Johny Hendricks (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC Fight Night 82 Preview and Predictions

Sometimes it’s a pay-per-view. Sometimes it’s not. The UFC’s Feb. 6 event was a pay-per-view. Now it’s not.

That’s what happens when a main event falls apart. Heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum was set to defend his title against Cain Velasquez in the evening’s main event. Velasquez withdrew due to injury, however, and Stipe Miocic was inserted in the role of challenger. Then Werdum dropped out, also citing injury as the cause of his withdrawal. Left with few options, the UFC promoted welterweight contenders Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson into the main event, handed the co-headlining duties to heavyweights Roy Nelson and Jared Rosholt and took white-out to the event name, changing it from UFC 196 to UFC Fight Night 82.

The new name comes with a new broadcast home. The main card of the UFC’s latest Fight Night offering will air on Fox Sports 1 at 10 p.m. ET. The lineup now features six bouts, rather than the pay-per-view norm of five. Joining the two top-billed fights, the UFC has put together an offering that features a light heavyweight showdown between Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante and Ovince St. Preux, a flyweight clash between Joseph Benavidez and Zach Makovsky, a light heavyweight pairing of prospects Misha Cirkunov and Alex Nicholson and a battle between welterweights Mike Pyle and Sean Spencer.


Before this former pay-per-view goes live for the main card on Fox Sports 1, the action kicks off at 7 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass for two preliminary bouts and then transitions to FS1 for the remainder of the prelims at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Emma Challands and Bryan Henderson preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Johny Hendricks remains near the very top of the contender list in the welterweight division. He’s 1-1 against reigning champ Robbie Lawler, but he lost two of three consecutive title fights and only has one win since his loss to Lawler. Does a win over Stephen Thompson get Hendricks back to a championship contest? On the other side of the equation, is a win over Hendricks enough to boost Thompson into immediate title contention?

Challands: The first question that comes to my mind revolves around which Hendricks is going to show up to this fight. The fact that the former champion couldn’t even make weight for his last bout against genuine title contender Tyron Woodley says a lot about where his mindset has been of late.

I may cop a lot of heat for this, but I think Hendricks is on the decline. He hasn’t won decisively since 2012. Sure, he has fought the best of the best, but he has ultimately lost half of those fights and I would argue that he didn’t beat Lawler in their first title outing against each other either. A guy who has had three title-fight opportunities will need to do more than beat the eighth-ranked Thompson to get back into contendership. His best shot was to shut down Woodley, but he squandered that opportunity, leaving him in an undesirable position in a division that has a lot of depth right now.

Should Thompson win, it will mean an impressive scalp to add to the trophy cabinet, but immediate title contention is a bit far-fetched. “Wonderboy” has had a great career to date, only dropping one loss to Matt Brown back in 2012. However, this division has no shortage of talent. That alone means Thompson will have some waiting to do behind a possible Carlos Condit rematch and title shots for Woodley and Demian Maia. If Thompson can continue to win against the top guys in the division, then he will no doubt get his opportunity. However, given the current landscape, the opportunity could still be a whole year away.

Henderson: Hendricks does indeed have an uphill battle ahead of him. However, I’m not quite as bearish on his overall stock falling. The former champ has earned his spot near the top of the mountain by, well, being a champion. He’s also earned it by nearly edging welterweight top gun Georges St-Pierre on the scorecards and defeating Lawler, however close the fight may have been, on one occasion. Tack on wins over Brown and Condit to boot. Hendricks has fought close fights, but he’s right in the mix.

That said, I’m not in complete disagreement with my colleague. Condit put up an impressive showing against Lawler in their recent title scrap that is much more demanding of a quick turnaround for a rematch. Woodley and Maia are also in contention, for sure. What this means is that Hendricks has to knock Thompson off the ladder and then eliminate another one of the guys who could argue that they’re more deserving. That means either making weight for a bout against Woodley or taking on and defeating Maia. Thompson is the first step of two or three if Hendricks wants another shot. It would also help his chances if Lawler were to drop the title, but even that isn’t a necessity since a third fight between the pair would constitute a legitimate rubber match.

Thompson, meanwhile, is in an interesting position. It would be easy to say a victory over Hendricks would not be enough. However, this is a UFC fighter whose list of victims consists of Dan Stittgen, Nah-shon Burrell, Chris Clements, Robert Whittaker, Patrick Cote and Jake Ellenberger. The last three men on that list represent a solid set of wins in his current five-fight winning streak, they aren’t current contenders in the division. Toss in a win over Hendricks, and Thompson has a solid argument here.

The problem for Thompson might be his lack of overall hype, but a highlight-reel finish of Hendricks in a headlining bout would allow him to check that box too. Will the win boost Thompson straight into a title fight? It’s doubtful. However, the win would instantly elevate him into the realm of fighters like Woodley and Maia on the contender ladder.

