By Ryan Frederick, WrestlingObserver.com
Labor Day Weekend is upon us, and the UFC returns to Las Vegas this weekend for their next pay-per-view offering as UFC 191 comes to us on Saturday from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. While the MGM Grand will be hosting what is being billed as Floyd Mayweather's final fight next weekend, the September fight action gets started with a solid card featuring UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson defending the championship against his top rival and top contender, John Dodson, in a rematch of a January 2013 bout won by Johnson. The action takes place on pay-per-view with a main card start time of 10 PM eastern time. Preliminary action kicks off on UFC Fight Pass at 7 PM eastern time before moving to FOX Sports 1 at 8 PM eastern time.
In addition to the headline bout between Johnson and Dodson, the UFC 191 card will feature a heavyweight co-main event that could have title shot ramifications as former UFC Heavyweight Champions Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir do battle in a fight that has been ten years in the making. Also on the card is the return of UFC light heavyweight contender Anthony Johnson, coming off of his title fight loss in May, and the pay-per-view debut of rising women's strawweight star, Paige VanZant. Let's dive deeper into the action and find five storylines to keep our eye on as we take a closer look at Saturday's UFC 191 event.
1. Will the rematch between Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson go any differently?
UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson makes his seventh title defense in the main event of UFC 191, and this time it will be in another rematch, against the man he made his first title defense against, John Dodson. Johnson and Dodson fought at UFC On FOX 6 in January 2013, going the full 25-minute distance in the main event that night in Chicago. It was a hotly-contested battle, and a close fight at times, but Johnson won the fight by unanimous decision on scorecards of 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47. It was Johnson's toughest challenge since winning the championship in the inaugural title bout against Joseph Benavidez at UFC 152 in September 2012, and Johnson has gone on to make tremendous strides in becoming arguably the best fighter in the world since then.
Johnson hasn't lost a round since that fight, dominating his string of opponents. He has scored finishes of John Moraga, Benavidez in a rematch, Chris Cariaso and Kyoji Horiguchi, and a dominant decision win over Ali Bagautinov in his five fights since the first Dodson fight. Dodson has had injuries limit him to just three fights since then, but he has won all three, scoring knockout wins over Darrell Montague and Moraga, and a decision win over Zach Makovsky in his most recent bout, at UFC 187 in May. While Dodson's win over Makovsky was uninspiring to some, it came after he was out of action for close to a year due to major knee surgery, and he still showcased the speed and power he has against a tough opponent.
Dodson has proved he is ready for a rematch with Johnson, and it is the best fight the division can make as young prospects like Henry Cejudo, Dustin Ortiz and Ray Borg get more experience in their climbs up the rankings. Both men are extremely fast fighters, but Johnson has stepped up his game since the first fight with Dodson. Both have shown power, and Johnson has excellent takedowns, but Dodson has good takedown defense and was able to get up every time he was taken down in their first bout. Johnson is more technical and versatile on the feet, but Dodson has more power. This will be two men showcasing their speed and technique at the highest level, but I see Johnson's strides in his all-around game being the difference in this fight. It will likely go the distance again, but I don't see it being as close as it was the last time. Johnson takes this by decision.
2. Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir are enjoying career resurgences. Who keeps it going on Saturday?
When you think of title contenders in the UFC's heavyweight division in the year 2015, former UFC Heavyweight Champions Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir are the two names you would find to be most surprising. That is what makes the sport fun at times in that you can see fighters like Arlovski and Mir (and current champions Fabricio Werdum, Robbie Lawler and Rafael Dos Anjos) have early success, suffer through a down period, make a few adjustments, and then with a bit of skill and luck, they are right back in the hunt. It comes to a head on Saturday night in the co-main event of UFC 191 as Arlovski puts his five-fight win streak on the line against Mir's two-fight win streak.
