* Tyron Woodley over Josh Koscheck, decision
That's right, it'll be Josh Koscheck's last bout! (Kidding) I'd imagine that even if and when Koscheck loses, he'll still get another fight despite what would be a three-bout losing streak. Kos is just too notable a name in UFC history for the company to cut on the normal three-strikes-you're-out rules, though four straight losses would do it. Since Koscheck got decimated by Georges St. Pierre, he's knocked out a washed-up Matt Hughes, narrowly won a controversial split decision over Mike Pierce, narrowly lost a controversial split decision to Johny Hendricks and gotten KTFO by Robbie Lawler. So in short, it's been weird --- it's easy to say that GSP basically ended his career, but that split over Hendricks is a real eye-opener. Koscheck didn't exactly look good in that fight, but he did enough to grind one out, and he could quite possibly do the same to Woodley. Speaking of dull grinding decisions, Woodley's last fight was a loss to Jake Shields, and with losses to Shields and Nate Marquardt, it's possible Woodley is a gatekeeper type who can't hang with the bigger dogs at welterweight. Of course, the only question here is if Koscheck still counts as a big dog. I say no, but this fight could absolutely go either way. The only guarantee is that it'll be dull.
* Rory MacDonald over Robbie Lawler, submission, R2
This one is a total "what have you done for me lately?" matchup. Everyone suddenly became a Rory Mac hater after his dull win over Jake Ellenberger, despite the fact that since Ellenberger did jack-all in that fight, Rory had no reason to abandon a jab-centric game plan that was working to perfection. Lawler, meanwhile, had a pedestrian win-one/lose-one record for the last few years before knocking out (a possibly washed up) Koscheck and a semi-can in Bobby Voelker. Those two knockouts have a lot of people on the Lawler bandwagon after several, several years. Is there a chance at an upset? I highly doubt it. Lawler has a puncher's chance but MacDonald has proven himself to be the better fighter and is maybe the best in the division besides GSP. It should be noted that one of the sidebars of the St. Pierre retirement rumours is that he'd be doing it in part so his teammate and protege MacDonald could step into the spotlight, which I believe has some merit. GSP does take an almost parental interest in MacDonald (who revers his hero and has always seemed nervous just to consider fighting him) and I could totally see him passing the torch. Whether MacDonald is ready to take over as the UFC's big Canadian marketing draw is another question but hey, I'm not paying their bills, so what do I care?
* Ali Bagautinov over Tim Elliott, decision
Big fight here in the still-thin flyweight division. The problem is that Mighty Mouse Johnson is seemingly as dominant a champ as there is in the UFC, and he's already beaten top challengers Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson. The larger problem is that Benavidez and Dodson are *also* seemingly head and shoulders above everyone else and between them they've cleared the decks of other challenges, which is why Joey Benz is getting another crack at Johnson in January. Dodson has one win since losing his title bout and he could win another in January as well over Scott Jorgensen, so Dodson could get a return bout too. In short, flyweight is desperate for some fresh contenders and the winner here could put him up for a #1 contenders' bout against John "Let's Hope He Makes Weight" Lineker. I'm narrowly picking Bagautinov here since he's been on a huge roll in Russia and through his first UFC bout, while Elliott has been less impressive (though he's only lost to Dodson in the UFC).
* Chael Sonnen over Rashad Evans, decision
The only thing I'm certain of is that this fight will go the full 15 minutes. Other than that, who knows. Evans is good at grinding out unimpressive wins, though given Sonnen's own wrestling pedigree, that strategy might not work. There's also the fact that Evans hasn't really looked good in a fight against a non-washed up opponent (hi Tito!) in years. Decision wins over Thiago Silva, Rampage, Phil Davis and Dan Henderson that made you shrug your shoulders, the huge knockout loss to Lyoto Machida, the one-sided decision loss to Jon Jones and the horribly boring decision loss to Little Nogueira --- that's all Evans has done since 2009, minus the rout of Tito Ortiz. Sonnen also has a recent win over a possibly washed-up legend in his chokeout of Shogun Rua, and while I'm still not sure Sonnen is really a legit fighter anymore or just a glorified UFC public relations guy, he's still shown better form lately than Evans. If nothing else, the post-fight promo will be entertaining.
