The time for head games has come to an end.

Trash talk.  Accusations of spies.  None of that matters come Saturday night when the cage door closes and Jon Jones and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson stand face-to-face inside the Octagon.

The only thing that matters then is what these two elite light heavyweights can do to each other in combat.

The UFC light heavyweight title will be on the line when these two men meet in the headlining bout of UFC 135 at the Pepsi Center in Denver.  The young champion Jones has been a seemingly invincible dominating force on his meteoric rise to the top of the 205-pound mountain.  However, Rampage might have found the phenom’s one weakness: The mental game.

Jackson’s confidence in front of the cameras and his ability to get inside the head of “Bones” has been evident in recent weeks.  Now, he’ll have to see if all of that effort pays dividends inside the Octagon.  Will Jones’ performance suffer?  Rampage is hoping the answer is yes.

The main card of UFC 135, set to air on pay-per-view, also features a showdown in which Josh Koscheck could retire the legendary former welterweight champion Matt Hughes.  Hughes was set to face Diego Sanchez, but Koscheck stepped up when Sanchez withdrew due to injury.  Hughes had experienced a resurgence in his career with three straight wins before suffering a 21-second knockout loss at the hands of B.J. Penn.  Can Koscheck force Hughes into retirement, or does the legend still have some surprises left for us?

Rounding out the main card, heavyweight Travis Browne seeks to remain undefeated when he locks horns with Rob Broughton, lightweight Nate Diaz squares off with a foe who engaged in a classic duel with his brother when he faces Takanori Gomi, and heavyweights Ben Rothwell and Mark Hunt collide.

The MMA Corner panel of Brian McKenna, Duncan Price and Rob Tatum share their opinions on all five main card bouts in this edition of the Round Table.

HW: Ben Rothwell (31-7) vs. Mark Hunt (6-7)

Tatum: To casual observers, they’re going to wonder how this match-up came to fruition. If this were a book, most would believe that Rothwell would have to be favored if they just read the cover. But if they were to read into things deeper, they’d realize that the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” certainly applies.

Rothwell is returning from a lengthy layoff recovering from ACL surgery. The veteran has only fought four times in the last four years, going 2-2 in those fights. He finished two of those fights by knockout, but was knocked out in the losses. After compiling a record of 9-0 in the now defunct IFL, the heavyweight has battled to stay healthy.

If there was a Mount Rushmore of mixed martial arts, one of the faces should be occupied by Mark Hunt’s chin. The former Pride fighter and K-1 champion is one of the most dangerous strikers to enter the sport. However, it is his ground game that failed him throughout the years. Hunt amazingly dropped six straight fights, with five coming by way of submission. But you cannot ignore the fighters who delivered those losses: former champions Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Gegard Mousasi.

I’m not going to lie, there’s a special place in my heart for the “Super Samoan.” Hunt by highlight-reel knockout in the first round.

Price: These two heavyweights are better known for their performances outside of the UFC, and I actually see the loser of this one receiving their marching papers.

Maybe three or four years ago I would have gone for Rothwell, but even when he was injury-free he failed to set the division alight. He has ability in both striking and grappling, but I have slight concerns over his general stamina and fitness, especially after such a long layoff.

Mark Hunt (Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog)

As Rob says, Hunt is very difficult to knock out, but his cardio is equally as bad, if not worse than Rothwell’s. He just has this ability to hit guys on the button, which is very hard to ignore. I am uneasy about his overall chances though, should Rothwell be able to take him down.

I’m going to agree with Rob and go for Hunt by knockout, but he needs it early on. Otherwise, Rothwell should be able to control the action later in the fight and grind out a decision using his superior wrestling ability.

McKenna: Yeah, Rob’s analogy is spot on in this fight. It is very rare that you see a fighter in the main card of a UFC pay-per-view hold a losing record, none the less rare that you would even see a fighter with a losing record in the UFC. But that is exactly what Mark Hunt is: A 6-7 fighter who is fighting on the pay-per-view card. People talk about just how awesome his striking is and how great he is as a professional kickboxer, but people forget to talk about how poor he is on the ground and with his submission defense.

