UFC 187: Johnson vs. Cormier & Weidman vs. Belfort Crystal Ball Predictions
Simply put, this Saturday’s UFC 187 card from Las Vegas is one of the best events the promotion has ever put together. From the two world title fights at the top of the card, to a stacked undercard filled with top contenders, UFC 187 has it all.
Anthony Johnson (19-4) vs. Daniel Cormier (15-1)
This matchup for the light heavyweight championship is so good that it helps blunt the disappointment from Johnson losing his original dance partner: stripped and suspended former titleholder Jon Jones. Sure, we all wanted to see how well Johnson would do against "Bones," but we would have wanted to see him fight Cormier after that, anyway.
So, here we go. Cormier is fresh off of a competitive five-round battle against Jones and is energized by a second consecutive opportunity at UFC gold.
For his part, Johnson says that Cormier’s grinding style presents a more difficult challenge than Jones would have. So, suffice it to say, "Rumble" is motivated and hoping to be at his sharpest.
Both men are versatile strikers, with Cormier’s work usually coming in more volume, and Johnson’s having a bit more thud to it. Cormier wants to stay away from Johnson’s big shots while pressuring him against the cage and looking to get him on his back with his takedowns.
However, Cormier knows full well that where he lost the fight against Jones was on the inside, in a counter-intuitive twist. On the outside, Cormier actually landed more clean punches despite Jones’ length.
DC will have to see how the fight goes and make adjustments against another younger, larger opponent. If he can mix things up, not get hit clean, and tire Johnson out by taking him into the third and fourth rounds, he’ll have the advantage.
However, Johnson won’t be easy to take down. He’s got a major size advantage over Cormier and has seriously underrated wrestling for MMA. DC needs to be unpredictable and Johnson needs to show better conditioning and wrestling than people may expect from him.
Tough fight to call — either man is quite capable of winning, depending on the night. On this night, however, we’ll give Cormier a slight advantage.
Prediction: Cormier by decision
Chris Weidman (12-0) vs. Vitor Belfort (24-10)
We’ve waited a long time for this fight to happen. Between Belfort failing drug tests, effectively suspending himself and avoiding new performance-enhancing drug regulation, and Weidman’s injuries, it’s been nearly two years. After sitting out all of 2014, Belfort is still the No. 1 middleweight contender and he gets one more crack at a world title at 38.
Belfort may have been popped for PEDs in the past, but make no mistake about it : His feat of staying at or near the top of the MMA world for 18 years is an astounding accomplishment considering Belfort is far from the only one to have used.
During his time in the Octagon, Belfort has recorded wins over the likes of Rich Franklin, Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva, Luke Rockhold, Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping, while fighting in three weight classes.
That said, Weidman has most of the advantages in this fight. He is the much larger fighter, and has faced quicker, more well-rounded and flat-out better strikers in his past three fights (Anderson Silva twice and Lyoto Machida), and out-struck both of them. So, while Belfort is dangerous in the first round with his punches, knees and kicks and is capable of putting anyone in the world out, if Weidman keeps his chin tucked and has a smart game plan, he should be able to survive the initial onslaught.
If the champ does survive said onslaught, he’ll have advantages in wrestling, ground grappling and conditioning. At least, that’s the way it looks on paper.
Belfort is unpredictable in the best possible ways, so he never can be counted out. But against Weidman he faces a much bigger opponent who already has beaten guys Belfort probably couldn’t.
Prediction: Weidman by fourth-round stoppage
Donald Cerrone (27-6) vs. John Makdessi (12-3)
He also has real power in his hands — his last win came by way of knockout.
In all, nine of his 13 career wins have come by KO. So, Cerrone does not want to stand in one place and let Makdessi get to whipping his wide, powerful punches around.
If he does, Makdessi has a good chance to take him out. If the "Cowboy" chooses to use his height and reach advantage, however, he should be considered the favorite to win.
If Cerrone engages only on his terms, using good footwork to move side to side and in and out, he could keep Makdessi at bay and out-point him. Cerrone will have to watch out for Makdessi countering kicks by charging in and firing with overhand punches.
It’s a dangerous fight for reasons like that, but Cerrone is still a bit more of a well-rounded striker and has proved his ability on the ground with submissions. Because of that, we give him the edge.
However, the X-factor is just how healthy Cerrone is. After fighting so often the past couple years, he’s bound to have some lingering injuries.
How serious they are and how much they come into play during the fight could be a crucial part of the contest.
Prediction: Cerrone by decision
Travis Browne (17-2-1) vs. Andrei Arlovski (23-10)
Just like his last matchup, this looks to be a rough fight for the former champion Arlovski on paper. However, just like he did in his last fight, against Antonio Silva, Arlovski always has a shot not just to win, but also to win in brutal fashion, because of his hand speed and power.
"The Pitbull" always will hit hard, and Browne had better be sharp and not let his big single shot strikes hang out there too lazily, or he risks a fight-ending counter punch from Arlovski. However, Browne has the size, power and youth to give Arlovski trouble.
