They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. As such, the UFC’s have gone all out to put on the best show possible for their first ever event in “The Big Apple”.
The newly reformed UFC team – no longer run by the Fertitta brothers but still led by the affable and abrasive Dana White – have arranged for three title fights, three more former world title holders and over half a dozen more of MMA’s most exciting fighters to be on what is arguably the best card in the history of the sport.
The event is possibly even more exciting than UFC 200, even with the cancellation of two great fights this week. Unfortunately for MMA fans Rashad Evans – perhaps the original MMA poster-boy – will not be fighting American military hero Tim Kennedy for medical reasons. Similarly, winner of TUF and up-and-coming contender Kelvin Gastelum was unable to get even close to the welterweight 170lb limit, meaning he was cut from his bout against the always enthralling and amazingly active Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
Nevertheless, this is still an unbelievable show of fights and there are many reasons to watch it, so read on for a preview and prediction of the best bouts.
Jim Miller (27-8) vs Thiago Alves (21-10)
Two veterans meet in a fight that is on so early it is only available online (via UFC Fight Pass). Regardless, all MMA hardcore fans will tell you this could easily be the most exciting fight of the night.
Both are past their prime but still looking to continue their careers in the UFC. Miller has just missed out on a title shot for seven years now but is still one of the most talented and toughest in the division. In 2009 Alves took on Georges St Pierre for the UFC welterweight title. To still be here now shows how good both actually are.
For this fight Alves dropped to lightweight in an attempt to prolong his career. Alves missed weight by 7lbs but will still face New Jersey’s Jim Miller, who is looking to further a two win streak to move towards a title shot.
Miller is so exciting he is always on the big UFC shows (e.g. UFC 100, UFC 200). He is a pressure fighter that likes to force opponents into a brawl and look to capitalise with jiu-jitsu. Alves is an ultra-powerful striker, capable of knocking anyone out with anything from a jumping knee to a left-hook. The two will be unable to do anything other than put on a really exciting fight.
Prediction: Alves is way too muscle-bound to have been able to make the lightweight limit. The attempt to even try will have done his war-torn body no good. Jim Miller will end up submitting him after an exciting round or two.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0) vs Michael Johnson (18-10)
From two fighters in the twilight of their careers to two in their primes, this is a great bout between two fighters in their primes.
Nurmagomedov, could be the best fighter in MMA today. He has amassed the kind of undefeated record rarely seen in the sport and has done it in flawless fashion. The Dagestani has just seemed too strong and skilled in wrestling for any of his opponents thus far, which includes former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos.
Michael Johnson on his day can beat anyone. With his mix of aggressive Muay Thai on top of a solid wrestling background, as an underdog he has already beaten top names like Edson Barboza and Tony Ferguson. He is also coming off the back of the best win of his career, with a brutal first round one punch knockout against Dustin Poirier.
Prediction: The fact that an impressive win will see cries for him to fight the winner of Mcgregor vs Alvarez will mean Khabib will go out to destroy Michael Johnson. Expect a comprehensive three round beating win for him.
Frankie Edgar (20-5) vs Jeremy Stephens (25-12)
The clip of Connor McGregor shouting “who the f*ck is that guy?” in response to a challenge from Jeremy Stephens at a UFC 205 press conference in September went viral around the world.
It was a hilariously blunt and condescending response, typical of the Irish champion. However, he knows who Stephens is and anyone interested in the UFC Featherweight title race does too. An ultra-aggressive fighter with the kind of one-punch knockout power that arguably only McGregor himself has at the weight, Stephens is a threat to anyone in the UFC’s featherweight division.
Taking him on is the veteran and long time face of New York MMA, former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. When he comes in to his traditional Biggie Smalls track (Kick in the door), the crowd will go crazy for this favourite. Edgar is one of the most skilled fighters in MMA, with excellent cardio, footwork, boxing and wrestling. He has been one of the very best in the sport for at least six years now.
The two clash looking to get themselves back in position to fight the likes of McGregor (if he ever fights at featherweight again).
Prediction: Edgar will be too skilled and after surviving some scary moments, he will come away with a decision win.
Chris Weidman (13-1) vs Yoel Romero (12-1)
Weidman is famous for being the man who destroyed Anderson Silva, by knocking him out to win the middleweight UFC title and then breaking Silva’s leg in the rematch by checking a kick.
From thereon, Weidman is only one poor performance (a loss to Luke Rockhold in which he says he was fighting ill) from looking like one of the very best in the world. The New Yorker destroyed the likes of Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort in defence of his title, showing brutal ground-and-pound and amazing toughness in doing so.
Yoel Romero is an Olympic games silver medallist in wrestling. His only loss came during his 6th fight, which was at light-heavyweight. Now 39 years old but still in very obviously top shape, the Cuban will know he needs this win to get a title shot in decent time. Since coming into the UFC Romero has won seven fights in a row and is guaranteed a title shot with a win here.
