UFC 205 without any sense of hyperbole is the biggest and most talent laden card in UFC history; at least on paper. Dana White and the new UFC ownership group chose to stack their first ever event in the empire state with as many title fights and fan favorites as they possibly could in a single night of fighting. Even the most cynical Mixed Martial Arts fans, who have a love hate relationship with the UFC, must tip their caps at the sheer volume of fantastic matchups set to take place on Saturday, November 12th in the historic Madison Square Garden. Three separate championship belts (Lightweight, Welterweight, and Women’s Straw weight) will be on the line; along with three potential future title shots that all could be decided on the same night. Barring a fight week injury mishap or someone failing to make weight, this card has the makings of the most memorable card in mixed martial arts history. I do my best to take a look at what I think are the most interesting fights on a card loaded with them, and offer some predictions to hopefully help your bank accounts.
Notable FS1 Prelim Fights:
Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (1st) vs Michael “The Menace” Johnson (6th) (Lightweight 155lbs)
Preview: Khabib Nurmagomedov constantly feels like he’s overlooked in the Lightweight division, and it’s hard to not agree with him. The man is 23-0, and dominated a once invisible looking Rafael dos Anjos. Yes, injuries have helped derail some of his title chances and ability for the UFC to properly market him, but the man simply does not lose. His ‘grind it out’ style, does not do him favors in the eyes of the fans or the UFC brass looking to market fights. However, Nurmagomedov has beaten everyone put in front of him and has now laid down the guantlet to the UFC, demanding a title shot against the winner of the main event between Conor McGregor & Eddie Alvarez. Nurmagomedov has gone on record stating if the UFC does not grant him a title shot after he beats Michael Johnson that he’ll follow Jose Aldo’s footsteps and leave the UFC. This obviously comes with a huge assumption that he will dispatch a tough and dangerous Michael Johnson, who is looking to make a push for a title shot of his own. Both men will look to impose their wrestling skills on the other, potentially leading to a snooze fest fight if they keep the fight on the mat for the majority of the fight. However, both fighters own a +80% takedown defense potentially forcing the men to trade shots before a take down can occur. If the fight stays on their fight, Johnson would seem to hold a significant striking advantage over Nurmagomedov as Johnson does possess one punch knockout power, while Nurmagomedov’s striking is more to set-up his takedowns. Add in a small arm and leg reach advantage for Johnson, and it becomes clear Johnson may choose to take his chances keeping the fight standing if he can dictate the style of the fight.
Odds: Nurmagomedov (-270) vs Johnson (+230)
Prediction: The odds favor Nurmagomedov in fight on paper appears close to a coin flip. Both men are excellent wrestlers, and Johnson has some legit striking, leading one to think getting Johnson at nearly 2 1/2 to 1 is great value. However, upon closer examination Johnson has shown a propensity to show sporadic effort in multiple fights or fight down to his level of competition despite his immense talent. He’s talented enough to beat a guy like Tony Ferguson but still somehow finds a way to lose guys like Reza Madadi and Myles Jury. Would it shock me to see Johnson win; no, but I just can’t advocate putting money behind someone who you do not know what kind of effort you’ll get from them. Nurmagomedov is undefeated for a reason; he grinds his opponents into submission. Sometimes the best bets are the ones you “don’t make”; so I’d stay away from a side in this fight, and focus on the total. This fight is going to a decision, unless Johnson lands a miracle bomb.
(Over 2.5 Rounds -145)
Frankie “The Answer” Edgar (2nd) vs Jeremy “Lil Heathen” Stephens (7th) (Featherweight 145lbs)
Preview: The last fight of the FS1 preliminary fights with Frankie Edgar taking on Jeremy Stephens, could easily headline any FS1 fight night card as a main event; which gives the fans an idea of just how loaded this card is. Frankie Edgar enters this fight in a really interesting place; it appeared he was permanently stuck behind Jose Aldo in the bantamweight division having lost to the Brazilian twice. However, with the recent “retirement” from Aldo, and McGregor appearing to have permanently moved to the Lightweight division for the foreseeable future, a win by Edgar would theoretically put him in the driver’s seat for a shot at what will be the vacant bantamweight title. Edgar has a tailor-made opponent for his style with Jeremy Stephens. Stephens has tremendous heart and heavy hands, but he lacks any real ground game, and has a history of being susceptible to guys with Edgar’s style. Charles Oliveira, Max Holloway, and Cub Swanson all controlled Stephens with their superior wrestling and kept his powerful strikes at bay to beat Stephens; laying a blueprint Edgar is sure to follow. Edgar is better than all three of those guys who beat Stephens, so Stephens must win the only way he knows how; hitting Edgar so hard in his face he loses all motor functions. Stephens does possess a height and reach advantage, meaning he can potentially keep Edgar from shooting on him for a double leg, if he can effectively land his jab early in the fight. However, Stephens best strategy will likely be going for broke in the 1st round, as I do not see him winning a decision against Edgar if he can’t knock him out. Edgar likely knows this, and may choose to counter-strike early in the fight or at least be cautious so he does not get clipped by Stephens’s big right hand.
