So in case any of you having been living under a rock, you’re all well aware of the star studded card we have this weekend, probably the best card we’ve had since 217, and even this gives 217 a run for its money, it’s literally one of the best cards of all time, and if it pans out to be as exciting as it looks on paper, I won’t sleep for 2 weeks after the event. Two titles on the line, as in REAL titles, not interims, which are hard to come by these days, as well as Ben Askren’s highly anticipated debut, Cody Garbrandt fighting somebody that isn’t TJ Dillashaw, an exciting women strawweight bout between Torres and the seemingly unstoppable Weili Zhang, and that’s only the main card, the prelims could be their own card they’re that good. Let’s have a look at the card in more detail, and I’ll give you guys my personal picks this weekend. Now before we get into it, I don’t want to go into too much detail with the early prelims as we have a lot to get through as it is, so my picks for the early bouts are Viana, Chiasson, and Shahbazyan.
So we have few really good preliminary fights this weekend, I personally think it’s one of the best prelim cards I’ve ever seen, I really like the effort the UFC are putting in to make people watch the prelims, some complain that certain fighters should be on the main card and I understand the argument, however I like this format, it brings more people to the prelims, where they may become more familiar with other fighters they otherwise wouldn’t have heard of until they are deemed main card worthy, and we have a great example of what I’m talking about this weekend with Diego Sanchez, the human fight of the year machine, opening up the card. Sanchez in a household name, everyone who knows MMA knows Sanchez. He’s as experienced as they come, he’s seen it all in there and he’s got a list of notable wins, losses and amazing bouts throughout his lengthy career, a crowd favourite for a reason, he loves to fight. I mean FIGHT, biting down on the mouthpiece and attacking like a crazed animal kind of fight, I’m sure nobody needs reminding of his absolute brawl with Gilbert Melendez as a perfect example of what Diego is all about. However, and as much as it pains me to say it, he needs to hang them up pretty damn soon, if not 3 fights ago. Yes, he’s coming off of a win, but he’s been knocked out in 3 of his last 5 fights, not good for his record, or his ability to remember his name in 10 years time. This time out he’s against the young submission maestro Mickey Gall, a BJJ brown belt, picking up all 5 of his wins via submission, as well as all 4 of his amateur bouts. Firstly, I’d like to say this kid is great at generating interest, he’s picked the right opponents to get a buzz around him, and it’s worked, beating CM Punk and Sage Northcutt was great for his exposure, and here he is again against a popular name in Sanchez, he knows people will be watching, and it’s his chance to notch another win in the spotlight. For me, unfortunately, this is only going one way, Diego is getting choked out. I know I know, he’s never lost via submission, and yes I know he’s a black belt in BJJ himself, and yes, I know we all love him but let’s face it, he needs to hang them up, he’s a shell of his former self and Mickey Gall is no joke, he is slick on the ground, maybe 7 years ago Diego would have eaten his soul, but it’s 2019, and that Diego is long gone, the rear naked choke master Mickey Gall will strike again in my eyes, Diego will not be able to defend the submission game of Gall when his gas tank is empty. But if it does go the other way, at least Gall earned a WWE title shot after his dominant victory over CM Punk. I look forward to seeing him at Wrestlemania.
Next up we have Cody Stamann vs Alejandro Perez. I like this fight a lot because I’m keen on both guys. In one corner you have NCAA wrestler Stamann, who’s shown promise since joining the UFC, only losing to the funkmaster via one of the craziest kneebars you’ll ever see, and in the other you have TUF winner Perez, who’s racked up a couple of notable wins, most recently defeating Eddie Vineland last year. Stamann is a great wrestler, a blue belt in BJJ but he also possesses some heavy hands and great athleticism, he done brilliantly against Caraway, a great wrestler in his own right, showing great takedown defence and lightening quick strikes and a high work rate without slowing down at all, it was a great performance against the much more experienced guy and it raised a few eyebrows. In the opposite corner you have Perez, he has a bit of everything, he’s a very well rounded fighter with submissions and knockouts in his locker, he doesn’t discriminate. We saw against Perez what he is capable of, Lopez pushed the paced in that fight, and was the favourite going in, however, Perez done a great job defending submissions, and ended up picking Lopez apart in the second round after some great knees in the clinch and sharp quick hands. This fight will be a high paced back and forth battle and it’s a tough one for me to call. Perez has shown the ability to get out of tough spots before, but I think Stamann takes via decision, pressuring Perez and using his wrestling base to keep Perez at bay.
