Dana White announced last week that UFC 196 got 1.5 million buys on pay-per-view. That would make it the second biggest event in company history. A large part of the interest was based on UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor fighting Nate Diaz, but you also had the woman who just beat Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, fighting Miesha Tate on the card as well. Those were two extremely high-profile matchups, and the UFC reaped the benefits. This might be the high point for pay-per-view buys but these numbers bode well for the upcoming UFC events as well. And depending on how stacked UFC 200 is, they could make a run at approaching 1.5 million buys again. This is a run of tremendous events the UFC has been in, and things are still heating up. Let’s take a look at the lead-up to UFC 200 in July.
UFC 197 – April 23, 2016
This event features UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier defending against Jon Jones, a highly anticipated fight as Jones never lost the title, getting stripped due to his hit and run accident. Jones actually beat Cormier in his last fight, but he hasn’t fought in over a year and has been dealing with these legal issues. While that was going on, Cormier has picked up some big wins over top contenders so his confidence is very high right now. I would expect Jones to win, but this is still sure to be a great fight.
The co-main event is UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson defending against 2008 Olympic Freestyle Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo. Johnson has made it look easy in all his recent wins because of his tremendous set of skills, but this should be an interesting challenge. I would imagine that Cejudo will have the advantage on the ground, but I can’t underestimate Johnson, not with what he’s done. I don’t know how exciting this fight will be, but I think it will be very interesting. I have to go with Johnson here because until I see him lose, I can’t pick against him. Throw in what’s sure to be an explosive striking contest between Anthony Pettis and Edson Barboza, and my pick for Fight of the Night, and you’ve got a damn good pay-per-view.
UFC 198 – May 14, 2016
UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum defends against Stipe Miocic in Brazil to top this card. While I would have given the title shot to Alistair Overeem, Miocic is a good fighter and Werdum will have to earn the victory here. Miocic is a tough challenge, but it’s a challenge I think Werdum overcomes, because the level that he’s at right now is such that there aren’t many heavyweights in the history of the division who could beat him. That’s how good he’s been lately. Again, it’s nothing against Miocic, but I would put Werdum as the number two heavyweight of all-time, right behind Fedor Emelianenko.
That’s reason enough to be excited for this event, but then you add in a fight between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Vitor Belfort and you’ve got a great card. Belfort is a legendary striker with a long history of PED issues. That is what it is, the UFC doesn’t seem to care that much so I’m just going to focus on the fight itself. Belfort is facing Jacare Souza, who’s coming off a controversial loss to Yoel Romero, who himself tested positive for PED use and got banned. Jacare is close to a title shot in the middleweight division, so close that he would have gotten one had he beaten Romero. Jacare has power and incredible ground skills, but Belfort has ground skills of his own. I think Belfort has the advantage on the feet while Jacare has the advantage on the ground, though both guys are extremely dangerous in both areas. This is all but confirmed to be a No. 1 contenders fight, so I expect fireworks and I think Jacare pulls off the explosive TKO finish after Belfort tires in the second round. A welterweight fight between Demian Maia and Matt Brown adds another interesting fight to the mix. Maia will likely suffocate Brown on the ground, but we’ll have to see.
UFC 199 – June 4, 2016
UFC Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold defends against Chris Weidman in an immediate rematch from UFC 194, which saw Rockhold bloody up Weidman and finish him in the fourth round. Immediate rematches are always very interesting because there are so many questions. What changes will each fighter make? Do they tweak their strategy or change it entirely? Weidman was doing pretty well against Rockhold at times, is he going to be able to isolate that and expand on it? Or is Rockhold going to shut the door on that idea? Rockhold won, but what changes will he make? Especially because he knows that Weidman is going to make changes. How he counters that is what makes this so interesting.
The other announced fight is UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz defending against Urijah Faber. This is the third meeting between Cruz and Faber with each having previously won a fight. Faber won their first meeting about nine years ago, and Cruz won the rematch about five years ago. Things are even more drastically different now. Cruz has looked phenomenal in his return from multiple injuries, so I would favor him, but Faber has fought some of the best of all-time so it’s hard to discount him. I still have to lean Cruz, though, but I fully expect a close fight that likely goes to a decision.
UFC 200 – July 9, 2016
No fights have been officially announced yet, but there’s plenty of rumored fights to think about. UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor is going to fight at the event, likely against Frankie Edgar. Jose Aldo is a possibility, but I think the UFC favors Edgar because of Aldo’s injury history, his 13 second defeat to McGregor before, and the comments that Aldo has made about fighter pay in the UFC and the idea of a fighter’s union. I don’t think the UFC likes those comments at all, but they would still go with Aldo if he were a draw. The problem is, Aldo and Edgar are about the same in terms of being a draw, and you could probably argue that Edgar is a slightly better draw. McGregor is the attention-getter, but I’m sure the UFC would like to pair him with someone who would draw interest, and Aldo’s 13 second loss probably lessens interest a bit. So I think they go with Edgar.
UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler is also expected to fight on this card. It’s very possible that they give Nate Diaz the shot here, especially given the attention surrounding Diaz after his win over McGregor. I think the most likely scenario is Diaz-Lawler, unless the UFC throws a curveball in there. UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos has thrown his hat into the ring for a superfight with Lawler so that’s always possible, but I think they go with Diaz getting the shot and dos Anjos defending his title at UFC 200 or UFC 201. I don’t know who he would fight, unless Tony Ferguson or Khabib Nurmagomedov make the turnaround from their fight at UFC on FOX 19 in April, but it’s possible that we could also get a lightweight title fight at UFC 200 as well. I think UFC 201 later is the most likely place we get that fight because the UFC won’t want to leave the next pay-per-view too bare.
UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate might fight at UFC 200, but that depends on who her next opponent is. Holly Holm has publicly said that she wants to rematch Tate at UFC 200, but the UFC is possibly leaning towards giving Ronda Rousey the next title shot. Rousey’s comeback fight is going to be huge and be a great addition to the UFC 200 card. Of course, it would be a great addition to any card, but the UFC might want to try to break their pay-per-view record, and this would be a good way to try.
There are rumors that Georges St-Pierre has been contacted to fight at UFC 200, or that Anderson Silva wants to fight on the card. Those are certainly possibilities, but I don’t think GSP will ever come back to the UFC, and Silva isn’t the draw he once was, so I’m not sure if the UFC would want to use him here. It would be fun if both guys fought, but it wouldn’t be necessary.
The UFC has a great stretch of events coming up, I just hope that injuries don’t torpedo things too much and we’re able to get most, if not all, of these fights. That would be fantastic. It almost seems like that would be asking for too much, though. As the weather warms up, you start to dream, and everything staying together would be a dream come true for fight fans.
Comments and suggestions can be emailed to me at email@example.com and you can follow me on Twitter at @hydenfrank
[Photo (c) Jayne Kamin-Oncea via USA Today Sports]
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