Cleat Geeks

UFC 224 Predictions

UFC 224 takes place this Saturday, May 12th at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 5-fight main card begins at 10 PM EST and is headlined by a women’s bantamweight title fight between reigning Champion Amanda Nunes and #1 contender Raquel Pennington. The co-main event will see longtime middleweight contender Jacare Souza take on the always-improving Kelvin Gastelum. Also on the main card are Amanda Cooper and one of the hottest prospects on the roster, Mackenzie Dern. The second fight will see an exciting bantamweight fight between Brian Kelleher and John Lineker. The opening act of the main card features two of the greatest Brazilians of all time as Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida lock horns in a fight that could very well be the last for either man.

 

Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida

Image result for vitor belfort vs. lyoto machida

 

Vitor BelfortImage result for vitor belfort

Age: 41

Height: 6’0”

Reach: 74”

Overall Record: 26-13-0 (1 NC)

Last 3:

Win vs. Nate Marquardt (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 212 in July 2017

NC vs. Kelvin Gastelum (overturned-originally R1 TKO Loss) @ UFC FN in March 2017

Loss vs. Gegard Mousasi (R2 TKO) @ UFC 204 in October 2016

Keys to Victory: Belfort needs to be aggressive but not overly so. He needs to use movement to stay active and not stay stationary. He also needs to cut off the cage as Machida backs up.

 

Image result for lyoto machida ufcLyoto Machida

Age: 39

Height: 6’1”

Reach: 74”

Overall Record: 23-8

Last 3:

Win vs. Eryk Anders (Split Decision) @ UFC FN in February 2018

Loss vs. Derek Brunson (R1 KO) @ UFC FN in October 2017

Loss vs. Yoel Romero (R3 KO) @ UFC FN in June 2015

Keys to Victory: Avoid the power shots early in the fight. He needs to be patient in round one and let Belfort expend his energy. Use his trip takedowns to keep Belfort guessing.

 

This fight should be fun while it lasts, and I don’t expect it to make it to the judges’ scorecards. The Machida puzzle has officially been solved, whether Belfort can crack the code like others have is anyone’s guess. They both seemed invincible at one point, and both have quickly diminishing chins. Both guys have the power and accuracy to end this contest with one shot. Machida’s much more methodical in his approach and may even look to land a takedown or two with his underrated wrestling just to keep Belfort honest. Expect a slow start from both men, very similar to what we have seen with Belfort and Henderson in the past. Machida will remain patient and look for Belfort to wear himself down. In front of a Brazil crowd, it’s difficult to judge who the crowd gets behind but look for Belfort to be the fan favorite. Both fighters are a shell of their former selves. Neither has been super impressive over the last few performances as you can see from their recent records. This sounds like a retirement fight for at least Vitor, and he will find a kill shot sometime in the second round and ride off into the sunset with the Brazilian flag on his shoulders and a wild crowd in the background.

 

John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher

 

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John LinekerImage result for john lineker ufc

Age: 27

Height: 5’3”

Reach: 67”

Overall Record: 30-8

Last 3:

Win vs. Marlon Vera (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC FN in October 2017

Loss vs. TJ Dillashaw (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 207 in December 2016

Win vs. John Dodson (Split Decision) @ UFC FN in October 2016

Keys to Victory: Lineker needs to keep the fight standing and lure Kelleher into a brawl. He needs to mix in some kicks as well, his game plan doesn’t seem to change much, even mid-fight. He needs to dig into his bag of tricks to find something other than body-head punch combos.

 

Image result for brian kelleher ufcBrian Kelleher

Age: 31

Height: 5’6”

Reach: 64”

Overall Record: 19-8

Last 3:

Win vs. Renan Barao (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC on FOX in February 2018

Win vs. Damian Stasiak (R3 TKO) @ UFC FN in October 2017

Loss vs. Marlon Vera (R1 Sub) @ UFC on FOX in July 2017

Keys to Victory: Kelleher needs to avoid the fence. He’s the taller fighter and may find some success in the clinch if he can get there. He needs to be patient and not let his emotions take over.

 

Although their records and levels of competition would say otherwise, this is a close fight to call. Lineker has heavy hands and an indestructible chin, but he’s at least somewhat predictable in his approach. His punch combos are some of the best in the game, and he’s great at getting in opponents’ heads and luring them into a fire fight. Kelleher is extremely underrated and still young in the sport, despite being 4 years the elder. His wrestling and takedowns leave a lot to be desired, but he needs to commit to some takedowns in this fight. Even if he’s unsuccessful in doing so, he may be able to get Lineker against the fence and stall the fight for minutes at a time. Kelleher was on Twitter suggesting this fight will be a barn burner. If his plan is to stand and trade with “Hands of Stone,” he will wake up to a crowd erupting supporting their Brazilian fighter. Lineker wins a close decision with the possibility of a late stoppage.

 

Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper

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Mackenzie DernImage result for mackenzie dern ufc

Age: 25

Height: 5’3”

Reach: 64”

Overall Record: 6-0

Last 3:

Win vs. Ashley Yoder (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 222 in March 2018

Win vs. Kaline Medeiros (R3 Sub) @ Invicta FC 26 in December 2017

Win vs. Mandy Polk (R1 Sub) @ LFA 24 in October 2017

Keys to Victory: Dern must be willing to strike in order to set up her takedowns. She can’t telegraph takedowns or become predictable in the Octagon. She needs to face some adversity in order to improve.

 

Image result for amanda cooper ufcAmanda Cooper
Age: 26

Height: 5’3”

Reach: 63”

Overall Record: 3-3

Last 3:

Win vs. Angela Magana (R2 TKO) @ UFC 218 in December 2017

Loss vs. Cynthia Calvillo (R1 Sub) @ UFC 209 in March 2017

Win vs. Anna Elmose (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC FN in November 2016

Keys to Victory: Cooper needs to keep this fight standing and keep her distance from the BJJ wizard. She also needs to keep her composure in the spotlight. She needs to stick to her game plan and make adjustments when necessary.

 

The world will be watching to see if Mackenzie Dern has what it takes to be a complete Mixed Martial Artist. Her striking looked better than previous bouts in her Octagon debut, and hopefully she’s shaken off the debut jitters. Her game plan is always to get her opponent grounded somehow, but she relied too much on upper body strength in her last fight and was unsuccessful. Moving training camps may be exactly what she needs to evolve as a fighter in the Octagon. Cooper, on the other hand, has some experience in the UFC and could play spoiler and derail the Dern hype train. Cooper will find herself back pedaling a lot in this fight and needs to avoid the fence at all costs. Dern showed some improved clinch work in her last bout, but she also tired quickly from the look of it. The longer this fight goes, the more it favors Cooper, who’s not shown any issues cutting weight, unlike her opponent. Cooper shocks the world, at least somewhat, and takes a split decision in enemy territory.

 

Ronaldo Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum

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Ronaldo SouzaImage result for Ronaldo Souza ufc

Age: 38

Height: 6’1”

Reach: 72”

Overall Record: 25-5 (1 NC)

Last 3:

Win vs. Derek Brunson (R1 KO) @ UFC FN in January 2018

Loss vs. Robert Whittaker (R2 TKO) @ UFC on FOX in April 2017

Win vs. Tim Boetsch (R1 Sub) @ UFC 208 in February 2017

Keys to Victory: Souza needs to avoid the left hand of Gastelum. He needs to employ the same strategy as Weidman, who found success. He’ll have to get tricky with takedown attempts as he didn’t have much success against Whittaker, who was much faster than he like Gastelum will be.

 

Image result for kelvin gastelum ufcKelvin Gastelum

Age: 26

Height: 5’9”

Reach: 71”

Overall Record: 14-3 (1 NC)

Last 3:

Win vs. Michael Bisping (R1 KO) @ UFC FN in November 2017

Loss vs. Chris Weidman (R3 Sub) @ UFC on FOX in July 2017

NC vs. Vitor Belfort (overturned-originally R1 KO Win) @ UFC FN in March 2017

Keys to Victory: Gastelum needs to create as much space as possible. He needs to avoid the takedowns and clinch of Souza. He needs to use his speed advantage and follow the same game plan that Whittaker found success with.

