UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson 2
The UFC returns to home base and the fight capitol of the world when Las Vegas hosts UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson 2. The card will feature 2 huge title fights, including a rematch for the welterweight title when Tyron Woodley meets Stephen Thompson. The co-main event is a fight for the ages, as Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title. I’m back again to offer my insight on several of the bouts, so let’s get to the picks.
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Stephen Thompson ($8,400) vs. Tyron Woodley ($7,800)
Thompson and Woodley meet again in a rematch of what was an unexpectedly great fight at UFC 205 in November. A rare majority draw was the result of that one, with Woodley keeping his belt. Woodley surprised me in that bout, as he was much more successful in the striking game than I thought he would be.
I took Thompson in that one, but felt like Woodley should have narrowly won on the cards. He didn’t use his wrestling nearly as much as I thought he would against the kickboxer and that is something I think will change in this one. Thompson had success with his striking, which I expected, but what really impressed me was his resolve. He lost rounds 1 and 4 convincingly, especially round 4 where he was almost finished, but came back strong in rounds 2 and 5. His ability to endure the damage he took in the 4th round while convincingly winning round 5 showed that he is capable of winning this match-up, one that he is favored in again.
The difference in this fight, again, will be Woodley’s wrestling. He dominated Thompson in the 1st round after landing an early takedown, never letting the challenger get to his feet until the round was over. Woodley knows he can have success in the striking game, which I believe he’ll use to set up more takedowns. Thompson’s kicking game is always an issue, and he very well could end this one with a spectacular KO if Woodley is off his game.
I do worry about the state of Woodley’s emotional state, as he’s been extremely vocal about a perceived disrespect from the UFC brass. If he isn’t there mentally 100%, it will be a quick night, and he’ll lose his belt. I’m banking on Woodley learning from the first bout, and implementing a smarter game plan. He’ll mix his striking with his takedowns, taking the majority of the rounds with a unanimous decision victory.
Khabib Nurmagomedov ($8,900) vs. Tony Ferguson ($7,300)
This is going to be a great fight. With the interim lightweight title on the line, Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on Tony Ferguson in the co-main event, with the winner likely challenging Conor McGregor later in the year.
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To truly appreciate this match-up, one needs to look no further than each man’s record. Khabib has rattled off 8 straight victories within the UFC, and holds a 24-0 record overall. Ferguson meanwhile, has won an astounding 9 bouts in a row. It’s rare that a fighter goes on such a long winning streak, let alone 2 fighters that will put those streaks on the line against each other.
As for the fight itself, it is extremely hard to pick a winner, but I’ve done my best to come up with who will be victorious. Khabib’s style is fairly easy to dissect, albeit impossible thus far to neutralize. His grappling game is otherworldly, and he will smother even the most experienced and accomplished grapplers with relative ease. His striking isn’t overly impressive, but is competent enough to keep his opponents honest. The key to victory in every fight for him, is his relentless pressure.
Once the opening bell rings, he’s on his opponent, and does not relent until a finish or the final bell. We’ve not yet seen him in a 5-rounder, so I am eager to see how his body will respond to a long fight, should this one reach the championship rounds. Ferguson is also a guy who will put it on his opponents from the jump, relying on constant pressure and movement. He is definitely the more well-rounded fighter, with unorthodox, and at times wild but effective striking, as well as an elite jiu-jitsu game. Eddie Bravo has made him a monster in the submission game, and his wrestling has always been excellent, winning multiple high school and college championships. Khabib has been able to bully every one of his opponents in the UFC to this point with his pressure and top game, but I think he’s finally met someone in Ferguson who will make him do more than that to win.
Ferguson will win the standup game as long as the fight takes place there. Khabib was tagged a few times by Darrell Horcher and Michael Johnson in his last 2 fights, but relied on the takedown to avoid their attacks. Ferguson may not have the polished striking that Johnson possesses, but he’s light years ahead of him on the mat. I envision Ferguson piecing Khabib up on the feet throughout the fight, leading Khabib to force takedown attempts. He’ll land a few, but Ferguson’s jiu-jitsu will be good enough to nullify his offense. I think Ferguson does enough on the feet, and is active enough off his back to take a close victory, handing Khabib his first ever defeat.
