– Matthew Ecochard
The best card of the year on paper comes form Anaheim, California this Saturday night on PPV. The headlining bout is the return of Jon Jones to try to reclaim his belt in a grudge match against the champion Daniel Cormier. Two title fights, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley vs. Demian Maia and Cris Cyborg taking on Tonya Evinger for the vacant women’s featherweight title. An amazing fight between Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone and a bout between top ranked light heavyweight and Jimi Manuwa and Volkan Oezdemir in a fun clash that puts the winner in a good position for a title run. The prelims take place on FXX instead of Fox Sports 1. The following are previews and predictions for the entirety of the card.
UFC Fight Pass Prelims (6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT)
Joshua Burkman (29-15, 1NC) vs. Drew Dober (17-8, 1NC) – Lightweight Bout
I’m struggling to see why Joshua Burkman is still in the UFC. Since returning in 2015, Burkman has gone 1-5, 1NC and he hasn’t looked competitive in a few of those. Burkman’s striking is okay, but he has taken a lot of damage in his fights and he doesn’t use his wrestling base as much as he should. Drew Dober hasn’t done amazing, but hasn’t done as poorly as Burkman either. Dober’s striking is much better than Burkman’s so he should try to keep this standing. Burkman needs to use his wrestling and submissions as Dober has left himself vulnerable to submissions before. Dober just has more to offer and he is almost 10 years younger.
Prediction: Drew Dober via Unanimous Decision
Eric Shelton (10-3) vs. Jarred Brooks (12-0) – Flyweight Bout
Eric Shelton is a much more winnable fight for Jarred Brooks than his original opponent for his debut in Ian McCall. Shelton participated in TUF: Tournament of Champions season, but didn’t get past the semi-finals and then lost in his debut on the finale card. Shelton has good wrestling and is a powerful man, but has a few holes in his game still. Looking at highlights of Brooks he seems like he has great wrestling and an aggressive top game. Once Brooks is on top he is very hard to get off of you. Never tasting defeat, Brooks has the fire underneath him to have an impressive debut.
Prediction: Jarred Brooks via Unanimous Decision
Kailin Curran (4-4) vs. Alexandra Albu (2-0) – Women’s Strawweight Bout
Alexandra Albu won her UFC debut against a tough 5-2 fighter that had 5 wins via submission. Albu favors the striking and that should make this an entertaining clash. At just 2-0 she is rather early in her career, but is taking on one of the weaker fighters in the UFC’s strawweight division in Kailin Curran. Curran is 1-4 inside the octagon and she shows signs of strengths but just makes far too many mistakes. She can be out-struck, out-grappled and outpaced and it just seems like she doesn’t have what it takes to stay in the UFC. Fighting a rather inexperienced mixed-martial artist gives her a better chance, but Albu keeps it standing and hurts Curran and takes advantage.
Prediction: Alexandra Albu via Submission Round 2
FXX Prelims (8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT)
Andre Fili (16-4) vs. Calvin Kattar (16-2) – Featherweight Bout
The opening preliminary fight brings a man with confidence into the UFC in Calvin Kattar. An eight fight win streak has Kattar looking primed for an impressive debut against Andre Fili. This fight should be a really fun one as both men are strong in multiple facets of the game. They could either stand and trade or try to wrestle for a dominant position and look for submissions. Fili is normally a bigger man at featherweight at 5’11”, but Kattar matches him in that department. Two of Fili’s losses as of late are against Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez and there is no reason to be ashamed in those names. Kattar is no Max Holloway, but his well-versed game will help him in a successful debut.
Prediction: Calvin Kattar via Split Decision
(#9) Renato Moicano (10-0-1) vs. (#8) Brian Ortega (11-0, 1NC) – Featherweight Bout
From this fight onward this card is stacked. With every fight ranked except for the women’s featherweight championship bout because the division is new. Renato Moicano impressively is undefeated and recently won the biggest fight of his career against Jeremy Stephens in close fight. On the feet, Moicano is good defensively, but he really excels on the mat, the issue is that on the ground Brian Ortega is a huge threat. Ortega was losing his bout against Clay Guida, but at the end of the third round he landed a huge knee that sent Guida crashing to the ground. Ortega has started looking a lot better standing up, but he would much rather be on the ground. This fight is such a hard call, but I say Ortega has more to offer in the overall fight.
