UFC

5 reasons to watch UFC 165

Jon Jones
Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira will no longer meet at UFC 170.
FOX Sports E. Spencer Kyte
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After three events in eight days, making us go this long without a chance to hear Bruce Buffer push right to the brink of an aneurysm on the microphone before two fighters punch each other in the face – repeatedly – just seems cruel.

And they’re going to do it to us again after this card too, as the Octagon won’t be back in use until Ultimate Fight Night: Maia vs. Shields on October 9th.

Only getting one event in the span of four weeks should be more than enough reason for you to reach into your wallet, jump on the couch, and immerse yourself in UFC 165 this weekend, but if you need more convincing, you’ve come to the right place.

Nobody Better Than “Bones”

Jon Jones is the best fighter in the sport right now, and it’s not even very close.

The UFC light heavyweight champion has been running roughshod over the 205-pound ranks for the last five years, and has turned back title challengers in five consecutive contests, more often than naught without much trouble. While the inclination has been to make that a commentary on the credibility of his challengers, the truth is that it has more to do with how tremendously skilled and talented Jones is at this point in his career.

More than with any other champion, we’ve seen the full compliment of skills from Jones during his reign atop the light heavyweight division. He’s submitted former champions, out-wrestled elite MMA wrestlers, and dominated fighters considered dominant strikers on the feet. And he’s made it look easy.

But this isn’t just a gap in skills, like a college-ready athlete standing out amongst high school competition.

One of the things that truly sets Jones apart – and doesn’t get enough recognition – is that he is meticulous in his preparation for fights. He studies, researches, and watches tape, and then does it all again, learning everything he can about his upcoming opponent’s tendencies in the cage.

Combine that with the most complete offensive arsenal and physical attributes that he uses to his advantage better than anyone in the sport, and you have a fighter that is has the potential to separate himself from the pack even more in the next couple years.

Threat Level: High

Even dominant champions like Jones can be beaten – we’ve seen it too many times in the past to think otherwise – and Alexander Gustafsson has the make-up to challenge and potentially dethrone the light heavyweight champion Saturday night at UFC 165 in Toronto.

“The Mauler” has won six consecutive contests in the UFC, most recently dismantling Mauricio “Shogun” Rua with a steady diet of crisp boxing and rangy striking in Seattle last December. The 26-year-old Swede has legitimate knockout power and great technique with his hands, but what makes him truly a viable contender here is his size and how well he uses it.

Gustafsson will stand eye-to-eye with Jones when the two square off at the pre-fight press conference, Friday at weigh-ins, and when they get final instructions in the Octagon Saturday night in front of a bunch of screaming fight fans at the Air Canada Centre. Whatever his reach actually measures out to – it’s listed most places at 76.5”, Gustafsson says it’s more like 81.5” – he uses it well, staying in the outside with his jab, forcing fighters to close the distance.

He’s the first elite fighter to match-up favorably with Jones in terms of measurables, and the confidence he carries into this fight is reminiscent of Chris Weidman’s focus and resolve heading into his showdown with Anderson Silva.

For the first time in a long time, we’re not heading into a Jon Jones title defense thinking he completely wipes the canvas with the challenger. Gustafsson is surely the underdog, but he’s a live ‘dog, and Saturday’s championship headliner should be an entertaining affair.

Renan Barao: The Best Fighter No One is Talking About

He has the longest active unbeaten streak in all of MMA, sits atop the UFC bantamweight division – if even currently on an interim basis – and has looked more impressive in each of his five appearances inside the Octagon.

So why are so few people pumped up about seeing Renan Barao step into the cage to defend the bantamweight strap against hard-hitting Eddie Wineland this coming weekend?

If a fighter competing in the welterweight division or higher were carrying a 31-fight unbeaten streak into the cage on Saturday night, he’d be front and center in the spotlight, and would have been for the last three or four outings. But because Barao competes south of the 155-pound weight class, he receives far less attention than his impressive march to the top of the bantamweight division should command.

Barao’s last four fights have been dominant victories over a quartet of legitimate contenders – Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber, and Michael McDonald – and adding Wineland to that list in Toronto would turn his UFC run into something akin to the other standout champions in the company.

To put how impressive Barao’s unbeaten streak is into perspective, his last loss occurred when Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” was on top of the charts.

It doesn’t matter who he’s faced along the way to the UFC – the fact that he’s had his hand raised in victory in every fight since his debut, save for one no contest result, is outstanding, and he’s proven to be the genuine article by turning back everyone he’s faced since arriving on the big stage.

Barao is a phenomenal talent and one of the 10 best fighters in the UFC right now, and we’re getting him in the co-main event behind the guy at the top of that particular Top 10 list. What more reason do you need to watch?

Heavyweight Heat

As has been noted here in the past, watching two heavyweights share the cage and try to knock each other silly is always a good time. This time, however, there is added intrigue, as the participants are not particularly fond of one another.

Matt Mitrione and Brendan Schaub both came into the UFC through Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter – the former losing in the quarterfinals, the latter losing to Roy Nelson in the finale. There had been no real tension between the two in the house or in the three years and change since, but after the bout was postponed from July and rescheduled to Saturday, these two started to get after each other on social media.

Mitrione questioned Schaub’s chin and mocked his performance in a summer jiu-jitsu exhibition where he refused to engage, prompting Schaub to fire back with inquiries about Mitrione’s wife and marriage, a raw wound for the former NFL defensive lineman who is currently going through a divorce.

A lot of fighters take shots at each other on Twitter and it never translates into greater action inside the Octagon, but this feels different. This has turned legitimately personal, and both of these guys are in need of a strong performance, so expect it to start fast and end with one of them looking up at the lights wondering “What happened?”

Under the Radar Contenders Collide

Middleweights Costa Philippou and Francis Carmont are a combined 10-1 in the UFC, with the lone loss coming in Philippou’s short notice debut at UFC 128.

Pat Healy rag-dolled Jim Miller last time out and Khabib Nurmagomedov is now 20-0 after completing an astounding 21 takedowns against Abel Trujillo last time out.

All four of these athletes are on the brink of contention, and the winner of these respective contests will be in the thick of the title chase in their respective divisions going forward, so it would be a very good idea to familiarize yourself with these four potential future contenders.

Of the group, Nurmagomedov appears to have the most upside – he’s a couple days away from turning 25, sports an unbeaten record, and continues to show improvements every time he steps into the cage.

These are the kinds of fights that help move divisions forward and introduce new contenders into the mix.

If you don’t want to be sitting back asking, “Who is this guy?” when the two winners are matched up with established names in fights that garner prime real estate on future fight cards, tune in Saturday and get to know these soon-to-be contenders.

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