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UFC on Fox: Shogun vs. Vera Bleacher Report MMA Staff Predictions

John HeinisSenior Analyst IJune 25, 2016

UFC on Fox: Shogun vs. Vera Bleacher Report MMA Staff Predictions

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    This fourth installment of UFC on Fox features two titillating bouts at 205 pounds, with the winner of each destined for a second meeting with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. 

    In the main event of the evening, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua takes on Brandon "The Truth" Vera to see which fighter can turn in a vintage performance and get a shot at the gold.

    Meanwhile, Ryan "Darth" Bader squares off against Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida in the co-main event to stake their claim at the coveted light heavyweight title.

    In a lightweight showdown, Joe Lauzon squares off with former WEC 155-pound champion Jamie Varner in a bout that will likely separate contender from pretender.

    Kicking off the main card, The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 runner-up DaMarques "Darkness" Johnson takes on a Season 1 alumnus in Mike "Quick" Swick, who returns after a nearly 30-month layoff.

    Predicting the action this week are Bleacher Report MMA Featured Columnists Jeffrey McKinney, Dan Hiergesell, Dale De Souza and myself, John Heinis. 

    Take a look inside to see who's getting their hand raised Saturday night.

Mike Swick vs. DaMarques Johnson

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    John Heinis: Can Mike "Quick" Swick still be a force at welterweight after only fighting twice since November 2009?

    Probably not, but you don't have to be a superstar to beat DaMarques Johnson these days. (Actually, you never really had to be a superstar, but who's keeping score?)

    Assuming he returns to at least a shell of his former self, Swick has more power in his hands, a good chin and decent takedown defense. 

    Johnson has surprisingly competent grappling for a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blue belt, but I doubt he has the wrestling to keep Swick down here. 

    Given Swick's unprecedented layoff, it seems a given that Johnson will be in this fight at some point. Still, the American Kickboxing Academy fighter is a much better fighter.

    Mike Swick via unanimous decision 

     

    Jeffrey McKinney: Swick is a veteran of Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter and has gone 9-3 since his time on the show.

    The problem is, he’s lost two straight and has not fought in two years thanks to injuries.

    Johnson, on the other hand, has traded wins and losses since his time on the show's ninth season. He is coming off of a loss against John Maguire.

    Swick is known for having some spectacular first-round knockouts in his career, but given that he’s been away for so long and he’s facing a tough opponent in Johnson, he will have a tough out.

    While I believe Johnson could take a decision over Swick, I like Swick’s chances better on the feet as well as his overall experience and being motivated to step foot in the Octagon after two years away.

    If Swick has the cardio to hang, he will take this fight.

    Mike Swick via unanimous decision

     

    Dan Hiergesell: Despite not fighting for what seems like a lifetime for a fighter of his caliber—he last fought at UFC 109—Swick's standup game shouldn't miss a beat when he meets a rangy Johnson.

    Johnson has struggled to string wins together in the UFC, so proving victorious over a veteran like Swick would do his career wonders.

    However, as well-rounded as Johnson is, he has yet to be involved in a decision. That means he's won or lost every single one of his UFC fights via KO, TKO or submission. That could prove deadly against a natural finisher like Swick.

    Look for Swick to use his quickness and experience on the feet to finish Johnson in the second round.

    Mike Swick via Round 2 TKO

     

    Dale De Souza: It's tough to talk about Mike Swick's chances against Damarques Johnson, because the last time we saw Swick, he was getting choked out by Paulo Thiago.

    At least with Johnson, we know about his last few performances because he hasn't been plagued by the injury bug.

    Anyway, though Swick's been out since the Thiago fight at UFC 109 back in 2010, one can still expect that the man has just about the same basic tools he had the last time we saw him fight.

    We know he has quick hands and good movement, and he can go the distance with some of the toughest at 170 pounds. What we don't know, however, is what he has for Johnson.

    We know Johnson's good in just about every area, though you'd hardly call him "elite" at this point. Not only that, but he's been a tad inconsistent in his more recent outings.

    He's lost to guys like Amir Sadollah and John Maguire, while beating guys like Clay Harvison and Mike Guymon. That's all in his last four fights

    Still, for Johnson to really make some waves, he's going to have to prepare for the possibility of Swick trying to take this one to the ground and submitting the TUF 9 alumnus.