A late submission is possible, with Khabib’s gas tank fading in the championship rounds, but I think a decision is more likely. My pick is Tony Ferguson by unanimous decision in an upset.
Rashad Evans ($9,000) vs. Daniel Kelly ($7,200)
This is a weird match-up for me, as well as odd pricing for Draftkings. Rashad Evans will finally make his middleweight debut after issues with the New York State Athletic Commission nixed his bout against Tim Kennedy. He’s been strangely matched up with Dan Kelly, with both men close to calling it a career.
Since his debut in 2014, Kelly is 5-1 with good wins over Chris Camozzi and Antonio Carlos Junior in his most recent bouts. Evans has dropped back to back bouts, leading to a move to 185 lbs. Evans is a shell of his former self, and a loss here would be beyond devastating. Though Kelly is the older man, he has significantly less MMA miles, and though Draftkings disagrees, I think this is his bout to lose. Evans will always provide issues to his opponents with his blending of effective striking with above average wrestling, but at this point in his career, he just may be a step off all night against Kelly.
Kelly should be able to use his Olympic-level judo to subdue Evans for 3 rounds. I also believe he’ll be stronger than Evans, leading to an advantage in the clinch. This could, and probably WILL end up being the stinker of the card. In another sizeable upset (according to Draftkings) I’m taking Kelly to win by unanimous decision.
Lando Vannata ($9,300) vs. David Teymur ($6,900)
Rising prospect Lando Vannata makes his return following his Knockout of the Year against John Makdessi, and he’ll meet fellow prospect David Teymur on the pay-per-view card. Vannata’s vicious wheel-kick knockout was one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. That performance was the follow-up to his debut bout where he took Tony Ferguson to the brink of defeat, on just 2 weeks’ notice. Needless to say, Vannata is on the brink of super stardom, and the UFC has taken notice with the placement of this bout on the PPV portion of the card. Teymur meanwhile, has done well for himself in his short UFC career. He’s 2-0 with 2 finishes, and could quickly replace Vannata as the hotshot prospect with a big upset win here. Both men are skilled strikers, and this fight should be full of entertainment for the fans. The entirety of this one is bound to take place on the feet, where I think Vannata will put on another show. This is a bout absolutely designed to showcase Vannata. In an exciting yet short scrap, my pick is Vannata by knockout in round 1.
Alistair Overeem ($8,300) vs. Mark Hunt ($7,900)
The UFC’s genius match-making is once again on display in the pay-per-view opener, as heavyweight knockout machines Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt square off. Overeem was last seen in his brutal knockout loss to Stipe Miocic, while Hunt is making his return following a no-contest against Brock Lesnar.
He originally lost by unanimous decision, but a drug test failure by Lesnar led to the no-contest. Both men are at a crossroad in their respective careers, and a win or a loss by other will quickly clear that up. Overeem was so close to winning the title against Miocic, only to be knocked out, and then embarrassed in his post-fight interview. A loss here most likely ends his tenure with the UFC, so the pressure is on him to get a W here. Hunt is also in an uncomfortable position, as the controversial bout with Lesnar has led to a lawsuit against his employers. He too could easily be unemployed with a loss here, as it’s never a good thing to be publicly feuding with the UFC.
As for the fight itself, it truly is a toss-up for me, and I’m not overly confident in either fighter with the mental baggage they’ll both be bringing into the match-up. While most are expecting a quick finish by either fighter, I think this one goes the distance. I’m very high on the “over” in a lot of the fights on this card. This is another bout that will likely play out on the feet for most the time. Both men are extremely accomplished strikers with careers full of highlight-reel knockouts.
