SI.com analysts Dave Doyle, Loretta Hunt, Jeff Wagenheim and Jon Wertheim provide their predictions for UFC 152 on Saturday in Toronto.
Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort
DOYLE: I’m tempted to take Belfort simply for contrarian purposes. But I can’t ignore the 13-1 odds and a motivated Jones, who will add another former champ to his list of victims. Jones by TKO.
HUNT: The 25-year-old Jones’ biggest threat is himself at the moment. If he doesn’t allow Dana White’s bullying tactics to taint his mental state, he has the speed to evade, then stop the elder Belfort, a four-week replacement coming off May surgery for a broken hand. Jones by TKO.
WAGENHEIM: I want to believe that Belfort can make this a fight, maybe just because Vitor believes it so vehemently. He does have the explosiveness and just-go-for-it mentality necessary to make Jones uncomfortable. But all who’ve stepped in with the champ have said they’re going to take it to him, and then when their moment finally comes, they’re mesmerized by his length, strength and avant-garde athleticism. Jones by TKO.
WERTHEIM: We’re surprised how many fans are giving Belfort a puncher’s chance. You have to think some of this owes to Jones’ rejection of the Chael Sonnen fight and the (largely successful) smear campaign by the UFC. Jones is simply better than Befort in every conceivable way — not to mention younger, more athletic, and more on the line. Jones by TKO.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson
DOYLE: This has Fight of the Night potential. Johnson absolutely can win, but I think Benavidez’s power at 125 will make the difference. Benavidez by TKO.
HUNT: I thought Johnson was champion material when he faced 135-pound titleholder Dominick Cruz a year ago. He had the skill set and speed to match Cruz’s crazy pace nearly move for move. He only lacked the power — something that should correct itself now that he’s moved down to the UFC’s recently-introduced flyweight division. Johnson by decision.
WAGENHEIM: My prediction? Speed. Oh, you want to know who wins and gets to make history as the UFC’s first 125-pound champion? I’m going to go with the guy who’s beaten every fighter he’s been in with other than indomitable 135-pound champ Dominick Cruz. Benavidez by decision.
WERTHEIM: Intriguing fight that has the potential to be a great one. Johnson’s superior speed will be the difference in the Fight of the Night. Johnson by decision.
Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann
DOYLE: A well-matched fight between guys with similar strengths and weaknesses. When push comes to shove, though, Bisping’s in-ring abilities are finally catching up to his verbal skills. Bisping by decision.
HUNT: Stann left the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp in December to stay closer to his Atlanta home, so this is a rebuilding year for him. Stann’s on the right track bringing two-time All-American wrestler Raymond Jordan in for preparation, but it will take longer than a few months to see dividends here. If Bisping’s smart, he’ll mix his striking with takedowns to ride it out. Bisping by decision.
WAGENHEIM: Bisping talks such a great game that his blithering blabber can drown out even an obvious truth: He fights a pretty good fight as well. Stann has the power to turn off the lights, but “The Count” is a master technician in nullifying an opponent’s strengths. Bisping by decision.
WERTHEIM: Classic black hat/white hat clash, brash mouthy Brit against Stann, the dignified military hero. Stann will have the crowd (and popular) support. But you have a feeling Bisping’s experience could be the difference. Bisping by decision.
Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett
DOYLE: I think Hamill is going to hit the same career wall which caused him to retire in the first place. But not Saturday. This is too big a step up in competition for Hollett. Hamill by TKO.
HUNT: Hamill “retired” on back-to-back losses last August, so it’s anyone’s guess how the wrestler will look Saturday night. Canadian Hollett’s been on the shelf nearly as long, so this feels more like a filler fight than anything else. I’ll take the grinding collegiate wrestler over the striker. Hamill by decision.
WAGENHEIM: Welcome back to the office, Mr. Hamill. One question: What have you been doing with yourself in the 13 months since you walked away from MMA? Do you still have a fighter’s mindset? You’re going to need it, even against an octagon debutant. Hamill by decision.
WERTHEIM: Hamill “unretires” and the UFC helps the cause by giving him a beatable opponent. Hamill by TKO.
Cub Swanson vs. Charles Oliveira
DOYLE: Swanson is capable of being on either end of a spectacular finish. Oliveira has rebounded nicely after being thrown to the wolves. A coin flip of a fight. Oliveira by decision.
HUNT: Wily vet Swanson has been delivering some great finishes lately, so he’s a dependable choice for Zuffa to kick off the pay-per-view portion. Oliveira has quietly put together two submission wins since his sobering loss to Donald Cerrone and the subsequent exit from the lightweight division 13 months ago. This should be a fun one. Oliveira by submission.
WAGENHEIM: Oliveira hit a bit of a rough patch during the end of his run at lightweight, but ever since he dropped to featherweight the Brazilian has been a terror. That spells trouble for the up-and-down Swanson. Oliveira by submission.
WERTHEIM: Oliveira is undefeated in the division. But I’m going upset. Swanson catches him and wins a shocker. Swanson by submission.