Less than five months after claiming the vacant UFC light heavyweight belt, champion Daniel Cormier is back in action, and looking for his first title defense, headlining the UFC 192 main event against former challenger Alexander Gustafsson.
A two-time Olympian and former Strikeforce heavyweight champion, Cormier (16-1, 5-1 UFC) possesses a tremendous fight IQ to go along with his wrestling pedigree and kickboxing background. Cormier also displayed phenomenal poise in the UFC 187 victory that earned him the title, withstanding an early knockdown at the hands of Anthony Johnson.
Gustafsson (16-3, 8-3 UFC), who enters Saturday's title fight coming off a first round knockout loss in January, is known primarily as a boxer with exceptional footwork and takedown defense. An odd choice to be thrust into championship contention, Gustafsson nearly dethroned former champion Jon Jones back in September 2013, going the distance at UFC 165, but has yet to regain the form that propelled him into the MMA limelight two years ago.
This fight boils down to Cormier's ability to close distance and clinch with Gustafsson, who owns a significant height and reach advantage, and Gustafsson's ability to stay away from Cormier and implement his boxing. And while Gustafsson once looked to be the next in line for the light heavyweight title, he will not be able to withstand Cormier's pressure and takedowns.
Look for Cormier to win the fight by decision, after nearly stopping the fight by both submission and TKO in the middle rounds.
Co-main event: Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley
A battle of two of the welterweight division's top wrestlers, this bout between Hendricks and Woodley is nearly a decade in the making, after the two previously met on the wrestling mats during their college days.
Hendricks (17-3, 12-3 UFC), a former UFC champion, is looking to earn another crack at the title, after losing the belt to Robbie Lawler at UFC 181. He has since returned to winning form, topping Matt Brown at UFC 185, but still needs a signature win to re-enter the title talk.
Woodley (15-3, 5-2 UFC), the UFC's third-ranked welterweight, returns to action for the first time since January, when he topped Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 183 to claim his second straight victory. However, during the Gastelum fight, Woodley broke his foot in several places, resulting in the long layoff.
Both Hendricks and Woodley possess big power in their hands; however, they also rely heavily on their wrestling, which makes this a tough fight to call. But the time seems to be right for Woodley's ascension up the ranks, so look for Woodley to take this one by decision, although it will be a nail biter.
Rashad Evans vs. Ryan Bader
It's been nearly seven years since Rashad Evans (19-3-1, 14-3-1 UFC) claimed the UFC light heavyweight championship, and in the time that's passed, he's become one of the most popular athletes in mixed martial arts, known for his flamboyant style, along with a signature knockout of UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell. But age has not been so kind to Evans, who has remained inactive since UFC 167 as the result of a series of knee injuries.
Now set to face wrestler Ryan Bader (19-4, 12-4 UFC), a fellow winner on The Ultimate Fighter, Evans must turn back the clock to remain relevant at 205 pounds.
Bader, who is in the midst of a four-fight win streak, has often been criticized for his grappling heavy style and lack of finishing power. But where he is unable to land the knockout punch, he is quick to control position.
It's been a long road back to the Octagon for Evans, but in the end, Bader, the fresher fighter with more recent experience, will prevail and take the contest by decision.
Ruslan Magomedov vs. Shawn Jordan
A battle of middling heavyweights, this bout between Magomedov and Jordan will be your typical affair, ending in the first.
For his part, Magomedov (13-1, 2-0 UFC) has looked promising in his two UFC appearances. But Jordan (18-6, 6-3 UFC), the more experienced of the two, has faced tougher competition during his tenure in the Octagon.
And while Magomedov looks to be a fighter on the rise, this bout will go to Jordan, who will land the knockout early on.
Juliana Pena vs. Jessica Eye
A matchup of top-tier bantamweights, this bout between Pena (6-2, 2-0 UFC) and Eye (11-3, 1-2 1 NC UFC) could potentially produce a title challenger for champion Ronda Rousey, should Pena come out on top.
Known for her well-rounded MMA game and bullish power, Pena, the first ever female The Ultimate Fighter winner, throws strikes to set up takedowns. And on the mat is where she displays her best assets: top control and ground and pound.
Eye, who is coming off a decision loss to Miesha Tate in July, is best on her feet using her boxing and footwork.
A pivotal contest in the division, the fight will ultimately be won by Pena, who will weather Eye's best shots early on and secure the second round TKO.