While it's not taking place in the same venue, UFC 135 is returning home to its birthplace of Denver, Colorado. Nearly 18 years ago in November 1993, UFC 1 took place in the McNichols Sports Arena. This Saturday, the UFC returns to Denver, only this time to sellout the Pepsi Center. It's kind of ironic too, because this card is filled with match-ups and stars from the last era taking on the next generation and it all starts at the top.
The main event is for the world light heavyweight championship and it features current titleholder Jon 'Bones' Jones (13-1, 8 KO's 3 subs) defending against the legend simply known as 'Rampage'. While there may be three other MMA fighters who lay claim to the nickname 'Rampage', there is only one that matters; former UFC champion Quinton Jackson (32-8, 14 KO's 7 subs). Jones vs. Rampage is an interesting match-up on many levels and they all have to do with the contrast in every way between the two combatants.
Rampage, while only 33, represents the old guard. A former champion who made his bones, (no pun intended), in Japan during the Pride Fighting Championships days; he's been fighting professionally for 12 years and only knows one way to fight. Meanwhile, Jones is not only the new breed, he is the next breed. Only 24 years old, Jones is a complete mixed martial artist who's barely been fighting over three years now.
Jackson lives up to his nickname, not only through his fighting style, but by being outspoken, boisterous and mean. Jones on the other hand is 'Cool Hand Luke', to coin a phrase from 1967. He's quiet, reserved and soft spoken, yet his style in the cage is quick, effective and fluid. Though both are African-American, Jackson is a country boy from Memphis, while Jones is a city kid from upstate New York. They have nothing in common, except the UFC 205 lbs. title.
How do I see this one playing out? Jackson's only chance is to bully Jones and eventually catch him with one of those bombs he throws with either hand. Problem is Jones has a freakish 84 inch reach, in which he uses every inch of it to keep his opponents at bay until he decides to engage. When he does, he's quite adept either standing throwing strikes or grappling as a former state wrestling champion. It's not rocket science here; Jones has too many ways to win versus Jackson's one way. Jones will keep Rampage at a distance and frustrate him till he wins via TKO in the second round.
The co-main event is quite interesting as well as it features another former legendary champion, welterweight (170 lbs.) Matt Hughes (45-8, 17 KO's 18 subs) taking on two-time title challenger Josh 'Kos' Koscheck (15-5, 4 KO's 5 subs). Hughes has been fighting even longer than Rampage at 13 years plus and is facing a product from 'The Ultimate Fighter' era as Koscheck was on season one. Both former All-American wrestlers in college, Koscheck is the more accomplished as a former national champion. They are both coming off losses though and haven't fought since 2010.
The last time we saw Hughes in November last year, it took B.J. Penn all of 21 seconds to punch his lights out. Koscheck on the other hand, took a serious five-round beat down at the hands of current champ Georges St. Pierre in December. The beating was so bad; Koscheck suffered a broken orbital bone around his eye. The question is which defeat will impact what fighter more?
While I think Koscheck's was much more mentally impacting, I do believe Hughes best days are behind him; thus the reason I believe it took him 10 months to get back in the cage after just a 21 second TKO loss. Koscheck remains stable at American Kickboxing Academy, while Hughes is not sure where to be these days; though he owns his own gym in his hometown. Anything is possible, but I see Koscheck winning convincingly, probably by third round TKO via ground and pound and possibly sending Hughes into retirement. Especially since this is Hughes last fight on his current contract.
The other bout of note on this card is the lightweight (155 lbs.) tilt between the Japanese Icon Takanori 'The Fireball Kid' Gomi (32-7, 12 KO's 6 subs) and the younger bad boy from Stockton, California Nate Diaz (13-7, 3 KO's, 9 subs). I say younger because Diaz is of course the younger brother of Nick Diaz, who ironically fought Gomi in February 2007 at Pride 33. Though Nick won via Gogoplata choke submission, the decision was ruled a no contest by the Nevada Athletic Commission after Diaz tested positive for marijuana.
This fight marks the return to lightweight for Nate who tried his hand at 170, till he literally got tossed around like a rag doll in his last fight against Rory McDonald; I don't see that happening here though. While Gomi has a ton of experience, 13 years worth though he's only 32, five of his seven losses have been to submission. This of course is Diaz's forte, thus I see him catching Gomi, either in a triangle choke or arm bar, quite possibly in the first round. Sad but true, it looks like out with old and in with the new at UFC 135.