At long last, the UFC makes its foray into New York City for UFC 205, with a main event pitting Conor McGregor against Eddie Alvarez. After a lengthy battle with New York state law makers, the UFC finally makes its return to the Empire State, last visiting in 1995 for UFC 7. The UFC has gone all out for this card, and it’s arguably the most stacked card they’ve ever put together. Let’s move onto the picks, but as always, keep an eye out for any fight cancelations this weekend.
Conor McGregor ($8,600) vs. Eddie Alvarez ($7,600)
The UFC trots its biggest star into the cage for its debut in the Big Apple, as Conor McGregor looks to become the first man in UFC to simultaneously hold 2 belts. Conversely, Eddie Alvarez looks to get the signature win of his extremely successful career, on the biggest of stages against the biggest star in MMA. This is a tough fight for me to call, as both fighters truly have what it takes to walk out of the cage with the belt. Alvarez has faced stiff competition throughout his career, so he will not be shell shocked by the magnitude of facing McGregor. He’ll need to use a dirty style to keep out of range of McGregor’s effective striking game. He would also be wise to take a cue from Chad Mendes, and use his takedowns to try to wear McGregor down. His wrestling is elite, and could be very effective if he mixes them with his combinations well. For McGregor, he needs to just do what he does well, and that is to prey on his opponents mental game, and get within range to land his accurate power punches. He obviously possesses a good amount of power, but equally impressive is just how accurate he is. No strikes are wasted, and he is ridiculously calculated in every aspect of his game. I think that this match-up favors “The Notorious.” Alvarez throws a lot of combinations that are similar to Jose Aldo’s attacks, and we all know that McGregor knows how to handle those. This fight lasts longer that 13 seconds, but I think it ends relatively quick. Alvarez is as talented as they come, but I think McGregor is still just too good. McGregor finds his range early and puts Eddie out within the 1st round. The pick is Conor McGregor by 1st round KO.
Stephen Thompson ($8,800) vs. Tyron Woodley ($7,400)
Tyron Woodley makes his first defense of his title against Stephen Thompson, despite his efforts to land a bout with former welterweight king, Georges St. Pierre. Woodley won the belt back in July with a stunning KO of Robbie Lawler. Thompson earned his shot at the belt after rattling off 7 straight wins, including impressive victories in back to back fights over Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald. Despite holding the belt, Woodley is the underdog here, and I do agree with that. Woodley has some serious punching power, as well great wrestling, but I don’t know if he’s going to be able to get within range to hurt Thompson. Thompson’s takedown defense has come a long way since a loss to Matt Brown in 2012, where he was taken down at will. He looked impossible to take to the mat in his wins against Hendricks and MacDonald, and was able to pick them apart with his superior striking. His karate base gives even the most elite fighters fits, and can throw a variety of kicks that are impossible to train for. Woodley certainly can’t be counted out, but he faces a daunting task if he cant take Thompson down. I think Thompson employs a similar game plan, and shuts Woodley down in the early rounds before finishing him off. The pick is Thompson by TKO in the 3rd round.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk ($9,300) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz ($6,900)
Women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk looks to defend her title for a fourth consecutive time when she opposes fellow Polish stud, Karolina Kowalkiewicz. These 2 met all the way back in 2012, when they were still on the Polish amateur circuit. Jedrzejczyk is a perfect 12-0 with 6 straight wins coming within the UFC since her debut with the promotion in July 2014. Kowalkiewicz was last seen in July when she took a close split-decision victory over top contender and fan favorite, Rose Namajunas, setting up the title bout with Jedrzejczyk. In Joanna’s last fight against her rival Claudia Gadelha, she was finally put to the test, just edging out the Brazilian in her toughest fight since their first bout in 2014. Gadelha put the champ in tough spots on the mat, where Joanna could not match her strong top game. This fight with Kowalkiewicz should play out differently, as I don’t expect Joanna to be taken down by the challenger. That spells a world of bad news for Kowalkiewicz. Though she is a very capable striker in her own right, with a wealth of muay thai experience, she is facing arguably the most polished, devastating striker in the UFC, period. I expect a feeling out process for a good portion of the 1st round, before Joanna kicks it into another gear in the 2nd frame. She’ll find her range and end the fight shortly after with brutal punching accuracy. Jedrzejczyk defends her belt by TKO in the 2nd round.
