15 Bold UFC Predictions for February
With two events aired on the Fox family of networks and an extremely entertaining pay-per-view event, the UFC opened 2012 with a bang in January.
Now, the focus turns to UFC 143 and two other UFC events to be held in the month of February. In addition, this weekend's card, headlined by former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz and former WEC champion Carlos Condit, the UFC will make its return to Japan later this month.
The last UFC event held in Japan was UFC 29 in December, 2000. The event marked the brand's final event before being purchased by Zuffa LLC.
So, before we delve too deep into this historic month, let's take a look at some bold predictions for what might happen under the UFC banner this February.
Renan Barao Earns Bantamweight Title Shot
At this weekend's UFC 143, fast-rising contender Renan Barao will meet former top WEC bantamweight contender Scott Jorgensen.
Though the matchup has flown under the radar for the most part, a win over Jorgensen could be exactly what Barao needs to earn a shot at the winner of a 135-pound title fight between champion Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber.
With Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson moving to the newly created flyweight division, there is currently a shortage of bantamweight contenders, giving Barao the chance to make a big move this Saturday.
A dangerous jiu-jitsu black belt, Barao matches up well stylistically against Jorgensen, who is primarily considered a wrestler.
With a win over Jorgensen, Barao could be given the chance to sit back and wait for Cruz and Faber to finish coaching TUF 15.
Mike Pierce Takes Josh Koscheck to Close Decision
A former wrestler at Portland State University, Mike Pierce has been giving fellow collegiate wrestlers problems since entering the UFC in September 2009.
Against two of the best wrestlers in the welterweight division, Pierce stole a round from Jon Fitch and nearly defeated Johny Hendricks.
Now, Pierce will test himself against another elite wrestler in Josh Koscheck, a four-time All-American at Edinboro University.
Not as well-rounded as Koscheck has become, Pierce may come out on the losing end of this matchup, but don't be surprised if there is some controversy stemming from the judges' decision, as Pierce has fought to back-to-back split decisions.
Roy Nelson Spoils Fabricio Werdum's UFC Return
Fabricio Werdum may be more talented than Roy Nelson on the ground, but that does not necessarily mean he will be able to take "Big Country" to the canvas.
As was displayed in his most recent fight against Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum's takedown attempts are often telegraphed and weak.
If Werdum is unable to show improved takedowns against Nelson, he could suffer a second straight defeat in his return to the Octagon.
While Werdum depends primarily on his ground game to secure wins, Nelson possesses the power to knock out most heavyweights in the UFC.
Nick Diaz Submits Carlos Condit
At UFC on Fox 2, Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen set up two of the biggest fights of 2012 by earning respective title shots against Jon Jones and Anderson Silva.
This weekend, expect Nick Diaz to set the stage for a third monster title bout by submitting Carlos Condit.
Though he hasn't suffered any submission losses in the UFC, three of Condit's five career losses have come via submission.
Considering Condit is likely to take Saturday's fight to the ground to avoid boxing with Diaz, "The Natural Born Killer" could be looking at a fourth career submission loss at the hands of his Cesar Gracie-trained opponent.
Because his recent antics have made him one of the few fighters to truly anger welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, a Diaz win would lead to one of the most intriguing fights of 2012 once St-Pierre returns from a knee injury.
Jonathan Brookins Gets First Win as UFC Featherweight
After winning the TUF 12 lightweight tournament, Jonathan Brookins opted for a move to 145 pounds, where he met the up-and-coming Erik Koch at UFC Fight Night 25.
Stuffed on several takedown attempts, Brookins was unable to mount enough offense to win the fight on the scorecards.
On Feb. 15, Brookins will attempt to pick up his first featherweight win under the UFC banner against Vagner Rocha, who will be making his first cut to 145 pounds.
Expect a grueling ground battle between the two grapplers, with Rocha fading late in the fight due to a potentially rough weight cut.
Dave Herman Knocks out Stefan Struve
Heavyweights Stefan Struve and Dave Herman will be looking to move up the division's ladder with a win in the co-main event of the UFC's first main card on Fuel.
Given his training at Team Quest, Herman should be the one to dictate where this fight takes place with his wrestling.
Since Struve has been knocked out in four of his five losses, Herman will most likely opt to stand and test the Dutchman's chin once again.
Herman proved tough to finish in his UFC debut against John-Olav Einemo, so expect "Pee Wee" to weather whatever storm comes his way before knocking out Struve in impressive fashion.
Jake Ellenberger Finishes Diego Sanchez
In 27 carer fights, Diego Sanchez has only been finished once, and that loss came due to a cut suffered against B.J. Penn.
