SiriusXM Fight Club’s RJ Clifford and Ricky Bonnet break down the main card of UFC 169.

The day before Super Bowl XLVIII, the Octagon touches down just 10 miles away from MetLife Stadium, where the Seattle Seahawks play the Denver Broncos.

The all-too-often-injured Dominick Cruz’s return bout fell apart when a groin injury yanked him from the fight date. Instead, Urijah Faber steps in to face Renan Barao, whose interim belt graduated to the true championship with Cruz’s withdrawal.

The co-main event features another top Brazilian defending his belt in Jose Aldo, against another underdog American, Ricardo Lamas.

Betting lines based on Wednesday’s Sportsbook.com.


Renan Barao -295 (champion) vs. Urijah Faber +235

Rick’s Pick: Faber

It’s been quite a 2013 for “The California Kid,” with four wins, including three finishes, in the calendar year. It’s tough to argue that Uriah Faber didn’t deserve a shot. The only thing standing in his way was the poster boy for injuries, former UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz. But Cruz, on the eve of his unification title fight with Barao, suffered another injury and had to relinquish his belt. Faber was obvious as the next No. 1 contender, and now he has one more chance at something that has eluded him up until this point: UFC gold. His opponent, Renan Barao, is no slouch, though. These two already fought in a tough scrap, with Barao getting the edge on the judge’s scorecards. Most people pass judgment based on that first fight, but the Uriah Faber now isn’t the same one we saw enter the cage at UFC 149. Both guys have seen the other and will be ready. To me, this fight will come down to speed and execution. Up to this fight, Barao has been flawless, and if I were a betting man I would say Barao has got this. Too bad I am not a betting man. I see Faber fighting the fight of his life and pulling the big upset on Super Bowl weekend. Faber is the new UFC Bantamweight Champion via split decision after a crazy back-and-forth fight.

RJ’s Pick: Barao

A lot of this fight’s attention has revolved around the fact that 2013 was such a great year for Urijah Faber. Few fighters enter a championship with more momentum than the 34-year-old. He cranked out four dominant wins in 2013, and took this championship fight on 22 days notice. Momentum is great, but being fresh is better. Renan Barao has two highlight reel-worthy wins in the last year as well, plus the benefit of a full camp and time to recover from his last title defense. Faber hasn’t slowed down at all, and his quickness, combined with his veteran savvy, make him a treat to watch. His pure striking has improved some under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig, but he is still an overhand-right, shoot-for-a-takedown kind of fighter. He throws hard and tries to setup scrambles where he normally ends up on top, or threatening with some kind of choke attempt. Barao is the kind of guy who can adjust to that strategy. He has some of the best takedown defense in the division, and is a better pure striker. He’s also a diverse and dangerous submission expert from a camp full of dangerous submissions experts, Nova Unioa. Faber is in a better place this time around compared to their first encounter in 2012, so I expect this fight to be more entertaining, but with the same result. Look for Faber to try to create as much chaos as possible, blurring the lines between the grappling and the striking. Barao – and his 31-fight win streak – will stay poised and rack up points in the judges’ eyes with punches and kicks. Barao by unanimous decision.


Jose Aldo -675 (champion) vs. Ricardo Lamas +475

Ricky’s Pick: Aldo

For a while, Ricardo Lamas was always the bridesmaid and never the bride as far as the UFC Featherweight division was concerned. Lamas was often passed over for title shots, and it looked like he would never get a shot at UFC gold. But a TKO destruction of Erik Koch was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and he punched his ticket to No. 1 contender status. But be careful what you wish for … Jose Also has looked unbeatable since he captured 145-pound gold in the WEC. Since then he has had solutions for every problem, and has made some very good fighters look mediocre. I think this fight will surprise a lot of people as to how competitive it is. Look for Lamas to make Aldo look human, and push the Nova Uniao product to the brink. But the brink will be as far as it goes. Aldo will prove just why he should be at the top of the pound-for-pound list by winning a five-round “Fight of the Year” candidate by unanimous decision.