Chris Weidman ($8,500) vs. Yoel Romero ($7,700)
Former middleweight king, Chris Weidman finally makes his return to the cage following his brutal loss to Luke Rockhold in December. His opponent, Yoel Romero, also returns following a long layoff. The “Soldier of God” last made an appearance at the same card in December. Romero took a contested split-decision from Jacare Souza in that bout, then faced a long suspension for alleged PED use. This is a tough welcome back for both fighters, and a pretty even bout to call. Both men come from strong wrestling backgrounds, with Romero having huge success in the international scene. He won a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics for Cuba, and came a match away from a bronze medal in 2004. Weidman had a great amateur career as well, garnering All-American honors twice at Hofstra University. Despite possessing excellent wrestling chops, both Weidman, and Romero choose to stand and bang a fair amount of time, and both have vastly improved their striking game since debuting in the UFC. A lot of times when superb wrestlers face each other, their ground games cancel each other out, and the majority of the fight takes place on the feet. With how successful Weidman and Romero have been thus far in their careers in the striking department, I fully expect that to happen here. While Romero definitely possesses more power in his punches, Weidman has shown to be more well-rounded in his game. He also will absolutely have the cardio advantage, which will be key in this one. For Romero to have a shot here, he’ll have to batter Weidman early, forcing a stoppage, or inflicting enough punishment to get way ahead on the score cards. I think Weidman stays competitive early, before pulling away in the 2nd and 3rd rounds when Romero ultimately gasses out. Weidman wears Romero down enough to seal the deal with a late 3rd round TKO.
Donald Cerrone ($8,900) vs. Kelvin Gastelum ($7,300)
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Donald Cerrone continues his assault on the welterweight division, taking on Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum is a replacement for original opponent, Robbie Lawler. I was looking forward to that fight as much as any fight I’ve ever been excited for, but the show must go on. I’ve written up Cerrone more times than I can remember, so we all know his credentials by now. Plain and simple, as good as Gastelum is, I think he’s running into a buzz saw here. Gastelum is a grinder, and a great wrestler with some decent hands. Cerrone has eaten opponents up time and again who employ a style like his. Gastelum will need to turn this into an ugly fight, and be able to take “Cowboy” down at will to have a shot here. Even then, he’ll have to deal with the severely underrated jiu jitsu game of Cerrone. I expect “Cowboy” to pick Gastelum apart on the feet for the majority of the fight, finishing it before the final bell. I look for Cerrone to set up the eventual finish with brutal kicks to the body. After eating a number of them, I think Gastelum will shoot a desperation takedown where Cerrone finishes the fight with a submission off of his back, by either guillotine choke, or using his lanky frame to catch a triangle choke. The pick is Cerrone by submission in the 3rd round.
Miesha Tate ($9,100) vs. Raquel Pennington ($7,100)
Ex women’s bantamweight champion, and fan favorite Miesha Tate returns for the first time since being dismantled by Amanda Nunes in July, and opposing her will be Raquel Pennington. I like the match-up for Tate following the loss that destroyed all of the momentum she gained by taking out Holly Holm. Pennington has looked impressive during her 3-fight win streak, and the fight with Tate represents a major jump up in competition. This is definitely Tate’s fight to lose, and we will quickly figure out if the loss to Nunes has any lingering effects on her psyche. I think Tate rebounds nicely in this one. Pennington is a tough fighter, but I can’t think of an area in this one where she has an advantage on the former champ. “Rocky” is a brawler with a decent ground game, but I think Miesha’s technical striking and top-notch wrestling will counter the best that Pennington has to offer. Miesha will take Pennington at will, landing enough offense on the mat to take a dominant decision victory, or even a possible late submission. Pennington is just out-matched big time in this one, and my pick is Tate by decision.
Frankie Edgar ($9,200) vs. Jeremy Stephens ($7,000)
The preliminary headliner is a great one, and could headline a UFC Fight Night any other night. Frankie Edgar looks to rebound from a title loss to Jose Aldo when he takes on the heavy hitting Jeremy Stephens. Frankie was soundly beaten by Aldo, and gets no favors here facing one of the hardest hitting fighters on the UFC roster. Stephens has won 2 of his last 3, including a solid victory over former top 5 pound-for-pound bantamweight king, Renan Barao in May. There’s no secret as to what Stephens is going to try to do, and it’s knock Frankie out of Madison Square Garden. Stephens has otherworldly punching power, and rarely takes anything off of any punch he throws. Fortunately for Frankie, his style makes this a very favorable match-up. Though incredibly crowd pleasing, Stephens will get extremely sloppy throughout his fights, and his plodding style could lead to disaster pretty quickly in this one. Mark Henry is Frankie’s striking coach, and has overhauled his boxing in the time they’ve spent together, making him a monster on the feet. Look no further than the beautiful left-hook KO he had against Chad Mendes, where he shut the lights off in the first round of their tilt. He’s crisp, clean, and hard to hit, making it a potentially long night for Stephens. Working in Frankie’s favor even further, is his wrestling prowess. Stephens has always shown a weakness in takedown defense, and Frankie can, and most likely will exploit that. Stephens always has a chance of a knockout, so he can’t ever be completely counted out. I’m riding with Frankie for this one. He will stick and move, making for a hard target to hit with power shots, while landing his own shots at will. He’ll mix in takedowns just to keep Stephens honest, and threaten to finish the fight late. Frankie wins a lopsided unanimous decision.
