That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for another Olympic caliber edition of the Downes Side! I can’t guarantee that it will be as exciting as pairs ice dancing (too many twizzles for me to compete with), but it will be a close second.
Despite an unfortunate lack of sequins, UFC 170 promises to be as historic as the moment when Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov stepped onto the ice in Innsbruck. Live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, two Olympic medalists decide the fate of the women’s bantamweight title as current champion and bronze medal judoka Ronda Rousey defends her belt for the third time against undefeated Olympic freestyle silver medalist Sara McMann. In the co-main event of the event of the evening, Olympic wrestler and Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion Daniel Cormier battles former training partner Patrick Cummins.
ROBERT WHITTAKER VS. STEPHEN THOMPSON
We open the main card up in the welterweight division with Robert Whittaker and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Winner of TUF Smashes, Whittaker returns to the Octagon after dropping a split decision to Court McGee. A well rounded fighter, his career finishes are almost evenly split between knockouts and submissions. Thompson is a decorated kickboxer whose karate background keeps opponents off balance. After suffering the only loss of his career to Matt Brown, he answered with back-to-back wins over Nah-Shon Burrell and Chris Clements.
Thompson’s unorthodox (for MMA) striking style presents many problems for opponents. From his stance to the angles he attacks from, many fighters are just unfamiliar with his particular type of offense. Robert Whittaker, however, is not one of those fighters. He has traditional martial arts experience and that will give him a level of comfort that many others have lacked. I would still give Thompson the stand-up edge, but his kick-heavy attack leaves openings for takedowns. Whittaker will counter one of these kicks and bring this to the mat. From there, he’ll advance position and attack. Thompson’s submission defense helps him survive, but Whittaker grounds and pounds his way to a unanimous decision win.
MIKE PYLE VS. TJ WALDBURGER
We stay at welterweight for Mike Pyle and TJ Waldburger. A grizzled veteran with nearly fifteen years of fight experience, Mike Pyle’s late career resurgence rivals Betty White’s. Pyle has 16 submission wins to his credit, but has also shown some of that “old man strength” recently in his hands. Thirteen years his junior, TJ Waldburger tries to rebound from a first round TKO loss at the hands of Adlan Amagov at UFC 166. One consonant away from getting all that Marky Mark burger money, 13 of his career wins have come by submission.
Both fighters are accomplished grapplers, but neither one has the wrestling advantage to bring the other to the ground. Barring Pyle pulling guard, expect this fight to be primarily contested on the feet. Pyle has been knocked out a number of times, but those losses normally occur in the early stages of a round when he can be overwhelmed by powerful/athletic fighters. With only one TKO win in his career, Waldburger does not have the explosiveness to take advantage of the gaps in Pyle’s defense. “Quicksand” mounts a counter striking approach, connects as Waldburger goes for the tie up and brings home the second round TKO.
RORY MACDONALD VS. DEMIAN MAIA
Next up is a fight between top 10 welterweights Rory “Ares” MacDonald and Demian Maia. After losing a chance to compete for the welterweight title against Robbie Lawler at UFC 167, MacDonald needs a win here to get his name back in the championship mix. Holding the highest striking differential in the division, he knows how to hit opponents without absorbing damage in the process. A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace, Demian Maia has been showcasing his improved wrestling and boxing in his last few fights. After a three fight win streak after dropping down to welterweight, he found himself on the losing end of a split decision against Jake Shields in October.
Once the heir apparent to GSP’s belt, Rory MacDonald has been a cause for concern his last few fights. After a tentative win over Jake Ellenberger, he started slow against Robbie Lawler as well. If he remains cautious and lets Maia dictate the pace, he’ll find himself in bad positions. The Shields fight showed how far Maia’s wrestling has progressed and that will be the difference maker. By pressing forward and getting in MacDonald’s face, Maia puts MacDonald on his back. He won’t finish Ares (not even Diomedes could do that), but he’ll take the unanimous decision.
DANIEL CORMIER VS. PATRICK CUMMINS
We move to light heavyweight for Daniel Cormier and Patrick Cummins. Once a heavyweight title contender, Cormier debuts at light heavyweight and could very well wind up facing the winner of Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira. Known for his wrestling and control, he’s also out-struck every single one of his Strikeforce and UFC opponents. He may have been slinging lattes a couple weeks ago, but now Patrick Cummins finds himself in the position to catapult himself into MMA stardom. Everyone likes to make the Rocky comparison, but we all know the Italian Stallion would rather spend his money on fancy robots instead of $5 espresso drinks.
Cummins certainly has the tools to be successful in the UFC. An All-American wrestler, he’s also a fast starter that aggressively looks for the finish. An early call up may have worked wonders for Henry Rowengartner during his time with the Chicago Cubs, but Cummins is unlikely to find the same success. Regardless of whatever stories we may have heard, this isn’t the wrestling practice room. This is the UFC and Cummins may think he knows what Cormier’s capabilities are, but he’s mistaken. He’s awakened a sleeping giant and Cormier is coming in with something to prove. Cummins will get one taste of DC’s fists and then backtrack. Cormier won’t give him any time to recover, though, and pounces to secure the first round TKO. Cummins may not have the debut that he’s hoping for, but at least he still has a better chance of becoming UFC champion than the Cubs do of winning the World Series.
RONDA ROUSEY VS. SARA MCMANN
Time for the main event! Many wondered how Ronda Rousey would handle being pushed out of the first round. In her last title defense a mere eight weeks ago, she answered those questions. Miesha Tate brought Ronda into the third round, but it still ended with an armbar submission win for Rousey like all the others. Holding an undefeated record of her own, Sara McMann has the tools to end the Rousey’s title reign. A freestyle wrestler with a powerful top game, she used both of those skills to TKO Sheila Gaff in April.
Ronda is an extremely aggressive fighter. All of her takedowns come from the clinch, so she needs to have that forward momentum to close the gap. That strategy has worked against others (and by others I mean everyone), but it won’t this time. Charging forward gives McMann the easy double leg takedown. Rousey is certainly dangerous off her back, but I don’t think she wants to allow McMann to attack from top position. Instead, we’re going to see an entirely different Ronda Rousey this time around -- the striker. We may have limited evidence as to her capabilities on the feet, but she has shown offensive flourishes. Her boxing defense may have some holes, but McMann won’t be able to exploit them. Rousey comes out patient and picks McMann apart with straight punches. After stinging McMann on the feet, Rousey moves in and follows her usual recipe for success. She’ll clinch, hit a judo throw, move to mount and lock up the armbar.
That wraps up another gold medal worthy edition of the Downes Side. You can follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to leave your own predictions, comments, praise, adulation or favorite Winter Olympics athlete on the page here. I know it may be cliché, but I have to choose Charles Michael Michaels. He just gets the people going.
The Downes Side: UFC 170 Predictions
UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for UFC 170, taking place Saturday, February 22