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The sport of Mixed Martial Arts has finally been legalised in the state of New York. This Saturday, the UFC will be in New York City with the greatest fight card of all time to make their mark on the Big Apple – at Madison Square Garden; a world famous arena for combat sports.
The card features 3 championship fights with 4 champions and another 3 former champs in Chris Weidman, Frankie Edgar and Meisha Tate.
Another scheduled bout between Tim Kennedy and former light-heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans was cancelled after ‘Sugar’ Rashad failed a medical test and was deemed unable to compete.
In this post I’ll give some of my observations about the fighters and my picks on who I think will win.
Alvarez vs McGregor (155lb)
This is one of the most talked about fights ever and for good reason. Two champions facing eachother, at the biggest event in MMA history – including the biggest star in the UFC, Conor McGregor.
It seems that most pundits don’t really know how to call this fight – Eddie is relentless, experienced and well-rounded while Conor is explosive, intuitive and unpredictable.
A lot of people are picking Eddie because they say he is likely to “weather the storm” of Conor in the early rounds. His most probable path to victory is by wearing Conor down, tiring him out and frustrating him by moving around and avoiding his power-punches.
Of course this is a possibility. Eddie is an experienced fighter; he has been in some wars; he’s a world-champion and former champion of Bellator; he’s very durable and resilient. It is plausible that he could out-work Conor with punches, he could out-grapple Conor and control the fight or he could knock him out with a barage of punches as we seen him do to Rafael Dos Anjos.
Although, I must say, I can’t see that happening. I’m going with Mystic Mac in this fight – for a number of reasons.
I think Conor is one of many fighters who represent the new-age of MMA, his unorthodox style and ability to manipulate his opponent is not to be underestimated – I think he has already got inside Eddie’s head and it’s a very big possiblity that he will make this fight look very easy. It’s very possible that Eddie will fight emotionally, abandon his gameplan and his world-class skills will be rendered useless because of silly mistakes.
Of course this a big claim to make and I might sound like I’m licking Conor’s ass, but it happened to “the great” Jose Aldo.
My only concern is that Conor will underestimate Eddie; he might drop his hands, he might start trading close-range – this could be very dangerous because Eddie’s ability to pounce after he lands one big shot is something that I don’t think Conor has faced before. I suppose another concern is that Conor will get tired but I hope he has learned from his last two fights and will make the right adjustments.
I think Conor has both the technical and psychological advantage going in to this fight if he can to stick to a gameplan and stay on the outside then he will be able to pick Eddie apart. Conor is one of the best counter-punchers I have seen in the UFC – the first time Eddie rushes in to land a combination, I think Conor will counter effectively and make Eddie more hesitant as the fight goes on. Either more hesitant or more reckless, I think both are bad for Eddie. Also, that’s why I think Eddie’s wrestling won’t be a huge factor in this fight – because I think Conor will be able to keep his range throughout.
If we do see Eddie going in to “survival mode” as we’ve heard him talk about – the state in which he fights best – then we could see one of the best fights ever. We could see both fighters get rocked early-on, in which case Conor’s cardio could be a factor. Maybe if that happens then Eddie will be able to take Conor down and execute some ground and pound. Who knows? No one fucking knows. Anything could happen.
Of course there are a number of ways for both fighters t0 win but I think Conor will use his reach and power advantage to knock Eddie out. Probably quite early. If Eddie gets angry then I think Conor will be able to use that against him with effective counter-punching.
But, again, who knows.
Pick: Conor McGregor
Woodley vs Thomson (170lb)
This is the perfect example of a fight where either fighter could win in a matter of seconds. Both fighters have the technique and power to end the fight by devastating KO.
Stephen Thomson has been referred to as the best striker in the UFC – he is fast, tall, smart and very technical. His most effective weapon is obviously his kicks, we’ve seen him win by some spectacular headkick knockouts but we’ve also seen him use his kicks as a great defensive weapon – to keep his range from opponents.
His karate style is very direct. Like some famous karate practicioners, (Lyoto Machita, Sage Northcutt etc.) his unorthodox kicking style can catch opponents unaware, he is also able to swarm his opponent very quickly with straight punches.
