By Dwight Wakabayashi
Most of the focus of Saturday’s UFC 157 has been on the main event, the first female fight in UFC history, between champion Ronda Rousey and challenger Liz Carmouche. However, the pay-per-view is filled with very interesting fights.
Here is a breakdown of the UFC 157 main card, starting from the bottom to the top.
Josh Koscheck (16-7) vs Robbie Lawler (19-9) – welterweight
Polarizing welterweight Josh Koscheck gets the opportunity to welcome Strikeforce veteran and former UFC brawler Robbie Lawler back to the UFC. Despite his close loss against No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks, Koscheck finds himself on the outside looking in on the top welterweights in the world. Many, including myself, felt that Koscheck won his fight against Hendricks and he is not completely out of the welterweight title picture just yet. A win over Lawler, and more specifically a finish, could propel him into the mix with the guys in the UFC 158 welterweight mini-tournament.
Lawler makes his return to the UFC after being away from the promotion since 2004. His last fight in the UFC was a loss against the late Evan Tanner at UFC 50, and since then he has eight wins, six losses and one no contest mostly fought under the Strikeforce banner. Lawler is a brawler with knockout power in his hands, and he will be looking to land that goodnight punch throughout the fight.
Koscheck will probably fight an identical game plan as in his last fight, looking to stay away from Lawler’s power as he did with Hendricks, and look to have Lawler on his back for most of the fight. Koscheck is very arrogant, and may look to stand and trade with Lawler to make a statement and expose the level of Strikeforce imports. A quick look at the early success of Strikeforce imports shows that may not be the wisest idea. If Lawler can get a knockout, he announces himself as a new arrival to the welterweight contenders.
Court McGee (13-3) vs. Josh Neer (33-12) – welterweight
Does it seem right that a man the size of Court McGee will be fighting at welterweight? In what has become a growing trend, if at first you don’t succeed, drop down a weight class. McGee makes his 170-pound debut this weekend.
He made the decision to drop down following back-to-back losses to Nick Ring and Costa Philippou in his two fights in 2012. The TUF 11 winner has a decent all-around game and if he can make a successful cut, the size advantage should help him impose his game. He is not overwhelming in any one area but he puts it together well enough to compete with some world-class fighters.
Josh Neer is an established veteran who is also coming off two losses and needs this win badly to stay relevant in the UFC. Neer has shown flashes of a dangerous game throughout his career but is on his last legs in the UFC. He can prolong his time in the promotion if he can beat McGee, and his best chance of doing that is to take it to his submission skills. He will have a tough time reaching McGee on the feet and will need to use his jiu-jitsu game as his key to victory.
Urijah Faber (26-6) vs. Ivan Menjivar (25-9) – bantamweight
The bantamweight division is a little short on contenders right now and these two veterans will fight to secure a possible shot at the title. Faber is one of the most popular fighters in the history of the sport and has been a perennial contender for years in both the 135- and 145-pound divisions. Two of his last three fights have been for a bantamweight title, yet he has come up just short in both tries. His wrestling and all-around game is elite enough to beat anyone short of the champions in each division. If Faber can get a win over Menjivar, he will prove he is still the best man to challenge for the title again.
Menjivar has been in the fight game for 12 years now and unlike Faber, he has never fought for a UFC title. He has been close to getting a shot in his career but should be a lock for a shot if he can defeat Faber. Menjivar is coming off a slick and deadly arm-bar submission over Azamat Gashimov at UFC 154 in Montreal. His ability to secure a submission in a flash keeps him in every fight until the final bell and gives him a chance in this fight against Faber. Menjivar can strike too, especially against the cage or in the clinch so Faber has more to worry about than getting taken down for a tap.
The winner of this fight, no matter how he wins, likely gets a future shot at Renan Barao or Dominick Cruz.
Lyoto Machida (20-3) vs. Dan Henderson (29-8) – light heavyweight
This fight is a main event disguised as a co-main event with the inaugural women’s title on the line immediately after this fight. A title fight in any division is a worthy main event but it will take quite the fight to top what could take place in this one.
Both these men are at the very top of the list in terms of the best fighters ever to enter the cage and there is a lot on the line going in to this one. Machida has already had his shot at Jon Jones and the title, losing byy technical submission at UFC 140 in late 2011. He then went out and beat Ryan Bader easily in his only time in the cage last year. Machida is a tough fight for anyone with his elusive karate style and devastating counter striking. He will want to keep at a distance and on the feet for the entire fight as his key to victory.
Forty-two-year-old Dan Henderson has done it all in his 16-year career except there is one thing that has eluded him and that is a UFC title. The former Pride and Strikeforce champion would love nothing more than one shot at UFC gold before he puts an end to his Hall of Fame career. He is the underdog going in against Machida and many feel like this is the worst possible match-up for him to get to that final shot. Henderson is at his best when he can lock horns in the middle of the cage, and Machida is not the fighter to stand there and accommodate him. This fight will be much different than the Henderson-Rua fight that thrilled fans in 2011, and Henderson will be chasing him all night.
If Henderson can get the win over Machida he cements his place as the No. 1 contender for the next shot at the light heavyweight title. If Machida wins, he may have to stand in line behind Alexander Gustafsson for another title shot. (Though UFC president Dana White said at Thursday’s UFC 157 pre-fight press conference that the winner will face Jon Jones next. Of course, he is also assuming Jones beats Chael Sonnen in April.)
Ronda Rousey (6-0) vs. Liz Carmouche (8-2) – women’s bantamweight championship
Women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has already made a lot of noise outside the cage since coming into the UFC and being crowned the first female champion. There has been a lot of hype, publicity and fanfare already and Rousey hasn’t even fought in the UFC yet. An undefeated six wins and no loss record, with six first-round arm-bar submissions will tend to get you a lot of attention and all eyes will be watching this weekend.
Miesha Tate lasted the longest against Rousey, going four and half minutes before having to tap to a brutal arm bar. Tate’s arm suffered considerable damage in that fight, seemingly causing many to shy away from a fight with Rousey.
According to White, Liz Carmouche is the only one who stepped up when the Rousey fight was presented and she gets her chance to shock the world in Anaheim this weekend. Carmouche has an 8-2 record with five knockouts and two submissions among her eight wins. She is as qualified as any to meet the Rousey challenge, although I don’t have much hope for her in getting the win.
If Rousey gets a first-round arm-bar win, it will once again prove that she is far ahead of any other female mixed martial artist signed by the UFC, and there are no interesting fights out there for her other than Cristiane (Cyborg) Santos, who unfortunately has signed with Invicta FC.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.