Both have a similar style of coming forward, firing off powerful strikes, and looking to implement their respected wrestling (Weidman being a collegiate All-American), making this a really intriguing and likely gruelling battle.
Prediction: Weidman seems to be able to take the better punch of the two and that will be the only difference in what is going to be a real war. Weidman by late stoppage for the win.
Straw-weight title fight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (12-0) vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-0)
Joanna Jedrzejcyzk is maybe the best female fighter in the world and also one of the best strikers in all of MMA.
Before the age of 30 the Polish has gone on from one of the most accomplished Muay Thai/Kickboxers ever to the best female straw-weight on earth. On top of being quick, accurate and vicious with it, she has an amazing output of strikes, as well as a superb ability to stay/get back on her feet during scrambles. This makes her a nightmare for any opponent.
Challenging her for the title is fellow Pole Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Similarly, her game is also based on a slick and consistent output of strikes, but more from the inside than from the outside, which is where Jedrzejcyzk is at her best. This will see the bout a real chess match that will be about who controls the distance better.
Prediction: Jedrzejcyzk will be driven close in what could turn out to be one of MMA’s great rivalry between two Pole’s ruling a division. On this occasion though it will be the more experienced fighter – Jedrzejcyzk – who handles the pressure better and comes away with the win.
Welterweight title fight: Tyrone Woodley (16-3) vsStephen Thompson (13-1)
Thompson is one of America’s best ever kick-boxers (going 57-0) and has adapted to MMA brilliantly. His style is something to behold, seeing him skipping around the ring, hands by his side, only stopping to fire off rapid punches or knockout kicks. After a slight adjustment period, “Wonder Boy” has adapted his unique style to MMA to devastating fashion.
Woodley on the other hand has kept plugging away towards title level in MMA, coming up short a few times before grabbing his opportunity in brutal fashion in his last fight, winning the UFC welterweight title by first round knockout against Robbie Lawler.
Woodley has the perfect tools needed to counter Thompson’s unique style. Woodley is an explosive athlete, a great wrestler and has an unbelievably powerful right-hand. With everything that is on the line in this fight – not only the title but also potentially huge fights against Georges St Pierre or even Connor McGregor – both will be putting it all on the line in what will be a tense and exciting fight.
Prediction: Expect the fight to be uneventful early on but explode into life eventually. At this point Thompson will find his range and pick Woodley off for a late round four TKO win.
Lightweight title fight: Eddie Alvarez (28-4) vs Connor McGregor (20-3)
McGregor has been presented with an opportunity for real MMA immortality. No one in UFC history has ever held two titles at the same time. The fact McGregor has gotten it without even defending his featherweight title tells us it is a chance the UFC has gifted him just to profit on the legend that is McGregor.
Alvarez on the other hand has had nothing gifted to him in the UFC. He made his debut against Donald Cerrone, which he lost. From there he has fought two former champions and then the champion (Rafael Dos Anjos) who was on his most fearsome form.
Alvarez has fought some of the best in the world before he even got to the UFC. During his career he has shown amazing toughness, great boxing and also fight intelligence. Even though his natural style is to get on the inside and basically brawl, Alvarez has shown that he knows when to use wrestling to grind out a win.
McGregor has cruised through an MMA career (with the occasional blip) as smoothly as he strikes. However, for all the spinning back kicks, faints and taunts, McGregor largely relies on the knockout power in his left hand to win fights. The problem for opponents is he is not at all predictable with how he throws it; whether it is a straight shot coming from the chest, an overhand, an uppercut or in any other fashion possible. He is also one of the sharpest strikers in MMA history.
Yet, McGregor has not fought anyone like Alvarez before. This is an opponent who has won fights with punches, kicks and wrestling. When McGregor comes to throw, Alvarez will fire three or four shots back at him. This is a very tough fight for McGregor.
The two will clash for what can only be an epic bout and at the end of it McGregor will either be a certified legend, or have his legend end.
Prediction: Alvarez needs to come out more cautious than he has ever done, as usually it takes him a while to find his boxing range, at a time within which he will be vulnerable to McGregor’s speed and power, especially as McGregor has a five-inch reach advantage. McGregor will come out faster than ever, knowing his best chance to finish the fight is early. Alvarez will have no qualms about looking to smother and wrestle during this period, even if it causes mass booing.
If – and it is a big if – Alvarez survives the first round or two, the key question is about McGregor’s stamina at 155lbs. He has fought there before but never gone over three rounds. At the 170lbs welterweight limit (vs Nate Diaz), we saw McGregor slow badly from round three. If this happens at lightweight, Alvarez (known for his stamina) will eat him alive, with punches in bunches and a wrestling game that will see him push McGregor back and drain him.
This is actually how I see the fight going. Stopping Alvarez with punches has only been done by 6ft 1’ welterweight Nick Thompson nine years ago. Alvarez has survived some real barrages from many top fighters and can do it again, before taking McGregor into deep waters for a late round five stoppage.