UFC 209 PRIMER: Woodley vs. Thompson for Welterweight Title, Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson, Overeem vs. Hunt, Rashad Evans

By Mathew Ecochard, MMATorch contributor

UFC 209 Main Event
Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson

A UFC Welterweight Title rematch of the first incredible battle that ended in a draw headlines Saturday night’s PPV when champion Tyron Woodley takes on challenger Stephen Thompson. One of the best possible fights the UFC could make is set for the co-main event when undefeated 24-0 fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on the second ranked contender Tony Ferguson for the UFC Interim Lightweight Title. Previews and predictions for the entire card follow, starting with the UFC Fight Pass early prelims:

UFC Fight Pass Early Prelim (6:30 PM EST / 3:30 PM PST)

Albert Morales (6-1-1) vs. Andre Soukhamthath (11-3) – Bantamweight Bout

UFC newcomer Andre Soukhamthath is taking on a talented yet unproven fighter in Albert Morales. The hopes were high for Morales who was 6-0 and had fought in Bellator, BAMMA, WSOF and RFA, but he is 0-1-1 so far in the UFC after losing to Alejandro Perez and Thomas Almeida. The Almeida fight was a questionable one, for he is so much higher up in the rankings and in potential and it showed in the bout. After two deflating losses it will be hard to see if Morales can take control and put Soukhamthath in a dangerous position. Mr. Soukhamthath is riding a three fight win streak and has finished seven of his eleven wins by KO. He uses knees and elbows to chop down his opponents and is durable himself. Soukhamthath has been controlled before, but never finished. While Morales may have some better ground skills, Soukhamthath looks like he should be set up for a good first showing.

Prediction: Andre Soukhamthath via Unanimous Decision

Amanda Cooper (2-2) vs. Cynthia Calvillo (3-0) – Women’s Strawweight Bout

Looking to get a winning streak going after defeating Anna Elmose, Amanda Cooper must take on the dangerous newcomer Cynthia Calvillo. Cooper has decent boxing and wrestling, but doesn’t look amazing in either area and really seems to be lacking in her defense in most areas. She needs to look impressive and take down Calvillo early to keep herself from being lit up. Calvillo went 5-1 as an amateur and is 3-0 so far as a pro. The striking of Calvillo keeps her opponents backed up and breaks them down over the course of the fight with both of her finishes coming past the halfway point of their bouts. Calvillo should be able to stop much of Cooper’s offense and pepper her with shots to make her uncomfortable until she eventually stops fighting back entirely.

Prediction: Cythina Calvillo via TKO Round 3

Tyson Pedro (5-0) vs. Paul Craig (9-0) – Light Heavyweight Bout

Two undefeated submission fighters face off here with Paul Craig facing Tyson Pedro. Craig has more experience than Pedro and looked incredible against the strong Henrique da Silva, dominating him on the feet and the ground. The arsenal of Craig on the ground is large with wins via triangle choke, armbar, guillotine, D’Arce as well as a TKO win as well. Pedro has three wins via rear-naked choke, one by KO and one by guillotine choke. Pedro forces the fight against the cage, takes down his opponent and forces a submission where Craig will slickly slide a technical one it. Craig should be savvy enough to not fall for Pedro’s attempts and he should remain undefeated with another submission win to add to his record.

Prediction: Paul Craig via Submission Round 1

Fox Sports 1 Prelims (8 PM EST / 5 PM PST)

Mark Godbeer (11-3) vs. Daniel Spitz (5-0) – Heavyweight Bout

Striker takes on grappler when Mark Godbeer looks to add another TKO to his resume at the expense of submission fighter Daniel Spitz. Spitz has done well so far in his career against unknowns, but he gets a nice step up in competition here against Godbeer. Godbeer was submitted for the first time against Justin Ledet in his last bout, but never showed any weakness in that area prior. His striking has been his go to and he needs to come out fast and strong to put a good impression on the UFC and keep his job. Daniel Spitz needs to take down Godbeer quickly and work his strengths. Between two relatively unimpressive heavyweights, Godbeer has more experience and should be able to secure his first UFC win here.

Prediction: Mark Godbeer via TKO Round 2

(#15) Iuri Alcantara (33-7, 1 NC) vs. Luke Sanders (11-0) – Bantamweight Bout

Beating Alcantara is a good stepping stone, but is also a good way to be buried below the top 15 bantamweights if you aren’t ready for the test. The overall game is solid for Alcantara, but he lacks the aggression to finish off a lot of his fights. Luke Sanders is taking a nice step up here as he is undefeated and has faced some solid competition, but no one in the same league as Alcantara. Sanders has a similar game-plan to Alcantara but is far more aggressive in his style and will finish any opponent if given the slightest opportunity. The question is if Sanders is capable enough to put Alcantara in dangerous positions where he doesn’t feel comfortable and force a mistake out of him. While Alcantara should be the favorite, this a is a solid upset pick and Sanders can really earn some stock with a strong showing here.