Many thought Arlovski was headed for the next title shot against Werdum, but when the UFC needed a co-main event for this card, he was called upon to fight Mir, who is coming off a first-round knockout win over Todd Duffee just over seven weeks ago. This is a fight that has been a long-time in the making as they were expected to fight in 2005 when Arlovski and Mir both held versions of the heavyweight crown, but Mir's recovery from a motorcycle accident took longer than expected. Arlovski was king of the division for a short while, but his career eventually saw him leave the UFC and have mixed success, but he has had tremendous success in his return. His win over Travis Browne in May at UFC 187 could be the fight of the year for 2015, and it was one of the best one-round fights in UFC history. Mir's two straight knockout wins have broken a stretch where he lost four straight fights, so he is enjoying the best success of his career in almost four years.
Both men have power and suspect chins. Arlovski survived some big punches from Browne, coming back from close to being finished, to finish Browne with punches. Mir survived big shots from Duffee to score the one-punch knockout. Arlovski's footwork will make the difference on the feet, and he is still a good counterstriker. Mir may want to take this fight to the ground, but recent history has shown he wants to stand with his opponents. That will be a mistake here. Arlovski has good takedown defense if Mir tries to take this fight to the mat. I don't expect the fight to go out of the first round, though, and it will come down to who lands the bigger punch. Arlovski mixes his striking attack better, and it will probably throw Mir for a loop, as Mir is just someone who looks for one big punch. That one big punch can finish Arlovski, but I don't see it happening this time.
3. Can Anthony Johnson overcome the outside of the Octagon controversy to get back into the win column?
Anthony Johnson has been in the news leading up to UFC 191, but for all of the wrong reasons. He recently got into a heated confrontation with a woman at his gym, detailing all of it via social media. For a man with a history of domestic abuse allegations, it came at a bad time and caused the UFC to investigate. There was the possibility that Johnson could have been pulled from the card, but after agreeing to some conditions, Johnson remains on the card in a fight against Jimi Manuwa. It will be interesting to see if Johnson lost some focus due to the incident, and he has always had some issues with the mental side of fighting, but he is coming into Saturday night a big favorite against Manuwa, who will be fighting for the first time in the United States, and for the first time on pay-per-view.
Johnson is looking to bounce back from a loss to Daniel Cormier in his chance to become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and Manuwa is a perfect opponent for a bounce back fight. Manuwa is a very good striker and is dangerous on his feet, much like Johnson is. Johnson has been very aggressive in the past, but over recent bouts has shown some good counter striking. Manuwa likes to mix his combinations and has good movement, but he will need to be careful for counters from Johnson. Johnson has gigantic power and could probably knockout anyone if the right punch lands, but if you can get him out of sync, his mind begins to wander around. Manuwa should remain calm, but doing that will leave him open. This will probably end up being short with a lot of punches getting thrown, and one strike landing to end it all. I like Johnson being the one to end it all, but Manuwa will put up a great fight.
4. Will Paige VanZant continue to impress in her pay-per-view debut?
Paige VanZant makes her pay-per-view debut on Saturday night in the main card opener, and a lot of eyes will be on her. She is being groomed to be the next big star in the sport, and she is being brought a long slowly. She just turned 21 and still has only just six fights in her career. She steps inside the Octagon for the third time, and has been impressive in each of her two prior showings. While her rise and push towards the fanbase has been met with some backlash by some, she is very talented and has a lot of skills. Being that she is just 21, and with the level of talent she has shown, it is easy to see why she could be a future champion. She is pretty and marketable, and her fights have shown she is capable of dealing with pressure. She scored a solid win over Kailin Curran in her debut and followed it up with a dominant win over Felice Herrig in a showcase on FOX in front of a large audience.
She gets the pay-per-view treatment on Saturday night when she takes on Alex Chambers. Chambers is much older but has only fought one more time than VanZant has in her career. When it comes to experience, this is the perfect match-up for VanZant. Chambers is coming off a come-from-behind win over Curran in May. Chambers trained for this fight with American Top Team, which has produced a lot of recent success. Chambers struggled with the pressure of Curran, and pressure is what VanZant brings. VanZant comes forward, walking through strikes, and likes to clinch and take the fight to the mat. She is excellent at scrambles and good at establishing top position and keeping it. VanZant is the biggest favorite on the card, and for good reason. This is the continuation of her coming out party, and she will get the job done on Saturday night.
