The holidays are upon us, and nothing saves money for Christmas like a title fight on free TV. This time, UFC on Fox 5 brings up a top-notch card, featuring a Lightweight title bid between Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz, a contender fight between Shogun and Gustafsson, and a grudge match between Penn and MacDonald.
As if the main card wasn’t enough, the undercard is stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with great match-ups. Now, onto the fights!
Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz:
With the final immediate rematch out of the way and two wins against Frankie Edgar, Benson Henderson will defend his title against Stockton’s own Nate Diaz. One of the most athletically gifted men to enter the cage, Henderson’s supreme balance; flexibility and core strength have allowed him to take out high-end fighters seemingly at ease and has proven to be nearly impossible to stop in a fight. Having gotten back to his TKD roots as of late, Henderson’s kick arsenal nicely rounds out his game and makes him dangerous as multiple ranges.
Diaz has shown growth in his own game as well, having reinvented himself after a failed return to Welterweight and putting more emphasis on his boxing game. Having crushed Takanori Gomi and Donald Cerrone in the pure striking realms, Diaz makes for a long range threat like no other. With his bread and butter still being his BJJ, it will take a specific opponent to be able to work inside his reach, yet avoid submissions.
With that said, Henderson is about the worst possible match for Diaz. Using low kicks that Diaz has never learned to defend and having no fear of Diaz submission game, Henderson can control this entire bout. In order to succeed, Diaz will need to do as much damage as possible when standing, as his submission game has always been too predictable to ensnare similarly skilled opponents. Provided Henderson fights smart, he should have little trouble hustling Diaz on the mat on his way to a convincing decision win.
Mauricio Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson:
Up and up the divisional ladder they go, as Swedish striker Alexander Gustafsson takes on former champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Rua is perhaps one of the most hot and cold fighters to ever grace the cage. In the span of years, he’s expertly stopped then undefeated Lyoto Machida and fought tooth-and-nail with the greatest of all time, Dan Henderson, yet he’s also been forty seconds from a loss to Mark Coleman and had more than a little trouble with gimmie opponent Brandon Vera. Years of knee issues and questionable supplement use will do that to a fighter, and you never know which Shogun you’ll get in the cage.
Gustafsson is a much more manageable prospect. An elite boxer that’s built his career off of a sprawl and brawl style similar to Yushin Okami, Gustafsson endured a career-defining defeat to Phil Davis. Rather than make excuses, Gustafsson trained Davis team, patched the holes that were exposed, and has looked better in every outing. A precise volume puncher with a massive reach for a LHW, Gustafsson presents a major obstacle, even at the top of the division.
A prime and ready Rua could make this a bad night for Gustafsson; mixing crippling leg kicks and counter punches until he’s worked the young fighter to a bloody pulp, but I’m not sure we’ll be seeing prime Rua at this point. Years of physical abuse have taken their toll and while fights with Henderson, Jones and Vera were all fun to watch, they also involved Shogun taking tremendous punishment. These are the kinds of fights that take years off your career, and while he’s only thirty-one, he’s far older in fight terms. I think Gustafsson can get on his bicycle when needed and once Rua tires put together enough offense to force a stoppage late in the fight, or take a handy decision win.
BJ Penn vs. Rory MacDonald:
Say what you will about Penn, but the guy hasn’t had an easy fight in years, and isn’t taking a tune-up here with Rory MacDonald. There isn’t much that can be said about Penn that someone hasn’t covered before. An exceptional talent across the board, Penn is one of the most complete fighters of all time, having both physical gifts, vast technical knowledge, pure talent and a body built for combat. Having fought every major competitor of his era, Penn will come out of his short retirement and face someone I feel is a future champion in Rory MacDonald.
MacDonald is cut from a similar cloth to Penn. A natural in terms of technique and fight smarts, MacDonald looks exponentially better every fight he has, patching holes and adding offensive elements that will make him unstoppable in a year or two. While fighters like Mike Guymon and Carlos Condit have cracked his armor inside the cage, I have no doubt that neither man could beat him today, and the list of viable options to stop MacDonald is becoming smaller and smaller at this point.
