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Don't miss UFC 192 this Saturday night live on Pay-Per-View from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Daniel Cormier will put his light heavyweight title on the line for the first time at UFC 192 when he faces perennial contender Alexander Gustafsson in the main event from Houston.
Cormier is coming off his first title victory back in May when he submitted Anthony Johnson, while Gustafsson is looking to rebound from a loss to the same fighter while taking his second shot at winning UFC gold.
Also on the card, former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks hopes to secure another shot at the belt when he takes on former college wrestling foe Tyron Woodley. Both fighters are itching for a chance to take on the winner of Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit, so this fight will be key if the winner hopes to contend for gold in 2016.
Former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans is also back in action this weekend, as he takes on Ryan Bader in a pivotal matchup at 205 pounds. Evans has been out for nearly two years dealing with injuries, and he's got a tough test ahead as he faces Bader, who is currently riding a four-fight win streak.
In today's fantasy preview, we will examine some of the key fights taking place at UFC 192, including the main event, where the light heavyweight title goes up for grabs.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Daniel Cormier (-365 favorite) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (+300 underdog)
Whether he was fighting at heavyweight or light heavyweight, Daniel Cormier is no stranger to giving up height and reach to his opponent, and he'll do the same this weekend against Alexander Gustafsson. The Swedish fighter will enjoy a seven-inch reach advantage in the fight, but he might have to worry about Cormier's weapons more than the champion will have to deal with a disparity in size.
Cormier is one of the top wrestlers in all of mixed martial arts, while combining that with a devastating clinch attack that could be the best in the entire sport. Cormier has an uncanny ability to get inside on larger fighters and pressure them against the cage or use his aggression to take them to the ground. Cormier has 22 career takedowns, with six of those ending as slams where he launches his opponents into the air before tossing them back down to the mat. If the fight's not on the ground, Cormier punishes his opponents from the inside with 58-percent of his strikes landing in the clinch.
Gustafsson certainly has ways to counter Cormier, but he has to stay patient and not get frustrated if things don't go his way early. Gustafsson has shown great takedown defense in the past, blocking over 86-percent of the attempts against him, but he's never faced a wrestler with the credentials that Cormier will have on Saturday night. So Gustafsson has to understand that he might find himself on the ground with Cormier on top a couple of times before he's finally able to time the takedowns and avoid another trip to the mat.
Gustafsson has great output on the feet and he uses his reach well, which could benefit him in this fight against a much shorter opponent.
All that said, Cormier's style seems like a nightmare for Gustafsson to deal with unless he can use incredible footwork and takedown defense to keep this fight in the center of the Octagon. As soon as they reach the outer edges of the cage with Cormier either pressing the action against the fence or swooping in for a takedown, Gustafsson's chances of winning start to diminish greatly. Add to that, Gustafsson is coming back from a first-round knockout loss and it's nearly impossible to predict how a fighter will react after being finished in such a manner. There are dozens of examples where a veteran can go gun-shy after getting knocked out, and if Gustafsson hesitates for even a moment, Cormier will take full advantage.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier by unanimous decision
Rashad Evans (-160 favorite) vs. Ryan Bader (+145 underdog)
Rashad Evans returns from two knee surgeries and nearly two years off to face top five-ranked light heavyweight Ryan Bader this weekend in a fight that could potentially determine the next No. 1 contender in the division.
On paper, these two fighters are virtually mirror images of each other, with both Bader and Evans using solid boxing on the feet while countering their opponents with hardnosed wrestling on the mat. Both fighters come from collegiate wrestling backgrounds, with Bader and Evans each accounting for takedown accuracy well over 40-percent per fight.
If this fight took place two years ago, Evans' experience in big fights, combined with his lightning fast hands and knockout power, would have given Bader nightmares. The problem is that this isn't two years ago, and while Evans has been nursing an ailing knee, Bader has been taking huge strides in his own game while getting back to his roots of wrestling and good technical striking. If Evans is at his best, he's a tough matchup for anyone in the division with his powerful double leg takedown, stiff jab and devastating overhand punches.
If Evans looks his best, he can absolutely dominate Bader. He has the wrestling chops to counter Bader's own takedowns and Evans has traditionally been the better striker on the feet. Unfortunately, there are so many unknowns with Evans after the layoff, and when you combine that with Bader's ability to make other wrestlers look bad, this could be a potentially disastrous return for the former champion.
If Evans hesitates or looks out of sync early, Bader will take full advantage with his own takedowns and boxing to outpoint his opponent over three rounds.
Prediction: Ryan Bader by unanimous decision
Johny Hendricks (-300 favorite) vs. Tyron Woodley (+250 underdog)
Former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks has been one of the best fighters at 170 pounds for the last few years, but he'll run into another tough matchup this weekend against Tyron Woodley. Hendricks and Woodley know each other very well after competing against each other in college while both were making a run towards a potential NCAA championship.
Wrestling is key in this fight because those kinds of fights have happened often in Hendricks' career and they are generally the toughest opponents he's faced. Hendricks lost to fellow wrestler Rick Story and dropped a razor-close decision to Georges St-Pierre, as well as winning in close calls against Josh Koscheck and Mike Pierce.
Hendricks will face another tough wrestler this weekend and that’s what makes his fight against Woodley so hard to predict. Woodley is a very similar fighter to Hendricks, although lately he's fallen in love with his striking, where he's produced some thunderous knockouts, including his finishes over Dong Hyun Kim and Josh Koscheck.
Where Hendricks might be able to take advantage this fight is with Woodley looking for the knockout shot while not paying attention to the takedown. Woodley has shown incredible takedown defense, but just like his fight against Jake Shields, when he spent 15 minutes just avoiding his opponent's clinch and attempts to get the fight to the mat, he sometimes fails to produce much of his own offense.
