Saturday night’s UFC 209 card is an event to look forward to. If the welterweight title rematch between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson isn’t enough to light your MMA fire, then perhaps seeing “Judo” Daniel Kelly and “Suga” Rashad Evans in a middleweight showdown is more your style. And if those two matches haven’t done the trick, the lightweight interim title bout between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov is just the thing to get your excitement fibers all tingly.
Along with those great contests, there are plenty of other fights that will allow some fresh up-and-comers to dazzle and delight. Rising prospect names like Amanda Cooper, Paul Craig and Lando Vannata are also peppered throughout the bout sheet. It looks to be a great card with the capacity to provide plenty of fireworks for fans around the globe.
At this point, you should be convinced that UFC 209 is a “Must See” event. But before Saturday rolls around, we’re going to dive right into our underdog predictions. As is my modus operandi, I’ve selected four fighters that I believe hold the most potential for upsetting the favorites. Let’s get started.
Tyson Pedro $8,200 / Paul Craig $8,000
In the light heavyweight division, youthful talent is in short supply. These two have already shown the sparks of development, and hopefully will grow into the next big thing for the division. However, on Saturday night, only one can win.
At 25 years of age, Pedro has an abundance of physical gifts, but is still quite green. He’s a more than competent grappler, as evidenced by his near effortless win over Khalil Rountree. His standup, on the other hand, needs lots of work, and is a glaring weakness in his skillset.
Paul Craig, a native Scotsman, is very aggressive on the ground, and is effective from both the top and the bottom. He has a super dangerous guard (ask Henrique da Silva about that), and is phenomenal in scrambles. His long, lanky limbs are built for ground work and should make the difference in this fight.
Paul Craig vis SUB
Rashad Evans $9,000 / Daniel Kelly $7,200
Rashad Evans should have made this move down to middleweight years ago. He found plenty of success at light heavyweight; however, the rapid evolution of the sport’s athletes progressed at an insane pace — all while Evans was on the shelf with injuries.
Seeing Glover Teixeira destroy him inside one round was all I needed to see to know that Rashad’s time at the top of the game is running out. His speed is diminished, his punches don’t seem to find their mark as frequently and they have much less pop then the Evans of 6-7 years ago. He’s not done, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think he’s becoming shopworn.
Aussie fan favorite Daniel Kelly is hardly a spring chicken at 39, but he’s having a great career inside the Octagon, going 5-1 in his UFC appearances so far. He’s got a great ground game (obviously) with five submissions to show for it, but also has more than serviceable standup with plenty of snap-crackle-and-pop on his punches. Kelly is also pretty durable and can take a punch. He’ll be at a five-inch disadvantage in reach, but he likes to fight in a phone booth and presses the action anyway, so I don’t see it as a significant problem here.
While I don’t see a finish on either side, I do think that Kelly’s momentum and straight grit will be the key factor in this fight.
Daniel Kelly via DEC
UPDATE: The Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson fight has been CANCELLED.
Khabib Nurmagomedov $8,900 / Tony Ferguson $7,300
Khabib is a sambo-wrestler that has a knack for powering his opponents to the ground and beating the daylights out of them. Sidelined by injury for more than two years, the Dagestani destroyer sprang back to action last year as if he’d never been gone against an unknown Darrell Horcher, stopping him easily in the second round via TKO. He then went on to trounce Michael Johnson in merciless fashion, leaving fans to wonder if “The Eagle” was still training with bears.
There is one particular thing to note in that fight with Johnson, though. Khabib got blasted a few times, showing that he is, indeed, human. Against an opportunist like Tony Ferguson, who has the momentum of a nine-fight win streak behind him and a pretty exceptional ground game of his own, there is plenty of opportunity for Nurmagomedov to taste his first defeat.
Ferguson’s six-inch reach advantage should keep Khabib’s takedown attempts at bay, provided he fights from the outside, which he’s no doubt gameplanning for. If the fight hits the mat, Tony is an excellent scrambler and a very sneaky submission artist. The key in this fight will be Ferguson’s ability to adapt to whatever situation he finds himself in (see Lando Vannata fight) and making the most of it.
Tony Ferguson via DEC
Stephen Thompson $8,400 / Tyron Woodley $7,800
Stephen Thompson looked incredible in the first fight with Woodley, but he still showed his most glaring flaw, his wrestling defense. His incredible striking and sensational kicking game is absolutely to be commended, but he started telegraphing his kicks almost from the start, and Woodley was able to time him coming in, scoring a big takedown (R1) where he was able to get in some good ground-and-pound.
Woodley’s dominant rounds in the first fight saw much more damage than Thompson’s did; however, Wonderboy’s volume was greater. Stephen also demonstrated great resilience, surviving a couple onslaughts from “The Chosen One,” then inflicting some of his own destruction.
The combination of Woodley’s successful timing of Thompson’s kicks, his insane power and speed and his wrestling is really all he needs to win. Hopefully, those factors come together seamlessly to that end result.
Tyron Woodley via (T)KO
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is crooklyn949) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.