By Ryan Frederick, WrestlingObserver.com
The UFC brings their annual Memorial Day Weekend card back to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas this weekend for UFC 187 headlined by two title fights. The event is the next pay-per-view offering from the promotion, taking place on Saturday at 10 PM ET, with a full slate of prelims beginning at 6:30 PM ET on UFC Fight Pass before transitioning over to FOX Sports 1 at 8 PM ET.
The event will determine a new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion as top contenders Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier square off in the main event for the vacant championship. In the co-main event of the event, it will be a long-awaited battle for the UFC Middleweight Championship as Chris Weidman makes his third title defense against long-time top contender Vitor Belfort. Also on the stacked card is a lightweight bout between Donald Cerrone and John Makdessi, a heavyweight slugfest between Travis Browne and Andrei Arlovski, and a flyweight battle between Joseph Benavidez and John Moraga. Let’s dive deeper into Saturday night’s action and bring you five storylines to watch for at UFC 187.
1. Who becomes the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion?
There will be a new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion crowned for the first time in over four years on Saturday night when Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier square off in the main event. The championship is vacant following the stripping, and subsequent suspension, of former champion Jon Jones following his hit-and-run arrest in April that capped off a number of outside the Octagon related events. Jones was a dominant champion in the division, defending the title eight times with mostly relative ease. He was scheduled to defend it against Johnson in the main event of this event before his most recent incident.
That left Johnson to face Cormier, who is the last man Jones defeated, coming at UFC 182 in January. Cormier gets a second chance to conquer his dream in becoming a UFC champion, and he poses a different challenge for Johnson. Many thought Johnson would have a chance against Jones due to his overwhelming power and excellent takedown defense, but he still would have had to deal with the reach of Jones. Cormier is different in that he has more power than Jones, which can actually rival the power of Johnson, and his wrestling is more power-based. Johnson is built well for 205 pounds and is tough to take down, but you know Cormier will be looking to pick him up and slam him to the mat. Johnson will be looking to test the chin of Cormier, which is rock solid, but Johnson has unrivaled power.
As interesting as a bout between Jones and Johnson was, mainly to see if Johnson could do something against Jones, this one is just as equally interesting. It shows on the betting odds with those being 50/50 right now, and no one really knows for sure who will walk out of the Octagon as the new champion. Johnson will be relying on his power and takedown defense, but he still has never been five rounds in his career. Cormier will look to be light on his feet, mix his speed and power, and of course, look for the big takedown. He has been five rounds in his career with ease, so we know he can go the distance, though he is fighting two weeks earlier than he was scheduled to originally. It will be a hard-fought battle, but I give the slight edge to Cormier walking away as the new champion.
2. Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort will finally fight. Who wins?
Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort have been on a collision course to fight ever since Chris Weidman became the new UFC Middleweight Champion after defeating Anderson Silva at UFC 162 in July 2013. However, there have been numerous obstacles in the way. Weidman was matched up with Silva in a rematch, leaving Belfort waiting. Weidman defeated Silva again, and Belfort was next. Next came the state of Nevada banning the usage of testosterone replacement therapy, which Belfort used, and Belfort pulled out of their scheduled May 2014 bout to get adjusted to the affects of getting off of TRT. Weidman would later defeat Lyoto Machida in July 2014.
This will be Belfort’s first fight since November 2013, so that is 18 months out of action. It will also be his first fight since getting off of TRT, and he does look different. He looks similar to the time he was knocked out in the first round by Anderson Silva, after which Belfort began using TRT. It will be interesting to see how he fights under all of those circumstances. Injuries have hampered Weidman, and it will be interesting to see how he comes back, but he is perhaps the most mentally strong fighter in the sport. Belfort is notorious for breaking easily mentally, and Weidman may get in his head quickly. Weidman has a knack of knocking off Brazilians, having defeated Silva, Machida and Demian Maia in the Octagon. It will be a battle between the two middleweights, but I see Weidman remaining the champion on Saturday night.
3. Will Donald Cerrone finally earn that long-awaited UFC Lightweight Championship title shot?
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is one of the most active and most popular fighters on the UFC roster, not to mention one of the most exciting. He has fought 17 times in the Octagon since coming over to the UFC in 2011, and this will be his 28th fight under the Zuffa banner. He has the mindset of anyone, anytime, anywhere, which makes it easy to get him fights. He fought twice in January this year- that just goes to show how active he wants to be. He decided to take a much-needed break coming off of two fights in two weeks, and he finally returns to action looking to secure the one thing that has alluded him.
That is a shot at fighting for the UFC Lightweight Championship. He has been in the position to earn a title shot before, but came up short in losses to Nate Diaz and former champion Anthony Pettis. He was on his way back before suffering a loss to current champion Rafael Dos Anjos. However, since the loss to Dos Anjos, Cerrone has won seven straight fights, and is gunning for his eighth straight on Saturday night. Eight straight wins definitely will secure Cerrone a title shot, especially at a time where so many lightweight challengers are battling injury issues. He was supposed to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov on Saturday to determine the true top contender, but Nurmagomedov was forced out due to a knee injury.
