It’s finally here. Almost. Don’t breathe, don’t say a word and whatever you do, don’t uncross those fingers. The MMA Gods are fickle and cruel. They’ve already taken a sacrifice: Sean O’Malley has been pulled by USADA for a potential violation and is off the card. Pray that this satisfies them and that they are not hungry for bigger prey. Let us, very slowly and quietly, making no sudden movements or loud noises, take a look at what is sure to be the biggest card of the year.
KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV (C) vs CONOR MCGREGOR (1)
By the time Sunday morning comes around, the amount of column inches about these two will have reached from here to the moon. If you’re unfamiliar with either of these two fine gentlemen, then you’ll find an excellent breakdown of both on our blog.
Conor McGregor returns after two years out of the Octagon, having last defeated Eddie Alvarez for the Lightweight title that Khabib Nurmagomedov now wears around his waist. Khabib is undefeated in 26 fights, but as Demetrious Johnson found out earlier this year, all streaks come to an end eventually. As always when it comes to McGregor, it’s a near-impossible fight to predict. As when he fought Chad Mendes and Nate Diaz, the question is whether he can cope with a skilled wrestler, and Khabib is highly skilled.
Prediction: We’ve been here many times before with McGregor – will he, won’t he, can he? – and he’s come through almost every time. So we’re just going to go with it, Mystic Mac and all: McGregor by KO or TKO in round 1.
TONY FERGUSON (2) vs ANTHONY PETTIS (8)
The whole saga between Khabib, Conor and Tony Ferguson could be rewritten as a teenage romantic comedy. Tony and Khabib keep almost getting together, but after four attempts, it hasn’t happened yet. Then this hot new boy Conor transfers in from another school and everyone wants to be with Conor. It just so happens that Khabib asked him out first. What Tony is really hoping is that one of the main event fighters stands the other up at the prom so that he can he can jump in at the last minute and save the day. But if that doesn’t happen, then sure, he’ll fight Anthony Pettis, why not. But he’ll be thinking about the other two the whole time.
Where does all this leave Anthony Pettis? Sort of in the comedy sidekick role, the Jonah Hill or Rebel Wilson of UFC 229. Former Lightweight title holder “Showtime” has the opportunity and skillset to completely flip the script, deliver a stunning upset and claim victory for the nerds. But his recent record is incredibly patchy, with five losses out of his last eight fights, and we don’t think it’s a storyline that will pan out.
Prediction: Tony Ferguson wins and goes on to fight the winner of Conor/Khabib.
OVINCE SAINT PREUX (7) vs DOMINICK REYES (8)
This clash of the Light-Heavyweights should be fairly even. Ovince Saint Preux has 34 fights on his record, 23 of which he won. He’s faced almost everyone in his division, with a victory over Shogun Rua and losses to Jimi Manuwa and Jon Jones. Dominick Reyes is undefeated in 9 fights but has only had 3 UFC bouts so far and hasn’t faced anyone with Saint Preux’s pedigree.
Prediction: Both men are good counter-punchers and have devastating head-kicks, but Saint Preux’s experience should be the key to victory here.
DERRICK LEWIS (2) vs ALEXANDER VOLKOV (5)
When Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis fought Francis “The Predator” Ngannou at UFC 226 in July, hopes were high for Heavyweight classic between two up-and-coming talents. What we got was one of the worst fights in UFC history, with only a combined 31 punches thrown during 15 long minutes on a PPV card. He is looking to atone for a performance that he himself acknowledged probably set his career back a step or two, despite getting the win. His opponent, Russia’s Alexander Volkov, has only four fights in the UFC but his last three victories have been against quality opponents – Werdum, Struve and Roy Nelson. Volkov has the age, reach and height advantage over Lewis, and with belts in Jiu Jitsu, Karate and Tsu Shin Gen (a form of karate developed for MMA), is the more rounded martial artist.
Prediction: We’re sticking with Volkov on this one, probably for a decision victory.
MICHELLE WATERSON (8) vs FELICE HERRIG (9)
The final fight on the main card is in the Women’s Strawweight Division. Both have a background in BJJ and kickboxing, but it’s Felice Herrig who has had the better success with the latter, having competed in 28 professional kickboxing bouts. With the two so close in the rankings and with very similar styles, it should be a really close fight, with Michelle Waterson losing the decision.
Prediction: With so little separating these two, we must fall back on maths to predict a winner. Herrig is slightly more experienced and has a fractional reach advantage, so we’re sticking with the favourite here.
With Sean O’Malley off the card, at time of writing, there has been no news about whether a replacement can be found for José Quiñónez.
Meanwhile, the number 2 ranked flyweight Sergio Pettis (20/33) fights on the same card as his brother. He faces Brazilian Jussier Formiga (6/5), who was supposed to fight Pettis in January 2017, but pulled out through injury. Expect Pettis to win a decision but watch out for Formiga’s ground game.
Next up comes a Welterweight bout that really has no business being on a PPV card. Vicente Luque (2/25) should win this comfortably, unless Dana White knows something about newcomer Jalin Turner (11/2) that we don’t.
Aspen Ladd (4/7) will hope to keep her unbeaten streak going against Tonya Evinger (13/10). However, she will have a real struggle against one of the most experienced fighters in the women’s bantamweight division. Evinger’s had only one loss in the last 7 years, and that was against Cris Cyborg at UFC 214, so expect her to win the day.
Sweden’s Lina Länsberg (8/5) opens up as a slight underdog against Russia’s Yana Kunitskaya (4/9). Despite an impressive kickboxing career, Länsberg is getting toward the end of her career, and the young Russian should win this.
Scott Holtzman (21/10) meets Alan Patrick (10/31) in the Lightweight division, and for only the second time in 16 fights, Patrick gets to go to the USA. He usually fights in Brazil, but we don’t expect the lack of home advantage to stop him from winning this.
Finally, Gray Maynard (19/10) – which is not, as I originally thought, a type of duck – begins to wind down his MMA career with a bout against Nick Lentz (10/27). Maynard had an amazing run around the turn of the last decade, taking out Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz and Jim Miller, but hasn’t really managed to get any traction since. Lentz hasn’t really distinguished himself either, so we could see a last shock from Maynard but it seems unlikely.