 

This fight may determine the next title challenger at 185 pounds. Souza has some of the best jiu jitsu skills in all of MMA and has for a long time. His striking isn’t as technical as he’d probably like, but when he lands the other fighter typically falls. He grew more frustrated in his fight with Robert Whittaker as the fight wore on and he was unable to ground him. He’ll have more success taking down Gastelum, but Gastelum has a better guard and may be difficult to submit. Gastelum took advantage of a shop-worn Bisping late last year and showed off his knockout power, which translated well into the middleweight division. He’s going to be undersized but has been the smaller fighter for most of his career, even at welterweight. Gastelum has the wrestling acumen to surprise some people and may even try to take “Jacare” down. The striking advantage probably goes to Gastelum as he’ll be able to dart in and out before allowing Souza to tee off. This is the toughest fight on the card to predict for me. Seldom does a Brazilian fighter lose a close decision in Brazil. For that reason, I’ll take Souza by split decision in a very close contest.

 

Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington

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Amanda NunesImage result for Amanda Nunes ufc

Age: 29

Height: 5’8”

Reach: 69”

Overall Record: 15-4

Last 3:

Win vs. Valentina Shevchenko (Split Decision) @ UFC 215 in September 2017

Win vs. Ronda Rousey (R1 TKO) @ UFC 207 in December 2016

Win vs. Miesha Tate (R1 Sub) @ UFC 200 in July 2016

Keys to Victory: Nunes is a fast starter and she needs to continue to do that. Pennington is durable but Nunes’ striking will be unlike anything she’s ever faced before. She needs to pace herself, she wore out in the second half of the Shevchenko fight.

 

Image result for raquel pennington ufcRaquel Pennington

Age: 29

Height: 5’7”

Record: 67”

Overall Record: 9-5

Last 3:

Win vs. Miesha Tate (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 205 in November 2016

Win vs. Elizabeth Phillips (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 202 in August 2016

Win vs. Bethe Correia (Split Decision) @ UFC on FOX in April 2016

Keys to Victory: Pennington needs to be patient in the first round and avoid the power shots from Nunes. She needs to weather the early storm and prepare to take over after the first 2 or 3 rounds. She needs to clinch up or work some ground game to wear Nunes out.

 

There isn’t a more deserving title challenger on the roster than Raquel Pennington. Unfortunately, she hasn’t fought in 18 months and Amanda Nunes is a monster. Pennington has struggled against elite competition in the past aside from her victory over an unmotivated Miesha Tate. She’s a really good fighter everywhere, but I’m not sure she’s great in any one area. If she can weather the early storm, she may be able to take the title from Nunes due to a late surge, but she’s never been 5 full rounds before. Nunes’ game plan is complete but striking is her bread and butter. She is extremely accurate and throws every strike with bad intentions. If she’s unsuccessful dispatching the challenger early, she may wear herself out and be vulnerable like she was with Valentina. Pennington is super durable but she’s hittable and the ring rust and away crowd will be too much for her to overcome. She will be a UFC Champion at some point in her career, but it’s Nunes’ time right now. Nunes by first-round TKO is the pick.

 

The Aftermath of UFC 223 & The Future Of The Lightweights

I’m not sure what words there are in the English language to describe what transpired last week in the days, even hours, leading up to UFC 223. Am I allowed to say shit show? Conor McGregor certainly didn’t help the situation with his outburst on Friday, but it wasn’t all entirely his fault. I’m not sure who to point fingers at because there were a lot of people who are at fault. Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov had been scheduled three times before and it fell through every time, why did we expect this time to be different? I’m not a superstitious person at all, but if you don’t think this fight is cursed I would love to hear a more logical explanation. Tony Ferguson got injured walking. He didn’t blow out his knee rolling on the ground or throwing a crane kick, he didn’t get knocked out cold sparring. He was doing something we all do a lot of every single day. If that isn’t proof that this fight is cursed, I have some stock in Enron I would like to sell you.

Dana White had to have been a wreck last week. One of the worst weeks I can remember in all of sports history in my time.

April Fools Day always brings out the pranksters and this year was no different. Like many, I was emotionally invested in this fight more so than other fights. It was supposed to be the fight between the two best lightweights in the world, and it was taken from us once again. After spending the day with family for Easter, I was not able to catch up with the social media world until later that evening. When I read that Ferguson was hurt, I was angry. Not because he had gotten hurt, mad because someone would play such an elaborate prank 6 days before one of the biggest fights ever. My anger turned to worry as I started reading these reports from reputable sources. I knew it was valid when Dana white released a video explaining what happened and tapped Max Holloway as Ferguson’s replacement.Image result for max holloway ufc

Holloway and Khabib didn’t have the same excitement as the original match-up, but seldom does a replacement fight still generate the same kind of hype. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that there isn’t a more deserving guy on the roster than Max Holloway. He had earned the right to fight for a second belt, although I think a match-up with Brian Ortega would have been better. Regardless, it was the fight the UFC found fit to make and it was a good match-up. Enter the New York State Athletic Commission. Sometime Friday morning, the State Athletic Commission deemed Holloway unfit to compete and pulled him from the fight as he was cutting too much weight. The UFC fought tooth and nail to get into New York, but it has not received the warm welcome some thought they might. In a short time, we’ve now experienced numerous issues with the NSYAC and its running.

On a little over a day’s notice, Khabib agreed to fight Anthony Pettis, the former lightweight Champion. Pettis, from what we understand, wanted a big pay day, so the UFC decided against that fight. That match-up wasn’t really intriguing anyways, we’ve seen what much less qualified grapplers than Khabib have done to him, so we would hate to see that fight. Paul Felder’s name was brought up, but the NYSAC shot that match-up down because he was not ranked, and they found it to be an unfair match-up. Again, this is all hearsay. Eventually, Al Iaquinta, who had weighed in and was scheduled to fight Paul Felder on the main card opener, was tapped as the replacement. Iaquinta came in .2 pounds over the 155-pound Championship weight limit, meaning he could not technically win the lightweight title that Khabib had the opportunity to win. It was a wild ending to one of the craziest weeks in UFC history.

Not only did we lose multiple fights and intriguing match-ups, most of the fights on the card failed to deliver. I’m anxious to see what the PPV buyrate is for what looks to be one of the worst cards in recent memory, one that the UFC brass would love to forget about. We lost Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno, an important flyweight bout. We lost Paul Felder vs Al Iaquinta, which was an early favorite for Fight of the Night. We lost Artem Lobov vs. Alex Caceres on the fight pass prelims due to his involvement in the fiasco with McGregor and his goons. We lost Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis, a fight that would have launched one of them into a big fight. In a span of 7 days, UFC 223 went from being one of the most anticipated cards in recent history to being a card that fell apart at every seam.

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The next few PPV cards look fairly-stacked, but nothing compared to what UFC 223 was supposed to be. There was a lot of hype behind this card, and it all disappeared within a week’s time. Sometimes a UFC card that doesn’t feature a lot of name value or hype is still able to delivery finishes and exciting fights. UFC 223 was not one of those. The co-main event between Rose and Joanna was a good, technical fight. The only fight that really exceeded expectations was a featherweight bout between Zabit Magomedsharipov and Kyle Bochniak, which was bumped to main card status with some of the last-minute cancellations. The two prospects exchanged punches and kicks on their way to one of the most entertaining bouts thus far in 2018. Aside from that, the UFC 223 main card was a complete bust. The first fight saw Joe Lauzon’s corner call the fight before the third round began against Chris Gruetzemacher, but that was the only “finish” on the main card, everything else went to decision.

Dana White had to have been a wreck last week. One of the worst weeks I can remember in all of sports history in my time. Still, he remained optimistic throughout the entire week, even giving credit where it was due after the fights were over. Khabib dominated Iaquinta early on but faded later in the fight and had trouble getting Al back to the ground. His performance, although dominant, wasn’t quite the exclamation point we expected him to put on his first title fight.  Iaquinta proved to be a game fight for the Dagestani but fell short on the score cards. Dana gave him all the praise in the world even in defeat and he may have actually boosted his stock with that performance and willingness to fight the best lightweight in the world on such short notice.