Cerrone will instead fight John Makdessi, who replaced Nurmagomedov less than a month ago. Makdessi is coming off an impressive first-round knockout win over Shane Campbell last month at UFC 186, and he is 4-1 in his last five fights, with the one loss coming in close fashion. He is a dangerous and unknown fighter, but he doesn’t have the skills that Nurmagomedov has. Makdessi is a striker, which is the type of fighter that Cerrone likes to tee off on. Cerrone likes to stand-and-trade, and Makdessi will give him that type of fight, but there is a reason Cerrone is a huge betting favorite. Everyone expects him to win and get that title shot, and there is little reason to believe Cerrone won’t get the job done on Saturday. He is focused, and a truly focused Cerrone is a dangerous opponent.
4. There are two big flyweight bouts on Saturday. Who stakes their claim for the next title shot?
Two big fights at 125 pounds take place on Saturday night. Joseph Benavidez will meet John Moraga on the main card, and John Dodson will square off with Zach Makovsky in the featured preliminary bout. All four men are looking to stake their claim for the next title shot at UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson. However, three of the four (Benavidez, Moraga, Dodson) have suffered defeats to Johnson, leaving Makovsky as the only one who hasn’t fought Johnson. If Makovsky were to defeat Dodson, that almost has to mean that he will be the next man to fight Johnson.
Convential wisdom points to Dodson being the man with the best shot at fighting Johnson should he win on Saturday. Dodson lost to Johnson in January 2013, but Benavidez and Moraga have more recent losses to Johnson. All three of those have two-fight win streaks, so they are on even footing. Dodson gave a tougher fight to Johnson than the other two have, and he believes he is the man who can defeat Johnson. Dodson is coming off of major knee surgery and hasn’t fought in nearly a year, and it will be interesting to see if the injury has hurt his speed, which he relies on so much. A Dodson win over Makovsky gets him the title shot. A Dodson loss opens the door for the other three, and potentially for Henry Cejudo, to get the next title shot at Johnson.
5. UFC 187 is one of the more loaded cards in recent memory. What are some other things to keep an eye on?
There is no question that UFC 187 is one of the more loaded cards the UFC has put on in recent years despite the losses of Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov. It is still headlined by two title fights and an excellent main card and a solid preliminary slate. Travis Browne and Andrei Arlovski are meeting in a heavyweight bout on the pay-per-view portion, and the two are former training partners and good friends. But, sometimes good friends have to fight in the Octagon, and both are wanting to fight for the championship. Browne has good power, and Arlovski has a chin that has been cracked many times.
On the prelims, Dong Hyun Kim and Josh Burkman meet in a welterweight bout as both look to rebound from losses in their last fights (though Burkman’s loss was changed to a no contest). Both are looking to establish themselves in the top ten of the welterweight rankings. Uriah Hall will be looking to extend his three-fight win streak and keep buidling his resume following two tough losses to start his UFC career, and he meets Rafael Natal in a middleweight bout. Natal has won two straight himself. Rose Namajunas looks to bounce back from her loss in the inaugural UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship bout, which she lost to Carla Esparza. Namajunas is a popular fighter at 115-pounds, and she will meet Nina Ansaroff to kick off the preliminary slate on FOX Sports 1.
Full UFC 187 Fight Card, Betting Odds and Predictions
MAIN CARD (PPV- 10 PM ET/7 PM PT)
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship: Anthony Johnson vs. Daniel Cormier
Betting Odds: Johnson (+115), Cormier (-135)
Prediction: Cormier by decision
UFC Middleweight Championship: Chris Weidman(c) vs. Vitor Belfort
Betting Odds: Weidman (-525), Belfort (+415)
Prediction: Weidman by submission in round 3
Lightweights: Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi
Betting Odds: Cerrone (-500), Makdessi (+400)
Prediction: Cerrone by submission in round 1
Heavyweights: Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski
Betting Odds: Browne (-450), Arlovski (+360)
Prediction: Browne by knockout in round 1
Flyweights: Joseph Benavidez vs. John Moraga
Betting Odds: Benavidez (-600), Moraga (+450)
Prediction: Benavidez by decision
PRELIMINARY CARD (FOX SPORTS 1- 8 PM ET/5 PM PT)
Flyweights: John Dodson vs. Zach Makovsky
Betting Odds: Dodson (-470), Makovsky (+375)
Prediction: Dodson by decision
Welterweights: Dong Hyun Kim vs. Josh Burkman
Betting Odds: Kim (-280), Burkman (+240)
Prediction: Kim by decision
Middleweights: Uriah Hall vs. Rafael Natal
Betting Odds: Hall (-350), Natal (+290)
Prediction: Hall by knockout in round 2
Women’s Strawweights: Rose Namajunas vs. Nina Ansaroff
Betting Odds: Namajunas (-280), Ansaroff (+240)
Prediction: Namajunas by submission in round 1
PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC FIGHT PASS- 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT)
Welterweights: Mike Pyle vs. Colby Covington
Betting Odds: Pyle (+230), Colvington (-270)
Prediction: Covington by decision
Lightweights: Islam Makhachev vs. Leo Kuntz
Betting Odds: Makhachev (-320), Kuntz (+260)
Prediction: Makhachev by submission in round 2
Flyweights: Justin Scoggins vs. Josh Sampo
Betting Odds: Scoggins (-350), Sampo (+290)
Prediction:Scoggins by decision