The UFC have stacked the deck for their annual Independence Day card in Vegas. UFC 189 has fantastic fights from top to bottom culminating in two evenly matched title bouts. Here’s our preview of the UFC 189 main card action.
Featherweight Interim Title Fight: Conor McGregor (17-2) vs Chad Mendes (17-2)
It’s hard not to be disappointed with Jose Aldo pulling out of this fight. It was the most-hyped fight in UFC history. However with Chad Mendes stepping up on two weeks notice, we still have ourselves a fascinating Main Event. Conor McGregor has taken the MMA world by storm. He is our version of Muhammad Ali - unwaveringly confident! He calls his shot and then backs it up with jaw-dropping efficiency. The key to his flawless start to the UFC has been a combination of revolutionary movement and night-ending power. He throws crisp hooks, uppercuts, a left straight and generates a lot of snap on his jab. His counter left is also one of the most deadly in the game. Due to his unconventional movement, all these strikes come from different angles which make them very difficult to avoid. He also throws a ton of fancy kicks that work to damage his opponent and keep them at distance. The scariest part of his stand-up is the complete lack of respect for his opponent’s skills. He just pushes forward throwing technique after technique with reckless abandon. He is also one of the biggest fighters in the division and will be going up against one of the smallest in Mendes - they are going to look a weight class apart on fight night. The glaring question mark throughout McGregor’s meteoric rise has been how will fare against a wrestler? It’s unprecedented that a fighter would make it to this level without ever having to show off takedown defence, but no one has really tried to take McGregor down in his five UFC victories. He does possess all the qualities of a fighter with solid takedown defence - strong hips, uncanny balance and core strength. Thankfully no matter what happens on Sunday that question will be answered as he is facing the very best wrestler the featherweight division has to offer.
Chad Mendes is a NCAA All American wrestler. He is easily the most athletic fighter in the division and is 66kg of fast-twitch muscle. Early in his career he relied purely on wrestling ability, which was enough to take him to the top of the sport, but has since added in a very dangerous boxing game. His striking is basic - he stays at distance then explodes in with an overhand right or straight left. He tends to back up a lot on the feet (which will play in to McGregor’s hands), but he does have strong striking defence. It’s Mendes’ explosive takedowns that set him apart from his contempories. He has taken down everyone he has fought with ease, other than Jose Aldo. On the ground he is more about control and ground and pound than looking for submissions or guard passes (he does have that team alpha male power guillotine in his back pocket). In saying that, Aldo has laid the game plan on how to negate the Mendes takedown. Whether anyone else can implement that game plan is another story. Like all the team alpha male fighters, he is a cardio machine and again we have a lot of questions over whether McGregor is going to be able to keep up with the pace Mendes will set over five hard rounds.
Prediction: Due to the unknowns in this fight and the high level of the combatants, this is a very hard fight to call. McGregor’s unorthodox southpaw striking and Mendes short notice, mean that I favour the pride of Dublin ever so slightly. However these odds are way out and Mendes has a legitimate chance to wrestle McGregor back to reality. McGregor by 3rd TKO.
Welterweight Title Fight: Robbie Lawler (25-10) vs Rory MacDonald (18-2)
Despite Robbie Lawler being the reigning welterweight champion and already owning a victory over Rory MacDonald, he comes into this fight as a sizable underdog. At 33 years old, Lawler is looking by far and away the best of his career. He has always been a dangerous, but limited fighter, but over the last two years has improved in very facet of the game. The biggest change has been his takedown defence. What was once a fatal flaw has now become one of his strongest assets. Even in his fights that have gone to the floor, he has shown a very crafty defensive butterfly guard. On the feet he is a very effective brawler and has some of the heaviest hands in the division. He tends to be a little inactive but springs to life with a flurry with a head kick or fight-ending hook.
MacDonald is often billed as the first fighter to grow up training pure MMA rather than transitioning over from one of the other more traditional martial arts disciplines. As such, he is extremely comfortable no matter where the fight goes. At 26 he’s approaching his athletic peak and since the loss to Lawler has looked practically unbeatable. He has a massive frame for a welterweight and uses his size advantage very intelligently. On the feet his best weapon is a lighting fast and insanely accurate jab. He uses it to score points and to keep his opponents off balance and at range. However, Lawler being a southpaw will negate a lot of the jab’s effectiveness. The jab is by no means MacDonald’s only weapon - he throws pretty much every standard boxing and kickboxing technique very well. Due to Lawler’s takedown defence, I think MacDonald will struggle to get this one to the ground. However if he does get it there, he is going to a have a significant grappling advantage. He has excellent control, submissions and strong ground and pound. My biggest concern with MacDonald is his cardio. He has never gone five rounds and has gassed a few times in the 3rd round, most noticeably in his last fight with Lawler.
