When guys like Anthony Pettis and Demian Maia are fighting on the prelims, it seems pretty clear that the main card is something special.
The heavy-handed Melvin Guillard takes on submission specialist Joe Lauzon in a fight with big title implications in the lightweight division.
At featherweight, Nam Phan takes on Leonard Garcia in a rematch of a 2010 showdown. Very few people who saw the fight believe that Garcia rightfully deserved the split-decision victory, so both fighters have something to prove here.
In a middleweight battle that has gone somewhat under the radar on this card, Chael Sonnen has his return fight after a 14-month layoff against "The All-American" Brian Stann.
Additionally, Jose Aldo fights Kenny Florian for the featherweight title in the co-main event. This is Florian's third title shot, an event that is rarely seen in the UFC. KenFlo believes that the third time's a charm, but does he have what it takes to dethrone one of MMA's pound-for-pound best?
Finally, in the main event, which needs no introduction, Frankie Edgar takes on Gray Maynard for the third time. Their last fight ended in a draw, while Maynard won the first meeting, so both fighters feel that they will put the exclamation point on this trilogy on Saturday.
Dwight Wakabayashi, Jeffrey McKinney, Dale De Souza and myself, John Heinis, will be predicting the winners this time around.
Take a look inside to see who's getting his hand raised.
John Heinis: Guillard is on a five-fight win streak coming in, including victories over on-the-cusp guys in Jeremy Stephens and Evan Dunham.
Guillard gets on the nerves of many fans since he swears he's the best lightweight in MMA despite having not faced any top-level guys. Plus, Nate Diaz slapping a guillotine on "The Young Assassin" is still fresh in many people's minds, even though that was over two years ago now.
Love him or hate him, Guillard is a contender at lightweight—no one would guess that he is more than two wins away from a title shot.
Lauzon needs to be careful, as Guillard has finished 21 of the 28 opponents he has beaten in his career; however, "J-Lau" (what a terrible nickname) is exactly the type of opponent Guillard has struggled with.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt has won 16 of his 20 victories by way of submission, particularly efficient with the basics such as the rear naked choke and armbar.
Not that I don't believe in Guillard, because I do, but I am going with the upset here since Lauzon knows how to get the fight to the ground and Guillard will be at a big disadvantage from there.
If Guillard resorts to his wrestling, Lauzon still has a very solid submission and sweep game from his back.
Joe Lauzon via unanimous decision (29-28)
Dwight Wakabayashi: Melvin Guillard has propelled his career into title contender status over the past year with his powerful and exciting striking game.
He is chiseled and explosive, and his transformation into a solid young professional is all but complete.
Submission expert Joe Lauzon has had a much tougher time of it over the past year, alternating between wins and losses to fighters he really was a favorite to beat.
It is clear that their careers are in very different places right now, but it is the style matchup that will tell the tale in this one.
Guillard has always been a highly touted, explosive young fighter but with a very one-dimensional game. His ground game has always been an afterthought, and it has caused him some very sudden defeats in his career.
Lauzon is that guy again who will show whether Guillard has really dedicated himself to rounding out his game.
In an obvious battle of striker vs. grappler, I feel that Guillard has developed his game enough to survive once it hits the ground, and he will be able to use his strength advantage to get top position on Lauzon and rain down the knockout punch.
Lauzon is not as confident a fighter as he once was. He is looking at this fight to get him right back in the lightweight contender mix, but he has struggled of late for a reason.
Meanwhile, Guillard has hit his stride, and I don't see him falling a victim to the quick submission that has plagued him in the past.
Melvin Guillard (second-round TKO)
Jeffrey McKinney: Submission expert Joe Lauzon will meet one of the top lightweight contenders in Melvin Guillard.
Guillard has been on the rise as of late, winning five straight and eight of his last nine. Since joining Greg Jackson’s camp, Guillard has really seemed focused on making a title run.
Lauzon can test Guillard, though.
Lauzon has never gone the distance when he’s won a fight. Sixteen of his 20 wins are by submission, an area where Guillard has struggled in the past.
