Written by: Remi Se
After yet another major fight was scratched last minute, the annual International Fight Week PPV went from an exciting card to a disappointment. The UFC has had low ratings on its recent Fox card and past two PPVs; but the loss of fights from recent cards and return of fighters from suspensions and injuries has all come together to produce what is likely to be the best card of 2017. Arguably the GOAT male fighter will return after a long suspension and arguably the GOAT female fighter will finally get her shot at UFC gold. There are three title fights on the PPV along with two fights that could hold serious title implications. It starts with contenders, continues with champions and reaches a crescendo with one of the greatest rivalries in MMA history coming to a head. Barring the 2017 main event curse that has hit a handful of exciting cards,UFC 214 stands to be the benchmark for every PPV that follows this year.
Jimi Manuwa vs Volkan Oezdemir:
The PPV kicks off with a match-up between the fastest rising fighter in the light heavyweight division against a knockout artist with a case for next shot at the belt. Jimi Manuwa needs no introduction in most MMA circles, his devastating striking and immense strength make him stylistically similar to Anthony Johnson. His only losses have come to the elite of the division, Alex Gustaffson and the aforementioned Rumble Johnson. Anyone else in his path has been beaten handily which has landed him comfortably him in the division’s top four fighters. Volkan Oezdemir has only been in the UFC for two fights, but the 17-1 fighter has stormed through high ranked opponents Ovince Saint-Preaux and Misha Cirkunov. Oezdemir uses his length well and explodes into blitzing combinations with real pop to press opponents back. In spite of his impressive start though, Oezdemir has been hittable when pressed which makes Manuwa a special test for the up and comer.
Oezdemir will have to be cautious of Manuwa’s power, he’s taken some strikes in both fights despite the Cirkunov fight ending quickly. Where Oezdemir fought OSP to a competitive decision victory; Manuwa overwhelmed Saint-Preaux for a finish. Both fighters can end a fight in an instant, so caution is an important aspect to this one. Manuwa will look to walk down the lengthy opponent while Oezdemir looks for chances to explode and counter off of Manuwa’s power strikes. Suffice to say that this fight isn’t likely to last long regardless of who wins. Limited fights make it tougher to project how this bout goes but Manuwa represents a major step up in competition and that makes it tough to pick against him.
Robbie Lawler vs Donald Cerrone:
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone versus “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler is a main event worthy bout on virtually any other card. Lawler’s run up to the Welterweight title and ensuing reign as champion led to some of the best fights in promotion history; seriously, go watch Lawler vs MacDonald two or Lawler vs Condit even if you’ve seen it already and thank me later. Cowboy meanwhile is famous for taking any fight at any time and while that has led to some tough losses, it has also helped Cowboy become a true fan favorite in spite of never quite reaching the top of a division. Ruthless is coming off of a long layoff that seemed much needed. He had been in four straight wars with Johnny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit before being KO’ed by current champion Tyron Woodley. Cerrone meanwhile was cruising through the Welterweight division until he ran into Jorge Masvidal for a bout in which he was nearly knocked out in the first round and finished in the second round. So we have a bout between a fighter who was on the cusp of a title before his recent loss and a fighter who was champion before his own recent loss.
With two fighters coming off of ugly knock outs, how the two fighters have recovered will play an integral role in the results. Lawler needed to push back the fight after his KO loss and Cerrone pushed back the fight a second time due to staph infection. If both are at their peaks however, this is a UFC fan’s dream match. Cerrone is a precision striker with incredible combinations to pair with punishing counters. Where he has struggled has been with power punches that can wade through his attacks to land their own blows. Lawler has the power to give Cerrone fits and his typical toughness could help him catch Cowboy, but that depends on how well Ruthless’ chin holds up. Cerrone catches virtually everybody, but if Lawler’s chin is back to normal he’s likely to take Cerrone’s strikes to land his own which should make for a must watch battle.
Cris Cyborg vs Tonya Evinger (Women’s Featherweight Title):
Cris Cyborg is commonly considered the pound for pound best female fighter alive and has a great case for the greatest female fighter ever. She is such a force that the UFC decided to start a 145 lbs female division to give her a title shot for UFC 208, but Cyborg needed more time to prepare for the weight cut. Instead, Germaine De Randamie won the belt in a bout with Holly Holm and promptly dropped the title rather than face Cris Cyborg. With De Randamie no longer an option, the UFC first tabbed the Invicta featherweight champion for this bout but due to unnamed constraints; Anderson was forced to pull out of the opportunity. Instead, Invicta’s long reigning bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger will step up to the plate and enter the octagon after over a decade in the sport.Evinger hasn’t lost a bout since 2011 and boasts a strong mix of skills, hence the nickname Triple Threat.
Evinger’s a veteran with a mix of toughness and ring savvy that makes her hard to route against. She’ll set traps both on the feet and in grappling exchanges to open up finishing opportunities. Cyborg is a bigger, stronger and more technically gifted opponent than anyone Evinger has faced however. Triple Threat has never been stopped by strikes and her toughness is unquestionable and she is crafty enough to create openings.Cyborg is bigger, stronger and more technically gifted though and she has overwhelmed even her most talented and intelligent opponents. For the Invicta champ to score the upset, she’ll likely need to take Cyborg into deep water and test her endurance. Evinger will look for opportunities to level change and take things to the ground. Cyborg has to be mindful of Evinger’s tricky approaches, but should be able to take the bout by fighting a smart fight and not taking her opponent for granted.
