That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for another Texas sized edition of the Downes Side! Much like the Lone Star State, the Nostradamus of MMA has an independent spirit, has a fondness for large belt buckles and all my predictions are USDA prime cuts.
The UFC brings some equally impressive beef this weekend to the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas, for UFC 171. The main event of the evening will create some order in the chaotic welterweight division as we crown a new champion for the first time since 2008. After losing a close decision to Georges St-Pierre in November, Johny “Big Rigg” Hendricks earns another shot at the title. He’ll be squaring off against a resurgent Robbie Lawler. Both are southpaws, both have tremendous knockout power, and either one could create the next welterweight dynasty. The co-main event of the night could determine the next challenger for the 170-pound belt as Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley battle it out.
OVINCE SAINT PREUX VS. NIKITA KRYLOV
The main card opens in the light heavyweight division with Ovince Saint Preux and Nikita Krylov. A Strikeforce transplant with a 2-0 record in the UFC, Saint Preux is the second most dangerous OSP enemy you could make. A dangerous striker, he showed off those skills with a blistering first round KO over Cody Donovan. Dropping down from heavyweight to make his 205-pound debut, Nikita “Al Capone” Krylov only needed 25 seconds to head kick KO Walt Harris his last time out. You’d like to think that would be the highlight of the 22-year-old’s career, but you’d be wrong.
After a less than stellar debut against Soa Paleilei, Krylov looked like an entirely different person against Harris. Much like Frank Wilson, though, I’ve used my keen deduction skills to figure out Al Capone. Despite the large gap between the two performances, Krylov had one thing in common. No head movement. He may not have the size disadvantage at the new weight class, but his defensive capabilities are still up in the air. OSP’s speed and power leads him to the second round TKO victory.
JAKE SHIELDS VS. HECTOR LOMBARD
We move to welterweight for the first of three fascinating 170-pound fights with Jake Shields and Hector Lombard. A former Strikeforce middleweight champ, Shields is coming off two straight split decision wins over Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley. One of the best grapplers in MMA, Shields cooks his opponents like Texans cook their brisket -- low and slow. He works from top position and neutralizes even the most destructive opponents. After underperforming at middleweight, Lombard started his welterweight campaign with a first round knockout of Nate Marquardt at UFC 166. A hard hitter along with a BJJ black belt and judo background, Lombard has finished 21 opponents in the first round.
The real deciding factor here will be Lombard’s stamina. In his losses to Yushin Okami and Tim Boetsch, both were able to weather his attacks and wear him down in the later rounds. Shields may not be able to compete with Lombard on the feet, but he’s shown the ability to withstand hard shots and bring it to the ground (e.g. his fight against Dan Henderson). Lombard has underrated grappling credentials, but after watching Jake Shields totally negate Demian Maia’s offense, it’s hard to be bullish on Lombard’s chances. Lombard’s best chances for victory will be in the first round. As long as he doesn’t give up the early takedown, Lombard can finish Shields the same way that Jake Ellenberger did. He’ll connect with an uppercut as Shields closes the distance, drop Shields with a knee and ground and pound his way to a first round TKO.
DIEGO SANCHEZ VS. MYLES JURY
We step down to lightweight for the Fight of the Night favorite. Champion of The Ultimate Fighter season one, Diego “The Dream” Sanchez makes his 20th appearance inside the Octagon. Coming off a loss to Gilbert Melendez considered to be Fight of the Year, Sanchez can absorb damage and push through at a Homer Simpson-like level. By contrast, Myles “Fury” Jury fights for the fifth time in the UFC. A young prospect with an undefeated record, a victory here would be the signature win of his young career.
Despite four submission wins, Jury is first and foremost a striker. Sanchez could put Jury on his back and see how he reacts to a little bit of adversity, but if we’ve learned one thing about Diego through the years, it’s that he tends not to be the most tactical. Sanchez should be studied by biologists because self-preservation is one of those innate human instincts that he seems to lack. He likes to stand there and trade, no matter the cost. He’ll do the same with Jury and it’ll cost him. The only TKO loss of his career was against BJ Penn (because of a doctor’s stoppage) so look for Jury to strike his way to a unanimous decision win.
CARLOS CONDIT VS. TYRON WOODLEY
We return to welterweight for Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley. After back to back losses to Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks, Condit bounced back with a fourth round TKO against Martin Kampmann. An accomplished striker and all around threat, he holds the second most finishes in UFC/WEC history behind Matt Hughes. In three UFC fights, Tyron Woodley has two first round knockouts over Jay Hieron and Josh Koscheck plus a split decision loss to Jake Shields. The KO power has been a recent development, but he’s always had a solid wrestling and clinching base.
Similar to the Shields/Lombard fight, this is a fight between a fast starter and a tactical fighter that can take people into the deep waters. Woodley has the talent to make waves at 170 pounds, but he’s still learning how to put everything together. Condit, on the other hand, already has all the pieces in place. Woodley could try to blitz right away, but Condit’s striking defense is too strong to be overwhelmed that easily. The Natural Born Killer may lose the first round, but he’ll adapt to his opponent and start picking him apart in the later rounds. Woodley throws single, power shots. Condit is much more fluid and that will be the difference maker. Condit positions himself for another title shot with a unanimous decision win.
JOHNY HENDRICKS VS. ROBBIE LAWLER
Time for the main event! Even though he lost on the judges’ scorecards, Johny Hendricks won in many fans’ eyes against GSP, and now he has another chance to claim welterweight gold. An accomplished wrestler whose left cross has earned him eight knockouts, Hendricks has all the tools to be a permanent fixture among the welterweight elite. “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler finds himself in the position that many thought he was destined for...just about a decade later than we expected. Taking the journeyman route to the title, Lawler’s return to the UFC has been punctuated with three straight wins over Josh Koscheck, Bobby Voelker and Rory MacDonald.
Paper or plastic. Cash or credit. Boxers or briefs. These are the normal dichotomies we wrestle with in everyday life. Once in a while, though, a choice comes that would make even Meryl Streep say, “Wow, that’s a hard one.” Hendricks or Lawler is one of those decisions. After the GSP fight, Hendricks said that his biggest mistake was pacing himself and taking it slower. Is that the truth or just a way to deflect the criticism that he gasses too quickly? Much like the question, “Why did Tickle Me Elmo get so popular?” the world may never know. In terms of pure striking, Lawler has the edge, but the difference maker here will be Hendricks’s penchant for moving forward. He’ll leave himself open for the counter and you never know what could happen with Lawler’s power, but Hendricks’ pressure and aggression will rule the day. Once on the inside, he’ll go for the takedown. Lawler will defend initially, but it will eventually become too much. Johny Hendricks becomes the newest welterweight champion with a third round TKO. After being crowned champion, he’ll then set his sights on this guy and Time Magazine’s list of Top 10 lefties.
That wraps up another Walker Texas Ranger level of the Downes Side. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to add your own predictions, smarm, interrogatives and favorite Texas products on the page here, too. For me it’s a no brainer -- Texas Toast.
The Downes Side: UFC 171 Predictions
UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for UFC 171: Hendricks vs. Lawler, taking place Saturday, March 15