Prediction: Brian Ortega via Unanimous Decision
(#8) Aljamain Sterling (13-2) vs. (#14) Renan Barao (35-4, 1NC) – Catch-weight Bout (140 lbs)
This bout is taking place at a catch-weight their new weight cutting guidelines. This weight should give both fighters a boost in their cardio as the weight cut is not nearly as big. Barao went 1-1 at featherweight, beating Phillipe Nover and losing to Jeremy Stephens. Barao hasn’t looked like the same fighter since losing to T.J. Dillashaw via TKO twice as he has chosen to primarily strike, but looking slower than usual.
Aljamain Sterling has looked complacent in two of his last three fights, losing close split decisions to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao. His skills are much higher than what he had shown, but he turned it around with a win over Augusto Mendes. The wrestling and BJJ skills of Sterling are his strongest aspects, but training with Ray Longo and Matt Serra has allowed his striking to progress fairly quick. On the feet, Barao hasn’t looked that good so it should be fairly even there. Sterling will be the slightly bigger man and definitely more physically fit. Anywhere this goes Sterling will have the edge and should be able to make an example out of the former champion.
Prediction: Aljamain Sterling via Unanimous Decision
(#3) Ricardo Lamas (17-5) vs. (#15) Jason Knight (20-2) – Featherweight Bout
Ricardo Lamas has been consistently great in his UFC career,as he has only lost to Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Max Holloway. Lamas is good at landing combinations, but isn’t the strongest puncher in the division. The reason Lamas is so successful is that he really can put it all together and just control his opponents or bully them into submissions. Jason Knight is not someone that is easy to bully around. Riding a four fight winning streak, Knight seems to be putting it all together but unfortunately he is facing Ricardo Lamas. I just see very few ways that Knight will be able to get in control of Lamas and hold him in position to get the win. Lamas will impose his will on Knight, it’ll be a fun bout, but Knight won’t be able to get much accomplished in three rounds.
Prediction: Ricardo Lamas via Unanimous Decision
PPV Main Card (10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. ET)
(#3) Jimi Manuwa (17-2) vs. (#5) Volkan Oezdemir (14-1) – Light Heavyweight Bout
If Jimi Manuwa wins this match he could likely get a title shot as only Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson are ranked ahead of him. Manuwa has immense power in his hands and has finished or been finished in every match except for one. Manuwa bulldozes through people once he lulls them into a state where they just begin to stare at him. The finish against Corey Anderson was amazing in that it was just a jab and a left hook and it just crumbled him. Volkan Oezdemir surprised a lot of people when he won his debut against Ovince Saint Preux via decision. Even more surprising is that Oezdemir finished off Misha Cirkunov in the first 30 seconds of their bout in May of this year. Cirkunov had him hurt quickly and backed against the cage, but some slick movement and a powerful shot put Cirkunov out. If Manuwa connects, I don’t think Oezdemir can recover from it. Oezdemir has looked solid so far, but Manuwa has the reach advantage and hits hard. Watch for the knockout here.
Prediction: Jimi Manuwa via KO Round 2
(#3) Robbie Lawler (27-11, 1NC) vs. (#7) Donald Cerrone (32-8, 1NC) – Welterweight Bout
Guaranteed violence right here folks. The former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler is making his return here after a year long layoff when he lost against Tyron Woodley by knockout in the first round. Robbie Lawler is a masochist on the feet, trading blow for blow knowing he can land the harder shots. With 20 of his 27 wins by knockout, Lawler has every chance in the world to knock out just about any fighter as he is decent at getting back to his feet if he is taken down. His submissions aren’t his strong suit, but he isn’t as effected by them as he used to be as he hasn’t lost via submission since 2011 to Ronaldo Souza.
Donald Cerrone really has had an incredible run as of late going 13-4 in the last 4 years with his only losses coming twice to Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis and Jorge Masvidal. While Cerrone is a proven finisher, he has been seen known to not be able to take the most shots. Cerrone would be smart to try to use his crafty ground game, but I see him standing and trading with Lawler. It is really hard to say who will get the finish, but I do think someone will be sleeping before the bell. Cerrone is faster, but Lawler has more raw power and is definitely more vicious. Lawler gets it done sometime late in the fight.