“Big” Ben Rothwell is by no means a submission artist, but you don’t have to be one when you fight Hunt. Honestly, Hunt’s chin is as good as Rob and Duncan say it is, but what good is an iron chin if you are just going to give up submissions? Look, if this fight was a kickboxing match, it would be foolish to even think that Rothwell could win, but this is a MMA fight and because of that, Rothwell will earn the submission victory in the second round.

LW: Nate Diaz (13-7) vs. Takanori Gomi (32-7)

McKenna: While Nick Diaz has had his name all over the MMA world as of late, his younger brother Nate has some work to do of his own as he takes on Takanori Gomi on Saturday. After winning the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Nate ripped off four straight victories and was a top prospect with the promotion. After a loss to Clay Guida, Diaz fell back down to earth and has struggled while fighting for the UFC since. Recently, he is coming off of two losses and needs to avoid the dreaded three straight losses, which is usually a sign that you’re getting cut.

Takanori Gomi (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Unfortunately, when you talk about Gomi, you talk about another disappointing Japanese fighter who has not lived up to his hype. “The Fireball Kid” had a magnificent pre-UFC career, holding a record of 31-5 and is able to say that he is the only person to ever hold the Pride lightweight championship title. In 15 career Pride bouts, Gomi only officially lost once because the Nick Diaz loss became a no-contest. But that is where the success ends, as he was choked out by both Kenny Florian and Clay Guida. The one bit of light shed on him was when he quickly knocked out Tyson Griffin, but we need to see more out of him in order for him to stay relevant with the promotion.

Diaz likes to do his dirty work from the ground and work submissions, while Gomi likes to use his fists and knock out his opponent. Gomi will be able to avoid the takedowns and ultimately be the reason that Diaz becomes the fifth TUF winner to be released from the UFC.

Price: As Brian thoroughly outlined above, both these men desperately need a win. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there are jobs on the line though. Diaz is too connected and Gomi is one of only a handful of recognizable Japanese fighters currently competing in the UFC. Having said that though, there is a lot to gain and also to lose in this intriguing contest.

Gomi can never be counted out, but despite his boyish looks I fear his best days are behind him. Like several other notable Pride competitors, his record is bolstered by the fact that the promotion often didn’t have the world’s greatest talent on their roster. I am inclined to agree with Brian and say that he seems to fall into the category of Japanese fighters who don’t live up to expectation.

Nate Diaz (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

The Diaz brothers fight with a certain rangy striking style and slick grappling skills, which make them a threat in any given area. Nate fought Melvin Guillard, a fighter with a similar skill set to Gomi, back in 2009 and defeated him via submission. That fact coupled with the knowledge Nick would have gained when he faced Gomi in 2007, which he has surely imparted to his younger brother, should see Nate come away with a submission victory.

Tatum: This fight is a contrast of styles, as the submission ace Diaz battles the dynamite fists of Gomi. As both Brian and Duncan have pointed out, both fighters are anxious to get back on the winning track.

Diaz makes his return to the lightweight division after a 2-2 run at welterweight. He simply does not have the size to compete in the higher weight class. Returning to his more natural weight class may not solve all of his problems, as he dropped three of his last four at 155 pounds. What the former Ultimate Fighter does have is his BJJ black belt and iron chin. The Stockton native has never been finished by strikes.

Gomi is certainly on the tail-end of his career. The Pride legend has struggled mightily since the fall of the Japanese promotion. The three submission losses over his last six bouts is certainly worrisome as he faces off against Diaz. What is on his side, however, is his solid takedown defense. Diaz is not a wrestler and will struggle to bring the fight to the ground.

It’s this opening that I believe will give “The Fireball Kid” the chance he needs to deliver one of his patented left cross-right hook combos, sending Diaz to his first knockout loss.