Dana was quick to point out that he was not going to rebook the Khabib and Tony fight. The rankings would say otherwise. Ferguson has already beat two of the names in the top 7 in the division and there isn’t much reason to believe he wouldn’t have his way with the others. He may be booked for a different fight against someone like Eddie Alvarez, but history would tell us he should win that match-up. Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are by far the two best lightweights in the world and they’re going to have to fight at some point as long as they’re both healthy and fighting. Khabib also mentioned taking time off for Ramadan and not competing until September. The lightweight title has been a mess since McGregor took it off Alvarez’s hands at UFC 205, and the future is still grim. There are two important lightweight bouts in the next two weeks that could muddy the waters there even more.Image result for dustin poirier vs justin gaethje

This weekend will see Dustin Poirier, ranked fifth according to the official UFC rankings, take on Justin Gaethje, who is just below him at number 6. Next weekend’s headliner will feature a lightweight bout between fourth-ranked Edson Barboza and seventh-ranked Kevin Lee. The only one of the four competing in the next few weeks is Poirier, so a win for him would have him very close to a title shot. With Khabib looking to take the next 5 months off, there’s going to have to be some marquee match-ups made to keep the division moving along. One thing is for sure, this division is stacked. You could make a case for a title shot for Poirier, Gaethje, Alvarez or Kevin Lee after these fights play out. Barboza, although ranked higher than the other 3 competing, would likely need another solid win as he’s only one fight removed from a beating at the hands of Khabib. The most likely scenario is some sort of mini-tournament to determine the next title challenger at 155 pounds. Ferguson may or may not get his shot right away, but he’ll eventually do enough to warrant it. The fight is clearly cursed but hopefully we get to see them battle before their careers are over.

 

Does CM Punk Deserve A Second Chance In The Octagon?

It’s safe to say that CM Punk’s, whose real name is Phil Brooks, UFC debut did not go the way he envisioned. UFC 203 was supposed to be a platform to re-introduce the former WWE Champion to the world and launch him into stardom in the world of MMA. Unfortunately for him and the UFC, and yes, the UFC clearly wanted him to win that match-up, he faced a real future prospect in Mickey Gall. He was taken down almost immediately, surrendered a position that allowed his opponent to rain down punches with a body lock. Shortly thereafter, 2 minutes and 14 seconds into the first round to be exact, he submitted to a rear naked choke. A year and a half has passed since that time, with multiple claims of second fights being made, only to be unfounded.

Life after the WWE typically doesn’t treat folks well, while Brooks has proven thus far to be an exception to the rule. We haven’t seen a mugshot for him or any kind of allegations against him for battery or sexual assault. The clock is ticking for the 39-year-old, but it sounds like he’s finally got a fight lined up. He took to Twitter almost 4 weeks ago to announce that he will be fighting again at UFC 225 against an unnamed opponent, who we now know to be Mike Jackson. Quite frankly, if he didn’t have the fanbase he has he wouldn’t be getting a second shot in the UFC. More so, he wouldn’t have gotten a shot in the first place with no professional MMA experience under his belt. While it might seem a little unfair that he was even given an opportunity to fight in the UFC, the PPV under which he fought produced better numbers than most cards like it. 2016 was a big year for the UFC in terms of PPV buys thanks to Conor McGregor headlining 3 PPVs, paired with the returns of Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey. Aside from those PPVs, UFC 203 was the best-selling PPV in 2016. Since that time, only a few PPVs have done better numbers in terms of PPV buys and that is by far the most successful Stipe Miocic-headlined PPV.

Brooks has all the tools to be successful in the UFC, and had he gotten into it much younger we may be talking about him as one of the best in the sport. Few expected him to be out grappled and submitted in his debut, but he came in at least somewhat unprepared. Working under the tutelage of Duke Roufus, he can still turn his career around and find success. Fighting at 170 pounds, the chances of him capturing gold and putting together a great run at 39 years old is minimal. However, if he can put a small win streak together and challenge a big name, it’d be sure to capture the attention of audiences across the country. His mic skills were some of the very best in WWE history, some of which are on display here as he sang his swan song during his final days in the WWE. He sat on the entrance ramp to the WWE ring, in a segment that is highly-debated for its authenticity, ranting and expressing his displeasure with Vince McMahon, his misuse and mistreatment of him. With that said, his career in the UFC kind of needs to pan out for the sake of his financial future. He made a good living with WWE, but he made it clear he didn’t get what he thought he was worth. Couple that with the fact that he has had nothing good to say about the McMahon’s all but guarantees that he won’t be welcome back in the WWE should the UFC not work out for him. CM Punk’s next Octagon opponent is Mike Jackson, who also unfortunately owns a submission loss to Mickey Gall. According to sherdog.com, Jackson is 0-1 as a professional and 0-1 as an amateur, which gives Punk a very winnable fight.

Surprisingly, only a few fighters have made the transition from the WWE to the world of MMA. Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn were the first big names to inhabit the WWE and the UFC. Fighters such as Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley and Dave Bautista would also make the cross over. Shamrock, like Lesnar, alternated time between the sports, while having a multi-year career in the WWE in between signings with the UFC. Brock Lesnar will undoubtedly go down as the most popular figure to split time in the ring and the Octagon. Not only has he spent time in both, he even fought in the UFC last July at UFC 200 while under contract with the WWE, something no one else has done or likely will ever do.

Punk was awarded $500k in show money to lose his UFC debut, something that also raised a lot of eyebrows. That’s a ton of money for a debutant. Punk received more than Amanda Nunes made for her title fight against Ronda Rousey at UFC 207, and more than Tyron Woodley made for his second title fight against Stephen Thompson at UFC 209. There have also been multiple other championship title defenses that didn’t receive that kind of payout.

It’s easy to see that the UFC has clear-cut favorites when it comes to fight placement, show money and PPV points. In fact, according to numbers released by the UFC, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, who holds the record for most consecutive title defenses in UFC history, has never eclipsed that number in his time with the UFC. One of the best in history doesn’t get paid as well as a guy who doesn’t have a W on his professional MMA record. Think about that for a second. For some, myself included, the manner in which the UFC has operated lately is very similar to what we see in WWE and other major wrestling brands. The fighting is great, but it sometimes takes a backseat to the entertainment aspect of it all. Attacking a bus full of fighters, destroying property and injuring other fighters would get you cut before you could have a chance to explain yourself. Unless you’re Conor McGregor apparently. The most unfortunate part of any sport that is ruled by a dictatorship is that favorites are chosen and they get special treatment.

Who am I to say that the UFC should treat Demetrious Johnson as well as CM Punk? He’s not proven to be a big PPV draw thus far, and aside from a potential showdown with TJ Dillashaw, his fights on the horizon don’t seem too thrilling. It’s not entirely his fault, though. The dominance which he has displayed has hardcore fans convinced that no one else can compete with him in the Octagon, and I don’t think they’re wrong. We have absolutely no idea what to expect from CM Punk in his next fight. We know exactly what’s going to happen in Johnson’s next fight: pure domination. His next fight, should it go as badly as the first, would almost certainly be his last in the UFC. Dana White was anything but committal after his first fight to giving him a second chance in the Octagon. He’ll get his wish, but if he doesn’t impress some people and change some minds, he’ll be at a crossroads.

Fourth Time is a Charm?

April Fools Day. One of the strangest days in the calendar year in America. To this day, no one is really sure where it originated from or who was so crude to come up with such an idea. Sometimes, the pranks people pull and the rumors they start are a fun way to start your day. As part of the younger generation, I’m guilty of waking up almost every single day and opening the Facebook app on my phone to browse before I begin waking up completely. Every year, I read some crazy rumor involving sports that has me dumbfounded until I realize what day it is. Typically, by the middle of the day people run out of ideas and quit trying to fool those well-aware of the “holiday.” This year was different. I consider myself a sports junkie on almost every level. Baseball, hockey and soccer don’t excite me much. Football, basketball and MMA, on the other hand, are sports I follow every single day. The second thing I usually do after browsing through my Facebook news feed is check sports scores from the night before. Depending on the day and what transpired the night before, those two are sometimes reversed. I’m an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan and I watched the Super Bowl with the Patriots 12 years ago when they lost a heartbreaker. We had a team that was built to stop the New England dynasty and we choked it away in the fourth quarter. I can’t even begin to describe in words how that made me feel. For some people, they root for a local team or a team that was passed down to them from a previous generation of liking. For me, sports are a lifestyle and it often times affects how my day goes. To a lot of people that is going to sound crazy, and that is just fine.

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I feel the same feelings that I felt 12 years ago during that dreaded day right now working on this article. It’s currently 8 PM EST on April 1, 2018. There’s still a glimmer of hope that what I’ve been reading on social media for the past 2 hours is completely false. In fact, I hope that it is. My initial reaction to seeing the news that Tony Ferguson was injured and out of his UFC 223 match with Khabib Nurmagomedov was probably the same as everyone else’s looking forward to this fight as much as me: not funny. I quickly went from slightly angered that someone would play such a dubious prank to alarmed and worried that I was reading these reports from a lot of reputable sources. When Dana White uploaded a video to Instagram and Twitter announcing that Max Holloway was going to step in to serve as Ferguson’s replacement, I knew there was validity to this horrific tragedy.