Prediction: I think MacDonald has the advantage in every aspect here other than power. I believe he will use his fantastic striking defence to stay out of the way of Lawler’s power punches and out work him to a competitive, but clear decision. Rory MacDonald by 49-46 decision.
Bet: Rory Macdonald to win - $1.57 at Sportsbet
Dennis Burmudez (14-4) vs Jeremy Stephens (23-11)
Our second featherweight fight of the main card pits division one wrestler Dennis Bermudez up against a wild brawler in Jeremy Stephens. Bermudez came off the Ultimate Fighter as a pure wrestler, but has steadily improved his stand-up. He is able to use his boxing to effectively set up takedowns. He doesn’t have a lot of submission offence and is usually happy to just hold his opponent down. Prior to his loss to Lamas, Bermudez was on a seven-fight win streak and looked like cracking the division’s top five. However he was easily dispatched by Lamas after getting knocked down with a very innocuous jab. This leads to huge question marks about his chin, which is not a good sign when fighting someone with the scary power of Stephens.
Stephens has a very straightforward game. He comes forward swinging hard punches and tries to stop the takedown. He showed off good submission defence in his last fight with Oliveria, but really has zero offensive when the fight goes to the ground. So if the fight goes there I expect Bermudez to control him. Stephens has also displayed a worrying lack of cardio, particularly if he spends the fight trying to stuff takedowns.
Prediction: Bermudez is the better overall mixed martial artist here and his wrestling game should mean he is controlling the majority of this fight. However I don’t think he has the submission game or power to stop the fight and I think over 15 minutes Stephens will catch his chin clean at least once and that’s probably all it’s going to take. Stephens by KO in the 3rd.
Bet: Jeremy Stephens by KO or on points – $2.88 at Sportsbet
Gunnar Nelson (13-1-1) vs Brandon Thatch (11-2)
Here we have two exciting up and coming fighters looking to get back in the winner’s circle after both suffering their first UFC loses. Gunnar Nelson is an Icelandic submission prodigy, regularly medaling in world Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. The Renzo Gracie black belt has won the majority of his MMA fights via submission and once he has an opponent on the ground he is very methodical in forcing the tap. The submission usually comes after Nelson transitions to the back and sinks in a choke. On the feet it’s a different story, Nelson utilizes an awkward side on karate stance with hands kept low. He is usually not very active on the feet and is often outworked by his opponents.
Brandon Thatch is almost the polar opposite to Nelson. He is a very dynamic and technical stand up fighter with a limited ground game. Thatch is a lifelong mixed martial artist, training from a young age in karate, muay thai and kick boxing. He is comfortable fighting at distance and in the clinch, and will often change stances back and forth mid combination. His goto weapon is a straight left knee, which he times to perfection on opponents trying to close the distance. Every one of Thatch’s professional victories has come by 1st round knockout. However, he doesn’t have a BJJ background and in his last fight when Benson Henderson finally got him down, it didn’t take long before Thatch was forced to tap. If Thatch does end up on the ground with Nelson he is going to be in a world of trouble.
Prediction: Both fighters have a clear path to victory here, and the X-factor is going to be who can control where the fight takes place. Thatch has a huge size advantage and I think he will be able to keep it standing long enough to really hurt Nelson on the feet. Thatch by 2nd round TKO.
Bet: Will this fight go to decision – NO at $1.50 at Ladbrokes
Brad Pickett (24-10) vs Thomas Almeida (18-0)
This bout sees an aging veteran on the down slope of his career against one of the UFC’s absolute blue chip prospects. At only 23, Thomas Almeida has already amassed an intimidating 18 and 0 record and with only three of his fights making it out of the first round, he is a scary assignment for anyone. Training out of the famed chute box academy, the Brazilian has some of the most exceptional and devastating combination striking in the UFC. His flashy striking does leave him open to the takedown, however he has shown a good ability to get up off his back.
Brad Pickett is everything you expect from ten-year veteran of the sport. He’s well rounded with solid boxing, grappling and wrestling. He does lack any kind of power, which is ironic considering his ‘one punch’ nickname. Oddly enough for an English fighter, Pickett comes from a wrestling background and this is obviously were he has the advantage over Almeida. In recent fights, Pickett has shown some pretty poor striking defence, which is not a good sign when going up against such an offensive dynamo. He will also go into this fight with a significant size and reach disadvantage.
Prediction: I think the UFC is trying to showcase Almeida here and give him a big name victory to catapult him into contention for the bantamweight championship. However I think Pickett is a wily enough veteran that he will at least make this competitive and put Almeida in some uncomfortable positions. Almeida by 29-28 decision.
Bet: Will this fight go to decision – YES at $2.65 at Ladbrokes
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