Previewing UFC Fight Night 143

A new era for the UFC kicks off on Saturday Night as the world’s largest MMA promotion joins up with the Worldwide Leader in Sports ESPN. After the years of Partnership with FOX the UFC reached a billion dollar plus agreement with ESPN to begin their new television deal with the Bristol, Connecticut sports provider. The UFC closed 2018 with a bang getting its first female two division champ in Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes (17-4 Bantamweight and Featherweight Champion) along with the return of the always controversial Jon “Bones” Jones (23-1 Light Heavyweight Champion). The UFC now turns the page into their new TV partnership and it will all be on display this Saturday Night on ESPN+. We are headlined by 2-time UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw (17-3 Bantamweight Champion) looking to become the third male simultaneous two division champion as he drops to 125lbs to take on Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo (13-2 Flyweight Champion). This card also features the debut of the much-maligned former NFL player Greg “Prince of War” Hardy (3-0) in the Co-Main event. The UFC has some good matchups on their first foray on ESPN, and with the prelims on ESPN it should be interesting to see what this broadcast looks like. Let’s look at the first ever UFC and ESPN card and all 13 fights.

The Early Prelims kick off on ESPN+ as Kyle “Gunz Up” Stewart (11-1) makes his UFC debut against Chance “Black Eagle” Rencountre (12-3). Former LFA Welterweight Title Challenger and Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Kyle Stewart joins the UFC looking to make an impact in the first fight on the ESPN platform. Stewart is 29 years old and rebounded from his first career loss with a 3-round decision win in early November 2018. Stewart has 4 wins by knockout and 3 wins by submission on his record. He won via TKO on the contender Series way back in season 1, however it was due to an ankle injury to his opponent. The Arizona native is going to be looking to get off to a hot start as he gets his shot at the UFC. Chance Rencountre is coming in following his UFC debut which ended in a disappointing decision loss to Belal “Remember The Name” Muhammad (14-2). Rencountre is a veteran of the MMA world who has fought for Bellator in the past. The 32-year-old Oklahoma native has 6 knockouts and 2 submissions on his resume. Prior to his UFC debut he had rattled off 4 straight wins. The first matchup on ESPN+ in the UFC’s history should be a solid one. Prediction: Kyle Stewart via Decision.

We stay at 170lbs as Belal “Remember The Name” Muhammad (14-2) steps into the Octagon to take on Geoff “Handz of Steel” Neal (10-2). A 4-fight win streak for Belal Muhammad has him knocking on the door of the Top 15 of the stacked 170lb division. The 30-year-old Illinois native has been in the UFC since September of 2016 and compiled a 5-2 record. Muhammad is a talented boxer who has no problem grinding out wins. 10 of his 14 wins have come via decision. Muhammad earned his way to the UFC when he claimed the Titan FC Welterweight title back in April of 2016. Muhammad will be looking to extend his win streak and prove that he deserves a ranked opponent next. Geoff Neal is coming off a stunning head kick knockout of Frank “The Crank” Camacho (21-7) back in September of 2018. Neal has come out guns blazing since his first-round knockout win on Season 1 of The Contender Series earned him a UFC contract. He has finished both of his opponents in the UFC. He now gets a step up in competition with Muhammad. Neal has won 4 straight and is looking to continue his rise through the ranks. Prediction: Geoff Neal via TKO.

We close out the early prelims at 155lbs as Dennis “The Menace” Bermudez (17-9) takes on Te ‘Tango” Edwards (6-2). Dennis Bermudez has hit a serious slide with 4 straight losses. He has dropped his last 3 via tough razor thin split decisions. Bermudez was once up in the top 15 at 145lbs. he now move sup to take on an up and comer. Bermudez needs to find his way back to the success he had prior to this losing streak. Bermudez has faced some of the best talent the UFC has to offer so experience is a decided advantage for him. He will need to shut down the explosiveness of Edwards if he expects to get his hand raised. Te Edwards suffered a brutal head kick knock out in his UFC debut back in October. He now returns here in a big spot with a chance to take down a long time UFC veteran. Edwards 6 wins are all via TKO. If he can get his hands going early he can walk away with his first UFC win. Prediction: Te Edwards via TKO.

