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UFC 165: Early Main Card Preview, Betting Odds and Predictions

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterNovember 19, 2016

UFC 165: Early Main Card Preview, Betting Odds and Predictions

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    When the best fighter in the world steps into the cage, people take notice. In his last three bouts, Jones has finally lived up to his box-office potential, averaging more than 500,000 pay-per-view buys an outing.

    Can that hot streak continue against relatively unknown Swedish striker Alexander Gustafsson? If so, then it's safe to say Jones can draw against anyone. Gustafsson, though the UFC's top contender in the division, hasn't beaten any of the other fighters currently joining him in the top 10.

    Of course, the real action takes place in the cage, not at the box office. But when a fighter is an overwhelming favorite the way Jones is, there's little to discuss. At this point, you watch Jones to see excellence on display. It's not just Gustafsson—it would be hard to take any fighter seriously against "Bones."

    In the co-main event, bantamweight sensation Renan Barao defends his interim title against Eddie Wineland. There's additional action up and down the main card with implications on the official UFC rankings. It's, overall, an interesting and well-booked card.

    Let's take an early look and explore each main card fight. Disagree with any of my contentions? Let me know in the comments.


Alexander Gustafsson (16-1) vs. Jon Jones (18-1)

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    Weight Class

    Light Heavyweight


    What's at Stake

    The UFC's light heavyweight title: Long established as the most prestigious title in MMA, it's an immediate star-maker for anyone able to win it.

    Jones, who has defended the title five times in a row since winning the belt from Mauricio Rua in 2011, is fighting for legacy. He's already historically the best fighter in the weight class despite being just 26. Every win makes the debate over the best of all time, one that features Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, just a little murkier.

    For Gustafsson, this is the chance of a lifetime. Jones has run through the cream of the crop in the division. No one expects the young Swede, also 26 years old, to be able to compete with Jones' superlative wrestling.

    But Gustafsson has won six in a row for a reason. He's at the absolute apex of his ability. If he's ever going to reign, it's got to be right now. In the UFC, there are not always second chances.


    Betting Odds (via BetUS): 

    Gustafsson: +475

    Jones: -750


    Matchmaking Grade 

    It's hard to find anyone who feels worthy of Jones. He's looked vulnerable only momentarily, like when Vitor Belfort surprised him with an armbar from the guard.  Otherwise, he's been unchallenged as champion.

    Gustafsson has looked amazing since he lost to his now-teammate Phil Davis back in 2010. At that point, wrestling was a real weakness, as Davis proved. With diligent work and training with Davis and coach Eric Del Fierro at Alliance, Gustafsson has improved remarkably in this area.

    Yet, at no moment in his six-fight win streak did I see anything that would make me suspect he can challenge Jones. But that said, he's earned the opportunity. I guess Gustafsson has the same chance as anyone else—slim.

    Grade: B

    Fireworks Potential

    Jones is a walking highlight film. Gustafsson, if he wins, will likely do so by knockout. Don't blink.

    Potential: High



    "I'm so motivated," Gustafsson told Bleacher Report. "I want that belt. I'm hungry, I want the fight. That's what I've been dreaming of since I started this."



    Gustafsson is a great young fighter. But nothing I've seen from him convinces me he isn't going to be taken down and smashed by Jones. At this point I can't imagine myself picking against Jones. He's simply too good, too young and too smart. This is the best fighter in MMA history in his prime. Enjoy him.

    (Jones, ground-and-pound, Round 2)


Renan Barao (30-1) vs. Eddie Wineland (20-8-1)

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    Weight Class



    What's at Stake

    Barao's interim bantamweight title is at stake. At some point, of course, the interim label will be dropped from this championship. After all, titular champion Dominick Cruz hasn't competed since 2011. For all intents and purposes, this is the title at 135 pounds.


    Betting Odds (via BetUS):

    Wineland: +400

    Barao: -600


    Matchmaking Grade 

    Eddie Wineland has fallen short every time he's stepped up in class. Most recently, Urijah Faber and Faber's Team Alpha Male teammate, Joseph Benavidez, both humbled him. Wineland is clearly a step behind the very top fighters in the division.

    But, like Jones at light heavyweight, Barao and Cruz have cleared out the top challengers to the crown. That leaves the likes of Wineland unless the UFC wants to run Faber out each and every time.

    Grade: C+

    Fireworks Potential

    Little guys often have a reputation for lacking power and finishing ability.  Eddie Wineland's career refutes that assumption. He's won fights with strikes, submissions and even a knockout slam. He's a giver and receiver of violence. This won't be a timid affair.

    Potential: High 


    "[The bantamweight division] was kind of falling apart there for a while," Wineland told Bleacher Report. "I know there is talk about Dominick coming here soon, and hopefully by the time the year is out we will have a unified champion at bantamweight. I think it will be back in order, and I'm always happy to be up there at the top and right in the mix."  



    Eddie Wineland is an exceptionally nice guy. For much of his career he was an full-time firefighter, only competing in the cage on the side. That makes his achievements even more remarkable—but it doesn't give him much of a chance against an absolute beast like Barao.

    This is the kind of fight where all the heart, will and gumption in the world won't be enough. Barao is just too physically gifted and skilled for Wineland. The difference in class should be apparent early.

    (Barao, submission, Round 2)

Brendan Schaub (9-3) vs. Matt Mitrione (6-2)

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    Weight Class



    What's at Stake

    Both fighters, once considered promising prospects, have lost two of their last three. The winner will make another run at the top 10. The loser may be one more loss away from a tenure in Bellator. There's a lot on the line.


