Another big UFC fight card is set to go down Saturday night in Seattle.
Watch Saturday’s UFC on Sportsnet: Henderson vs. Diaz, starting with the televised undercard at 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT, followed by the four-fight main card at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT. A bonus early preliminary fight is expected to appear on Sportsnet.ca at about 4:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. PT.
Here is a breakdown of the four-fight main card:
Mike Swick (15-4) vs. Matt Brown (15-11) – welterweight
Both these fighters are alumni of The Ultimate Fighter and are looking to make one last run up into the top contenders of the division. Swick is coming off a nice knockout win over DaMarques Johnson in his return after two years off due to injury.
Swick brings lightning fast hands to the cage and is always looking to land that one big shot out of nowhere to end the fight. A victory for him will give him two-win momentum, and set him up for a very important fight to start out 2013. A loss here would halt any potential run in the division and put him in welterweight no man’s land. Not in jeopardy of losing his job just yet, but also nowhere near the fights he wants to be in.
After a mediocre start in the UFC, Brown has fought himself to a three-fight win streak and his bout with Swick is the biggest of his career. Brown is a tough, no-nonsense fighter, who will use strength and pressure to bully you around the cage. His game is not as flashy or viewer-friendly as Swick’s but it is every bit as effective and he will be determined to take Swick into deep waters. If Brown can bob and weave through Swick’s missiles coming in and keep this fight as tight and ugly as possible, he can win. A victory for Brown would put him in a place that few thought he could be, a welterweight contender. If he loses, it will be back to fighting the Chris Copes and Luis Ramoses for the rest of his career.
BJ Penn (16-8-2) vs. Rory MacDonald (13-1) – welterweight
This one has all the makings and storylines of a classic but which story will it tell? Will it be MacDonald’s coming out party, announcing his place among the best in the world today? Or will it be the comeback fight for legend Penn, further cementing his place among the greatest fighters of all-time? Make no mistake there is bad blood here, Penn confirmed it yesterday at the press conference when he told MacDonald that he better be ready to back up everything he has said about him.
MacDonald is a beast of a fighter but he sure has talked a lot of trash at Penn in the pre-fight lead-up and his attitude has many hoping that Penn knocks him down a notch. It will be an extremely tough task for Penn based on Rory’s size and vicious all-around game. He hits to hurt, and every time he touches Penn, it is going to leave a mark on the legend. If Penn can win this fight, no matter how he wins it, it will be yet another shining moment on the Hawaiian’s career.
I believe that Penn has a chance, but his only chance is to keep this fight standing as much as possible, and to hurt MacDonald early.
The winner of this fight gets a spot in the top five of the welterweight division, and a possible shot at the title in 2013.
Mauricio Rua (21-6) vs. Alexander Gustafsson(14-1) – light heavyweight
This is another fight that could signal a changing of the guard in the landscape of the UFC. Out with the old, established former champions like Mauricio Rua and in with the new-breed, young, up and comer like Alexander Gustafsson. Dana White also reiterated at Thursday’s press conference that the winner of this fight will get the next shot at the 205-pound title.
It has only been slightly over a year since Rua lost the title to Jon Jones and he clearly wants a chance to win it back. His aggressive, Muay Thai style has always been his biggest asset, but Rua may want to change his approach in this fight. He has taken a lot of damage through the years and he may not be able to withstand what Gustafsson can dish out. His best chance in this one may be to surprise Gustafsson with a different approach and take him down for a jiu-jitsu match. He may have more of an advantage there. Gustafsson’s only loss was to wrestler Phil Davis via first-round submission.
Gustafsson is a lanky man who can fire quick and powerful strikes from a long way away, and Rua will have to take time to gauge the distance and stay out of danger. Eventually Rua will have to engage to win the fight and it is in that split second where Gustafsson excels. If Rua can’t find a way in quickly, he is going to get hit hard and discouraged for the rest of the fight. Gustafsson can hold his own on the ground but it is his striking and takedown defence that will lead him to victory.
Benson Henderson (17-2) vs. Nate Diaz (16-7) – lightweight
A very intriguing clash of styles and personalities will be on display when these two meet for the UFC lightweight title. Henderson won and defended the title over Frankie Edgar to much controversy and is looking to legitimize things by beating Diaz. He brings aggression, athleticism and intelligence to the cage whenever he fights and that mix off all three is what makes him the champion he is today. Henderson is very strong in his faith and Christian living, and has followed a very disciplined path to get here. If he beats Diaz, no one can question his toughness or skill anymore.
Diaz was on the opposite track in life and credits his older brother Nick for forcing him into the disciplined life of a martial artist. He was smart enough to follow his brother into the gym and leave the lazy temptations of the street and he has worked his tail off to get his game to this point. Diaz took out Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller to get here and his game has grown eerily and effectively similar to his big brother’s in the process. That is nothing but a good thing as Nate seems to handle the game of fighting much better than Nick. He is no smiling rose on camera or on the mic, but he shows up when he is supposed to and seems to have a smaller chip on his shoulder.
Trademark Diaz boxing, incredible conditioning and deadly submissions are all a part of the Diaz arsenal, and will give Henderson all he can handle in Seattle.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.