UFC 209 goes down this Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and it’s a stacked card on paper featuring two title fights as well as a number of other big names in an event that promises to be entertaining for the fans.
Here are the top-five things to watch for during this weekend’s pay-per-view event.
1) Woodley vs. Thompson Rematch
The main event of UFC 209 is a rematch between UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley ($7,800) and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson ($8,400). These two previously met at UFC 205, with the fight being declared a majority draw after five rounds of back-and-forth action, and this rematch should be just as exciting. Woodley is 34-years-old, and he’s 6-2-1 in the UFC with his most high-profile victory being a KO win over Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 to win the welterweight belt. Woodley is a talented wrestler with vicious knockout power and has proven himself to be durable, having only been stopped once in 20 MMA fights.
As for Thompson, he’s also 34 and is 8-1-1 overall in the UFC with his most-notable win being a KO over Johny Hendricks. “Wonderboy” is known for his unorthodox, dynamic striking and in recent years he’s improved his grappling as well, turning himself into an elite welterweight. These two men proved at UFC 205 they match up very well against one another, and this rematch should be fantastic.
Analysis: The first fight between Woodley and Thompson was about as close as you can get, and the rematch is tough to pick. Ultimately, I lean towards “Wonderboy.” Based on their performances in the first fight, I feel like “Wonderboy” has more room for improvements, and as long as he can avoid that big shot from Woodley he should be able to outpoint him and win a decision and the welterweight title.
UPDATE: The Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson fight has been CANCELLED.
2) Nurmagomedov Fights Ferguson
Undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov ($8,900) fights Tony Ferguson ($7,300) in the co-main event of UFC 209 with the interim UFC lightweight title on the line. Nurmagomedov is 28-years old and is a perfect 24-0 in his MMA career, including a pristine 8-0 mark in the UFC. He’s also finished his last two fights, including an impressive submission win over Michael Johnson at UFC 205. Nurmagomedov has one of the most smothering ground games in the entire sport, and it has been his wrestling that has allowed him to go undefeated and make it all the way to the top of the division.
As for Ferguson, he is 33 and is 12-1 overall in the UFC, and he’s currently riding a nine-fight win streak. Ferguson is a former Ultimate Fighter winner and he’s shown an incredibly well-rounded game in the UFC, as he has powerful, dynamic striking, a slick submission game, and underrated wrestling. He’s also a finisher, having knocked out or submitted eight opponents in the Octagon. These are two of the best fighters in the UFC and this fight should be a real treat for MMA fans.
Analysis: This is another tough fight to predict, but ultimately I believe Nurmagomedov will emerge victorious. His wrestling has been unstoppable in the UFC to this point and although Ferguson is excellent on the ground with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Nurmagomedov is too smart and too strong on the mat to get caught in a submission. In what should be an action-packed fight, I’m looking for Nurmagomedov to lean on his wrestling to win a close decision and take home the interim lightweight belt.
3) Evans Makes Middleweight Debut
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans ($9,000) will make his long-awaited middleweight debut when he takes on the surging Daniel Kelly ($7,200). Evans is 14-5-1 overall in the UFC and will be a Hall of Famer one day, but he is 37-years old now and has only fought twice since 2013, most recently losing via KO to Glover Teixeira. Evans is a talented wrestler with knockout power, but he has many question marks surrounding him at this point in his career.
As for Kelly, he’s 39-years old, but with 5-1 overall record in the UFC he’s been a nice surprise. Kelly is a former Olympic competitor in judo and has a solid grappling base but it’s been his toughness that has allowed him to win so many fights as an underdog in the UFC.
Analysis: Evans is obviously the more accomplished mixed martial artist, but he is making his middleweight debut, has had numerous injuries in the last few years and hasn’t fought in nearly a year since his KO loss to Teixeira – all red flags. Quite frankly, it’s just hard to pick Evans at this point of his career. As for Kelly, he’s proven he can play the role of spoiler and has a good chance to yet again. With so many question marks surrounding Evans, I’ll fade him in this spot and take Kelly for the upset.
4) Surging Vannata Returns
A battle of lightweights looking to make a name in the UFC sees Lando Vannata ($9,300) take on David Teymur ($6,900). Vannata is just 24 and already has taken the UFC by storm, first giving Tony Ferguson a competitive fight on short notice and then knocking out John Makdessi with a spinning wheel kick at UFC 206. He is an ultra-aggressive striker and looks like he could be a future lightweight champion.
As for Teymur, he is just 27 and has already gone 2-0 in the UFC with two knockouts. With his powerful striking, he looks like a solid prospect at 155lbs, but he has been fighting bottom-tier fighters, making it difficult to predict how he will do when he steps up in competition against someone like Vannata.
Analysis: Teymur is a solid, underrated lightweight, but it’s just impossible for me to pick against Vannata after his outstanding performances against Ferguson and Makdessi. In what is likely going to be a standup battle, I’m looking for Vannata to get the better of Teymur and possibly score another highlight-reel KO.
5) Overeem Clashes With Hunt
A clash between heavyweights Alistair Overeem ($8,300) and Mark Hunt ($7,900) opens up the pay-per-view portion of UFC 209. Overeem is now 36, and he’s 6-4 in the UFC overall and is coming off a KO loss to Stipe Miocic in a heavyweight title fight at UFC 203. Overeem is extremely experienced, having over 50 MMA bouts, and has a well-rounded skillset with elite striking and an underrated grappling game. However, he has been knocked out 10 times, including four knockout losses in the UFC alone, and that’s a problem fighting in the heavyweight division.
As for Hunt, he’s 42 and is 7-4-1, 1 NC overall in the UFC and is coming off of a controversial No Contest against Brock Lesnar. Hunt is an extremely powerful striker, and he is known for his durability. However, at his advanced age his chin has started to go, and he’s historically had a weak ground game, making him rely on having a puncher’s chance at this point of his career.
Analysis: This is a tough fight to call. Overeem is the more versatile and well-rounded fighter, but he has a weak chin and Hunt is arguably the heaviest puncher in a division full of heavy-handed strikers. If this fight hits the floor, Overeem will likely win by submission, but if Hunt can keep it standing he’ll have a good chance at a KO. It’s a true 50/50 fight on paper, but with Overeem’s chin issues I slightly lean Hunt to get the win.
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