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UFC 187 Observer Picks & Mini-Preview: Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson, Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort

UFC 187

By Josh Nason, WrestlingObserver.com 

Saturday’s UFC 187 is about one word for me: redemption. In the main event, Daniel Cormier wants to redeem himself for not beating Jon Jones in one of the most heated grudge matches of the last 10 years. Anthony Johnson wants to redeem himself against all of the critics he gained from years of missing weight to his recently cleared legal issues around domestic violence.

It doesn’t stop there. Vitor Belfort wants to redeem himself against those who have railed against him for two years due to his issues with PEDs. Joe Benavidez and John Moraga want the opportunity to redeem themselves against Demetrious Johnson someday, as would John Dodson. Stun Gun Kim and Josh Burkman are looking for redemption after losses. Even Mike Pyle wants to redeem himself after getting beat up by Jordan Mein. And what about Rose Namajunas?

Up and down the stack, this is one of the most intriguing and packed fight cards in recent history. Enjoy it!

Our panel:

Jack Encarnacao (43-12 | .781) Sherdog Rewind host, The Lapsed Fan podcast co-chair, Steve Austin impersonator

Mike Sempervive (38-17 | .690) Wrestling Observer Live co-host | Big Audio Nightmare

Steve Juon (38-17 | .690) AngryMarks founder, MMA Mania writer

John Pollock (38-17 | .600) Fight Network personality, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, The MMA Report host

David Bixenspan (37-18 | .672) Figure Four Weekly writer, Observer Daily Update writer, podcast host

Front Row Brian (34-21 | .618) MMA newsbreaker, Twitter personality, podcast host

Dave Meltzer (34-21 | .618)
 Wrestling Observer founder & writer, occasional cougher

- Josh Nason (30-25 | .545)
 Wrestling Observer digital media and content guy, WON Twitter enabler

Mike Sawyer (29-26 | .527)
 Tough Talk MMA, 2014 picks panel champion 

*****

- Vacant UFC Light Heavyweight Championship: Anthony Johnson (19-4) vs. Daniel Cormier (15-1)

For the first time since March 2011, we’ll have a new 205-pound champion in the UFC and a good storyline for whoever will defend against Jon Jones when he hopefully comes back. (Does Vegas have odds on that?)

Johnson has looked amazing since returning to the Octagon as a 205’er, beating up Phil Davis, Antonio “Lil’ Nog” Nogueira, and Alexander Gustafsson in dominant fashion in January. He physically looks healthy, is cresting at the right time, and has won nine straight. His last loss? A 1st round submission loss in a 197-pound catchweight bout for Belfort back in 2012.

At 36, Cormier is a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning which is why winning Saturday is so important. His only loss of his career came in January at the hands of Jones, another example of DC not winning the big one. He’s had no issue in beating big names like Josh Barnett, Dan Henderson, Frank Mir, and Patrick Cummins. Well, three of them are big names anyway. Is tonight the night he straps UFC gold around his waist?

Johnson (even): Meltzer, FRB, Bix
Cormier (even): Nason, Sempervive, Pollock, Sawyer, Juon, Encarnacao

- Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman (12-0) vs. Vitor Belfort (24-10)

Weidman has been everything you’d want a champion to be, yet still hasn’t fully got that love from the universal MMA world as you might expect. He’s beaten Anderson Silva twice and slugged it out with Lyoto Machida in one of last year’s best fights. He now looks to finally take out his longtime rival Belfort in a fight originally scheduled for May 2014, and an encounter with either Luke Rockhold or Jacare Souza awaits. He’s also been out of action since last July.

Belfort has been on the shelf since November 2013 due to injury and a suspension due to elevated TRT levels. He almost fought Chael Sonnen and the Weidman fight has been scheduled three times. He’s won five of his last six with five finishes. He’s won three straight by T/KO over the likes of Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping, and Dan Henderson.

Weidman (big favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Pollock, FRB, Sawyer, Juon, Encarnacao, Bix, Meltzer

- Donald Cerrone (27-6-0-1) vs. John Makdessi (13-3)
Lightweights

How many times have we said, “Donald Cerrone is on the verge of a UFC title shot”? With a win here, there’s no more denying him. He rides into Saturday having won seven straight with decision wins over Eddie Alvarez, Myles Jury, and Benson Henderson in his last three.

Makdessi replaces Khabib Nurmagomedov who injured his knee in training. Makdessi came off a year plus absence last month with a great TKO win over Shane Campbell at UFC 186. Without a doubt, this is the biggest fight of his career and is also the shortest turnaround for a fight in his career.

Cerrone (huge favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Pollock, FRB, Sawyer, Juon, Encarnacao, Bix, Meltzer

- Travis Browne (17-2-1) vs. Andrei Arlovski (23-10-0-1)
Heavyweights

At 32, Browne likely finds himself a big win away from a title shot. A winner in four of his last five, Browne’s only defeat was in a title shot eliminator bout against Fabricio Werdum. Resilient and focused, he’s finished opponents in seven of his eight UFC wins including his last five.

It still feels improbable that Arlovski is back in the UFC after years away. At 37 years old, he’s 2-0 in his second Octagon run after knocking out Bigfoot Silva in just three minutes back in September. He’s won four in a row and six of his last seven dating back to 2012.

Browne (big favorite): Sempervive, Nason, Pollock, FRB, Sawyer, Juon, Encarnacao, Bix, Meltzer

- Joe Benavidez (21-4) vs. John Moraga (16-3)
Flyweights

Benavidez is one of those guys who’s too successful for his own good. How so? He’s already got two title shots in the span of 15 months, but lost them both. However, he’s 6-0 in non-title flyweight bouts. He goes into tonight on a two-fight winning streak, but a win likely keeps him in “interesting fight” status instead of #1 challenger status.

Moraga has also fallen at the hands of Johnson, as well as likely #1 challenger John Dodson. He’s 5-2 in the UFC and has also won two straight with submission wins over Justin Scoggins and Willie Gates. He’s a legit top contender, but there’s not a lot of fan buzz behind seeing him get another title opportunity.

Benavidez (massive favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Pollock, FRB, Sawyer, Juon, Encarnacao, Bix, Meltzer

Dave has you covered live from cageside today here on WrestlingObserver.com!