Penn will always be a dynamite puncher, have an unbreakable chin and be metaphorical death from top position in grappling, but Welterweight has never been his weight class and MacDonald will prove that. With a serious reach disadvantage and being unable to match strength with true 170lbers, Penn will have only small windows of opportunity to inflict harm on MacDonald; Inside the pocket with his counter punches and with his takedowns and top game. Failing this, I think Penn will be hustled everywhere the fight goes, and likely give up this bout on his back as he works a theoretical bottom game that’s never worked out for him in MMA. An exciting fight and possible swansong for Penn, but a fight I think the youngster pulls off as he moves one step closer to a title bid.
UFC on FOX 5 Quick Reports:
Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown: An interesting fight between two older fighters in the division. Swick looked equal parts fantastic and terrible in his return bout against DaMarques Johnson; Showcasing his fast hands and power while being thrown to the mat and beaten like a child. How much of that is ring rust and how much is the division moving on without him, I’m not sure, but Brown isn’t exactly the toughest fight for someone with Swick’s skill set. A spirited fight, but I think Swick can land more often than not and has the safety net of being able to his takedowns on the outsized Brown, leading to a TKO win for Swick.
Ramsey Nijem vs. Joe Proctor: Nijem is cut from the same cloth as a Travis Lutter or Dennis Hallman, being so incredibly strong that he can force a ground fight against anyone. Getting his wish against Proctor might not be the best scenario for him though, as the counter wrestler has built a career off of fast submissions, and his striking is a cut above his opponent here. A close bout, but Proctor has the better chance of ending this before Nijem can take a decision.
Yves Edwards vs. Jeremy Stephens: Hard to handicap a fight when you know someone is very preoccupied with real-life problems. Originally I had Stephens being able to control the wrestling in this bout and that would be his out to win. Despite his legal trouble, I don’t think this has changed, and Stephens has proven to be perhaps the greatest fighter in the sport when it comes to having his back to the wall. Stephens can hang on the feet and has the out of powerful takedowns if so needed, though he’ll need to watch out for Edward’s underrated submission skills.
Daron Cruickshank vs. Henry Martinez: One of my favorite fighters to come out of TUF, just because I’m a karate guy at heart, Cruickshank will hunt for a second win inside the Octagon, taking on the always entertaining Henry Martinez. Martinez is a skilled boxer, but hasn’t done as well dealing with fighters that use their feet. Enter Cruickshank, one of the better kickers in the division, and with high-end wrestling to cause apprehension in his opponent. Cruickshank simply has too many skills to get sucked into a boxing match with Martinez, and should take this fight via decision.
Scott Jorgensen vs. John Albert: A fun bout, but what will ultimately be one-sided here. Jorgensen had a set-back in his ill-advised kickboxing match with Eddie Wineland, but should have one up on Albert everywhere this fight goes. Short of Albert plastering Jorgensen early, I see the wrestler getting Albert the mat on his own terms and pounding him out before the final bell.
Dennis Siver vs. Nam Phan: With Eddie Yagin seriously injured and sidelined, fan favorite Nam Phan will step in to face Siver. This isn’t a great spot for Phan, as his boxing and grappling style is actually rather similar to Yagin, giving Siver an edge in terms of his preparedness for this fight. Phan’s bodywork is great, but Siver fights at a different range than most adversaries due to his traditional kickboxing arsenal, and should have him outside of Phan’s wheelhouse for most of this fight. While Siver’s chin is always a concern, his overall conditioning and massive amount of gym time for this bout will put him in position to hand Phan a decision loss.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Mike Easton: Hot prospect Mike Easton draws former WEC terror in what is going to be closer on paper than in reality. Assuncao’s one and only flaw in his game is that he’s slow for the weight class, packing on a ton of muscle that helps him with his body locks and compression chokes, but does him no favors in a stand-up bout. Easton brings all the speed you’d expect from a Bantamweight and with his technical background in striking, should have no problem putting fist to face here, taking a late TKO or decision win.