Prediction: Robbie Lawler via TKO Round 3
Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (16-1, 1NC) vs. Tonya Evinger (19-5) – Women’s Featherweight Championship Bout (5 Rounds)
Cris Cyborg is getting the shot at the featherweight championship finally. The original bout between Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie didn’t live up to expectations and when de Randamie didn’t want to take a fight against Cyborg she was stripped of her belt. Winning 15 of her 17 via knockout makes Cyborg one of the most terrifying strikers, especially for her division. We surprisingly haven’t seen much of her ground game over the course of her career. Her fights normally don’t last too long because she just abuses her opponents until they crumble. She definitely wants to keep the fight standing as she can beat just about anyone on the feet.
Tonya Evinger is the current Invicta FC bantamweight champion, but is moving up here to take on the biggest challenge of her career. Evinger has never been knocked out in a fight, but has been vulnerable to submissions throughout he career. She shouldn’t have to worry about a submission from Cyborg, but she definitely wants to take it to the ground as early as possible. If Evinger doesn’t get this fight to the ground, I just don’t see it going well for her. The same has been said for every opponent of Cyborg’s and no one has been able to do anything to stop her besides in her first ever fight.
Prediction: Chris Cyborg via TKO Round 2
(C) Tyron Woodley (16-3-1) vs. (#1) Demian Maia (25-6) – Welterweight Championship Bout (5 Rounds)
The welterweight championship fight is very interesting with a one dimensional fighter like Demian Maia taking on a strong, heavy hitting wrestler in Tyron Woodley. Saying Maia is one dimensional is true but he might just be one of the best one dimensional fighters there ever was. Maia will take you to the ground and suffocate you until he gets a submission win. Maia’s chin is fairly strong and has only failed him once against Nate Marquardt in 2009. If the bout stays standing, Maia will be in trouble, so the plan is to get in on Woodley and get him down and start to work on him and tire out those big muscles of Woodley.
The champion needs to put on a strong showing against Maia in order to be taken seriously. Woodley knocked out Lawler to take the belt away from him, but a draw against Stephen Thompson was his first defense. A follow-up win against Thompson was uninspiring, but he got the job done and is moving forward against Maia. Woodley has great wrestling but he would much rather stay standing with Maia as his striking is much sharper than his. If this goes to the ground it just opens up the possibility for Maia to get a submission so look for Woodley to do anything he can to keep it standing. If Maia fails to get this to the mat early and finish it in the first two rounds, I see almost no way for him to win. As much as I’d like to think that Maia will get it done, Woodley just has more weapons and has never been submitted.
Prediction: Tyron Woodley via TKO Round 4
(C) Daniel Cormier (19-1) vs. (#1) Jon Jones (22-1) – Light Heavyweight Championship Main Event (5 Rounds)
One of the most anticipated main events in years, a rivalry could very well come to a close on Saturday night with Daniel Cormier defending his championship against a man that never technically lost it in Jon Jones. There is so much history to this fight that I can’t go into it here. Cormier also had a run in with a towel during a weight cut that caused some controversy. Between the drug problems and hit and runs, there is a lot of issues Jon Jones has faced. What I will go into here is what happened in their last fight and what needs to happen for both in this bout. All you need to know is that Jon Jones won the first time and that these two hate each other.
Daniel Cormier needed to use his wrestling and control Jon Jones on the mat in order to win their first bout. Instead he failed at doing so and made it a striking battle and did okay in that department. The cardio of Cormier seemed to start to fail him near the tail-end of the fight as well. This time out, Cormier really needs to focus on closing the distance and getting Jones to the canvas otherwise it could be a long night for the champion. On the feet, Cormier has powerful hands, but the quickness and technique falls on the side of Jones’ expertise.
Jon Jones’ striking has always been his strong suit, but his large frame lets him work interesting trip takedowns as well. In the first fight, Jon Jones surprised many with his ability to take Cormier down multiple times. Jones just out pressured Cormier on the feet and on the ground. Last time they fought Jones was not as large as he is now. The added muscle might effect his cardio, but likely he is just going to have an easier time holding down Cormier if he gets on top. Jones should keep it at his range and use his spinning attacks and kicks like he normally does.
It could go either way this time, with Jones missing so much time in the last two and half years, only fighting once. Jones is the superior fighter, but with that time away and his changed physique it is hard to tell if he will be the same fighter. Cormier will have to change his game-plan up in order to get the win. He needs to get on the inside and takedown Jones. Jon Jones is the better choice here and if he uses his newfound muscle to his advantage this fight could possibly be easier than the first. Daniel Cormier has never been finished and I don’t think Jones does it here after so long off, but he will get the win.
Prediction: Jon Jones via Unanimous Decision