    In short, Johnson's going to have to be a good fighter everywhere, offensively and defensively, in order to beat Swick, and I don't see that happening.

    Though cage rust is one tricky little son of a gun, I don't see Swick showing any of it as he establishes his aggression somewhat early and overwhelmingly pressures Johnson en route to a near-first-round stoppage. Johnson is a tough individual, though, so he will hang on for the full 15 minutes.

    It will all prove irrelevant, however, as Johnson will drop a unanimous decision to a new and improved Swick. 

    Mike Swick via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)

Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner

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    John Heinis: Jamie Varner returned from independent fight league obscurity to hand Brazilian prodigy Edson Barboza his first career loss at UFC 146. 

    The former WEC lightweight champ has now quietly recorded three stoppage wins in a row and looks to show he can hang with the big boys again with a "W" over submission specialist Joe Lauzon.

    Lauzon was a dark-horse candidate to challenge for the lightweight title after easily submitting Melvin Guillard at UFC 136, but he was quickly thrown back to the middle of the pack after getting knocked out by Anthony Pettis at UFC 144.

    "J-Lau" (worst nickname ever) has scored 17 of his 21 wins via submission, but he is not nearly as consistent with his wrestling and striking game. 

    Varner is a much better wrestler and striker and is good enough on the ground to not suddenly end up tapping. I don't know if Varner is truly back, but this is just a bad stylistic matchup for Lauzon.

    Jamie Varner via Round 3 TKO

     

    Jeffrey McKinney: In this bout, we know Lauzon will be looking to do one thing and one thing only, and that’s tap Varner out.

    Varner, on the other hand, is coming off of a stunning TKO victory over rising Brazilian star Edson Barboza.

    Varner has won three straight, stopping all three opponents in the first round, and he is looking to prove he belongs in the UFC.

    Both guys are UFC lightweight vets who want to move past the gatekeeper stage. A win here would be a good start.

    While I like Lauzon’s chances if the fight goes to the ground, Varner is no slouch there either.

    I expect Varner to keep the fight standing and catch Lauzon with some good shots. 

    Jamie Varner via TKO

     

    Dan Hiergesell: Varner opened many eyes around the UFC after securing a comeback KO victory over top prospect Edson Barboza back at UFC 146.

    He looked fresh, recharged and downright explosive on his feet.

    However, Lauzon is not a striker first. He's one of the best submission experts in the lightweight division.

    The last time Varner faced a submission expert, he lost to Shane Roller in the first round via—you guessed it—submission.

    This time around, considering Lauzon has proven that he can use his length and toughness to stand when he has to, it's evident that Varner is going to be in trouble.

    After a back-and-forth first round, maybe seeing Varner catch Lauzon once or twice, "J-Lau" should be able to break down an exhausted Varner and submit him.

    Joe Lauzon via Round 2 submission

     

    Dale De Souza: Joe Lauzon is a very exciting grappler and a real bonus-seeker at this level of competition. Above all else, he's just an all-around fun lightweight to watch.

    I've described his attitude towards fights as a "get a finish or get finished" style of fighting—think of it like "kill or be killed."

    In recognizing this mentality, it's not difficult to comprehend why Lauzon could steal the show against Jamie Varner in this lightweight contest.

    However, to say that Lauzon is in for a tough test against Varner might be an understatement.

    Lauzon is coming off of a knockout loss to Anthony Pettis, while Varner is coming off of an upset TKO win over Edson Barboza.

    Granted, Varner's weaknesses play into Lauzon's key strength. Varner's proven that he's hungry to keep his streak of reinvigoration going strong, and TKOing Barboza should've been the eye-opener to that fact.

    In other words, if this bout is going to end, it will not end on Lauzon's terms, but instead it will end the way some might expect it to end—with Lauzon's best shots to get the fight to the ground thwarted, and with Varner extending his hot streak further by whooping some tail and taking down another big name.

    Jamie Varner via Round 1 TKO (strikes) 

Ryan Bader vs. Lyoto Machida

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    John Heinis: Remember when Jon Jones submitted Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader with a guillotine choke within a 10-month time span? Yeah, so does everyone besides Dana White

    Despite arguably winning one round against Jones, Machida's stock is at an all-time low.

