Which undercard fights at UFC 197 are you most anticipating, and why?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
If you ask the question “Which fight am I anticipating most in 2016,” you very well could get the same answer as what I’m answering for this roundtable discussion. I have been demanding (loudly at my television) Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza for over a year now, ever since Mr. Wheaties box got flattened by the train we now know as Rafael dos Anjos. Why? Spinning $@#%, obviously. And flying $@#%. Possible video game $@#%. Maybe some ninja $@#%. Yeah, just $@#% everywhere.
Barboza is one of the most devastating kickers in the UFC. He’s had not one, but TWO stoppages by leg kick in the UFC. Punch to the face? Sure. Liver kick? Totally understand that. But how hard are you getting kicked in the leg (by someone else’s legs) that you are eventually unable to keep going? I do not even want to try to fathom how much that must hurt. Oh, and if you want one of the better highlights ever, just put Barboza’s wheel kick knockout of Terry Etim on repeat. Poor Etim, it’s the only thing I’ll ever remember him for.
Speaking of liver kicks, Pettis has done that. Ask Donald Cerrone how much it hurts if you’re hit just right by one of those. Apparently, it hurts enough that the fight is over. Pettis has been a finisher in his last four wins, and they’ve all been pretty stellar. In addition to the above mentioned Cerrone (my liver!) we’ve had Benson Henderson (out of position armbar), Gilbert Melendez (top-mounted guillotine), and Joe Lauzon (head kick). All were worth seeing. And of course, there’s the Showtime Kick. We may never see that again at the highest level of MMA. Heck, we may never see it again at ANY level of MMA, but to pull it of when he did and how he did is hard to fathom, much less do.
These two guys are perfect for making a high action, kick-fest happen. No one wants to go to the ground, no one wants to get inside and dirty box. Both guys want to stand and (literally) kick the crap out of each other. And their kicks are spectacular as it gets.
There are some other fights on this card obviously. Some guy who’s a horrible driver is fighting some guy who used to play football because some other guy who went to the Olympics got a sore throat from insulting the bad driver. Or something, I don’t know, it’s really just going in one ear and out the other at this point. Two little guys who deserve more money are fighting but aren’t getting paid as much as bigger guys because they aren’t big. I’ll probably pay attention to those, but Pettis and Barboza is what I’m looking forward to most.
The rest of the card really pales in comparison to those fights for me. I am interested in seeing how Carla Esparza looks in her return. The first women’s Strawweight Champion looked entirely non-competitive when she lost her title to Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Has she made enough improvements in her game to fight her way back to the top? Juliana Lima is a legitimate fighter, and a win would be a good way for Esparza to get back on track after her disappointing last fight.
Sergio Pettis is always a curiosity to watch, due to being Anthony’s little brother and the technical ability he has at such a young age. He’s fighting at the highest level with 15 professional fights under his belt at only 22 years of age. While his career has been up and down since making it to the big time, he’s got plenty of time to fulfill his potential and reach a very high ceiling.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
Not to be a cynic or (god forbid!) an MMA snob, but this card is so thin after the crazy good top three fights that Clint Hester is the featured fighter on Fight Pass. And while that would have been par for the course until a couple of months ago, let’s just say that Hester vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima is a far cry from John Dodson vs. anyone, capisce?
So, what undercard fight am I looking forward to most? I’m hoping I can get away with saying Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo, or at the very least Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza. But if you’re making me a deep dive, I’m just not into this card one bit. Fili vs. Rodriguez could be a lot of fun. One of these days Sergio Pettis is going to make the leap (allegedly). Kevin Lee is about three years away from being really damned dangerous. And on the plus side, both Pettis and Lee seem to have been booked into showcase fights here. But… let’s just say I’m not surprised our esteemed editor-in-chief is taking his first night off in eight years and leaving me the keys to this car of all cars… le sigh.
MAIN CARD (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones (for UFC Light Heavyweight Championship)
Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo (for UFC Flyweight Championship)
Edson Barboza vs. Anthony Pettis
Rafael Natal vs. Robert Whittaker
Andre Fili vs. Yair Rodriguez
PRELIMINARY CARD (FOX Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
Chris Kelades vs. Sergio Pettis
Danny Roberts vs. Dominique Steele
Juliana Lima vs. Carla Esparza
Glaico Franca vs. James Vick
PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Clint Hester vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Efrain Escudero vs. Kevin Lee
Walt Harris vs. Cody East
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza is my pick without question. I’m fully expecting a dynamic and explosive striking contest in this one. Both guys are so good that fireworks are likely. Of course, it’s fully possible that things turn boring because neither guy wants to make a mistake, but I think we get a great fight. Carla Esparza vs. Juliana Lima could also be a big fight as Esparza looks to get back into the title mix. Lima is going to try to stop her but Esparza is tough. That should be a close fight.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
All of the fights I’m really anticipating are on the main card as there aren’t any real hidden gems this time around. The obvious choice is the matchup between Anthony Pettis and Edson Barboza which pits perhaps the two most electric strikers in the division together for what should be the early favorite for FOTN. Pettis is the obvious favorite as it was barely more than a year ago that he was still the lightweight champion while Barboza has seemingly slipped everytime he has been given a chance to join the elite. Though I favor Pettis myself, anything can happen when you have two fighters this explosive in the cage together at one time.
If Pettis and Barboza don’t get the FOTN award, Yair Rodriguez and Andre Fili almost certainly will. Both are talented, young, and reckless. Why the hell wouldn’t you want to watch that? The bout between Robert Whittaker and Rafael Natal is the least intriguing on the main card. That said, it is still a solid matchup. Whittaker is the latest young up-and-comer who looks ready to soon break into contention talk as he has yet to lose since returning to the middleweight division. If he can score a highlight reel KO on Natal, he’ll get his opportunity real soon.
There really isn’t a preliminary fight that gets me excited. Carla Esparza and Juliana Lima has some heavy implications in the strawweight division, but it doesn’t sound like it will be particularly pleasing on the eyes stylistically. Cody East and Walt Harris are a pair of younger heavyweights (though I don’t think a truly young heavyweight exists anymore) with a high probability of one of them going to sleep, so I suppose that might be the fight with the most potential in terms of rewatchability.
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