Any chance you didn’t get around to reading SI.com’s Crash Course to UFC 164 earlier this week? If that’s the case (shame on you!), you didn’t see my prediction for the main event … so maybe I can get away with picking Anthony Pettis here … even though I went with Benson Henderson the first time.
That’d be sneaky. That’d be cowardly. That’d be covering my bases.
This fight — Henderson defending his lightweight championship against the last man to beat him — is really tough to call.
I did make a call, though, based on my belief that Henderson will operate from hard-won knowledge — see “Showtime Kick” — that it’s dangerous to give Pettis room to work. So he won’t. Ben is awfully good at nullifying another man’s weapons with his unrelenting attack. He recognizes that Pettis wants to move forward. So he will instead.
But here’s the counterargument, in question form, from the Pettis supporter inside me: Can the champ do that for 25 minutes?
Yes, we’ve seen Henderson go five rounds in four straight fights, then seen him have his hand raised a winner by decision each time. But neither Frankie Edgar nor Nate Diaz nor Gilbert Melendez has what Anthony Pettis possesses: the explosiveness to make one short lapse by Henderson a fight-finishing moment.
I’m sticking to my guns, though, which is to say: Henderson by decision.
Other main card predictions:
Frank Mir vs. Josh Barnett
The narrative being recited by Mir in advance of this long-awaited co-main event is that if he and Barnett had met back in the day — before Josh was banished from the UFC in 2002 for failing a post-fight drug test the night he won the heavyweight championship from Randy Couture — he wouldn’t have had the seasoning to hang with the man known as “The Baby-Faced Assassin.” Frank was a prelim fighter in just his fourth pro bout on that UFC 36 card where Barnett beat Couture to run his record to 13-1. So, as logic would have it, Mir should have Father Time on his side now, right? Not really. The men are just a year and a half apart in age, and the 35-year-old Barnett — now known as “The Warmaster” because, well, the baby face has aged — seems to have more left in the tank. This one could look like Old Timers’ Day at the ballpark if the big guys stalk each other from long range, but I’m going to be an optimist and envision a fun-to-watch tussle on the mat. Barnett by decision.
Chad Mendes vs. Clay Guida
Mendes was 11-0 when he stepped into the cage in Rio de Janeiro last year to challenge José Aldo for the featherweight belt. He was knocked out. Back to the drawing board he went, and what we see today is not merely the relentless wrestler of old but an all-around threat. His three results since the failed title shot: TKO, KO TKO, all in the first round. Guida is an elusive guy — sometimes too elusive for his own good — but can he stay out of the way of Chad’s punches? I don’t think so. Mendes by TKO.
Ben Rothwell vs. Brandon Vera
Anyone have a coin I can flip? Vera is 35, injury-prone and inexplicably inconsistent even on his healthiest day. Rothwell is exactly the same, other than being four years younger and four tons bigger (the latter a slight exaggeration). Vera, who has won just one of his last five fights, is returning to heavyweight after four years at 205 pounds. Speaking of four years, that’s how long Rothwell’s pattern of win-loss-win-loss has gone on. Big Ben is due for a win. Rothwell by TKO.
Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirier
This matchup was talked about a couple of years ago, when these two were young stars on the rise. Both are 24 now, still young … and coming off a loss. Koch fell Ricardo Lama, Poirier to Cub Swanson three weeks later. No shame in losing to top opponents, even if it takes some of the shine off this fight. The winner is right back in the race. Koch by decision.