Odds: Edgar (-320) vs Stephens (+270)
Prediction: I think Edgar handles his business against a really tough but beatable opponent. The only way I see Edgar losing is by early knockout, or if his years of wars within the UFC suddenly catching up to him in this fight. In the end I think Edgar knows what is at stake, this will likely be his last and best chance at getting his hands on a UFC belt; and it all starts with beating Stephens. Edgar in a three round fight will be a maniac with his cardio, and should drag Stephens into a war on the mat, which will favor Edgar in every possible way.
(Frankie Edgar (-320) via unanimous decision)
Notable PPV Main Card Fights:
Kelvin Gastelum (5th) vs Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (6th) (Welterweight 170lbs)
Preview: In what could be one of the most slept on fights of the night; Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Kelvin Gastelum will look to stake their claim for a fight against a top 3 opponent in the welterweight division, which could eventually lead to a title shot. The idea that a fan favorite like “Cowboy”, is in a fight that isn’t getting a lot of press again speaks to the strength of this card. I think because there isn’t a championship on the line or a direct shot at a title after a victory, has led to this fight being overlooked. However, this fight has “fight of the night” potential. Cerrone has been on an absolute tear since his loss to Dos Anjos 4 fights ago. He looks extremely comfortable at welterweight, and will hold a height & reach advantage against Gastelum. Cerrone is 12-2 in his last 14 fights, with his only losses coming to Dos Anjos. Kelvin Gastelum may not have the not have as many skills as Dos Anjos, but he is absolutely a threat Donald Cerrone needs to not get sloppy with. Gastelum’s only defeats have come via split decision losses, in fights he arguably won against top-tier competition. One of his losses was to the current welterweight champion Tyrone Woodley, and another controversial close fight against the tough Neil Magny. If Gastelum had merely gotten one of those two close decisions, there is a chance he’d be fighting for the title on this card instead of fighting Cerrone. Gastelum’s game plan will likely include him hounding Cerrone for all three rounds, and forcing Cerrone to fight off his back foot in close quarters. He has the power and the cardio to bother Cerrone, but he’s going to have to risk getting hit by Cerrone to close that distance. While this sounds good in theory, ask some of Cerrone’s opponents about getting hit with some of his brutal leg kicks and strikes, they can alter any fighter’s willingness to keep trying to close the distance away against Cowboy.
Odds: Cerrone (-155) vs Gastelum (+135)
Prediction: This fight fascinates me because I can easily see it going either way for a variety of reasons. Cerrone may just break Gastelum down the entire fight with a vicious attack of strikes, and movement, frustrating him until he cracks or loses a wide decision to Cerrone. I can also see a fight where Gastelum does not let Cerrone breath, and essentially bullies him around the octagon, preventing Cowboy from ever finding a constant rhythm to throw his shots. I think this fight is a little closer to 50/50 than the odds makers and fans would have you believe, so I think Cerrone is overvalued for that reason. In a true toss-up fight, I’ll take the plus odds, and hope I’m right. This fight could produce a lot of fireworks, but I think Gastelum manages to tag an exhausted Cerrone late, and finish him forcing the ref to stop the fight.
(Gastelum(+135) via TKO)
Chris “The All-American” Weidman (2nd) vs Yoel “Soldier of God” (4th) (Middleweight 185lbs)
Preview: This fight has two guys who arguably could easily hold the middleweight championship if they were lucky enough to get the next fight against Michael Bisping. In the case of Chris Weidman he’s already been a champion, while Yoel Romero was close to getting his shot until his unfortunate six month PED suspension at the end of 2015. The winner of this fight deserves a title shot, and despite the UFC trying to feed Bisping handpicked or past their prime stars, eventually he will have to fight one of the current top 5 fighters. Weidman is hoping to make that decision easy for the UFC, by handing Romero his first UFC defeat. In order to get the title shot, Weidman will have to beat Romero at his own game outwrestling the Cuban Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and wrestling specialist. Weidman will have a massive 5 inch reach advantage against Romero, which could enable his striking to set-up his takedowns. Many fighters around the UFC believe Weidman to have some of the best wrestling skills outside of Daniel Cormier. Romero will definitely test that theory, as his wrestling and sheer athleticism have let him destroy top tier fighters like Tim Kennedy and Lyoto Machida. Romero is going to have to press the action against Weidman who is coming off a devastating knockout loss to Luke Rockhold and hasn’t fought in about a year. If Weidman has any ring rust, or if his chin is not quite the same, Romero will likely try to test it as early as he can in this fight. This fight could end up being a boring grappling match between two elite wrestlers, or it could end up having some fireworks if both men are unable to impose their will on the mat, and must resort to striking for effective offense.
