UFC 226 Preview
Ever since 2015 the UFC has made it a point to really stack their July Pay-Per-View, usually on Independence Day weekend. It started with UFC 189 where Conor McGregor was originally supposed to fight Jose Aldo for the featherweight championship. Ultimately he ended up beating Chad Mendes as a late replacement to win the interim belt but it still ended up being one of the best PPV’s of all time with the fight of the year featured in the co-main event. Robbie Lawler’s epic war with Rory MacDonald set McGregor up nicely and there were a bunch of other great fights. In 2016 it was UFC 200 which was loaded with big names from top to bottom including Brock Lesnar’s return to the octagon. Last year the big PPV was a little later in the month but three title fights ending in Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier 2 was worth the wait.
(Are you planning on buying or watching UFC 226? Who do you like to win the championship fights? Let me know on the BSL forums here.)
This year is no different. From a legitimate super fight to long awaited dream matchups and everything in between UFC 226 this Saturday is the best MMA event since UFC 217 last November. To be fair there have been plenty of events since then that have pleasantly surprised and delivered the action that hardcore fans crave but UFC 226 is the first event of the year that really should satisfy MMA fans of all kinds. There are big names for the casuals (maybe not the biggest A list names but the next tier down that have a chance to make a big splash) and some close, competitive match-ups that promise the fireworks that the 4th of July can’t deliver for the more dedicated fans. 11 out of the 12 fights on Saturday are must see TV (Jamie Moyle vs Emily Whitmire kicks things off, no offense to them but it stands out as lesser quality). I’ll be previewing the top 9 bouts. But if you can, its still worth checking out Dan Hooker vs. Gilbert Burns and Lando Vannata vs. Drakkar Klose on UFC Fight Pass. All four of those guys are promising rising stars in their respective divisions. But without further ado, the first five fights below are available on Pay-Per-View and the last four can be found on FS1 starting at 8 PM est.
Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier – UFC Heavyweight Championship: Over the years the UFC has tried to put the “superfight” label on a number of contests (Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar comes to mind) and has made promises of superfights that never came to fruition. Barring a last minute issue we’re finally due to get our first true superfight. Stipe Miocic broke the heavyweight record for consecutive title defenses in January when he took care of the previously unbeaten Francis Ngannou and made a guy who looked unbeatable look pedestrian. Miocic may not be the flashiest fighter on the roster but he combines solid wrestling with an always improving boxing, good precision power punching and a great chin. He won the belt by knocking out Fabricio Werdum with a short right hand while backing up and then proceeded to knockout Alistair Overeem and Junior Dos Santos in the first round as well.
Cormier meanwhile is undefeated if Jon Jones didn’t exist. He started out at heavyweight and even won the Strikeforce Grand Prix as an alternate, beating Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett. He looked like potentially the best heavyweight in the world defeating Frank Mir and Roy Nelson upon his arrival to the UFC but dropped down to light heavyweight so he wouldn’t have to fight his friend and training partner Cain Velasquez who was champion at the time. He beat everyone there (except Jones) including Dan Henderson, Anderson Silva, Alexander Gustafsson, and Anthony Johnson twice. On the same night Miocic beat Ngannou, Cormier finished Volkan Oezdemir with strikes in the second round. It was his first fight since getting knocked out by Jones with a headkick. It was a weird situation where somebody kept their belt after losing due to a failed drug test.