We head to ESPN for the regular prelims and it kicks off at 135lbs as Cory Sandhagen (9-1) takes on the debuting Mario Bautista (9-1). Cory Sandhagen has burst on the UFC scene racking up 2 wins last year via knockout in his 2 UFC bouts. Sandhagen will put a pace on his opponent and pressure them into defeat. Sandhagen is an intriguing prospect and a guy who can potentially make waves at 135lbs. He has 4 knockouts and 2 submission wins. He will be looking to get this one over quickly and make an impression in the first UFC bout ever on ESPN. For 25-year-old Mario Bautista a short notice injury replacement of John “Hands of Stone” Lineker (31-8 #6 Ranked Bantamweight) got him his shot at the UFC. The undefeated 25-year-old has finished 2 fights via TKO and 3 via submission. He is going to have his hands full in his UFC debut with Sandhagen. He has a chance however to make a great first impression. Prediction: Cory Sandhagen via Decision.

We head to Light Heavyweight next as Alonzo Menifield (7-0) takes on Vinicius “Mamute” Castro (9-1). Alonzo Menifield was on the first season of The Contender Series where he scored a win via TKO. He did not receive a contract then went back to LFA where he scored two more wins. He returned to the contender series and an 8 second TKO win earned him a UFC contract. He now looks to make his UFC debut a memorable one. Menifield has never been further than 32 seconds into the second round of any of his professional fights. He has finished all his opponents. 6 via TKO and 1 via submission. Menifield has so much power. He will look to pressure early and land the big bomb that sends him home happy and potentially with an extra 50k. Vinicius Castro is a ground wizard. His 9 wins are made up of 8 submissions and 1 knockout. He appeared on The Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series Brazil where he took home a second-round submission win. He will be looking to get this to the mat early and take home a limb along with him. Prediction: Alonzo Menifield via TKO.

We head to Strawweight as Joanne “JoJo” Calderwood (12-3 #10 Ranked Strawweight) takes on the debuting Ariane “Queen of Violence” Lipski (11-3). Joanne Calderwood snapped a 2 fight losing streak when she moved up from 115lbs to 125lbs in August of 2018. She took home the submission win that night and will look to keep her momentum rolling. Calderwood has 5 knockouts and 1 submission win on her resume. She is a super talented fighter who will need to get it going early. She can rely on her experience in the UFC somewhat as she welcomes her opponent to the big time. For 24-year-old Ariane Lipski a shot at the UFC came after 9 straight wins. All but 2 of those wins have come via a finish. The former KSW Strawweight Champion will be looking to make a splash and get a big win over a UFC veteran. Lipski is a knockout artist, and she will be looking to bring her power with her to Brooklyn Saturday night. Prediction: Ariane Lipski via TKO.

We close out the prelims on ESPN with a matchup of the old and new guard as UFC longtime contender and fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (34-11 1NC #13 Ranked Welterweight) drops back to 155lbs to take on rising star Alexander “The Great” Hernandez (10-1 #11 Ranked Lightweight). Donald Cerrone finished up his run at Welterweight with a slick first round submission win over Mike “Platinum” Perry (12-4) in November of 2018. Cerrone decided it was time to move back down to the 155lb division where he once challenged for the UFC Title. Cerrone is a known gamer who has always been willing to stand and trade with anyone. However, he has a slick submission game that he can end the fight at any point on the mat. Cerrone moving back down to 155lbs should be interesting, and he has a worthy opponent waiting for him. Alexander Hernandez has won 2 straight in the UFC since joining the promotion in March of last year. Hernandez has 4 knockouts and 2 submission wins. Hernandez took down a very game Beneil Dariush (15-4-1) in the first round of his UFC debut as a short notice replacement. Hernandez is a very confident guy, and he certainly has a chance to take down a legend. Prediction: Donald Cerrone via Submission.