The third fight of the prelims is a man that needs no introduction at the moment due to the crazy amount of exposure he’s been getting, Johnny Walker. On late notice he steps in to face Misha Cirkunov in an interesting fight for a few reasons, the first being Walker hasn’t faced anyone nearly as good as Misha yet, so far he has displayed fantastic stand up skills to dispose of Khalil Rountree and Justin Ledet , both being highlight reel finishes in the first round, more notably finishing Ledet in just 15 seconds just a few weeks back. Will we see his normal flashy, exciting striking game or will he be more patient and safe with the way he plays this one if my first question, the second is how is his submission defence, and takedown defence going to hold up against Cirkunov? Misha is well equipped when it comes to making guys tap. The majority of his wins come by way of submission, and with Walkers stand up skills it’s almost guaranteed that Misha will look to get this fight to the ground. However, Misha needs to get him there first, and his chin has failed the test against Oezdemir, and Glover’s ground and pound had him face down covering up for his dear life, so if Walker can test that chin early, I don’t see Cirkunov passing with flying colours, to say the least. Tough one to call due to the step up in competition for Walker but I think he gets it done via KO in round two, most likely coming from his patented worm. I can’t see this being the quick KO that we’ve gotten used to with him with, but he will find a way eventually.
The main event of the prelims see’s Jeremy Stephens up against some random Dagestani that I’ve never heard of, I mean he looks okay, and does this random place ever produce decent fighters? Just kidding, Stephens is up against one of, if not the hottest prospect the UFC has to offer right now in Zabit Magomedsharipov, and yes, I had to copy and paste that surname. He seemly has it all, amazing stand up game, flashy spin attacks, amazing timing, speed, footwork, angles, I could go on. Then you get to his ground game and it’s just as impressive, he takes his opponents down at will via brute strength or some slick trips that we’ve seen, and the submissions that we’ve seen he is capable of are out of this world. His last outing might be the most impressive submission, ever, rolling into a modified kneebar which he made look as easy as a jab, he’s very quickly proving he has every tool in the book at his fingertips. However, like Walker, he is facing a huge step up in competition, Stephens is a huge threat to just about anyone, he has dynamite hands, and as Jim Ross would say, he’s tougher than a $2 steak. This is a man that will not go down without a fight, and if you make one mistake against him, you will be waking up wondering what happened. Time and time again Stephens comes out on top against guys considered up and coming, or better than him, and they think Stephens is just a stepping stone. Wrong. He is as legit as they come, he’s never quite hit the heights of champion material but he’s come extremely close, many times. The absolute top bracket featherweights are the only ones that prove too much for him. If he can use his leg kicks to slow Zabit down and land one of his big right hands, Zabit could find himself in trouble. Now, this fight I honestly cannot call, so I’m going 50/50 here. I’m not betting on it myself, as I can’t call it, Stephens has a habit of ruining peoples momentum as they climb the division, but Zabit is not your ordinary up and comer. However, I am choosing this as the potential fight of the night, this is going to be fireworks from the very start, to the very finish.
The main card kicks off with TJ Dillashaw’s punching bag Cody Garbrandt facing up against Pedro Munhoz. I’m a big fan of Cody, well, he just handled the TJ drama in such an awful way it’s nice to poke fun. He got involved with beef that really had nothing to do with him, it was Faber’s problem, which Cody involved himself in, he got so overemotional he couldn’t focus right, in both TJ fights he done well until he rocked TJ, he was too impatient and too concerned with teaching TJ a lesson, compare that to the patient slick Cody we saw against Cruz, they’re two completely different people. In reality, Cody is a great fighter, his hands are top level, the power and speed he possesses in quite frankly petrifying, great tattoos, he has great wrestling as well, but primarily he’s a knockout artist, and a seriously good one at that. His movement in incredible, well, was incredible, although not so much in the TJ fights, and I think this fight for him is all about getting back to what he’s really about, the old Cody, the one that made Cruz look like a child, and not the over emotional ‘TJ is my arch nemesis’ version of Cody that saw him get embarrassed twice. This is make or break for him, a loss to Munhoz makes his rise to the top and his victory over Cruz look like it happened in another dimension, and it would be a long road back to the top. Munhoz is no joke either, he’s never been finished, two of his three losses have been split decisions and he’s only lost to top level fighters in Rivera, Assuncao and Dodson. Munhoz is a submission expert and has one of the best guillotines that would make a French revolutionary blush. To suggest this is a walk in the park for Cody would be crazy. For me, it all depend on what version of Cody we see, if we see him fight like he did against TJ he’s going to rock Munhoz and get caught in a choke from being over excited, if he takes his time I see him finishing Munhoz. I think we see the better version of Cody, the patient, tactical Cody get the KO victory.
The only womens fight on the main card see’s up and coming Weili Zhang take on top 10 strawweight Teica Torres in a fight that’s flown under many people’s radar. Torres has been in there with the best of the best, she’s had less fights than Zhang but she’s had far better experience in terms of level of opposition, she’s on a two fight losing skid right now but hasn’t necessarily looked bad. She really is good everywhere, there’s nowhere you can take the fight that she will look completely out of her depth, black belt in karate, taekwondo and BJJ, she’s a threat to anyone. Zhang is 2-0 in the UFC and looks great, not to mention her record pre-UFC, she’s knocked out more women than a prime Bill Cosby. Her last bout, finishing Jessica Aguilar in round one with a lovely armbar which came after some vicious ground and pound elbows, it was a dominant, hard to watch fight, Aguilar was left a bloody mess and Zhang looked relentless. Before the UFC Zhang dominated Asia, winning all but her first ever bout, and more impressive, finishing all but one of her 16 wins in Asia. Torres is clearly the hardest test to date, but Zhang has passed every test so far with flying colours, and for me I think we see her get the win again against Torres. Zhang is oozing confidence at the moment, and from what I’ve seen, she’s on her way to the very top, Torres is one tough cookie though and I don’t see her being finished, I think Torres will have her moments but ultimately lose via unanimous decision.