    Believe it or not, Machida is just 1-3 in his past four fights after starting his career a perfect 16-0. Granted, most folks believe he beat Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 123, but he was gifted that decision over Shogun at UFC 109. Call that one karma. 

    Bader has the wrestling and heavy hands to keep Machida guessing and have trouble with his counter-striking. 

    Granted, Bader did get submitted by a broken and battered Tito Ortiz at UFC 132 (who Machida beat handily three years earlier), so nothing is a given here. 

    This is a tough one to call, and I really wouldn't even be that surprised if Machida scored a first-round KO, but I'm going to say Bader rides the momentum of the Rampage victory and pulls another upset.

    Ryan Bader via unanimous decision

     

    Jeffrey McKinney: In the co-main event of the night, Lyoto Machida will take on Ryan Bader for a possible shot at the light heavyweight title.

    Machida has not fought since his title fight with Jon Jones back in November. He is only 1-3 in his last four fights.

    Bader, on the other hand, has bounced back nicely after back-to-back losses to Jones and Tito Ortiz.

    Bader knocked out Jason Brilz at UFC 139 and defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson by decision back in Febuary.

    Bader has great wrestling and heavy hands, but he is taking on the most elusive fighter in UFC history.

    I believe Machida will be able to avoid being taken down and getting hit by Bader, and he will take the fight by decision.

    Lyoto Machida via unanimous decision

     

    Dan Hiergesell: I truly think Bader has what it takes to beat Machida.

    Machida is obviously more well-rounded than his opponent, but Bader has the power to stop any light heavyweight in their tracks.

    Jon Jones is the only common UFC opponent between the two. Both Machida and Bader lost via submission. Whether that gives any insight into this fight has yet to be seen, but it probably won't.

    Machida is a striker first who uses his elusiveness and quickness to lunge in and out of counter-strikes.

    Bader, on the other hand, is a heavy-handed power striker who could end a fight at any time. The problem with him is that he sometimes gets carried away with trying to KO his opponent.

    With that said, Bader needs to take his time and play into Machida's game. He can't get caught up trying to knock out one of the best counter-strikers in the game today.

    If Bader can pace himself and pick his punches, there's a good chance he'll take this fight.

    Ryan Bader via unanimous decision

     

    Dale De Souza: This bout is the one that some have told me might be a possible Fight of the Night candidate, and I'm having a hard time disagreeing with that possibility.

    Lyoto Machida's style has been somewhat underrated recently, but the fact is that the former UFC light heavyweight champion is still one of the heaviest hitters and elusive strikers in the division.

    He takes on Ryan Bader, who is one of the division's toughest wrestlers and also a heavy hitter in his own right.

    Bader's looked great since rebounding from his loss to Tito Ortiz last year, and his UFC 144 win over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson stands as arguably his most impressive win to date.

    Never mind that Jackson came in over the light heavyweight limit for the fight, because Jackson gave Bader all he could handle, yet Bader still found a way to win.

    As for Machida, he proved to be the toughest test to date for current champion Jon Jones, and although he would get choked unconscious, even Jones would go on to say that Machida was a tough puzzle to solve.

    The key thing about this scrap is that, very simply, Bader has to come to Machida. Machida doesn't have to come to Bader, but if he stays in front of Bader for too long, he'll get taken down and controlled at will.

    With the changes that Machida's made to his camp and his training, however, one can expect that Machida will find a way to make Bader play his game as opposed to playing Bader's game.

    If Machida can keep his distance, expect the karateka to rock Bader and lower the boom soon after as Machida moves one step closer to repositioning himself as a top title contender.

    Lyoto Machida via Round 2 TKO (punches) 

Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera

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    John Heinis: I'm forever going to hold a grudge against Shogun for turning down a fight with Glover Teixeira after Thiago Silva got injured. Now we're all stuck with this depressing and uninteresting bout.

    Mauricio Rua's lost three of his last five, with his wins coming over Machida and Forrest Griffin.

    He also got destroyed by Jones when he lost the title at UFC 128...yet he gets a rematch with a win here? You can't make this stuff up. 

    Meanwhile, Brandon Vera is 1-2-1, with his sole victory over Eliot Marshall proving once again that a fighter can, in fact, look completely unimpressive in victory.

    Yes, the Brazilian Shogun does have a tendency to fight down to his opponent's level, but let's not be ridiculous. Even if Shogun's heyday has passed, he's still a whole lot better than any version of Brandon Vera. 

