia really is a star in the making who could decimate Lopez. Set to the backdrop of the famed Mexican-Puerto Rican, a fight of the year could very well be in the making.
Rashad Evans - Dan Henderson
Dana White will be hoping that this weekend’s UFC 161 card from Winnipeg, Canada will be remembered for delivering great action, rather than its striking similarities to last year’s ill-fated UFC 149 card. The much maligned UFC 149 show had a host of dropouts. So with the cancellation of fights featuring Mauricio Rua against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira as well as Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland things looked grim. But here’s hoping though that the headline event of Rashad Evans against Dan Henderson can change the stormy outlook.
For Rashad Evans [17-3-1], Saturday will be a make or break fight. To put into context, if Evans loses against the ageing but always dependable Henderson, he’ll be on an unprecedented career losing streak of three. Not a great return for a man so used to having his hand raised. Sure, against Jon Jones he was an overwhelming underdog, in the same way every other opponent has been. But a sloppy and at times indifferent outing against Nogueira might make one wonder how many battles Evans has left in the UFC.
As for Henderson [29-9], he’s as badly in need of a victory as Evans. Being the oldest to fight under the UFC banner is a great achievement, but surely every loss is so much more damaging to a future that looks increasingly brief for the forty-two year old. But thankfully with so much on the line for both guys and a great contrast in styles fireworks could still brighten up and otherwise damp squib of a card. Henderson likes to stalk and throw a booming right hand, while Evans will try to counter an always hittable Henderson. Fans can expect one guy to take a sleepy tumble.
Roy Nelson - Stipe Miocic
If there was ever a cult figure in the UFC, then surely it must be Roy Nelson. Rotund, yet deceptively athletic and power that could stop a wildebeest in its tracks. Nelson may have losses to Werdum and Dos Santos on his resume but they were expected. Nelson is not an elite fighter but by collecting highlight reel knockouts there’s little choice but to keep matching him with the upper echelons of the biggest division.
So on Saturday fans will see if Nelson [19-7] can add a fourth successive knockout to his recent outings after rendering Dave Herman, Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo. Nelson won’t be fighting for title anytime soon of course, unless something remarkable happens, but at least in the meantime he’ll probably carry on delivering brain-blending finales to his scraps in the Octagon. On Saturday, Nelson will try against Stipe Miocic, who was originally supposed to feature in a preliminary tussle. But with a cancellation Miocic gets the nod. If this fight goes the distance Nelson has little chance of emerging victorious. Cardio, endurance and Nelson are not merry bedfellows. But if Nelson finds his range early, Miocic could very well be the next victim for “Big Country” Nelson.
Pat Barry - Shawn Jordan
Pat Barry has lost as many fights in the UFC as he’s managed to win. Add to that the fact that he has been unable to string two consecutive victories together and you have what is deemed a “toss up fight”. Which Barry turns up no one knows, including Barry himself probably. Barry [8-5] knows how to do one thing - swing and keep swinging - hard. When you consider that eight of his thirteen pro fights have ended within the first round you can quickly gather what his strategy has been. Against Jordan it will be no different.
As for For Jordan [14-4], the key to victory is simple. Pick anything other than the fire-fight route and you will probably find yourself victorious. Try takedowns, maintaining distance, wrestling, submissions - all of them Barry is susceptible to. Fans can expect a fun fight, but whether it lasts a long time is entirely in Jordan’s hands.
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.