    Betting Odds (via BetUS)

    Schaub: +100

    Mitrione: -130


    Matchmaking Grade 

    These two have a lot of history and have walked roughly the same road. Both are veterans—both of the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter and the National Football League. Bad blood makes what was already an even and compelling matchup just a little more thrilling. 

    Grade: A+

    Fireworks Potential

    Five of Mitrione's six wins came by way of knockout. Schaub has dropped seven of his nine victims. Somebody's going down.

    Potential: M-80



    "This probably wouldn't bother many people, but when I was filming Countdown, they showed me a clip of Brendan saying I don't have the work ethic necessary to be successful in mixed martial arts," Mitrione told Bleacher Report's Duane Finley. "That comment blew my mind. Who is he to question how hard I work? Him actually vocalizing and questioning my work ethic makes me want to smoke him. It makes me want to prove a point in this situation."


    The betting line on this one is close for a reason. Schaub is probably a little more technical. Mitrione is just a smidgen more athletic. He's also angry and frustrated about missing time with his family. And an angry heavyweight is a dangerous heavyweight.

    (Mitrione, knockout, Round 1)

Costa Philippou (12-2-1) vs. Francis Carmont (21-7)

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    Weight Class



    What's at Stake

    A spot in the UFC top 10 is at stake here. Both have won five in a row in the UFC. Carmount, in fact, hasn't lost since 2008. Whoever wins is on the fast-track to a potential title shot. That makes this fight incredibly important.


    Betting Odds (via BetUS):

    Carmont: +160

    Philippou : -200


    Matchmaking Grade 

    Philippou was hunting bigger game. He called out both Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort but had to settle for the less well-known Carmont. Philippou came to the MMA world's attention with an upset win over Tim Boetsch. That prominent win makes this feel like a bit of a step back for him. But this is actually an appropriate matchup for both guys. 

    Grade: A

    Fireworks Potential

    If fun is a disease, Francis Carmont has the antidote. Combine his smothering style with Philippou's penchant for the decision and this looks to be a grinding affair.

    Potential: Low 



    "I'm 33 years old...I'm kind of old-school and I want to let my fighting do the talking," Philappou told MMAFighting's Ariel Helwani, explaining his decision to call Bisping out. "But it doesn't work like that anymore."



    His surprise knockout of Boetsch aside, Philippou has done little to make a case for the top 10 during his UFC tenure. The same can be said of Carmont. But winning is winning. And the guy who walks away from this bout will have won six in a row. That's a pretty serious accomplishment in today's UFC.

    (Carmont by decision)

Pat Healy (29-16) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (20-0)

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    Weight Class



    What's at Stake

    Journeyman Pat Healy had the biggest win of his career in April when he upset UFC gatekeeper Jim Miller. The glory, however, was fleeting. Healy went on to test positive for marijuana. His win, just like that, became a no-contest. His top-10 ranking, however, remained intact.

    On the other side of the cage, Nurmagomedov remains undefeated in a four-year career, including four consecutive wins in the UFC. A native of Dagestan, Nurmagomedov is a fierce grappler and an expert in sambo and judo.

    The winner of this fight might not be in line for a title shot right away. But he will fill a spot at the bottom of the top 10. For Nurmagomedov, still just 24, that's a pretty big step in the right direction.


    Betting Odds (via BetUS):

    Healy: +175

    Nurmagomedov : -220


    Matchmaking Grade 

    Nurmagomedov has been a terror so far, decimating the bottom half of the UFC lightweight division. This is his first foray into the top 10—and Healy is the perfect opponent to greet him. He's tough but not too tough. 

    Grade: B

    Fireworks Potential

    Nurmagomedov is a wrecking ball, but Healy is the kind of fighter who takes a beating and comes back looking for more. Even if it's one-sided, it isn't likely to be boring.

    Potential: Medium-high



    “I would like to start off by apologizing to the UFC, Jim Miller, the MMA community, its fans, my family, teammates and coaches for my positive testing for marijuana after my UFC 159 fight with Jim Miller,” Healy wrote in a statement after his last bout. “I was fully aware of the UFC and state commission’s drug policies, and made poor life choices."



    Make no mistake about it: This is a fight designed to propel Nurmagomedov into the top 10. Healy is a good fighter, but if Nurmagomedov is who the UFC thinks he is, this is the first of many high-profile wins to come.

    (Nurmagomedov by decision)

Other Fights and How to Watch

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    Preliminary Card (on Fox Sports 1)

    Lightweight: Mike Ricci (8-3) vs. Myles Jury (12-0)
    Bantamweight: Ivan Menjivar (25-10) vs. Wilson Reis (16-4)
    Welterweight: Chris Clements (11-4) vs. Stephen Thompson (7-1)
    Bantamweight: Mitch Gagnon (9-2) vs. Dustin Kimura (10-0)


    Preliminary Bouts (on Facebook/YouTube)

    Lightweight: John Makdessi (11-2) vs. Renee Forte (8-2)
    Lightweight: Michel Prazeres (16-1) vs. Jesse Ronson (13-2)
    Bantamweight: Roland Delorme (9-1) vs. Alex Caceres (8-5)
    Heavyweight: Nandor Guelmino (11-4-1) vs. Daniel Omielanczuk (15-3-1)


    UFC 165 Start Times

    Preliminary Bouts Online: 6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT
    Preliminary Bouts on Fox Sports 1: 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT
    Main Card on Pay-Per-View: 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT (UFC.TV/Roku/iTunes App Store/Find a Bar)



    Fight of the Night: Healy vs. Nurmagomedov

    Submission of the Night: Renan Barao

    Knockout of the Night: Matt Mitrione


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