One of the biggest cards ever is here with some serious historical importance. Three title fights stacked with some intense preliminary bouts, all for the first time in Madison Square Garden in New York City should leave a lasting impression on the UFC and the mixed martial arts world. The following is a breakdown of the entire card, starting with the Fight Pass prelims:
Fight Pass Early Prelims
(#9) Liz Carmouche (9-5) vs. (#14) Katlyn Chookagian (8-0) – Women’s Bantamweight Bout:
Two ranked women are starting off the card. Liz Carmouche is a veteran of the game, battling some of the most intimidating fighters such as Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Marloes Coenen. Carmouche is as tough as they come and she possesses a very strong all around game and some nasty ground and pound. Carmouche hasn’t fought a whole lot the last couple years and will likely affect her game. A tough, undefeated challenger in Katlyn Chookagian will be looking to keep her perfect fight record intact. Chookagian is not the most dangerous fighter in the world, but she knows how to push the pace and keep control of a bout to make sure she gets the win. In her fight with Lauren Murphy, she kept her at distance and won via using her jab well for the majority of the fight. If she keeps the fight standing she will most likely take out another veteran in Carmouche.
Prediction: Katlyn Chookagian via Unanimous Decision
Jim Miller (27-8, 1NC) vs. Thiago Alves (26-10) – Lightweight Bout
Jim Miller has always been a submission expert, but over the years has added something to his striking skills and has become a better overall fighter. He is on a two fight winning streak and if he plays it smart here and goes for the takedown on Alves could make it a third in a row for the first time since 2011. Thiago Alves is finally making his debut at lightweight after multiple injuries have kept him from competing this entire year thus far. Alves’ Muay Thai style is vicious and Miller should certainly be afraid of it. If Alves’ power comes down to 155 lbs with him, he will certainly be a prominent fighter at lightweight. Look for a fun matchup resulting in a TKO finish.
Prediction: Thiago Alves via TKO Round 2
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Vicente Luque (10-5-1) vs. Belal Muhammad (10-1) – Welterweight Bout
Two prospects at welterweight square off with the strong grappler Vicente Luque takes on the technical striker Belal Muhammad. Luque has looked pretty good so far in the UFC with only one loss. His unique style of catch wrestling and submission skills are starting to be meshed with stronger striking each time he fights in the octagon. Belal Muhammad only has one loss on his record from his short notice UFC debut against the tough Alan Jouban. The striking of Muhammad is sharp and is definitely his biggest threat, complimented by good wrestling defense and a smart fight IQ. This fight should be an entertaining one, look for the boxing of Belal Muhammad to be too much for the American-Brazilian on Saturday night.
Prediction: Belal Muhammad via Unanimous Decision
(#14) Rafael Natal (21-7-1) vs. Tim Boetsch (19-10) – Middleweight Bout
Rafael Natal has some very high level BJJ skills he just doesn’t seem to want to show them off in the UFC. Natal wins most of his fights, he just does so with some good striking and grappling that keeps his opponents from doing much. Tim Boetsch just can’t put it all together to keep a decent streak going with his last time having back to back wins being 2012. Boetsch’s striking is his strongest asset because he can hit incredibly hard, he just doesn’t have much of a chin to hold his own. These fighters are pretty evenly matched, but Natal just has more to his game currently. This fight will most likely not see the judges, I see Natal picking up another finish by TKO here in the middle round.
Prediction: Rafael Natal via TKO Round 2
(#1) Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0) vs. (#6) Michael Johnson (18-10) – Lightweight Bout:
From this fight on, this card is absolutely stacked. Khabib Numagomedov gets his first real challenge in over two years when he takes on a resurgent Michael Johnson. Nurmagomedov’s Sambo, Judo and wrestling abilities have made him one of the most feared grapplers in the UFC. After initiating with his grappling, Nurmagomedov pours it on with ground and pound and smothering offense that no one has been able to figure out yet. Michael Johnson looked to be losing his stride with back to back losses to Beneil Dariush and Nate Diaz, but made quick work of the beast that is Dustin Poirier. Johnson’s striking has always been his strong suit and when it’s on point it can really create issues for his opponent. Looking sharper than ever in his last bout would lead me to believe Johnson has what it takes to get a title shot, however he is going to be fighting an undefeated grappler. It will feel like a long night for Johnson unless he can catch and finish Nurmagomedov. Look for Nurmagomedov to keep pushing towards his long awaited title bout.