It could be a tough match, but I believe it is Guillard’s time to shine, and he will win the fight.
Melvin Guillard by TKO
Dale De Souza: Joe Lauzon’s game in a nutshell is submissions and grappling, and if you have two arms, two legs and a neck, he’s going to try to knock you out by putting you out with a choke, or he’s going to make you tap by taking an extremity.
Melvin Guillard, on the other hand, is a live-wire knockout machine that puts fighters on their backs and ensures that they won’t get up without some help.
In this fight, expect Greg Jackson to have a plan for Lauzon’s decent-at-best striking game, which is budding, but it’s definitely out there to think Lauzon can outstrike Guillard.
If Lauzon get keep Guillard down and stay on top of him, Guillard may find himself back at the bottom of the barrel, but as good at Lauzon is, Saturday might not be his night.
Props to Lauzon if he can beat Guillard, but don’t get comfy with the notion of this fight hitting the ground, because if Jackson has anything to say about it, Guillard will make sure that it doesn’t go there without him sending Lauzon there himself, although Guillard might not do so for about a good 10 minutes.
Still, if you want to catch a nap, sleep until the Facebook prelims start, because this fight will not cure your insomnia.
Melvin Guillard by KO, Round 1 (Punch)
John Heinis: The judges' decision was so piss-poor the first time these two met in the Octagon in December of 2010, I really don't think an in-depth prediction is justified.
The bottom line is Garcia was given a split decision in a fight where he thoroughly got beaten down by Phan for three rounds...easily one of the worst decisions ever in MMA history. As in top-five bad.
After going 0-2 in the UFC, I have no question that Phan both gets his revenge and gains some job security in this one.
Nam Phan via second-round TKO
Dwight Wakabayashi: In a budding sport that has many of them, one of the worst judges' decisions in history came when Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan fought back on the TUF 12 Finale last December.
Phan was a contestant on the show making his real UFC debut, and many felt Garcia was a bit out of his league heading into the bout. Phan executed the fight of his career and thoroughly dominated the more experienced Garcia but was robbed by a very controversial judges' decision.
The rematch had to be set, and it is here on this card. Both fighters took fights in between and lost to top-level talent, Garcia to Chan Sung Jung and Phan to Mike Brown, but this score needs to be settled before either can move on to better things in his career.
Garcia likes to bomb away in a street fight with looping wild shots that thrill the crowd, while Phan is technically sound and likes to pick apart with straight and accurate combos of punches and kicks.
Garcia must know he needs to tighten up his technical execution slightly to improve his chances, but it is hard to change a leopard's stripes.
I still think he believes he is superior to Phan and will look to knock him out in wild fashion. Phan is the real deal in terms of knowing how to win a fight, and I see his cerebral approach again winning this fight on points.
This fight will play out very closely to the first one, and I hope the judges get it right this time.
Nam Phan via unanimous decision 29-28, 29-28, 30-27
Jeffrey McKinney: The last time Phan and Garcia met, Phan seemed to get the better of Garcia.
Despite this Garcia picked up a controversial split decision win.
Both men would go on to lose their next fights, Phan by decision and Garcia by a memorable submission.
If their second fight is anything like their first, the two will have a memorable Fight of the Night performance.
Phan will be the more technical of the two, while Garcia will be looking to throw wild shots.
If Phan can use his technical striking to his advantage, he should have no problem getting the win. That is, of course, if the judges don’t screw him out of a victory.
Nam Phan by unanimous decision
Dale De Souza: We all remember how Alex Caceres was supposed to get Nam Phan at the TUF 12 Finale, but Leonard Garcia stepped in when Caceres had to withdraw...and from there, Garcia put on a great show, as did Phan.
However, if you were boring like me and actually kept score, Phan won the fight even though Garcia was unsurprisingly more active—not to say I see why he won the fight, but being a straight-up brawler with a few technical striking assets in the mix should not raise questions about decisions, because it does seem like the more active fighter tends to win over the more effective fighter these days.