HW: Travis Browne (11-0-1) vs. Rob Broughton (15-5-1)

Price: Travis Browne made his name in the UFC by first holding veteran striker Cheick Kongo to a contentious draw at UFC 120 and then spectacularly knocking out the rangy Stefan Struve seven months later at UFC 130. A heavyweight combatant, Browne is known as a powerful striker with some basic grappling skills. Interestingly, he is unbeaten so far in his relatively short MMA career, which is comprised of just twelve competitive bouts. Browne currently holds two wins and a draw within the UFC and he will be looking to cement his position as a heavyweight contender with a win here against the plucky Brit.

Travis Browne (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

The key to victory for Browne is to try and pick his shots and retain his cardio throughout the fight. If he can avoid his opponent’s heavy hands and score with counter strikes, Browne should hold an overall advantage in the fight.

In many ways, British heavyweight Rob Broughton is directly comparable to his opponent, as he also possesses heavy hands and fundamental grappling skills. After looking in trouble early in his UFC debut against Vinicius Queiroz at UFC 120, Broughton battled back and showed tremendous heart to defeat the Brazilian in the third round. The big question over Broughton is his ability and stamina when facing top-level competition. So far in his career, he has had mixed results outside of the British MMA scene and it will be interesting to see if he can build on his solid start in the UFC. Broughton needs to bring it from the start and if he can draw Browne into a slugfest, he stands as good a chance as his rival of scoring a knockout victory.

Browne’s experience and endurance will be too much for Broughton and he will control the fight en route to a TKO victory due to strikes in the second round.

Tatum: My British counterpart would be the best judge of Broughton’s skill set, and from what I have seen of the UK-based slugger, I agree with Duncan’s assessment.

The undefeated Browne has amassed a record that includes nine knockouts in only 12 fights, with seven coming in the first round. His superman punch knockout of Stefan Struve at UFC 130 in May was one of the most well-executed strikes in recent memory and earned the Hawaii native a Knockout of the Night bonus.

I’ll echo Duncan’s prediction and take Browne by way of second-round finish.

McKenna: While Duncan mentioned that Browne fought to a draw against Kongo in Browne’s promotion debut, I would have judged that fight in favor of Kongo had it been a Pride fight where they didn’t use the 10-point must system. Kongo was deducted a point for frequent grabbing of Browne’s shorts, and I thought that he honestly did not need to do that to win the fight. Be that as it may, Browne washed away that performance with the spectacular superman punch that should be a candidate for Knockout of the Year.

I would be lying if I said that I knew a lot about the Englishman Broughton, so I have to go with Duncan and trust his assessment of the fighter. However, from looking at what Broughton has done in his career, not a whole lot stands out. What did stand out to me though was that this will be only his third fight in the United States, and when you’re not used to fighting in a foreign land it is always a wild card as to just how comfortable a fighter will be. Tack on the fact that this fight will take place a mile above sea level and that is a recipe for disaster. Because of this, Browne will remain undefeated, as he wears down Broughton for that second-round TKO that Duncan spoke of.

WW: Matt Hughes (45-8) vs. Josh Koscheck (15-5)

Tatum: This welterweight fight might be a true changing of the guard. The former champion Hughes was slated to battle Diego Sanchez, but Sanchez suffered a broken hand and was forced off the card. Koscheck, fully recovered from a broken orbital he sustained against champion Georges St-Pierre in December, took the fight on late notice.

Matt Hughes (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Hughes is fighting the last fight on his current contract and the legend of the sport is likely entering the Octagon for the final time. His 21-second knockout loss to B.J. Penn at UFC 123 dropped his record to 4-4 in his last eight fights. The wrestling stalwart will look to go out with a win against the younger Koscheck.

For Koscheck, this is an opportunity to put another notch on his belt. The former Ultimate Fighter is looking to climb back up the divisional ladder after dropping his title challenge. With a NCAA wrestling championship on his resume, Koscheck will have the advantage in every aspect of this fight.

