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UFC 192 Cormier vs. Gustafsson: Wrestling Observer picks and mini-preview

UFC 192

You still have time to catch a preview of tonight’s UFC 192 with yours truly and SI.com and the Washington Post’s Jeff Wagenheim with this week’s Josh Nason’s Punch-Out, free this week for non-subscribers!

*****

I gotta say it: Rashad Evans is one of the most underrated and underappreciated fighters in UFC history.

When he was more active, Evans was one of those guys who got more boos than cheers and didn’t carry the fanbase that many other top fighters at the time did. I never understood that. He dresses well, is a great talker, knocks people out, and generally has that NFL quarterback swagger that we love in our athletes.

He fought the best of the best in Chuck Liddell, Michael Bisping, Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, the infamous rivalry with both Jon Jones and Rampage Jackson, and more. And he’s won. A lot, only losing three times over a span over an 18-fight UFC career that started 10 years ago. He’s won a UFC light heavyweight title, lost the title, and fought for it again.

Maybe him being overlooked is because he’s also been part of a few stinkers in recent years, notably a dreadful loss against Lil’ Nogueira, and a blah affair against Dan Henderson. It could be because he was so aggressively KO’d by Machida and never got that immediate validation rematch in a time when the belt was trading waists quite frequently. Unfortunately, it also could be because of Evans’ skin color. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above.

He returns tonight after a two year absence due to multiple knee injuries, and we don’t know exactly where the 36-year-old fits in the grand scheme of things. Even with a win, he may be waiting in line for a title shot depending on when Jones is ready to return. The age is a concern. The knee is a concern. The excitement level in his fights is a concern.

But what shouldn’t be a concern is Evans’ place in history. His accomplishments deserve a lot more recognition than what they’re getting. Hopefully Saturday night is the beginning of a few more sweet ones for ‘Suga’.

*****

Our panel:

- Jack Encarnacao (87-35 | .713): Sherdog Rewind host, The Lapsed Fan podcast co-chair

- Steve Juon (82-40 | .672): AngryMarks founder, MMA Mania writer

- John Pollock (79-43 | .647): Fight Network personality, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, The MMA Report host

- Mike Sempervive (79-43 | .647): Wrestling Observer Live & Big Audio Nightmare co-host

- Front Row Brian (77-45 | .631): MMA newsbreaker, Twitter personality, podcast host

- David Bixenspan (77-45 | .631): Figure Four Weekly writer, Observer Daily Update writer, podcast host

- Dave Meltzer (74-48 | .606): Wrestling Observer founder & writer

- Mike Sawyer (72-50 | .590): Tough Talk MMA, 2014 picks panel champion

- Josh Nason (72-50 | .590): Wrestling Observer digital media and content guy, WON Twitter enabler

*****

Note that because Tyron Woodley vs. Johny Hendricks was canceled due to Hendricks’ unfortunate weight cut issues, we’re doing just four picks on the main card tonight. Joe Benavidez is a fairly big favorite, so it didn’t seem that interesting to throw that in there for everyone to pick Benavidez.

*****

> UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Champion Daniel Cormier (16-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (16-3)

We talk a lot about this fight on the JNPO show with Jeff, but this fight is a lot closer than even myself originally gave it credit for. Gustafsson’s takedown defense is great (86.67% takedowns defended) and if Cormier can’t get this to the ground and the big Swede finds his range, we could have a new champion. I’m assuming this is going to be our most competitive 205-pound title fight since Jon Jones vs. Gus.

DC (favorite): Nason, Juon, FRB, Sawyer, Encarnacao, Pollock, Sempervive, Meltzer
Gustafsson: Bix

> Ryan Bader (19-4) vs. Rashad Evans (19-3-1)
Light Heavyweights

With four straight wins, the 32-year-old Bader earned a title shot but his fighting style (all straight decisions) puts him in the co-main event slot instead. Evans returns for the first time in two years after several knee injuries kept him on the shelf, and there’s a lot of questions about who we’ll see on Saturday. There’s a really good chance this is a 15-minute grinder that have the fans booing.

Bader: Juon, FRB
Evans (slight favorite): Nason, Sawyer, Bix, Encarnacao, Pollock, Sempervive, Meltzer

> Shawn Jordan (18-6) vs. Ruslan Magomedov (13-1)
Heavyweights

The 30-year-old Jordan is back on a roll, and has picked up three straight wins -- all by T/KO. He’s coming off a June 2nd round beatdown of Derrick Lewis, and is doing just fine beating up the dregs of the division. Magomedov is riding an eight-fight win streak, and is 2-0 in the UFC with a pair of forgettable decisions.

Jordan: Nason, Juon, FRB, Sawyer, Pollock
Magomedov (favorite): Bix, Encarnacao, Sempervive, Meltzer

> Julianna Pena (6-2) vs. Jessica Eye (11-3-0-1)
Bantamweights

For the love of God, I hope they don’t rush Pena into a Ronda Rousey buzzsaw title match if she wins. Pena is talented, but needs a few more wins before getting into the Rousey conversation. She returned after a near two-year absence and dusted Milana Dudieva in four minutes. She faces Eye, a loser in two of her last three. She’s coming off a decision loss to Miesha Tate in July, and I think people believe she could get a title shot with a win.

Pena (favorite): Nason, Juon, Sawyer, Bix, Encarnacao, Pollock, Sempervive, Meltzer
Eye: FRB

Ryan Frederick is scouting around the scene in Houston, and will have your live coverage Saturday night.