By: Rich Bergeron
UFC 209 is fast approaching with two dynamic fights headlining the card, including a highly anticipated rematch closing the show. Fans are itching for a solid fight card to watch after multiple disappointing Pay-Per-View events left them wanting more in recent months. This is a card that could definitely deliver the action-packed, adrenaline-filled spectacle fans have come to expect for the price of admission. Here are my previews and predictions for the two blockbuster fights at the top of the bill.
Stephen Thompson (13-1-1) gets another crack at the welterweight title against Tyron Woodley (16-3-1) in the main event. Even the odds makers (Check out the M88 sportsbook for more betting info) have a tough time predicting how this highly charged rematch will go. Woodley comes in as the slight underdog at +110 to Thompson’s -140.
Still, the Champion came close to finishing the first fight in the fourth round. Rather than continue with his powerful ground and pound approach against the in-trouble Thompson, Woodley switched to a failed choke attempt instead. Thompson was able to weather the storm and eke out the draw, but he also won three out of the five rounds on the scorecard. The experts who set the betting lines are obviously conscious of this and factoring it into their calculations.
Can Woodley put himself in position to get the knockout win this time or will Thompson make the right adjustments to win every round this time?
Prediction: Stephen Thompson made one glaring mistake in the first fight that led to Woodley having a huge chance to win by knockout. Woodley picked his spots and made the fight competitive, but with both fighters knowing so much about each other now he may not be able to repeat or improve upon his performance in the first fight. Meanwhile, Thompson is a skilled tactician, and he will focus on cage control this time around. He will use distance striking, superb defense, and constant movement to keep Woodley from doing any major damage this time around. Woodley of course has a chance to quiet all his doubters with one punch, but Thompson is the type of fighter who may not give the champ a chance to land that shot.
THOMPSON WINS BY UNANIMOUS DECISION
The co-main event will set the stage for Conor MacGregor’s return to the UFC cage. The Irish superstar will eventually face the winner of UFC 209’s co-main event: Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) vs. Tony Ferguson (22-3). This fight could potentially upstage the main event, despite the fact that Khabib is a -205 favorite to Ferguson’s +165 odds to win. Both fighters have enough momentum going for them to earn a title shot without fighting each other, but that doesn’t make this bout any less exciting on paper. Ferguson is 12-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming against Khabib’s last opponent: Michael Johnson. Ferguson lost to Johnson in 2012 by unanimous decision while Khabib submitted Johnson via Kimura in the third round of their UFC 205 clash last November.
Both fighters have equally imposing strengths. Khabib smothers many of his opponents with crisp wrestling skills to match his more than capable striking and submission ability. Sambo and judo are also staples of Nurmagomedov’s intense approach to cage fighting. He is so well rounded that he has an equal number (8) of submission, decision and T/KO wins, and all of his decision wins are unanimous.
Ferguson is on a nine-fight win streak. He is more of a volume striker, and he used excellent boxing to impose his will on the opponents he’s dominated so far. He is also well rounded like Nurmagomedov and can use that superb striking to secure submissions on stunned opponents. He has 8 submissions to go with 9 T/KOs and five decisions.
PREDICTION: Ferguson may be on a tremendous run right now, but Khabib’s absolutely dominated every opponent he ever faced in his MMA career. McGregor may actually be rooting for a tie in this fight so he can have some extra time to negotiate a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. while these two contenders are setting up an inevitable rematch. However, ties are rare enough in the UFC that one here is far fetched to imagine. It’s much more likely that this fight ends up with one fighter on the canvas, out cold or too dazed to continue. All signs point to that fighter being Ferguson, leaving MacGregor with the prospect of having to prove his mettle by beating a man nobody’s been able to beat before. Of course, anything can happen in that cage and anyone can have a bad night at the office, but perfection is hard to argue with.
NURMAGOMEDOV BY 2nd Round TKO