By all accounts, he’s the best fighter in the world today without a belt around his waist.

Four times. FOUR TIMES! The lightweight division is one of the most stacked, if not the most, in the UFC today, and it has been for quite some time. Some of the biggest names in the sport reside at 155 pounds, while some talented up-and-comers and savages also lay claim to the division. Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, Kevin Lee, Edson Barboza and Anthony Pettis are just a few who will probably find themselves in the Hall of Fame after their careers end. Yet despite that impressive roster, two fighters stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Regardless of who is currently wearing the 155-pound title, Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov are undoubtedly the two best fighters in the division, and by a wide margin. They’ve been on a crash course for years now, dating back to December of 2015 when they were scheduled to meet for the first time.

Their resumes are equally impressive. At first glance, that may be hard to digest seeing as how Nurmagomedov is 25-0 in his professional MMA career, going 9-0 in the UFC. However, up until his most recent few fights, he’s not fought the same level of competition that Ferguson has. Tony’s current MMA record stands at 23-3, while he’s lost just once in the UFC to go along with 13 wins. More impressively, Ferguson has finished 9 of his 13 opponents in the Octagon while Khabib has finished 4 of his 9. The saying that “numbers don’t lie” doesn’t apply to these two gentlemen. Those numbers would tell you that Ferguson is a better finisher and more dominant in his victories, but that would be entirely false. He was being outstruck on the feet against Edson Barboza, Kevin Lee took him down at will, and newcomer Lando Vannata had him in all sorts of trouble. He was able to mount a comeback in all those fights and finish the job, but he was losing all of them and came extremely close to being finished in all 3, especially the Vannata fight. Nurmagomedov, aside from a couple of well-placed punches from Michael Johnson, has performed brilliantly in the Octagon and has yet to be truly tested. As previously mentioned, he hasn’t always fought the cream of the crop, but even when he’s done so against guys like Johnson, Rafael dos Anjos and Barboza, he has thoroughly dominated. Although of those 3 he only finished 1, dos Anjos and Barboza, both BJJ black belts, were unable to generate any sort of offense, or defense for that matter. By all accounts, he’s the best fighter in the world today without a belt around his waist.Image result for max holloway ufc

While I was about as emotionally invested as I’ve been in a fight in a long time and was looking forward to writing predictions and breaking down that match-up, it’s time to put that fight in the past. It’s been booked four times in just over 2 years and both fighters have had to pull out twice due to injury and weight-cutting issues. As much as all the hardcore MMA fans would love to see the match-up, it’s one that we’re going to have to wait an even longer time to see now. At this point, we have to wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to see these two compete against each other.

When one door closes, another door opens. Enter Max Holloway. Holloway had one of the most impressive runs to the top of the mountain as I can remember. He’s only 26 years old and has fought, and defeated, some of the most recognized names in the sport, finishing multiples. Prior to the 13-second knockout he suffered against Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo looked completely unstoppable. Wrestlers couldn’t take him down, strikers couldn’t stand with him, and he had the look of one of the best ever. Even after the knockout loss to McGregor, Aldo bounced back at UFC 200 and dominated Frankie Edgar for a second time to claim the interim featherweight title. Shortly thereafter, Holloway was called upon to challenge Aldo for the now-undisputed Championship at 145 pounds. He took one of the most feared fighters in history, who went a full decade without a loss, and dismantled him twice. Jeremy Stephens, Anthony Pettis, Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas, all longtime contenders at 145 pounds, have also fallen to the 145-pound king.

As good as Holloway is, he’s probably bitten off more than he can chew this time around. Having never competed at 155 pounds in the UFC, fighting one of the best takedown artists ever on short notice, he’s got nothing at all to lose. That’s the good news for him. Unfortunately, Khabib seems motivated and determined to win the lightweight title and it seems like destiny for him to do so. Holloway has already been applauded by UFC President Dana White for being a “stud,” willing to accept this fight just 6 days away. Win or lose, Max Holloway proved that he’s one of the best in the business and a fearless fighter. He’s been an underdog before. He’s not the same 21-year-old who fought Conor McGregor and was taken down repeatedly en route to a decision loss. Although McGregor hasn’t forgotten that fight, most everyone else has. The Hawaiian will get the opportunity to match McGregor’s feat of holding two belts simultaneously. With a win this Saturday, he may even set himself up for a chance to avenge that loss in one of the biggest fights ever. If there’s a fighter alive who deserves the opportunity to capture gold in two weight classes and has the ability to overcome adversity, it’s Max Holloway. There are a few things we’ve never seen him do in the Octagon, and that is grow tired or give up. He’s got the endurance and fight IQ to give Khabib an interesting challenge, but so did a lot of others before him. This fight is nowhere near as good as the original booking, but it’s clearly the next best thing.

The Real Life Terminator

Andrei Arlovski was a cat in his previous lifetime. In fact, he may have more than 9 lives. His career spans all the way back to 1999, when he entered the sport of MMA as a 20-year-old with little fighting experience. His size and stature made him a difficult opponent for anyone to deal with. Throughout his career fighting for multiple promotions, he’s fought some of the biggest names in MMA history. A quick glance at his professional MMA career would give you a wrongfully underwhelming opinion. He’s lost 15 of his professional 43 fights, but he’s lost to Tim Sylvia, Fedor Emelianenko, Bigfoot Silva, Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett, all of whom will go down as some of the greatest heavyweights of all time. His career is not just one to remember because he lost to some of the best ever, he beat plenty of them too. During his 19-year career, he’s been able to get the best of Roy Nelson, Fabricio Werdum and Frank Mir, while he also had wins over the aforementioned Bigfoot Silva and Tim Sylvia.Image result for Andrei Arlovski Tai Tuivasa at UFC 225

The most inspiring part of his career isn’t just the fact that he’s beat some of the greatest in MMA history, it’s that he’s had his back against the wall multiple times. Just when you think he’s about ready to hang up the gloves and call it a career amid a big losing streak, he reinvents himself and finds new success. His most recent skid in the UFC saw him lose 5 straight, 4 of which came by brutal finish. For most, that would be the end of their run in the UFC. Years ago, 3 losses all but guaranteed you your walking papers. Fortunately for him, he’s got a big name, a ton of durability and a love for fighting. Just two wins removed from his 5-fight winning streak, he finds himself with another stern test in the form of Tai Tuivasa at UFC 225 in Chicago in June.

It’s hard to believe he’s only 38 years old. I know how that may sound, because in UFC years, 38 might as well make him 60 in all reality. Yet, he continues to prove his doubters wrong. He’s been fighting so long it seems like he should have retired years ago and walked away. For whatever reason, he continues to fight and refuses to go down for good. He’s one of the few fighters in MMA who made big changes amid a losing streak. Between 2009 and 2011, he dropped 4 straight during his time fighting for Affliction and Strikeforce. This prompted a camp change as he moved his training camp from his home in Chicago to Albuquerque, NM to train with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. For his move, he was able to win 5 straight, except for a no contest due to an illegal soccer kick. Last year, he severed ties with Jackson and moved his fight camp to American Top Team. Although he dropped his first fight after that against Marcin Tybura, he has won two straight since and looked exceptional doing so. He was a large underdog against Junior Albini, while a small Image result for andrei arlovski wallpaperunderdog against Stefan Struve in his most recent fight.

While he probably won’t find himself fighting for a title or in the discussion anytime soon, he’s still got plenty left in the tank. Tuivasa is a difficult opponent, undefeated in his professional MMA career, having finished all 7 of his opponents in the first round. He’s only 25 years old, so he’s still young, but we see a better version of him each time he steps into the cage. Arlovski has a questionable chin, but his heart has allowed him to escape defeat numerous times. Make no mistake about it, if Tuivasa finds his chin with a good shot, he’s going to sleep. Arlovski is incredibly well-rounded, with underrated ground and submission skills. Of course, the one area where he will likely have a big advantage is cardio. As previously mentioned, Tuivasa has yet to go to the second round in any of his professional fights thus far. If he’s unsuccessful putting “The Pitbull” away early, he may find himself in unfamiliar territory having to expend energy over the course of a brutal, 3-round fight.