Robbie Lawler. What can I even say about this man that isn’t already known by the whole of the MMA world. He’s a machine. An in form Lawler is potentially the scariest man in the world. He destroyed people for fun not so long ago. He’s been there, done it, and knocked it out. His wars over the years with the likes of Nick Diaz, Rory Macdonald, Carlos Condit have gone down in history as some of the most brutal wars we’ve ever seen. The question is, is he slowing down? After losing the belt he beat Cerrone in a close fight but then lost to Dos Anjos and lost bad. Not in the sense that he got pulverised, I mean, he lost bad, but the injuries he sustained were not pretty, tearing his ACL and meniscus, he’s had over a year out to recover and regroup, was this a temporary blip? Has he even fallen off at all and that loss was in part due to the injury mid fight, or is this the start of the end for Lawler? We do not know, and we won’t until he gets in there with Askren. His takedown defence is great, but, he’s not facing your average wrestler. Askren is potentially, well, was, before now, the biggest MMA star not competing in the UFC. He’s picked up multiple gold medals across the globe in freestyle wrestling, he’s a NCAA division one wrestler, a black belt in BJJ and 18-0 in MMA. He was Bellators welterweight champion, winning it and then defending it four times, before going to One championship, where he won the welterweight belt, and successfully defending that all the way until he joined the UFC. In short, he’s done all that is possible outside of the UFC. He’s incredible, but he’s never faced ANYONE quite like Lawler. For me, it’s all about Lawler’s ability to keep the fight on the feet. If he does that, Askren has never been hit like Lawler plans to hit him, that raw power would hit like a train. But that’s a big if, IF he keeps the fight standing. If he doesn’t, then it’s yet another wrestling masterclass from Askren which I’m sure will put him fight in the mix of the top five welterweights in the UFC. For me though, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say we see vintage Robbie go out there and snooze Askren. It’s tough to call, but I think Robbie still has more to give, he’s taken his time to heal up, and get prepared to go again, and Askren seems more distracted by Usman than that task at hand, which is potentially the hardest fight he’s ever had. I have Robbie knocking Askren out in round one, catching Askren as her shoots in for a takedown.
Co-main event time. To be honest, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, because there isn’t too much to say about it. Tyrone Woodley destroys Usman in pretty much any way he chooses to. Usman has beaten some good names, most recently Rafael Dos Anjos, and he done it convincingly, but I’m not even going to waste my time going through where and how he can beat Woodley, because quite frankly. He can’t, and he won’t. Woodley is a better literally everywhere, and when I say better, I mean far, far better, and Usman will realise just how much better he is when he wakes up in the middle of the octagon with an imprint of Woodley’s right hand forever etched into his skull. Not only is Woodley one of the greatest rappers of all time, he’s one of the best welterweight’s we’ve ever seen. Goodnight Usman.
The big one, the HUGE one, the main event, Jon ‘Microdose’ Jones takes on Anthony Smith. Now, I’m not going to get into the fact that Jones is a cheating asshole, we’ve all heard it too much and if I hear the word pictogram one more time I am going to implode. He cheats, he’s cheated for a very long, and that won’t change. Moving on, he’s an incredible fighter, he’s up there with the best of all time. He’s great everywhere, and he looks impossible to beat. He’s beaten the best of the best, and the move to heavyweight is surely inevitable. However, if there’s one man, or more specially one fighting style that can beat Jones, is Anthony Smiths, he has incredible striking, his Muay Thai is excellent, his hand speed and power is incredible , and he’s no slouch on the ground either, the black belt in BJJ has a very extensive skill set, and you know what, I think he gets it done. Yeah yeah I can already hear your collective sighs, and I know it’s a long shot, but if anyone can beat Jones it’s someone who isn’t afraid to make it ugly. Brawl it out and see who lands first. Jones hasn’t had that since his first fight with Gus, all his opponents have been too tentative, and give Jones more than enough time to decide what he’s going to do. Anthony won’t do that. He’ll get in his face, push the pace and not give Jones the time and space he’s used to getting. I think Smith is already looking good going in to this, he’s impressed me by the way he’s spoken of this upcoming bout, he’s not scared, he hasn’t lost the mental warfare and he genuinely believes in his heart that he is ready for this. Smith has nothing to lose, a loss to Jones is by no means a blemish on his career, he’s in the best position he could be in, nothing to lose, everything to gain, he can go and leave everything out there, and maybe, just MAYBE, he can get it done.