SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim to talk about Saturday's UFC 123 card at the Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit.
SI.com: What do you make of the main event between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida?
Wertheim: As bad a card as there was last week in Germany, this has the potential to be a great card. There's probably as much talk about Penn-Hughes III as there is about Rampage-Machida, but Rampage-Machida could be a great fight. Machida is a lot of fun and the fight presents a good matchup of styles. Who knows what B.A. Baracus' fitness level is like after so much time in the trailer? Rampage did not look good in his last fight, but of course Machida didn't either. Rampage can beat anyone with one punch; as a striker, he's always got a shot. But Machida is the much better fighter. He's also a really awkward fighter -- he's hard to hit -- so he's a tougher guy to prepare for. Rampage's stamina is going to determine a lot. It could be a long night for Jackson. I think Machida ends up winning on stamina-related submission.
SI.com: What's at stake here?
Wertheim: This is setting up a light heavyweight championship fight. I don't want to say it's make or break, but it's a pretty crucial fight for both guys. It's just a really attractive matchup of styles: Rampage is Rampage, but Machida brings this interesting blend of Japanese techniques and Brazilian techniques. He's just such an unconventional fighter that I have a hard time seeing Rampage catching him. No one fights like this guy.
SI.com: It's not being billed as such, but it seems like Hughes-Penn is really a co-feature here.
Wertheim: Eighteen months ago, the Matt Hughes retirement watch was on and B.J. was right up there with Anderson Silva in the pound-for-pound discussion. If you had said then that Hughes and Penn would fight a third time -- and Hughes would be the slight favorite -- you'd have been laughed at.
Since then, Hughes has looked surprisingly good while B.J. has lost twice (albeit to the same guy), and suddenly you have Hughes-Penn III. And a lot of people are picking Hughes.
These are two guys who have been in UFC for more than half of the organization's existence. Penn lost twice to Frankie Edgar, who's like Hughes and sort of a similarly stocky, wrestling-based fighter.
I still have a hard time seeing Penn lose, but Hughes' body type makes him so hard to beat on the ground just because he's so ridiculously arm-strong stocky. This could be a really interesting fight that you'd expect mostly to be on the ground.
SI.com: Do any of the other undercard fights jump out at you?
Wertheim: I'm looking at George Sotiropoulos, the Australian who's fighting Joe Lauzon in the first bout of the main card. He's the flavor of the month, this latecomer who's just now being talked about. It's not often you see a prospect in his 30s, but he's a fighter a lot of people are really excited about. He's 11-2 and he's looked great in all his UFC fights. His opponent, Lauzon, has sort of been around, but it will be interesting to get a look at this guy. Of course, it's worth mentioning that Australia is a another target market for UFC.
It'll be interesting to see Tyson Griffin. It shows you how fast these careers change: Griffin is basically fighting for contract, vying for his UFC life. Not that long ago, Griffin was not quite a name-lister but a pretty credible fighter.
SI.com: Any final thoughts before Saturday night?
Wertheim: All in all, it's a good, top-heavy card with, basically, co-main events. And all four of the fighters involved have a lot riding on it. If Hughes loses, they'll say he only got the fight because he beat three oldies. If Hughes beats Penn, this is a huge comeback. If Penn loses, it's three losses in a row for a guy who this time last year was right up in the best pound-for-pound fighter category. Rampage is always good copy no matter what. Machida is a potential star for a variety of reasons, but he basically got knocked out cold in his last fight, against Maurício Rua. If he gets caught again, suddenly you say there are some real holes there.