Arlovski has been seen as somewhat of a gatekeeper or stepping stone for the majority of his career lately. He’s been used to vault Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem into title fights after those losses. It’s not entirely too late for him to claim UFC gold once again, but he’ll have to win a few more fights and he’ll have to do so very impressively. With the manner in which Stipe Miocic disposed of him in their first fight, it’d be difficult to envision him getting another shot at him anytime soon. However, the window is closing for Arlovski. I’m not ready to close the book on his career yet, but a few more knockout losses should spell the end of the line for him. If he gets past Tuivasa, even though he’s ranked below Arlovski in the UFC rankings, he’ll get another big bout against another big name. The heavyweight division has some new, young guns that are ready to prove their worth. Arlovski is exactly the kind of seasoned vet who could bring someone like Alexander Volkov’s title aspirations crashing down. Only time will tell, but the UFC’s Terminator could have one more streak left in him.

 

3 Impacts From Impact

The Impact after Crossroads is over and done with! Who delivered the biggest shockers a week after the event? Here are my 3 Impacts From Impact:

The post-Crossroads Impact was main evented by a Feast or Fired match: an Impact Wrestling trademark that originally took place at close to Thanksgiving time, but now occurs earlier in the year. Of course, Feast or Fired is Impact’s modified version of WWE’s Money In The Bank, only with four briefcases and multiple combatants fighting for the cases. As is the case (not a pun), one case holds a shot at the World Title, one holds a shot at the X Division Championship, and one holds a shot at the tag titles, but a fourth one has a pink slip:  the “Fired” part of Feast or Fired. When all was said and done, all emerged with the cases, with no clue what’s in them. The next Impact will reveal the contents of the cases.

For weeks, X Division and Grand Champion Matt Sydal mentioned his “guru”; the man who guided him to success in the last few weeks. At long last, the identity of Sydal’s guru would be revealed, and imagine our shock and flat out displeasure when we found out that Sydal’s guru was none other than Josh Mathews! Impact’s lead announcer left Sonjay Dutt and revealed himself as Sydal’s guru, which largely astonished Sonjay. Even more shocking, Sydal removed the Grand Championship and rewarded the title to Josh, which is perhaps the most insane thing to happen on Impact in its entire existence.

Jimmy Jacobs’ habitual demand for Abyss to appear has brought out the immensely sinister Father James Mitchell, who actually commended Jacobs, only to remind him of everything he has done and the proverbial (and literal) sleeping giant that he has awoken as a result of his actions. Following this, Mitchell stated to Jacobs that Abyss is back in full, and he brought The Monster out to beat down Kongo Kong. The diabolical minister also said to both Jacobs and Kong that they are invited to a ball…Monster’s Ball! So Jimmy Jacobs got what he wanted, but as the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Those are my 3 Impacts From Impact! Until next time!

UFC 222 Predictions

UFC 222 will take place on Saturday, March 3 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV. The event was originally scheduled to be headlined by a twice-booked featherweight title fight between current Champion Max Holloway and number one contender Frankie Edgar. Edgar has failed twice to take the title from Jose Aldo, is a former lightweight Champion, and has lost only one non-title fight in his entire time in the UFC. That bout was canceled earlier this month when Holloway was injured and forced out of the bout. Replacing him is Brian Ortega, who aside from a no contest due to a drug test failure for marijuana, is undefeated in the UFC at 6-0, with all his wins coming by finish. That fight was demoted to the co-main event while a women’s featherweight title bout now headlines the event as Cris “Cyborg” looks for another title defense against UFC newcomer Yana Kunitskaya. The rest of the main card will feature rising star Sean O’Malley take on Andre Soukhamthath in a bantamweight bout that could propel the winner into a big fight. Also on the main card are heavyweight hitters Andrei Arlovski and Stefan Struve. Both fighters have seen better days, while the loser looks to take a good tumble down the rankings in an otherwise thin heavyweight division. Kicking off the main card will be fan favorite “Alpha” Cat Zingano and rising contender Ketlen Vieira in a bout that could determine the next title challenger in the women’s bantamweight division. UFC 222 will also feature the promotional debut for BJJ ace Mackenzie Dern, bantamweight staples John Dodson and Bryan Caraway, and will also feature the retirement fight for Mike Pyle, who’s hanging up his gloves after what will be his 19th UFC bout.

 

Cat Zingano vs. Ketlen Vieira

Cat Zingano makes her long-awaited return to the Octagon as she meets rising contender Ketlen Vieira this Saturday in what could produce the next title challenger in the 135-pound women’s division. Vieira is still young but has impressed thus far in her short UFC career while Zingano owns a TKO win over current bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes. Vieira and Zingano come into this bout ranked fifth and sixth, respectively. While Zingano fell to Ronda Rousey during her dominant title run in February of 2015, she also owns a win over former Champion Miesha Tate. She’s fought only four times under the UFC banner since joining the ranks in 2013, battling injuries throughout that time. Her most recent bout was a unanimous decision loss to Julianna Pena at UFC 200, her first bout in nearly 18 months. Vieira, on the other hand, is currently undefeated in her professional MMA career at 9-0, with 3 of those coming in impressive fashion in the UFC. Vieira will come into this fight with youth on her side, almost 9 years younger than her competition, who’s spent a lot of time away from the Octagon. Vieira will come into the bout with a 2-inch height advantage, while their reach is identical. Vieira has stayed busy with 3 bouts in just a year, having not competed since September of last year. This bout features two fighters who are extremely well-rounded. It’s important to note two things: Zingano has been absent from the Octagon for almost 8 months and hasn’t won a bout since 2014. Vieira gets a big step up in competition in this fight, but ring rust proved to be too much for Zingano in her last fight. Vieira had trouble with the weight cut in her first fight in the UFC and “Alpha” Cat will be too much for her to handle. Zingano by unanimous decision is the pick.

 

Stefan Struve vs. Andrei Arlovski

I’m not real sure what to expect from either of these guys at this point in their respective careers. Both have shown the ability to remain top-10 talents throughout their careers, while neither has shown lately that they’ve got anything to offer anyone in the top-5. The heavyweight division is going through a little bit of a changing of the guard with new talents like Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes. Struve had a heart condition that nearly cost him his career, while it seems like Arlovski has been fighting longer than anyone in MMA history. Struve dropped his most recent bout to heavyweight prospect Alexander Volkov while Arlovski snapped a 5-fight losing streak to pick up a decision win over Junior Albini back in November. Both fighters come into the bout ranked in the top-15, but this bout does little but continue the career of either fighter. Struve will own significant advantages in multiple areas, with an 8-inch height advantage, 7.5-inch reach advantage, and a massive submission skills advantage. Were Arlovski not shop-worn and this fight had taken place 6 or 7 years ago, I’d probably be inclined to say that his standup skills are substantially better. At age 39, 1-5 in his last 6 with the lone win being extremely underwhelming, I think Struve finds a way to win here. Arlovski’s chin has taken a ton of punishment and hasn’t held up well as of late. Struve isn’t known as a powerful puncher, but I think people are quick to forget he is the only one in the UFC who owns a stoppage win of current Champion Stipe Miocic. I don’t like this fight, but I think Struve is past his prime a little less. He wins by second-round TKO.

 

Sean O’Malley vs. Andre Soukhamthath

Sean O’Malley gets a big opportunity to shine here on the main card of a high-profile PPV. The fan favorite from Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series has a bright future, a fun fighting style and is very young. The sky is the limit for the 23-year-old and his height, reach and style make him must-see TV for any UFC fan. His opponent, whose name I will attempt to spell as few times as possible, is just 1-2 in his short, 3-fight UFC career. This is a fight that should take place mostly on the feet, and there both men possess great striking. O’Malley has a unique skillset and uses a very unorthodox fighting stance while Andre possesses true one-punch knockout power. O’Malley doesn’t seem to be fazed by the bright lights, but this fight is a true litmus test for his future in the sport. The bantamweight division desperately needs some fresh faces and there’s no better time than now to propel one of these fighters into the top-15. This is a fight that is tailor made for O’Malley to shine and move him up the ladder. He won’t disappoint, and he will overwhelm his opponent with strikes and earn a finish late in the second or early in the third. O’Malley by TKO in the third is the pick.

