Previewing UFC 219
The UFC has one last Pay Per View in 2017 Saturday and it is headlined by arguably the two best female fighters in UFC history squaring off. In what has been a real up and down year for the world’s biggest MMA promotion they close out 2017 with a card that features multiple former champions and title challengers. The biggest matchup is the main event that features two of the biggest Women’s MMA stars in the history of the sport. Cris Cyborg (18-1 1NC Women’s Featherweight Champion) returns to the Octagon to defend her title against Former Women’s Bantamweight Champion Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (11-3 #2 Ranked Women’s Bantamweight). That matchup alone should be worth the price of the Pay Per View, however, we also get some returns to the cage in Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (24-0 #2 Ranked Lightweight) and former Welterweight Interim Champion “The Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit (30-10 #8 Ranked Welterweight). The card lost a big matchup at Bantamweight earlier in the week, but still has 10 fights that should close 2017 strong. Let’s take a look at all of those fights coming up on Saturday night.
After having his fight canceled the day before just a few weeks ago Tim Elliott (15-8-1 #11 Ranked Flyweight) returns to the Octagon to take on UFC newcomer Mark “Bumblebee” De La Rosa (9-0). The Ultimate Fighter Season 24 winner and former Flyweight Title Challenger Tim Elliott was very upset when his fight was canceled on December 11th due to his opponent missing weight, that he turned it into a match on the UFC’s end of year card. The former Titan FC Flyweight Champion is 1-2 since returning to the UFC through the Ultimate Fighter path including dropping his last matchup in the first minute to Ben “10” Nguyen (17-6 #8 Ranked Flyweight). Elliot has a relentless motor and is always looking for the takedown to utilize his wrestling background. To get his most recent UFC run back to 500 he has to use his experience to his advantage. Mark De La Rosa joins the UFC as an undefeated prospect. He just watched his wife Montana De La Rosa (8-4 #7 Ranked Women’s Flyweight) make her debut and secure her first UFC win at the beginning of December and will be looking to do the same here. De La Rosa has a pretty solid ground game that has gotten him 5 submissions thus far in his career. He will need to utilize that as he heads into this matchup with a guy full of UFC experience. This one should be a great one, and as the only fight on UFC Fight Pass they have a chance to really shine and kick off the night. Prediction: Tim Elliot via Decision.
Staying at 125lbs we start the FS1 Prelims with Louis “Da Last Samurai” Smolka (11-4 #13 Ranked Flyweight) taking on Matheus Nicolau (12-2-1). Louis Smolka has his back against the wall after dropping his last 3 straight matchups. Smolka has faced some serious contenders including the aforementioned Tim Elliot and another former title challenger in Ray “The Tazmexican Devil” Borg (11-3 #3 Ranked Flyweight). Smolka will need to get back to the ways that saw him run off 4 straight victories in the UFC from 2014-2016 if he wants to keep his spot on the UFC’s roster. The Ultimate Fighter Brazil Season 4 alum Matheus Nicolau has rattled off two straight victories since debuting in November of 2015. A USADA violation has derailed his momentum since then, but he now returns looking to put another win on his record. Nicolau has really spread his wins around having 4 wins by knockout, submission, and decision. He will need to try and shake the ring rust as he makes his return and potentially hop into the Top 15 of a wide open Flyweight Division. Prediction: Matheus Nicolau via TKO.
We jump up to the 185lb division next as Marvin “The Italian Dream” Vettori (12-3) will take on Omari “Wolverine” Akhmedov (17-4). Marvin Vettori responded to his first UFC loss with a decision win in July, and is looking to build on top of that. Vettori has an excellent ground game with 8 submissions on his record. He is going to need that against a guy like Akhmedov who will use his takedowns a lot during his fights. Vettori has a lot of promise, and at 24 he has a chance to really improve and do some damage moving forward. Omari Akhmedov has rattled off 2 straight victories and is looking to keep moving forward at Middleweight. The Dagestan native will be looking to do what a lot of fighters from that area do, and that is take down his opponent and do some serious ground and pound damage. Akhmedov has racked up 7 knocks and 5 submissions in his career, and he will be looking to add to that total versus Vettori. Prediction: Omari Akhmedov via Submission.