We head to the main card on ESPN+ and it kicks off with Glover Teixeira (27-7 #12 Ranked Light Heavyweight) taking on Karl “Baby K” Roberson (7-1).  Glover Teixeira has been around the block a time or two in the UFC, and if there ever was a time to start building one last run this is it. Teixeira is 39 years old and has dropped 3 of his last 5 fights in the UFC. Teixeira still has power and can box with the best of him. He has faced some of the best talent the UFC has to offer. Teixeira still has serious power and his 18 career knockouts are evidence of that. If Teixeira can keep it at boxing distance he has a good shot of getting back in the win column. Karl Roberson rebounded from his first career loss with a decision win back in November. He now gets a major step up in competition as he gets ready for Teixeira. Roberson dazzled on the Contender Series to get his UFC contract. He then scored a solid first round win. Roberson is a talented striker, and he needs to keep this one standing. Prediction: Karl Roberson via TKO.

One of the first fights announced for this card is next as Paige “12 Gauge” VanZant (7-4) takes on Ultimate Fighter alum Rachael Ostovich (4-4). Paige VanZant has had some trouble lately in the Octagon. She has dropped 2 straight matchups. In her last fight she broke her arm in the first round and fought through it for the remaining 2 rounds. VanZant moved up to 125lbs and is looking for her first win at that weight. She has some solid striking, but she needs to make sure she doesn’t let the moment get to her. Paige is still very young, but a win would go a long way for her and her fighting career. Rachael Ostovich came of Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter and went 1-1 in the UFC. She now enters arguably her biggest opponent in this matchup. Ostovich uses her grappling very effectively and has a solid ground game. The former Invicta FC roster member will be looking to score the slight upset. Prediction: Rachael Ostovich via Decision.

The Flyweights are next as Joseph Benavidez (26-5 #2 Ranked Flyweight) takes on Dustin Ortiz (19-7 #8 Ranked Flyweight). Former Title Challenger Joseph Benavidez reminded everyone why he is still one of the best pound for pound 125ers on the planet when he knocked out Alex Perez (21-5 #9 Ranked Flyweight). Benavidez is a guy who reached just below the peak of the mountain with two title losses to Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (27-3-1). Benavidez can get it done anywhere in the cage. He has 7 knockouts and 9 submissions. His wrestling is also a great asset, and he will need it on Saturday. Dustin Ortiz is the owner of the fastest knockout in Flyweight history. He has rattled off 3 straight losses including a knockout win in his last time out in July. Ortiz is a guy with 8 knockouts who can also grapple with the best of them. He is in for his biggest challenge of his UFC career with the Benavidez matchup. A win here and we are talking about a potential title shot…if the division stays around. Prediction: Joseph Benavidez via Decision.

Undefeated Gregor “The Gift” Gillespie (12-0 #15 Ranked Lightweight) puts his 0 on the line as he takes on UFC vet Yancy Medeiros (15-5 1NC). Gregor Gillespie has been out of action since June when he scored a submission win over Vinc “From Hell” Pichel (11-2). Gillespie is 5-0 in the UFC with 4 finishes. He has shown how well rounded he is as well with 2 knockouts and 2 submissions in those 5 wins. Gillespie is such an intriguing prospect. He now gets a UFC veteran who if he takes down puts another nice name on his resume. Yancy Medeiros is coming off having his 3-fight win streak snapped by the aforementioned Donald Cerrone in February of last year. After 11 months off Medeiros returns Saturday night. He will be looking to slow the hype of a rising star in Gillespie. Medeiros is going to stand and trade with anyone put in front of him. He has 8 knockouts and 4 submissions. He has been prone to leave himself open for shots however. He will need to keep himself out of harm’s way on the feet if he expects to get his hand raised. Prediction: Gregor Gillespie via TKO.