Tyron Woodley vs Demian Maia (Welterwelight Title):
There isn’t a fighter in the UFC more deserving of a title shot than Demian Maia. He has faced some of the best welterweights in the division over the course of a seven fight win streak that includes Carlos Condit, Matt Brown and Neil Magny. Outside of Jorge Masvidal, Maia has absolutely dominated every opponent in spite of their high standing. Maia’s grappling is simply that good, he takes great fighters down and controls them regardless of their skillset. Woodley meanwhile is the momentum killer throughout his title run. He handed Kelvin Gastelum his first loss, stopped Robbie Lawler’s championship winning streak and followed that by besting Stephen Wonderboy Thompson who was on his own great run. Woodley’s KO power and hand speed is incredible and his wrestling is elite, making him among the absolute toughest fighters to take down. This will be the first time he’s a betting favorite entering a title match as well.
The core of this bout comes down to a simple question that we ask before every Maia bout; can Demian Maia get Woodley to the ground? Woodley has a 92% takedown defense rate and his strength makes it a poor decision to pull guard in a bout with him. His biggest flaw in recent bouts has been fighting overly cautious. Woodley will back up slowly and explode off of the fence against approaching opponents. The threat of his handspeed kept Wonderboy at bay for 10 straight rounds and that’s one of the best strikers in any division. Maia however, has figured out an array of tricks to force an opponent to the ground whether they boast a wrestling pedigree or not. He’s proven most effective against fighters trapped along the cage which is exactly where Woodley has typically baited opponents into counters. Maia however, isn’t afraid to shoot from the outside and focus on trapping a leg regardless of taking a few strikes to get there. So this bout may come down to whether Maia can get the single leg trapped and convert it to a back take along the fence or a trip to force top position. This is an exciting style clash, a BJJ master against one of the elite wrestlers in the entire UFC.
Daniel Cormier vs Jon Jones (Light Heavyweight Title):
The Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones saga has seen 5 bookings with only one match. The fighters have had injuries and suspensions ruin their chances to meet at every turn. This rivalry is more heated than Diaz and McGregor, more competitive than Ortiz vs Shamrock and better fighters than any rivalry you could pick out. Jones’ resume includes two generation of light heavyweight greats, his case for greatest of all time is incredible. Cormier meanwhile has beaten eliter heavyweights and light heavyweights throughout his career with the only blemish on his record being to Jones. Even without the animosity, this is the kind of match-up that comes along once in a generation. Two fighters that could claim to be pound for pound the best fighter alive are going to meet up in the octagon and after years of tension from legitimate disdain, this is easily the most anticipated match-up for the UFC’s 2017.
In the first bout, Jones saw success utilizing his reach with his typical pawing style where he keeps an outstretched hand to effectively stiff arm his opponents’ limbs before they can fire. It helps him measure the opponent, catches their lead strikes and keeps them at the end of his reach where they’re non-threats. Refs have been more mindful of how fighters utilize an outstretched palm however and that could be something to watch for. Cormier’s success came when he closed distance and used a single collar tie to pull Jones’ head down for uppercuts inside of the clinch. By the end of the bout, Jones was using both hands to trap Cormier’s free hand and mitigate damage but both fighters will absolutely show up with adjustments to their approaches in the clinch. Jones was shockingly successful at taking Cormier down but couldn’t keep him there while Cormier only scored one take down very late in the bout and Jones popped back up quickly. With talk of Jones grappling improvement, it will be interesting to see if he looks for more takedowns and level changes to break up any rhythm Cormier tries to find. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jones will look for more elbows with this bout as Cormier must get inside to be effective due to the reach deficit. Neither fighter has looked great in recent efforts, but that’s moreso comparing their old footage to new. Both men won convincingly in their last bouts and both men faced dangerous opponents in OSP for Jones and Rumble Johnson for Cormier. Picking this fight may come down to whether people feel Jones will be rusty or not after the long lay off. Jones’ skillset is the perfect counter to Cormier’s style of attack, but if his endurance, timing or precision are off by even a little bit then Cormier is good enough to find ways to impose his will.
The Undercard Gem:
It wouldn’t be right to single out a fight from the FXX portion of the card. These fights are all fantastic. Jason Knight has made serious noise with an exciting style and well rounded game but faces Ricardo Lamas who is perpetually near the top of the featherweights with vicious striking. It’s a big step up and chance to jump into the top tier opposition for Knight. Renan Barao was a long time dominant champion and is looking to keep getting his footing back after some struggles. He faces Aljimain Sterling, an incredible grappler who needs to continue growing as a striker in order to fully realize his massive potential. Brian Ortega and Renato Moicano are a combined 21-0-1 with recent wins over Clay Guida and Jeremy Stephens respectively; they’re two top 10 ranked featherweights in a division where the top five has mostly faced each other already. Andre Fili is an alphamale product and prone to really exciting bouts. He faces a UFC newcomer in Calvin Kattar who boasts a 16-2 record. These aren’t fights to miss!