UFC 159 fight card preview
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to pay-per-view for a highly anticipated light heavyweight title bout pitting pound-for-pound prodigy Jon Jones against outspoken challenger Chael Sonnen.
Emanating from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., UFC 159: Jones vs. Sonnen is also set to feature a pivotal middleweight grudge match between Alan Belcher and Michael Bisping, a heavyweight slugfest between Roy Nelson and Cheick Kongo, a light heavyweight clash of styles between Phil Davis and Vinny Magalhaes as well as a lightweight tilt with Jim Miller welcoming Pat Healy to the Octagon.
Here's a closer look:
Main Card (PPV):
Jon Jones (17-1) vs. Chael Sonnen (27-12-1)
"The Ultimate Fighter 17" coaches Jones and Sonnen will get it on with the UFC light heavyweight championship on the line.
Jones, 25, has established himself as one of the sport's preeminent pound-for-pound fighters, decisively dismantling every foe to cross his path, including Ryan Bader, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans.
Most recently, the Greg Jackson-trained New Yorker overcame a first-round armbar attempt from Vitor Belfort to finish the Brazilian pioneer by fourth-round submission.
Standing 6-foot-4 with an 84.5-inch reach, which is the longest in promotional history, Jones utilizes his size brilliantly as he systematically dissects opponents with calculated rangy strikes.
A collegiate wrestling champion, Jones has also become a savvy submission player, having tapped out six career victims, the most submission victories in 205-pound history.
Jones has seldom shown any weaknesses and he's always adding new tricks to his evolving repertoire. The two-time World MMA Awards "Fighter of the Year" embodies modern-day mixed martial arts and the science behind blending all the elements of the sport into a quintessential blueprint for success.
Sonnen, 36, arguably the most effective catch-wrestler in the sport, is returning to 205 pounds for the first time since his initial 2005 UFC run.
The Oregon native is coming off a TKO loss to Anderson Silva in his middleweight title rematch at UFC 148 last July. In their first meeting, Sonnen took Silva to the limit, outpointing the pound-for-pound king every step of the way before falling victim to a triangle choke with less than two minutes remaining in the fifth round.
At 185 pounds, Sonnen is unquestionably one of the division's top contenders, having defeated the likes of Michael Bisping, Brian Stann, Nate Marquardt and Yushin Okami.
The Team Quest product is a former Olympic alternate and NCAA Division I All-American. Relentless pressure is what Sonnen brings to the cage, forcing opponents to react to incessant takedown attempts and a persistent ground-and-pound assault.
Sonnen has the third-highest control percentage in UFC history, while setting a record in his first meeting with Silva for the most total strikes landed in a modern UFC fight. Defensively, Sonnen does well to avoid damage from his opponents, absorbing the third fewest strikes per minute in promotional history.
Throughout his career, however, the southpaw wrestler has always come up short in big fight situations, often succumbing to submissions, as evidenced in his losses to Trevor Prangley, Forrest Griffin, Jeremy Horn, Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Paulo Filho and Demian Maia.
Sonnen's submission defense has come a long way since enlisting the guidance of BJJ world champion Vinny Magalhaes, but Jones should easily overpower him if they hit the canvas. Sonnen usually manages to secure takedowns, but the physically massive Jones should easily thwart his attempts. Jones will brutalize Sonnen with quick counters and sharp elbows, exposing his rudimentary striking and desperate shots.
There's no question about why the self-proclaimed "People's Champ" is getting his second consecutive title fight. Sonnen's ability to talk trash and hype up fights is second to none, but he could be biting off more than he can chew against a fighter who could very well define the modern generation of mixed martial arts.
Jones has successfully defended all 16 of his opponents' combined takedown attempts for an immaculate accuracy rate of 100%. Meanwhile, his 23 landed takedowns ranks fourth in divisional history.
Sonnen was successful against Silva primarily because the Brazilian champion struggles with stronger wrestlers. Jones won't have that problem, so he should decimate the brash challenger with his diverse tools before putting him out of his misery by submission.
