The UFC makes its debut on the Versus network Sunday with the kind of fight card that would normally leave a Ulysses S. Grant-sized dent in our wallets.
Hitting our optic nerves live from the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo., the card is headlined by a light heavyweight bout starring Jon Jones and Brandon Vera that could be the launching pad for the next big thing at 205 pounds. Joining that quality chunk of violence is a heavyweight dustup pitting rising star Junior dos Santos against the mega-hairy and mega-talented Gabriel Gonzaga.
All that and plenty more, so get down with another round of grown-man prognostication served up with a side of pop-culture digression.
The breakdown: The light heavyweight division's ongoing generational mutation continues with New York-born wunderkind Jon Jones taking on 32-year-old perpetual prospect Brandon Vera for a shot to join the new guard of the 205-pound class. Both men enter this fight in the unique position of coming off an impressive loss, if such a thing exists.
Jones practically bench-pressed Matt Hamill all over the Octagon at "The Ultimate Finale 10" before being disqualified, thanks to a preposterous rule against downward elbow strikes. Vera, on the other hand, managed to lose a decision to Randy Couture at UFC 105 despite turning Couture's insides to mush. While Jones' loss is a write-off, Vera lost his fight with Couture due to backwoods-caliber judging -- and because of his own passivity in a sport that demands the aggression of a Polar Bear with chain saws for paws.
In his first fight since joining the Tri-Star Gym, Jones outclassed Hamill. Aggression alone won't beat Vera, but Jones has the wrestling to ground anything on two legs. And although Jones' striking lacks the technical sheen apparent in Vera's game, his timing and reach make it incredibly difficult to figure him out.
Fans might have expectations of Vera whipping off femur-smashing leg kicks and Jones hitting triple spinning back-elbow combinations. The fact is, however, that this fight will come down to Jones' wrestling and Vera's ability, or lack thereof, to stay upright. It's troubling how Vera simply allowed himself to get tied up in the clinch, and seemed to have no escape plan, against Couture. The same lack of strategy doomed him in bouts with Tim Sylvia and Keith Jardine, where his passivity and lack of in-fight adaptation only made matters worse.
Spend three rounds in the clinch with Jones and you're going to land on your butt sooner or later. Considering the grown-man ground-and-pound Jones showed in his last bout, Vera's solid grappling background and takedown defense just aren't going to cut it. Whenever Vera has had to either defend quality takedowns or work off his back, his work rate hits the floor faster than the NASDAQ. That is something he simply can't afford against Jones.
The bottom line: Vera could certainly punish Jones' legs, given the opportunity. But Jones isn't going to stand in front of him and turn this fight into a Muay Thai seminar. It takes a certain taste for adversity to thrive inside the cage, and Vera doesn't have it when it comes to stuffing takedowns and working the guard. The outcome will be another impressive W via unanimous decision for Jones.
The breakdown: After enduring year after year of a heavyweight division stuck neck-deep in the mud of mediocrity, the long-awaited new blood has finally arrived. Among its leaders is Team Black House uppercut machine Junior dos Santos. Not too long ago, Gabriel Gonzaga was considered part of the heavyweight resurgence as well, but ever since knocking Mirko Filipovic into another dimension at UFC 70, the furry Brazilian's most significant Octagon moment was robbing Chris Tuchscherer of his short-term reproductive capabilities at UFC 102.
All would be forgiven with a win over dos Santos, but first Gonzaga needs to ditch the misguided notion that he's a world-class striker. While "Napao" certainly has the striking to cluster bomb the Josh Hendrickses of the world, his bout with Shane Carwin at UFC 96 revealed a fighter who has lost touch with his grappling roots.
In a division populated by men who appear to have been bred in military research facilities, it makes little sense to forgo years of Brazilian jiu-jitsu training in favor of powerful but unrefined striking. Practically every world-class heavyweight is capable of knocking out a small country. In dos Santos' case, he actually has some technical skill backing up his power and hand speed, which makes him unique in a division full of cookie-cutter brawlers. The difference in movement alone is massive, as Gonzaga tends to lumber about the cage while dos Santos has shown a surprisingly solid understanding of how to use his movement to create openings and evade strikes.
Subtle differences, such as movement and stringing together punches intelligently, can easily overcome Gonzaga's size and strength advantages. What dos Santos might not be able to overcome is Gonzaga's grappling. Early in his career, dos Santos looked like an easy mark on the mat, and Gonzaga can still tap out fools in his sleep. The question is, has dos Santos improved enough on the mat to escape back to his feet? More important, will Gonzaga have the good sense to even go for a takedown?
The variable that no one seems to be talking about, however, is Gonzaga's conditioning. After some rigorous scientific research, I've determined that Gonzaga doesn't gas out but that he is actually composed of gases that rapidly dissipate when exposed to physically rigorous activity. Consider that dos Santos has the tank to go 15 hard minutes, while Gonzaga can barely go a hard five. That's what should be weighing heavily on the minds of anyone hoping dos Santos doesn't take Gonzaga's pelt as a prize.
The bottom line: If you assume Gonzaga is of sound mind and body, this is an easy fight to pick: Gonzaga will bulldoze dos Santos and beat him. Assuming anything in the context of a fistfight is never a good idea, though, and odds are Gonzaga will try his hand at lopping off dos Santos' head. All it will get him is a pair of lungs desperate for oxygen and a decision loss as dos Santos overcomes some early headaches to just barely eke out a decision win.
Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.