I’ve been looking forward to this card for a while. It’s the antidote to the “average casual meathead MMA fan”. Most of the fights tonight are likely to be technical and will feature plenty of ground game that will deter the fake fans away. It’s a pretty damn good card. GSP, Johny Hendricks, Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans, Robbie Lawler, Rory MacDonald, Josh Koscheck and more. Here we go.
Evan Dunham vs. Donald Cerrone
As much as I’d call Donald Cerrone relatively unpredictable, if you look at his career, he’s actually been pretty consistent. This guy feasts on middle tier fighters, devours them. But against Top 10 opponents? He has a pretty large sample size of coming up short. Evan Dunham is not, currently, a Top 10 lightweight. Dunham is good at everything, but not really great at anything. He’s not a guy who will move in and out on you. When he gets hit, he only knows one response: brawl. His best quality actually is probably his toughness, but a brawl with Cerrone is dangerous. Dunham doesn’t possess a ton of flash KO power. He only has two real, legitimate knockouts and they were against guys with first names of Per and Eben.
Prediction: Cerrone pressures from the start. Dunham lands a few good shots because Cerrone tends to give up a few good shots, but when they exchange, Cerrone is faster and he lands harder. Donald Cerrone by TKO.
Tyron Woodley vs. Josh Koscheck
Tyron Woodley needs to get mad. Try a Clay Guida thing where somebody slaps him in the mouth before he gets in the cage. Let’s go. He’s got the tools. In his entire career, Woodley has been taken down twice. He’s basically impossible to take down. The hand speed and power are there, but sometimes he just … stands there. Conserving energy? Maybe. Against Jake Shields, he sort of accepted being held against the fence. Where is the explosion we know this guy has? Josh Koscheck is going to make him work. Close and grapple. Sort of what he tried to do against Robbie Lawler. Standing, Woodley doesn’t have a lot of tricks or feints, but he has speed and the constant threat of a takedown.
Prediction: This is your classic send two wrestlers into the cage and see a striking match bout. Koscheck is likely trying the Jake Shields game plan of clinching Woodley here. Either it works and Woodley gets tired or it doesnt and we see some striking out in the open, which would be fun. Josh Koscheck by decision.
Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald
Real interesting fight. If you’re picking Rory MacDonald, you’re somewhat forced to do it based on skills he hasn’t necessarily shown yet but you assume he has. The best way to avoid a Robbie Lawler knockout is obvious — put him on his back. That’s tough to do, especially with MacDonald’s takedowns. He has great technique on his single leg, he’s strong and quick with it, but he’s never really shown that Georges St-Pierre power double, which would be nice to have against Lawler. The jab and right head kick from the back foot are great range setters for MacDonald, and his footwork is top-notch. If Lawler can force him backward, though, and prevent him from circling away, he’ll have plenty of chances to land.
Prediction: I’m extremely torn here. MacDonald has passed every eye test in the book, and I’m assuming he has skills we haven’t seen yet. I think this fight is likely mostly standup though, and that’s scary. Rory MacDonald by decision.
Rashad Evans vs. Chael Sonnen
Chael Sonnen will hear a clap from the referee, and he’ll come forward. Rashad Evans needs to do the same thing. Sonnen is relentless in his approach and in his underrated striking defense as he moves forward, and if you try to circle away from him, he will eventually get to you and take you down. Jon Jones negated that by meeting Sonnen in the center and forcing him backward. Evans is a come-forward fighter, too. He has counter-striking ability, but he’s best stepping into his combinations and then dropping on a double leg. Clinch-striking is interesting. Sonnen has a nonstop motor — hands to the body, knees to the body. Evans will muscle you, then throw a strong right on the break.
Prediction: Chael Sonnen may never reach the heights that Rashad Evans did at his career peak, but I don’t know that he’ll ever reach Evans’ unenthusiastic lows either. When Chael gets beaten in a fight it’s usually because his opponent possesses physical or technical tools that Sonnen does not (or because Sonnen decides that he doesn’t really know how submission defense works). It’s never because Sonnen just didn’t show up to fight. Lately I think Rashad’s been getting back on the horse early in fights, but it only seems to take one hard shot before he’s stepping off the gas and putting himself in survival mode. This will be close, but Chael Sonnen by a split decision.
Johny Hendricks vs. Georges St.-Pierre:
Johny Hendricks probably can’t beat Georges St.-Pierre consistently for 25 minutes, but if he can land that left and knock him out or at least take something from him, he can win. Hendricks needs a way inside GSP’s reach — extremely difficult to do with St-Pierre’s intelligence, jab and lateral movement. GSP, as he always does, will mix things well. Move, counter punch, shoot in with a surprising jab when Hendricks mentally resets — and if he gets a takedown, man, not good for Hendricks or his gas tank. If Hendricks hasn’t landed a big shot by the fourth round, it might be too late. GSP basically only knows five-round fights, while Hendricks has never seen one.
Prediction: I’ll say right off the bat that I’m predicting a GSP finish, so that I can spend the rest of this paragraph justifying it. Hendricks is a stellar wrestler, but no one works wrestling into their game better than GSP. So it’s a virtual certainty that Hendricks will end up on his back multiple times in the fight. And Johny Hendricks on his back looks like something from a bygone era: he clings desperately to his opponent, closing his guard and keeping a tight gable grip behind their back, doing everything in his power to stall for a standup. He just looks uncomfortable, like a natural athlete who suddenly has to think about his every move. GSP, on the other hand, is a masterful guard passer, and a great positional grappler. Once this fight goes to the championship rounds, Hendricks will be tired, and GSP will be fresh as ever. At that point, I expect GSP to start really working on the ground, and getting a submission. Georges St.-Pierre by a fourth round submission (armbar).