By Ryan Frederick, WrestlingObserver.com
The UFC returns to Montreal for the first time in over two years, bringing a card that has had its fair share of bad luck. UFC 186 takes place from the Bell Centre on Saturday night, live on pay-per-view, with preliminary action airing on FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass. It will be headlined by a championship bout as UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson looks to continue his dominance of the 125-pound division when he takes on his next test, Japanese fighter Kyoji Horiguchi. The event also marks the UFC return of former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, whose return had a bunch of obstacles. He meets Fabio Maldonado in the co-main event. Let's dive deeper into the card and look at five storylines heading into the action on Saturday night.
1. Can this event overcome the card being cursed?
This has been one of the more ravaged main cards in UFC history, and that says a lot. The original main event, and the original co-main event, have all fallen by the wayside. T.J. Dillashaw was originally scheduled to defend the UFC Bantamweight Championship against Renan Barao in the main event, while welterweights Rory MacDonald and Hector Lombard were scheduled to fight in the co-main event to determine a top contender at 170 pounds.
Both of those fights are no longer on the card though. MacDonald vs. Lombard was the first to be scrapped after it was revealed that Lombard failed a drug test following his win at UFC 182 in January. It ended up being a blessing in disguise for MacDonald, who will now challenge UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 189 in July. Then, less than a month ago, it was revealed that Dillashaw had suffered a rib injury, and he was forced off the card, and Barao was also pulled. They have since been re-scheduled to face one another at the UFC On FOX event in July, which is probably the right move since they have been scheduled to headline two pay-per-view events, only for them to fall apart, and now they headline a big show in a big market in Chicago, and FOX gets a title fight for the first time since December 2013.
Those shuffles left the main event to be Demetrious Johnson defending the UFC Flyweight Championship against Kyoji Horiguchi. This fight wasn't even originally scheduled for this card (it was rumored for the UFC's debut event in Manila), but was added when the MacDonald/Lombard fight fell off the card. It now gets the difficult task of headlining an event that has had a multitude of changes. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's UFC return will actually be taking place after it was believed that it was going to be delayed due to being in litigation of a contract dispute with Bellator. His bout with Fabio Maldonado was originally scheduled, then cancelled with Jackson being replaced by Steve Bosse. However, on Tuesday night, just four days before the event, the injunction that Bellator had won over Jackson was reversed, and he was placed back on the card against Maldonado, though it was changed to a 215-pound catchweight bout due to Jackson not being able to properly adjust himself to cutting down to 205 pounds on short notice.
Johnson is put in another tough spot, because while he is legitmately one of the best fighters in the sport and someone whose skills are certainly shown and appreciated, he just hasn't been a pay-per-view draw. He has headlined two prior pay-per-view events- UFC 174 last June, which was the least purchased UFC event since 2005, and the second-lowest PPV total since The Ultimate Fighter began, and UFC 178, which did better business than expected, but that can be attributed to a stacked undercard, and, in particular, the drawing power of Conor McGregor. Many aren't expecting this show to do well at the box office and at home, as a number of fans have gotten refunds of their purchased tickets, and fans have gone to social media to voice their displeasure that this event will be $60. That is just what happens when a card has had its fair share of unfortunate luck.
UFC officials should hope there are no black cats roaming around Montreal, that no fighters walk under a ladder, and that no one knocks themselves out on a pipe before walking to the Octagon on Saturday night.
2. Can Kyoji Horiguchi be the one to defeat Demetrious Johnson?
Demetrious Johnson is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He is unbeaten since moving down to the flyweight division. He has won seven straight fights since scoring a draw with Ian McCall in their first bout, and his last six wins have come in championship fights, and he has defended the UFC Flyweight Championship five times. He has almost cleaned out the division, and you have to go down the rankings to find a fighter coming off some wins that hasn't been defeated by Johnson yet.