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov via Unanimous Decision
(#2) Frankie Edgar (19-5-1) vs. (#7) Jeremy Stephens (25-12) – Featherweight Bout:
Frankie Edgar is somehow a preliminary fight when he takes on the dangerous Jeremy Stephens in the main FS1 preliminary bout. Edgar had a five fight win streak against some of the best in the featherweight division broken when he lost to Jose Aldo for a second time. His wrestling, boxing and overall inhuman toughness against punishment have kept him as the favorite most of the time he steps into the octagon. His skill set is just too strong overall for him to be considered an underdog. Jeremy Stephens has scary striking and can also take a large amount of punishment. Stephens looked impressive against former bantamweight champion Renan Barao in his last fight, and will try to beat another former champion in Edgar here. The only path to victory for Stephens is to hurt Edgar early and often to make him too hesitant to get comfortable. Edgar will most likely not finish Stephens, but should be able to control the fight for all 3 rounds.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar via Unanimous Decision
PPV Main Card
(#1) Miesha Tate (18-6) vs. (#8) Raquel Pennington (8-6) – Women’s Bantamweight Bout:
Miesha Tate takes a step back from the title picture after her recent loss to Amanda Nunes to take on the durable Raquel Pennington. Tate has been a staple of the women’s bantamweight division and a pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts for years. Tate used to only rely on her wrestling and submissions, but she has grown as a striker over time. Some relate her title loss to a bad weight cut, but she was dismantled on the feet by a superior striker, if she wants to get back into the title hunt, she needs to go back to her wrestling roots.
Raquel Pennington has a three fight winning streak on the line coming into this fight. Both of her losses in the UFC came to top competition, but she has avenged her loss to Jessica Andrade and beaten Bethe Correia. Pennington is shaping up to be a top contender and needs to get past Miesha Tate to really prove she has what it takes to fight for a belt. Pennington is very strong and has bullied people into bad positions with her strength, shown in the bulldog choke victory over Ashlee Evans-Smith. The striking of Pennington and her brute force allows for her to keep pressure on her opponents and come out victorious. This is the best shot for Pennington to be considered a top contender, but it will be a challenging one. This could be too much too soon for Pennington, but this is a solid underdog pick. Pennington steps up to the occasion and we have ourselves a new contender for the bantamweight championship.
Prediction: Raquel Pennington via Split Decision
(#5) Kelvin Gastelum (12-2) vs. (#6) Donald Cerrone (31-7, 1NC) – Welterweight Bout:
An incredibly exciting welterweight bout takes place when the wrestling Kelvin Gastelum takes on one of the most dangerous fighters in any division in Donald Cerrone. Gastelum has alternated wins in losses in his last four bouts, but beating the former champion in Johny Hendricks last time out proves he might be coming out of his slump. His wrestling, striking and submissions make him a very well balanced fighter who can hang with most people wherever the fight goes. Gastelum is a natural athlete and a very durable fighter and has the chance to make his name well known with a victory here.
This fight is chance to make it four straight victories at welterweight for Cerrone, where he has looked nothing but phenomenal. Cerrone’s striking provides a challenge for just about anyone he faces and his lately lesser used submission skills are also very high level. Gastelum may be hard to finish, but Cerrone just finished two very tough fighters in a row in Patrick Cote and Rick Story. If Cerrone can finish those two, there is a good chance he can be the first to finish Gastelum off as well.
Prediction: Donald Cerrone via TKO Round 3
(#2) Chris Weidman (13-1) vs. (#4) Yoel Romero (11-1) – Middleweight Bout:
The last bout before a triple header of title fights is a deserving one where New York native Chris Weidman will look to put on a performance against the highly ranked Yoel Romero. Whoever wins this fight should be next in line for a title shot. Both Weidman and Romero are coming off of layoffs. Weidman hasn’t fought since his loss to Luke Rockhold in December of last year and Romero since his questionable victory over Ronaldo Souza on that very same card.
Chris Weidman and Romero both have incredibly high levels of wrestling. Weidman was a NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, while Romero was an Olympic silver medal freestyle wrestler. The ground and pound of Weidman is the scariest aspect of his game, but his striking and submissions also helped to bring him to prominence and earn his world championship. Most of Romero’s victories have come via KO due to his huge power in his fists, but he also mixes it up with his Muay Thai strikes and explosive takedowns. If this fight stays standing, it may be a hard time for Weidman because Romero’s power is just that scary. Weidman will look to secure a takedown and if he can, Romero might be in trouble on the ground. A few of Romero’s recent victories have been questionable, so barring something strange occurring Weidman is the safer pick here.
Prediction: Chris Weidman via TKO Round 2
(C) Joanna Jedrzejczyk (12-0) vs. (#2) Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-0) – Women’s Strawweight Championship Bout (5 Rounds):
Two undefeated Polish competitors will compete for the 115 lb women’s Strawweight championship. Defending champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk will look to defend against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Jedrzejczyk has been nothing short of a dominant champion thus far, beating her toughest opponent in Claudia Gadelha for a second time, she is now currently 6-0 in the UFC. Kowalkiewicz is 3-0 in the UFC beating Rose Namajunas the last time she fought.
