The UFC is back in Chicago on June 8 for what is an absolutely stacked pay-per-view card. In the UFC 238 main event, men’s flyweight champion Henry Cejudo moves up to bantamweight to challenge Marlon Moraes for the title previously held by T.J. Dillashaw, whose drug test failure for his flyweight title loss to Cejudo saw him stripped of the belt earlier this year. In the co-main event, women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko defends her title against Jessica Eye. Oh yes, and did I mention Donald Cerrone is fighting Tony Ferguson? Because that’s happening.
This is a show you definitely will want to tune in from the opening prelim. There are fantastic fights from top to bottom, and it should be a tremendous Saturday in the Windy City. As we approach fight night, let’s take a brief look at some of the fighters on UFC 238 who could turn in some terrific winning scores for your DraftKings teams.
Marlon Moraes ($8,300) vs. Henry Cejudo ($7,900)
Moraes is a former World Series of Fighting champion who undeniably has shown himself to be a top-flight bantamweight. After a disappointing split decision loss to Raphael Assuncao and a rather uninspiring win over John Dodson, Moraes has reeled off three consecutive highlight-reel finishes. He knocked out Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera in a combined 100 seconds, and most recently avenged the Assuncao loss with a first-round submission. On the other side, Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo is seeking to become a “champ-champ.” Already the flyweight king after a stunning upset win over Demetrious Johnson last August, Cejudo defended his title with a 32-second TKO of T.J. Dillashaw. This is Cejudo’s first fight at bantamweight since 2014, but over the past five years he’s grown into one of the best pound-for-pound talents in the sport.
This is a high-quality matchup that could go either way. Cejudo has prolific wrestling credentials, lightning-quick hands, knockout power and superb athleticism. Moraes has terrific finishing skills with both his striking and submissions. He has devastating leg kicks that could hamper Cejudo’s movement. There are also question marks concerning whether Cejudo’s takedowns and physical strength will translate in a bigger division. I think it’s more likely Moraes’ timing and power troubles Cejudo and leads to a stoppage, as opposed to Cejudo stopping Moraes or grinding out a win. The Brazilian will get bantamweight gold Saturday.
Number of Note: 10. Moraes has fought 15 times at bantamweight and recorded knockout or submission victories in 10 of them, including his trio of first-round finishes that led to him getting a title shot.
Valentina Shevchenko ($9,600) vs. Jessica Eye ($6,600)
Shevchenko was a top contender at 135 pounds, having unsuccessfully challenged for the title when she fought Amanda Nunes. She dropped down to 125 pounds last year, smashing Priscila Cachoeira to set up a title shot vs. then-champ Nicco Montano. When that fight got cancelled (and Montano stripped of the belt), Shevchenko instead took on ex-strawweight queen and Muay Thai rival Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant belt at UFC 231, outclassing Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision. Her first defense will be against massive underdog Jessica Eye, who has had her ups and downs throughout her UFC career but is unbeaten since returning to 125. She has gotten the nod on the scorecards against Kalindra Faria, Jessica-Rose Clark and most recently Katlyn Chookagian.
The lopsided odds and the $9,600 price-tag for Shevchenko are self-explanatory. It is extremely hard to see how Eye can pull off the upset. If her takedown defense is not on point, it’ll be a struggle. Shevchenko is a low-volume striker but is clearly more accurate and sharp when she does land. She is strong in the clinch and can dominate from top position. Eye has improved, but she’ll be running into a buzzsaw here. Expect a dominant win for Shevchenko, whether it’s a one-sided decision or an eventual stoppage.
Number of Note: 47. Known more for her striking, Shevchenko has a takedown success rate of about 47% (17/36) in her UFC career. Eye’s takedown defense is a more-than-formidable 60%, although she’s not had to deal with takedown attempts in two of her three flyweight bouts during this win streak.
Tony Ferguson ($8,600) vs. Donald Cerrone ($7,600)
“Cowboy” isn’t riding off into the sunset just yet. In fact, he might be better than ever. Cerrone has won three straight, with his past two coming back down at lightweight. He was outstanding in his second-round TKO of Alexander Hernandez, and in last month’s UFC Ottawa main event he outclassed Al Iaquinta in a five-round decision. A winner of 11 consecutive bouts, Ferguson is back in action after well-documented personal issues sidelined him over the past several months. “El Cucuy” prevailed in a thrilling war with Anthony Pettis at UFC 229, adding to a résumé that includes Rafael dos Anjos, Kevin Lee (for the interim LW title) and Edson Barboza.
The fans are the real winners, as there’s no way this fight will disappoint. Ferguson’s style is controlled chaos that is both key to his success and also leads to dangerous moments for him. Cerrone can whack Ferguson and end proceedings early, however, ability to break opponents down with his pressure is a known weakness for Cerrone. If it goes to the ground, watch out for Ferguson’s d’arce choke, even against a seriously underrated grappler in Donald. I see this being a back-and-forth thriller before Ferguson takes over in the second half of the contest and wins by TKO. This really is “The People’s Main Event.”
Number of Note: 8. Ferguson’s 11-fight winning streak includes eight victories inside the distance. Cerrone has been stopped in five of his 11 losses.
Petr Yan ($9,300) vs. Jimmie Rivera ($6,900)
One of the sensations in the exciting 135-pound class is Russia’s Petr Yan. The former ACB champion is 4-0 in the UFC, with his most recent bout ending in an impressive decision against veteran John Dodson. His crisp, creative and powerful striking quickly has turned him into a fan favorite, and he’s very much in title contention. Rivera was on the road to a title shot entering 2018, but a KO loss to Marlon Moraes set him back. “El Terror” bounced back with a decision win over John Dodson, but a lackluster display vs. Aljamain Sterling led to another defeat.
I’m of the belief Yan is the deal deal. He is a terrific athlete with great depth to his striking, and his creativity might very well flummox Rivera, who might be quick and more powerful than his lack of finishes suggest, but he can be inconsistent with his output. Rivera might be best served throwing plenty of leg kicks and pursuing takedowns, but he’s in trouble if he concedes to Yan’s pressuring style. I think Yan gets the victory and will look to make a major statement to the rest of the other contenders at bantamweight.
Number of Note: 154. Yan has outlanded his four UFC opponents in significant strikes 281-127, a difference of 154.
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