One thing is for certain. The Ultimate Fighting Championship will crown a new light heavyweight champion on May 23 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Whether it's Anthony Johnson or Daniel Cormier who captures title in the UFC 187 main event remains to be seen.
Set to square off just weeks after long-time champion Jon Jones was pulled from the fight card and stripped of his title following an April 26 hit and run arrest, Johnson and Cormier will look to become the UFC's first new 205-pound champion since September 2011, when Jones first earned the strap.
Cut from the promotional roster in 2012 for repeatedly missing weight, Johnson (19-4, 10-4 UFC), and his return to prominence, is one of the more remarkable comeback stories in MMA history. Cormier (15-1, 4-1 UFC) enters the Octagon for his second straight shot at the title, accepting the fight on just 25 days notice.
Johnson is a bruising puncher with loads of power in his hands and feet. Currently riding a nine-fight win streak, the last three of which have come with the UFC, Johnson most recently scored a technical knockout of former title challenger Alexander Gustafsson, needing a shade over two minutes to finish the former title challenger. And in his January victory over Gustafsson, Johnson demonstrated his knack to stop any fight, any time.
Standing on the other side of the Octagon will be Cormier, a two-time Olympian on the wrestling mats, who will become the first non champion to compete in two straight UFC title fights, following his unanimous decision loss to Jones at UFC 182. Cormier's game plan is always to grind it out with opponents, forcing the fight to the cage walls, where he can maintain control in the clinch and land takedowns. And while Jones got the better of him in their last encounter, Cormier has consistently shown an ability to wear down larger men and pressure them for 25 minutes.
Expect Johnson to come out strong and push Cormier back with high kicks and feints, looking for the knockout. But Cormier will weather the early storm and take control in the later rounds en route to a decision victory.
Co-main event: Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort
For the fourth time in exactly one year, middleweight champ Weidman is slated to face off against former light heavyweight strap holder and 18-year UFC veteran Belfort. And after their previous bookings at UFC 173, UFC 181 and UFC 184 fell through due to injury, the pair is finally set to battle it out inside the Octagon.
First winning the title back in July 2013, the undefeated Weidman (12-0, 8-0 UFC) boasts some of mixed martial arts' top grappling credentials, but it was his striking, and a knockout of Anderson Silva, that initially earned him the belt. And after topping Silva in their UFC 168 rematch, along with an impressive decision over Lyoto Machida at UFC 175, Weidman returns to the cage for the first time in a year, set to square off against a third straight Brazilian MMA legend.
Belfort (24-10, 13-6 UFC) has also been out of action for quite some time, last appearing in November 2013, when he scored his third consecutive head-kick knockout to earn the title shot. An accomplished BJJ black belt, Belfort was thrust into the MMA limelight as a teenager, studying with the legendary Carlson Gracie. He has since added an impressive striking arsenal to his game and is looking to become the third fighter to wear UFC gold in two weight classes.
This fight will start off fast, with Belfort rushing out of the gate to land the stoppage. However, Weidman will use his fight IQ to control Belfort and land takedowns, before submitting the Brazilian in the fourth.
Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi
This battle between flashy strikers pits the high-flying Cerrone (27-6 1 NC, 14-3 UFC) against late replacement Makdessi (13-3, 6-3 UFC), and has Performance of the Night written all over it.
Currently riding a seven-fight win streak that dates back to UFC 167 in November 2013, Cerrone is a technical kick boxer who charges opponents and isn't afraid to tussle on the ground. Cerrone's high-risk style has made him one of the UFC's most prominent and popular athletes, and the win here will likely propel him to a long-awaited title shot.
Makdessi, an equally kick-centric fighter, enters this bout with Cerrone following a spectacular finish at UFC 186. Taking the fight on less than four weeks notice, Makdessi is filling in for the injured Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was forced to pull out after re-injuring his knee.
Expect some fireworks right out of the gate from Makdessi, who is making his Las Vegas debut. But just as fast as this fight begins, Cerrone will end it within the first frame, likely taking some damage early on before answering with strikes and following up with the submission.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Travis Browne
Heavyweights Arlovski (23-10, 12-4 UFC) and Browne (17-2-1, 8-2-1 UFC) represent two of the division's more accomplished fighters, and with both closing in on title shots, a victory here is essential to earning a crack at champion Cain Velasquez.
Former training partners at Albuquerque's Jackson Winkeljohn MMA, Arlovski and Browne are both knockout artists, and big hitters who can end fights early.
With Arlovski, a former titleholder, most recently topping Antonio "Big Foot" Silva via first round knockout, and Browne scoring the TKO over Brendan Schaub at UFC 181, this bout isn't likely to go the distance.
And while Arlovski has looked sharp in his return to the Octagon, expect Browne to expose the Belarusian's chin, landing the knockout blow early.
Joseph Benavidez vs. John Moraga
In what will likely determine the next challenger in the flyweight division, this contest between Benavidez (21-4, 8-2 UFC) and Moraga (16-3, 5-2 UFC) should be fast paced and technical.
Having both already lost to current 125-pound titlist Demetrious Johnson, Benavidez and Moraga covet a second (and in the former's case, a third) shot at the champ. But there is still work to be done, with flyweights John Dodson and Zach Makovsky fighting on the under card, also vying for a championship bout.
A decision is unlikely to earn Benavidez or Moraga a challenger spot, so expect these two to race out of the gate and trade shots before hunting the takedown.
Benavidez will ultimately get the best of the wrestling exchanges and scramble and sink in the late round choke.