I don’t think we’ll see many punches from Thompson because Woodley is so powerful and so dangerous – as soon as opponents start to move in he explodes with powerful punches to push them back.
Thompson’s key to victory in this fight is, as he has said, staying out of the way – not getting hit. He needs to find his range and utilise his kicks to keep Woodley off of him and hope that one of them lands so he can end the fight. If that doesn’t happen then the only way I can see Thomson winning is by decision, like in the Rory MacDonald fight.
Although Stephen Thompson has all the tools to beat Woodley (and is quite a significant favourite) I am picking Woodley.
Of course you can’t believe every fighter when they say they’re among the greatest but I believe Tyron Woodley. I have never seen any fighter who is so explosive, so powerful and now, so confident. Now that Woodley is the champ he is more confident than ever but with so many doubters he still has something to prove – and that makes him very dangerous.
Tyron’s biggest advantage in this fight is his punching power and his strength, in my opinion, also his wrestling. I think he’ll be able to control the fight, I don’t think Thompson will be able to find his rhythm. If Thompson does land some shots then I think Woodley will be able to strike back, put him up against the cage and dominate him.
I am very surprised that Woodley is such a big underdog in this fight. I am not saying that I know better than the oddsmakers, I just think Tyron Woodley is a man who shouldn’t be messed with. He sees himself as one of the greatest Welterweights of all time, he just has to prove it. Stephen Thompson is a very tough test but I think it’s one that Woodley will overcome. I think we’ll see him move on to bigger things and look back on this year thinking “why didn’t we believe him?”
Pick: Tyron Woodley
Jedrzejczyk vs Kowalkiewicz (115lb)
This could be the toughest test of Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s UFC career. Since winning the belt, Joanna has been one of the most dominant champions in the UFC – she has faced some tough opponents and always come out on top. I think she will win again this weekend but it could be a very close fight. It could be a bloodbath.
Karolina is one of the toughest fighters in the women’s straw-weight division and one of the best strikers. Karolina’s punching speed is lightning-fast and she is often able to make the fight a brawling match – which could be very dangerous for Joanna.
If the fight becomes a clinch-battle then this fight is almost 50/50, but in any other circumstance I think Joanna’s experience will play a huge factor and she will be able to pick Karolina apart, hurt her and then finish her with a barage of punches.
But don’t be surprised if there’s an upset in this fight. Karolina is very tough and there is a lot at stake in this fight, not just the title. A lot of Polish fans say that Karolina is a better fighter than the champ – Joanna has taken this quite personally and has responded with numerous insults towards Karolina. Although Joanna is the more skilled and more experienced fighter she could let emotions get the better of her, in which case this could become less of a chess match and more of a cat-fight.
Pick: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Weidman vs Romero (185lb)
I really don’t know how to call this fight, as much as Chris Weidman annoys me (I don’t know why, he just does) he is still a great fighter. Both fighters are very evenly matched in terms of their striking ablity and their wrestling ability, although their styles are completly different.
Yoel Romero is more explosive – more able to change to course of the fight in a split-second. Weidman is more tactical – more able to control his opponent and execute a gameplan. Of course that does not do justice to the ability of both fighters, they are both very well-rounded, but it’s how I imagine their route to victory.
If Yoel is to win, I think it will likely be a spectacular KO or by landing a big shot and completely dominating Weidman to get the finish.
If Weidman is to win then it will be from neutralising Yoel’s strengths to frustrate him, control him and waiting for an opportunity to end the fight. Or by grinding out a decision – by staying out of Joel’s range, executing some takedowns and not allowing Joel to attack.
It will be interesting to see whether Yoel is still as powerful since the USADA testing where they found some performance enhancers, but I think he is still too explosive for Chris Weidman.
Although I won’t be too surprised either way, I think Yoel will win.
Because I don’t like Chris Weidman.
Pick: Yoel Romero
Gastelum vs Cerrone (170lb)
Another very interesting fight, Kelvin Gastelum is a very tough young fighter – very well-rounded and tactical, especially for his age. Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is an icon of the sport with 24 wins in the UFC: 3 Knockout of the Night Bonuses; 2 Submissions of the Night and 8 Fight Of The Night Bonuses.