RJ’s Pick: Aldo

Ricardo Lamas is a very good fighter, but Jose Aldo may be the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA. Lamas is extremely resilient and dangerous on top with strikes and submissions. He’s a better-than-average wrestler with cardio to spare. I just don’t know what Lamas’ path to victory is in this fight. If he tries to tire Aldo out and capitalize in the championship rounds, there’s a good chance Aldo’s bone-crushing Muay Thai damages Lamas more than Lamas tires out Aldo. Trying to stay on top of Aldo is a logical choice, but no one has better takedown defense at featherweight than Aldo. Also, if Aldo can time his opponent’s shots, he’s great at making them pay for bad takedowns. (Paging Chad Mendes.) Aldo is simply on another level in all aspects of this fight. He doesn’t have the cardio problems wishful thinkers would have you believe. He’s never been out-grappled, and no one in the division has his kind of accuracy-power combination. TKO Aldo.


Alistair Overeem -330 vs Frank Mir +250

Ricky’s Pick: Overeem

This has been labeled as a “Win or go home” fight. Whether that is accurate or not, you would be hard pressed to find a more worthy must-win situation. Both Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem have seen better days, and those days as of late seem to be way behind them. With a win, the victor can show he still has some gas in the tank. With a loss, the loser becomes an afterthought, and could possibly be shunned from the promotion. Mir has lost his last three fights and been dominated in each outing, while Overeem has lost two out of three in which he was winning, but ended up getting knocked out. This will come down to whoever strikes hard and strikes first. Mir could try and go out and expose The Reem’s lack of cardio and heart by dragging him into deep waters, but that is really his only hope. In the end I think Overeem will be too much. Overeem by knockout in round one.

RJ’s Pick: Overeem

In Overeem’s three UFC fights, he’s brought his opponent to the brink of destruction all three times, but only closed the deal once, when he finished off Brock Lesnar. Luckily for Overeem, Mir is nowhere near as tough as the Dutchman’s previous two opponents. As Josh Barnett so violently illustrated at UFC 164, just coming straight at Mir with a barrage of strikes is enough to take him out of his game, and that’s exactly what Overeem does early in fights. Mir historically hasn’t shown the resolve necessary to withstand Overeem’s initial onslaught. I think Overeem knows this, which is why all the footage out of his training camp is him laying out on the beach in Thailand. Overeem by first round KO.


Ali Bagautinov -130 vs John Lineker +100

Ricky’s Pick: Bagautinov

With the UFC Flyweight division in its growing stages, a win for either of these very tough 125-pounders will lift them into title contention. Both Lineker and Bagautinov have been on tears recently – Linker is on a four-fight UFC win streak, while Bagautinov has reeled off 10 wins in a row, two of them in  UFC. To me, this fight is going to go to who wants it more, and who can impose their will the most. This fight to me is a pick ’em, but I’ll go with Ali Bagautinov by knockout, round two.

RJ’s Pick: Bagautinov

Hard-hitting, sambo specialist Ali Bagautinov is the latest in the Eastern Block’s invasion of MMA. He’ll face fellow flyweight John Lineker, whose battle with the scales on Friday may be as tough as his battle with Bagautinov on Saturday. Lineker missed weight in three of his five UFC bouts, emerging with a 4-1 record. He’s been able to avoid the wrath of the promotion for his misdeeds by putting on exciting fights and scoring three consecutive knockouts. This is a VERY close fight. Expect both fighters to exchange in an even boxing match for the bulk of the fight, until one of them finds the mark first. Whoever is able to adjust to their similarly-styled opponent first scores the knock out. I’m with Bagautinov.


Jamie Varner -130 vs. Abel Trujillo +100

Ricky’s Pick: Varner

With both of these guys trying to stay relevant in the 155-pound discussion, look for both to try to make a statement. Jamie Varner’s UFC return has been good. Even though he hasn’t always gotten the “W,” he does beat tough guys and puts on exciting fights. Abel Trujillo will be looking to piggy-back off of an impressive knockout win over Roger Bowling with another exciting finish. I see Varner mixing up his wrestling and strikes and frustrating Trujillo into fighting his fight. Varner wins by unanimous decision.

RJ’s Pick: Varner

Abel Trujillo is a built like a truck and throws every strike as hard as he can. He’s an intimidating guy both in his appearance and fighting style. Whether its punches to the head or knees to the body, Trujillo knows how to hurt you. However, it normally takes an opponent willing to play his game for him to flourish. Jamie Varner is no such opponent. Varner should mix up his serviceable boxing with his wrestling to try to get Trujillo second guessing his offense. A stand-up, slug-it-out brawl favors Trujillo, but Varner will avoid it. Varner by unanimous decision.

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