Prediction: Luke Sanders via Unanimous Decision

(#13) Mirsad Bektic (11-0) vs. (#14) Darren Elkins (22-5) – Featherweight Bout

The undefeated Mirsad Bektic needs to be able to stop the continuous takedowns of Darren Elkins in order to have a chance at victory on Saturday night. Elkins is known for his tedious game-plan of grinding out wins, the problem is that he is very good at doing so and most people don’t have any answers for it and that’s how it keeps happening. Elkins drags his opponents to the ground and does just enough to not warrant a stand up, but really just sucks the life out of his opposition. Mirsad Bektic is a finisher at heart and is 4-0 thus far in the UFC against some solid competition, but this will really help him know if he can hang against the elite of the division. If Bektic could finish off the durable Elkins he will be in the same league as Chad Mendes and Charles Oliveira in terms of skill, but the more likely answer is that Elkins will eventually get Bektic down and grind out another victory.

Prediction: Darren Elkins via Unanimous Decision

Marcin Tybura (14-2) vs. Luis Henrique (10-2, 1 NC) – Heavyweight Bout

Both Marcin Tybura and Luis Henrique are on the cusp of getting into the top 15 at heavyweight, but need an impressive win here to break the mold. Tybura had an unimpressive loss to Timothy Johnson, but showed great kickboxing in his head kick knockout of Viktor Pesta. He looks to continue his winning ways against the durable Luis Henrique and score another exciting knockout. Luis Henrqiue looks to take the fight to the ground and score another submission win where he has gotten two in a row so far. Marcin Tybura has the better skills and it seems like his path to victory is clear, keep the bout standing and he should be fine. Henrique will be the heavier man though and has looked good since his loss to Francis Ngannou so he is the pick here with an edge to being the more active fighter too.

Prediction: Luis Henrique via Unanimous Decision

PPV Main Card (10 PM EST / 7 PM PST)

(#3) Alistair Overeem (41-15, 1 NC) vs. (#8) Mark Hunt (12-10-1, 1 NC) – Heavyweight Bout

The opening bout of the PPV has the potential for some devastating violence. Alistair Overeem came extremely close to becoming the UFC heavyweight champion, but came up just a little bit short against Stipe Miocic. Mark Hunt had a two fight winning streak snapped in a bout against Brock Lesnar, but Lesnar later tested positive for a banned substance and the fight was changed to a no contest. If either man lands clean then the other will be going down for sure as both men can hit harder than almost anyone. Alistair Overeem has better Muay Thai, but he can’t take a punch well at all anymore. Mark Hunt’s boxing is incredible, but he leaves himself open to shots more often than not. Overeem’s best bet will be to try to take the fight to the ground, but both men will enjoy standing up far too much for this fight to get there. Hunt’s power and chin should hold up more than Overeem’s and this is a big chance for Hunt to rocket into the top 5 at heavyweight.

Prediction: Mark Hunt via KO Round 1

Lando Vannata (9-1) vs. David Teymur (5-1) – Lightweight Bout

Fireworks will continue right into this second fight of the main card when “Groovy” Lando Vannata returns to action after his knockout of the year candidate already over John Makdessi with a wheel kick from hell. David Teymur is also one to stand and trade to put on a great show, but has a little bit less experience overall. If this bout goes to the ground, Vannata is by far superior there. If the bout turns into a kickboxing match it should also favor Vannata. This doesn’t mean Teymur can’t win, it just seems far more likely that wherever the bout takes place Vannata will be the aggressor and the one who will be able to control the fight. Either way, look for an exciting, violent and entertaining bout.

Prediction: Lando Vannata via TKO Round 2

Rashad Evans (24-5-1) vs. Daniel Kelly (12-1) – Middleweight Bout

Rashad Evans will making his UFC middleweight debut after all these years as a light heavyweight. Evans was always a little smaller for that weight class and if he can comfortably make the weight cut down 20 lbs, then he could have some rejuvenated success at the age of 37. If the question is whether or not Evans will ever make another title run, then the answer would be probably not, but his career could be extended with this transition certainly. Evans’ strength was always his wrestling, crisp boxing and ground and pound. Daniel Kelly is a great first test for Evans, someone that isn’t a top contender, but still a stiff challenge. Daniel Kelly has good submissions, striking and grappling to control his fights and at the age 39 has still looked very good. The only hiccup he has suffered was against Sam Alvey via KO, but Evans’ likely doesn’t have the same power that Alvey has. This fight should be interesting, but I’m going to give Evans the benefit of the doubt and say he will look sharper than he has in years and he gets the win here.

Prediction: Rashad Evans via Unanimous Decision

(#1) Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) vs. (#2) Tony Ferguson (23-3) – Interim Lightweight Championship Bout (5 Rounds)

Wow. What a bout this is going to be folks, I’m going to do my best in describing just how amazing this bout is on paper, but that is a tall order. Both of these fighters could be champions, both could have great bouts with Conor McGregor and both could be considered all time greats one day. Two very different styles allow for this bout to be insanely hard to figure out who the victor will be, with Nurmagomedov’s smashing ground and pound taking on Ferguson’s free-flowing stand up and amazing submission ability.

