Israel Adesanya

The UFC has a doubleheader of championship fights coming to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. on March 7. In the UFC 248 main event, middleweight king Israel Adesanya defends his title for the first time against the always dangerous Yoel Romero, while strawweight champion Weili Zhang looks for her own first successful title defense against former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

While this card does not have a lot of matchups between ranked fighters, there are a lot of intriguing prospects and entertaining bouts on paper that make this one of the better UFC events of 2020. Before we get to fight night, let’s have a look at some of the fighters who could get your March started with big scores for your DraftKings team(s).


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Israel Adesanya ($9,200) vs. Yoel Romero ($7,000) – Middleweights

Adesanya has the makings of a superstar. His incredible striking prowess has yet to be solved by anyone in MMA, and as he’s demonstrated throughout his run towards the top of the UFC, he has exemplary takedown defense and is an improving grappler. After a thrilling decision win over Kelvin Gastelum to win the interim title, “The Last Stylebender” captured undisputed UFC gold with a thorough dismantling and KO of Robert Whittaker. Romero is entering this title fight on a two-fight losing streak, albeit two narrow defeats against Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa (who would’ve likely fought Adesanya next if not for injury). What cannot be denied is Yoel’s insane athleticism and crushing knockout power, which has felled the likes of Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman, and Lyoto Machida over the years.

It’s hard not to be excited about this contest. Adesanya’s understanding of range and timing is special, and he can fight off the counter and pressure effectively. Romero is of course not just a striker, but an Olympic silver medal winner in freestyle wrestling. He is often willing to engage in a stand-up war, which may be ill-advised against Adesanya. You can never count Romero out just based on his track record, but whether it’s a finish or decision, I believe Adesanya remains the champion.

Number of Note: 10. In seven UFC appearances, Adesanya has scored 10 knockdowns, with six of them coming in his wins over Gastelum and Whittaker.


 

Weili Zhang ($8,900) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk ($7,300) – Strawweights

Zhang made history as China’s first UFC champion courtesy of a shockingly quick 42-second KO of Jessica Andrade in front of her home fans in Shenzhen. The 30-year-old lost her pro MMA debut back in 2013, but has rattled off 20 straight wins since then, besting Tecia Torres and Jessica Aguilar along the way. Looking to regain the title she lost three years ago is Poland’s Jedrzejczyk, who’s the most dominant champ in the division’s short UFC history. After consecutive losses to Rose Namajunas, Jedrzejczyk rebounded with a win over Tecia Torres, then had an unsuccessful attempt at winning the flyweight title against Valentina Shevchenko. Joanna earned this title shot with a dominant display vs. Michelle Waterson.

The two fighters who have bested Joanna have done so by showcasing powerful striking and imposing their physical strength on her. Zhang has knockout power and we know she’s strong, but is she strong enough to bully the former champ? If she is, then Joanna is in trouble. If not, while Zhang could get the KO, Joanna has the elite kickboxing, clinch game, and volume to outpoint Zhang. Cardio will also be something to watch, as Joanna is experienced in five-rounders and Zhang has never fought past the third. It’s not an easy call but I think Zhang is the real deal and she’ll keep her title with a strong start and holding off a late charge from Joanna in the championship rounds.

Number of Note: 180. Jedrzejczyk landed a whopping 180 significant strikes in her five-round win over Waterson. Zhang has yet to absorb more than 30 significant strikes in a UFC fight.


 

Li Jingliang ($8,600) vs. Neil Magny ($7,600) – Welterweights

“The Leech” is an action fighter who’s looked outstanding since a decision defeat to Jake Matthews in 2018. Jingliang earned Performance of the Night honors in his knockout wins over David Zawada and Elizeu Zaleski, and he’s won seven of his last eight bouts in total. Magny hasn’t competed since a wipeout KO loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio in September 2018. At his best, he’s notched wins over Johny Hendricks, Kelvin Gastelum, and Hector Lombard.

Magny’s long layoff (due to a prolonged USADA case and subsequently reduced suspension) is a major concern, as is his questionable striking defense. He’s at his best when he wrestles effectively and gets into the clinch, but Li is quite strong and can counter Magny’s aggression with his heavy leg kicks. Add in the fact that Li is more durable, and I see him breaking Magny down and getting a late stoppage.

Number of Note: 6. Of Magny’s seven career losses, he has been stopped in six of them, including two by knockout to Lorenz Larkin and Santiago Ponzinibbio.


 

Rodolfo Vieira ($9,300) vs. Saparbeg Safarov ($6,900) – Middleweights

Vieira is a four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Champion and won an ADCC gold medal in 2015. In other words, he’s a truly special grappler. As an MMA fighter, he’s 6-0 and is coming off a successful UFC debut against Oskar Piechota, whom he submitted in two rounds. Safarov is coming down from light heavyweight after a 1-2 start to his UFC career. The Russian notched his first UFC win by decision over Nicolae Negumereanu last March but hasn’t fought since then.

This should be a showcase for Vieira. Safarov is a very limited fighter whose UFC days may be over with another loss here. It’s virtually inevitable that Vieira will get Safarov to the mat, and he’s just leagues ahead of Safarov in that department. Expect a submission victory for the BJJ phenom.

Number of Note: 5. Five of Vieira’s six wins are by, you guessed it, submission. Safarov has a submission loss to Tyson Pedro on his record.


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