Odds: Weidman (-165) vs Romero (+144)
Prediction: I hate picking a favorite who is coming off a knockout loss, because there is always the possibility they are no longer the same fighter before the knockout. However, Weidman before his loss to Rockhold was so dominant and talented; it’s tough to not give him the obvious nod in this fight. He’s beaten the best striker the UFC has ever seen in Anderson Silva, he’s beaten the most dominant BJJ fighter actively fighting in the UFC today in Damian Maia, he’s weathered the 1st round storm that is Vitor Belfort. He still possesses all of those same skills that won him those fights. Thus, as long as Weidman is healthy, and prepared properly for this fight unlike the Rockhold fight where rumors of a bad camp persisted; I think he finishes Romero. I do not think we’ll see another wild and stupid heel kick by Weidman which led to his eventual knockout against Rockhold. I think we’ll see a very focused, angry, and technical Weidman which will spell bad news for Romero. The All-American wants his belt back, and I think that journey starts with handing Romero his first UFC loss.
(Weidman (-165) via TKO)
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (Champion) vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz (2nd) (Strawweight Championship Fight 125lbs)
Preview: The fight on paper looks great, two undefeated strikers, both from the same country fighting for the Strawweight Champoinship of the world. However, upon closer examination the great matchup breaks down as this fight has a clear talent disparity favoring the champion Jedrzejczyk over the challenger Kowalkiewicz. Kowalkiewicz to her credit has done everything the UFC has asked of her, she’s beaten every woman she’s faced; she’s earned her title shot. Unfortunately, her preferred skill (striking) set is the same as the champion’s, and no one thinks she is a better striker in this matchup. Kowalkiewicz could try to surprise Jedrzejczyk by trying to take her to the mat. However, Jedrzejczyk can best far better natural wrestlers and ‘grapplers’ than Kowlkiewicz, so it’s highly improbable the challenger will find any luck going that route. Her only strategy is to go with what she knows: striking; and hope she lands a shot that rocks the champion. For the champion the strategy is clear, trade strikes with an inferior opponent, and she will be victorious. The only way Jedrzejczyk could run into issues is if she did not prepare properly for this fight, and somehow does not have the gas tank for championship rounds. However, recent history has shown she always come into fights in excellent shape, so she should implement her game plan flawlessly.
Odds: Jedrzejczyk (-385) vs Kowalkiewicz (+320)
Prediction: I think Jedrzejczyk is going to put on another striking clinic. The only woman, who stands a chance against her, is someone who can wrestle at an elite level, have superior ju-jitsu, and incredible cardio; Kowalkiewicz is not that fighter. I think the champion will show from the opening bell she is there to beat the hell out of the challenger, and will do so for however long Kowalkiewicz can stay standing. In the end I think we get a ref stoppage somewhere in the 3rd or 4th round, as the champion delivers so much punishment the ref will have to step in. Look for good odds on the under, and don’t be afraid to add Jerdrzejczyk to any parlays you might want to put together.
(Jerdrzejczyk(-385) via TKO)
Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley (Champion) vs Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (2nd) (Welterweight Championship Fight 170lbs)
Preview: The second championship fight of the night could be the most entertaining, and difficult to predict of the three title fights on the card. Tyron Woodley shocked the UFC with his devastating knockout of the incredibly iron chinned champion Robbie Lawler, to win the Welterweight championship. Woodley showed he has athleticism and power that can win any fight at 170lbs. However, the UFC did not do Woodley any favors with his first title defense placing him against the only man in the Welterweight who may hit harder than him in Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Thompson has been on an absolute tear since joining the UFC in 2013, he’s been kicking and punching faces off on his way to earning his first title shot in the UFC. Many pundits, fighters, and writers believe “Wonderboy” to possess the most technically proficient striker in the UFC. He’ll maintain a significant height advantage but will not really have any reach advantages over the champion. He also averages two more strikes landed per minute than the champion, which is significant if this fight goes into the later rounds. On the other side Woodley may look to make this a dirty and rough grappling fight, preventing Thompson from getting his powerful kicks off. He’ll have to figure out a way around Thompson’s tough takedown defense, which has seen him stuff 81% of the takedowns tried against him in the UFC. Woodley may get stuffed a few times, but he’ll have to remain relentless in hopes of tiring Thompson out with a commitment to getting him to the mat in the later rounds of the fight. Thompson is also known for his conditioning like Woodley so it could come down to a battle of cardio and who can push the other to the brink to impose their will.
