UFC 192: Cormier vs. Gustafsson Preview, Picks, Betting Tip

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After the fun and frolicking in Japan’s Saitama Super Arena last time out it’s back to American soil for this weekend’s UFC event as the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas plays host to UFC 192. In the headline bout of an evening filled with well-matched, pick ’em fights, light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier defends his belt for the first time against popular Swede Alexander Gustafsson.

A former captain of the USA Olympic wrestling team, Daniel Cormier made his MMA debut in 2009 in the first of what would become a seven fight winning streak which saw him drafted into the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament following the withdrawal of Alistair Overeem. Despite being a big underdog, Cormier defeated Jeff Monson, Bigfoot Silva and Josh Barnett to win the belt before the division was absorbed into the UFC following his squash-match with Dion Staring. After two successful heavyweight fights in the UFC, Cormier then dropped to 205 lbs (because of his teammate Cain Velasquez’s championship run at heavyweight) where he won two more to earn himself a title shot. After 15 straight wins, defeat to Jon Jones, the first of his career, set Cormier back – but not as far as he would have imagined. Shortly after that bout, Jones was involved in an alleged hit-and-run incident which caused him to be stripped of a title which Cormier subsequently picked up in a come-from-behind victory over Anthony Johnson in his last outing.

Alexander Gustafsson, on the other hand, hasn’t had as many rousing displays in his career, or as much success for that matter, but he is still a fighter of some distinction. Beginning his career as mainly a striker, Gustafsson won the first nine fights of his career – the last of which saw him defeat Jared Hamman in his UFC debut. On his tenth outing, the Swede lost to American wrestler Phil Davis in what, looking back, was the turning point of his career. After that devastating loss, Gustafsson went and trained with Davis at Alliance MMA before winning six fights in a row to earn a shot at Jon Jones’ title. That fight is widely recognized as one of the greatest in MMA history and undoubtedly the toughest of Jones’ career – even though he came out on the winning side. Since that 2013 outing, Gustafsson has beaten Jimi Manuwa and lost to Anthony Johnson and gets this title shot largely down to his name value and the lack of current contenders in the division. Nevertheless, he should pose an interesting test for the champion.

As the promotion has shown us, almost ad nauseam, Gustafsson is a tall, lanky man with a significant reach and height advantage over his opponent which he uses extremely well. His striking, a lot of which is out-fighting with combination punching and fast feet, is technically some of the best in the division while his offensive and defensive wrestling are improving to exceptional standards. Cormier, conversely, is the smaller individual who will prefer it in close. As mentioned above, the AKA trained champ is a former Olympic level wrestler and he uses that base art extremely well with some very good takedowns, trips in open water as well as against the fence while all the time having a knacky ability to control on top when it goes south. As a striker, he wouldn’t have the best game out there but he has shown an ability in the past to win fights standing and to use his hands to set up his takedowns.

When trying to figure out how this match-up will go it’s one of those that, however you call it, you just know on Saturday night looking back with 20-20 hindsight it will make you exclaim “of course that was going to happen” – or something stronger.

One of two things is likely happen here.

1. Cormier will get in close, work his boxing on the inside, push Gustafsson up against the cage and control him there and/or on the floor (if he can get it there) and win a decision.

Or

2. Gustafsson will be extremely light on his feet, he’ll use his jab well, he’ll stick and move, he’ll avoid the clinch and takedown, he’ll wear Cormier out and he’ll win a decision.

Personally, I think Cormier is a big favourite in this match-up due, in large part, to the MMA math of him beating Anthony Johnson while Gustafsson lost to him. In reality, both guys were beaten badly by Johnson early (you could even argue Cormier was worse) but one managed to survive and one didn’t. On Saturday night, that will be meaningless. With that said, this really is a pick ’em fight but, even though I expect Cormier to have his moments, I’m leaning towards Gustafsson because of he is quicker on the feet, has good takedown defence and will be able to hit Cormier from an area where Cormier won’t be able to get a hold of him. Either way, it should be an enjoyable one.

UPDATE: Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley is off due to weight cutting problems for Hendricks

That isn’t all, though. In the co-main event another potential barnstormer is on deck as welterweight powerhouses Johny Hendricks and Tyron Woodley meet in fight which will, more than likely, decide who fights either Carlos Condit or Robbie Lawler for the 170 lbs title.