You land at number seven where you find Japanese striker Kyoji Horiguchi. Horiguchi is 15-1 in his career, and he has won nine straight fights, including his last four in the UFC. He has done enough to earn a championship shot, especially in the 125-pound division. However, many are thinking he doesn't stand much of a chance. That is a credit to how dominant Johnson has been at 125 pounds. It also plays into the stigma that the Japanese fighters fail to win the big fights inside the Octagon. Horiguchi is a very skilled fighter and he has been dominant and impressive in his UFC tenure, but there is a reason that Johnson is currently a ten-to-one favorite in the betting odds. Many are expecting and predicting a Johnson win, and Horiguchi pulling the upset would be among the biggest upsets in UFC history. He is going to have to bring the fight to Johnson and take away his speed. That has been difficult for all of Johnson's challengers, and Horiguchi is going to have to show he is up to the task if he wants to walk away as champion on Saturday night.
3. What can we expect from Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in his UFC return?
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is making his return to the Octagon on Saturday night, and this should be big news to most. However, it seems that his return isn't being met with much anticipation, at least as of now. It was a worrisome situation for Jackson. He signed with the UFC after claiming that Bellator had breached his contract. Bellator filed a lawsuit and wanted an injunction to keep Jackson from fighting, and they had gotten that injunction. However, on Tuesday, the injunction was lifted, and Jackson was put back on the card. While Jackson has continued along with a fight camp, he hasn't gone through the weight cut normally associated with the end of a camp, and the fight will be at a catchweight of 215 pounds.
Has the legal situation distracted Jackson? It is hard to say as he has been quiet, rightfully so, about the situation. I don't know that fans should be expecting much from Jackson on Saturday night as he is in a tough spot. He may not fight for the UFC again after this fight. His legal battle could wind up with him being forced to go back to Bellator, and with him not wanting to go back, this could potentially be his final fight if things do not work out in his favor.
Jackson did lose his last three fights during his last stint in the UFC. He has won three straight since leaving the UFC, and he remains a polarizing figure in the fight game. He hated the opponents the UFC was giving him, matching him up against wrestlers. He gets a match-up he should enjoy in fighting Fabio Maldonado, who is a boxer who likes to stand and exchange punches. Maldonado tires easily, but he is willing to take a beating in order to dish one out. Jackson likes to stand and trade and entertain the fans, so he has a perfect match-up for him. If both are at the top of their game, this could be an entertaining slugfest of a bout. I wouldn't expect much from Jackson given his current situation and officially fighting on short notice, but I do expect him to get the win over Maldonado.
4. Michael Bisping vs. C.B Dollaway- what is at stake here?
Michael Bisping and C.B. Dollaway both seem to be stuck in the middleweight division. There are ranked tenth and eleventh, respectively, in the middleweight rankings. Both have put together win streaks, but every time each man gets a tougher challenge, they seem to take a step backwards.
No fighter has been closer to getting a title shot and not getting a title shot than Bisping. He has been in several title eliminator bouts, but has always ended up on the losing end, whether it was being knocked out by Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort, or losing a razor-thin decision to Chael Sonnen. He still has title aspirations, but at 36-years-old, the clock is ticking and the window is closing very fast. He has to put together a win streak and finally get a win over a top-three contender. He has a lot at stake against Dollaway, as a win gets him back on track slightly, but a loss will likely end any chance there is left of Bisping being in title contention.
Dollaway is also in a gatekeeper position. After having mixed success during his UFC career, he went through a stretch where he won four of five fights, and really should have won all five as his loss to Tim Boetsch was considered a bad call. He was impressive in his last two wins, knocking out former TUF winner Cezar Ferreira in Brazil, and dominating Francis Carmont, a top-ten fighter at the time. It led to Dollaway's first UFC main event, going back to Brazil and fighting former champion Lyoto Machida. Dollaway didn't prove to be in Machida's class that night in December as Machida needed just 62 seconds to get the win. Dollaway will need a win over Bisping to get back into title contention, but a loss puts him back at that gatekeeper status.