Despite getting knocked out last July Cormier has proven to be one of the most durable fighters in the sport. Taking shots from big hitters like Rumble Johnson and just pushing through. Its hard for me to imagine how this fight plays out which is one of the reasons I’m so excited for it. I can see Cormier being able to withstand Miocic’s striking until hes able to implement his gameplan and win a wrestling battle and the judges decision. I could also see Stipe being able to keep the fight at his range and really being able to punish Cormier for failed takedowns as he has better defensive wrestling than a lot of fighters DC has faced of late. Either way it should be a high stakes chess match with the winner laying claim to best heavyweight of all time. My official prediction is Cormier by decision but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega – UFC Featherweight Championship: Max Holloway might be my favorite fighter in MMA at the moment. Hes a great fighter with an exciting versatile game. Hes on a 12 fight win streak and at 26 years old is only getting better. And he stays active. All 12 fights on his winning streak have come since January 2014. Even as champion hes willing to stay on a two or three fight a year schedule and as recently as April was willing to step in on less than a week’s notice to fight the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov for the vacant lightweight belt. And that was coming off his title defense against Frankie Edgar getting canceled a month prior due to an ankle injury. Unfortunately that didn’t come to fruition as the NYSAC stopped his weight cut short and Al Iaquinta was eventually placed in the main event in his stead. The ankle has apparently healed nicely and hes going to need to be at 100% if he wants to keep his win streak rolling against another young phenom in Brian Ortega.
‘T-City’ has torn through the ranks of the UFC’s featherweight division. He’s 7-0 in the UFC (14-0 overall) and all seven of those fights have ended with either a knockout or submission. Its worth noting that his first fight against Mike de la Torre was overturned due to a failed drug test but he owned it, apologized, and touted it as a learning experience. He then went on to win four consecutive fights in the third round after losing the first two. He has faced progressively tougher competition every time out and looked more and more impressive at every step. He stopped Clay Guida with a knee, caught Renato Moicano in a guillotine, set up another beautiful guillotine against Cub Swanson, and finally knocked out Frankie Edgar with a vicious uppercut and some follow-up strikes. That last fight came on late notice after Frankie’s title shot got ripped away from him and he decided to fight on the card anyway.
For his willingness to put himself on the line in order to help save an event ‘The Answer’ will most likely fight the winner of Saturday’s co-main event. He did comeback to beat Cub Swanson a month later. But who will it be? My money is on Holloway by decision. I just think he will outclass Ortega on the feet and I don’t see him getting caught by a big shot like Edgar did. ‘Blessed’ has levels to his game that I don’t think Brian has had time to develop yet and the experience of training for multiple five round fights. But what Ortega does have is 25 minutes to catch a limb and take it home with him to go along with the shiny belt that comes with it. He’s at or near the level of a Demien Maia or Jacare Souza so its not outside the realm of possibility.
Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis: This right here is a fight that fans have been wanting for a while now. Both of these big heavyweights have a lot in common beyond the obvious physical similarities. They both came late to the sport, carry huge power, and have some wrestling and stamina issues. They don’t exactly like each other and Lewis especially has been asking for the fight repeatedly over the years. The opportunity arose to book it after Ngannou lost to Stipe Miocic in January and Lewis knocked out Marcin Tybura. The UFC is still behind the potential star power that Francis brings and there really isn’t a bad outcome either way for the company as it could set up an exciting title or top contender fight. As much as I love Derrick Lewis I think Ngannou has the more refined striking and will connect with a big shot in the second round. The tension will be high as every punch thrown could be the one to end it.
Anthony Pettis vs. Michael Chiesa: We have Conor McGregor to thank for this match being moved from UFC 223 in April to this event. Chiesa was one of the victims of McGregor’s bus attack and had to be removed from that card after shattered glass cut up his face. Pettis had a roller coaster ride of his own after it looked like he might be the one to replace Max Holloway following his failed attempt to make weight on short notice. For almost literally a second it looked like he was going to be the one to step in to fight Khabib but Dana White claimed he was asking for too much money so he was out. ‘Showtime’ ended up stopping and starting his weight cut multiple times which just speaks to the chaos that day brought. Inside the cage this fight is very intriguing. Pettis has been on a slide since winning the lightweight belt in 2013 but hes been facing the best the division has to offer all along the way. And Chiesa continues that tradition. A wrestler with slick submission skills could give Pettis some trouble but I’m not sold on ‘Maverick’ as a top 10 fighter. His biggest win is against Beneil Dariush which is less impressive now than it was then. Every other time he took a step up in competition he lost (Kevin Lee, Jorge Masvidal, Joe Lauzon) and I see the same coming for him here.
Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree: The first fight of the pay-per-view sees two relatively inexperienced (in MMA at least) stand up fighters who should slug it out. Saki is a transplant from the kickboxing world who looked great knocking out Henrique da Silva in his UFC debut. Following that he was supposed to fight Rountree at UFC 219 but injured his knee. Luckily he wasn’t out too long and they were able to re-book the fight for this weekend. Rountree might not have the credentials of his opponent but he does have more experience and some pretty good striking skills of his own. His losses have mostly been the result of wrestling and grappling which shouldn’t be much of a worry here. I’m not expecting this fight to get out of the first round with both guys attempting to finish the fight at every moment.
Uriah Hall vs. Paulo Costa: This match-up is the former hotshot prospect who to this point has proven to be a bust vs. the current hotshot prospect who looks like he could be the star Brazil has been looking for ever since Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo have lost relevance. Ok that needs some work to be anything close to catchy but its true. Costa has looked near unbeatable during his 11 fight winning streak to start his career but at the same time his most impressive victory is against a washed out, bloated, and recently retired Johny Hendricks. At the same time he made him look like a punching bag all while looking like he is chiseled out of stone. We all know that Hall can show flashes of brilliance and knock anybody out at any time. Just ask Gegard Mousasi, current Bellator middleweight champion who had never been knocked out before until he was hit by an amazing flying spinning back kick. I think if Costa can avoid wild attempts like that he should be able to control the fight and maybe get a late finish.
Mike Perry vs. Paul Felder: This was originally scheduled to be Yancy Medeiros facing Mike Perry which was great matchmaking and a great chance or Perry to get back on the winning track while also being entertaining as hell for the viewers. Medeiros is wild and willing to brawl like ‘Platinum’ which would’ve gave him a chance to exploit some openings but instead he’ll be fighting Paul Felder. Even though Felder is a natural lightweight who is only taking a welterweight fight on short notice because his opponent for a later date (James Vick) got promoted to a main event against Justin Gaethje. Despite the weight disadvantage I would give ‘The Irish Dragon’ the advantage here due to experience and strategic smarts. Felder is a very well rounded fighter and knows how to use all his tools. Perry has big power, a granite chin, and real potential in the striking department but he hasn’t been fighting professionally very long and is prone to becoming one dimensional and predictable. Late submission or decision is my prediction.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Rob Font: Assuncao could very realistically be fighting for the title right now. He’s won 10 of his last 11 fights including his last three and his only loss is to current champ TJ Dillashaw who he previously defeated. He even has a win over Marlon Moraes who is probably going to be next to fight for the title after the Dillashaw/Cody Garbrandt rematch next month. The problem is Assuncao is boring in every way that the UFC wants excitement. Hes a great fighter but hes methodical and wins almost all of his fights by decision. He never talks trash or calls anybody out. He just does what it takes to win and quietly goes about his day. Which is why he continues to be booked against guys that the UFC is looking to catapult up the standings. Rob Font is one of those guys. Hes coming off an impressive TKO win over former prospect Thomas Almeida and if he does the same to Assuncao hes immediately looking at being thrown into the mix at bantamweight. He has a couple of losses against some tough guys (John Lineker and Pedro Munhoz) but he has the tools to beat a lot of the guys ahead of him in the rankings. Ultimately I see Assuncao winning by another “boring” decision and getting passed up for a title shot yet again.
Curtis Millender vs. Max Griffin: This is a nice welterweight scrap between a couple of guys who are probably too old to be considered prospects but who are capable of going on a run and earning themselves some big fights. Millender had an amazing UFC debut against Thiago Alves in February, finally knocking him out in the second round after dominating him throughout the fight. It was his seventh win in a row and instantly made him a name to remember in a deep division. Griffin meanwhile looked like he was being set up to be an easy win for Mike Perry in February. Instead he won a clear decision and looks like he could be more than an also-ran. Looking back at his record he’s only 2-2 in the UFC but his losses are to Colby Covington, who just won the interim welterweight belt, and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, who has won five fights in a row and looks like he could be a very good fighter. I actually see this fight going similarly to the dos Santos fight with Millender being able to keep Griffin at range and out striking him for three rounds.