Over the past year, the UFC has come under criticism that its roster expansion and deal with Fox have led to many of its cards being underwhelming. This criticism intensified after the cancellation of UFC 151, where the rest of the card was deemed unsuitable to carry a pay-per-view after the main event with Jon Jones had to be scrapped due to an opponent’s injury.
Flash forward one month later, however, and the UFC is set to produce one of the most stacked cards of the year. Jones returns to defend his title against former UFC light-heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort, Joe Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson clash for the newly created flyweight title, and Michael Bisping takes on Brian Stann in a match that could determine the next middleweight title contender. It’s a good night to be a fight fan.
Vitor Belfort has been competing at middleweight for the past few years, but answered the call to fight Jon Jones on short notice after other fighters declined the fight. Possessing impressive hand speed and power in his punches, Belfort is a threat to knock out virtually anyone. That said, he’s about to find out just why so many fighters refused to only have one month to prepare for Jones. Jones is superior to Vitor in virtually every area aside from boxing; his wrestling is the best in the entire division, his Muay Thai is steadily improving, and he’s never been knocked down or even taken down. Vitor has struggled to defend kicks throughout his entire career, and has shown a tendency to wilt when pressured. Expect Jones to make short work of Vitor in an entertaining, violent beatdown resulting in a second round TKO.
The flyweight division is a recent, welcome addition to the UFC’s weight classes. This fight between Joe Benavidez and Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson will determine the first flyweight champion in UFC history. Unlike Jones-Belfort, this one should be competitive throughout. Both fighters are excellent wrestlers with good strikes. Benavidez has one of the best guillotine chokes in the entire sport, and can throw it on virtually anywhere – off his back, from a headlock and most importantly during scrambles. Johnson, on the other hand, possesses the more diverse striking game, although he will occasionally get too wild and leave himself open. Benavidez should exploit those openings over the course of the fight, as he wears down Johnson en route to a decision victory, or a late submission.
Fan-favorite and ex-Marine Brian Stann will try to make the jump to the upper echelon of the division against perennial contender Michael Bisping. Stann has serious power in his hands, and his striking game has steadily improved with time. His weakness remains his wrestling and submission defense, but it’s unlikely Bisping will be able to exploit that with his own meager wrestling ability. However, while Stann has improved a lot, it might not be enough. Bisping lacks the power Stann has, but his footwork is much better and he never gets tired. He can outmaneuver and outland Stann, which is precisely what he will do in this fight. Stann might rock him, but Bisping should take a unanimous decision in this one.
Also of note is the first match of the main card, Charles Oliviera against Cub Swanson. Both featherweights are extraordinarily talented, well-rounded, exciting fighters. Oliviera, in particular, has enormous potential to be a divisional star. His jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai are both top notch, and he’s only 22. He had trouble making weight, and Swanson is a serious competitor, but Oliviera should overcome these by delivering a breakthrough performance. Don’t be surprised to see him contend for a title within two years.