Five major talking points ahead of UFC 185

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Has the injury hex of 2014 been lifted? It certainly seems so. For what feels like the first time in an age, a major UFC event has not been stricken by a litany of withdrawals, re-scheduling or makeshift match-ups. Tonight at the American Airlines Centre, in Dallas, Texas, UFC 185 looks to have all the trappings of an instant classic.

Understandably, when an event is this laden with so many mouth-watering encounters, it conjures much speculation and discussion as to just how much the fighting landscape will be altered when it’s all said and done.

Can Rafael Dos Anjos continue the trend of upsets in 2015?

The vast majority of bookmakers on both sides of the Atlantic certainly don’t think so. And, to be fair, it’s with good reason. The Brazilian veteran has the unenviable task of attempting to dethrone lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, arguably the most offensively potent fighter on the planet.

Now, unlike Pettis’ pervious opponent Gilbert Melendez, Dos Anjos has unquestionably earned his shot at the title and a chance to become the first ever Brazilian to wear the 155lbs strap. Of his last nine bouts, dating back to May 2012, Dos Anjos has won eight. These include victories over Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson and, most recently, Nate Diaz. Such has been his evolution, particularly in the stand-up realm, under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro, he is scarcely recognisable from the fighter that first entered the Octagon at UFC 91 in November 2008.

However, Anthony Pettis operates on a different wavelength than any of his contemporaries and oozes a swagger only befitting of the greats. He manages to blend picture-perfect technique and fundamentals with an almost preternatural ability to improvise within the blink of an eye. Equally fluent off his back as he is operating from any range on the feet, his weaknesses are becoming decreasingly discernible.

Although it did not prove successful for Melendez, the challenger would be best served following the pressure-based game plan he employed. Dos Anjos does have more tools to bring it to fruition, and should probably predicate his attack on the pulverising leg-kicks he used to dismantle Diaz. To usurp Pettis, he must be utterly flawless for 25 minutes because if relents for even a moment, Pettis will pounce.

The strawweight division goes pay-per-view

Although it warranted a top-billing of its own, Carla Esparza’s inaugural defence of her 115lbs title against Poland’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk has been given the elevated status of co-main event.

It may be dismissive of the duo’s respective skill-sets, but this historic encounter has all the hallmarks of a classic striker versus grappler showdown. As demonstrated in the TUF house and her win over Rose Namajunas to clinch the belt, Esparza is formidable wrestler, with a suffocating top-game and solid submissions.

In the undefeated Jedrzejczyk, she faces a multiple-time European and World muay thai champion, who has impressed in her two UFC outings to date. The Pole has the opportunity to be the promotion’s first European champion since Andrei Arlovski, which would be an incredible feat.

For all involved, it would be a major boon if this manages to be a categorical barnburner. Because, regardless of the outcome or victor, it will be of untold benefit to the division’s credibility and future growth.

Cliché or not, Johny Hendricks looks in the best shape of his life
Nothing focuses the mind quite like losing a world. It’s no secret that Johny Hendricks found the task of making 170lbs an arduous one, most notably in his two title fights with Robbie Lawler. It never quite made sense how a life-long wrestler, particularly one of his pedigree, had such difficulties on the scales. Between fights, Hendricks, thanks to a weakness for the fast foods of the ultimate supersize state of Texas, regularly ballooned up to as much as 230lbs.

When defending his welterweight title for the first time against Robbie Lawler at UFC 181, these indulgences came back to haunt him as he clearly tired in the latter half of the fight. The loss precipitated a complete re-evaluation of his training and diet, which has involved more weight training and a strictly refined meal regiment. And, if yesterday’s weigh-ins are anything to by, the sacrifice has paid off. Hendricks looked mean, ripped and energised. Which couldn’t be more appropriate because in Matt Brown, he faces a man who may not possess his natural gifts, but has endurance and durability in spades. Although not official yet, the winner here should be the next No 1 contender.

Can a glass jaw withstand a fist of granite?

If the evidence is anything to go by, Roy Nelson’s seismic overhand-right is the only conceivable threat to Alistair Overeem finally stringing together consecutive UFC victories. Of course, that’s a big if, and Overeem’s chin has proven brittle on numerous occasions since he joined the Zuffa ranks. However, if he does avoid the looping-juggernaut, the Dutchman should grind down Nelson, who has never won a fight in the UFC that went the distance.

Henry Cejudo comes in fighting-fit at 125 lbs

After pulling from his bout with Scott Jorgensen at UFC 177 due to health issues arising from his weight cut, the Olympic gold medallist was ordered by Dana White to move up to bantamweight, where he won a unanimous decision over Dustin Kimura at UFC on Fox 13.
Cejudo then persuaded White to allow him one more chance at making 125lbs and, at yesterday’s weigh-in, he rewarded the president’s faith in him by doing so. He faces recent title-challenger Chris Cariaso this evening, though he’s been touted as nemesis-in-waiting for champion Demetrious Johnson, in a division fast running out of contenders.