The Heavyweight Division has a hold of the Co-Main event slot and it features the controversial former NFL player Greg “Prince of War” Hardy (3-0) taking on Allen “Pretty Boy” Crowder (9-3). There will never not be controversy when Greg Hardy’s name comes up. His history in the NFL was marred by domestic violence allegations and at least one drug related offense. He has since been given a second chance by the UFC. Whether you agree with it or not Greg Hardy will be fighting on Saturday night. He has worked his way up the ladder in local shows and got on the UFC’s radar through the Tuesday Night Contender Series. Hardy bookended Season 2 scoring 1st round knockout wins on both episodes. Those two fights lasted a combined 1 minute 14 seconds. Sure, Hardy’s name and fame prior to the UFC helped him secure a spot in Co-Main event slot, but it is hard to argue with a guy that in 3 professional bouts hasn’t been out of the first minute. Even in his 3 amateur fights he has only once been out of the first minute. Hardy is going to go out there and try to end the fight immediately like he has in the past. We need to see someone really test his grappling abilities. Can he stuff a takedown? Does he have any real skill on the ground, or is he just another very athletic powerful guy who has relied on his power to get him this far? The guy who will be looking to do that testing is Allen Crowder who is currently 0-1 in the UFC. He earned his way to the UFC with a 3rd round TKO win on The Contender Series. He was knocked out in 2 and a half minutes of the first round of his UFC debut. Crowder has 5 knockouts and 3 submission wins of his record. He will have to be smart. He will have to try and drag this fight out. Stay just far enough out of reach so that he forces hardy to expend energy early. If he can take the Stipe Miocic (18-3 #1 Ranked Heavyweight) play book from the Francis “The Predator” Ngannou (12-3 #3 Ranked Heavyweight) fight he may have a serious shot at scoring what Vegas would consider a huge upset. Prediction: Greg Hardy via TKO.

The main event is here, and it is Champion versus Champion as TJ Dillashaw (17-3 Bantamweight Champion) looks to become the third male simultaneous two division champion as he heads to 125lbs to take on Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo (13-2 Flyweight Champion). TJ Dillashaw made the weight no problem for the matchup. He had promised Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (27-3-1) that he could do it way back when their super fight was proposed. However, that is not his opponent Saturday. The talented striker and wrestler Dillashaw is fighting someone who is much different. Dillashaw has been nothing short of fantastic in the last few years. He ended the 9-year unbeaten streak of former Bantamweight top dog and pound for pound standout Renan “The Baron” Barao (36-7) when he upset him via TKO in 2014 to claim the title the first time. He successfully defended it twice before dropping the title in an absolute razor thin split decision to Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz (18-1 #2 Ranked Bantamweight). Dillashaw ran through two top contenders in John “Hands of Stone” Lineker (31-8 #6 Ranked Bantamweight) and Raphael Assuncao (27-5 #3 Ranked Bantamweight) before challenging former teammate and eventual rival Cody “No Love” Garbrandt (11-2 #1 Ranked Bantamweight). Dillashaw took the title back with a second-round knockout and then cemented his place as champion with a first round knockout of Garbrandt in the rematch. DIllashaw now looks to become the 4th person in UFC history to hold belts in two weight classes simultaneously. His striking is crisp, his movement is second to none, and he showed that power is not an issue. We will need to see how his wrestling stacks up against a guy with the pedigree like Cejudo, but if this one stays standing we are getting another champ champ. Henry Cejudo did the impossible. The Olympic wrestling Gold Medalist defeated the only Flyweight Champion in UFC history. He also ended the 2nd longest championship reign in UFC history along with ending the record for consecutive title defense at 11. His victory over Demetrious Johnson in August was an upset that not many saw happening. Cejudo had already dropped a matchup with Johnson. That was a first round knockout loss in April of 2016. However, the wrestling and improved striking from Cejudo in August made all the difference. The striking changes were so evident when he broke a two-fight losing streak and finished Wilson Reis (23-9 #6 Ranked Flyweight), which was the fight that started the trek back to the title shot. Cejudo is going to have be super vigilant on the feet. He will have to try and sync up with Dillashaw’s movement to time his takedowns. If Cejudo can get the fight to the mat he should have an advantage, even if it is a slight one. This is one heck of a fight to close out the first card on ESPN+. Prediction: TJ Dillashaw via Decision.

Let’s be honest, this is one of the biggest and most important cards in the UFC’s history. The card may not look stacked to the casual fan, but overall the card looks very good. The ESPN presentation of the UFC should be interesting. The setup will be interesting. Jon Anik will be the main play by play guy as per usual, it will be interesting to see who is cage side with him. THE UFC and ESPN working together like this is something so big for MMA, and especially for the brand the UFC has built. The first event is just hours away, and for any long time MMA fan the anticipation has to be very high. To have a champion vs champion matchup headline this first event is something special. Let’s just hope the main event and entire deliver as we all want it to.

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