Both fighters have some great, very unorthodox movement – both are very effective grapplers and have the ability to win by submission if the fight goes to the ground. I think Cowboy’s experience will play a big factor in this fight – he has a lot more tools in his arsenal (especially in his submission game) and has become very comfortable in his own fighting style after so many fights. In his fight with Rick Story he never seemed to be in any great danger, although Rick seemed to fade a bit in that fight Cowboy’s performance was very impressive.
I think Gastelum’s key to victory is to keep pressure on Cowboy at all times. Although Kelvin is a good striker, the only advantage he may have over Cowboy is his wrestling. If the fight stays on the feet then I think Cowboy will be able to find his rhythm and settle in to the fight, he’ll be better able to read Kelvin’s movements and open up with some good strikes and good combinations.
If Kelvin can use his wrestling game effectively then he may be able to force some errors from Cowboy, if he’s constantly pressuring then he may prevent Cowboy from finding his rhythm and either find an opportunity to end the fight or just maintain control to win a decision.
As much as that is a possiblity, I think it’s unlikely. I think Cowboy will control the distance, stay out of range and frustrate Kelvin – I think he’ll land some combinations and one of them will end the fight.
But that’s just my guess, don’t underestimate Kelvin.
Pick: Donald Cerrone
Tate vs Pennington (135lb)
This is a difficult one for me to call. There will be a lot of people out there picking Miesha Tate and they may well be right – she has a wider range of skills, she has more experience and, of course, she’s the former champion. Of course I can imagine Miesha winning this fight but when I look at the face-off when Miesha is standing there high-heels, with her hair done up while Raquel stands staring at her, wearing a tracksuit and trainers – I can’t help thinking “Miesha’s gonna get fucked up”.
That is a judgement I probably shouldn’t make but there’s more to it than just the clothes she is wearing. I can’t help but feel that Miesha is on her way out of the UFC – she’s on the homestretch. I don’t think she’s hungry enough and I don’t think she’s taking this seriously enough to be successful in such a competitive sport. Of course this is another judgement I am making but it’s the main reason I am picking Raquel in what I think will be a really close fight.
I’m not saying that Miesha will not try her best I am just saying that any ounce of doubt in the mind of a fighter can have drastic consequences. Maybe I just don’t like Miesha Tate either, that sounds bad, she’s done nothing wrong. I guess we’ll find out if I’m right.
From a technical level, I think this fight will be very close. This is definitely Miesha’s fight to lose, as I said she has quite a distinct advantage but Raquel Pennington definitely has the skills and the experience to win this fight. Miesha is not a great striker – although she does have some very powerful punches she has a tendency to get dragged in to a brawling match which can leave her succeptible to being hit. To avoid this she must keep her distance, keep feinting for take-downs to make Raquel hesitant or simply just get a takedown and dominate Raquel on the ground.
From watching Raquel, one thing that stands out is her ability to control the distance. To stay slightly out of range so she can’t be hit (or taken down) but close enough that she can strike when the opportunity arises. Also Raquel’s ability to make all of her fights a tough, brawling match is why I think she has a good chance of winning. Miesha’s gameplan will, obviously, be to take Raquel down and work for submissions. But if she can’t do that – if Raquel keeps a good distance then I think Raquel’s striking advantage will be enough to win a decision or even get a KO.
Pick: Raquel Pennington
Edgar vs Stephens (145lb)
This is another hard fight for me to pick. It’s a great match-up of Frankie, who’s very fast and elusive, vs Jeremy Stephens who has devastating power and can end fights with one punch.
Both fighters have an enormous amount of experience, having fought some of the best fighters in a number of weight-classes. Frankie was of course the Lightweight champion of the UFC back in 2011 – he then challenged again for the title and for the Featherweight title, losing by decision in all of those fights.
Given that Frankie has never been finished in the UFC, makes it very hard to pick Stephens in this match-up. Frankie is much faster than Jeremy Stephens and should be able to stay out of danger, but the fact that Frankie is abit smaller will mean that he’ll have to trade inside the pocket with Stephens and this could spell danger.