Anyway, we know that it appears as though Phan and Garcia are in to face each other in a more technical version of their most recent bout, as the last time Garcia fought in a rematch with someone he beat, Garcia tapped out.
The last time Phan fought a WEC guy, however, he lost a decision, although Mike Brown made it clear that he won and Phan didn’t.
Both guys are fun to watch, but this one is all about proving that they truly won the first time out, and Garcia might have lost the last time to some fans, but what will they say if Garcia does earn the nod?
Will some change their tune and say Phan lost the first time also because he was not as active as we all thought?
That could be the case, and while half of me would like to see Phan win just one fight in the UFC, I will side with my other half. That other half of me picked Garcia to win the last time, so it is inclined to think that this time, Garcia will earn the decision, although one man besides Phan might think that it was a close one to call.
Leonard Garcia by majority decision (29-28 x2; second round will be the tough round to score)
John Heinis: I am among one of the thousands (millions?) excited to see Chael Sonnen back in the cage, and he has a great chance to win this one.
The last time Brian Stann fought a high-level wrestler in Phil Davis, he was soundly defeated (with Davis nearly getting an armbar in the final seconds).
Granted, that was at light heavyweight and before Stann teamed up with Greg Jackson, but that fight is from February of last year, so it's not exactly ancient history.
While Jackson can do amazing things for fighters, and again, Stann has looked like a beast at 185, I don't think he's ready for a guy like Uncle Chael.
Sonnen's takedowns and top control are among the best in the business, and while you can't count Stann out of this fight since he has won a fight via triangle choke, I honestly think that's the only way he can win.
He may tag Sonnen with some good shots here and there, but Sonnen has an iron chin and has shown the ability to still get his takedowns after eating some vicious strikes.
Here's hoping for Sonnen vs. Silva II. Hopefully, Dana White was on Quaaludes or something when he said Dan Henderson would be in the middleweight title mix if he beats Mauricio Rua at light heavyweight.
Chael Sonnen via unanimous decision (30-27)
Dwight Wakabayashi: In a battle to see who gets the next shot at division king Anderson Silva and the gold around his waist, American hero and devastating striker Brian Stann will take on mauler Chael Sonnen.
I don't like Stann's chances in this one. He is on an incredible streak right now and has the striking and toughness to hang with the best in the world, but Sonnen's style and game plan are a nightmare for most, let alone a fighter who is notorious for having a problem with wrestlers.
Stann's last losses was to Phil Davis and Krzysztof Soszynski before that, two fighters who took him down and punished him from the top, and there is no one better at using that skill than Sonnen.
Sonnen is on a mission for a rematch against Anderson Silva; it is the fight that fans want to see. Stann is up-and-coming in his career, and he is in with the big boys now. I see him learning a hard lesson on Saturday night at the hands of Chael Sonnen.
The fight will start standing, and Stann may hurt Chael early, but once this fight goes to the mat where Sonnen wants it, he will keep it there for a very convincing win.
Chael Sonnen via unanimous decision: 30-27, 30-27, 30-27
Jeffrey McKinney: In a matchup between two middleweight contenders, Brian Stann will welcome Chael Sonnen back to the Octagon.
Sonnen has been out for over a year thanks to legal troubles. Despite this, he has made his presence known by talking about many fighters and much of Brazil in various interviews.
Sonnen’s goal is to get back into a title fight against Anderson Silva, but he will have to go through rising star Brian Stann.
Since Stann moved to the middleweight division, he has been a perfect 3-0.
This includes stopping Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago.
This is a tough fight to call.
Stann has the power to knock out anybody. What he’s not known for, though, are submissions.
If Sonnen can get this fight down to the ground and keep Stann there, he will take this fight by decision.
Chael Sonnen by unanimous decision
Dale De Souza: I think many people on B/R might know how I feel about Chael Sonnen, but all hatred aside, the guy is still a great wrestler who can make some talented ground-gamers look like they have no ground game...except Demian Maia...and Renato “Babalu” Sobral...and despite what happened at UFC 117 against Anderson Silva.