With that being said, Overeem has long been overlooked as a grappler, due in large part to such an overwhelmingly dominant striking game. I think that could come into play here. Overeem is going to be the much larger man, and the much longer man. For him to have success, he’ll have to use that length to keep Hunt at bay, nullifying his immense power. In addition to keeping Hunt at a distance, mixing in a takedown could go a long way for “The Reem.” If he can get Hunt to the mat, he’ll be at a huge advantage, and could submit the Samoan. That all sounds good, but Overeem could also go into this one with no game plan, and get slept within minutes of the opening bell. Either fighter is risky bet. I’m going to roll with Overeem. Hopefully he fights smart, and completely nullifies Hunt’s power punches. The pick is Overeem in a less exciting, but dominant decision victory.
Preliminary Bouts (FS1)
Marcin Tybura ($8,800) vs. Luis Henrique ($7,400)
Originally scheduled for UFC 208 in Brooklyn, Marcin Tybura meets Luis Henrique in the featured FS1 preliminary bout. Like Rashad Evans, Henrique was not able to gain medical clearance by the NYSAC, so the bout was moved to UFC 209 in Las Vegas. Henrique was knocked out in his UFC debut by Francis Ngannou, but has since won 2 in a row, both by submission. Tybura is 1-1 in his first 2 bouts, and won his most recent with a brutal head kick knock out.
This should be a fun clash of styles with Tybura’s striking, and Henrique’s submission game. Tybura is the heavy favorite here, and I think that’s warranted. The Polish brute is good enough to avoid Henrique’s submissions, and will overwhelm the Brazilian in the stand up. The fight will start slow, with Tybura stalking Henrique in search of the knockout blow, which will come late in the 1st round. The pick is Tybura by KO.
Mirsad Bektic ($9,600) vs. Darren Elkins ($6,600)
The criminally underrated Darren Elkins looks to win his 4th straight bout when he faces the surging Bosnian/American prospect Mirsad Bektic. Since debuting with the UFC 7 years ago this month, Elkins has willed his way to an impressive 11-4 record, with separate winning streaks of 5 and 3 (current). His lack of finishes surely hurts his popularity with fans, but does nothing to diminish his skills. He’s an elite wrestler who can completely nullify respectable fighters’ entire skillset over 3 rounds, and has done so on numerous occasions. The UFC is doing him no favors here though, as they’ll feed him to Bektic, who has won his first 4 bouts with the promotion, over tough competition.
Elkins will be his toughest test to date, and should provide a stern test to the bright prospect. The plan is simple for Elkins, take Bektic down at will, and keep him there. If Bektic can avoid the takedowns, he could do some serious damage on the feet. Elkins is no slouch in that department, but his striking has never been really polished. I think the youngster avoids enough takedowns to inflict some damage with his punches and kicks. Elkins will be there every moment of the fight, so this will be a close one. The pick is Bektic by razor-thin unanimous decision.
Iuri Alcantara ($8,600) vs. Luke Sanders ($7,600)
13-fight UFC veteran Iuri Alcantara takes on undefeated Luke Sanders at bantamweight in an important bout for both fighters. Alcantara will look to stay relevant in a shallow 135 lb. division, while Sanders will look to add a big name to his short UFC resume. At 36 years old, time is running short for Alcantara to make one last run at the bantamweight title, and a win over Sanders would set up bigger fights. A win over Alcantara for Sanders would launch him into contender status just 2 fights into his UFC tenure.
In his prime, I would have taken Alcantara without thinking twice about it. Alcantara is no longer in his prime. His most recent win over Brad Pickett was nice, but not all that impressive considering Pickett’s current place in the UFC pecking order. The biggest influence on my pick is Alcantara’s bout against Jimmie Rivera a year ago. The smaller Rivera picked Alcantara apart for 3 rounds, exposing his deficiencies against younger, stronger, and quicker fighters. His loss against Frankie Saenz was much of the same. Alcantara was a stationary target for both opponents, who stuck and moved all fight long. With good coaching, Sanders will undoubtedly look to employ the same plan of attack. I’m banking on it happening. Sanders picks Alcantara apart with clean striking for 3 rounds, taking home a unianmous decision victory.