The Ultimate Fighting Championship turns 20 this Saturday, November 16, at Las Vegas' MGM Garden Arena. And to celebrate two decades since their inaugural event, the UFC has put together a stacked fight card, headlined by a welterweight world title clash between current champion Georges St. Pierre, and number-one challenger Johny Hendricks.
Unbeaten since 2007, and the winner of his last 11 matches, St. Pierre, a native of Quebec, Canada, is the UFC's longest current champion, dominating the 170-pound weight division with his blend of Kyokushin Karate, Jiu Jitsu, boxing, and wrestling. But standing in his way is native-Oklahoman Hendricks, a four-time NCAA All-American wrestler, with legitimate knockout power.
St. Pierre, who is fighting in Las Vegas for the first time since 2009 and making his first professional appearance on American soil since 2010, has become a master of out-pointing his opponents, winning his last six contests via unanimous decision by landing takedowns and employing his ground-and-pound onslaught, while evading his foes' best punches. Hendricks, who is in the midst of a six-fight win streak, has earned a reputation as a bit of a knockout artist, finishing four adversaries via punches, inside of the first round.
It's always difficult to pick against a well-established champion like St. Pierre, especially when he has looked untouchable since 2007, but Hendricks literally needs just one big left to end the Canadian's title reign. And after former middleweight king Anderson Silva was dethroned in July, it is more apparent than ever, that MMA is perhaps the most unpredictable sport around.
Still, the edge in this one goes to St. Pierre, who has never given any indication that he has slowed down or lost a step; look for this one to go the distance, with the champion retaining his title via unanimous decision.
Now, let's take a look at the rest of the UFC 167 main card...
Co-main event: Rashad Evans vs. Chael Sonnen
An unlikely pairing at 205 pounds, this light heavyweight matchup between former champion Rashad Evans and former title contender Chael Sonnen pits two fan favorites, and occasional colleagues at FOX, against each other.
Evans last fought in June, scoring a split decision victory over Dan Henderson, ending a two-fight skid, while Sonnen ended his own two-fight slump with a submission victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in August, his first at 205 pounds.
Both fighters come from a wrestling base, so this match will no doubt go to the ground at some point, but Evans has an advantage with hand speed and quickness, so look for him to evade Sonnen's takedowns and land punches in bunches in the process.
Neither man has ever been a big finisher, and both are tough foes, so expect this one to go the distance, with Evans scoring a close decision.
Rory MacDonald vs. Robbie Lawler
This matchup between Canadian Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler, an American, will likely determine the next title contender at 170 pounds, and with that in mind, this contest looks to be an exciting back-and-forth standup war.
MacDonald has rattled off five consecutive wins inside the octagon, most recently taking a decision over Jake Ellenberger in July, while Lawler has looked impressive since returning to the UFC in February, knocking out both Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker.
Although MacDonald has stated on several occasions that he is not interested in fighting Tristar gym teammate George St. Pierre for the welterweight crown, there will be few other options for him should he stop Lawler.
Lawler, on the other hand, lives up to his "Ruthless" nickname, delivering brutal knockouts (18 of his 21 career wins have come via KO or TKO) in highlight-reel fashion.
While MacDonald is the bigger and more well-rounded fighter, his lack drive to ascend to the pinnacle of the sport will prove to be a mental roadblock in the cage, leaving the door wide open for late, third-round KO by Lawler.
Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley
A battle between two former NCAA Division I All-American wrestlers, this welterweight contest between Josh Koscheck and Tyron Woodley is a must win for both fighters.
Koscheck, a former title contender, is looking to snap a two-fight skid, most recently falling at the hands of Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks, while Woodley is rebounding after dropping a split decision to Jake Shields in June.
These two fighters mirror each other well, they mostly rely on takedowns to outpoint opponents, but they have the ability to finish fights with their hands. Don't expect a fantastic finish in this one, however, as Koscheck and Woodley will most likely push each other against the cage and dirty box while looking for single-leg takedowns.
In the end, Koscheck uses his experience to his advantage, and scores the decision win.
Tim Elliott vs. Ali Bagautinov
The lone flyweight contest on the UFC 167 card, this matchup between Tim Elliott and Ali Bagautinov will be a high-paced barnburner.
Elliott enters Saturday's contest looking for his third consecutive victory, after taking decisions over Louis Gaudinot and Jared Papazian, while Bagautinov will attempt to stay perfect inside the octagon, previously knocking out Marcos Vinicius Borges Pancici in his UFC debut.
Both flyweights are well-rounded athletes with high finishing rates, but where Elliot chooses to mix his standup with his ground game, Bagautinov is a puncher with slick footwork.
Look for Bagautinov to take this one via second round knockout, and challenge the winner of a December matchup between John Dodson and Scott Jorgensen for the next shot at 125-pound gold.
Best of the undercard
Making his final appearance at 155 pounds, Donald Cerrone takes on fellow UFC veteran Evan Dunham to lead the undercard, which airs live on FOX Sports 1 (8 PM EST / 5 PM PST). With both men coming off losses to Rafael Dos Anjos, expect an exciting contest with non-stop action, with Cerrone landing a late submission.
Former The Ultimate Fighter finalist, middleweight Ed Herman squares off against former 185-pound title contender Thales Leites in a battle of submission specialists. Don't expect this one to go the distance, as both fighters have a knack for finishing fights.
Bantamweight Erik Perez, the UFC's foremost Mexican athlete, will do battle with Texan Edwin Figueroa in this contest at 135 pounds. While both fighters are coming off losses, Perez is the stronger puncher, so look for "El Goyito" to secure a second-round stoppage, most likely a knockout.
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