The UFC hasn’t enjoyed the smoothest of years when it comes to PPV’s thus far. Multiple injuries to some key figures led to fights falling apart at an alarming rate, and the PPV buy-rates have suffered as a result. Despite the successes of UFC 126 – headlined by Anderson Silva against Vitor Belfort – and UFC 129, which marked the company’s first venture to Toronto, fan interest has been on somewhat of a decline. While this hardly means panic is setting inside Zuffa offices, the UFC needs the upcoming PPV’s to deliver big (buy-rate wise). Luckily, a string of huge match-ups on the horizon means the world’s leading MMA promotion will finish the year on a high note. Their late surge for a strong finish begins this weekend, when light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones enters the Octagon for his first title defense to take on a man who is no stranger to title bouts, former champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. But before the light heavyweight duo slug it out, the likes of Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Nate Diaz, and Takanori Gomi will take center stage.

Note: If you’re wondering about the lack of Taylor Swift or Brittney Palmer mentions, please note that I am in fact not Jeremy Lambert. Jeremy was kind enough to allow me to take over the event previews. I am Samer Kadi and I hope I will be able to live up to the lofty standards set by my predecessor.

Preliminary Predictions

* James Te Huna to defeat Ricardo Romero by Decision
* Takeya Mizugaki to defeat Cole Escovedo by Decision
* Junior Assuncao to defeat Eddie Yagin by Submission in Round One
* Tim Boetsch to defeat Nick Ring by Decision
* Tony Ferguson to defeat Aaron Riley by TKO in Round Two

Heavyweight Fight: Ben Rothwell vs. Mark Hunt

Heavyweights are always going to get preferential treatment when it comes to making it to the main card, and this fight is a prime example. While Takeya Mizugaki and Cole Escovedo are stuck on the prelims, Rothwell and Hunt square off in a battle for relevance. Rothwell has been nursing injuries for the better part of a year, and hasn’t competed since taking an uninspiring decision over Gilbert Yvel. And yet, as long as he doesn’t come out too rusty, this is his fight to lose.

While Rothwell’s lack of athleticism will always prove a major hindrance against the top tier heavyweights, he should be able to get away with it here. Hunt might be the better technical striker and will certainly hold the edge in power, but Rothwell has historically proven to have a durable chin. Hunt’s striking is limited to his boxing nowadays, but he is still capable of putting together a decent combination, or land a well-timed counter. Rothwell’s lack of speed means exchanging with Hunt will prove risky, and he will be better served to take the safest and clearest path to victory by putting Hunt on his back.

Rothwell’s offensive wrestling could be the difference maker, as despite not being an elite wrestler by any means, he is more than capable of taking Hunt down. This will likely spell the beginning of the end for “The Super Samoan”, as he has struggled mightily any time he finds himself on the bottom with a semi decent grappler on top of him. Rothwell is hardly known for his top game, as evidenced by his last fight against Yvel (where Yvel actually managed to sweep him from the bottom), but Hunt’s grappling deficiencies are so severe that the American should be able to capitalize. Hunt has historically shown an inability to hip escape, regain guard if his opponent passes, or scramble up to his feet. Moreover, his submission defense is shaky to say the very least. If Rothwell has watched any tape on his opponent, he would be smart to go for any Keylock variation. Expect Rothwell to take Hunt down, pass to half guard, isolate an arm, and start working for a submission. Whether he gets it or not remains to be seen, but he should at least be able to repeat the process for three rounds to get the victory.

Official Prediction: Ben Rothwell to defeat Mark Hunt by submission in the Second Round

Lightweight Fight: Nate Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi

In 2007, Gomi and Nick Diaz engaged in one of the greatest battles in MMA history. A little over four years later,  Gomi is squaring off against Nick’s younger brother, Nate Diaz, under much different circumstances. No longer one of the top lightweights in the world, Gomi’s UFC run has been disappointing so far. A vintage knockout of Tyson Griffin was sandwiched between two submission losses to Kenny Florian and Clay Guida. For his part, after an initially promising move up in weight that saw him triumph in his first two bouts in impressive fashion, back-to-back losses have forced Diaz to return to the lightweight division.

Despite obvious similarities in their styles, Nate Diaz is not his brother. His striking isn’t as good, and his grappling isn’t as good. Like his brother, Nate’s flat-footed stance and lack of footwork makes him quite hittable. Offensively, Diaz’s boxing is reminiscent of his brother, but he lacks the same kind of accuracy. While he will throw those famous Diaz Brothers “peppering punches”, he lacks his brother’s main weapon: the body shots. The most worrying aspect of Nate’s boxing is that it leaves him quite prone to counter shots, and his lack of head movement makes him even more suspect to a potentially fight-ending strike.

Few fighters can afford to taste Gomi’s power, even one with Diaz’s chin. Gomi packs up serious power in both hands, and is in fact more than comfortable in fighting with both the southpaw and orthodox stances. Speaking of chins, Gomi possesses one of MMA’s all-time best chins, and in a potential slugfest, this could prove crucial. His chin and power mean Gomi will have the option of standing in the pocket and throwing, and his trademark body shots could well soften up Diaz and set him up for the big haymaker.

If Diaz wants to take the fight to the ground, he will likely try to do so from the clinch, as he doesn’t possess much of a solid shot from the outside. His best bet would be to close distance, clinch up and attempt to use some sort of throw or trip takedown to put the Japanese star on his back. On the other hand, Gomi is a solid wrestler with a good base. He tends to get taken down by fighters who mix things up well and surprise him with sudden level changes; something that Diaz does not have in his arsenal. However, with Gomi’s shaky cardio, Diaz would be smart to attempt a takedown late in the contest should the fight head into deep waters.

