UFC looks to salvage February without heavyweight title bout

Injuries lead to scrapped fights all the time in the UFC, but rarely do they alter the entire presentation of an event. However, that’s exactly what happened when the heavyweight championship bout between champ Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez was nixed by injuries to both men, leaving UFC 196 without a headliner for the pay-per-view event.

The result: UFC 196 became a UFC Fight Night on Fox Sports 1 and the welterweight co-main event between Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson became the main attraction.

The byproduct of no championship fights during February means one more cable-aired UFC event than expected. Scroll down for which fights matter at this event, plus more of the pivotal contests set for February. All rankings in parentheses come from my personal rankings, which are available to view in full at www.ufc.com/rankings.

Feb. 6: UFC Fight Night: Hendricks vs. Thompson (Las Vegas)

  • Welterweight: Johny Hendricks (1) vs. Stephen Thompson (9)
  • Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez (1) vs. Zach Makovsky (7)
  • Light heavyweight: Ovince Saint Preux (6) vs. Rafael Cavalcante

Heavyweight: Jared Rosholt (13) vs. Roy Nelson

  • Flyweight: Ray Borg (13) vs. Justin Scoggins

At least Hendricks vs. Thompson is a solid main event for a cable card. Hendricks is the former champion who remains in the title picture, when he makes weight. He should rely on his wrestling to avoid the kicking game of Thompson and cruise to a decision.

Benavidez is one of the finest lighter weight fighters to not win a UFC or WEC title. While cracks have been showing in his game of late, he’s still the second-best flyweight in the world and should dominate Makovsky over three rounds.

This fight is beneath Saint Preux at this point. Back when both were in Strikeforce, Cavalcante would have been favored. But Feijao hasn’t been the same in the UFC, so Saint Preux should earn a stoppage within the first two rounds.

Rosholt wins ugly, but he does win. But against a powerful headhunter like Nelson, he could be in trouble. Rosholt tires late in fights, which should give Nelson the chance to find his chin for a knockout.

The other important flyweight bout features a pair of up-and-comers. Borg’s game looks more advanced at this point, and he should win. But don’t be surprised if these two meet again down the road.

Feb. 21: UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Means (Pittsburgh)

  • Welterweight: Donald Cerrone (2 LW) vs. Tim Means
  • Featherweight: Dennis Bermudez (9) vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri
  • Middleweight: Derek Brunson (10) vs. Roan Carneiro

The main event is a pure action matchup. The way these two fight, it’s hard to imagine them needing five rounds. Cerrone should be favored, but don’t count out Means. The pick is Cerrone by submission, but I reserve the right to flip-flop.

Bermudez is a conundrum. He’s clearly a top 10 featherweight, but he doesn’t always fight like it. On paper, he would beat the cult favorite Kawajiri, but it’s hard to feel confident. Look for Crusher to upset Bermudez.

Nobody talks about Brunson as a middleweight contender yet, but they may by the end of 2016. He’ll find a way to shut the lights on a resurgent Carneiro.

Feb. 27: UFC Fight Night: Silva vs. Bisping (London)

  • Middleweight: Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping (6)
  • Middleweight: Thales Leites (7) vs. Gegard Mousasi (12)

Silva, the longtime pound-for-pound best fighter, returns from a yearlong drug suspension. He’s 40, but he should have enough in the tank to dispatch Bisping, who is past his prime as well. He’ll return to the top three in the middleweight rankings if he wins.

Mousasi has been disappointing as a UFC middleweight. He needs a win over the well-rounded Leites in a bad way. Fortunately, he should find success on his feet en route to a decision victory.

Outside the octagon…

Feb. 19: Bellator 149 (Houston)

  • Light heavyweight: Emmanuel Newton vs. Linton Vassell
  • Openweight: Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock
  • Heavyweight: Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000

The Newton-Vassell fight is relevant enough — Newton should win — but the same cannot be said for the way-too-late Gracie-Shamrock rematch and the farcical matchup featuring a pair of former street brawlers. This is a freak show event, so if that’s your thing then have fun. Just know that this is not MMA at its finest.

Feb. 20: World Series of Fighting 28 (Garden Grove, California)

  • Bantamweight title: Marlon Moraes (C) vs. Joseph Barajas

Moraes is playing a dangerous game by continuing to take on challengers that are so far beneath him in the rankings. He should blow past Barajas, but Moraes gains little from a win. It’s time for bigger and better things.

Feb. 26: Bellator 150 (Mulvane, Kansas)

  • Bantamweight title: Marcos Galvao (C) vs. Eduardo Dantas

Galvao can end the vicious cycle that is the Bellator bantamweight title picture. Dantas knocked out the champ three years ago, so he may hold the mental edge. It’s a pick ’em, but I favor Galvao to avenge the loss.