I'll never forget where I was on December 16, 2010.
I suspect most of you who saw World Extreme Cagefighting 53 that night feel the same way, whether you were live in the arena (as I was) or watching at home on television (as I would do, repeatedly, upon returning to my home in Houston in the coming weeks).
We will never forget that night because of the Showtime Kick. Try as he might to downplay the impact of the moment when Anthony Pettis launched himself off the cage, UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson will never forget that instant, or that night, because it is the only true blemish in a WEC and UFC career that has otherwise flirted with perfection.
And now, just under three years later, we're getting the chance to see Henderson and Pettis run it back. In a way, the underlying theme of UFC 164 is one of redemption, as Henderson will get his chance to set the record straight.
Former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, once booted from the organization in a cloud of drugs, failure and shame, returns as the not-so-prodigal son to continue a career largely hidden from the American public eye over the last decade.
And Brandon Vera returns to one of the divisions he promised to rule with an iron fist. Things didn't work out in his favor, of course, and now he struggles to remain a professional fighter.
It's time for the UFC 164 edition of my predictions you can take to the bank. I'll recommend monetary plays, but only if I see value in the betting odds for each fight. But even if I don't see value in a particular line, I'll still give you my prediction for each fight, and I hope you'll do the same for me in the comments below.
Fair warning: You might want to keep your wallet firmly in your pocket for this one, at least when it comes to the main card.
You never want to see a fighter injure himself and lose the opportunity for the biggest fight of his career. But there will be another day for T.J. Grant, the workmanlike Canadian who used 2012 and 2013 as his personal violence-splayed canvas on the way to earning a title shot. Right now, it's all about adding another chapter to what may eventually become a long story between Henderson and Pettis.
Benson Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis for the UFC Lightweight Championship
You know the history between this pair, so there's no need to rehash it. Instead, let's take a look at a few key stats, provided in "tale of the tape" form by the excellent Reed Kuhn of Fightnomics.
At a glance, you see that Pettis has the advantage in 12 categories, compared to just six for Henderson. Pettis leads in every stand-up striking offense category, including knockdown ratio, which is a measure of how many knockdowns a fighter delivers versus how many times he is knocked down. We also see that Pettis leads in both power and accuracy.
But Henderson attempts more significant strikes per minute and lands them with a greater degree of accuracy. That's key, although Pettis has a durable chin, as evidenced by his 100 percent distance knockdown defense.
Many fans might assume Henderson has a significant edge in the wrestling department, but that is not the case; as you can see, Pettis attempts less takedowns than Henderson, but his accuracy at 77 percent is much higher than Henderson's at 48 percent.
A number that won't surprise you is this: Henderson is vastly superior at controlling a fight once it hits the ground. It's one of the traits that has helped him retain his lightweight title despite a string of razor-thin decisions.
Henderson is quite good at doing what he must do to win a fight. But I believe that it won't be enough this time, just like it wasn't the last time he stepped into the cage with Pettis. Pettis' superior striking and penchant for breathtaking maneuvers will leave the judges slightly in his corner when it comes time to score the fight.
Anthony Pettis by split decision.
Stay away unless Pettis moves to +150 or higher.
Frank Mir vs. Josh Barnett
You can't ask for better poetry than Josh Barnett returning to the UFC against Frank Mir.
After a decade removed from the promotion and time spent in Japan as both a fighter and a professional wrestler, Barnett finally gets his chance to step back in the Octagon against the man whom many consider to be the best American heavyweight fighter of all time. And if you don't think Mir is deserving of that honor, then perhaps you believe Barnett has a case.
Either way, this is a fight between two of the very best American heavyweights in the history of the sport, and it's a dream matchup of sorts. I wanted to see this fight eight years ago, but I'll take what I can get; I'm just glad we're seeing it before one or both men hang up their gloves for good.
In terms of total categorical advantages, Mir leads with nine to Barnett's seven. As always, that's not a good metric for determining who has the real advantage in a fight.
The key statistic here is takedown accuracy. Mir attempts more takedowns than Barnett, but he's also far less effective in doing so (46 percent) than "The Warmaster" (75 percent). Barnett's takedown defense is also a tick higher than Mir, and that percentage comes from defending a higher clip than Mir as well.
Mir's game plan will be centered around the striking department; he's become a very good heavyweight striker, while Barnett has always played to his own comfort level in attempting to ground the fight. And though playing in Mir's guard isn't the best idea in the world, I believe Barnett is experienced enough and just plain good enough to do so.
