SI.com analysts Ben Fowlkes, Loretta Hunt, Jeff Wagenheim and Jon Wertheim provide their predictions for UFC 145 on Saturday in Atlanta.
Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans
FOWLKES: Evans might have the best chance yet to find out what Jones can do off his back, but nothing I’ve seen from the current champ gives me any reason to doubt him. He might have a harder time with Evans than he did with Lyoto Machida, but I think Jones still gets his hand raised via a late finish. Jones by TKO.
HUNT: At the end of the night, when Jones’ hand is raised, Evans — the most successful fighter to come out of The Ultimate Fighter series — can take stock in knowing that nobody can beat Jones right now except Jones himself. Jones by TKO.
WAGENHEIM: I don’t know if Evans is good enough to beat the champ, but he’s good enough to give Jones what no one has given him before: a scrap. “Bones” has too much fight and too much flair, however, to skip to anyone else’s Lou. Jones by KO.
WERTHEIM: Most anticipated fight on 2012 so far. Even discounting the obligatory trash talk as hype to pump pay-per-view buys, for the first time, Jones faces an opponent he truly dislikes. He’s younger, healthier, more creative and has a sizable reach advantage. Short of catching Jones, it’s hard to imagine Evans becoming the first fighter to solve the Jones riddle. Jones by decision.
READERS: In an SI.com poll, 76 percent of our readers said Jones will beat Evans.
Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills
FOWLKES: Going from Chris Cope to Rory MacDonald is a huge leap in level of competition, and I’m not sure Mills is totally ready for it. Despite his age, MacDonald fights like a seasoned vet these days — one with very few weaknesses. MacDonald by TKO.
HUNT: If Georges St-Pierre really called MacDonald the next St-Pierre as Dana White claims, that speaks volumes to what the UFC champ/future legend must be seeing training alongside the 22-year-old prospect. Mills, a European circuit vet, is in for a tough night. MacDonald by KO.
WAGENHEIM: MacDonald was climbing the welterweight ladder hand over fist until an injury last fall stopped him cold. Now it’s time for the hot prospect to resume his ascent. MacDonald by submission.
WERTHEIM: What does matchmaker Joe Silva know that we don’t? Mills might be a promising fighter but this is a big step up. McDonald — superior on every dimension — takes the fight to ground and wins by strikes. MacDonald by submission.
READERS: In an SI.com poll, 59 percent of our readers said MacDonald will beat Mills.
Brendan Schaub vs. Ben Rothwell
FOWLKES: Rothwell has the edge in power, and probably also has a better chin. Schaub is faster and a little more athletic. Rothwell’s never more than one good shot from victory, but Schaub can do more, and do it slightly better. Schaub by decision.
HUNT: Schaub expanded his training circle with trips to Las Vegas and southern California before settling in Denver with a new camp — which could be initially good or bad for the former AFL football player. Regardless, Schaub is the more polished athlete with great natural instincts. The resilient Rothwell won’t last. Schaub by TKO.
WAGENHEIM: Last time we saw Schaub, he was dazzling — until he was dazed. Getting KO’d by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira ruined what had started out so impressively. Time to begin again. Schaub by decision.
WERTHEIM: Schaub — a former Buffalo Bills practice squad player — has made a nice transition to MMA. An inferior wrestler to Rothwell but he has better hands and quickness. Schaub by TKO.
READERS: In an SI.com poll, 68 percent of our readers said Schaub will beat Rothwell.
Miguel Torres vs. Michael McDonald
FOWLKES: Torres is a tough, experienced fighter, but McDonald (or so we’re told) is the future. Torres is definitely the best fighter he’s ever faced, but as long as he doesn’t get too aggressive and take himself out of this one, I think McDonald is up to the challenge. McDonald by decision.
HUNT: Only 21 with two UFC performance bonuses in his four Zuffa-promoted fights, McDonald is a promising talent. He has speed and power over Torres, who might find himself struggling to keep up Saturday. McDonald by decision.
WAGENHEIM: McDonald is just 21 but already has 15 professional fights, winning all but one. Maybe his future is now. Or maybe he’s in for some schooling by a veteran ex-champion. Torres by decision.
WERTHEIM: Classic youth-versus-experience fight. Big opportunity for McDonald, 21, to show his stuff. Says here he avoids a sloppy mistake on the ground and wins by decision over former WEC champ. McDonald by decision.
READERS: In an SI.com poll, 65 percent of our readers said Torres will beat McDonald.
Mark Hominick vs. Eddie Yagin
FOWLKES: Hominick got careless against Chan Sung Jung, but don’t expect him to make the same mistake twice. He needs a win in a bad, bad way, and Yagin is just the type of fighter he ought to get one against. Hominick by TKO.
HUNT: Yagin was one of the first standouts hailing from Hawaii circa the early 2000s, but he came up short (both in height and performance) against Junior Assuncao during his octagon debut last September. Hominick’s had far more time to perfect his standup game at the sport’s top level. Hominick by TKO.
WAGENHEIM: Coming off a record-tying 7-second KO by Chan Sung Jung, Hominick really needs to move forward. Cautiously. But ultimately with gusto. Hominick by decision.
WERTHEIM: Hominick gets a chance to show that his stunning seven-second loss to Korean Zombie last year was a horrific fluke. Should get back to winning ways against overmatched Hawaiian Eddie Yagin. Hominick by TKO.
READERS: In an SI.com poll, 56 percent of our readers said Hominick will beat Yagin.
Mark Bocek vs. John Alessio
FOWLKES: He doesn’t have a style that fans appreciate, but Bocek is an absolute nightmare on the mat. He’s a suffocating grappler with the skill and the patience necessary to grind out one three-rounder after another. It won’t be popular, but I think he’ll do his thing and collect his check against Alessio. Bocek by decision.
HUNT: Alessio, a solid 14-year veteran who fought at welterweight for a good part of his career, has quietly plugged away for nearly four years, waiting for Zuffa to call him back to the big leagues. Of course, his last-minute opportunity comes against Bocek, who’s as dangerous on the mats as any lightweight out there. Alessio by decision.
WAGENHEIM: Since 2008, Bocek has lost only to Jim Miller and Ben Henderson. Alessio has won 10 of his last 11 bouts, but he’s no Henderson or Miller. Bocek by decision.
WERTHEIM: Alessio has mastered the art of seldom dazzling but usually doing enough to win. Veteran has suddenly won 10 of last 11 fights. Look for him to grind it out on points. Alessio by decision.
READERS: In an SI.com poll, 58 percent of our readers said Bocek will beat Alessio.