* Georges St. Pierre over Johny Hendricks, decision
Well, of course. What other result can there be for a GSP fight? Hendricks is a hell of a fighter, has a monster left hand and is a terrific wrestler --- it's the sort of pedigree that can give St. Pierre trouble on paper, yet is also theoretically easy to defend with a good game plan. Hendrick is like Koscheck except with better wrestling and a better big punch from the other hand, but we've twice seen how GSP has been able to handle Koscheck. For all Hendricks' wrestling prowess, Rick Story and Koscheck were able to hang with him and GSP is the best MMA wrestler of all time. Add this to the fact that Hendricks was showing some fatigue in his third round against Carlos Condit, and you wonder if this will just be as simple as St. Pierre riding out a decision if he can just avoid that big left in the first two rounds. Now, what's interesting is that cardio machine GSP actually looked a bit winded in his previous two fights, though those could be explained by the fact that a) he was facing Carlos Condit after a 19-month layoff and b) he then fought Nick Diaz, who puts anyone's cardio to shame. GSP at even 80% cardio is still a beast, but it could be a sign that he isn't as invincible as he once was. There's a scent of an upset in the air in the wake of Chris Weidman beating the seemingly-unstoppable Anderson Silva but I doubt we'll see the other pound-for-pound legend drop his belt in the same six-month span.
Speaking of that invincibility, the hot rumour has been that GSP will go out on top and retire if he beats Hendricks on Saturday. You can definitely make the argument that St. Pierre has nothing left to prove; he's already an all-time legend, his famously intense training regiment has left him drained, he lost a bit of his hunger after his long layoff for knee surgery, and a win over Hendricks will mean that GSP has essentially cleaned out the welterweight division twice, which is crazy. Rather than risk his health in a decline phase, Georges could possibly hang up the gloves (even on a loss) and turn matters in the welterweight division over to Rory in a Dick Grayson-becomes-Batman move. It's worth noting that UFC officials and many in GSP's camp have denied the retirement rumours, but we won't know for sure until the Hendricks fight is over.
It'll be hard for me as an MMA fan to see St. Pierre retire, if this is indeed it. As the maple leaf on my passport would indicate, I'm a big GSP fan and he's my favourite fighter. Georges is the only fighter for whom I'm legitimately nervous every time he's in the cage since I'm rooting for him to win so badly. By the same token, if he decides to retire, it's hard to argue that he's already given UFC fans more than enough over the years. Better to go out now than to suffer an embarrassing loss like Silva, or even worse, a series of embarrassing losses like Chuck Liddell or Shogun Rua when you're clearly past your prime. My hat is off to St. Pierre if he retires, and let's hope he gives us one more fine memory on Saturday.
* Jason High over Anthony Lapsley, submission, R2
* Sergio Pettis over Will Campuzano, decision….that's the 20-year-old younger brother of Anthony Pettis, by the way. Interesting bout here for the unbeaten youngster and he's facing Campuzano on short notice, but I'll pick him in part just because of the Pettis family name. After all, Brent Gretzky was just as good as his brother, right?
* Erik Perez over Edwin Figueroa, decision
* Donald Cerrone over Evan Dunham, decision….couple of dimmed stars here, though Cerrone is just a gatekeeper kind of guy. Dunham was the one who looked really special early in his career but just hasn't lived up to that potential.
* Gian Villante over Cody Donovan, knockout, R3….battle of the Ovince St. Preux victims! Loser might get cut.
* Thales Leites over Ed Herman, submission, R1….can't believe I'm seeing a Leites/Herman fight on a UFC card in the year 2013.
* Rick Story over Brian Ebersole, decision…..if Hendricks wins the belt and Story can string together three or four wins in a row, he might have a title shot case as "the only guy to beat Hendricks." Story's current streak stands at, uh, zero wins in a row, so he'll need some work. I'll pick Story here in my "always pick against the guy who hasn't fought in over a year" strategy.