Prior to this week there was an unusual calm leading up to UFC 202. This was surprising with two of the UFC’s biggest personalities, Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz set to square off in their highly anticipated rematch of their UFC 196 bout. The quiet quickly evaporated into chaos at the last fighter press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Diaz and his entourage stormed out of his media obligation after McGregor was about 30 minutes late to the event. McGregor took offense to Diaz not letting him speak once he got to podium, the two began to exchange profanities as the Stockton crew made their way towards the exit. A few energy drink cans, bottles of water, and middle fingers thrown by both fighters later and the eye of the UFC 202 storm has officially touched down in Las Vegas. Everyone knows who the main event is this weekend. However, this card has a load of talent on it from the fight pass portion to the main card. There are a lot of intriguing potential high action fights and major implications for multiple weight divisions throughout the entire UFC 202 lineup. I take a look at some of the best fights on the card and make some predictions to hopefully help your wallets.
Notable UFC Fight Pass Prelim Bout:
Neil Magny (7th) vs Lorenz “The Monsoon” Larkin (Welterweight 170lbs)
Preview: Neil Magny looks to continue his three fight win streak as he pursues a top 5 ranking in the welterweight division against the powerful striking Lorenz Larkin. Magny has been on a tear since his submission loss to Demian Maia about a year ago, racking up impressive wins against top opponents Kelvin Gastelum & Hector Lombard. His other worldly cardio, heart, and improving overall skill-set, has him looking to make a case for him to get a shot at a top 5 fighter if he can get past a really difficult opponent in Larkin. Larkin is looking for a marquee victory against a top opponent in hopes of getting back into the welterweight rankings. He knows Magny’s style allows him to get hit, so if he can manage to stay on his feet, deal with the height& reach disadvantages, and prevent Magny’s takedowns.
Odds: Magny (-130) vs Larkin (+110)
Prediction: This is a really interesting fight for both fighters, as Magny appears on the cusp getting a possible title shot if he can string together a few more victories. Unfortunately, Magny has a tendency to allow his opponents a moment or two in every fight where it looks like he might lose. Magny’s cardio and iron chin have allowed him to mostly overcome these slip ups but I’m not sure if he survives if Larkin catches him clean. If Magny can withstand the ensuing flurry from Larkin without getting a direct shot shot that puts him to sleep, he’ll impose his will. I think Magny’s camp knows they can’t afford to trade with Larkin and will game plan accordingly, focusing on using his superior reach & ground game, to take him down, pummel him, and end his night late in the 3rd round.
(Neil Magny via 3rd TKO)
Notable Fox Sports 1 Prelim Bouts:
Cody “No Love” Garbrandt (8th) vs Takeya Mizugaki (11th) (Bantamweight 135lbs)
Preview: The main event for the Fox Sports 1 preliminary bouts is a Bantamweight showdown between two fighters in the top 15 at different points in their careers. Takeya Mizugaki is a longtime B veteran who has fought some of the best the division has to offer but has never been able to crack the top 5 in the division. Cody Garbrandt is an undefeated rising star in the division, looking to justify getting a top 5 ranking and a top 5 opponent for his next fight if he can get past Mizugaki. No one ever wants to see themselves as a “gatekeeper” for the division as the connotations imply that their best days are behind them or that they’ve reached their maximum potential. Unfortunately for Mizugaki that is now his role in the Bantamweight division, and he is there to test how real of a contender Garbrandt actually is with this fight. This is not to say Mizugaki is not incredibly talented as a “gatekeeper” because he is. He has tremendous heart, a really good chin, and striking that can make his opponents pay if they want to exchange with him. He also defends takedowns at 70% rate, making him a very tough test for Garbrandt. Garbrandt has absolutely destroyed his competition in all four of his UFC fights to date, three of which he finished via knockout. He has elite level cardio, wrestling, and striking making him a nightmare for his opponents trying to find a weak spot in his game. His destruction of the previously undefeated Thomas Almeida a top 10 Bantamweight, put the division on notice that he is looking to take on the best in the division.
Odds: Cody Garbrandt (-520) vs Takeya Mizugaki (+405)
Prediction: Most times when you have such a disparity in the odds (Garbrandt is a 5 to 1 favorite) between two top 15 ranked opponents, you just take the underdog and hope they find a way to win. However, Garbrandt has been so impressive against top competition; it is hard to try to make a legitimate case for how Mizugaki can win this fight. Cardio? Mizugaki’s is good cardio, Garbrandt’s might be better. Striking? Mizugaki can bang, but Garbrandt destroys opponents with his boxing background giving his striking fluidity combined with knockout power. Wrestling? It’s a landslide for Garbrandt. Submissions? Mizugaki has gotten submitted, and Garbrandt is undefeated. So how can Mizugaki win this fight? I do not think he can. The +405 value is hard to pass up but this will be Cody Garbrandt’s coming out party for anyone not yet familiar with him. He knocks out Mizugaki in impressive fashion, maybe even in the first round.
