Breaking down and predicting the three biggest fights of UFC 164 which, as usual, I’m referring to as the three final fights on the card. Everything happens in threes. Two titles have changed hands this year (Middleweight and Lightweight); will the Light Heavyweight title change hands tonight? Jon Jones has beaten four former champions (Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans) in his current reign as champion, so he’s a proven winner and you can’t call him a fluke, but can Alexander Gustafsson — who I call the Swedish Fish — ruin the rockin’ party of Bones Jones?
Brendan Schaub vs. Matt Mitrione
Saying Brendan Schaub has no chin sounds mean — so let’s just agree that taking a punch isn’t his best quality. Judging by his previous fight, we know if a heavyweight lacks a ground game, Schaub is willing to expose that over brawling. Word from The Ultimate Fighter was Matt Mitrione was one of those guys with no ground game. Guys, if you remember, Kimbo Slice tried to wrestle Mitrione. Kimbo Slice. Schaub is skillful on his feet, but expect takedown attempts here to test Mitrione’s grappling. With that said, Schaub’s takedowns are more or less football tackles. Mitrione should match his athleticism, and he’s the better striker up close. Neither are terrific counter-punchers, but both have knockout power in exchanges.
Mitrione is an interesting dude upstairs, and that translates to the cage. In his two losses, he looked off. Low confidence. I don’t see that being the case here. If he defends the takedown, that should discourage Schaub and deplete his gas tank. Then Mitrione lets his hands go.
Mitrione by knockout
Co-Main Event: Renan Barao (c) vs. Eddie Wineland for the interim Bantamweight title
With respect to Eddie Wineland, this should be Renan Barao’s easiest title fight thus far. Wineland is a terrific boxer with strong takedown defense; he’s a counterpuncher first and foremost, with pop in his right hand. Barao won’t play into his strengths, though. The interim champ should be able to kick all day on the outside and when he does commit to going inside, he’s glue-like. Maybe not outstanding takedowns per se, but he latches on to opponents — and one mistake in the scramble typically means Barao is on your back — just ask Michael McDonald. I fear for Wineland’s lead left leg in this fight. And his neck.
Wineland is not a guy who’s going to beat himself, but stylistically this doesn’t add up for him. He feeds off aggressive, defensively limited opponents. Barao is aggressive, but in a cold, calculated, hired gun kind of way.
Barao retains the title by rear naked choke
Main Event: Jon “Bones” Jones (c) vs. Alexander “the Swedish Fish” Gustafsson for the Light Heavyweight title
There is no shred of doubt that Alexander Gustafsson’s ground game has improved since his loss to Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis in 2010. It’s in this fight, though, that we’re really going to find out how far he’s come. For all the talk about reach and height leading up to this one, there is a decent chance that Jones will negate it all by taking Gustafsson down. Gustafsson is super-athletic, and he’ll hurt you with knees and combinations off a scramble, but Jones will likely be willing to initiate grappling exchanges over sticking to the outside. Gustafsson works off the jab and he’s high volume, which is helpful against a good defensive fighter like Jones. But in terms of mixing in takedowns and showing wrinkles in his stand-up, Jones has the edge.
Gustafsson is seemingly impossible to hurt, let alone finish — at least on the feet. If he goes to his back and starts eating Jones’ elbows, it will be a different story. There are lots of aspects to this fight, but ultimately, Jones’ grappling advantage stands out as what to watch for.
Jones by TKO, third round