UFC 187 Preview and Predictions

Updated: May 22, 2015
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Saturday night, the UFC heads back to Las Vegas for their biggest card yet this calendar year at UFC 187 as Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson battle for the vacant UFC light heavyweight championship. After the title was stripped from Jon Jones for repeated violations of the UFC code of conduct, it will be the first time in four years that there will be a new 205-pound champion.

Jones won the title on March 19, 2011 from Shogun Rua.

In the co-main event, the often put off contest between middleweight champion Chris Weidman and UFC veteran Vitor Belfort will finally take place after over a year of delays due to injuries for Weidman and Belfort’s failed drug test last Spring.

Main Event: Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson
UFC Light heavyweight title

Cormier has earned the luck of the draw by getting another title shot immediately coming off a championship bout loss. Part of it is the Chael Sonnen syndrome where he ran his mouth enough and part of it is that he continued to call UFC heads Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta when Jones was dropped from the title fight. In a recent Twitter battle with fellow UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader, who Cormier was originally scheduled to face in June, a valid point was made of exactly who in the division Cormier has beaten. While he was successful at heavyweight, Cormier’s 205-pound wins include just Patrick Cummins and Dan Henderson.

Johnson on the other hand, has been dominant lately. His stoppage of Alexander Gustafsson was more than impressive in a win that earned him this title shot, originally against Jones. Johnson hasn’t lost since January 2012 in a catch weight fight with Belfort and after fixing his weight cut issues, has rallied off nine straight wins between the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions in four organizations.

Stylistically, this fight is as bad for Cormier as the Jones fight was, the question is did he learn anything? Cormier has power in his hands, but as an Olympic wrestler, he needs to rely in his takedowns or at least the honest threat of them, in order to be effective with his striking. Johnson is no Jones on the mat, but he’s a dangerous striker who can hold his own in shrugging off takedowns. Cormier said recently that Johnson is the same guy who once got beat by Josh Koscheck at 170-pounds but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Johnson has come a long way from those days with his grappling and his hands are much more powerful 35 pounds heavier.

Prediction: Johnson by TKO to become the new UFC light heavyweight champion

Co-main event: Chris Weidman (C) vs. Vitor Belfort
UFC middleweight title

It feels like it has been so long since we’ve seen Belfort, especially with any kind of consistency, inside the octagon. The question everyone has asked going in is what Belfort will be see. He can dismantle or get dismantled. But no matter what Belfort shows up, can he throw anything at Weidman that Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida didn’t? Belfort is absolutely one of the most dangerous one-kick strikers in the UFC today and the other Belfort can abandon power and grind like Machida. But neither of these seem to be an issue for Weidman, who will not super interesting, hasn’t looked touchable either.

Will the bad blood that has developed motivate Belfort to be violent or will it consume him and make him charge directly into Weidman’s game plan? I think Belfort is rattled going into this fight. I think he wants to maim Weidman. But I think that Weidman, as much as he doesn’t like Belfort, is going into this fight to win and retain his title like Belfort is any other opponent. Of the two title fights on the card, I believe this will be the more closely contested, but at the end of the day no single person has proved they can get past Weidman and I don’t think deep down that Belfort is the man to dethrone him.

Prediction: Weidman by TKO to retain the UFC middleweight title

Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi

This is a substantial step down for Cerrone from previous opponents and originally schedule opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov. A win over Nurmagomedov would have all but guaranteed Cerrone a title shot against Rafael dos Anjos in the lightweight division. A win over Makdessi may not get him over the hump, even if it is his eighth win in a row. Then again, maybe White rewards his workhorse (Cerrone fought four times in 2014 and this will be his third fight this year) anyway. Makdessi is coming off a nice win over Shane Campbell a month ago but has never really faced, let alone beat, anyone of Cerrone’s level. I expect this to be quick and painless – well maybe not painless for Makdessi.

Prediction: Cerrone by TKO

Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski

Perhaps I am in the vocal minority, but I don’t see Arlovski as a win away from title contention. Knocking out Bigfoot Silva in his last outing was great for his career re-birth, but a lot of people have knocked out Silva and he is one fight away from being universally panned for his snore fest UFC return against Brendan Schaub. His comeback has been nice and I think will continue to be, but it has been nine years since he was the UFC champion and that is for a reason. He is not fast or strong enough to compete with today’s younger and stronger heavyweights, as seen in his World Series of Fighting loss to Anthony Johnson. Browne has looked like a title contender from day one and save for a title contender loss to current interim champ Fabrício Werdum, Browne has been a machine of knockouts. Arlovski has seen his career fall and then rise again as he expanded his skill set, but this isn’t 2006 and Browne is still the more complete and dangerous fighter.

Prediction: Browne by knockout

Joseph Benavidez vs. John Moraga

More treading of water in the UFC’s flyweight division where champion Demetrious Johnson is as untouchable as any fighter in the history of the sport, within their division. Benavidez is the clear cut number two in the division but has proven twice that he can’t hang with the champion? So where does that leave the Team Alpha Male fighter? Treading water and winning fights until Johnson decides to pack it in and head back up to bantamweight. His only losses in five years are to Johnson. Moraga is no joke however, even if he also holds a loss to Johnson. He lets his hands go with lightning speed and has only ever been beat by Johnson and top contender John Dodson. An impressive showing here with a victory could possibly propel him over Dodson to see who gets a second shot at the flyweight title and that motivation may be enough to get him to go at Benavidez hard. But to do that, Moraga has to stay on his feet and Benavidez is going to do everything in his power to get this fight on the ground.

Prediction: Benavidez by decision

The undercard quick picks

John Dodson over Zach Makovsky by TKO
Josh Burkman over Dong Hyun Kim by Decision
Uriah Hall over Rafael Natal by TKO
Rose Namajunas over Nina Ansaroff by submission
Colby Covington over Mike Pyle by Decision
Leo Kuntz over Islam Makhachev by Decision
Justin Scroggins over Josh Sampo by Decision

Photo cred: Photo of Daniel Cormier by Steve Marcus/Getty Images North America

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