UFC 169 takes place this Saturday night in Newark, New Jersey.
Or perhaps it will take place Sunday night in Newark; that will only happen if the Super Bowl is moved to Saturday due to bad weather. In a strange way, I'm rooting for that scenario (an increasingly unlikely one) for the sole purpose of seeing how the UFC manages to scramble under such conditions.
In all likelihood, we are looking at our usual Saturday night fight card. And it's a good one.
Though it doesn't rank highly in terms of sheer star power, this is a card filled with intriguing matchups. Both championship fights are interesting in their own way, and one of them has serious upset potential. Which one? You'll have to read on to find out.
And then there's Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem, and that's interesting because it involves Mir and Overeem.
We've got plenty to unpack here, so let's get started.
This fight represents Renan Barao's chance to become the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Unless, of course, Chris Weidman beats Vitor Belfort. Then HE's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Nevermind the fact Jon Jones beat Belfort well over a year ago and still hasn't lost.
Dana White's fumbling promotional efforts aside, this main event is a fun one. One feels for Dominick Cruz, the former champion who must watch Barao and Urijah Faber defend the title he never lost in the Octagon. But if the replacement fight ultimately sees a challenger riding the biggest surge of his career stepping in the cage to face a man on the verge of being one of the sport's most terrifying champions, well, that's OK. In the end, we all win.
Since losing to Barao on July 21, 2012, Faber has four consecutive victories, all of them occuring during the 2013 calendar year. As I recently said on the URFC 169 Countdown show, if not for Chris Weidman beating Anderson Silva two times in one year, there is zero doubt Faber would be the shoo-in for Fighter of the Year. "The California Kid" was just that good in 2013.
How is Faber, as he approaches his mid-30s, getting better? We are jaded in mixed martial arts, because "getting better at 35" usually means "testosterone replacement therapy." But that is not the case for Faber. He is more fanatical about taking care of his body than anybody I've ever known; teammate Joseph Benavidez recently told me Faber never takes time off, never break his diet. He doesn't binge on sweets and balloon up to an unmanageable weight when he's done with a training camp.
He is ready, 365 days a year, and that is why he was ready when the UFC called him in to face Barao. It's not really a "late notice" fight for Faber, because he is a man constantly in training camp. His entire life is a training camp.
Faber last competed in December with a stunning mauling of Michael McDonald. Barao, meanwhile, hasn't fought since September. And so it is Faber, not the champion, who comes into the cage with momentum.
After so many recent heartbreaks in championship fights, I believe this is the one where Faber gets it done. He is in stunning condition. He is firing on all cylinders. He won't be rusty. As long as his oft-injured hands hold up, this is the fight where Faber finally brings a UFC championship home to Sacramento.
Prediction: Urijah Faber
Value play: Urijah Faber at +230
For this one, we'll turn to Bleacher Report's statistical guru, Reed Kuhn, who recently made his B/R debut by giving you a single graph illustrating every UFC finish in 2013. Don't believe me? Go see for yourself.
For Reed's latest "Uber Tale of the Tape," he gives you a look at the most important stuff that matters in Aldo vs. Lamas and, with the magic of numbers, tells you who is better in each of those categories. Needless to say, one look at this thing would give you the impression Aldo is better than Lamas in every area of fighting.
To an extent, you would be correct. Mostly. Aldo has the edge in 13 different categories, while Lamas reigns in just three. That is typically a recipe for disaster.
But, as you can see, it's not as though Aldo is blowing Lamas out of the water in any category. Lamas is decent; he's just simply not as good as Aldo in any categories. But then, few fighters are.
Aldo has a tendency to gas late in rounds, which leaves openings for opponents to score points. Lamas needs to win an early round, then hope to take two away from the champion by outworking Aldo in later rounds. He's not going to find many holes in Aldo's striking and takedown defense, so he must use deception and be the more active fighter. Even then, I do not believe it will be enough.
Prediction: Jose Aldo
Value Play: Stay away
Though Dana White will not go as far as actually admitting it, there's little doubt this is a "Loser Leaves Town" fight. Which is to say, the loser of this one will need to consider retirement in order to save face, because they're likely going to be cut from the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
This is not a good style fight for Mir. He is a man with many tools, but the two major tools he does not possess are the ones he needs most to survive against Overeem: a durable chin and cardio.
Overeem comes out firing on all cylinders, and during these early moments he is one of the most terrifying men on this planet. But Travis Browne and Antonio Silva before him have proven if you can survive this moment of hell, there may be some clarity and opportunity awaiting you on the other side. Endure the early Overeem rush, the friendly guidebook says, and you will see wonders you've never seen before. Namely, a chance to notch a win over a former K-1 Grand Prix champion into your fine leather belt.
Alas, Mir does not have these tools. Either of them, to be exact. He is prone to knockouts and to tiring out quickly, and he is aging and needs synthetic testosterone to compete with a man who, in the past, has taken anabolic steroids just for the hell of it.
Of course, Mir will not stand and trade punches with Overeem. Or, at the very least, he'll try not to. His game plan will be predicated on taking the hulking kickboxer down early. His night, and possibly his entire career, hinges on whether he can put Overeem on the mat.
The market pegs Overeem with nearly a 77 percent chance to win this fight. That's accurate, and perhaps even a few percentage points low. There's no value here, not even in the prop bets, where an Overeem win in the first round will only net you -120. Stay away from this one and enjoy the violence.
Prediction: Alistair Overeem
Value play: None.
I like Bagautinov, mostly because his name is one of those names I enjoy saying. And he is a very good fighter, though I am uncertain how he ended up a favorite over John Lineker.
Lineker has faced better competition during his career, and he has been more impressive against that better competition. Bagautinov has skills for days, but has never applied them against the kind of across-the-board competition Lineker has faced.
It goes without saying Lineker's major battle here will be making weight. He is a massive flyweight, and his last two outings have seen him weigh in at 128 and 129 pounds, respectively. Four or five wins in a row would usually mean instant title shots, but Lineker will never get one without proving he can make weight. A successful trip to the scales and a win in the Octagon here might be enough to secure Lineker a date with Demetrious Johnson.
Prediction: John Lineker
Value play: John Lineker
This is my pick for Fight of the Night. And that's a tough pick, given the matchups and styles on the rest of this card. But I believe Varner and Trujillo are tailor-made for one another, at least in terms of putting on an exciting display of mixed martial arts.
Varner is slightly favored here, and for good reason; his wrestling is quite good and can be an equalizer. But Trujillo, working out of the Blackzilians camp, has made drastic strides in all facets of the fighting game, and he is what we call a live underdog. Varner will not want to get into a firefight with Trujillo, though I suspect he will, and that will be his downfall.
Prediction: Abel Trujillo
Value play: Abel Trujillo