In the main event of UFC on Fuel, Jake Ellenberger will become the first fighter to legitimately knock out Sanchez.
In his most recent fight, Ellenberger handed Jake Shields his first knockout loss in more than 11 years, so the young welterweight contender possesses the power to put Sanchez away.
Sanchez has become known for his durability and ability to take a beating throughout his career, but there is a first time for everything, and the first time for Sanchez to be knocked out will come on Feb. 15.
Hatsu Hioki Earns Featherweight Title Shot in Japan
Hatsu Hioki was less than impressive in his UFC debut against George Roop, but the highly-touted Japanese fighter remains a top featherweight and one of the few remaining threats to champion Jose Aldo.
Despite the disappointing start to his UFC career, Hioki is preparing for one of the most important featherweight matchups of early 2012.
If Hioki can beat Bart Palaszewski in impressive fashion at UFC 144, which will be held in Hioki's home country, he could be next in line to fight Aldo for the 145-pound title.
Anthony Pettis Returns to Title Shot Conversation
Once promised a title shot with his win over Benson Henderson in the final fight in WEC history, Anthony Pettis saw his chance to fight for the UFC lightweight belt slip away with the announcement of a rematch between champ Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard and his subsequent loss to Clay Guida.
Though it wasn't his most exciting fight, Pettis got back on a winning track by defeating Jeremy Stephens in his most recent fight.
At UFC 144, Pettis will have the chance to return to title talk if he defeats Joe Lauzon, who is coming off of a massive upset win over Melvin Guillard.
Yoshihiro Akiyama Loses Fourth Straight Fight
Three straight losses would result in a release from the UFC for most fighters.
However, always-entertaining Yoshihiro Akiyama was given another chance by deciding to make the cut from middleweight to welterweight.
Despite his losing streak, Akiyama isn't being handed any easy victories to get back on track. Instead, Akiyama will meet former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields at UFC 144.
There is a very real possibility that Akiyama could lose his fourth consecutive fight later this month.
However, given the level of competition he has struggled against, I believe Akiyama will be given another shot to pick up his first win at 170 pounds.
Cheick Kongo Runs Through Mark Hunt
Mark Hunt is a dangerous opponent for anyone unable to take him to the ground.
However, Cheick Kongo could look to play it safe in his fight with Hunt at UFC 144.
Kongo may be more well known for his striking, but the Frenchman certainly has the ability to ground and pound Hunt, whose MMA career has been hampered by poor takedown defense and an even weaker ground game.
To the chagrin of those hoping for a kickboxing match between these former kickboxers, Kongo will take Hunt to the ground and force a stoppage due to strikes.
Quinton Jackson Stops Ryan Bader in Return to Japan
Quinton Jackson's motivation has been questioned for the last few years of his career, but "Rampage" looked in better shape than ever for his most recent fight against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Following the loss, Jackson requested a fight in the UFC's return to Japan, which the UFC granted in the form of a bout with Ryan Bader.
Aside from his title fight with Jones, returning to compete in Japan has probably been the most motivation Jackson has had for any of his recent fights.
A motivated "Rampage" is a scary "Rampage," and Bader often prefers to stand with opponents, so don't be surprised if the UFC 144 co-main event ends in a knockout victory for Jackson.
Dan Henderson Takes Rematch with Quinton Jackson
With Rashad Evans stepping back in front of him in the order for a shot at light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Dan Henderson may have to take another fight to hold his spot in line for a title fight.
Should he defeat Ryan Bader, Quinton Jackson could serve as Henderson's next opponent in a rematch of a closely contested title fight at UFC 75.
The matchup would be received well by hardcore fans and, should he avenge his loss to Jackson, would erase any doubt that Henderson deserves a shot at the 205-pound title.
Frankie Edgar Beats Benson Henderson in Fight of the Year Candidate
With his trilogy against Gray Maynard behind him, Frankie Edgar can finally focus on building his legacy as UFC lightweight champion against fresh competition.
At UFC 144, Edgar will attempt to defend his belt for the fourth time against former WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Both known for putting on exciting fights, Edgar and Henderson will produce one of the greatest fights of 2012 in the Zuffa's first main event in Japan.
Though he will keep the fight competitive, Henderson will come up short on the scorecards.
Anderson Silva Agrees to Fight Chael Sonnen
Given UFC president Dana White's insistence that this fight will happen in mid-2012, this matchup shouldn't come as any surprise.
However, Chael Sonnen has repeatedly stated that UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva is unwilling to fight him.
Before February is over, a date will be set for a rematch between Silva and Sonnen in the champion's home country of Brazil.