Written by: Remi Se
Over a month ago, UFC 209 went from a potential classic event to disappointing off of the strength of one main event being cancelled due to weight cut issues and the leftover main event being little more than a 25 minute long staring contest. Although there have been a handful of notable fights in the gap between Pay Per Views; the 30 day lull has been bad enough that Dillon Danis dressing like a Conor McGregor clone managed to be one of the biggest stories to come out of last weekend’s biggest card. Thank God for UFC 210. These fights have a great chance to shape future events and divisional rankings, so let’s get right into it.
Rumble vs Cormier:
Daniel Cormier smothered and submitted Anthony Johnson in their first match in spite of a handful of big moments from Rumble. Since then, Johnson has been so overwhelming as a striker that no one has gotten close enough to test his wrestling or stamina again. If Rumble can keep the fight at distance, there will be a new champion. If Cormier can get inside and stay there though, the rematch becomes a repeat. But this feels like a tale of a contender on the rise against a champion nearing retirement. Since beating Johnson; Cormier has struggled to stay healthy; winning a close fight with Alexander Gustaffson followed by a lackluster victory against Anderson Silva. While the champ has survived his tests, the next challenger has become a human highlight reel. Rumble’s recent run of KO’s high level light heavyweights is reminiscent of UFC legend Chuck Liddell. Purely on skillsets, it feels like Cormier should win but there is rarely a run up to a title shot as dominant as Johnson’s has been. The man has three straight KO victories over LHW contenders and 5 of his last 6 fights have ended with a Knock out win…the outlier being that loss to Cormier. Vengeance depends on controlled aggression. He has to take a measured approach rather than swing for home runs every shot he takes.
It would be wrong to ignore the implications beyond this match while previewing it. Jon Jones’ suspension is almost over and even while he’s been gone, he has loomed like a specter over the division. He’s the only fighter to defeat Cormier and the two have had one of the most heated rivalries in UFC history. While Rumble chases his own redemption, he stands in the way of Cormier’s shot at revenge. Johnson meanwhile was pegged by many to have the formula to beat Jones but never got his opportunity. This fight will not only decide the champion, it will line-up the chance to dethrone the long time king of the division in a future showdown.
Gegard Mousasi vs Chris Weidman:
Less than two years ago, Gegard Mousasi was knocked out by Uriah Hall while Chris Weidman stood atop the Middleweight division. Now, Gegard Mousasi enters the fight as a favorite off of 4 straight victories while Chris Weidman desperately needs a win to maintain his position in a stacked division. This is also the last fight of Mousasi’s contract, turning the stakes up for both competitors.
From a technical standpoint, both men are methodic strikers with enough pop to KO anybody. Mousasi has the slight edge here. The larger gap in skillset comes with wrestling, where Weidman can potentially impose his will. Mousasi meanwhile, has proven susceptible to takedowns but is a constant submission threat on the ground. Weidman has the tools to win this fight by focusing on his strengths, fighting smart and playing it safe. Mousasi meanwhile has never looked better or more aggressive, appearing to turn a corner in an already strong career. Adding to the intrigue, both men have been prone to some slip ups in the past and this is the type of match up where one mistake could mean a stoppage.
Cynthia Calvillo vs Pearl Gonzalez:
Cynthia Calvillo jumped from Fight Pass to the main card for her debut at UFC 209. In just 3 minutes she displayed an impressive acumen on the ground that included sweeps, great scrambling and really smooth transitions in locking up a victory. The fact that her very next fight is on another main card against an opponent with no UFC experience speaks volumes to how highly the organization thinks of her. Gonzalez has a 6-1 record with five finished but how she handles the big stage is a different animal.
Patrick Cote vs Thiago Alves:
This is a match-up of UFC veterans who fought for titles in their primes. Patrick Cote has won 6 of his last 8 fights, only losing to Stephen Thompson and Donald Cerrone during that run. Thiago Alves has struggled to find his footing the past two years with losses to Carlos Condit and Jim Miller, but he is remains a tough out for anybody. Both men are adept strikers and while they aren’t contenders any more, there’s a good chance that this fight sees plenty of fireworks. Endurance and fight IQ will be big for this one as both men look to return to the win column. Alves looks to be the more explosive fighter, but before running into the buzzsaw that is Cerrone; Cote had strung together a pair of very nice knock outs.
Will Brooks vs Charles Oliveira:
Don’t let the loss to woefully over fight-weight Alex Oliveira fool you. Will Brooks is still a fighter with two victories over current Bellator champion Michael Chandler and a win over Marcin Held. He’s an explosive striker with very strong wrestling and Ill Will is tough as nails. He fought through an early rib injury in his loss to Oliveira and refused to tap when Marcin Held locked a knee bar in the first round of a title defense that Brooks went on to win. Oliveira is a submission ace with dangerous strikes and a relentless aggression to back everything up. He’s beaten the likes of Jeremy Stephens and Nik Lentz but is currently on a two fight skid, having struggled with his weight cuts. It’s a match up that will inevitably see the ground in a wrestler vs submission grappler duel. Oliveira is moving up to 155 for this one which should ease his weight cut but it means facing a stronger opponent and the strength gap may be a crucial factor.
Hidden Gems from the Undercard:
Here are a pair of matches from the free portion of the card that feature 4 prospects who all have a chance to make real noise in the near future. The undercard is strong, but these are the standouts match-ups.
Kamaru Usman vs Sean Strickland:
Kamaru Usman is the type of fighter that the Ultimate Fighter series was made for. He won TUF through excellent wrestling and had a determined personality that promised growth. His most recent match-up with Worlly Alves marked some clear improvement in his striking. He used the threat of takedowns to open up jabs to body and upper cut attempts. His right hand is a cannon and he’s starting to use an effective jab which means he can set up take downs or win a fight standing. Enter Sean Strickland, 18-1 fresh off of handing fellow prospect Tom Breese the first loss of his career. Strickland is another fighter that sets nearly everything up behind a beautiful jab. He’s comfortable marching into the pocket, exchanging kicks and he’s tough to take down. Usman’s wrestling is a big factor but if the fight stays on the feet, it stands to be a FotN candidate.
Shane Burgos vs Charlie Rosa:
Shane Burgos debuted with the UFC by toying with Tiago Trator who had no answer for the prospects combination of size of crisp hands. Burgos’ an undefeated record was clearly well earned as he displayed sharp striking and quality wrestling. Meanwhile, Charlie Rosa is 11-2 with his only losses being FotN award winners against Dennis Siver and Yair Rodriguez. Even noting the war that Rodriguez had with Andre Fili, Rosa was the biggest threat to the rising star’s UFC winning streak. Rosa creates a ton of pressure with lead leg kicks that aid his constant search for openings to score takedowns. He has a great ground game and a relentless pace that should test Burgos’ gas tank. Both of these guys are names to keep an eye out for thanks to their entertaining styles. This is a New Yorker fighting a guy whose nickname is “Boston Strong”…so my bias is has me saying “NYC” like the Natural Elements chorus.