 

Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

For me, this is the best fight on the card. It has Fight of the Night written all over it. This is an extremely dangerous fight for Frankie, and you have to commend his decision to take this fight that should ultimately determine the next title challenger at 145 pounds. Frankie has come up short twice against Jose Aldo, but he has laid waste to everyone else in his path during his time at featherweight. He’s dominated names such as Cub Swanson, Chad Mendes, Charles Oliveira, BJ Penn and Yair Rodriguez. His opponent, who is much younger (36 for Edgar, 27 for Ortega), has youth on his side but has no lack in experience. He’s had a tremendous run to the top of the division with finishes of Clay Guida, Renato Moicano and Cub Swanson in his three most recent bouts. Although Edgar is a former lightweight Champion, he still gives up height and reach to a lot of his opponents. He will only give up 1-inch of reach and 2 inches of height in this fight, but that could be the difference maker here. Ortega, although his submissions are slick, has good striking that is often underrated by MMA fans. Frankie’s boxing skills, footwork and transitions to takedowns and grappling are second to none in the division, and they may be the best in the UFC. Frankie has a tendency to start slow, and that could spell disaster against a fighter like Ortega if he finds his groove early in a 3-round fight. This fight could take place on the feet or on the ground, it likely takes place wherever Edgar wants it to. Taking down Ortega could be a big mistake for Frankie, but I do expect it to hit the ground at some point. In a back-and-forth contest, I see this fight hitting the score cards and I think Frankie will do just enough to win a split decision.

 

Cris “Cyborg” vs. Yana Kunitskaya

The UFC has done a great job promoting Cyborg thus far, this fight and PPV card will determine just how big of a draw she truly is. Kunitskaya, another difficult name to type, is going to be the next sacrificial lamb for Cyborg. Admittedly, I haven’t watched a lot of Yana’s fights, and I’m not sure I need to. She’s another natural bantamweight who’s going up to fight the most ruthless women’s fighter in MMA history. I truly believe there are featherweight men on the roster who would have a hard time in the Octagon against Cyborg. I’ve watched her fights with Tonya Evinger, and she struggled mightily with her, the same opponent Cyborg made look like an amateur. This is the sport of MMA, anything can happen. Cyborg is just going to be too big, strong and confident to make any mistakes. She enters the Octagon every time prepared, she never underestimates her opponents, and she’s what I consider to be the female version of Anderson Silva during his run. There’s a woman out there, a Chris Weidman equivalent, who will dethrone the Champion eventually. I just don’t expect it to happen here. She can captivate an audience every time she gets into the Octagon, but she’ll make this look easy. I’m more curious to see the PPV buys of this event than I am the main event. Cyborg is more methodical and patient than ever, and that will win her this fight. Cyborg by 3rd round TKO is the pick.

UFC Fights to Make for 2018

Although Dana White would tell you otherwise, 2017 seems like a year in which the UFC struggled. We won’t ever see their financial statements and their overall net profit, but from a fan’s perspective, they failed to deliver on a lot of different levels. The final UFC PPV event in 2017 was headlined by Cris “Cyborg” Justino and Holly Holm for the women’s featherweight title. It’s important to note that there have only been three women’s featherweight fights in UFC history, all 3 being title fights. Holm initially lost the inaugural crown to Germaine de Randamie, who was stripped of the title when she refused to fight Cyborg. Cyborg was then matched up with Tonya Evinger on late notice after Megan Anderson was pulled from the fight, who she utterly destroyed on her way to a UFC title that has helped solidify her place at the top of WMMA. The rest of the main card featured some up-and-comers, some seasoned vets, and a co-main event that saw Russian fan favorite Khabib Nurmagomedov take a one-sided decision from Edson Barboza. The card from top to bottom was pretty weak. Carlos Condit’s long-awaited return was halted by takedowns from Neil Magny, John Lineker was forced to pull out from his fight with top contender Jimmie Rivera on short notice. The main event was only booked about 6 weeks in advance of the fight card, proof that the UFC was scrambling to find a main event worthy of fans’ money. That’s kind of the story of 2017, and even some events that have been scheduled for 2018 thus far. By comparison, the last two PPV events of 2015 and 2016 featured superstars such as Conor McGregor, Chris Weidman, Dominick Cruz and Ronda Rousey. Dana White said that the UFC will go on without Conor McGregor and they have a ton of fighters from different continents right now that could help them replace the superstar. With that in mind, here are some fights that the UFC should waste no time in booking, or should look to book in the near future.

Conor McGregor seems to think he’s in control and calling the shots, it’s time for the UFC to remind him that they ultimately do that and book this one for the title after they strip McGregor.

Demetrious Johnson vs. TJ Dillashaw

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This fight is already in the works according to everyone involved. TJ Dillashaw, after claiming the bantamweight title for the second time at UFC 217, called out “Mighty Mouse” in his post-fight interview and press conference. Although he’s yet to defend the title, the bantamweight division is one that can be put on hold due to some marquee match-ups that didn’t take place. At the top you’ve got former Champions Cody Garbrandt and Dominick Cruz, and top contenders John Lineker and Jimmie Rivera. Rivera and Cruz were scheduled to meet this past weekend at UFC 219, but Cruz got injured, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, while Rivera was unable to find a late replacement. That match-up should be rescheduled while Garbrandt is scheduled to fight Lineker, in a fight sure to produce fireworks between two guys who love to punch. Dillashaw insists on going down to featherweight to challenge for that title, but bantamweight is where this fight should take place, and for a couple of different reasons. First, Mighty Mouse used to compete in the division before flyweight was added as an official weight class in the UFC. Second, Mighty Mouse deserves an opportunity to get a chance at a second title much more than Dillashaw does. Lastly, Dillashaw has never competed at flyweight and there’s no sense in taking a chance cutting the extra weight. Book this fight ASAP and do it for the bantamweight title, allowing Mighty Mouse to make history once again. This is also the biggest fight of Johnson’s career and the only fight with him that could sell to the masses.

 

Image result for brian ortega ufcBrian Ortega vs. Chan Sung JungImage result for chan sung jung

 

I know this fight may not make sense rankings-wise, and I also know that “The Korean Zombie” has only had one fight in the UFC in the last 4+ years. However, he looked good in his return, a first-round knockout of longtime contender Dennis Bermudez. A fight with Brian Ortega while Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar fight for the title makes sense from a fun match-up standpoint. Both guys put on exciting fights, both guys are well-versed in all aspects of MMA and it could produce the next title challenger in Ortega, who may already have stamped his ticket with a second-round submission of Cub Swanson. I also think Frankie Edgar has the best chance to beat Max Holloway in the division, and if Frankie does win, Max certainly deserves a rematch. This fight shouldn’t be billed as a number one contender’s fight but if Ortega wins, he should definitely get the next title shot, while Jung would still find himself another fight away. This is also a fight capable of being a co-main event on a big PPV event or a five-round headliner on free TV or fight pass, especially on a different continent.

 

Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov

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This fight should also be booked very soon, and it should be for the lightweight title, not the interim title. It’s obvious at this point that the only way Conor McGregor is going to return is if he gets the itch to fight again. Let the two best lightweights in the world today fight for the rightful throne, and let McGregor take on the winner should he feel the desire to fight again. He’s held up one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC for 14 months and counting now, it’s time to move on without him. This fight has been booked and canceled three times already so hopefully the fourth time is a charm. Khabib left the Octagon unscathed on Saturday and should be able to fight again relatively quickly. Khabib put the whole division on notice with his performance this past weekend and Tony Ferguson seems like the only fighter with the skillset to potentially give him problems inside of the Octagon. With his weight seemingly under control, there’s no better time than now to book this fight and let these two settle their differences in the Octagon. This fight could headline a PPV with a weak main card and still produce big numbers with their followings. Conor McGregor seems to think he’s in control and calling the shots, it’s time for the UFC to remind him that they ultimately do that and book this one for the title after they strip McGregor. I’m not convinced that will happen, but it should.

 

Image result for Tyron Woodley vs. Rafael dos AnjosTyron Woodley vs. Rafael dos Anjos

 

Image result for Tyron Woodley vs. Rafael dos AnjosTyron Woodley hinted at big news coming soon this past week on UFC Tonight. There are rumors circulating that him and Colby Covington could serve as coaches on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter before meeting in the Octagon. However, dos Anjos is much more deserving of a title shot and Colby Covington simply doesn’t have a big enough name to make that a can’t-miss fight. Dos Anjos is a former lightweight Champion and is coming off impressive victories, a first-round submission over Neil Magny and a complete shutdown of former welterweight king Robbie Lawler. Covington is a good grappler, but we saw Woodley able to stop the takedowns of Demian Maia and it’s hard to envision Covington having much more success than Maia. Dos Anjos, on the other hand, has good striking and uses that to blend in his takedowns and has solid BJJ skills on the ground. From a stylistic standpoint, dos Anjos could present unique challenges for Woodley, ones he hasn’t seen yet in his reign as Champion. He’s yet to defend his title against someone who was willing to bring the fight to him at any cost and try to apply pressure. This is the fight to make at welterweight and could also headline a PPV or co-main a big PPV card.