(Cody Garbrandt via Knockout)
Notable Main Card Fights:
Hyun “The Ace” Gyu Lim vs Mike “Platinum” Perry (Welterweight 170lbs)
Preview: If you like striking, and you want to pencil in a possible “Knockout of The Night” contender, this fight is on your list. Hyun Lim makes his return to the octagon in over a year looking to rebound from his loss knockout loss to Neil Magny. He will get the undefeated striker Mike Perry, who will be making his UFC debut. Lim’s size and style lends him to look for knockouts as all three of his UFC wins have come via KO/TKO. He will hold a significant five-inch height advantage over Perry. Perry will have to overcome the jitters of being on the big stage for the first time in his career and the a big step up in competition Lim will be from his previous non-UFC opponents. Perry will also have to deal with the height and reach disadvantages to spring an upset in his UFC debut. All seven of his pre-UFC victories have come via Knockout, so he definitely has some power in his strikes. He is also a former amateur Florida Muay Thai state champion he definitely possesses the technical striking to go toe to toe with Lim if he chooses to do so.
Odds: Gyu Lim (-270) vs Mike Perry (+250)
Prediction: Someone is getting knocked out, it’s just a matter of figuring out who it will be. Lim definitely has all the advantages you typically choose in a battle of two strikers. He’s the bigger man; he’s more experienced, and has done it against better competition. However, his inactivity after his last loss has me worried here. Taking over 13 months to get back into the octagon and facing a young powerful striker looking to make a name for himself, is a dangerous combination for a fighter coming off a knockout loss. Lim could use his size to overpower the inexperienced Perry, but I like the value I’m getting with Perry as a +250 underdog, especially with his Muay Thai background. I think he can find a whole in Lim’s defense and finish him for the upset.
(Mike Perry via Knockout)
Rick “The Horror” Story (9th) vs Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (14th) (Welterweight 170lbs)
Preview: It’s pretty hard to have so many great fights on a card, that UFC fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone fighting a top 10 welterweight is the 3rd or 4th most interesting fight on the card but that speaks to how loaded an event UFC 202 is. Cerrone is in a really interesting point in his career having won 10 of his last 11 fights, with his only loss coming at the hands of former Lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anos by knockout. The world-class striker and ambassador for the sport is floating between two weight classes. He enters UFC 202 moving up to fight in the welterweight division where he is also ranked in the top 15. However, Cerrone is still the 6th ranked Lightweight, and with the new champion Eddie Alvarez now holding the Lightweight belt, is a man Cerrone has previously beat. Alvarez holding the belt will likely cause Cerrone to make another push for the lightweight title. Before worrying about a lightweight title shot, Cerrone will have to take care of business at welterweight with a very dangerous top 10 welterweight in Rick Story. Story is certainly not a man who gets intimidated by Cerrone’s striking or pedigree. He is riding a three fight win streak against some of the top talent the welterweight division has to offer and a win over Cerrone would likely get him a top 5 welterweight matchup. Despite moving up in weight, Cerrone will maintain the height and reach advantage, which will force Story to push the pace with his excellent cardio and close the distance so he can try to hurt “Cowboy” with his power. Cerrone will look to keep Story honest with his leg kicks and quick strikes to keep his back off the cage, and make Story pay for any mistakes.
Odds: Cerrone (-160) vs Story (+140)
Prediction: Cerrone is dangerous anywhere this fight goes, whether it’s to the mat or standing he has the skills to make Story pay. It is why he is a ranked fighter and fan favorite in two different weight divisions. Despite Cerrone having the striking and size advantage, I think this fight is truly a coin-flip, due to Story’s ability to hurt opponents during scrambles and his great conditioning keeping him his opponent’s chest all fight. This fight could go a variety of ways depending upon which Cerrone shows up, but I think Story surprises some people here and outworks “Cowboy” in a very entertaining unanimous decision victory. Take the value on the underdog Story, fighting in his normal weight class a 50/50 fight.
(Rick Story via unanimous decision)
Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (1st) vs Glover Teixeira (2nd) (Light Heavyweight 205lbs)
Preview: Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Glover Teixeira two monsters in the Light heavyweight division will go to war for the grand prize of getting a date to fight Daniel Cormier for his Light heavyweight championship belt. Both men are looking to avenge their title shot losses earlier in their careers. Johnson lost to the current champion Cormier, while Teixeira lost his only title shot against the former Light Heavyweight champ and now suspended Jon Jones. Johnson has devastating knockout power, and can put anyone in the division to sleep with a single punch. He has great takedown defense, stuffing takedowns at a 79% rate allowing him to force his opponents to trade with his devastating striking. His opponent Glover Teixeira is also a phenomenal striker landing 4.4 strikes per minute on average, a full 1.2 strikes, more per minute than Johnson at 3.27. Teixeira also has a criminally underrated submission game with his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The first round will be an absolute barn burner, as Johnson loves to come out trying to take his opponent’s head off, and Teixeira is game to return fire. The biggest question mark in Johnson’s game is his submission defense, having lost four of his five UFC losses coming by submission. It’s why Johnson’s take down defense is so tough, because he knows he cannot afford to allow his opponent to grapple with him on the ground where he has some weaknesses. Fortunately for Johnson, Teixeira’s ability to take his opponents down is pretty average for the division.