Fans of the sport would undoubtedly love for Hughes to play spoiler and finish his career on a high note, but that’s simply a pipe dream. Koscheck is going to overwhelm the veteran and finish him by knockout in the middle frame.

McKenna: Rob is right, Penn knocked out Hughes in just 21 seconds in his last fight. But let’s be honest, that is not the Matt Hughes that we all know. In the sport of MMA, anything can happen and Hughes just got caught, that’s all. Hughes was one of the first superstars to rise out of the UFC and it was due to the way he had adapted his All-American wrestling skills to fit with the sport. The amateur wrestling got him to where he is in the sport, but the submission wrestling really put his name on the map. This wrestling has been the basis for how he finishes fights, whether by submission or by ground-and-pounding his way through his opponent.

Josh Koscheck came to the UFC from the first season ofThe Ultimate Fighter and on the show it was clear that his only abilities came from his collegiate wrestling background. He grinded out wins on that show by out-wrestling his opponents and holding them down. However, since the conclusion of the show, “Kos” has truly evolved into a full mixed martial artist, where he is using his striking as along with submission wrestling. At UFC 106, the Pennsylvanian used his striking to set up a devastating rear-naked choke against Anthony Johnson, a victory that flung him in the right direction of a title shot.

Josh Koscheck (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Rob is also right that the fans will likely be in Hughes’ corner, but I have to go against his pick in this fight. Hughes is the all-around better fighter and because of it he will grind out the decision, out-wrestling Koscheck in the process.

Price: Much as I can see Brian’s point, Hughes has had his day in the Octagon. The fact remains that the last real title contender he defeated was Penn at UFC 63. Hughes still has his technical knowledge and experience, but the speed and strength he had before has just dwindled over the past few years.

I’m not a big fan of Koscheck, but I do respect his ability. Whilst his opponent has been on the way down, he has most certainly been on his way up. Against many opponents you would at least concede that Hughes would hold an advantage in the wrestling department, but against Koscheck you can’t even give him that.

Koscheck will just be too quick and too robust to be caught-out by the crafty veteran Hughes. I’m going to partially agree with Rob and say Koscheck gets the knockout, but in the first round as opposed to the second.

LHW Championship: Jon Jones (13-1) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-8)

Price: If you believe the hype, Jon Jones is the the next big thing in MMA. Say goodbye to Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, this is the guy to take the sport to the next level, and I for one agree.

Jon Jones (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

The only blemish on an otherwise perfect record is an unfortunate disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, and everyone would surely agree that Jones was easily winning that fight prior to its unfortunate stoppage.

Jones is as dominant a fighter as I have ever seen, especially at this stage in his career. Not only is he bullishly strong, he is also an accurate and rangy striker, an excellent wrestler and a skilled grappler. Jones has no glaring weakness and that makes it nigh on impossible for opponents to come up with a way to defeat him. There is no blueprint to test him, because no-one yet has, at least up until now.

In his latest and most impressive outing, Jones faced current champion and legendary Pride combatant Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on short notice in a fight for the UFC light heavyweight belt. Despite only having six weeks to prepare for the bout, Jones was able to stop Rua just three rounds into their five-round tilt and, in all honesty, Jones looked like he had Rua’s number right from the opening bell.

So the superlatives flow, but questions remain. Arguably Rua is the only competitor currently ranked in the top-ten light heavyweights in the world that Jones has faced and some fans point to a relative lack of experience on the part of “Bones.” How well would he fair against another talented wrestler like Rashad Evans? How would he stack up against a power-puncher like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson? Well, at least one of those questions will be answered this coming Saturday night.

Rampage Jackson (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

Jackson would have been disappointed with his last appearance in the Octagon. His opponent at UFC 130, Matt Hamill, came in on short notice, but even so the man known as “Rampage” was unable to put the tough wrestler away. Jackson battled to a slightly lackluster unanimous decision win, but it was hardly the performance of a potential champion. In some ways, his upcoming bout with Jones came about in a rather fortuitous manner. Injuries to both Rashad Evans and subsequently Jones himself, conspired to hand this opportunity to Jackson, perhaps more due to fortunate timing rather than outstanding recent performances.

