Saturday night, the Octagon will be set up in the Air Canada Centre for the third time in as many years, and just like the previous two events held inside the home of the Maple Leafs and Raptors affectionately known as “The Hangar,” UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will serve as the headlining act.
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After successfully defending his title against Lyoto Machida (UFC 140) and Vitor Belfort (UFC 152), “Bones” makes his way north of the border to face off with surging Swedish contender Alexander Gustafsson in a bout many consider the toughest test of the 26-year-old champion’s reign.
Similar to the last time the UFC ventured to Toronto, UFC 165 features a second championship fight in the co-main event position, as interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao squares of with the first man to hold the bantamweight strap in the WEC, Eddie Wineland.
Here’s who should come away from Toronto with another win on their resume.
Jon Jones (18-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (15-1)
As much as Gustafsson will pose a threat to Jones with his range and his boxing, the champion being won’t be dethroned here. He is simply too complete a fighter, and a phenomenal student of the game that will have “The Mauler” scouted out six ways from Sunday when they step into the cage.
Gustafsson’s takedown defense has improved a great deal since his loss to Phil Davis, but he also hasn’t been in the cage with anyone who poses a significant threat in the grappling department. Expect Jones to use his wrestling here, forcing the challenger to play defense, while doing damage on the mat.
After a couple rounds of grappling and punishment from top position, Jones finds a choke, gets the tap, and takes sole possession of the championship records in the light heavyweight division.
Prediction: Jon Jones by Submission, Round 3.
Renan Barao (30-1, 1 NC) vs. Eddie Wineland (20-8-1)
We’re going to have a new champion.
Barao is an extremely talented fighter, but Wineland is a bad stylistic match-up for him. Where Michael McDonald was hesitant to pull the trigger and unable to keep the fight standing when the interim champion looked to take it to the canvas, Wineland has strong defensive wrestling and a willingness to stand in the pocket and let go with his hands.
He’s also a serious power threat, and while Barao does a very good job of avoiding damage and controlling distance, look for the challenger to clip him with a right hand out of nowhere, drop two shots while he’s dazed, and emerge as the new interim bantamweight champion.
Prediction: Eddie Wineland by TKO, Round 2.
Brendan Schaub (9-3) vs. Matt Mitrione (6-2)
These big boys have been taking shots at each other in the media throughout the build-up to this fight, and should stand toe-to-toe taking shots at each other in the cage as well. Of course, Schaub could once again look to make this a wrestling match like he did against Lavar Johnson last time out.
The difference between Johnson and Mitrione is that the latter has the ability to defend Schaub’s takedown, and keep this fight standing, where despite being on even footing in the power department, he has an edge in the speed category and the variety of strikes he throws.
Mitrione is a tremendous athlete for a man his size, and still developing as a fighter. This will be the fight where we see him take a step forward in that development, as he connects with a left hand late in the first after keeping Schaub guessing for much of the round.
Prediction: Matt Mitrione by TKO, Round 1.
Costa Philippou (12-2) vs. Francis Carmont (21-7)
Despite entering on a five-fight winning streak in the UFC (and a 10-fight winning streak overall), you could actually make the case that he’s lost his last two outings. Many questioned the decision win he collected over Lorenz Larkin, and his bout with Tom Lawlor prior to that ended in a split decision that could have gone either way.
Regardless of their matching number of consecutive wins inside the UFC cage, Philippou is a step above Carmont in the middleweight pecking order. While both have won five straight, each of Philippou’s wins have been relatively clean victories where he’s out-worked the opposition on the feet.
Philippou has some of the best boxing and footwork in the division, and if Carmont can’t get this fight to the ground, the charismatic Long Islander will pick him apart with his superior technical boxing en route to his sixth consecutive victory.
Prediction: Costa Philippou by Unanimous Decision.
Pat Healy (29-16) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (20-0)
As great as Healy looked in the second and third rounds of his fight with Jim Miller – and he really did look great – Nurmagomedov was even more impressive while rag-dolling Abel Trujillo around the cage in his previous outing, and should get the victory here.
“The Eagle” is a quality dark horse contender in the lightweight division – an unbeaten fighter with improving conditioning and a tremendous wrestling background. Working with the crew at AKA in San Jose is a great spot for him, and he’s only going to keep getting better.
This should be a wrestling match, and that favors Nurmagomedov. If the grappling cancels out and this turns into an ugly kickboxing match, this becomes a coin-flip fight.
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov by Unanimous Decision.
Myles Jury (12-0) vs. Mike Ricci (8-3)
Jury was a heralded prospect heading into his first appearance on The Ultimate Fighter, but slipped into the background a little after a knee injury and early ousting from TUF 15 when given a second chance.
Since then, “The Fury” has earned three consecutive victories in the UFC to push his record to 12-0 and rekindle the talk of the San Diego native being a prospect to watch in the lightweight division. After wins over Chris Saunders, Michael Johnson, and Ramsey Nijem, facing off with Ricci seems like a chance for the promising 24-year-old to earn another win and take another step forward on the recognition scale.