If Browne can keep Arlovski at his length with a sharp jab and active lateral movement, he could frustrate the Belarusian. Browne also has his own unconventional but powerful striking, capable of ending any fight by knockout.
Arlovski won’t be quicker, but the veteran hopefully can use superior timing to find his opportunities. If Arlovski has drilled angling out of the way of big overhands and hooks, instead of backing straight up, he should have great chances to counter-punch Browne.
Similarly, years ago while training with Sean Bormet, Arlovski showed some real wrestling potential. If Arlovski has kept up his wrestling training, he should consider mixing in some level-changes with his strikes to attempt to take down Browne.
If Browne doesn’t know whether to expect quick counters on the feet or takedown attempts, he could be put on his heels and forced to rely on his toughness and conditioning, instead of his athleticism and size. Whether Arlovski can do any of that remains to be seen.
It’s Browne’s fight to lose, as the bigger and fresher fighter.
Prediction: Browne by decision
Joseph Benavidez (21-4) vs. John Moraga (16-3)
This is a fantastic fight between two of the flyweight division’s top contenders. Both men have contended for the world title, and each is hungry to climb that ladder once more.
Moraga has grit in spades and is very hard to finish, even if you make him uncomfortable. However, Benavidez has a good speed and punching power advantage here, as well as a wrestling one.
That said, Moraga’s striking may still be a tad more fluid and technical. So, if he can counter Benavidez’s lunging strikes, make him miss, and then keep his back off the floor, Moraga can make this an interesting one.
Prediction: Benavidez by decision
John Dodson (17-6) vs. Zach Makovsky (19-5)
To end the night’s preliminary fights, we get another fantastic flyweight contenders bout. Dodson was at the top of the title contender’s list before getting injured. He last fought nearly a year ago, so we’ll have to see how well he’s shaken off the rust.
Makovsky likely will be a bit more loose, as the more recently active fighter. He also believes he’s the more well-rounded fighter.
In this fight, the faster fighter with better wrestling will win. It would appear as though Dodson may be that man, by a hair, but we could be wrong.
Prediction: Dodson by decision
Dong Hyun Kim (19-3-1) vs. Josh Burkman (28-11)
Kim has not fought since August , when he lost by TKO to Tyron Woodley. Before that, however, the hard-hitting Korean won four straight.
Burkman also is coming off of a loss, to Hector Lombard. In that fight, his UFC return, Burkman showed great takedown defense, conditioning and an iron chin, despite losing.
Hopefully Kim has had enough time to rest, recover and get back to something near full form since his last fight. Similarly, hopefully at least some of the cobwebs have been cleared out from Burkman’s head after the damage he took in his last bout.
Those things being equal, Kim would appear to be a slight favorite. If he mixes big punches with good takedown attempts from the clinch, he could put Burkman on the defensive.
Burkman has punching power and good submissions off his back. What the former wrestler doesn’t have that much of anymore, however, is a lot of offensive wrestling effort.
Years of neck and back injuries have forced Burkman to ease off of wrestling — formerly his strength. As such, a lot of this fight simply will be about how good and healthy Burkman is.
At his best, the veteran has the skill to take out Kim. If he is at all slower or more stiff, however, Kim stands a good chance at stunning him.
Prediction: Burkman by close decision
Uriah Hall (11-4) vs. Rafael Natal (19-6-1)
Natal has heavy hands, good wrestling and excellent submission skills, but we like Hall here. The striker out of New York has scary KO power with his hands and legs and he’s looked better than ever lately.
His footwork and size should help him fend off takedowns. And if Hall keeps his hands up and cuts angles on the feet, he should be able to stay away from Natal’s overhand punches and take the advantage on the feet.
Prediction: Hall by decision
Rose Namajunas (2-2) vs. Nina Ansaroff (6-4)
Ansaroff’s camp tells us that she’s chomping at the bit for this fight. Namajunas has lost her past two officially recorded fights, but submitted everyone on her season of "The Ultimate Fighter" before losing in the championship finals to Carla Esparza, so she’s built up a lot of hype around her, as well as a top-five ranking.
Ansaroff likely feels that with her experience advantage, she can get in there, rough up the young Namajunas, and take her ranking from her. It is certainly possible, and we think Nina is the best underdog pick of the card.
However, Namajunas’ submission skills on the ground are the real deal.
Prediction: Ansaroff by decision
Mike Pyle (26-10-1) vs. Colby Covington (7-0)
Covington has strength and youth, and is proving to be a tough UFC-level fighter. However, Pyle has the skills to beat anyone on any given day.
Prediction: Pyle by decision
Islam Makhachev (11-0) vs. Leo Kuntz (17-1-1)
Kuntz has the experience and comes from a great team in American Top Team. However, he hasn’t fought since 2013, while the Dagestani Makhachev has been more active and is likely to have a wrestling advantage.
Prediction: Makhachev by decision
Justin Scoggins (9-2) vs. Josh Sampo (11-4)
Both flyweights have fought some of the very best in their division early on and suffered losses. This one is tough to call but sure to be exciting.
Prediction: Scoggins by decision