On the ground, Diaz best excels from the bottom, where his active guard and sneaky submissions are quite tricky to handle. However, he is equally good in the scrambles, and Gomi can often get careless and give up position in an effort to escape. A fatal flaw in Gomi’s game from the bottom is that he tends to rotate the wrong way and plays right into his opponent’s hands. For instance, Gomi’s mistake made Marcus Aurelio’s life much easier, and the arm triangle came in accordingly. Likewise, Gomi gave up his back to Florian and spun right into the choke. Against someone as crafty as Diaz on the ground, Gomi can ill-afford to give up position or leave his neck exposed, as Nate will be quick to capitalize, be it by moving to mount, taking the back, or locking up a guillotine in a scramble.

It is a tough fight to pick as Gomi is capable of ending it early the same way Diaz is capable of overwhelming him late and potentially tap him out. That being said, I believe the former is more likely to happen.

Official Prediction: Takanori Gomi to defeat Nate Diaz by TKO in the First Round

Heavyweight Fight: Travis Browne vs. Rob Broughton

Browne returns to the cage following his spectacular knockout of Stefan Struve. Awaiting him is former Cage Rage heavyweight champion, Broughton.

Despite an impressive submission over an ostensibly superior grappler, Broughton’s overall performance in his only UFC fight to date against Vinicius Queiroz was somewhat underwhelming. When he was taken down early on, his work off of his back was pretty poor, as he gave up position far too easily and looked quite helpless when attempting to get back to his feet. To his credit, Broughton survived, persevered, and made some nice adjustments on the feet. Most noticeably, he started firing with a nice jab/right hook combo that found its mark over and over throughout the duration of the fight. Furthermore, his offensive grappling looked a few notches above his defensive grappling, as he did a good job of submitting his – admittedly fatigued – opponent.

Browne’s striking is more oriented towards landing a power shot than anything else, as his boxing in particular is wild and at times, quite sloppy. However, when he moves forward, he throws with purpose. In fact, after connecting on Cheick Kongo a few times, the Frenchman became quite tentative in engaging with Browne. However, this approach means that Browne will tire rather quickly, where his punches will become slower and much more telegraphed. Browne’s bread and butter is a lopping overhand right. Broughton should be particularly wary of that punch, and needs to make Browne miss in an effort to tire him out. Cheick Kongo was able to further wear Browne out in the clinch before taking him to the mat, and should Broughton notice any signs of fatigue, he should be quick to follow the same approach.

For our sake, let’s pray this fight ends early, as watching two heavyweights fighting fatigue makes for some putrid viewing.

Official Prediction: Travis Browne to defeat Rob Broughton by TKO in the Second Round

Welterweight Fight: Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck

In the co-main event of the evening, former longtime welterweight kingpin Hughes returns to the Octagon for the first time since his KO loss to B.J. Penn. Taking the fight on short notice is his opponent, Koscheck, who is operating as a more-than-worthy late replacement for Hughes’ originally scheduled opponent, Diego Sanchez. This is unfortunate for Hughes, as while he would have been the underdog just the same, the Sanchez fight was more winnable on paper.

Koscheck simply offers a nightmare match-up for Hughes, especially at this stage of the latter’s career. Hughes has made a career out of using his wrestling and strength to take opponents to the mat, where his underrated top game gave fighters fits. However, there just doesn’t seem to be a realistic way for Hughes to employ that strategy against the better, younger, and more athletically gifted wrestler. While the short notice nature of the fight might affect Koscheck’s preparation, his superior wrestling and punching power should see him through regardless.

Koscheck’s double leg is good enough to drive through most fighters in the division. In fact, in his one-sided beat-down at the hands of Georges St-Pierre, Koscheck was still able to take down the best wrestler in the division. More impressively, he was able to immediately regain his feet every time St-Pierre took him down. If Hughes shoots for a single, or closes distance and gets double underhooks, he will have a hard time putting Koscheck on his back, and an even harder time keeping him on the canvas.

Ironically, and as surreal as it is to type, Hughes’ only chance will be to catch Koscheck with something standing. Hughes has improved his boxing, as evidenced by his bout with Ricardo Almeida, and Koscheck has a nasty habit of dropping his guard and getting lazy on the feet while throwing telegraphed overhand rights from halfway across the Octagon. The likelihood of Hughes landing something that significant however, is pretty slim. And as long as Koscheck doesn’t get too trigger happy with his right hand, he’s the one who’s more likely to end things on the feet.

Koscheck sets up his overhand right with a jab that he throws with no real conviction, and merely uses it as set-up. What really troubles Hughes on the feet is straight punches, as he doesn’t have great head movement and instead looks to parry with both hands in what can only be described as an odd manner. This allowed St-Pierre to take the title away from him in their rematch back in 2006, the same way it allowed BJ Penn to knock him out in twenty seconds last year. Koscheck doesn’t have the technical boxing that the aforementioned pair possesses, and as mentioned, his punches are loopier, but he would be wise to try to straighten them up.

Despite Hughes being the overall superior grappler, if Koscheck decides to take it to the ground, he likely will be able to put Hughes on his back with little trouble. However, the AKA standout’s top game isn’t dynamic enough to really polish Hughes off with a submission. Instead, he will rely on short elbows to cut him up and hope to open up guard-passing opportunities.

Whatever approach Koscheck employs, this is a pretty favorable match-up for him. Unfortunately for Hughes, this could fight could mark the end of a legendary career…unless he pulls a Tito Ortiz that is.

Official Prediction: Josh Koscheck to defeat Matt Hughes by TKO in Round One