So is Jackson to be taken lightly? Of course not, the man is a former UFC light heavyweight title holder and owns victories over legitimate MMA legends such as Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell and Dan Henderson. If Jackson is to defeat Jones though, he really needs to diversify his training and evolve into a true mixed martial artist. Too often Jackson relies on his hands to get the job done and when someone like Rashad Evans or Forrest Griffin takes him out of his comfort zone, he just doesn’t quite have the versatility to change up his strikes or to complete a takedown and dominate ground position.

The key to winning this contest for Jackson is to somehow close the distance and dirty box his way to a knockout or points win. The more likely outcome, and my personal opinion, is that Jones comes out quickly and dominates the pace of the fight, whether it be

Jon Jones (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

standing or on the ground, and takes the victory by TKO early in the third round.

McKenna: That hype that Duncan speaks of? I believe it. Let’s face it, MMA came easy to Jon Jones for some reason. The same way that basketball came easy to Michael Jordan, and the same way that guitar came easy to Eric Clapton. But the one thing that scares me with “Bones” is exactly that, the in-experience. The New Yorker rolled through all five of his small promotion fights on his way to the UFC, where he took control of pretty much every minute of every fight he was in. I honestly cannot say that I can remember many times where someone was imposing their will on Jones and not the other way around. But by dissecting how Jones got to where he is is a little frightening. Other than defeating a rusty “Shogun” who was coming off a knee surgery, the second biggest win in his career would have to be Vladimir Matyushenko, who has looked great lately, but he isn’t near the top-ten of the division.

On the opposite end of the cage will stand No. 1 contender Quinton Jackson. Ever since “Rampage” entered the UFC in 2007, he has been towards the top of the light heavyweight division. It is not only because of his highlight reel of knockouts and fantastic finishes, but it is also because of who it is that he has defeated. Just look at the names on the docket that the Tennessee native has defeated: Lyoto Machida, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson and Chuck Liddell. His striking alone puts fear in the eyes of his opponent because they know that in an instant they could be on their back and have a vision of the referee come into their mind as they come-to. While it may appear that he is one-dimensional, as Duncan laid out, he really isn’t. Jackson has great wrestling and has been able to work some of the slams that made him so famous from the wrestling.

Rampage Jackson (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

This is really a difficult fight for me to pick. My heart is with “Rampage” and my head is with “Bones.” But for some reason, I just can’t pick Jones. I truly feel like Jackson will be able to outlast his barrage of odd strikes and catch the champion the way that he has never been hit before. Jackson needs to bring the fight to Jones the way that Sonnen brought the fight to Silva, which is what he will do en route to a fourth-round TKO.

Tatum: I will be the first to admit that I’m not a big proponent of this fight. For starters, Jones should have been forced to fight his former teammate Rashad Evans, the true No.1 contender in the light heavyweight division. Additionally, I don’t believe that Jackson defeated Lyoto Machida in their UFC 123 bout, so he’s not worthy of a title shot. Regardless, the fight is happening.

The challenger, Jackson, has finished only one fight in his last seven, dating back over four years. The once exciting champion has become extremely one-dimensional, like Duncan mentioned. Brian’s analysis focuses too heavily on the “Rampage” of the past, not the fighter he has been of late.

Jones’ hype was legitimized with his defeat of “Shogun” at UFC 128. The performance was as one-sided as it gets, as Jones used his reach and unorthodox striking to keep the Brazilian from finding his timing.

This fight comes down to who can implement their style. Will it be Jackson’s crisp boxing or Jones’ unpredictable attack? Based on their recent fights, it has to be Jones. His game plans under the tutelage of Greg Jackson have been flawless and there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen again in this bout.

Jones by TKO in the fourth round, setting up a showdown with the aforementioned Evans.

Top Photo: Jon Jones (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)