The co-headliner features a pair of heavyweights headed in seemingly opposite directions. Roy Nelson has been a fixture near the top of the division, but he has lost five of his last six fights. Jared Rosholt is an up-and-comer with a 6-1 mark inside the Octagon. Does Rosholt get past Nelson, and will a 7-1 record in the UFC and a shallow heavyweight division combine to put Rosholt on the short list of contenders for the heavyweight title?

Henderson: I’m not sold on Rosholt yet. Yes, he has six wins and just one loss in his UFC run, but there’s just something preventing me from viewing the three-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler as a legitimate candidate for a UFC championship run. Maybe it’s his Legacy FC loss to UFC heavyweight also-ran Derrick Lewis. Or perhaps it was his knockout loss to Oleksiy Oliynyk at UFC Fight Night 57. Maybe it’s just his long string of decision wins over fighters with strong records but little to show in their own UFC careers. Regardless, I want to see more out of Rosholt. A win over the inconsistent Stefan Struve or the wrestling-deficient Soa Palelei just isn’t enough. I want to see him beat someone who has hung out in the top 10 or 15 of the heavyweight division for years.

That’s what makes this a perfect fight. Nelson, despite all of his recent losses, is still viewed as a borderline top-15er. Granted, that’s more a testament to the shallow state of the heavyweight division, but we are talking about a man with murderous knockout power in his fists and a string of losses to only the division’s finest — Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett. If Rosholt can put his name next to the names of these men, then you can consider me sold.

Rosholt’s biggest weakness, however, has been his chin. His loss to Lewis came via strikes. Ditto for his lone UFC defeat at the hands of Oliynyk. Nelson’s knockout ability puts Lewis and Oliynyk to shame, and “Big Country” also has the grappling chops to give Rosholt a bit more fight on the ground, albeit likely only in the opening moments. If Nelson connects with his big overhand right, the night is over for Rosholt. The wrestler simply can’t stand up to Nelson’s level of power. If Rosholt can take Nelson into deep water, though, we might be looking at another long, grueling and ugly loss for Nelson.

I favor the former outcome, but I’m not ruling out the latter at all. If Nelson fails to connect, he is in for a long night and another loss. If Rosholt does put on another three rounds of dominant wrestling, he’s probably going to enter the conversation at the very least. The problem is that he’s the Ryan Bader of the heavyweight division — a wrestler who doesn’t exactly steal the show with his performance but has the resume to argue that he deserves consideration for the title shot. Rosholt, like Bader, is going to have to work extra hard to actually get a crack at the gold.

Challands: I’m in utmost agreement about Rosholt. Since making his debut for the UFC, his penchants for unanimous decisions in the heavyweight division leaves little to the imagination when we think about what his game plan will be against Nelson. Should he execute it, however, he may very well be in with a chance.

Rosholt’s last fight against Struve was unimpressive. Struve basically did nothing the entire fight and subsequently Rosholt had to do very little to garner a win. Rosholt has yet to face anyone really dangerous — the only top-15 competitor he has faced was the aforementioned Oliynyk.

Regardless of whether Rosholt beats Nelson, I will find it very hard to make an argument for him as a future title contender anytime soon, which says a lot considering there is next to no depth in the heavyweight division currently. In a time where the UFC is looking for exciting fights, and for fighters who at the very least have a little personality, Rosholt lacks on both fronts.

Nelson, on the other hand, is entertaining and has personality aplenty. He just lacks consistency at the moment. As my colleague pointed out, however, he has been pitted against the best of the best in the division.

Nelson is overdue for another “Knockout of the Night” bonus. With Rosholt having one of the weakest chins in the division, this will be Nelson’s time to shine.

This event was originally a pay-per-view — UFC 196 — and featured a heavyweight title tilt. The loss of a single fight sent it spiralling down to Fight Night status and a slot on Fox Sports 1. Is this something that can be shrugged off as a case of “this stuff happens,” or should the UFC be embarrassed that one scrapped fight had such steep repercussions to the status of this card?

Challands: We have been so spoiled as of late, as fans, with the quality of fights on pay-per-view cards that when the former UFC 196 was announced, it really did pale in comparison. The headlining fight was not necessarily a fight I wanted to see in any case, let alone pay for, so I’m almost glad that it’s been relegated back to a Fight Night card.

The UFC shouldn’t necessarily be embarrassed about what has happened, but the company should look to spread the love a little more so that cards aren’t either amazing from top to bottom or average with the exception of a couple of fights. It does the brand a disservice to have inconsistency in the product, and people will start to only tune in for the major fighting events, such as last year’s UFCs 189, 193 and 194.

