Five big questions ahead of UFC 179

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Since their last bout, has Chad Mendes improved enough to trouble, let alone beat Jose Aldo?

In short, probably not. It is unquestionable that Mendes, along with the entirety of Team Alpha Male, has made a quantum leap in his stand-up game under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig. His raw power has been complimented by a more tapered boxing technique and cerebral movement and, in his five consecutive victories since losing to Aldo, four have come by KO or TKO, three of which were in the first round.

But here’s the thing; just one those opponents, Nick Lenz, was a top 10 fighter, and with respect to Cody Makenzie, Clay Guida et al, Jose Aldo is so far out of their league, it’s barely the same sport. Coincidentally, it was only Lenz, who Mendes failed to finish, though the latter was fighting the flu.

Aldo’s striking repertoire remains vastly more comprehensive than that of Mendes-there’s just no getting around it. The universal consensus is that Mendes, to stand any chance, must take Aldo down. The American is an elite wrestler, however, the stats do not make for pleasant reading. According to Fight Metric, the champion has thwarted all but five of the 45 attempts to get him to mat during his time in the UFC. In their first encounter, Mendes was unsuccessful each of the seven times (fence-grabbing notwithstanding) he sought to put Aldo on his back.

In addition, Mendes is walking into seriously hostile territory, which unnerved him last time out. At this level, anything can happen, and the challenger has certainly riled Aldo, but the safer bet would be on the continuation of King Jose’s reign.

 

Really, just how good is Phil Davis?

On paper, at least, Phil Davis should be staple in any conversation regarding the world’s top light-heavyweights. He’s a former Division 1 NCAA national wrestling champion at Penn State, one of the most naturally gifted athletes in the sport, trains at the revered Alliance MMA, under Eric Del Fierro, and has been given ample opportunity to prove himself against the division’s elite.

However, after just turning 30, he’s yet to make a meaningful run at the title. Aside from his submission of a then callow Alexander Gustaffson, and the questionably decision nod he earned over Lyoto Machida, the vast majority of his victories have come against mid-tier competition. When confronted with those in the upper half of the top ten, he has been thoroughly outclassed. First, against Rashad Evans, at UFC on Fox 2, which ended his 100% record, and then, most recently, at UFC 172, where Anthony Johnson beat him pillar-to-post.

Dana White, perhaps justifiably so, questioned Davis’ desire to be a champion in the lead up to the latter card. His response to the president’s criticism was a juvenile attempt to goad Jon Jones, when in reality, he should have been focused on Johnson. Jones defeated Glover Teixeira that same night, who has been matched with Davis for Saturday’s co-main event.

The Brazilian is a formidable power-puncher, with a lethal top-game, but also presents Davis with a chance to prove he’s still a force at 205lbs. The rational thought would be for Mr Wonderful to utilise his wrestling to blanket and neutralize Teixeira’s strengths. If he does not prevail, then the same fate that befell Ryan Bader awaits him; to be reduced to a glorified gatekeeper during his prime years.

 

Is yet another force set to emerge at 155lbs?

Both literally and metaphorically, the lightweight division is the UFC’s most stacked division. Its ranks are swollen by over-population and with quality. The logjam at the top, due to title re-matches, and the long-time injury of the champion, Anthony Pettis, has only stifled the issue further.

Two of the latest pretenders to raise eyebrows, are Carlos Diego Ferreira and Beneil Daruish, who will kick off the main card at the Ginásio do Maracanazinho. They are similar in that BJJ is their most overt strength, and each are capable of a knockout. A comprehensive win for either, should see their career prospects greatly improve.

 

Does Darren Elkin’s job hinge on beating Lucas Martins?

After being submitted by Charles Oliveira in his sophomore UFC outing, Darren Elkins went on a five-fight tear, before being KO’d by Chad Mendes. He then bounced back against Hatsu Hioki, prior to coming up short against Jeremy Stephens. Which, to be fair, should not put him in a perilous position.

Yet pink slips have been handed out for less; just ask Jon Fitch and Jake Shields. Like those two, Elkin’s style is far from exhilarating, and the featherweight division is no longer a ghost town. So, if he does not dispose of the dangerous Martins, the writing could be on the wall.

 

Where, exactly, does Conor McGregor stand?

Immediately after his victory over Dustin Poirier, it was announced that McGregor would be cage-side for the Aldo-Mendes bout, which, naturally, led to the assumption he would be announced as the next No.1 contender. However, McGregor, via Twitter, intimated that he would like to fight again, before getting a title-shot.

On Thursday, the plot further thickened, when MMA Junkie broke a story stating he would take on Dennis Siver in Boston next January, with an official confirmation coming from the promotion on Friday, with the pair set to headline UFC FN 59. And, indeed, there are other variables to consider; if Mendes beats Aldo, protocol suggests an immediate re-match will scheduled; if Aldo retains his title, then whoever wins between Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson, arguably has the strongest claim for the next crack at him. Lest not forget Denis Bermudez, who has the second longest win-streak in the division, and would deservedly have his hat in the ring with a victory over Ricardo Lamas. Should be interesting.