 

Cain Velasquez vs. Alistair OvereemImage result for cain velasquez vs alistair overeem

 

This fight is a dream matchup for a lot of people and it’s all contingent on Cain being healthy, and that’s a big if. He hasn’t fought since UFC 200 when he dismantled Travis Browne with strikes in the first round. Since then, he was booked for a rematch with Fabricio Werdum, only to be pulled from the fight by the State Athletic Commission, cited for being unfit to fight. He’s battled injuries throughout his entire career and experienced long layoffs multiple times. For that reason, he shouldn’t be matched up with the winner of the UFC 220 showdown between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou. He’s competed just twice in the last 4+ years but he’s shown that, when healthy, he might be the greatest heavyweight fighter in history. His wrestling, power and cardio make him a nightmare matchup for anyone on the roster. Overeem is fresh off a knockout loss to title challenger Francis Ngannou and will need some time to let his wounds heal. This fight is a big matchup between two of the biggest names in heavyweight history and would be a solid addition to any PPV this year as a co-main event.

 

Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes

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Some may say it’s too early for a super fight between women’s Champions, but there’s no better time to book it than now. Cyborg is a big name with her striking abilities and marketability as a dominant Champion, while Nunes’ stock is also on the rise after finishing Ronda Rousey and beating Valentia Shevchenko again. The only fighter in the top-5 of the women’s bantamweight division rankings, according to UFC.com, who isn’t coming off a loss is Germaine de Randamie. There were rumors of a title fight between Nunes and Raquel Pennington, but she was recently injured in a car accident and is out of the fight business for the immediate future. With all of that said, Nunes is the biggest name that could fight Cyborg, while de Randamie has made it clear she doesn’t want to fight her. This fight should take place at a catchweight or at featherweight without a title on the line. While the women’s featherweight division waits for more contenders, let these two go to war in the Octagon and crown the winner the best female fighter on the planet.

UFC 219 Predictions

UFC 219 takes place Saturday, December 30, 2017 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV. The main card will start at 10 PM EST on Pay-Per-View and will feature a main event title fight between reigning Champion Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm for the women’s featherweight title. The co-main will see longtime lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov putting his undefeated streak on the line against one of the most dangerous strikers in all of MMA, Edson Barboza. The third fight on the card will see rising contender Cynthia Calvillo against former strawweight Champion Carla Esparaza in a fight with title ramifications on the line. The second fight on the card will see former interim welterweight Champion Carlos Condit make his long-awaited return to the Octagon to square off against the constantly-evolving Neil Magny. The main card opens up with a match-up between two young prospects in Marc Diakiese and Dan Hooker in a lightweight match-up that could net the winner a top-15 opponent. The final event of 2017 should be a good and violent one. It will crown Cyborg as the baddest woman on the planet or Holm as the first two-division women’s Champion.

 

Daniel Hooker vs. Marc Diakiese

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The opening fight on the main card looks to be Hooker vs. Diakiese with the last-minute cancellation of Lineker vs. Rivera. This fight should be entertaining to say the least. Hooker went 3-3 as a featherweight in the UFC but had to be doing himself no favors cutting to 145 pounds while standing at 6 feet tall with a 75-inch reach. He looked re-invented as a lightweight in his most recent contest, a second-round KO over veteran Ross Pearson in June. Diakiese is coming off his first professional MMA loss as he dropped a split decision to Drakkar Klose in July. He had started off his career with 12 straight wins, 3 of which came in the UFC, with 7 of those being finishes. His flashy striking and blend of kicks and punches made him successful in BAMMA and he’ll have good success in the UFC against guys who he can pressure. Hooker experienced mixed success at featherweight but may have found his permanent home at 155 pounds. Diakiese isn’t much smaller though, as he will only give up 2 inches of height and reach on fight night. Diakiese uses inside leg kicks and spinning attacks to set up his vicious right hook and he’s looked composed in the UFC thus far. Both guys are still young while Hooker has competed in almost twice as many fights professionally and has a lot more experience. Hooker isn’t quite what I would consider a veteran while Diakiese is still young and untested. Hooker has the height and reach to give Diakiese problems and keep him on the outside, but he let Ross Pearson inside to land some big shots in their fight. Both guys will have their moments in this fight but Diakiese will use his power shots and timing to land enough for a knockdown or two en route to a unanimous decision win.

 

Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny

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Carlos Condit has lost back-to-back fights and 5 out of 7, yet still finds himself in the top-10 of a crowded welterweight division and may only be a couple wins from another shot at gold. Although most had him winning a decision against Robbie Lawler, he fell short in another big-time fight. His first fight back was against Demian Maia, where Maia was able to secure a takedown and choke him out in the first round. He gets no gimme fight from the UFC in his long-awaited return, as Neil Magny, who’s stayed very active throughout his career, looks to finally break his gatekeeper status. Very rarely does Condit give up size and reach in the Octagon, but he’ll do just do that on Saturday, as Magny stands at 6’3” and will boast a 4-inch reach advantage. Condit’s Achilles heel has always been, and will always be, takedown defense. Magny was able to land some takedowns early on against Kelvin Gastelum, who’s a much better wrestler than Condit. That is where he wants this fight. Although Condit isn’t known for his one-punch knockout power, he’s shown it before, and his combinations have proven lethal many times before. He has arguably the best arsenal of punches, kicks and knees in the division today. Magny has good striking but has never been able to utilize his reach advantage like we had hoped. This is a pick ‘em fight for me. If this fight took place 3 years ago, I’d have no hesitation at all in picking Condit. The fact is, he’s coming off 2 losses, the most recent a submission loss to Maia, and that was 16 months ago. The layoff will prove to be too much as Magny takes a close decision win.

 

Cynthia Calvillo vs. Carla Esparza

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Cynthia Calvillo came out of nowhere and she’s put together a nice, quiet 3-fight win streak in the UFC to begin her Octagon career. Despite her impressive resume, she’s been matched up with some less-than-stellar competition thus far and gets a big jump up in it this weekend. Carla Esparza was crowned the inaugural strawweight Champion at the culmination of The Ultimate Fighter: Season 20, as she locked up a third-round submission over current Champion Rose Namajunas. Since that bout, she’s gone 2-2, losing her belt in a one-sided TKO loss to former Champion Joanna Jedrzezjczyk and dropping a split decision to Randa Markos. Calvillo will own a 3-inch height and 2-inch reach advantage on fight night, and both competitors are comfortable wherever this fight takes place. Calvillo is 6-0 in her short MMA career, although she’s the same age as the veteran Esparza at 30 years old. Both fighters are more than comfortable on the ground as well and that’s likely where we will see this contest end up at some point. Once there, they both hunt for submissions and are quick to lock up a limb or neck if given the opportunity. This fight is your typical veteran-against-prospect matchup. In this case, I think it’s a little too soon for Calvillo to prove she belongs in the upper echelon of the strawweight division. Esparza has a dominant win over the Champion already and she’ll get closer to another opportunity with a decision win here.

 

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza

 

Image result for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson BarbozaThe co-main event of the UFC 219 card is the peoples’ main card. Khabib has one of the biggest followings in all of MMA, boasting an impressive, undefeated record of 24-0 while claiming victories over Michael Johnson, Rafael dos Anjos and Gleison Tibau. His opponent, Edson Barboza, has put together a nice win streak of his own with 3 straight since dropping a submission loss to current interim Champion Tony Ferguson, a fight he was winning. Barboza has struggled against the truly elite of the lightweight division, losing to Donald Cerrone, Michael Johnson and Ferguson. This fight likely has only two outcomes: a Khabib smothering or another highlight-reel knockout for Barboza. It’s hard to envision a striking clinic put on by Khabib and a Barboza grappling clinic is even less possible. Michael Johnson found great success on the feet against Khabib but ultimately couldn’t stay on his feet and tapped to a third-round submission in their fight at UFC 205 last November. If Barboza can stay off his back for prolonged periods, he’ll find an opening to end the undefeated streak of Khabib, but that’s easier said than done. He’s been able to ground every opponent thus far and aside from a quick, flash knockout, he’ll put Barboza on his back and go to work. We’ve not seen Barboza’s takedown defense as much in recent fights because he’s primarily been paired up with strikers like himself. Khabib’s history of inactivity and botched weight cuts has kept him from fighting in his prime. Still, he’s one of the best lightweight fighters in history and could net himself a title shot, or interim title shot more likely, with a win here. He looks to be in fighting shape and if he is, I feel truly sorry for Edson Barboza. Assuming the Khabib that usually shows up does, he wins this fight via submission in the second round.