Yes, Chael, we live in that parallel universe you spoke of—the one where you beat up Anderson for almost 25 minutes only for Anderson to have his hands raised in eight seconds—and we know you do too, amigo, because in what other parallel universe did you tap out?
Tapping out may not seem like a likely outcome for Sonnen’s loss if it does come against the decorated former Marine Brian Stann, but if a submission doesn’t come, a knockout is always possible.
Brian Stann is that confident in his takedown defense, and he is that confident that he will beat a better-than-the-best Sonnen by employing a better-than-the-best Stann.
The former Marine has great striking and a beautiful ground game of his own, but he is no Demian Maia or Anderson Silva, and it will be difficult for Stann to submit Sonnen unless his ground game makes Sonnen’s wrestling seem lower than low-tier.
Still, many might believe that Stann might just show some good takedown defense and score a finish on Sonnen, even if Chael shows a good chin. All biases aside, I am one of them.
Sonnen will not look the least bit rusty at all, but as good as he is, the pound-for-pound best trash talker in the UFC will still not find a way to get the better end of this business deal, as Stann’s striking will be on full display once again.
“Hope you’re prepared for Silva-Sonnen II,” you say? I don’t think so.
Winner in a Spoiler bout: Brian Stann by TKO, Round 2 (head kick and punches)
John Heinis: Jose Aldo has won 12 in a row with seven finishes, and the fights that went the distance certainly did not disappoint either.
He is one of the slickest strikers in the game and has what many consider elite jiu-jitsu game if the fight hits the mat.
Realistically, he deserves his ranking as a top-three fighter in the world, but I am giving Kenny Florian an inkling of a chance in this one.
Florian's elbow strikes are as vicious as they come, and they are just as dangerous whether or not "KenFlo" is on top or bottom.
He also is one of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in the game with a pretty good chin. The only time he was finished was when he fought at middleweight, clearly not a weight class he ever had any business being in anyway.
Aldo will be as quick and vicious as ever when throwing leather standing, but Florian will put Aldo in some precarious situations on the ground as he lands some vicious shots.
Don't get me wrong, Aldo will hands down win, but Florian will make sure this is an awesome fight to watch.
Jose Aldo via unanimous decision (49-46)
Dwight Wakabayashi: It's tough to say that the featherweight champion is looking for a bounce-back fight following a successful title defense, but many feel that is what Jose Aldo is looking for.
Word of him not being 100 percent in his UFC 129 debut against Mark Hominick has been widely spread, as he seemed only slightly off his explosive norm.
He gets UFC multi-division star Kenny Florian next this Saturday night in what may be Florian's last chance at UFC gold.
Florian's journey through three divisions in the UFC is a legacy to be proud of, but it has made this fight a must win of sorts for the man they call KenFlo.
Florian is entrenched in many aspects of the mixed martial arts world, including teaching and commentating, so he is going to be on the scene for many years to come.
In terms of his fighting career, this may be his last real shot at the title he so covets, and if he loses, where does he go? He is not a viable contender in any division above, and how long can Kenny starve himself to attain his goal and be happy?
In terms of how the fight will play out, I really see Florian exchanging Muay Thai briefly with Aldo to see what's up before implementing a wrestling and cage control game plan exactly like he did against Diego Nunes in his featherweight debut in June.
It is a strategy that Florian has used unsuccessfully in many of his big fights, and I just don't see it working on Aldo either.
Jose Aldo will look to stay moving all night long, and when they lock up, I see him having a strength advantage over Florian that will allow him to push Kenny off and force him into a standup striking battle.
Aldo has a distinct advantage in the entire skill department, but Florian has a distinct advantage in the game-planning. I hope skill wins.
Jose Aldo via split decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)
Jeffrey McKinney: The first title fight of the night will feature Kenny Florian making his third attempt at a UFC title against featherweight champ Jose Aldo.
