UFC on Fox 5 is one of the most stacked cards of the entire year, and it’s free on network television. It contains a pseudo-grudge match between the only man in UFC history to hold the lightweight and welterweight titles, and a rising star who trains with his greatest rival. The co-main event sees a PRIDE legend and one-time UFC champ looking to reclaim his former glory in yet another epic war against a rising contender from a burgeoning MMA scene in Scandanavia. And in the main event, you have the two best lightweights in the world (besides Frankie Edgar) going head to head in the toughest division in the UFC. What more could you ask for?
Well, if the answer to that rhetorical question was “the most brilliant predictions/pre-fight analysis column ever,” then you are in luck, my friend! And because this card is so stacked, there will be not one, not two, not three, but…actually no, there will be three predictions. (Sorry Mike Swick and Matt Brown.) Logophobes, you’ve been warned.
The first of the big three fights on the card is the highly anticipated matchup between a returning BJ Penn and wunderkind Rory MacDonald. Penn’s seeking to reinforce his legacy as one of the best ever in the sport, and Rory’s been giving him even more motivation recently, claiming he’s coming to “hurt [Penn]” who he believes is “fighting for the wrong reasons.” Bold words, but MacDonald’s the type of fighter who’s capable of backing them up. He’s only lost once in his career — a TKO loss to Carlos Condit, in which he won the first two rounds before getting stopped in the waning seconds of the final round. But he holds wins over Nate Diaz and Mike Pyle, and aside from the former, all of MacDonald’s victories have come by stoppage.
It should be noted, though, that aside from Condit, Penn is a stronger fighter at this weight than any of the other fighters mentioned. He presents a greater knockout threat than any of them, has better wrestling, and has one of, if not the, best top games of any grappler in the UFC. However, Penn has historically been weak in the cardio department, particularly at welterweight. Even though he looks to be in excellent shape, he’s still carrying more weight than usual, and he’ll be forced to carry MacDonald’s weight as well. While Penn’s revamped his training camp, it’s unlikely he’ll have been able to fix a career-long deficiency, particularly after returning from “retirement.”
All of which is to say, Penn should find success in the first round, much like his first fight against St. Pierre and his last fight against Nick Diaz. He may manage to knock Rory out or submit him should he manage to hurt him on the feet. But come the second and third rounds, expect Rory to begin imposing his size and cardio on Penn, pressuring him into the fence, securing takedowns and working constant ground and pound. A finish isn’t likely — Penn’s durability is renowned — but BJ has historically not been impressive off of his back without a gi. Should Rory secure a takedown, it’s unlikely Penn will be able to threaten him to the extent necessary to submit or sweep him. This, in turn, will allow MacDonald to work his offense and come out with a unanimous decision victory, albeit one that does not live up to his promise to truly “hurt” The Prodigy.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will face Alexander Gustafsson in the co-main event, in what is now promised to be a #1 contender’s match, and will almost assuredly be a changing of the guard in the light heavyweight division. I hate to admit that, because I’ve always been a fan of Shogun throughout his career, and even got to see him win the UFC title in Montreal. But facts are facts; he hasn’t been the same since that fight. (Undergoing a third major knee surgery following the fight might have something to do with it.) Shogun’s best weapons have always been his kicks, in no small part because they pack ungodly amounts of power. (2749 pounds of force, to be specific.) But in his fights with Jon Jones, Forrest Griffin, Dan Henderson and Brandon Vera, he’s abandoned them. It’s impossible to know why, although it’s fair to assume the accumulated damage to his knees have something to do with it.
This leaves his boxing as his focal standup technique, and Shogun’s boxing leaves much to be desired. He virtually never jabs, and most of his punches adhere to the Wanderlei Silva philosophy of berserker-rushing opponents. Which, in case you’re unaware, doesn’t do fighters any favors as they age and their reflexes slow. As a result, Shogun’s been hit hard and rocked in three of his last four fights. Even if he’s tough as nails, a human being can’t continue to take that amount of punishment. And a fighter certainly can’t expect to win if that keeps happening.
Now, he’s facing an opponent with an absurdly long reach and solid wrestling ability. Much like Jones, Shogun’s going to have a difficult time closing the distance between himself and Gustafsson. But unless he brings his kicks back, he’ll need to do that if he wants to win. Because if he doesn’t, Gustafsson’s just going to use his excellent jab to pick Shogun apart from the outside, and possibly hurt him if Shogun gets desperate and rushes in. The wild card at play here is if Shogun can get the fight to the ground — he’s got underrated jiu jitsu, and is a legitimate threat to submit Gustafsson. Sadly, that probably won’t happen. Gustafsson should take this by unanimous decision. If Rua is rocked for the fourth time in five fights, as odd as it sounds, he might have to begin thinking about retirement. He doesn’t want to run the risk of ending up like his brother.
Finally, Benson Henderson will defend his lightweight title against Nate Diaz in the main event. It’s extraordinarily difficult to pick a winner between these two. Nate’s clearly got superior boxing, but Henderson’s kicks are far more potent. Henderson’s wrestling is stronger than Diaz’s, but Diaz has an incredibly active guard. Henderson has amazing submission defense. But so did Jim Miller. Both have excellent cardio, although Diaz probably has the advantage there. It’s an incredibly even matchup, and it’s almost impossible to discern exactly how this fight will play out.
However, there are two scenarios that are more likely than the others. In the first, Henderson takes advantage of the fact that Diaz is absolutely terrible at checking leg kicks and wallops his lead leg for the majority of the fight, circling out when Diaz gets too close for comfort, just like Condit did to Nate’s older brother. Henderson may occasionally mix in a low-risk takedown towards the end of the rounds, and will make an effort to bully Nate into the fence whenever he gets the opportunity. It wouldn’t be the most exciting fight, but it would get the job done for Henderson, who would finally be able to get his first legitimate title defense under his belt. (Sorry Henderson fans, Frankie Edgar won that second fight. Don’t even try to argue.)
But that’s not how I suspect this will go down. Diaz will come forward, press Henderson with punches, and just when he sees Henderson’s about to lose his cool, he’ll flip off Henderson’s mom. Henderson will fly into a rage and open himself up for a counter, which Diaz will exploit. Alright, perhaps it won’t be quite that dramatic, but that’s going to be Diaz’ strategy. He wants to piss Henderson off and get him to play his game — volume punching, clinching, awkward takedowns, etc. I think Henderson’s susceptible to engaging in that kind of reckless behavior; just look at his fight with Clay Guida, or how he opted to stand with Anthony Pettis the entire time instead of using his superior wrestling. Ben Henderson’s a guy who likes to prove a point in his fights. The problem is you don’t want to prove a point against the Diaz brothers. Ben Henderson’s going to find that out the hard way. Diaz by submission, round 3.