Khabib Nurmagomedov ($9,000) vs. Michael Johnson ($7,200)
Khabib Nurmagomedov and Michael Johnson will throw down for the possibility of becoming the next contender for the lightweight title. The positioning of this fight on the FS1 prelims shows just how stacked this card really is. Khabib will put his perfect 23-0 record on the line, while Johnson is riding high off of a brutal KO of the highly ranked, Dustin Poirier. With Tony Ferguson’s recent impressive victory over Rafael Dos Anjos, this fight means a lot to the lightweight title picture, especially if Khabib can emerge victorious. This is a simple fight to break down for me. As impressive as Johnson can be at times, he has a very obvious weakness, and it’s one that Khabib can exploit. Johnson has been submitted 6 times thus far in his career, and can look like a fish out of water when he’s forced to the mat. His best chance in this fight is to do everything he possibly can to keep it standing. The problem for him, is Khabib has made even expert wrestlers and grapplers look like amateurs with his ultra elite wrestling, and smothering top game. He’s a world champion in jiu jitsu, and with how good he is at wrestling, that spells a whole world of trouble for Johnson. I expect Khabib to rag-doll Johnson much like he did to Dos Anjos, before he ends it with a submission or TKO. The pick is Khabib by submission in the 2nd round.
Tim Boetsch ($8,100) vs. Rafael Natal ($8,100)
Fan favorite and longtime veteran Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch makes his 20th walk to the Octagon, and he’ll take on New York City based Rafael Natal when he does. Boetsch saved his UFC career with a TKO of now deceased Josh Samman, halting a 3-fight losing streak where he was finished all 3 times. He now fights Natal, who tasted defeat in his last bout, ending an impressive 4-fight win streak. This one is truly a toss up, with both men capable of a finish. Tim will look to keep this one standing, and will also entice clinches where he can land short, dirty punches. Natal owns the obvious advantage on the mat, where he would be wise to try to take the fight. He’s a high level jiu jitsu black belt, though he has not submitted an opponent in the UFC since 2013. I think that streak ends in front of his home crowd. Natal will stay competitive in the striking game before he inevitably takes the fight to ground and submits “The Barbarian.” The pick is Natal by submission in the 2nd round.
Belal Muhammad ($8,300) vs. Vicente Luque ($7,900)
Belal Muhammad and Vicente Luque get the opportunity to showcase their skills to a national audience in New York City when they open up the FS1 prelim card on national television. Interesting positioning of this fight, but regardless, both men need to seize the opportunity handed to them. Chicago-based Muhammad is 1-1 in his short UFC career, and looked really impressive in his last fight, a victory over Augusto Montano in Texas. After dropping his debut to Michael Graves, Luque has rattled off 3 wins in a row, and impressed everyone with a brutal KO of Hector Urbina in 1 minute. This should be a fun fight, and both guys are seemingly evenly matched skill wise. I like what I have seen from Muhammad to this point, and I’m taking him to win a decision victory in a back and forth fight that will play out on the feet.
Thiago Alves ($8,400) vs. Jim Miller ($7,800)
This is a fun fight. Jim Miller replaces Al Iaquinta, and will fight Thiago Alves in his debut at lightweight in the UFC. With 44 combined appearances in the UFC alone, this fight showcases 2 savvy veterans who are still relevant in the sport. I’ll be interested to see how Alves responds to the weight cut, as he was almost forced to fight at middleweight by Dana White after missing the welterweight limit on numerous occasions. He’ll be fighting for the first time in 2016, after a devastating TKO loss to Carlos Condit in Brazil. Both men are exciting fighters on the feet, as well as the ground, particularly Miller for me, and I truly believe he has some of the most underrated jiu jitsu in all of MMA. I can picture this bout taking place on the feet for the majority of the time, and that would seem to favor Alves, who at one time was one of the most feared strikers in the sport. I think this will be an exciting fight throughout, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up as a fight of the night candidate. Alves will win the stand up exchanges and do well enough to neutralize Miller’s dangerous ground game. The pick is Alves by unanimous decision.
Katlyn Chookagian ($8,200) vs. Liz Carmouche ($8,000)
One-time bantamweight title challenger Liz Carmouche takes on New York City’s own, Katlyn Chookagian in the first bout of the night. Chookagian made a successful UFC debut in July against Lauren Murphy, while Carmouche halted a 2-fight skid when she also defeated Murphy. Chookagian is an exciting prospect, with extremely well-rounded skills, and a win over Carmouche would boost her stock in a crowded 135 lb. division. Carmouche will look to bully Chookagian to the mat, where she’ll try to unleash some powerful ground and pound. I think Chookagian will be prepared wherever the fight goes, grabbing a signature win in front of her home crowd. The pick is Chookagian by decision in a close fight.