This Saturday marks UFC 219, the last pay-per-view card of the year. This lineup of fights doesn’t provide closure for the year, but leaves us with three compelling questions that will have a profound impact on three divisions in the UFC in 2018. First, will Carlos Condit be able to return to championship contender form after a short-lived retirement? Second, will Khabib Nurmagomedov be able to figure out his weight cut and earn a title shot at lightweight? Finally, will a multiple time world boxing champion be able to slow down the freight train that is Cris “Cyborg” Santos?
Condit returns to a crowded welterweight division. Before his “retirement,” Condit alluded to being disenchanted with fighting and followed that up with stepping away from the sport. If he is not fully committed in his comeback, there are a host of talented welterweights that will be able to make him pay for having one foot out the door. His opponent, Neil Magny is a tough veteran who has defeated top-tier fighters such as Kelvin Gastelum, and Condit’s success rate against Magny should be a good barometer of how he will fare in his comeback.
Khabib Nurmagomedov had a very public weight cut issue in his last attempt to make 155 pounds that may or may not have involved tiramisu. This was after a very hard weight cut before his fight with Michael Johnson. This week, he was on point with his weight and is even teasing an attempt to make the featherweight limit in the future (which would be a horrible decision). Nurmagomedov seems to have figured it out this time around, as he was the second fighter on the scale Friday with a weight of 155.5. If the scale struggles are truly in the past, it only seems like a matter of time before he becomes the UFC lightweight champion. He is undefeated at 24-0 and no fighter has been competitive with him throughout his UFC career. He would be a difficult matchup for either interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson or lightweight champion Conor McGregor. After capturing the title, the only question would be whether the Russian fighter would stick around to defend his title or bolt to the welterweight division to become a multi-division champion.
The main event of the evening features one of the most dominant fighters in women’s mixed martial arts history. Cris “Cyborg” Santos has finished every opponent in the UFC, and some fighters are not willing to step into the Octagon with her. Enter Holly Holm, the woman who stopped the momentum of Ronda Rousey with the “head kick heard around the world.” Holm is a multiple time boxing world champion and also possesses the aforementioned devastating head kick. She is a counter-striker, and “Cyborg” likes to pressure her opponents. If Holm ends up getting starched by the champion, the UFC will be hard-pressed to find an opponent willing and able to come close to defeating “Cyborg” over the next few years.
This card will answer those questions and have a great influence on the championships in the UFC welterweight, lightweight, and women’s featherweight divisions. As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
Francis Ngannou, UFC, Heavyweight
Ngannou has been lighting the UFC heavyweight division on fire since joining the organization in 2015. He is currently undefeated, defeating all six of his Octagon foes by stoppage. “The Predator” possesses some of the most vicious power ever seen in the Octagon. This was shown in his last fight where he nearly decapitated perennial title contender Alistair Overeem. Even though Ngannou seems as if he may be one dimensional, he has moved his camp to the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas in order to develop other aspects of his game. The Cameroon native will almost certainly be tested in his next matchup which is a shot at UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
The championship bout with Miocic will be interesting for a multitude of reasons. First, Stipe has good power of his own, and may be the more technical striker. Additionally, Miocic has Division I wrestling credentials from his time at Cleveland State University. If Ngannou has an Achilles heel, it may be his wresting. He was taken down twice by former junior college national championship Curtis Blaydes early in his UFC career. That would be Miocic’s path of least resistance to victory, but “The Predator” has improved his takedown defense in each fight. Standing, Ngannou has to be considered the favorite even though the champion has a laundry list of knockout victory, including knockouts over legends such as Junior Dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski. Even though Miocic is more accomplished, Ngannou’s power is undeniable. As long as the fight stays standing, Miocic is playing a dangerous game and there is a high likelihood Ngannou will land a big punch to finish the fight and become the new UFC heavyweight champion.
Stipe Miocic, UFC 220: Miocic vs. Ngannou
(Jan. 20, 2018)
Rafael Dos Anjos, UFC, Welterweight
Since moving up to the UFC welterweight division, Dos Anjos has won three fights in a row. This was on the heels of a two-fight skid at lightweight. It seems as if it was the right move for Dos Anjos, as he may be challenging for the welterweight title in his next fight. The former lightweight champion was very big for the weight class, and he seemed to reach the point of diminishing returns as he aged and made the big weight cut. He has been reborn at welterweight, and he has seemed to be energized on fight night with great stamina and a speed advantage in the division.
