The MGM Grand Garden Arena was set to host UFC 196 on February 6. The headliner on the card was expected to be a rematch of June’s Heavyweight Championship fight between Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez. However, on Sunday, Velasquez withdrew from the fight because of a back injury. Stipe Miocic was set to step in and fight Werdum, but on Monday Werdum pulled out.
Welterweights Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson are now the feature battle, while big men Roy Nelson and Jared Rosholt and flyweights Joseph Benavidez and Zach Makovsky highlight the rest of the main card. Evidently, that lineup isn’t worth the “UFC 196” moniker, and the event has now been dubbed “UFC Fight Night 82.”
Hendricks vs Thompson
Hendricks (17-3) was briefly the Welterweight title holder thanks to a unanimous decision win over Robbie Lawler in March 2014. However, Lawler won a split decision to get the belt back nine months later. Hendricks improved to 17-3 by beating Matt Brown (unanimous decision) in March 2015. He’s a supremely talented wrestler, but has also shown improved boxing over his career and has eight knockouts on his resume.
Thompson, who is 20-0 as a kickboxer, also sports a sparkling 11-1 MMA record. His only loss came to Brown in 2012 (unanimous decision). He’s won five straight fights since then, most recently KOing Jake Ellenberger last July in The Ultimate Fighter: American Top Team vs Blackzilians finale. At UFC 178, he won a unanimous decision against Patrick Cote.
Hendricks is a 5/13 favorite. He’s the more accomplished fighter and should be able to control the cage with his ground game. But there’s not a lot of value there and Thompson certainly has a puncher’s chance, at worst. The under (2.5 rounds, laying 5/8) looks like the best play.
Nelson vs Rosholt
“Big Country” Nelson (20-12) is nearing the age of 40 and well north of 250 pounds. He’s lost three straight fights (against Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem, and Josh Barnett) and five out of his last six. His best days are clearly behind him, but the power is still there. At least it was in 2014, when he KOed Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira (his last win in the octagon).
Rosholt (14-2) is 29 years old and coming off of three straight victories. He earned a decision win over Stefan Struve in November after beating Josh Copeland and Tim Johnson earlier in the year. His only recent loss came to Oleksiy Oliynyk in 2014.
Nelson has had a much more storied career, but laying 5/8 on him seems crazy at this point. We’ll happily take 6/5 on the younger, streaking fighter.
Benavidez vs Makovsky
Benavidez (23-4) seems destined for another shot at the Flyweight Title. Since losing a championship bout against Demetrious Johnson in December 2013, he has won four straight, including unanimous decisions against John Moraga and Ali Bagautinov last year. The 31-year-old is 11-2 in his last 13 matches, and his only setbacks have come with championships on the line.
Makovsky (19-6) was the Bellator Bantamweight Champ until early in 2012. He won his first four flyweight matches before running into Jussier Formiga in August 2014. He rebounded to beat Tim Elliott last February, but fell to John Dodson in May. He’s been to the cards 15 times in his 25 career fights, including the last eight straight. At just 5’4″, “Fun Size” is more than a 3/1 underdog.
While the fight is likely to be a Benavidez win by decision, at more than two-to-one, we’ll take a stab on the under( 2.5 rounds) and hope that Makovsky is severely outclassed.
(Photo credit: Lee Brimelow [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)