The Ultimate Fighting Championship has been working overtime of late, promoting four events as well as unveiling the 18th season of flagship reality series The Ultimate Fighter. This increase in fights has been met with mixed reviews, but for the remainder of 2013, the UFC has lined up its best, putting eight of its nine titles on the line in the next three months, beginning this Saturday, September 21, when light heavyweight champion Jon Jones looks to defend his belt for a record-setting sixth time against Alexander Gustafsson, and interim bantamweight king Renan Barao takes on challenger Eddie Wineland.
With champions Cain Velasquez (heavyweight, 10/19), Georges St. Pierre (welterweight, 11/16), Demetrious Johnson (flyweight, 11/30), Anthony Pettis (lightweight, 12/14), Chris Weidman (middleweight, 12/28), and Ronda Rousey (women's bantamweight, 12/28) all set to defend their titles before the end of the year, the UFC has put together an impressive lineup of fights cards, but before any of these division leaders return to the Octagon, MMA fans will first tune in to see if Jones and Barao will once again continue their impressive winning streaks.
And now we take a look at the UFC 165 main card ...
Main event: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Much has been made of Jones' talent and physical dominance; at 6'4" he has cleared out much of the 205-pound division with his 84.5" reach and superb combination of wrestling and submission skills, but there is always the possibility of an upset, and Gustafsson, a highly touted striker who stands 6'5", is being billed as the one man who can topple the champ.
On paper, both fighters are evenly matched. Gustafsson's 7-1 career mark inside the UFC is only slightly bested by Jones' 12-1 UFC record, and both men own victories against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and TKOs over Vladimir Matyushenko. But Jones has faced a much higher caliber of competition, defeating Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Vitor Belfort, all former UFC light heavyweight champions, and it's unlikely that he'll falter at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, where he has already defended his title twice.
Gustafsson, who has nine career knockouts, does have an edge in the boxing game, but expect Jones to nullify the Swede's striking by taking this one to the ground and scoring a submission in the second or third round.
Co-main event: Renan Barao vs. Eddie Wineland
Having secured the UFC's interim bantamweight title more than a year ago, Renan Barao heads into his title tilt against Eddie Wineland riding an impressive 31-fight undefeated streak (5-0 UFC) that dates back to 2005.
A black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Barao possesses one of the top submission games in the 135-pound division, but he'll have to summon his best against the hard-hitting Wineland, a former WEC champ (2-2 UFC) with knockout power.
Wineland will come out swinging, throwing punches in bunches in hopes of finishing the fight with his hands, but expect Barao counter with some slick striking of his own before going for the takedown.
This battle will be fast paced and exciting, but in the end, Barao will take this one by decision.
Matt Mitrione vs. Brendan Schaub
This heavyweight contest between TUF season 10 alums Mitrione (6-2 UFC) and Schaub (5-3 UFC) has all the makings for a quick finish, and judging by their past appearances inside the Octagon, one of these men is going down fast.
Schaub, who was most recently seen laying and praying his way to a unanimous decision victory over Lavar Johnson in one of the most boring fights of 2013, is a BJJ brown belt, and clearly has an edge on the ground, but his notoriously weak chin has been an issue, as all three of his career losses have come by knockout.
Conversely, Mitrione, a former defensive tackle for the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, has tremendous knockout power. And while he has made more headlines in 2013 with his mouth than his fists after being suspended by the UFC for making transphobic remarks after his most recent Octagon win, bad taste doesn't make his punches any less lethal.
Look for Mitirone to land a first round knockout.
Costas Philipou vs. Francis Carmont
Middleweights Philippou (5-1 UFC) and Carmont (5-0 UFC) both come into this fight riding five-fight winning streaks, but only one will walk away with the victory and continue their ascension up the 185-pound ranks.
Philippou, who is making his first Octagon appearance of 2013, is coming off an impressive TKO of promotional stalwart Tim Boetsch, while Carmont, a French native who fights out of Montreal's Tristar Gym, enters this matchup on the heels of two straight decisions, including a controversial split decision over Tom Lawlor.
Expect lots of leaning against the fence in this slow-paced slugfest, and while the taller Carmont should have an advantage in the clinch, don't be surprised when Philippou goes to the ground-and-pound en route to a third round TKO.
If this one goes the distance, however, Carmont will have an upper hand with the Canadian judges.
Pat Healy vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Five months ago, Pat "Bam Bam" Healy (0-1, 1 NC UFC) was the feel-good story of MMA, as the career journeyman returned to the UFC after more than seven years, earning "Fight of the Night" and "Submission of the Night" honors for his win over lightweight staple Jim Miller. The high was short-lived for Healy, however, as the New Jersey State Athletic Commission overturned the decision after a failed post-fight drug test for marijuana, resulting in a "no contest" and the loss of $130,000 in post-fight bonuses.
Healy now returns to the Octagon against undefeated up-and-comer Nurmagomedov (4-0 UFC), who was most recently seen scoring the single fight takedown record with 21 against Abel Trujillo.
This battle at 155 pounds will be a war, with Nurmagomedov owning the edge on his feet and on the ground, and Healy possessing the indeterminable heart factor.
Don't expect a finish here, as both fighters are too tough to tap, but look for Nurmagomedov to score the decision victory.