Florian made his featherweight debut against Diego Nunes at UFC 131.
Although he looked good in his debut, Florian has been known to choke in big fights.
He will have to be on top of his game, as he will take on one of today's pound-for-pound best in Aldo.
Aldo is one of MMA’s most dangerous strikers and finishers.
Although he did not finish Mark Hominick at UFC 129, Aldo left him with a huge hematoma on his forehead.
Florian will be fighting for the UFC title for the third time in his fourth weight division. It would be a great story if he could win the featherweight title.
Unfortunately, I believe Aldo will overwhelm him.
Jose Aldo by TKO
Dale De Souza: Jose Aldo is a striker who showed some good wrestling against Mark Hominick, who was a gamer but only took Round 5 from Aldo at UFC 129.
Kenny Florian is a submission master who took the last 10 minutes from Diego Nunes at UFC 131, even though one judge said Florian still made Nunes look like he should never see televised action again and gave Florian all three rounds.
Aldo is younger than Florian, but it has been a while since he's been tested on the ground by a guy with actual submission skill and great Jiu-Jitsu. For that matter, Florian didn’t have a walking slaughterhouse of a striker in front of him when he fought Gray Maynard, BJ Penn or Sean Sherk.
The truth is, there is a reason why nobody is giving Florian a chance in this one, even though he has the tools to at least expose Aldo.
Need we remind you that Florian chokes in big spots about as often as he chokes people out?
What makes anyone think that he will do what most fans believe Chad Mendes can do when he meets Jose Aldo in the cage on Saturday?
What will happen is Aldo will show great movement, he’ll show some speed and once he hurts Florian, it won’t matter how many people spin the fight to make it seem like Florian was on his way to win that round.
That is because Florian will fall through the Scarface shredder, and once that happens, there are three choices for Kenny Florian.
He can either fight another fight at lightweight, he can make a run at bantamweight or he can take a page out of Chris Lytle’s book and try harder to nab fight bonuses rather than a title.
Jose Aldo by TKO, Round 4 (flying knee and punches)
John Heinis: Frankly, there have not been many trilogies in MMA that have gotten the fans pumped up in recent years, but clearly this is an exception.
This fight was originally scheduled for UFC 130, but both Edgar and Maynard were injured about a month out from the card...so instead, we got Rampage Jackson vs. Matt Hamill. 'Nuff said.
Maynard looked like he had the lightweight title in the bag as he decimated Edgar in Round 1 of their New Year's Day meeting, but Edgar showed unbelievable grit and determination by bouncing back to put on a top Fight of the Year candidate.
The majority of fans either support the draw or feel that Edgar won the fight, so both "The Answer" and "The Bully" still feel like there is a lot to prove in this one.
The wrestling is negated here since both guys are former standout college wrestlers. Edgar showed superior takedowns in the last fight, but Maynard's sound takedowns and top control won him the initial battle between the two.
The striking is also a wash since Gray has the bigger power, while Frankie has the quicker and more precise boxing.
I suppose Edgar has the jiu-jitsu advantage, but considering Maynard's size and power advantage (and the fact he trains at Xtreme Couture), I sincerely doubt a submission ends this one.
All in all, expect another fantastic fight, but Frankie Edgar finally solidifies his place on the pound-for-pound list of MMA fighters.
Frankie Edgar via split decision (48-47 x2 Edgar, 48-47 Maynard)
Dwight Wakabayashi: Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard still have unfinished business to settle this Saturday night, but my question is, what do you do for an encore, as these two men delivered a clear Fight of the Year candidate on New Year's Day 2011?
The see-saw, razor-thin battle that saw Edgar hurt and on the brink of defeat early delivered "Fight of the Night" on that card and in my opinion is still the fight of the year. Can these two men deliver such a pleasing war again?
Edgar showed tremendous heart in that fight, and he is also notorious for learning and evolving from one fight to the next, but I believe he escaped that last fight fortunate to still have the title.
