UFC 167 Observer Picks & Preview: GSP vs. Hendricks, Rashad vs. Sonnen

UFC 167

By Josh Nason

20 years later, here we are. Tonight's card will be a far cry from Royce Gracie, Art Jimmerson, Ken Shamrock and the institution that Art Davie and crew began back in 1993, but UFC 167 will be a very special night for a lot of people instrumental in providing us a unique form of combat sports entertainment.

If you're a fan, tonight is for you. If you're not a fan, try to enjoy it anyway.

Our prognosticators and standings to date:

Dave Meltzer (94-36 -- .723): Wrestling Observer founder & writer

- Nason (93-37 -- .715): Wrestling Observer contributor & social media guy

Todd Martin (91-39 -- .700): Weekly FFD guest | LA Times | Sherdog

- Mike Sawyer (87-43 -- .669): ToughTalkMMA.com, co-host of Tough Talk

- Oliver Copp (84-46 -- .646): combat sports insider, co-host of Tough Talk

- Mike Sempervive (82-48 -- .630): Wrestling Observer Live | Big Audio Nightmare


Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre (24-2) vs. Johny Hendricks (15-1)

Simply put, GSP is without peer in the UFC welterweight division, a mainstay there for 21 of his 26 career fights. He's won 11 straight, has defended his title eight times and has been relatively dominant in doing so. Of course, we layered a lot of similar superlatives on Anderson Silva before his last fight too. While Carlos Condit had him in trouble two fights ago, he returned to form in a March victory over Nick Diaz.

Hendricks' first career fight came two months before GSP won the UFC interim 170-pound gold over Matt Hughes in 2007. He's a stud wrestler that also has a power punch that has flattened guys like Martin Kampmann and Jon Fitch. He went the distance in a Fight Of The Year candidate against Condit in March and is undeniably the No. 1 contender to the gold.

If GSP can take Hendricks down or stunt the Oklahoma native's takedown attempts, that will be deflating. If GSP can avoid the left hand, that will be deflating. But if Hendricks can impose his will early and avoid the late rounds, he's got a shot.

The best welterweight in the world against the second best welterweight in the world in the main event of the UFC's 20th anniversary show? Sounds like money to me.

GSP: Nason, Martin, Copp, Meltzer, Sempervive

Rashad Evans (18-3-1) vs. Chael P. Sonnen (29-13-1)
Light Heavyweights

Arguably the most successful of the TUF alums, Evans will fight three times in a calendar year for the first time since 2007. He's been in absolute duds his last two fights (decision loss to Lil' Nogueira, split decision win over Dan Henderson), and according to Dana White, Evans said he knows what he needs to do Saturday to get people talking again. Even at 34, there is still time for one more run, but it has to start now.

Sonnen shocked everyone by submitting Shogun Rua via first round submission in August, snapping a two-fight losing streak. His next fight and gig is already set: TUF Brazil against heated rival Wanderlei Silva. So, how much does he care about this fight? Then again, he talked a lot about Silva when doing press for the Rua fight and that turned out just fight, so who knows.

There's zero vitriol here, so this fight could be a really competitive scrap or an absolute dud. I see a lot of cage grappling, some 'rasslin, some boos, and it going to the scorecards.

Evans: Nason, Martin, Copp, Meltzer, Sempervive

Rory MacDonald (15-1) vs. Robbie Lawler (21-9-0-1)

A winner in his last five, Rory Mac could earn himself a title shot with a win Saturday -- one that could put his previous claims about never wanting to fight GSP to the test. His last performance, a unanimous decision win over Jake Ellenberger, was met with a tepid reaction at best.

In short, he needs an opponent that will push the pace and present imminent danger. He's got one in the resurgent Lawler. After a win one, lose run most of his recent career, he made his UFC return count with T/KO wins over Josh Koscheck and an overmatched, injury replacement in Bobby Voelker.

Lawler is an underdog, but if he connects with one of his power shots, MacDonald will be in trouble. This is MacDonald's opportunity to re-establish himself as a challenger of interest with the paying public. Seven years Lawler's junior, the pressure is on the Canadian.

Lawler: Copp
Nason, Martin, Sawyer, Meltzer, Sempervive

Josh Koscheck (17-7) vs. Tyron Woodley (11-2)

The 35-year-old Koscheck knows he needs a win Saturday and he's right. A loser of two straight (coincidentally to Hendricks and Lawler), the TUF 1 vet hasn't really looked impressive in years. If there's ever a time to let it all hang out, UFC 167 is it.

Woodley made his UFC debut an impressive one with a 36 second knockout of Jay Hieron in February. He followed that up with a relative snoozer split decision loss to Jake Shields in June. He's looked amazing in his career, but has also looked bad (remember that Nate Marquardt KO loss?). Woodley is a slight favorite as of Saturday morning.

Koscheck: Copp, Meltzer, Sempervive
Nason, Martin, Sawyer

Tim Elliott (10-3-1) vs. Ali Bagautinov (11-2)

After making his UFC debut in May 2012 with a decision loss to John Dodson, Elliott has won two straight decisions against Jared Papazian and Louis Gaudinot respectively. Before coming to the UFC, Elliott had finishes in seven of his eight wins.

Bagautinov is a legit martial artist, a national champion in everything from sambo to grappling to wrestling to pankration to BJJ. He made his UFC debut in September with a third-round TKO over Marcos Vinicius, his ninth straight win. He has finishes in four straight and in nine of 11 wins.

Elliott is a betting favorite, so there might be some money to be won on Bagautinov.

Nason, Martin, Sawyer, Copp, Meltzer, Sempervive

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