 

Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm

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The main event of UFC 219 is a very interesting match-up for a lot of different reasons. We know what we’ve got with both fighters, but this fight could play out a lot of different ways. Holm will always be remembered for the fighter who killed Ronda Rousey, but if she’s able to add a win against Cyborg, she may go down as the greatest female fighter in history, despite a couple of recent losses. Holm has found mixed success in the Octagon, mainly because she’s been gun shy and content looking for openings on counters. Rousey came in reckless with her strikes and she was able to pick her apart easily. Cyborg looked much more composed and patients against Tonya Evinger in her most recent performance, a third-round TKO. That will be the key to this matchup. Both fighters are strikers with decent ground skills. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Holm shoot for a takedown or look for a trip from the clinch just to avoid the power shots from Cyborg. Even so, this fight looks to take place on the feet for the most part. Cyborg has great boxing skills, but she doesn’t blend in kicks much at all. Holm will be back pedaling a lot in this fight, similar to the strategy she employed against others. Cyborg is aggressive but not reckless, and there’s a big difference. Holm has Greg Jackson in her corner and sticks to the game plan very well, although that’s not always a good thing. While this is a very intriguing fight, the only way I see Holm winning is with a flash knockout against an overly-aggressive fighter. Cyborg will remain patient, pick her shots and find Holm’s chin to knock her down and finish with strikes. Cyborg by third-round TKO is the pick.

MMA All Toughness Team

20 years from now, when MMA fanatics discuss MMA, there are a lot of fighters who will fall into the discussion for the greatest of all time. That’s a debate in every sport that will live on forever with no unanimous winner. With MMA, it may be even more difficult than most mainstream sports, like basketball, football, hockey, etc. Guys like Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky and many others will be discussed for decades and centuries to come. MMA, on the other hand, has never had the mainstream publicity that the other sports have had, making a GOAT discussion even more debated. Will people forget about Fedor Emelianenko’s 9+ year undefeated streak in Pride and other smaller organizations or will it be a more widely-known figure like Georges St Pierre? There are a handful of MMA fighters who could make their claim to being the greatest of all time. However, most MMA fans watch the sport for the sheer violence and excitement that it produces. With that said, where do fighters like Robbie Lawler, who absorbed 219 strikes over the course of 25 minutes on Saturday night in a lopsided decision loss, find their place in history? For hardcore fans, he’ll go down as one of the most popular of all time. For the common MMA fan who joined the party during Rousey and McGregor’s runs, what does his legacy mean?

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There are countless others before him who earned a reputation, not as a world-class fighter who put together win streaks that spanned years, but as a brawler who just wanted to get punched and return the favor. Roy Nelson is one of the names that comes to mind, who absorbed the most strikes in UFC history before being officially knocked out. Nelson may be remembered more for his physique, or lack thereof, than his fighting style. Still, he was incredibly durable in his early days in the UFC. He fought 12 times in a span of three years without suffering a KO/TKO loss. Heavyweights are often some of the most exciting fighters because at 265 pounds, one punch or kick, whether it lands clean or not, can alter the course of the fight and end it abruptly. Nelson fought against some of the hardest punchers the UFC has ever seen during that time. Junior Dos Santos, Mirko Cro Cop, Matt Mitrione, Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier all were unsuccessful in knocking out the durable fighter. He eventually succumbed to a standing knockout from knockout artist Mark Hunt in September of 2014 in their main event fight in Japan. Dan Henderson earned a reputation throughout his Hall of Fame career as one of the toughest fighters on the planet. He spent time in Pride, UFC and other smaller organizations, a professional MMA career that began in 1997, and didn’t have a fight called due to strikes until 2013. Like Nelson, he fought some of the hardest hitters in MMA as he faced Vitor Belfort, Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva, Rampage Jackson, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Anderson Silva without being knocked out.

Like Henderson and Nelson, The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez, spent over a decade as a professional MMA fighter before he was knocked out, which occurred at UFC 200 against Joe Lauzon, who’s not known as a knockout artist. Like all of the others we’ve listed, he experienced a lot of ups and downs and was involved in countless brawls, which surely took its toll on his body and chin, eventually leading to a knockout. Both Diaz brothers, Nate and Nick, have gained a reputation as being great fighters with incredible durability. Nick Diaz was first knocked out by punches from The Ultimate Fighter alum Jeremy Jackson in 2002 in a small MMA promotion. There’s still doubt that he will ever get back into the Octagon, and if that is the case, he will have gone his entire UFC career without being knocked out, or submitted for that matter. Nate Diaz has an MMA career that dates back to 2002 and his only KO/TKO loss came in 2013 against Josh Thomson via head kick and follow up punches.

When these fighters retire, as most are still actively fighting, how will they be remembered, and more importantly at what cost?

Frankie Edgar has been fighting professionally since 2005 and has yet to have a fight stopped, by KO/TKO or submission. Again, the same narrative applies to all of the others I’ve listed thus far, he has faced some of the very best in the world and has escaped having a fight waived off on multiple occasions. Not only was he able to avoid being knocked out or submitted while fighting the very best in the world, he’s only lost one non-title fight in his time as a professional MMA fighter, which came at the hands of Gray Maynard all the way back in 2008. Carlos Condit has fought the likes of Georges St. Pierre, Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler, Johny Hendricks and Nick Diaz while avoiding the dreaded KO/TKO. He began his career back in 2002 and has been able to avoid a KO/TKO for 15 years and counting now.

 

Image result for chuck liddell ufcWhen these fighters retire, as most are still actively fighting, how will they be remembered, and more importantly at what cost? Most of the fighters before them who carried the same reputation, such as Chuck Liddell and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, eventually were on the wrong end of some of the most brutal knockouts in MMA history, and continued getting that treatment. Father Time is still undefeated in MMA and that will likely continue into the future. At some point, no matter how tough, your body ages and the durability disappears overnight. Chuck Liddell will go down as one of the greatest and most popular MMA fighter in history. He dropped 4 of his last 6 fights by KO/TKO, proving that everyone, including arguably the best light heavyweight of all time, have their day. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva went almost 6 years without a KO/TKO loss, but has since suffered a staggering 8, yes, 8, since 2012. The end comes quickly and without any warning whatsoever for most.Image result for antonio bigfoot silva ufc

 

If you aren’t capable of being a Champion or have a limited skillset, being a fan favorite makes a lot of sense. For the guys that I’ve listed thus far, the only one who has not competed in a Championship fight is Roy Nelson, and he came very close. Going down as a Champion who underwhelmed in performances is still better than going down as one of the most durable fighters who likely took years of their life with brutal fights. This is combat sports we’re talking about though, and most of these guys got into the sport, not for the money, but because they either enjoy fighting or are really good at it, maybe both in some cases. I would like to think there isn’t a fighter on the roster who enjoys taking a flying-knee to the face, but I think that’s the reality. Guys like Robbie Lawler, Justin Gaethje and Chris Leben need to take some punishment in their fights before they’re able to return fire.

 

Floyd Mayweather has gained a reputation as being a defensive fighter, mostly unwilling to engage in a punching exchange. Although he’s hated for his style, he’s got respect from a lot of people, and that will pay dividends later in his life while he likely won’t be confined to a wheelchair. Muhammad Ali made a career out of being one of the greatest of all time and never having a disappointing performance. He competed in 61 professional boxing matches and was never knocked out once, but that didn’t keep him from paying the price later in life. He was officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984, although signs of the disease showed much earlier. There’s no scientific evidence to prove that it was caused by his repeated blows to the head, but it certainly could have been a cause. He spent the rest of his life reeling from the disease, unable to speak and walk throughout the latter part of his life. His case eventually led to something called The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which contained a lot of legislation, including but not limited to, ensuring the protection of professional boxers. Last year, the bill was introduced to Congress to tie the Act to Mixed Martial Arts, but has not currently been passed yet. When people talk about the golden age of MMA years from now, most of these names will remain remitted from discussions for the greatest of all time. Hopefully they don’t suffer the same fate that Ali did.

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