A former holder of the aforementioned UFC welterweight title, Johny Hendricks has had an exceptional time inside the cage following his days as a 4-time All-American wrestler with Oklahoma State University. “Bigg Rigg” won fifteen of his first sixteen fights to kick off his cage career but lost his first title tilt against George St-Pierre after a controversial decision. Like Cormier, though, Hendricks got an immediate shot at retribution following GSP’s retirement and won the title in a fight-of-the-year candidate with Robbie Lawler. Unfortunately for Hendricks, injuries put him on the sidelines for over six months and when he came back it was Robbie Lawler who this time took the close decision. On Saturday, he will be looking to get a shot to finish the trilogy.

Like Hendricks, Tyron Woodley had an exceptional transition from wrestler to MMA fighter which saw him take out names like Paul Daley, Jordan Mein and Tarec Saffiedine to go 10-0. Losses to Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt (for the Strikeforce title) quickly followed that, though, and were sandwiched by his move to the UFC. In the eight-sided enclosure, Woodley has been impressive with wins over Josh Koscheck, Dong Hyun Kim and Kelvin Gastelum but setbacks against Shields and Rory MacDonald have kept him out of the title picture. With a win on Saturday, that all changes.

If the main event on Saturday is a meeting of opposing styles this is a more like-for-like match-up as strong wrestler with huge power in his hands meets strong wrestler with huge power in his hands. Hendricks, a southpaw, is probably the slightly better striker of the two as he likes to let his overhand left go early before his hand-fighting in the pocket, looking for the target with more accuracy, takes over as the bout progresses. Even though Hendricks has the ability to jump in on a single or double, most of his wrestling attacks come when he pushes opponents against the cage – which something becomes more evident toward the later stages of fights. Woodley, on the other hand, will explode into those power doubles and attempt to physical throw an opponent to the ground. Similarly with his striking, Woodley will load up with power to throw hard and often. That constant use of quick-twitch power is often the reason Woodley wins but, with questions over his cardio, it’s also a reason he could lose if things don’t go his way.

For me, this is about as even a fight as you will find anywhere in the world at the moment. When wrestlers so skilled meet, it’s often a case of who is better at striking and better in the clinch. I think that will be exactly the case on Saturday night. With two men possessing such dangerous knockout power, an early finish here isn’t beyond the realms of possibility at all. For Woodley, it’s probably his most likely path to victory although that specific path to victory is actually more likely to be Hendricks’. If it goes beyond the early exchanges, expect Woodley to want to stay on the outside to load up while Hendricks will be getting in close to either strike or clinch. The most likely way this fight will go though, in my opinion, is with Hendricks pushing the pace and shoving Woodley against the fence for three rounds of pretty hard-to-watch action. In the past, Woodley has wilted when he has been put on the backfoot and I think that will be the case against on Saturday as Johny Hendricks grinds out the decision.

Outside of those two this card has plenty more to keep fans excited, especially the second light-heavyweight fight of the evening which sees Rashad Evans return from injury to face in-form Ryan Bader in a match-up of wrestle-boxers which might provide the main event winner with his next challenge – if Jon Jones is on the sidelines for another while. Before that, Joseph Benavidez takes on Ali Bagautinov and Jessica Eye meets Julianna Pena while huge prospects Yair Rodriguez, Islam Makhachev and Sage Northcutt are also worth keeping a firm eye on. The big business, though, will end the night and should see a pretty exciting scrap for the 205 lbs strap.

FIGHT PICKS

Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson – Gustafsson sticks, moves, wins a decision
Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley – Hendricks grinds out the win
Ryan Bader vs. Rashad Evans – After so long on the sidelines for Evans, I’m picking Bader
Shawn Jordan vs. Ruslan Magomedov – I’ll take the Jordan KO
Jessica Eye vs. Julianna Peña – Eye is too much of an underdog but I’m still picking Pena

Joseph Benavidez vs. Ali Bagautinov – JoBe does the job
Yair Rodríguez vs. Dan Hooker – Yair “Silva St-Pierre Emelianenko” Rodriguez inside the distance
Alan Jouban vs. Albert Tumenov – Tumenov via decision
Rose Namajunas vs. Angela Hill – Namajunas via triangle

Islam Makhachev vs. Adriano Martins – Makhachev via decision
Chris Cariaso vs. Sergio Pettis – Pettis still has a lot to prove, taking Cariaso
Derrick Lewis vs. Viktor Pešta – Lewis early KO
Francisco Trevino vs. Sage Northcutt – Could be the beginning of something special for Sage

START TIMES (Irish time)

Early prelims – 11.15pm on UFC Fight Pass

Prelims – 1am on BT Sport 2 HD

Main Card – 3am on BT Sport 2 HD

BET OF THE WEEK

This week I’m going for DC/Gustafsson, Johny/Woodley and Bader/Evans all to go to a decision at 10/3

UPDATE: With Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley off, the bet is now 5/2 without that fight

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma