By Jaime C. Feal
All the trash talking Chael Sonnen has done might come back to haunt him tomorrow night. Sonnen, a great showman and promoter of his own fights, undoubtedly has a lucrative career waiting for him in the WWE when his time in the UFC is up. The fact of the matter is, despite Sonnen not being the #1 contender in either the middleweight or the light heavyweight divisions, he is getting another title shot. This is because of his drawing power and ability to sell PPVs, but it also creates a huge mismatch in his title fights. Then again, pretty much any fighter the UFC puts in front of Jon Jones or Anderson Silva is a mismatch. Tune in to UFC 159 tomorrow night on pay-per-view to find out if Chael Sonnen will be the man to finally dethrone Jon Jones’ title reign.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.): Roy “Big Country” Nelson (18-7, 5-3 UFC) vs. Cheick Kongo (18-7-2, 11-5-1 UFC)
The portly one and fan favorite Roy Nelson returns to the Octagon for the first time since December, 2012, when he stopped Matt Mitrione via TKO in the 1st round. Nelson, “The Ultimate Fighter 10” winner, uses his insane one-punch knockout power to stop people on the feet, and his world class Brazilian jiu jitsu top game to smother opponents on the ground.
Kongo has great kickboxing skills, and if this were a pure kickboxing match with no takedowns or clinch game, Kongo would cruise to victory. Kongo has been a gatekeeper in the UFC Heavyweight division forever, not good enough to ever ascended his way up the rankings for a title shot, but also not bad enough to get cut from the UFC. Kongo has little to no ground game and is a pure striker. Kongo is much taller than Nelson and has a huge reach advantage.
“Big Country” is adept at getting inside on taller opponents though, as he showed when he knocked 6’11 Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve senseless in just 39 seconds. Nelson will have to employ a similar strategy tomorrow night, wading inside Kongo’s range, possibly taking some punishment, in order to find a home for his huge right hand. Nelson is extremely durable with a great chin: Junior Dos Santos hit Nelson with everything but the kitchen sink, and Nelson never dropped or went down. Kongo most likely will not be able to drop Nelson, either, so expect “Big Country” to get inside and do work with heavy power shots.
Prediction: Roy “Big Country” Nelson wins by KO, Round 2.
Middleweight Division (185 lbs.): Michael “The Count” Bisping (23-5, 13-5 UFC) vs. Alan “The Talent” Belcher (18-7, 9-5 UFC)
This is a matchup of two former middleweight contenders looking to rebound, and unless the fight finishes in a draw, one of these two men is guaranteed to bounce back in a big way. Michael Bisping had designs of a title shot against Anderson Silva before being rudely awakened by Vitor Belfort with a head kick knockout in Round 2 of their January, 2013 encounter. Bisping’s title hopes were instantly derailed by that vicious knockout, and now having lost 2 of his past 3 fights he is back to the drawing board. Bisping traditionally relies on footwork, movememnet, hand speed, and a solid jab to score points and win decisions.
Alan Belcher was also on the verge of a title shot, having won four straight inside the Octagon before being smothered and decisioned by Yushin Okami in his last fight. Belcher is much more well-rounded than Bisping, as “The Talent” has a world-class ground game that is extremely underrated. Belcher proved this when he willingly went to the ground with BJJ Black Belt and leg-lock specialist Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares. Belcher was twice in the leg lock position, escaped masterfully, then brutally ground and pounded Palhares for the finish. And where Belcher is truly best is on the feet, as he utilizes good kickboxing skills to complement the natural pop in his punches. Belcher is also a much bigger and larger 185 pounder than Bisping. Look for Belcher to use these well rounded skills to outpoint Bisping and get back on track in the UFC middleweight division.
Prediction: Alan “The Talent” Belcher wins by unanimous decision.
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship (205 lbs.): Jon “Bones” Jones (17-1, 11-1 UFC) vs. Chael Sonnen (27-12-1, 6-5 UFC)
This is a huge fight. Any Jon Jones fight is a mega fight these days. He is such an enigma, so talented, rarely in any type of danger in the Octagon, so dominant, and possibly still improving – a very scary thought. The only blemish on Mr. Jones’ professional record is a DQ loss to Matt Hammil, a fight he was completely dominating and very close to finishing before he stopped Hammil with what was deemed an illegal 12-6 elbow. Hammil couldn’t continue, Jones got DQ’d, and that is the only reason “Bones” isn’t still undefeated. Jones enters the fight tomorrow night as a massive 7:1 favorite. He has all the tools to destroy Chael Sonnen.
Jones has a solid wrestling background, insane athleticism, height, reach, creativity in striking, and even submission capability. His only weakness seems to be Brazilian jiu jitsu and submission defense, an area where Sonnen is even worse. Jones will look to pick Sonnen apart by keeping kicking range and separation from Sonnnen. Watch out for those standing elbows Jones used in his fight against Rashad Evans. Sonnen’s only prayer in this fight is to turn it into a wrestling match. Will he be able to take Jones down? No fighter has been able to do so yet, but this is the blueprint for a Sonnen victory.
Sonnen must repeatedly take Jones down and use ground and pound in a similar fashion as he did in his first fight against Anderson Silva. If Sonnen is unable to take Jones down, his cause is completely lost. Sonnen’s striking skills are rudimentary at best, and if it turns into a stand-up war, it’s only a matter of time before Jon Jones’ versatility, accuracy, and power devastate Sonnen in a bad way. Ultimately which way the fight goes depends on whether one thinks Jones can be taken down by Sonnen. It hasn’t happened yet though, so it’s tough to envision that pattern not continuing. Jon Jones has all the tools in the toolbox, and Sonnen really only has one tool besides his mouth, which is his wrestling.
Prediction: Jon “Bones” Jones wins by TKO, Round 3.