    I'm giving just about no fathomable chance of an upset here. 

    Mauricio Rua via Round 1 KO

     

    Jeffrey McKinney: While Machida and Bader lost to Jones by submission, both Vera and Rua lost to the champ by TKO.

    Jones broke Vera's face in three places, and he took Rua's UFC light heavyweight title.

    Many have questioned why either man would earn a title shot with a victory, considering they are either coming off of a loss or have not had a long winning streak.

    The fact is, they will still be looking to knock their opponent’s head off regardless.

    Both Rua and Vera are accomplished Muay Thai fighters who love to keep the fight standing.

    Rua is, of course, more accomplished, due to his titles in Pride and the UFC and his 17 knockout victories.

    I’m sure many people won’t give Vera much of a chance in this fight.

    But considering that we don’t know which Shogun will show up and Vera claims to be motivated and has trained hard, it could be closer than many of us are expecting.

    But I’m still going to go for Rua in this fight.

    Mauricio Rua via unanimous decision

     

    Dan Hiergesell: I honestly don't understand how Vera got this fight. I know he was somewhat of a fill-in for an injured Thiago Silva, but still. The guy has only beaten Eliot Marshall since 2009. That's not overly impressive.

    Shogun, on the other hand, has fought the top guys in the sport for the last five years.

    This includes a title bout with Jon Jones, one of the best fights of all time against Dan Henderson, two title bouts against Lyoto Machida and KO victories over Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell.

    I don't know what needs to be said here, but there's probably no way in hell Vera defeats a hungry Shogun looking to get another shot at Jones and the light heavyweight championship.

    Even if Vera somehow outduels Shogun on the feet, we've seen Rua's ability to take punishment and keep moving forward in a fight.

    Assuming this bout doesn't end within the first few minutes, expect an early third-round TKO for Shogun, prompting a rematch with Jones.

    Mauricio Rua via Round 3 TKO

     

    Dale De Souza: Why would Mauricio Rua take on Brandon Vera when he had a shot to fight Glover Teixeira? Well, clearly "Shogun" sees something in Vera that no one else does.

    You can't blame Rua for seeing something in Vera, because he clearly doesn't want to look past his challenger this Saturday.

    Besides that, he knows Dana White has said that the man who wins most impressively in either the main event or the co-main event will likely get the next shot at the title.

    Shogun also knows that if people give Vera no shot of a victory, outside of a downright robbery, then it will be at that moment that Vera will indeed make his mark and finally get his shot.

    Vera's not the same fighter he was back when his competition included Tim Sylvia and Fabricio Werdum, but then again, nobody is expecting Vera to come in like the old Vera.

    The man is still a lanky dude with some pretty good striking and the ability to finish fights when he smells blood.

    His only issues, however, have been his ability to get over the hump and defeat a top guy when it counts, and also his ability to earn himself a finish in recent months.

    Not to suggest that Vera cannot finish Rua, but the fact that his last finish came on the preliminary card of UFC 96 raises quite a few questions.

    We'll give Vera a pass for the Randy Couture fight, since people will always question the decision, and Vera did get the better of the striking in that one.

    However, against Rua, Vera is facing a dangerous individual who does not stop until he's gotten the finish. Rua is known for his Muay Thai, his leg styles and his aggression—the level of which Vera has never faced before in his career.

    If Vera cannot come up with an answer for this striking regimen, Rua will pick Vera apart, and the end result will be sheer brutality for "The Truth."

    Expect this one to stay standing all throughout. Unless Vera gets this one to the ground, Rua will pick Vera apart before timing one perfect shot and getting the win again.

    Mauricio Rua via Round 1 KO (punches) 

Fight Bonuses

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    John Heinis: Fight of the Night - Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner

    Submission of the Night - Phil Davis

    Knockout of the Night - Mauricio Rua

     

    Jeffrey McKinney: Fight of the Night - Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner 

    Submission of the Night - Rani Yahya 

    Knockout of the Night - Mauricio Rua

     

    Dan Hiergesell: Fight of the Night - Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner

    Submission of the Night - Rani Yahya

    Knockout of the Night - Mauricio Rua

     

    Dale De Souza: Fight of the Night - Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner

    Submission of the Night - Josh Grispi 

    Knockout of the Night - Mauricio Rua

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