The UFC is never going to be able to control injuries or fighters making/missing weight. The athletes are human beings after all, and when you have the human element, there are always going to be variables. However, to have a card be so abysmal that for one fight to drop and the whole card gets laid to waste? Well, that does seem quite ridiculous. From my recollection, this has only happened once before in the UFC’s history. So it’s fair to say it’s not a common occurrence, but it does raise red flags.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC looked at pre-sales for the pay-per-view and took that into consideration as well, deciding to throw Fox Sports 1 a bone and keep the pay-per-view cards for something that will make a lot more money in the future.

Henderson: We have been spoiled, but not just recently. We’ve been spoiled by the UFC’s pay-per-view model for years. It features a huge fight at the top of the card, but it also features very relevant fights throughout the main card and, arguably, even some fights that really matter all the way into the furthest depths of the prelims. That’s changing.

We’ll talk about them more later, but Mickey Gall and Mike Jackson are a perfect example of this change. These are very green pros, yet here they are on what was initially expected to be a pay-per-view offering. Granted, the UFC is trying to build up an opponent for cash cow CM Punk and his MMA debut, but the fight is still not typical for the UFC. Why not let Gall and Jackson duke it out on a Legacy card or under the Resurrection Fighting Alliance banner?

The UFC is spreading its love thin already through an expanded schedule that forces the company to put less top-tier talent at the top of each card and further thins that talent when the UFC has to compensate for injuries, visa issues and the like. However, it’s more than that. The UFC is starting to wander more into boxing territory, where the main event is a lot more important in its role to carrying the entire card. This may be only the second time this has happened, but we’re headed in a direction where “this stuff happens” is going to be a common refrain right alongside announcements of canceled or demoted pay-per-views.

Mickey Gall, should he be successful in defeating Mike Jackson, has been targeted to fight CM Punk. What are his chances against Jackson? Should he lose, what is the next logical step for the UFC to make in progressing Punk’s debut?

Henderson: This really is a tricky proposition for the UFC. It has a certified pro-wrestling star under contract, but the guy is really a newcomer to mixed martial arts who doesn’t hold the same fight-ready background as previous crossovers like two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler Brock Lesnar or former three-weight world champion boxer James Toney. Phil “CM Punk” Brooks does have some training in kempo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, granted, but he’s not a world-class combatant in any discipline outside of sports entertainment. So, the UFC is already dealing with a complete rookie in a league that’s typically only open to the best of the best. Now, it has to find someone to serve as Punk’s first opponent. Gall is the man intended to fill this role.

Gall’s spot here conveniently coincides with his appearance on the new UFC program Lookin’ for a Fight. He called out Punk on the show and therefore “earned” this spot on a UFC card. And against a glorified radio host whose record is spotty among the fighter databases — Sherdog lists Mike “The Truth” Jackson as 0-1 as an amateur, Tapology cites him at 1-0 as an amateur and gives Jackson credit for one pro win and a 3-6 mark (that’s right, three fights under the .500 mark) as an amateur.

Gall’s chances at winning this fight? Pardon me if I say the promotion is giving Gall the easiest fight it could find to set him up for success and an impressive showing. The 30-year-old Jackson can’t be ruled out completely, of course, but the UFC seems to be intent on featuring a star from its reality show against a star from the WWE. If Gall lives up to the UFC’s expectations and runs through Jackson, then the company can build Gall as an impressive rookie in his own right and Punk as a tough-guy pro wrestler out to prove himself against a legitimate up-and-coming mixed martial artist.

And if Jackson beats Gall? It’d be difficult to deny Jackson the potential star turn as Punk’s opponent. He’ll have stolen Gall’s thunder and the UFC would probably be best off running with it. Jackson might not be one of UFC President Dana White’s Lookin’ for a Fight finds, but he’ll have built up as much momentum as the UFC could hope for in its search for someone who makes an appropriate match for a debuting pro like Punk.

Challands: I disagree regarding Jackson. This is a lose-lose situation for him. I mean, where did the UFC even find this guy who might or might not have had a professional fight and has a sketchy at best amateur record? Jackson, 30, doesn’t seem like a top prospect that the UFC would want to develop and I’d hedge a bet he’s too much of a late starter to make any kind of impact in his MMA career. If he beats Gall — which is unlikely — I honestly don’t see the UFC pitting him against Punk. The UFC will go back to the drawing board and find someone else. Meanwhile, Jackson will fade back into obscurity.

For Gall, this is a must-win fight if he wants to stay relevant. If he can’t beat Jackson, then that doesn’t bode well for the young upstart. The only thing going for him at the moment is that he had the cojones to call out Punk after he won his professional debut. The kid is clearly smart in this regard, but personality can only take you so far. After that, you need to put wins in the “W” column.