The stacked Featherweight Division is up next as Myles “Fury” Jury (16-2 #15 Ranked Featherweight) and Rick “The Gladiator” Glenn (20-4-1). Myles Jury returned to the Octagon earlier this year after a lengthy layoff with a 1st round knockout. Jury was red hot when he joined the UFC in 2012 and rattled off 6 straight wins following his time on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter. He then dropped two straight and suffered some injuries causing the layoff. Upon his return however it appears that Jury may have found that magic again that made him a fast-rising prospect. At 29 years old his athletic peak is hitting and he will have a chance to build his winning streak if he can get another win on Saturday. Rick Glenn put on his best performance of his UFC career back in September when he absolutely drubbed “The Newfoundland Terror” Gavin Tucker (10-1). Glenn was relentless in that fight with his takedowns and ground and pound. The change in Glenn’s game has been really impressive to see over his UFC career. The former World Series of Fighting Featherweight Champion seems more comfortable in the UFC now, and a win here would absolutely boost him into the Top 15. Prediction: Rick Glenn via Decision.
The final FS1 Prelim features a 205lb showdown between Khalil Rountree Jr. (7-2) and Michal “Lord” Oleksiejczuk (12-2). The Ultimate Fighter Season 23 runner-up Khalil Rountree Jr. has rattled off two of the best knockouts of 2017 and got his UFC record to 2-2. Roundtree has some of the most serious power out there. He will be looking to use that power to put together a 3 fight win streak and end 2017 in the UFC’s Rankings. Rountree has showed that his ability to close the distance and end his opponents night very quickly. You can’t step away during his fights, because they could end at any second. Michal Oleksiejczuk was originally scheduled to debut in the UFC at UFC 217, but a USADA violation for his opponent had that bout canceled on the day of the fight. The Polish knockout artist is riding a 9 fight winning streak with 6 of those being knockouts. He will be looking to come out firing at Rountree and make a real statement about his arrival in the UFC. Prediction: Khalil Rountree Jr. via TKO.
The Pay Per View kicks off with the return of former Welterweight Interim Champion Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit (30-10 #8 Ranked Welterweight) taking on Neil Magny (19-7 #12 Ranked Welterweight). Carlos Condit has not fought since August of 2016 after suffering a submission loss to Demian Maia (25-8 #5 Ranked Welterweight). Condit has lost 3 of his last 4, but is one of the most dangerous strikers in the 170lb division. He is one of the most well rounded guys in the UFC and is now in that veteran status. At 33 with the time off Condit took he will most certainly be refreshed heading back into the Octagon. The only question is ring rust, and if he is still fully into it. He has said that he is, and there is no reason to doubt that. A win here for Condit puts him right back in the mix at 170lbs. Neil Magny is coming off a tough loss to the surging Rafael Dos Anjos (28-9 #2 Ranked Welterweight) and that has now seen him drop 2 of his last 3. It seems so long ago where Magny had won 10 of 11 and was on the verge of a title shot. Magny is a very dangerous fighter who can take the fight anywhere which will really help him against a guy like Condit. If Magny can get the win here a spot in the Top 10 is all his and his dreams for the title shot most certainly get closer to happening. Prediction: Carlos Condit via TKO.
A Top 10 matchup in the Women’s Strawweight Division is next as rising contender Cynthia Calvillo (6-0 #6 Ranked Women’s Strawweight) goes up against the first UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza (13-4 #9 Ranked Women’s Strawweight). Cynthia Calvillo has been one of the best emerging stars in the UFC in 2017. She is 3-0 in the UFC and finished her first 2 opponents with rear naked chokes. Calvillo has some serious potential and we could be seeing a future champion at 115lbs. Calvillo’s grappling has been on display in all 3 of her UFC fights, but she has dispatched opponents with her striking as well. She will have her hands full with the grappling of Esparza, and this is by far her biggest test to date. Since dropping her title in March of 2015 Carla Esparza has gone 2-1 in her next 3 UFC appearances. Esparza’s ground game is her go to. She will looking to close the distance and clinch and score takedowns. If Esparza can impose her will she has a chance to stop the momentum train of Calvillo. Esparza has a chance to place herself back in the Top 5 if she can get the victory here. Prediction: Cynthia Calvillo via Decision.
Originally slated for the prelims Dan “The Hangman” Hooker (15-7) and Marc “Bonecrusher” Diakiese (12-1) got moved to the main card and will be looking to take full advantage of that. Dan Hooker has alternated wins and losses since joining the UFC in 2014. His impressive 2nd round knockout of Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson (21-12 1NC) back in June showed his dynamic striking and impressive power. Hooker has finished 7 opponents via knockout and 6 via submission. Hooker at 27 has a ton of experience and if he can start to string some wins together he could quickly move up the ladder. Marc Diakiese suffered his first career loss via split decision in July to Drakkar Klose (8-1-1). Diakiese is a dangerous striker who has taken out 6 of his opponents by knockout. He is only 24 years old and has a chance to be the next big star from England in the UFC. His devastating power was on full display in March when he knockout Teemu “Pacu” Packalen (8-2) in just 30 seconds. This one has a real shot to be the Fight of the Night with these two exciting strikers. Prediction: Marc Diakiese via TKO.