The most likely outcome of this fight, in my opinion, is a Frankie Edgar decision victory. But I have a feeling that Stephens will be able to get the knockout. I think Frankie is the more well-rounded and slightly more experienced fighter but I think Stephens is coming in to this fight with a lot of confidence and nothing to lose, I also think the momentum is on his side. Of course I can see Frankie having another run for the title but for some reason I think Stephens is more likely to prevail and take that next step in his career.
Pick: Jeremy Stephens
Nurmagomedov vs Johnson (155lb)
Pick: Khabib Nurmagomedov
This seems like a fairly easy pick, given that Khabib is an absolute monster, but Michael Johnson is not to be underestimated. There are a lot of factors the should be considered which make an upset seem quite plausible.
Khabib is much stronger and he is a much better wrestler than Johnson, however Johnson’s striking is better, he is faster and has been more active over the past few years. The question when people fight Khabib is always “can they avoid the takedown?” The answer has always been “no”.
Khabib is just too strong, his striking (as much as it seems reckless) is very effective in setting up his takedowns and once he gets the takedown he is able to dominate his opponent and often get the finish.
I think, Johnson has a chance in this fight if he can keep it on the feet but I think Khabib is too strong and too smart for him. I think Khabib will dominate 90% of the fight and get the finish at some point.
Natal vs Boetsch (185lb)
I don’t know enough about these fighters to give an accurate assessment. From watching Tim Boetsch’s highlight reel I can see he’s strong although not very fast or technical it seems, from watching Natal’s recent fight against Robert Whitaker it was clear that he is a very experienced and durable fighter, although he did take a lot of damge in that fight and had quite a clear speed disadvantage against the younger fighter.
I don’t see much of a difference in the speed of these fighters – neither have the rapid movement that they used to but they are both able to throw some fast and powerful shots inside the pocket if it comes to that.
I think Rafael Natal will need to keep his distance, using his experience to stay out of range. Tim Boetsch seems to have a strength advantage and could dominate Natal with his wrestling if he’s able to get a hold of him. It’s likely that he’ll be able to take Natal down and execute some ground and pound. It’s also likely that Rafael could drag out a decision win, but, in saying that, I won’t be surprised if this fight becomes a brawl and we witness an early knockout.
Pick: Rafael Natal
Luque vs Muhammad (170lb)
Again, I don’t know a great deal about these fighters. Belal Muhammad is a much more active striker while Vincent Luque has a lot more submissions on his record, so it really depends on who’s able to control the fight and execute their gameplan.
I’m gonna go with a submission for Vincent Luque in this fight. The main reason is that Muhammad doesn’t have a great deal of “knockout power”, the way he ends fights is usually by knocking his opponent down and executing some ground-and-pound – so I think that this fight will go to the ground no matter who gets the better of the striking.
If Luque gets a knockdown then he might go for a submission, if Muhammad gets a knockdown then I think Luque has the skills to get a submission off his back. I am not sure of this pick, it’s simply an educated guess.
Pick: Vicent Luque
Miller vs Alves (155lb)
Pick: Jim Miller
This another tough fight to call and another example of a very explosive fighter versus someone who is very experienced and very tactical.
I’m gonna pick Jim Miller to grind out a decision in this fight. Although Thiago Alves has the power to win by KO at any point – I find it hard to pick against Jim Miller, especially after his recent performance against Joe Lauzon where he was able to control the fight and shut down Joe’s offense.
As I said, this is an extremely tough fight to call. Thiago could end the fight at any time and Jim Miller also has some great submission skills so we could see him win by submission, but I’ll go with a decision.
Carmouche vs Chookagian (135lb)
Okay, here’s another two fighters I know next-to-nothing about. My pick for this fight is solely based on how fucking tough Liz Carmouche looks in her UFC picture, also the fact that she has a record of 56% knockout wins and has been fighting at the highest level for a number of years.
I probably shouldn’t make that judgement considering her opponent, Katlyn Chookagian, is undefeated as a professional. Maybe Katlyn will be able to dominate the fight, stay out of danger and win by decision or even finish the fight but this looks like it will be a very tough match-up – her 2nd fight in the UFC against a very experienced fighter in Liz Carmouche who has fought for both the UFC and Strikeforce title.
Pick: Liz Carmouche