Chael Sonnen (right) is considered a heavy underdog against Jon Jones . (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
SI.com analysts Loretta Hunt, Jeff Wagenheim and Jon Wertheim provide their predictions for UFC 159, which takes place Saturday (10 p.m. ET) and will be blogged on SI.com.
Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen
WAGENHEIM: When the time comes, Chael P.’s music will start to play, he’ll put on his short pants and go to work. And as soon as the guy in the snake suit moves out of the way, he’ll put his head down, walk across the cage and put Jon Jones on his prissy little … oh, wait, I’m describing the fight as it plays out in Sonnen’s melodramatic fantasy narrative, not the way it really will.
A more realistic, if less infomercial-ish scenario: Sonnen comes out boxing and moving forward, and at the first glimpse of one of Jones’s skinny legs, moves in for a takedown try. If he gets it, the crowd will go crazy and we’ll get a rare look at the “Bones” bottom game. Does Jon have the jiu-jitsu chops to become the latest to submit a guy whose walkout music should be “Taps”? Chael is not known for inflicting much damage while smothering an opponent, so it’d be interesting to see if Jones would put those treacherous elbows of his to use and be the ground aggressor. Or would he just work his way back to his feet?
If, on the other hand, Sonnen fails on his takedown attempt, it will be an ingloriously short night for the unworthy challenger. Jones by KO.
HUNT: Jones by TKO.
WERTHEIM: Put simply, it’s hard come up with a conceivable scenario in which Jones loses this fight. He’s superior on virtually every dimension — If he’s not Sonnen’s equal as a wrestler, he comes awfully close — he’s younger, more athletic and will be the crowd favorite. The best Sonnen can hope for: a respectable showing will suggest that he, in fact, earned this opportunity and didn’t simply talk/market himself into a title shot. Jones by TKO.
Michael Bisping vs. Alan Belcher
WAGENHEIM: If you spend a few minutes around these men, as I did on Thursday, it’s hard to picture Belcher winning this fight. Bisping is so supremely confident that he speaks of his opponent as if he were a yokel from Double-A ball who will be unable to get a piece of the Brit’s major-league playoff heater. And Belcher is, well, low-key and thoughtful and a little bemused by the leadup to what he acknowledges as the biggest fight of his career. Is the man with the tattoo of “The Man in Black” on his arm really in over his head? Tough to say, but I’m going to go with no. I think he’s going to give “The Count” a fight he’ll remember. Belcher might even beat him. But I’ve got to go with Bisping. This is the type of fight he’s won for all of his career (only to lose when he’s another step or so closer to the pot of gold). Bisping by decision.
HUNT: Belcher has the heavier hands (and kicks, for that matter), but Bisping can win this if he plays it smart, mixing up his punches with takedowns like he did against Brian Stann last September. Bisping by decision.
WERTHEIM: One hopes the fight lives up to the considerable advance trash talk. While it’s not all-out desperation time, Bisping is 34 now and has lost two of his last three fights. In Belcher, he gets a UFC veteran with a battery of skills and deceptive power. If both fighters are willing to stay on their feet, this has TKO potential. If it goes to the ground, we could have five rounds or stall-and-sprawl. Either way, I pick Bisping by decision.
Roy Nelson vs. Chieck Kongo
WAGENHEIM: Kongo has the power to test Nelson’s hard-as-a-mulleted-rocker chin. But Cheick is known to make mistakes, and Roy is known to capitalize on them. Nelson by KO.
HUNT: Though Nelson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, could devour Kongo on the mat, he’ll likely stand with the chiseled Frenchman, who is yet to amount to the powerhouse fighter his appearance suggests he’d be. Nelson by TKO (R2 or R3).
WERTHEIM: You love Roy Nelson or you hate him, but have to admire both the durability and the unlikely skill set of Big Country. He won’t win any sculpted physique contests, but he can win fights — in a variety of ways. In Congo, he faces a veteran who seems to lose when he’s on the verge of a breakthrough; and win when he’s on the verge of being written off. Look for a TKO — and potential KO/fight of the Night — but I’ll say it’s Nelson who, like his belly, comes up big. Nelson by TKO.
Phil Davis vs. Vinny Magalhaes
WAGENHEIM: If Davis wants to make another go at the top of the light heavyweight division, he simply cannot slip up. Or tap out. Davis by decision.
HUNT: This one will depend on the superior wrestler Davis, who can rack up points with takedown after takedown, as long as he doesn’t dawdle inside the Brazilian’s dangerous guard for too long. Davis by decision.
WERTHEIM: His nickname notwithstanding, Mr. Wonderful doesn’t often impress. A rangy wrestler and methodical fighter, Davis likes to do what’s necessary to win, seldom taking advantage of an inevitable reach advantage. Magalhaes looked good in his UFC return last year, but can he make inroads against a superior wrestler? The guess here: no. Davis by a (boring) decision.
Jim Miller vs. Pat Healy
WAGENHEIM: If you’re looking for aesthetics, change the channel. This ain’t going to be pretty. It isn’t, either. Miller and Healy both are grinders who close distance. When they meld into one, I expect the Jersey guy to grind just a little bit better. Miller by decision.
HUNT: Miller will have a significant edge in speed everywhere and Healy’s strong suit, his boxing, isn’t dynamic enough to catch the hometown favorite. Miller By submission.
WERTHEIM: Not dissimilar fighters, UFC veteran tough guys with submission-based ground skills and some power. Fighting in front of a home crowd, Miller, a New Jersey native, should prevail. Miller by decision.