Written by: Remi Se
UFC 209 has potential to be one of the best events of 2017. The card matches elite fighters from top to bottom, closing with two five round title fights (one being for an interim belt). So far this year, the highlight of any card has probably been Derrick Lewis’ post fight interview. The animosity between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov; the intrigue of a title rematch after a draw; and a main card that will include multiple fighters who have competed for UFC gold all but guarantees that we should be in for some new highlights and stories.
The Main Card –
Tyron Woodley vs Stephen Thompson: After a majority draw, Woodley and Thompson will finally get a conclusion to their story. Woodley had the most dominant moments of the first match but Thompson was able to snatch a draw by being the more consistent aggressor. The question is obvious, how will both fighters adjust to gain the edge needed to get a W this time. For Woodley the strategy should start with less waiting to counter and more focus on his wrestling. Thompson needs to avoid the explosive counters from Woodley and manage distance to keep his head on his shoulders. Woodley’s wrestling truly feels like a difference maker should he choose to employ it more often.
Khabib Nurmegomedov vs Tony Ferguson: This is a fight that has fallen through and been delayed enough times to feel cursed, but that has only fueled animosity between the two competitors. Khabib’s grappling is among the best in any division and so far he has been near invincible once he gets opponents down. Tony Ferguson meanwhile is no slouch at the ground game but boasts the superior striking. The real question is can Khabib get Ferguson down and keep him there and there’s no easy answer to that. Ferguson is as tricky as they come and his aggressive style means any moment can be the last for an opponent. That aggression however could also get El Cucuy into trouble against a grappler of Khabib’s prowess. Expect a war no matter how long or short this fight is, but my money’s on Khabib.
Rashad Evans vs Daniel Kelly: Full disclosure, I completely discounted Daniel Kelly heading into his match with Chris Camozzi. After watching him grind and wrestle his way to a win over Camozzi (a respectable middleweight), I’m still not enthralled with his skill set. Kelly is tough first and foremost, but nothing else about him has jumped out in his UFC career except that he finds ways to win fights. Rashad Evans meanwhile is a former champion and has a win over the current middleweight champion Michael Bisping; but his last victory came over Chael Sonnen back in 2013. Suga Shad is years away from his peak and the move to 185 feels more like an attempt to hang on than chance to make a real run. There’s no doubt in my mind that Rashad Evans even past his prime could beat Daniel Kelly, but this far past prime and fresh off of some really discouraging performances it feels like healthy skepticism is warranted. The silver lining for Rashad is that he has fought only high level competition, Kelly marks a step down in competition and a chance to see if the new weight class reinvigorates the career of a fighter who was once among the elite fighters in any weight class.
Lando Vannata vs David Teymur: Lando Vannata had arguably the most spectacular KO of 2016 over John Makdessi, but it was his short notice loss to Tony Ferguson that probably did even more for his hype train. Ferguson will fight for the interim lightweight title, but Vannata on very short notice was able to hurt El Cucuy and put on an epic show. That speaks to the quality of Vannata’s striking and skillset as a whole. He’s a mix of unorthodox movements and precision that makes him a huge threat and exciting prospect in the most competitive division the UFC has. David Teymur meanwhile is anything but unorthodox. His Muay Thai base makes him a disciplined technical striker who has looked very impressive in his first two UFC bouts. This is a striker vs striker match-up that many look at as a continuation of Groovy Lando’s rise through the division but Teymur is just the type to accept the challenge and make it a real test. This is the sleeper to win fight of the night in my book and while I picture Vannata winning, I also expect this fight to be competitive and full of fireworks.
Mark Hunt vs Alistair Overeem: This match pits two former heavyweight title challengers against each other. Hunt fell short in a bout with Fabricio Werdum for the interim HW title while Overeem lost his last bout to Stipe Miocic for the undisputed title. It’s another pairing of two strikers with very varied styles that create an interesting match-up. Hunt is as tough as they come with the power knock out anybody with a single punch. Overeem is a technical marvel as a striker with some of the most devastating knees in the game. The real intrigue here is that both fighters have skill sets that typically cause trouble for their opposition. Reem has a shaky chin and durable fighters with punching power have been able to catch him for KO’s. Hunt meanwhile has struggled against more disciplined fighters who are smart enough to avoid his cannonball straights and hooks. If Overeem stays vigilant, he has a great shot to win this fight but Hunt finds ways to get to his man and my own personal bias has me hoping Hunt has one last run of victories in him before he retires.
Bite sized breakdowns for the undercard –
Marcin Tybura vs Luis Henrique: These are two intriguing fresh names in the heavyweight division that could use new top ten talent. Tybura’s all-around ability, especially his agility at that size, is pretty astounding but he’ll have to mind his kicks because Henrique has looked like a submission machine.
Mirsad Bektic vs Darren Elkins: Bektic is on a tear through the featherweight division and looks to go 12-0 as a pro. He has improved every time out but Elkins represents his best test to date. Elkins losses have come exclusively to high level opponents, unfortunately Bektic likely fits that bill.
Iuri Alcantara vs Luke Sanders: Luke Sanders is a fighter to watch. His work outside of the UFC shows a tough grinder who is comfortable striking in the pocket to open up take down opportunities and submission chances from the ground. It’s no surprise that after just one UFC bout he gets a ranked opponent in Alcantara. Similar to Elkins, Alcantara’s losses are limited to high level opponents but I think Sanders fits that bill. This one is worth tuning in early for.
Mark Godbeer vs Daniel Spitz: It felt like Godbeer might have been used for re-establishing Todd Duffee. Now that Duffee is out and newcomer Spitz enters, it becomes a chance to see two newcomers and try to gauge where they land in the heavyweight division.
Tyson Pedro vs Paul Craig: Paul Craig’s debut was a lot of fun to watch, displaying toughness and some slick ground work. Pedro also showed slick grappling but everyone who takes Khalil Rountree down looks like a BJJ ace. These are two undefeated LHW’s and even though they meet up on Fight Pass, I’ve decided to add them to this preview because the division needs new talent and Craig’s debut was a seriously entertaining bout.