Barnett will look to get the fight to the ground early, and he'll do so. The likelihood of submitting Mir is nigh impossible, so don't look for Barnett to spend much time attempting to force a tapout. He'll defend Mir's own submission attempts and spend the majority of the fight on top.
Josh Barnett by decision.
Chad Mendes vs. Clay Guida
I'm offering no tale of the tape for this one. We don't need statistics to know that Chad Mendes heads into the Octagon as a heavy favorite over Clay Guida and rightly so.
Mendes is a nearly 5-to-1 favorite over Guida; that's a stunning number when you consider that Guida is a good fighter capable of making other good fighters look terrible or at least confused.
But it's also the correct number. Mendes isn't just a very good fighter. He's the second-best featherweight in the world, and despite the way his first fight with Jose Aldo ended (due in part to the champ illegally holding the cage on a Mendes takedown attempt), I still believe he's the one man capable of dethroning the champion.
This will be the final test for Mendes. After he beats Guida, he'll have served his penance, and he'll be the next contender for Aldo. He'll skip past Ricardo Lamas and Cub Swanson for a title shot and deservedly so.
Mendes mauls Guida early.
Chad Mendes by TKO, Round 1
No play, unless you're the type who enjoys throwing a few bucks on a long shot. Nothing else is worthwhile.
Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirier
I can't remember a time when I didn't want to see Erik Koch and Dustin Poirier face each other in a fight. From their days in the WEC, it was clear that they would eventually have to meet. I figured it would be for a title shot or even a championship, but that has not been the case.
Instead, both men find themselves coming off a loss heading into UFC 164. They're looking to right the ship and clamber back towards the featherweight title. Only one man can do it, though.
Which one will it be?
Here is one key stat that should jump out at you: Koch's 9.5 percent distance knockdown power compared to the goose egg for Poirier.
This shows that Koch is far better at putting power into his shots from a distance, a trait that comes in handy even when Poirier has a three-inch reach advantage. Koch is not as active or accurate in the striking department as Poirier, but he's better at making it count.
Koch's biggest advantage in the fight comes in the striking defense department. Both fighters have incredible chins, but Koch's total head strike defense is 88 percent compared to 69 percent for Poirier. Put simply, Koch is better at protecting himself than Poirier, who can be drawn into the kind of stand-and-trade battle that may thrill the fans but won't be good for his career longevity.
Koch fights with his head, preferring a stick-and-move strategy and not allowing himself to be suckered into a fight-of-the-night effort. I'm not saying it'll be boring; I'm saying that it won't live up to the expectations in my head.
Erik Koch by decision.
No play. Again.
Brandon Vera vs. Ben Rothwell
Shortly before Brandon Vera faced Fabricio Werdum at UFC 85 in 2008, he gave this quote to the Philippine Star (h/t MMAMania.com):
It's my one-year goal — to win both titles. I'll fight anyone UFC wants me to fight. I'm not scared of anyone. I train ridiculously hard for all my fights. I drive myself to the point of exhaustion. In the past, I've collapsed in the gym. When I'm training for a fight, I work out thrice a day from six to eight weeks. Each day, I do 50 minutes of conditioning, including working six six-minute rounds, then 1 1/2 hours of repetition drills and finally, 1 1/2 hours of doing whatever my coaches want, like sparring or banging the bag or hitting the mitts.... After I get the heavyweight belt, I'm going after Rampage.
None of this happened.
Instead, Vera lost to Werdum. In fact, Vera's record since the night he made those comments is 4-5-1. He was cut from the UFC due to his losing streak and only returned when it was discovered that Thiago Silva was using nonhuman urine (!) in an attempt to pass a drug test.
And so Vera returned, beating the pedestrian Eliot Marshall to earn himself a shot at the legendary Shogun Rua.
Vera lost. But like the phoenix, he endures, switching back to the heavyweight division that he promised to rule all those years ago.
And also like the phoenix, Ben Rothwell returns to the cage...but this time, he's on testosterone replacement therapy. I'd like to sit here and pretend that I can make some kind of deduction from the stats you see above, but the simple truth is this: I cannot, and it's because I have no idea what to expect from the newly PED-fueled Rothwell.
Maybe he'll still be the gritty and determined fighter who can overcome a lack of skill with determination and heart. Or maybe he'll show up with a new Overeem-style body and pulverize Vera where he stands.
I know one thing: Vera needs this win. And anytime a clean fighter can score a win over someone who is not clean and is being legally allowed to cheat, well, I might find myself rooting for that guy. Just a little bit.
Brandon Vera by TKO, Round 2
Stay away. Yes. Again.
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