In his last fight with former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler it was clear he had the speed advantage. At one point during the fight he unleashed a combination of punches against the fence with speed that would be hard for other welterweights to match. Along with his speed advantage in striking, Dos Anjos also showcased his grappling. Twice he was able to take down Lawler, who has a notoriously strong sprawl, and even managed to pass his guard. This performance was following his fight with Neil Magny, where Dos Anjos rag-dolled Magny en route to a first-round submission victory. Dos Anjos’ speed and precision with striking, as well as his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, seem to serve him well in the heavier weight class. The former lightweight champion should get the opportunity to become a two-division champion unless Georges St. Pierre decides to return to welterweight to challenge reigning UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Brian Ortega, UFC, Featherweight
Ortega may be the best submission artist in the UFC at the present time. The most impressive aspect of his submission game is he does not need to be on the ground to initiate a submission. He showed that in his last fight with Cub Swanson when he almost finished the fight at the end of the first round with an anaconda choke that started from the clinch. It was more of the same in the second round as, once again, Swanson and “T-City” were clinched, and Swanson snatched up a guillotine from that position. The impressive part is when he jumped to guard, made Swanson support his weight, readjusted his hands to make the choke tighter, and forced Swanson to tap. Ortega has the tightest squeeze in the division and the technical ability to put himself in the most advantageous positions to end the fight by submission.
The major concern for the Rener Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt is his striking. Although he has won three of his last four fights via submission, Ortega has been out-struck in a lopsided fashion in those contests. If he fights somebody who puts all aspects of mixed martial arts together, like Frankie Edgar or Max Holloway, he could find submissions hard to come by and end up finished by strikers of their caliber. Swanson is an excellent striker, and has the ability to finish fights, but his grappling is not at the level of either Edgar or Holloway. However, even though Ortega has been beaten standing by some of his opponents, he has shown incredible heart and a will to win the fights. His heart, along with his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, are the reason “T-City” remains undefeated. As the No. 3-ranked UFC featherweight (and No. 1-ranked UFC featherweight Jose Aldo recently losing to champion Holloway) Ortega should get a title fight in next Octagon appearance, whether he leapfrogs Edgar or waits for the winner of Holloway and Edgar.
Carlos Condit, UFC, Welterweight
After over a year hiatus from mixed martial arts, former interim UFC welterweight champion Carlos Condit makes his return to the sport. “The Natural Born Killer” is known as one of the most violent fighters in the history of the division. He has above-average striking and likes to use elbows which open up cuts on his opponents. Condit has lost five of his last seven UFC bouts, but each loss has come to a fighter who has been the UFC welterweight champion or has challenged for the belt. His next fight is a step down in competition as he fights Neil Magny, the No. 12-ranked UFC welterweight.
Magny has lost two of his last three fights, and he seems like an opponent that is being used to reestablish Condit in the division. Magny’s last two losses have come in the first round, and he will have to deal with the early pressure of “The Natural Born Killer” early in the fight to avoid another premature finish. Magny is at a disadvantage because his strength is standing, much like Condit’s, but Condit is a shade better standing and far superior on the ground. Condit has 28 finishes in his career, and 13 of those have come via submission. Magny is uncomfortable on the ground, as was exemplified in his last fight against Rafael Dos Anjos. It will be important for Condit to get a finish against Magny to prove that he is back to his old form and that the long layoff has not diminished his skills.
Neil Magny, UFC 219: Cyborg vs. Holm
(Dec. 30, 2017)
Holly Holm, UFC, Featherweight
Even though Holm won her last fight with a finish, it was against Bethe Correia who has lost three of four fights. Prior to that, “The Preacher’s Daughter” lost three fights in a row. The biggest issue is that Holm faces a very tall order in her title fight this weekend against arguably the most dominant women’s mixed martial artist of all time, Cris “Cyborg” Santos.
“Cyborg” is a striker, much like Holm, but has the most power women’s mixed martial arts has ever seen. She is 3-0 in the Octagon with each win coming via KO/TKO. This seems like a fight which is tailor-made for Holm, as she is an extremely skilled counter-striker, harkening back to her days as a world champion boxer. She showed her counter-striking in her signature head kick knockout of Ronda Rousey, who chose to chase Holm around the Octagon. However, “Cyborg” is a fearless striker who has no problem standing within range. Anything she lands has a chance of knocking out her opponent. It will be very difficult for Holm to withstand the onslaught of “Cyborg” and deal with her power. Even though Holm has never been knocked out in mixed martial arts, avoiding one here seems as if it is a nearly impossible task. The former champion, Germaine de Randamie, who won the title in a fight with Holm, actually vacated her belt so she did not have to fight Cyborg. This seems like a fight that will result in Holm having lost four of her last fights, albeit to very good competition.
Cris “Cyborg” Santos, UFC 219: Cyborg vs. Holm
(Dec. 30, 2017)