The specter of disgraced former champion Jon Jones looms large over Saturday's UFC 187 in Las Vegas, where the world's top MMA promotion looks to fill the light heavyweight championship vacancy with a main event between Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier. Middleweight champion Chris Weidman, who fights out of Baldwin on Long Island, also will defend his title against Vitor Belfort.
Here's a look at each title fight, with predictions of who will leave the MGM Grand Garden Arena with the straps.
Johnson (19-4) vs.
Johnson, coming off two consecutive first-round knockout wins, was initially scheduled to challenge Jones for the title before recent trouble with the law forced the UFC to strip the champion of his title and suspend him indefinitely. Once upon a time, Johnson competed in the UFC's welterweight division, 35 pounds lighter than the 205-pound light heavyweight limit.
The last man to challenge Jones was Cormier, who dropped a one-sided unanimous decision for his first professional loss. The two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler was a top contender at heavyweight before dropping down to 205 so as to avoid fighting teammate and UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
Johnson has yet to lose since putting extreme weight cuts behind him three years ago. His powerful punches and high kicks match the nickname "Rumble," and his defensive wrestling should be up to snuff to wear down and stop Cormier due to strikes in the championship rounds. Let's say Johnson by Round 4 TKO.
(C) Weidman (12-0) vs.
Weidman's path to the title was met with little resistance, even against the legendary Anderson Silva in a pair of 2013 title fights. His last defense against Lyoto Machida was different, and saw the well-rounded Long Islander weather a late storm to win a decision and remain unbeaten.
His veteran challenger, Belfort, has been a fixture of the sport since its nascent no-holds-barred days. A former light heavyweight champion, Belfort has bounced between 205 and the middleweight limit of 185 during his latest UFC run dating to 2009. His only losses in that time are to Silva and Jones, and all of his six wins in that time frame are by TKO or submission.
Belfort has been a powerhouse, but his previous use of testosterone replacement therapy has been outlawed. That figures to hinder his chances against the versatile Weidman. It's hard to see Belfort winning by any other means but a flash knockout, whereas Weidman has the wrestling edge and more weapons overall. Weidman takes a no-brainer of a unanimous decision.