The Co-Main Event features the return of Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (24-0 #2 Ranked Lightweight) taking on dangerous striker Edson “Junior” Barboza (19-4 #4 Ranked Lightweight). Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the most maddening cases in the UFC currently. The controversy surrounding him having to be hospitalized during his weight cut back in March that canceled his Interim Lightweight Title fight with Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (25-3 Interim Lightweight Champion). People have argued for years that Khabib is by far the number 1 Lightweight on the planet, but between the weight cut issue and the multiple knee injuries he has only competed 3 times since 2013. His wrestling is impeccable and the pace he puts on his opponents is almost impossible to keep up with. The last time we saw Khabib was when he absolutely destroyed longtime UFC veteran Michael “The Menace” Johnson (18-12 #10 Ranked Lightweight) while yelling at Dana White to give him “The Notorious” Conor McGregor (21-3 Lightweight Champion). If Khabib can get past his issues he has a shot to be a long time dominant champion. A longtime veteran of the UFC Edson Barboza has some serious highlight reel finishes. Nobody can ever forget the Spinning Wheel Kick knockout of Terry Etim (16-5), and his flying knee knockout of Beneil Dariush (14-3-1 # 12 Ranked Lightweight) this past March. Barboza also has multiple stoppages due to leg kicks which was almost unheard of before he landed in the UFC. The striking advantage he will hold on Khabib may be the difference that he needs to get the biggest win of his career. Barboza will need to defend the takedown well and try his best to slow down Khabib with those leg kicks. A career defining win like this for Barboza would most assuredly set him up for a shot at the title in his next time out. Prediction: Edson Barboza via TKO.
The main event and final UFC fight of 2017 is next as Cris Cyborg (18-1 1NC Women’s Featherweight Champion) takes on Former Women’s Bantamweight Champion Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (11-3 #2 Ranked Women’s Bantamweight). Cris Cyborg is one of the scariest Women’s MMA fighters of all time. Her power and striking is her forte. She has finished every opponent since April 2009 via knockout or technical knockout. That’s 12 straight opponents who have gone down to her in that run. The two biggest names on that list are Gina Carano (7-1) and former Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion Marloes “Rumina” Coenen (23-8). Cyborg also has a ground game that is very solid, but it doesn’t get any shine due to her striking. Her only loss came in her first professional fight in 2005, and since then she has been the most ducked and feared female fighter on the planet. She has to show patience in this fight, but if she does she will add another, and arguably the biggest, name to her least of victories. Holly Holm has been in this position before. She was given very a very small shot at defeating the then untouchable “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey (12-2 #9 Ranked Women’s Bantamweight). They faced off in November of 2015 in Melbourne Australia and Holly Holm landed a head kick that changed the face of Women’s MMA. Her counter striking was her tool then, and it may be her biggest weapon against Cyborg. Yes after defeating Rousey Holm dropped 3 straight, however there are some caveats to that. She was up 4 rounds to 0 on Miesha “Cupcake” Tate (18-7) before getting caught in a submission late in the 5th round where she went unconscious still punching the air. She was successfully outpointed by former 135lb title challenger Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (14-3 #1 Ranked Women’s Bantamweight). The Germaine “The Iron Lady” De Randamie (7-3 #5 Ranked Women’s Bantamweight) cheap shotted her way to a very questionable decision in the first ever Women’s Featherweight title fight in UFC history. Holm withstood those 3 losses to again head kick her way back into the win column in June when she knocked out former title challenger Bethe “Pitbull” Correia (10-3-1 #12 Ranked Women’s Bantamweight). Holm has the chance to cement her Legacy, not only as the first female 2 division UFC Champion, and dethroning two of the biggest stars in Women’s MMA history. This is a very tough matchup however for her. She will need to avoid the power of Cyborg and do her best to get her shots in when she can. IF she is able to pull this off she will be on the winning end of two of the biggest upsets in MMA history. This should be a great fight to end 2017. Prediction: Holly Holm via TKO.
The UFC will close out 2017 on what they hope is a high note. They already have a stacked early January including a two title fight card in Boston at UFC 220. The year was most certainly a bumpy one, that saw their biggest star fight in a different sport, and Pay per View buys hit some serious lows. However, the UFC and their new ownership is starting to get the hang of this. The matchmaking has been really good considering the ratings and Pay Per View buys, so fans who are out there watching every event are getting a ton of entertaining fights. Hopefully, the UFC continues to build stars in the organic way that say people like Rousey and McGregor explode. They certainly have a very talented roster and champions that have the ability to become those mega stars. 2018 has a lot of potential, but it all starts with UFC 219 on Saturday night.