ATLANTA — Sharing a fight card with Jon Jones and Rashad Evans isn’t the easiest proposition.
With one of the biggest bouts of the year headlining UFC 145, the 22 other fighters slated to compete Saturday at Philips Arena have received little attention.
That’s not how it traditionally goes in mixed martial arts, where a fight billed on the undercard sometimes receives as much hype as a championship bout. This weekend, however, there’s a clear divide between the intrigue of Jones vs. Evans and the rest of the event.
That doesn’t mean the rest of UFC 145 isn’t loaded with scraps worthy of attention. On the contrary, several noteworthy story lines will play out before Jones and Evans climb into the octagon at the end of the night.
Check below for a list of five things to watch at UFC 145 before the main event.
The rise of Rory MacDonald
Georges St. Pierre’s word is as good as Gospel when it comes to mixed martial arts.
The longtime welterweight champion, who’s currently sidelined after undergoing ACL surgery, has unquestioned knowledge when it comes to fighting. For more than a year, St. Pierre has raved about welterweight training partner Rory MacDonald.
St. Pierre says the 22-year old MacDonald, who meets Che Mills in the UFC 145 co-main event, is far more progressed than he was at a young age. St. Pierre took the praise for MacDonald a step further at Thursday’s open workouts.
“He’s the best he’s ever been,” St. Pierre said. “He looks very sharp. I haven’t seen him too much because I was in Los Angeles. But when I went (to Montreal) the last two weeks, I saw him and he was amazing. I’m confident it’s going to be a win in a very good-fashioned way.”
It’s ironic that St. Pierre heaps that type of praise on a teammate days before Jones and Evans fight. Evans used to speak about Jones similarly when they trained together before the two had a bitter falling-out.
But St. Pierre and MacDonald swear they aren’t heading down the same path. Both mentioned that they would rather move up to middleweight than fight each other.
“Me and Georges are teammates and friends, so it’s not going to get to that point like Rashad and Jones,” MacDonald said. “But I understand people want to see that drama, but I’m not big into drama.”
UFC 145’s other grudge match
If the rivalry between Evans and Jones is described as heated, then the one between welterweights Stephen Thompson and Matt Brown is cooled.
Thompson and Brown have exchanged some words leading up to their welterweight clash on the UFC 145 preliminary card. But both said it was all in good fun and expressed no true animosity Thursday.
Their disagreement started in Las Vegas, where both fought at UFC 143. Thompson secured a $65,000 bonus for scoring the Knockout of the Night in the first round against Dan Stittgen. Brown felt he deserved the award instead for knocking out Chris Cope.
“It wasn’t even a knockout he had,” Thompson said. “It was a technical knockout. He’s kind of upset about that.”
Brown also questioned Thompson’s much-lauded kickboxing credentials. Before switching to MMA — where he’s gone undefeated at 6-0 — Thompson went 63-0 as a six-time world champion kickboxer.
But Brown thought Thompson faced underwhelming competition. Brown has backed off of those criticisms a tad as the fight has drawn closer.
“I don’t think he fought the best guys,” Brown said. “But even if you don’t fight the best guys, for every single time you fight — surely you get sick or not feel your best on certain days — it’s commendable to go in there and do that. I’ve got some respect.”
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Mark Hominick’s attempt to re-emerge
It looked like a fluke. It felt like a fluke. Now it’s time to find out if the loss Mark Hominick suffered his last time out was truly a fluke.
The Canadian, who used to train in Las Vegas before the untimely passing of coach Shawn Tompkins, lost his spot at the top of the featherweight divisional rankings with a seven-second knockout defeat to “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung at UFC 140.
Hominick was a 5-to-1 favorite in the bout, which Jung ended prematurely with a counter right hand. Getting caught with a perfect punch is a fact of life in MMA, especially with the fighters wearing four-once gloves.
One lopsided defeat isn’t going to break Hominick’s career. But it’s a different story if it happens again in Atlanta.
Hominick once again enters as a massive favorite at more than 7-to-1 against Hawaiian Eddie Yagin. “The Machine” needs a victory to prevent a three-fight losing streak, as he memorably dropped a unanimous decision in a five-round battle with Jose Aldo at UFC 129.
“I’ve got to go out there and remind people that I’m one of the best in this division,” Hominick said.
A heavyweight slugfest
Before heavyweights completely take over the next UFC pay-per-view, the division is featured in two bouts at Phillips Arena.
Brendan Schaub and Ben Rothwell meet on the main card after Travis Browne and Chad Griggs battle during the preliminaries.
Placement is the only curious aspect, as Browne vs. Griggs appears to hold more significance than Schaub vs. Rothwell despite its lesser billing. Schaub and Rothwell are both coming off of a loss, a feeling that Browne and Griggs can hardly relate to.
Browne and Griggs have a combined record of 23-1-1 in MMA. Neither has lost in the last five years.
Griggs arrives in the octagon for the first time after a stint in Strikeforce. Browne signed with the UFC two years ago, going undefeated aside from a unanimous draw with Cheick Kongo at UFC 120.
The two look evenly matched and are promising excitement.
“We both hit hard. We both are head hunters,” Griggs said. “He’s a big guy. Our records show that we like to put guys away.”
Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris
The Ultimate ‘Ultimate Fighter’
For only the sixth time in UFC history, two winners of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show will fight each other in the octagon.
The third bout of the night features ‘TUF’ 6 champion Mac Danzig against ‘TUF’ 8 champion Efrain Escudero. Winning the UFC’s biannual reality show remains the high point of both lightweights’ careers, as neither has panned out to reach the top of the 155-pound division.
Danzig has lost five of his last seven bouts. The UFC might opt to cut Danzig from his contract with another defeat.
Escudero returned to the UFC as an injury fill-in at UFC 141, but couldn’t stop Jacob Volkmann from taking him down. Escudero dropped a unanimous decision in the fight.
Grappling is a strong point for both fighters, so look for Danzig and Escudero to take turns slapping on submission attempts against each other.