Odds: Woodley (+170) vs Thompson (-195)
Prediction: I love this fight for multiple reasons, but mainly because it could end is so many ways. Woodley could end any fight with a single punch, as can Thompson with his feet and fists. Both men will have the cardio to go at full throttle for all five rounds, so the fight will truly come down to whose skill set is better. It’s so hard to doubt Woodley after what he’s done over his last 3 fights beating Dong Hyun Kim, Kelvin Gastelum, and former champion Robbie Lawler. However, he still has decisive losses on his resume to Rory MacDonald & Nate Marquardt. Thompson just looks in perfect form now, and if he can prevent himself from getting clipped by one of Woodley’s bombs; he pick apart Woodley’s defense. I think this fight could be ultra-competitive back and forth while it lasts but I think Thompson gets the Knockout for his first ever UFC Championship. I think if you like Woodley, I don’t blame you for taking the +odds on the champion. I think a better bet is taking the under 2.5 rounds, allowing for a win if either elite striker gets the stoppage.
(Stephen Thompson (-195) via Knockout) & Under 2.5 Rounds (+110)
Main Event (Lightweight Championship Fight)
Conor “The Notorious” McGregor (Featherweight Champion) vs Eddie Alvarez (Lightweight Champion) (Lightweight Championship Fight 155lbs)
Preview: If UFC fans haven’t already passed out from excitement of such a loaded card, they will get a fantastic finish to the card as the Lightweight championship will be on the line as Conor McGregor will challenge Eddie Alvarez for his newly acquired championship belt. While the build up to this fight has not been as contentious or heated as McGregor vs Diaz, it is still obvious these two fighters do not like one another. Thursday’s final press conference put that on display as both Alvarez and McGregor traded verbal barbs about one another’s families. All of the trash talk will not matter however, as the Lightweight title gets decided by whether or not Eddie Alvarez can withstand the precision striking of Conor McGregor. Alvarez is a dangerous striker himself, and can easily stand toe to toe with Conor if he chooses, but I do not believe it makes any sense to attempt to play Conor’s game if he does not have to. Alvarez is a very underrated wrestler, and that has shown as one of McGregor’s main weaknesses as both Nate Diaz and Chad Mendes showed taking him down fairly easily. An while McGregor’s takedown defense has improved since entering the UFC, Alvarez should have no problems taking him to the mat as long as he does not get caught shooting in. McGregor will likely feel some relief fighting a slightly smaller guy again, after being at a size and reach disadvantage his last two fights against Diaz. McGregor will have a significant reach advantage of about 5 inches against Alvarez which could be huge for the Irishman to keep the fight from going to the mat. McGregor certainly has the power at 155lbs to hurt Alvarez, and whether Alvarez wants to admit it publically or not, I think he will have prepared to not tempt fate by taking a direct shot from Conor. McGregor wants to goad the Lightweight champion into a stand-up fight, and several fighters have claimed they wouldn’t be sucked into that; only to let adrenaline and pride get the better of them on fight night. Alvarez’s coaches likely have instructed him to get in close, and make McGregor work hard in the initial rounds. McGregor’s cardio is suspect, despite his claims to the contrary. Alvarez can make this a long night for McGregor if he uses his wrestling and is patient dishing out his attack. McGregor knows he has to hurt Alvarez early to keep him off of him, and I suspect we’ll see a more aggressive version of McGregor that we saw in the 1st fight with Nate Diaz.
Odds: McGregor (-155) vs Alvarez (+135)
Prediction: I love the excitement Conor McGregor brings to the sport. The outside the octagon antics might upset some fans or the media but he gets this is the fight & entertainment business. He delivers on both those front. No one can claim he will shy away from challenges; his willingness to go up in weight, to fight some of the best the sport has to offer is commendable even if you don’t like him. As a fan of the sport, I root for McGregor because he makes the sport fun while still maintaining the beautiful skill it takes to succeed in it. I say all this to point out how hard it is to pick against the man, but I have to here. Eddie Alvarez is a huge challenge for the featherweight champion to take overcome, and I just don’t think his wrestling defense is good enough to beat Alvarez. Factoring in I have to take less than even odds to take the more one-dimensional fighter, and it just does not make fiscal sense to bet against the lightweight champion, no matter how much I enjoy McGregor. I aim to give out good advice here, not just what I want to see happen, and getting Alvarez at +135 is real value in my opinion. If you get squeamish betting against the Irish, I also think under 2.5 rounds at close to even odds is a solid bet as well, because I think Alvarez will finish him early, and if McGregor does get it done it will likely be in the first couple of rounds as well. This is one pick I’ll gladly be wrong about as well, if it means we get more of the “Notorious” one fighting for championship belts.
(Eddie Alvarez (+135) via submission) / Under 2.5 Rounds (-110)
Prediction Record Year to Date (16-15-0) (-$200)
-Record & predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
-Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only
*Stats via www.UFC.com
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