5. There are two solid fights highlighting the preliminary card. Who wins each?
While not a major card on star power, the UFC 191 card has a lot of solid fights, including two preliminary bouts that could have easily been main card bouts on a lot of fight cards. Headlining the preliminary action is a lightweight bout between Ross Pearson and Paul Felder. Both men are making quick turnarounds coming off losses. Pearson dropped a decision to Evan Dunham on July 18 in Scotland, and Felder lost a decision to Edson Barboza on July 25 in Chicago. It was the first career loss for Felder and he is looking to get back in the win column in a big way. He is very talented, and Pearson will be a tough foe, though Pearson's best days are likely behind him. Both men are very good strikers, but Felder is quicker and more versatile on the feet. He should take the win in what should be an action-packed bout.
In another featured prelim bout, John Lineker makes his bantamweight debut when he takes on slugger Francisco Rivera. It will be interesting to see how Lineker fares in the move up in weight as he will no longer be draining himself attempting to make 125 pounds, which he missed making more often than making it. He has won six of his last seven fights, and with a win over Rivera, he could become an instant contender at 135 pounds. Rivera is a tough test for Lineker's bantamweight debut as he is a more well-rounded striker with his attacks. Lineker punishes the body, though, and a boxing match would likely go Lineker's way while an overall striking fight likely goes to Rivera. It will probably remain on the feet and be an exciting slugfest. I do like Lineker to get an impressive win in his bantamweight debut.
Full UFC 191 Fight Card, Betting Odds and Predictions
MAIN CARD (PPV- 10 PM ET/7 PM PT
UFC Flyweight Championship: (C) Demetrious Johnson vs. (#1) John Dodson)
Betting Odds: Johnson (-550), Dodson (+425)
Prediction: Johnson by decision
Heavyweights: (#4) Andrei Arlovski vs. (#10) Frank Mir
Betting Odds: Arlovski (-155), Mir (+135)
Prediction: Arlovski by knockout in round 1
Light Heavyweights: (#1) Anthony Johnson vs. (#7) Jimi Manuwa
Betting Odds: Johnson (-650), Manuwa (+475)
Prediction: Johnson by knockout in round 1
Light Heavyweights: (#12) Jan Blachowicz vs. Corey Anderson
Betting Odds: Blachowicz (-150), Anderson (+130)
Prediction: Anderson by decision
Women's Strawweights: (#7) Paige VanZant vs. Alex Chambers
Betting Odds: VanZant (-1450), Chambers (+950)
Prediction: VanZant by knockout in round 3
PRELIMINARY CARD (FOX SPORTS 1- 8 PM ET/5 PM PT)
Lightweights: Ross Pearson vs. Paul Felder
Betting Odds: Pearson (+350), Felder (-440)
Prediction: Felder by knockout in round 2
Bantamweights: (#12) Francisco Rivera vs. (#8 FLY) John Lineker
Betting Odds: Rivera (+115), Lineker (-135)
Prediction: Lineker by decision
Women's Bantamweights: (#13) Jessica Andrade vs. Raquel Pennington
Betting Odds: Andrade (-210), Pennington (+175)
Prediction: Andrade by decision
Featherweights: Clay Collard vs. Tiago Trator
Betting Odds: Collard (-135), Trator (+115)
Prediction: Trator by decision
PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC FIGHT PASS- 7 PM ET/4 PM PT)
Middleweights: Joe Riggs vs. Ron Stallings
Betting Odds: Riggs (+140), Stallings (-160)
Prediction: Stallings by decision
Lightweights: Joaquim Silva vs. Nazareno Malegarie
Betting Odds: Silva (+120), Malegarie (-140)
Prediction: Malegarie by submission in round 2