The Muay Thai and boxing of Jedrzejczyk has kept her the dominant champion that she is. Standing at 5’6” at 115 lbs doesn’t hurt her chances either, allowing her to keep the fight at the range she prefers to stay at. Her defensive wrestling is necessary for her keep the fight standing. In her last bout she showed the heart of a champ and that should aid her here as well. Coming into this bout Jedrzejczyk is switching up camps and training with American Top Team (the home of Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler and many more great fighters). This should only make her a stronger competitor, but sometimes changing camps can lead to unforeseen changes.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz’s only loss in amateur mixed martial arts was to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but that fight was four years ago. They have been on similar paths throughout their careers and have similar styles in their fights. Kowalkiewicz also uses a Muay Thai base, but against an opponent like Jedrzejczyk she is facing a similar opponent with more height and reach. This fight should be a mostly stand up affair unless one thinks they have a large advantage on the ground. Jedrzejczyk hasn’t shown any reason to believe she will give up in five rounds before and she has never been stopped, so it seems like she will come out retaining the title in a fun five round fight.
Prediction: Joanna Jedrzejczyk via Unanimous Decision
(C) Tyron Woodley (16-3) vs. (#2) Stephen Thompson (13-1) – Welterweight Championship Bout (5 Rounds):
The second title bout of the evening will feature newly crowned welterweight champion Tyron Woodley taking on the karate master Stephen Thompson. Woodley absolutely blasted through Robbie Lawler in surprising fashion to take the belt away from him. Thompson has blown through all of his opponents since losing to Matt Brown in 2012, beating the likes of Patrick Cote, Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald. This bout should be a very interesting bout and is another example of excellent matchmaking.
The defending champion has two key ways to win this fight. Woodley is a high level wrestler which Thompson has been prone to in the past. Secondly Woodley’s power is just nothing Thompson has been hit with yet, so it will be interesting to see if Thompson can make it through a heavy handed strike from Woodley. Woodley should use his strikes to close the distance and go for some takedowns to secure some rounds and exhaust Thompson.
Beginning the sport as just a karate and kickboxing fighter Thompson has evolved his game considerably to help him find success in the UFC. The takedown defense of “Wonderboy” has gotten considerably better and it has helped him keep the game where he is way more comfortable. The technical karate and kickboxing mix of Thompson is must see television and he always puts on a show with his striking. The goal for Thompson is to stop an early takedown and keep the fight at distance so he can pick apart Woodley, who has been finished by strikes once before. Thompson is so clever on the feet that I wouldn’t be surprised with the upset pick here.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson via KO Round 3
(Lightweight C) Eddie Alvarez (28-4) vs. (Featherweight C) Conor McGregor (20-3) – Lightweight Championship Main Event (5 Rounds):
History will have a chance to be made here when Conor McGregor attempts to be the first man to simultaneously hold two belts from different divisions, but to do so he has to get past the most durable lightweight fighter on the planet in Eddie Alvarez. McGregor is the featherweight champion after defeating Jose Aldo, but he also recently has fought at welterweight in two fights against Nate Diaz; now McGregor finds a happy medium with a shot at the lightweight champion. Eddie Alvarez came into the UFC as one of the best fighters that wasn’t currently in it. Beating Rafael dos Anjos in a vicious first round TKO clobbering showed how dangerous Alvarez can be. This fight is such a good fight, that it becomes almost impossible to guess how it will play out, but we’re going to try here.
Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez’s skill set is some of the most well rounded in mixed martial arts and has allowed him to find success everywhere he has fought throughout his long career. High level boxing, wrestling and BJJ have made him a threat in all areas to his opponents. The amount of damage Alvarez can take and the amount he can dish out when hurt is such a dangerous combination when paired with his technical skills. If McGregor tags Alvarez he might just make it harder on himself if Alvarez doesn’t go out right away. Saturday night Alvarez could come out and trade with McGregor or mix in his wrestling and clinch game which seems like the smartest idea.
Superstar Conor McGregor, like him or not, has changed the landscape of what a UFC star can accomplish without venturing too much into other forms of media. His skills pay the bills as he normally backs up his talk and puts away fighters. McGregor took Nate Diaz too lightly the first time they fought, but prepared seriously the second time and really stepped up his game. The Taekwondo and movement of McGregor mixed in with the power he has in his left hand has floored most of his competition. He needs to keep the fight standing in order to win, he might get taken down once or twice, but if he can get back up he will frustrate Alvarez. Keeping this bout a standing and pressuring Alvarez will allow Conor McGregor to land the hard left and end the night for Alvarez, making history when he becomes a two division world champion.
Prediction: Conor McGregor via KO Round 2
NOW CHECK OUT MATTHEW PETERSON’S IN-DEPTH PREVIEW OF UFC 205’S MAIN CARD: Peterson’s fight-by-fight preview of Saturday’s show headlined by Alvarez vs. McGregor, Woodley vs. Thompson