By Jaime C. Feal
The UFC wraps up a busy week tomorrow night, as lightweight champ Ben Henderson puts his title on the line against the last man to defeat him, former WEC lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. In their memorable first encounter, Pettis eked out a decision victory on the strength of an incredible off-the-cage jump kick in the 5th round, a highlight that will be replayed throughout the history of MMA. The undercard is rather stale and not very Pay-Per-View worthy, especially considering the level of talent that has been seen in recent weeks on the free shows on Fox Sports 1.
Featherweight Division (145 lbs.):
Chad “Money” Mendes (14-1, 5-1 UFC) vs. Clay “The Carpenter” Guida (30-13, 10-7 UFC)
Chad Mendes is considered by many to be the best fighter in the UFC without a belt. The only defeat on the Team Alpha Male representative’s record is a loss to current featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Standing in Mendes way is Clay “The Carpenter” Guida, a longtime UFC vet who once excited fans with his relentless top pressure and activity, but has now become somewhat boring. Guida has not evolved from his one-dimensional style, and he is not getting any younger.
Mendes, on the other hand, is still in his prime, and is constantly improving his striking under the tutelage of Duane “Bang” Ludwig. Mendes has shown solid power punching ability lately with impressive KO wins over Darren Elkins, Yaotzin Meza, and Cody McKenzie. Mendes has great wrestling, just like Guida, so their takedown ability and defense should cancel eachother out.
This fight then becomes a striking match on the feet, and this is where Mendes will shine. Guida will try to put the pressure on and keep up the pace, but ruthless body punches by “Money” will slow him down. Later in the fight, Mendes might start changing levels once Guida becomes wary of his punches. Either way, Mendes should control the fight from start to finish. Guida’s chin is notoriously tough, and he is extremely resilient, so a finish seems unlikely, but expect Mendes to cruise to a decision win.
Prediction: Chad Mendes wins by unanimous decision.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Frank Mir (16-7, 14-7 UFC) vs. Josh Barnett (32-6, 4-1 UFC)
Frank Mir still has title shot aspirations, but the reality is he has always been fairly one-dimensional and is not getting any younger. The UFC Vet takes on Josh Barnett, who is making his second stint in the UFC after having had a decent run in the early days of the promotion. Mir prefers to use jiu-jitsu and look for submissions, while Barnett is a true grinder. This fight essentially boils down to a battle of wills and styles.
Mir has experience facing powerful wrestlers, such as Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and Daniel Cormier, but generally speaking he hasn’t had much success against this style of fighter. Mir is very big for a heavyweight, but runs into problems when his size can’t be used to push around his opponents. Barnett, a standout wrestler with great clinch work, will not be controlled by Mir.
Expect Barnett to control the pace of the fight, and dictate where the fight takes place. Barnett will be clinching up with Mir, dirty boxing, and looking for takedowns. Mir needs to try to lock up a submission as quickly as possible before Barnett gets sweaty. Once the fight starts going on to the later rounds, Barnett will wear Mir down, while using his experience to avoid dangerous positions or getting submitted.
Prediction: Josh Barnett wins by unanimous decision.
UFC Lightweight Championship (155 lbs.):
Benson “Smooth” Henderson (19-2, 7-0 UFC) vs. Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (16-2, 3-1 UFC)
The two men finally face off against one another for the second time, and this rematch feels long overdue. Pettis has only been defeated once in the UFC, and Henderson is undefeated during his time in the UFC, making this fight as high-profile as they come. What was holding up this fight was the fact Pettis was considering fighting Jose Aldo for the featherweight title, until an injury to Aldo derailed that possibility.
Now Henderson has a chance to get revenge against the last man to beat him. The loss has been on Henderson’s mind for several years, and this bout is a chance to show how much he has improved. Pettis is still younger than the champ, but also in his prime, so it’s very conceivable “Showtime” has made significant strides in his game since their last fight as well. Henderson has been a master of winning decision victories, using high-paced aggressive forward pressure, leg kicks, and mixing in takedowns and style points.
Pettis has a whole differently type of game, built around flashy kicks and strikes, but ones that effectively stop his opponents. Pettis brutally stopped Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone with a left body kick and follow up strikes, and before that he lit Joe Lauzon up with a nasty head kick. Henderson really must be wary of Pettis’ kicking game and make sure not to get in a striking war with “Showtime.” The blueprint for success against Pettis was shown by Clay Guida – make it a boring fight by turning it into a wrestling match.
If Henderson focuses on takedowns and top control he should be able to pull out enough rounds to earn a decision. If, however, he lets his ego or pride get the best of him, and he tries to stand and trade with Pettis to try to avenge being outstruck in the WEC’s swan song, it could be a long night for the champ, as history repeats itself.
If, however, Benson uses his experience and knowledge gained in recent years to tweak his game-plan to a more wrestling-oriented approach, you should see him in the familiar position of having his hand raised at the end of the night.
Prediction: Benson Henderson wins by unanimous decision