Hendricks just needs to apply the right kind of pressure to either put Woodley down or make him think a takedown is coming, and that could take the former Missouri wrestler out of his game. Woodley is a tough fighter defensively, but he gets so enamored sometimes with stopping what his opponents are doing that he forgets to return fire. Against a fighter like Hendricks in a short, three-round fight, that could spell defeat. It won't be pretty, but Hendricks should be able to eke out a win based on Octagon control and takedown attempts.
Prediction: Johny Hendricks by split decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Yair Rodriguez (-230 favorite) vs. Daniel Hooker (+170 underdog)
Ultimate Fighter Latin America winner Yair Rodriguez has made quite an impression since leaving the reality show, especially in his last fight, where he picked up a victory over fellow rising star Charles Rosa.
Rodriguez is the definition of excitement with a fast-paced style and a well-rounded skill set where he lands three significant strikes per minute with nearly 50-percent accuracy, and then puts his opponents down with his wrestling about one-and-a-half times per fight with 42-percent accuracy. Rodriguez is a non-stop offensive machine and that's going to be tough to counter.
Daniel Hooker is no slouch when it comes to high-octane offense, especially when looking at his two UFC wins, where he knocked out Hatsu Hioki and Ian Entwistle. Hooker is dangerous, especially at range, so even if Rodriguez finds himself up through the first round or two, one mental mistake could cost him a win.
That said, Rodriguez's offense is going to be tough to deal with over three rounds no matter what Hooker does to counter. Rodriguez really came into his own with his last fight, and as he continues to train with coaches like Izzy Martinez and Greg Jackson, there's not much Hooker is going to do to surprise him.
Rodriguez is a bright star on the rise and a name to watch in 2016, but first he'll cap things off with another victory at UFC 192.
Prediction: Yair Rodriguez by unanimous decision
Joseph Benavidez (-320 favorite) vs. Ali Bagautinov (+240 underdog)
Joseph Benavidez is nearly impossible to pick against unless he's facing either Dominick Cruz or Demetrious Johnson, because outside of those two fighters, he's been virtually untouchable and that streak should continue on Saturday night.
Benavidez is by far the No. 2 fighter in the world at flyweight behind Johnson as champion, and he probably remains the biggest threat to the title even if he's already faced him twice previously. Benavidez is an incredibly tough matchup when you combine his diverse striking game - that includes good boxing and knockout punching power - and an unreal ability to win every exchange in a scramble. Benavidez is a very solid wrestler, but where he really takes advantage is when an opponent either stuffs his takedown or gets caught in an escape because the Team Alpha Male fighter thrives on mistakes. One false move and Benavidez is all over them.
Ali Bagautinov has definitely had some great moments since coming to the UFC with a wrestling-heavy style and a methodical pace that can really confound opponents. Bagautinov was able to get the best of both John Lineker and Tim Elliott with an aggressive game plan that usually ended with them on the ground and the Dagestani fighter looming large over top of them. He's going to have to work really hard to end up in that position against someone as good as Benavidez, who never slows down or stops moving during a 25-minute fight, much less one that only lasts three rounds.
Look for Benavidez to set a blistering pace early as he pressures and frustrates Bagautinov on the feet and on the ground. Benavidez will look for every opening and then take advantage of any mistakes Bagautinov makes. Benavidez might not finish Bagautinov because he's never been put away during his entire career, but the end result will still be a win for the Team Alpha Male fighter.
Prediction: Joseph Benavidez by unanimous decision
Sage Northcutt (-250 favorite) vs. Francisco Trevino (+190 underdog)
There's a lot of hype around undefeated newcomer Sage Northcutt, and he'll have his chance to prove it's real when he debuts this weekend against seasoned veteran Francisco Trevino.
Northcutt is a special fighter coming from a karate background and he'll probably remind you a lot of Lyoto Machida mixed with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Now understand while that's high praise, Northcutt still has a long way to go to reach the level of those two fighters. But stylistically, the weapons are there. Northcutt is long and rangy with a wide array of strikes in his arsenal, especially at distance.
Trevino is a good boxer but he'll probably want to get inside during this fight to avoid Northcutt's offensive output from the outside.
The UFC didn't give Northcutt any gimmes with his first fight, but as long as he doesn't wilt under the spotlight, this is a great chance for him to debut and look good doing it. Northcutt is a special fighter with a ton of talent at just 19 years of age. It's a big spotlight, but Northcutt has thrived as a martial artist since he was a child and this should be no different.
Prediction: Sage Northcutt by TKO, Round 3
Alan Jouban (+165 underdog) vs. Albert Tumenov (-215 favorite)
This fight between Alan Jouban and Albert Tumenov isn't as much about being an upset pick as it is a tossup. Tumenov is a comfortable favorite going into the fight, but the fact is that he's facing a striker in Jouban who can be every bit his equal over three rounds and that makes this a very tough fight to pick.
Tumenov lands with serious power from the inside and out, but Jouban is actually a little more accurate, as he hits with nearly 51-percent of his significant strikes while also showcasing slightly better defense as well. Neither fighter is well-known for takedowns, so chances are this will be a stand-up fight until one or both men are knocked down at some point during this potential Fight of the Night candidate.
Jouban is incredible when he starts exchanging with his opponents, because for every single strike they throw, he comes back with two or three of his own. He has to be careful playing that game with Tumenov, who can put his lights out with one stray punch, but if Jouban is smart and uses good head movement, he should be able to take advantage of those small openings his opponent gives him during those striking exchanges.
It's impossible to say if one fighter holds a huge advantage over the other, so this really could be a coin flip, but with Jouban's long range and good accuracy, he should be able to land a few more strikes over three rounds to get the win.
Prediction: Alan Jouban by unanimous decision