Many felt before that fight that Maynard had Edgar's number, and I do believe that to be true. Not much has changed since their last fight except that Maynard has become hungrier while Edgar has had obligations.
I picture an angry Maynard training underground like Clubber Lang in Rocky III, while Edgar is the new star Balboa, getting frayed in his focus like many new champions do.
It is a recipe for disaster for Edgar, and I see Maynard taking full advantage and bullying the smaller Edgar around the cage. I feel Maynard gassed out a bit in the last fight due to the circumstances of trying to finish in the first round.
Shane Carwin knows this scenario well. Edgar was able to recover from being rocked more than Maynard could recover from fatigue, and the rest is history.
That scenario allowed Edgar to control most of the remainder of the fight. That will not happen this time around.
In the end, the difference will be the size, strength and wrestling of Gray Maynard.
Gray Maynard via unanimous decision (50-45, 48-47, 50-45)
Jeffrey McKinney: Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard will meet again to settle the score.
Maynard defeated Edgar back in 2008 and has since been the only man to ever defeat Edgar.
Their second fight at UFC 125 was much different than their first. Edgar was nearly knocked out in the first round but showed his huge heart and fought his way back into the fight only to earn a draw.
Edgar will have the speed and stamina advantage coming into this fight, while Maynard will have the size and power advantage.
If Edgar is to finally get over the hump, he will have use his technical boxing to his advantage and outwork Maynard.
For Maynard to win, he will have to be able to make his shots count and keep his cardio up long enough to deal with Edgar’s offensive.
It’s hard to go against Edgar, but this will finally be Maynard’s night to shine.
Maynard by a hard-fought split decision to become the new UFC Lightweight Champion
Dale De Souza: Fight one saw Gray Maynard’s wrestling overpower Frankie Edgar, while fight two almost saw Maynard knock him out in front of a live crowd and 500,000-plus people at home.
Keep in mind those are the same people who said that Edgar-Maynard 2, the UFC 125 main event, was going to suck more than a movie dedicated to sucking.
Fight three...well, that’s on Saturday.
Maynard almost knocked out Edgar in Round 1, but Edgar almost submitted Maynard multiple times in Round 4. While the wrestling did show in that second fight, it was not the snoozer almost every fight fan predicted.
Dana White said “Let’s see what the judges think," and they stood at a stalemate, as one judge saw it 3-2 for Edgar, one judge saw it 3-2 for Maynard and one judge saw it as a 2-2-1 standoff, meaning that Maynard neither lost the fight nor won the belt.
By the rules of a draw, the champ retains his belt, but Edgar wants to make sure that it is clear who wins the bout this time, and Maynard agrees. But for those who are like me and said Edgar should have gotten a split decision, Maynard says this:
“I respectfully disagree.”
I know some of you do too, so I’m not going to act like Maynard can’t finish what he started, but the last time Edgar had to prove himself in a rematch, he swept arguably the greatest lightweight ever in BJ Penn in all five rounds at UFC 118.
Edgar unquestionably lost in his first bout with Maynard, but he wants everyone to see that he should have gotten the win on Jan. 1.
This time out, some might say he did, while others say he did not, but at the end of UFC 136, in front of an amplified crowd in one of the largest cities in a true sports hotbed...well, let’s put it in the form of a possible B/R results piece:
“UFC 136 Results: Gray Maynard Finally Loses His ‘0’ in a Hard Fight in Houston”
Or, to put it another way...
Frankie Edgar by split decision
Fight of the Night: Edgar vs. Maynard
Submission of the Night: Demian Maia
Knockout of the Night: Nam Phan
Fight of the Night: Stephens vs. Pettis
Submission of the Night: Demian Maia
Knockout of the Night: Anthony Pettis
Fight of the Night: Edgar vs. Maynard
Submission of the Night: Anthony Pettis
Knockout of the Night: Jose Aldo
Dale De Souza
Fight of the Night: Edgar vs. Maynard OR Aldo vs. Florian
Submission of the Night: Brian Stann
Knockout of the Night: Melvin Guillard