5. Who is a fighter to keep an eye on, and what prelim bout is one to watch?
Out of the 24 fighters competing on the UFC 186 card, only one is making their debut, so this card is chalked full of veterans. One fighter I want everyone to keep an eye on is Thomas Almeida, who fights in the pay-per-view opener against Yves Jabouin. Almeida enters the fight undefeated with a record of 18-0. He had scored 17 straight finishes, with 15 in the first round, prior to signing with the UFC. His UFC debut was the first time he went the distance, but it was still a dominant win over Tim Gorman. Almeida is only 23-years-old, and he comes from the famed Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil. He is already making big waves, and he was even offered a fight against Urijah Faber in March, which was turned down by Faber, who said Almeida didn't have a name yet and didn't wanna risk losing. He has the tools to be a future contender at 135 pounds, and he gets a solid showcase on the main card.
The preliminary card has a few solid match-ups, with veterans Patrick Cote and Joe Riggs squaring off, and strawweights Aisling Daly and Randa Markos opening the night's action. We also have a unique situation of a trilogy bout between women's bantamweights Alexis Davis and Sarah Kaufman, and we will call that our preliminary bout to watch. Davis and Kaufman meet for the third time, but this will be the first time they fight inside the UFC Octagon. Kaufman has won both of their prior meetings, one in 2007, a TKO win in a regional promotion in Canada, and the other in 2012, a majority decision win in Strikeforce in one of the best womens' bouts in MMA history. Both women are looking for something to prove as Davis is coming off a 16-second loss to Ronda Rousey in July, while Kaufman hasn't fought in a year due to injuries suffered in a car wreck, and just an inability to secure a fight. Both women want to get back into contention, and they will need to score a win to do so.
Full UFC 186 Fight Card, Betting Odds & Predictions
MAIN CARD (PPV- 10 PM ET/7 PM PT)
UFC Flyweight Championship: Demetrious Johnson(c) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi
Betting Odds: Johnson (-1000), Horiguchi (+650)
Prediction: Johnson by submission in round 3
Catchweight (215 lbs.): Quinton Jackson vs. Fabio Maldonado
Betting Odds: Jackson (-315), Maldonado (+235)
Prediction: Jackson by decision
Middleweights: Michael Bisping vs. C.B. Dollaway
Betting Odds: Bisping (-150), Dollaway (+130)
Prediction: Bisping by decision
Catchweight (160 lbs.): John Makdessi vs. Shane Campbell
Betting Odds: Makdessi (-175), Campbell (+155)
Prediction: Makdessi by decision
Bantamweights: Yves Jabouin vs. Thomas Almeida
Betting Odds: Jabouin (+360), Almeida (-450)
Prediction: Almeida by submission in round 2
PRELIMINARY CARD (FOX SPORTS 1- 8 PM ET/5 PM PT)
Welterweights: Patrick Cote vs. Joe Riggs
Betting Odds: Cote (-195), Riggs (+170)
Prediction: Cote by decision
Women's Bantamweights: Alexis Davis vs. Sarah Kaufman
Betting Odds: Davis (+165), Kaufman (-190)
Prediction: Kaufman by decision
Lightweights: Chad Laprise vs. Bryan Barberena
Betting Odds: Laprise (-325), Barberena (+265)
Prediction: Laprise by decision
Lightweights: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. David Michaud
Betting Odds: Aubin-Mercier (-350), Michaud (+290)
Prediction: Aubin-Mercier by submission in round 3
PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC FIGHT PASS- 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT)
Welterweights: Nordine Taleb vs. Chris Clements
Betting Odds: Taleb (-260), Clements (+220)
Prediction: Taleb by decision
Women's Strawweights: Jessica Rakoczy vs. Valerie Letourneau
Betting Odds: Rakoczy (+155), Letourneau (-175)
Prediction: Rakoczy by decision
Women's Strawweights: Aisling Daly vs. Randa Markos
Betting Odds: Daly (+220), Markos (-260)
Prediction: Markos by decision