Ricci has the potential to surprise here – he’s a talented fighter from a great camp – but Jury should control the action wherever this fight takes place. He’ll get it to the ground and pound out a win, putting himself on the fringes of contention heading into 2014.
Prediction: Myles Jury by TKO, Round 2.
Ivan Menjivar (25-10) vs. Wilson Reis (16-4)
Menjivar is an experienced gatekeeper in the bantamweight division, and while Reis was once a buzz-worthy up-and-comer, he’s been out of action since last December, and never really reached his full potential.
These are the kinds of fights that Menjivar traditionally wins – solid match-ups in the middle of the 135-pound weight class where he can show off his full compliment of skills. After losing to Urijah Faber last time out, expect “The Pride of El Salvador” to have a strong bounce-back showing and earn his third consecutive UFC victory in Canada.
Prediction: Ivan Menjivar by TKO, Round 1.
Stephen Thompson (7-1) vs. Chris Clements (11-4)
This feels similar to Thompson’s fight with surging veteran contender Matt Brown. Not that Clements is poised to go on a run like “The Immortal” from here, but stylistically and as far as their make-ups are concerned, the Canadian profiles a lot like the lone man to get the better of “Wonderboy” to date.
Thompson’s conditioning has been spotty at best, and since his flashy debut win at UFC 143, he’s been average at best. Clements is a durable vet with tons of experience who should be able to weather the early storm from the kickboxer, and then pick up the pace and dictate the terms of the fight over the final two frames.
Prediction: Chris Clements by Unanimous Decision.
Mitch Gagnon (9-2) vs. Dustin Kimura (10-0)
This is a dark horse Fight of the Night contender because both of these bantamweights are aggressive with their offense, and should pair for a fun contest for as long as this one lasts.
And it probably won’t last all that long.
Gagnon has been out of action since last September, and showed conditioning issues in his UFC debut, a bout he lost after looking good right out of the gate. Kimura is a long, rangy, young fighter with strong, technical striking and a very good submission game.
They’ll go toe-to-toe from the outset, eventually landing on the canvas in a chain of scrambles and submission attempts. After some entertaining attack-and-defend exchanges, Kimura catches Gagnon with a triangle to lock up his second UFC win.
Prediction: Dustin Kimura by Submission, Round 1.
John Makdessi (11-2) vs. Renee Forte (8-2)
Makdessi has won consecutive kickboxing matches against Daron Cruickshank and Sam Stout, while Forte bounced back from a debut loss to defeat Terry Etim in his lightweight debut. As they meet here, it could come down to what type of approach the Brazilian Forte looks to employ.
Expect Forte to wrestle and clinch with the versatile striker Makdessi, and come out on top. As much as he looked to win hands with Etim last time out, he also got in on his hips regularly, secured a few takedowns, and brought the fight to situations where he had a significant advantage.
Makdessi is very good in space, but doesn’t separate as well as he needs to at times, and that will be his downfall here. Forte will turn this into a grind, and work out a decision win in a bout that disappoints.
Prediction: Renee Forte by Unanimous Decision.
Jesse Ronson (13-2) vs. Michel Prazeres (16-1)
Ronson is the unsung fighter on this card that should impress here.
He’s a technical, aggressive striker from the same camp as Sam Stout and Mark Hominick, with a penchant for body shots, and getting the chance to make his UFC debut in what is pretty much a hometown fight, “The Body Snatcher” will open a few eyes.
Prazeres is a big, powerful grappler, but this is his maiden trip to the lightweight division, and that will have an impact on this contest. Ronson can go the full 15 minutes at a break-neck pace without issue, and as he digs into the body over and over, Prazeres will weaken, leading to the Canadian newcomer collecting a victory in his UFC debut.
Prediction: Jesse Ronson by Unanimous Decision
Roland Delorme (9-1) vs. Alex Caceres (8-5)
Delorme is a fun guy to watch – he’s ultra-aggressive on the ground, can take a beating, and is always pretty fired up whenever he steps into the cage. Conversely, Caceres is one of the most laid back fighters on the UFC roster, and I think that will cost him here.
Caceres is too passive at times, and too comfortable in defensive positions, and we’ll see Delorme capitalize. The Winnipeg native has very slick submission skills, and will attack from start to finish. While Caceres will work his way out of a couple tough spots early, Delorme will get the finish on the ground.
Prediction: Roland Delorme by Submission, Round 2.
Daniel Omielanczuk (15-3-1) vs. Nandor Guelmino (11-4-1)
Omielanczuk has won 11 straight, with eight of those coming by way of submission. Last time out, Guelmino was quickly dragged to the ground and summarily choked out by Josh Barnett in just over two minutes.
While the Omielanczuk is no “Warmaster,” he should follow the same blueprint on the way to victory.
Prediction: Daniel Omielanczuk by Submission, Round 1.