Verdict: Jones via Submission, Round 2
Michael Bisping (23-5) vs. Alan Belcher (18-7)
Middleweight contenders collide in the co-feature as Bisping and Belcher attempt to return to the win column.
Bisping, 34, was one win away from a long awaited crack at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, but he was forced to restart from square one following a second-round knockout loss at the hands of Vitor Belfort in January.
A native of Cyprus, the Manchester-based veteran won the third season of "The Ultimate Fighter" before compiling victories over Matt Hamill, Chris Leben, Dan Miller, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jason Miller and Brian Stann.
The former Cage Rage and Cage Warriors titleholder is extremely well-rounded, threatening opponents with stiff boxing, underrated takedowns and a strong grappling base.
Belcher, 28, had his four-fight winning streak snapped at the hands of Yushin Okami via decision this past December. The Arkansas native has truly reinvented himself since his early UFC run that saw him drop fights to Kendall Grove and Jason Day.
Much like his opponent, the BJJ, taekwondo, kickboxing and judo black belt is clearly dangerous wherever the fight goes.
Anchored at Roufusport under Duke Roufus, Belcher is a proven finisher with victories over the likes of Rousimar Palhares, Jason MacDonald, Patrick Cote and Wilson Gouveia.
A feud between both men serves as an interesting back-story to this contest following years of back-and-forth trash talk.
Bisping has commented on everything from Belcher's abilities to his tattoo of Johnny Cash, while Belcher has been equally vocal about Bisping's attitude and overconfidence.
Winning is more integral to a fighter's longevity in the UFC than ever before, so they know what's at stake.
Belcher would likely prefer to engage in a kickboxing bout, while Bisping should mix up his offensive approach. Belcher clearly struggled with Okami's takedowns and top control in his most recent setback, so look for the British banger to assume a similar strategy.
Bisping should engage on the feet, but he'll use brief exchanges to set up takedowns, a tactic he employed successfully in his decision win over Stann.
Belcher should be in the fight from start to finish, but Bisping's critical takedowns should be the deciding factor on judges' scorecards.
Verdict: Bisping via Decision
Roy Nelson (18-7) vs. Cheick Kongo (18-7-2)
In a fan friendly heavyweight clash in which looks can be deceiving, the heavy-set slugger Nelson meets the chiseled technician Kongo.
Nelson, 36, possesses arguably the best one-punch knockout power and the sturdiest chin in the entire heavyweight division.
The Las Vegas native is coming off successive first-round finishes of Matt Mitrione and Dave Herman, building on a resumé that already includes knockouts of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Stefan Struve and Brendan Schaub.
Nelson has struggled with stiffer competition, dropping largely one-sided meetings to Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum, but he can still drastically alter the landscape of a fight with a single accurately placed blow.
The heavy-handed scrapper may not resemble much of an athlete, but Nelson is actually a multidimensional mixed martial artist with a BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie and a background in kung fu.
A former International Fight League heavyweight champion, Nelson continues to silence critics calling for his drop to 205 pounds. Nelson's big belly hasn't stopped him yet and he's also demonstrated an ability to go the distance, a testament to his conditioning.
In fact, all looks aside, Nelson could have more in his gas tank on Saturday night than his physically menacing French adversary.
Kongo, 37, has the appearance of an action movie star, but his accomplishments in the Octagon pail in comparison to Nelson.
The kickboxing specialist is coming off a forgettable unanimous decision nod over Shawn Jordan at UFC 149 last July. In his prior outing, Kongo was knocked out by resurgent heavyweight contender Mark Hunt at UFC 144.
An active member of the UFC roster for over half-a-decade, Kongo has picked up quality wins over Mitrione, Pat Barry and Antoni Hardonk, but his limitations were exposed in losses to Mir and Cain Velasquez.
Kongo's constantly improving wrestling base has been highly beneficial in recent years, but limited submission defense and a willingness to engage in fistic flurries against powerful strikers have hindered his continued success.
Although he may be the more technically proficient striker, Kongo's best bet is to avoid trading too many shots with Nelson. He should focus on closing the distance, wearing Nelson down in the clinch and taking him down whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Nelson was easily frustrated and outpointed against Mir inside the clinch, so Kongo knows the strategy could be effectively implemented.
Conversely, Nelson will look to test Kongo's chin early and often by winging wild looping punches. Nelson needs to be prepared to sprawl, making Kongo pay for his mistakes.
After feeling Nelson's power, Kongo should be increasingly hesitant to close the distance. Conditioning has been a recurrent issue in Kongo's performances, so Nelson will need to capitalize when the Paris native lets his guard down, storming forward with massive power shots to claim yet another knockout victim.
Verdict: Nelson via KO, Round 2
Phil Davis (10-1) vs. Vinny Magalhaes (10-5)
In an intriguing light heavyweight clash of styles, the decorated American wrestler Davis takes on the accomplished Brazilian submission ace Magalhaes.
Davis, 28, a former four-time NCAA Division I All-American, submitted Wagner Prado this past October. Since debuting at UFC 109, Davis has earned quality wins over Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson, Tim Boetsch and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, while dropping a one-sided decision against former beltholder Rashad Evans.
The Alliance MMA product is one of the best wrestlers on the roster and he's become a strong submission threat, but striking remains a work in progress.
Magalhaes, 28, a 2nd degree BJJ black belt and former multiple-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion, is undoubtedly one of the sport's premier grapplers, along with Fabricio Werdum, Roger Gracie and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza.
The Rio de Janeiro native suffered back-to-back losses against Ryan Bader and Eliot Marshall, ending his first UFC stint in 2009. After compiling a five-fight winning streak, Magalhaes returned to the UFC last September, submitting Igor Pokrajac at UFC 152.
Magalhaes, who trains at Xtreme Couture and Team Quest, where he helped prepare Chael Sonnen for his championship headliner, has improved by leaps and bounds with his striking, but submissions are his bread and butter.
Wrestling is often acknowledged as the dominant martial art, so Davis should dictate where he wants the fight to take place. The Pennsylvania native should do well escaping any threats on the mat, while pressing the action standing and outpointing the Brazilian over three rounds. The occasional well-timed takedown combined with effective striking will carry Davis to a triumphant decision.
Verdict: Davis via Decision
Jim Miller (22-4) vs. Pat Healy (29-16)
Rounding out the main card, gritty lightweight contenders vie for top 10 status in the talent-laden division as Miller welcomes Healy to the promotion.
Miller, 29, a BJJ black belt and AMA Fight Club product under Mike Constantino, has been one of the top contenders at 155 pounds for many years, earning notable wins over Joe Lauzon, Melvin Guillard, Charles Oliveira, Gleison Tibau, Mark Bocek, Mac Danzig and Matt Wiman.
The New Jersey native pushes a frantic pace, breaking most opponents down with his aggressive onslaught and stellar conditioning. The heavy-handed southpaw continues to showcase new weapons, including a vicious striking game displayed against Lauzon this past December.
Healy, 29, makes his UFC debut on the strength of a six-fight winning streak, comprised of victories over Lyle Beerbohm, Eric Wisely, Maximo Blanco, Caros Fodor, Mizuto Hirota and Kurt Holobaugh.
The Oregon native, who trains under Matt Lindland at Team Quest, was getting set to challenge Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce lightweight title before the organization closed its doors earlier this year.
It appears as though Healy will have to start from scratch in the UFC, but it won't be an easy road with an equally durable combatant in Miller.
Healy is the epitome of a grinder, utilizing wrestling to overwhelm opponents and setting up submissions when he finds openings.
The former MFC welterweight champion, who owns victories over household names such as Dan Hardy, Paul Daley and Carlos Condit, has finally come into his own competing at 155 pounds, but the competition is about to get much stiffer.
In a showcase of similar styles, Miller's vital Octagon experience coupled with his vastly improved hands should be the difference makers.
Verdict: Miller via Decision