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UFC on Fox 5: Diaz, Penn & Rua fighting for old guard
Old school very much meets new school on a classic UFC card this weekend, but will any of the top three fights deliver a moment to savour for fans of the old generation?
In the main event, the polished, athletic, pristine lightweight champion Benson Henderson meets Nate Diaz, a fighter's fighter who cares little for reputations.
Then there is the legend, the Prodigy, former two-weight champion BJ Penn against 'the next big thing' Rory MacDonald. And sandwiched in between, Pride icon Mauricio Shogun Rua bids to end the hype surrounding Swedish sensation Alexander Gustafsson.
Benson Henderson v Nate Diaz
Where the fight could be won or lost: On the feet, Ben Henderson has to disrupt Nate Diaz's rhythm. You let a Diaz brother find his range and get in the zone, you're going to eat punches. Henderson could fight this on the outside, utilize his kicks and counter off Diaz's active lead hand, but he's more likely to come forward, knee in the clinch, push things to the fence and get a takedown. Nobody wants anything to do with Diaz's guard, but Henderson is fearless in that aspect, so he'll be comfortable going there.
Diaz is capable of submitting Henderson off his back, more than capable, but until someone actually pulls that off, you have to favour Henderson in top position. Both can absorb shots and both can fight into the fifth round. This is a close one. Henderson tends to look like an NFL linebacker compared to lightweights, but Diaz is not your average 155-pounder. He's six foot and will have a significant reach advantage here. If Diaz wins, it's by submission, but leg kicks, elbows and takedowns win it for the champ.
The pick: Benson Henderson - Unanimous decision
BJ Penn v Rory MacDonald
Where the fight could be won or lost: BJ Penn picked a heck of an opponent for a comeback fight. Penn's boxing is good, although his style is to stand mostly flat-footed, parry an opponent's punches with the right hand and counter with the left. His defence hasn't completely deteriorated, but his head movement and hand speed aren't what they used to be and MacDonald's reach advantage will be tough to overcome. Penn is incredibly slick on the ground and he could pull this one out in a scramble and sneak in a choke.
But MacDonald is big and athletic. Even if Penn is motivated, it's a mismatch. Penn put together an incredible camp of sparring partners and he looks physically terrific heading into this fight. But chances are he really was doomed the minute he accepted this one. MacDonald is huge. He appears to have at least an average chin. He's well rounded and he's dominant from top position.
The pick: Rory MacDonald - TKO
Mauricio Shogun Rua v Alexander Gustafsson
Where the fight could be won or lost: You picking the athlete or the mixed martial artist? You run Alexander Gustafsson and Mauricio Rua through an NFL combine, everyone's taking the Swede. You put them in a cage fight? We'll see. Gustafsson wants a standup fight. He'll circle, get Rua to run at him then counter. A career of tough fights has slowed Rua down, so we may see Gustafsson push the pace at times, as well, if he's able to set up the angles he wants. We generally think Gustafsson is fast because he moves well, but his hand speed isn't exactly breathtaking.
Rua, right now, is still technically better. He gasses, though, and when he's tired, he motors forward with no regard for his safety. And Gustafsson will love that. Advantage to Rua on the floor. When this fight was announced Gustafsson looked favourite, but maybe it's not so simple. The Swede fights with his hands down, which is terrifying in this matchup. Gustafsson needs to make it to the third, where a tired Rua might give this away.
The pick: Alexander Gustafsson - TKO