Jose Aldo vs Chad Mendes
In possibly his last fight at Featherweight before he has effectively cleared the division out Jose Aldo will defend his championship against Chad Mendes. While often criticized for his less than exciting style Chad Mendes has been on an absolute tear since entering the sport in August of 2008. A perfect 11-0 record for Mendes and a strong wrestling base combined with undeniable toughness has him looking, at least on paper, like a nightmare for anyone in the division. Anyone except Jose Aldo that is. Aldo is pretty much the exact opposite style wise. He's explosive, he's exciting, and he has a strike-first style that fans love to watch. In his last two fights Aldo looked human for the first time in a very long time. Can Mendes endure the kind of damage Mark Hominick did to take advantage of a fifth-round-tired Aldo? Can he build on the blueprint set by Kenny Florian in the first two rounds and do what Florian couldn't?
As far as the fight goes striking is a clear advantage for Aldo both in power and technique. There is no reason for Mendes to even think about testing his standup against Aldo's. Grappling is a clear advantage for Mendes, although it is worth noting that Aldo has shown excellent takedown defense through both a sprawl and his use of footwork, distance, and leg kicks to make performing the shot that much more difficult. I fear Chad Mendes, while deserving of a title shot, is the product of UFC hype which created the illusion that Mendes has a legitimate shot at beating Aldo. While it's clear he has a path to victory as he does in all his fights, I'm having a hard time visualizing Chad being able to grind Aldo down for three out of five rounds all the while avoiding those brutal leg kicks and other strikes in the process. Unfortunately for Chad I don't see him faring much better than Faber, Brown, or Gamburyan.
Prediction: Jose Aldo by (T)KOVitor Belfort vs Anthony Johnson
Anthony Johnson finally makes the move the middleweight after years of fans clamoring for it since he routinely balloons up to sometimes 220lbs between fights and the size advantage is felt to be such a significant part of his success at welterweight thusfar. However his first test in a new division is about as tough as it gets. "Rumble" will square off with Vitor "the Phenom" Belfort. The move up should be less difficult in terms of weight cutting, as well as one that adds conditioning to Johnson, which should aid his primary style in wrestling. Unfortunately for him Vitor Belfort has had some takedown defense attributed to his name for quite a while now. It's fair to say Vitor will be the best striker Johnson has ever faced, which is going to be a test in and of itself when Josh Koscheck outstruck Johnson when they clashed in late 2009. Striking is without a doubt an advantage for Belfort both in overall technique and power. Wrestling is an advantage for Johnson, but overall grappling I would favor Belfort who has had success at the international level in the ADCC. I just don't think Johnson has the wrestling chops to put Vitor down and hold him down for any length of time. Even Tito in his prime had trouble holding Vitor down, and the only wrestlers to really pull it off were Randy Couture and Dan Henderson. Howvever if Johnson can do it early and often he has a solid chance to win this fight. We have seen Vitor give up mentally when things aren't going his way. If Vitor loses the first round clearly he may start to shut down upstairs and give the fight away. I personally see Vitor stuffing the early takedown attempts and blitzing Anthony with a flurry that puts Johnson down and out for the night.
Prediction: Vitor Belfort by (T)KOEdson Barboza vs Terry Etim
It's always interesting to see a pair of fighters who's primary styles vary like these two. Barboza loves to get the knockout while Etim loves the submission. But just because Etim likes the submission I don't think that will stop him from coming out and wanting to at least try his hand at standing with the brazilian. Unfortunately that may very well be Etims undoing as it doesn't take too many vicious kicks from Barboza to start slowing someone down. I am hesitant to say Barboza will win easily since he just won a very close decision over Ross Pearson who was able to get inside on him more than he rightfully should have, but I just don't think Etim avoids the power striking Edson brings to the table. It's obvious the striking in all it's facets is a clear advantage for Edson Barboza, while the ground game is clearly Terry Etims domain here. However getting things to the ground is going to be Etims challenge here. The last time someone came into a fight with Barboza looking to take things down they ended up being TKO'd by leg kicks. I see this fight playing out similarly to that, but Etim will be slightly more comfortable with the idea of striking to start. Eventually I think Barboza finds his button and puts him down whether with punches or with leg kicks.
Prediction: Edson Barboza by (T)KORousimar Palhares vs Mike Massenzio
Quite possibly one of the biggest mismatches of the night finds Mike Massenzio against Rousimar Palhares. I'll make no bones about it, I think Massenzio leaves the cage with a limp, assuming he walks out on his own at all. Palhares is all wrong for Massenzio. While not the most technically sound striker Rousimar is a silverback. Everything he throws, everything he does is done with a strength that is awe inspiring. Massenzio is a wrestler but his strength plays right into Palhares' hands. It wasn't so long ago we saw Massenzio being controlled by Krystof Soszynski. I realize he took that fight on a few days notice and fought above his weight class against an especially large light heavyweight, but the fact remains he was outmatched by a physically stronger man, even one without an extensive grappling background such as Rousimar's. Like I said before everything about Rousimar is wrong for Massenzio. Striking I give a slight edge in technical ability and a clear edge in power both to Palhares. Wrestling may technically be an area Massenzio might be the superior fighter but Rousimar has plenty of experience manhandling people with a strong clinch and vicious submissions. Massenzio's godsend would be either a flash knockout, or getting knocked out, since there's less rehab involved. Massenzio better watch his legs, or Palhares might rip one of them off.
Prediction: Rousimar Palhares by Submission