The UFC gets its 2019 underway on Jan. 19 with a champion vs. champion main event live from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Flyweight king Henry Cejudo defends his title against bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, looking to become the fourth simultaneous two-division beltholder in UFC history. This isn’t a pay-per-view, but rather the debut of the promotion’s broadcast deal with ESPN and the ESPN+ streaming service (which shows the main card).
We do not know what the future holds for men’s flyweight, so this could possibly be the final title fight we see in the weight class. If that’s the case, it’s certainly very compelling, and a hard one to predict. Before all the action kicks off on Saturday, let’s take a brief look at some of the night’s competitors who could get the new year started with high scores for your DraftKings teams.
T.J. Dillashaw ($8,900) vs. Henry Cejudo ($7,300)
Cejudo shocked the MMA world with an (admittedly controversial) upset split decision over Demetrious Johnson, who’d been the division’s only UFC champion up until UFC 227. The Olympic wrestling gold medalist has undoubtedly improved leaps and bounds from when he was stopped by Johnson in 2016. Dillashaw memorably recaptured the title in the 135-pound weight class when he KO’d former teammate turned rival Cody Garbrandt at UFC 217, and then stopped him again in the rematch shortly after Cejudo beat DJ. This is Dillashaw’s first appearance at 125 lbs, a major difference from other champ-champ matchups.
It doesn’t get much more high-level than this. Two elite wrestlers who are both great strikers. Cejudo has the speed edge, whereas Dillashaw is much higher volume and more powerful. The true unknown is how Dillashaw’s chin and cardio will hold up at 125. If we were to compare just their skillsets, I believe Dillashaw has the advantage here, particularly in heavy striking exchanges in the pocket, and will become a two-division champion by starting fast and winning a high-paced decision over Cejudo.
Number of Note: 129. Dillashaw has had four fights go into the championship rounds, meaning rounds four and/or five. In those bouts, he went 3-1 and landed an average of 129 significant strikes.
Gregor Gillespie ($9,400) vs. Yancy Medeiros ($6,800)
New York’s Gillespie is one of the rising stars to watch in 2019. He stands a perfect 12-0 in his professional MMA career, including 5-0 in the UFC. His most recent fight saw him choke out Vinc Pichel at UFC Utica in June 2018 after dominating him on the ground. Medeiros is a former light heavyweight (!) who’s returning to lightweight after a TKO loss to Donald Cerrone back in February 2018, snapping a three-fight win streak along the way. The Hawaiian is always entertaining to watch, memorably rallying to stop Alex Oliveira at UFC 218 in 2017.
Gillespie is a big favorite and for good reason. He’s a former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler who has shown himself to be a great wrestler and grappler in MMA, and he showed his KO power when he wiped out Andrew Holbrook. Medeiros will have the size advantage and is very much a powerful threat on the feet, as well as capable on the ground, but he’s not good defensively and is historically a slow starter. Expect Gillespie to take control early and dominate on his way to another finish.
Number of Note: 83. Gillespie has won 10 of his 12 fights by stoppage (approximately 83 percent). Medeiros has been finished in 4 of his 5 defeats.
Glover Teixeira ($8,300) vs. Karl Roberson ($7,900)
A former title challenger, Brazilian veteran Glover Teixeira has alternated losses and wins over his last five fights. The 39-year-old is coming off a decision loss to fellow contender Corey Anderson back in July 2018. His most recent win was a December 2017 TKO of Misha Cirkunov. Roberson is replacing the injured Ion Cutelaba on a week’s notice, and he usually fights at middleweight. The former kickboxer impressed in his previous outing, winning a decision against Jack Marshman at UFC 230. His overall record is 7-1, with that one blemish coming against Cezar Ferreira.
Short notice fights can be tricky to call. Teixeira is past his prime and Roberson has the striking and power to pull off the win. However, Teixeira is also dangerous if he takes you down and gets top control, and as the Ferreira fight showed, Roberson’s grappling game has a lot of flaws, and I believe Teixeira will look to exploit that. Had Cutelaba stayed on the card, I’d have gone with Ion, but now I back Teixeira to stop Roberson.
Number of Note: 8. Eight of Teixeira’s 10 career UFC wins have been inside the distance, including three by submission, most notably against Ovince Saint Preux.
Donald Cerrone ($7,600) vs. Alexander Hernandez ($8,600)
One of the surprise newcomers of 2018 was Alex Hernandez, who starched Beneil Dariush on very short notice at UFC 222. A few months later, Hernandez was able to outwork the talented Olivier Aubin-Mercier for the grueling decision win. He’ll be welcoming back ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone to 155 lbs after three years and 10 fights at welterweight. Cerrone enters this matchup on the back of an armbar win versus the heavy-handed Mike Perry at UFC Denver, much to the delight of the local fans. You have to go back to December 2015 for Cerrone’s last lightweight appearance, in which he came up short vs. then-champion Rafael dos Anjos in his lone UFC title shot.
This is a true crossroads matchup. Hernandez is on the rise while Cerrone is hoping for one more run at the belt. Cerrone is undoubtedly the crisper, more technical striker with a crafty submission game. Hernandez is quick, has knockout power, strong wrestling capabilities, and impressive cardio. I actually lean towards Cerrone due to his underrated takedown defense, aggressive bottom game, and ability to potentially punish Hernandez’s aggression with counters and smooth combinations. As with all Cerrone fights, you won’t want to miss this one.
Number of Note: 7. Cerrone’s last seven wins, which stretches back to 2015, have come courtesy of a knockout or submission.
Geoff Neal ($8,500) vs. Belal Muhammad ($7,700)
Neal was signed off of Dana White’s Contender Series, and thus far he’s been sensational. The Texan submitted Brian Camozzi in his first UFC fight, then sensationally knocked out Frank Camacho at UFC 228. Up next is another step up in competition in the form of Belal Muhammad, who’s on a four-fight winning streak, including a split decision over veteran Tim Means and a unanimous nod against Jordan Mein.
This could be Fight of the Night. Muhammad isn’t much of a finisher but he sets a fast pace and is well-rounded. Neal is the better athlete whose striking looked outstanding against Camacho, and he was remarkably composed even against a slugger like Frank. Muhammad is way better defensively than Camacho, but he is hittable, so he may look to test Neal’s takedown defense. I see Neal keeping Muhammad at bay with his reach advantage and winning this one predominantly on the feet.
Number of Note: 4. In Muhammad’s two UFC losses, he was knocked down a combined four times. Alan Jouban dropped him three times in his debut, and Vicente Luque knocked him out cold.
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