If Gall wins, then the UFC will rub its hands together and know that it has a money-making fight. Don’t get me wrong, people were going to tune in to watch Punk fight anyway, but this provides yet another element of entertainment for the fans. Yes, it may be a little WWE for me, but storylines sell in sport, no matter whether it’s football, basketball or mixed martial arts. The UFC knows this, hence the investment in the people who provide the best narratives.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Challands: Ray Borg and Justin Scoggins.

I honestly don’t usually get excited about flyweight bouts, but I am making an exception for this one and calling it an early “Fight of the Night” contender. Borg and Scoggins are two of the best young prospects in the UFC, across any division.

Borg is on a three-fight winning streak and currently sits at 9-1 in his professional career. In a division that is known more for its decision victories, Borg stands out with his killer instinct, having finished seven of his 10 fights. Scoggins fits right into that category as well. He is 10-2 professionally with seven finishes in 12 fights. So, to say that this is going to be an all-out war of miniature proportions is an understatement.

Borg has made a name for himself within the top-ranked guys in the division, while Scoggins is snapping at the heels of all and sundry. This is a huge fight for both of these guys. For Borg, a win will mean that he continues to climb the ladder toward a title fight — and a possible rematch with Dustin Ortiz will likely be in the cards as well — and for Scoggins, it is about cementing himself as a future contender.

Whichever way this fight goes, it’s going to be fast, exciting, technical and include plenty of fireworks.

Henderson: Leave it to someone who doesn’t often get excited about flyweight fights to beat someone who does get excited for them to the punch on this sleeper pick. I, too, love the match-up between Borg and Scoggins. My only question there is how this fight ended up so far down the lineup, but I believe my colleague addressed that — not everyone loves the flyweights, be they contenders or not.

Since Ms. Challands already covered the intriguing flyweight fight from the prelims, I’ll turn my attention to a deeper sleeper pick between heavyweights Derrick Lewis and Damian Grabowski. This fight doesn’t have any title implications, nor will it create an immediate contender, but it does mark the UFC debut of Grabowski, a Polish fighter who is 20-2 and suffered his only losses to Cole Konrad, who retired as an undefeated Bellator champion, and Marcin Tybura, who remains one of Russia’s top prospects. He’s up against a beast in Lewis, but this is a fight the Polish star can win.

Lewis is an all-or-nothing whirlwind of a fighter. He often goes all-in looking for the knockout at the expense of giving up position or leaving his own chin open. He flashed his knockout power with finishes of Jack May, Guto Inocente, Ruan Potts and Viktor Pesta, but he has also fallen victim to finishes courtesy of Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan.

Grabowski is a more grappling-centric fighter than Mitrione or Jordan, but he has scored striking finishes in the past. He needs to weather the usual big, early storm from Lewis, but the Polish fighter has the tools necessary to finish Lewis in a wild fight and put a big name on his record for his Octagon debut.

Pair this card with…

Henderson: A smile as you glance at the balance in your checking account. Yes, the loss of the heavyweight title tilt between Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez — or, later, Stipe Miocic — really takes a lot of the anticipation out of this card, but it also delays the dent to your bank account. The UFC is renumbering its pay-per-views, so any gain now will eventually balance out when a new pay-per-view joins the schedule later, but for anyone looking for a break in their cable bill and a little breathing room before tax returns show up, the timing of this downgrade from pay-per-view card to cable television card couldn’t have come at a better time.

Challands: Plenty of snacks. Now that the card has been moved to Fox Sports 1, we are unfortunately going to be subjected to Fox scheduling. In other words, we are going to be in for a long night. Couple that with a lot of fighters who are known for decision victories, and it could get even longer. I don’t expect too many blink-and-you’ll-miss-it finishes coming our way. Let’s hope I’m wrong!

Fight Picks

Fight Challands’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET)
WW: Johny Hendricks vs. Stephen Thompson Thompson Hendricks
HW: Roy Nelson vs. Jared Rosholt Nelson Nelson
LHW: Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante vs. Ovince St. Preux Cavalcante St. Preux
FlyW: Joseph Benavidez vs. Zach Makovsky Benavidez Benavidez
LHW: Misha Cirkunov vs. Alex Nicholson Cirkunov Cirkunov
WW: Mike Pyle vs. Sean Spencer Pyle Pyle
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
LW: Josh Burkman vs. K.J. Noons Noons Burkman
HW: Derrick Lewis vs. Damian Grabowski Lewis Grabowski
FlyW: Ray Borg vs. Justin Scoggins Borg Borg
FW: Noad Lahat vs. Diego Rivas Rivas Lahat
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
WW: Mickey Gall vs. Mike Jackson Gall Gall
FW: Alex White vs. Artem Lobov White Lobov