The time to stop talking is (almost) over.
After an entertaining season as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 and a bevy of verbal barbs, former two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight title challenger Chael Sonnen and undisputed Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones finally collide this weekend (Sat., April 27, 2013) inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Jones, defending his 205-pound title for the fifth time, will return to the Octagon in the UFC 159 main event for the first time since submitting Vitor Belfort in Sept. 2012, while Sonnen was last seen getting knocked out by Anderson Silva.
The two will be joined on the pay-per-view (PPV) broadcast by a match between recently-derailed 185-pound contenders Michael Bisping and Alan Belcher, as well as a Heavyweight clash between Roy Nelson and Cheick Kongo, among others.
But, before all that, we have seven "Prelims" under card bouts to tide us over, the first three of which will stream live on Facebook.com, while the remainder will air on FX.
Check out previews and predictions for the first half of the UFC 159 "Prelims" below:
145 lbs.: Leonard Garcia vs. Cody McKenzie
Whatever stash of rabbits’ feet, four-leaf clovers and/or sacrifices to a greater power that have provided Leonard Garcia (15-10-1) with his hypnotic mixed martial arts (MMA) abilities seems to have finally run dry, as "Bad Boy" has been on the wrong end of three consecutive decisions.
While lauded by the UFC brass for his endless aggression, many argue that Garcia should be winless (0-11) since his 2006 technical knockout of Jens Pulver because all of his victories in that span have come via contentious split decision.
Admittedly, his brawl with Max Holloway was pretty darn close, but a loss to Cody McKenzie (13-3) could be the death knell for Garcia’s Octagon career.
An upset of Marc Stevens on TUF 12 and a submission of Aaron Wilkinson on the Finale had many wondering just how far the then-undefeated McKenzie -- with 10 straight wins by first-round guillotine -- could go in the UFC. Unfortunately, that answer seems to by "not very," as "AK Kid" has lost three of his last four fights, all by stoppage.
McKenzie, three inches taller than Garcia, has never gone past the second round in victory or defeat.
This may sound crazy (and I assure you it makes me nauseous just typing it), but I’m picking Garcia to win legitimately. McKenzie literally has only one possible avenue of victory: the guillotine, which he has consistently failed to lock in on competent Brazilian jiu-jitsu players. And while everyone (including Garcia) seems to have forgotten, he’s actually won the majority of his fights by submissions and has decent wrestling (certainly better than McKenzie’s).
Further, while Garcia’s power is horrendously overstated, McKenzie’s torso is apparently made of cardboard. And the law of averages states that Garcia’s punches, which can be modeled as a random distribution, will hit him in the guts at least once. McKenzie’s combination of aggression and lacking striking defense won’t do "AK Kid" any favors in this area, either.
Against all odds, I expect Garcia to actually score a stoppage, wearing down McKenzie until -- with his back against the fence -- McKenzie eats a haymaker to the breadbasket for the finish.
Prediction: Garcia via second-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: James Head vs. Nick Catone
After a frankly embarrassing loss to Nick Ring in his Octagon debut, a drop from Middleweight to 170 pounds seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for James Head (9-3), as wins over Papy Abedi and Brian Ebersole soon followed. Early success against Mike Pyle seemed to support this conclusion, but a lack of respect for Pyle’s newfound prowess in the clinch led to him getting his brains scrambled by a huge knee just less than two minutes into the first round.
Head, 4-3 in his last seven, has never lost consecutive bouts.
Injuries have not been kind to the "Jersey Devil," who, after going 2-2 over the course of 12 months, fought just twice between Jan. 2010 and July 2012, splitting bouts with Costa Philippou and Chris Camozzi. Nick Catone (9-4) is currently in the midst of a two-fight losing streak, succumbing to the crazy grappling prowess of T.J. Waldburger.
At 2-4 in his last six, a victory over Head is almost certainly necessary for Catone’s continued employment.
I made a fool of myself touting Head as a shoe-in against Pyle and I may be asking for it yet again, but I’m liking his chances against Catone. His takedown defense should be sufficient to force Catone to trade with him, where Head’s power and aggression could carry the day. Catone is a powerful wrestler, but Head should be able to match his strength.
In my opinion, this is one of those annoying fights where everything comes down to the striker’s takedown defense. In my opinion, it should hold up as Head punishes Catone’s takedown attempts for a clear decision victory.
Prediction: Head via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Steven Siler vs. Kurt Holobaugh
When you get knocked out as badly as Steven Siler (21-10) was by Diego Brandao on TUF 14, it can take a lot to earn back the fans’ respect. Luckily for "Super," he wasted no time in doing so, rattling off three straight wins before losing a tough decision to Darren Elkins.
Siler, 26, has won seven of his last nine bouts, four in the form of choke.
When you’re an unbeaten prospect, the last thing you want is to be matched up against Pat Healy. A late replacement for Gilbert Melendez, Kurt Holobaugh (9-1) bit the bullet, succumbing to Healy’s size and grappling despite a solid effort.
Holobaugh, making his 145-pound debut, is a late replacement for "Judo" Jim Hettes, who was forced out of the bout with injury.
Holobaugh’s ground game is nasty, but that doesn’t matter much when you don’t have the wrestling to bring it to bear. Sure, Siler got tossed around by Elkins, but he is pretty good at that sort of thing and, let's remember, Siler did dominate a decent wrestler in Joey Gambino.
More likely, Holobaugh winds up forced to deal with Siler’s clinch game while struggling to drag him to the ground.
Again, this fight basically comes down to takedown defense. On the feet or on the ground, Siler has the tools to do damage and stay out of harm’s way -- he’s significantly more experienced and unlikely to get caught by Holobaugh’s guard.
I expect a solid scrap with plenty of scrambling, Siler’s ability to keep it on the feet and do damage in close quarters carrying him to an entertaining unanimous decision.
Prediction: Siler via unanimous decision
Stop by tomorrow for previews and predictions of the remaining four "Prelims" bouts, including the UFC debut of an Olympic silver medalist and a match between surging Bantamweight finishing machines.
See you then!
Remember, too, MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the UFC 159 main card action on fight night (Sat., April 27, 2013), which is slated to begin promptly at 10 p.m. ET on PPV. The latest fight-by-fight updates of the live action will begin to flow earlier than that around 6 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook and FX Channel.