Odds: Johnson (-192) vs Teixeira (+170)
Prediction: Anthony Johnson does not want this fight getting out of the first round, and there is a high-probability the ring woman with the round 2 placard will not have to work for this fight. I think Johnson’s strategy for this fight is pretty straight forward, swarm Teixeira and finish him as fast as possible. Teixeira could choose to trade with Johnson but I think he recognizes “Rumble” may struggle with his cardio if he does not get the early finish opening the door for a takedown and submission attempt where Teixeira holds a huge advantage. Teixeira’s iron chin will be tested by Johnson but I think if he can get out of the 1st round and not take too much damage he can frustrate and submit Johnson in the 2nd or 3rd round. Getting a fighter as great as Teixeira at nearly 2-1 odds is too good to pass up.
(Teixeira via Submission)
Main Event (Non-Title Fight)
Conor McGregor (Featherweight Champion) vs Nate Diaz (Welterweight 170lbs)
Preview: It is hard to preview what might be one of if not the biggest rematch at least in terms of viewership in UFC history, which the MMA and national media have already beaten to death. We know what we are getting with these two when they enter the octagon on Saturday night. Conor McGregor is here to regain his Teflon persona after Nate Diaz choked some of that out of him in their first meeting at UFC 196. Multiple reports had the UFC brass and people in McGregor’s camp urging him to go back to safer confines of the featherweight division where he is the undefeated champion there. Instead McGregor wants to make a point that he can beat the bigger Diaz in his own division. He believes the first fight was merely an issue of McGregor’s poor game plan and cardio giving out at the unfamiliar weight. Dillon Sanis who is McGregor’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training partner believes their extra work on the ground will payoff this time. However, Dillon Sanis is not Nate Diaz, he cannot replicate his extremely underrated boxing and tough submission game that has him with the 2nd most submissions in UFC history at 9, behind only the legendary Royce Gracie. McGregor was able to land multiple shots on Diaz in the 1st round of their 1st fight, but one good round doesn’t necessarily mean he can do that for four extra ones, if he can even stay out of trouble on the ground. This fight will come down to three key questions which depending upon the answers could change the outcome of this fight compared to their first one:
- Is Conor McGregor able to pace himself and keep his striking efficient enough to hurt Diaz, keep himself off the mat while simultaneously not tiring himself out?
- Which Nate Diaz is showing up for this fight? The one who got pummeled by Benson Hnederson, Josh Thomson, and Dong Hyun Kim or the killer who took out Donald Cerrone, Gray Maynard, Jim Miller, and McGregor?
- Is McGregor better prepared to defend himself against Diaz’s superior jiu-jitsu if he finds himself in trouble on the ground at any point during the fight?
Odds: Diaz (-105) vs McGregor (-115)
Prediction: A quick survey of the MMA experts, community, and fighters would lead you to believe Nate Diaz should capture his second straight victory against “The Notorious” one. Prior to the melee at the final presser, a poll found 21 of the 22 MMA journalists in attendance were picking Diaz to prevail once again. It’s pretty hard to find anyone who isn’t a McGregor fan that thinks he’s going to win the rematch. However, he still remains a slight betting favorite in the eyes of the odds makers. I actually understand this position by the casinos because lost in the first fight was how McGregor was landing his left hand at will throughout most of the first round. This is something I believe he can rely on again and have some success against Diaz if he can find a pace that does not tire him out and not look for a knockout. Diaz game plan is simple, slow McGregor down with some of his slick boxing counters, get him to the mat, and he’ll choke out the Irishman again. My head is telling me to take the fighter who decisively won the first fight, but something about McGregor’s prep and demeanor for this fight leads me to believe we’ll see a better game plan this time around. It would not shock me if McGregor finds a way to keep Diaz at bay with his left hand, and frustrates the Stockton native into taking punishment looking for a takedown. Hardly anyone in the media is picking McGregor, and that is exactly why I’m going against my head here and taking The Notorious one by a bloody & highly entertaining unanimous decision.
(McGregor via Unanimous Decision)
Prediction Record Year to Date (4-1-0 (+$19)
-Record& predication record are for winners only, unless specified otherwise using increments of $100 as hypothetical wagers for each prediction
-Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only
*Stats via www.UFC.com
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