“The Eagle” Khabib Nurmagomedov is a very impressive fighter with a Russian Sambo background as well as a black belt in Judo and a Master of Sports in both Hand-to-Hand Combat and Pankration. Undefeated on a 24 fight win streak, Nurmagomedov has all the hype in the world. Once he takes down his opponent they are in for a long night as the top game of Nurmagomedov is absolutely in control and no one has been able to stop him from getting them back down if they manage to get up. The decimation of Michael Johnson was fairly surprising, not that he won, but the fact that during the bout, Nurmagomedov was constantly taunting Johnson as he was dropping hammers on him and just made Johnson look like he was an amateur fighter.

Across the cage will be Tony Ferguson, looking to do what no one else has been able to do in solving the puzzle that is Khabib Nurmagomedov. The skill set of Ferguson is wide, Brown belt in BJJ under Eddie Bravo, NCWA wrestler, and his style incorporates kickboxing and Muay Thai. Ferguson went 3-0 in the UFC before losing to Michael Johnson in 2012, but since has gone on a tear, going 9 fight win streak, recently going the distance against Rafael dos Anjos. If the fight stays in outside striking distance then Ferguson should be favored there. Ferguson is also incredibly slick with his submissions, but can he submit someone who gives very little room for his opponents to capitalize.

The fight could really go either way and it wouldn’t be the most shocking outcome no matter what occurs. Nurmagomedov sometimes starts slow and is vulnerable early as he took some damage against Johnson before he got himself back into that fight. Ferguson hasn’t been put into a lot of dangerous situations, but when he does how will he react after a couple of minutes on his back while getting beaten down. No matter where the fight takes place the fans are going to win with how amazing this fight will be. These men don’t like each other and are both willing to put it all on the line to get their first taste of UFC gold. Nurmagomedov’s grappling prowess should have him be the favorite here, but not by much.

Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov via Unanimous Decision

(C) Tyron Woodley (16-3-1) vs. (#1) Stephen Thompson – Welterweight Championship Main Event (5 Rounds)

Their first bout at UFC 205 was nothing short of spectacular, full of everything that the sport has to offer. Tyron Woodley defended his title against Stephen Thompson in one of three championship bouts ever to have a draw in the UFC. The bout was extremely close and was a fight that deservedly went to a draw. Since that bout, Woodley seemed like he wanted to avoid a rematch with Thompson and get a bigger name or a “superfight”, but it was almost inevitable that Thompson was going to get the rematch immediately. So who has improved and can make the necessary adjustments in order to win the rematch? Let’s analyze their first bout to dig a little deeper.

The first round of their bout had Woodley was backed up for awhile before he caught a lazy kick from Thompson and took the bout down to the canvas. Woodley controlled the rest of the round there. Thompson took back control in the second round and worked Woodley’s body up. Round three was incredibly close with both men getting a few nice shots in, but not much else occurring. Going into the fourth round, Woodley really took back the fight and almost finished it with a nasty guillotine that really looked to be locked up, but Thompson survived. Somehow in the fifth and final round Thompson came back and really held the center of the octagon and landed a few nice combinations.

Looking at that first fight, Thompson’s keys to victory are fairly simple on paper. First “Wonderboy” must not be sloppy at any point with his kicks in order to keep the fight on the feet. Woodley will gladly grab a leg and toss Thompson to the canvas. If the fight can stay on the feet Thompson just needs to be extra careful with Woodley’s power because it will lay him out and Woodley will be more likely to pounce and finish this time to avoid the judges. Those are really the two things Thompson needs to make certain of if he wants to take this bout and become the new welterweight champion.

Tyron Woodley needs this bout to prove he is the real champion even though the first bout could’ve been seen as a win. Looking towards this rematch Woodley must keep his composure and time his shots right. Thompson loves to counter-punch so Woodley needs to get in tight quickly and either strike from the clinch or take his opponent down. Woodley can’t get complacent for even a second because Thompson’s strikes are unorthodox and can come out of nowhere.

While not a whole lot should be different in this fight since November, there still might be some differences. On the countdown show Thompson was shown doing strength and conditioning which could greatly improve his chances coming in for the rematch. If Thompson has grown in strength he could better stop the takedowns and not be rag dolled as hard as he was before. The biggest key in this will be implementing game plans though and it really is hard to say who will do it better. While Woodley was closer to winning their first, my gut is telling me that Thompson has put in the work and come up with a plan that will shock Woodley and finish him off before the final bell.

Prediction: Stephen Thompson via TKO Round 3

NOW CHECK OUT THIS PREVIOUS UFC PRIMER: UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Browne Primer: Full card preview including Hendricks vs. Lombard, Sicilia vs. Tucker, McMann vs. Mazany

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