The UFC astutely decided to stay out of the way of cyclone MayMac and didn’t hold a PPV in August. And while we continue to deal with the fallout of Conor McGregors foray into boxing and the shocking news that Jon Jones tested positive for PED’s after beating Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, this weekend’s card is a chance to show off some of the very best the UFC has to offer. The card features two title fights and Australia’s very own blue chip light heavyweight prospect, Tyson Pedro.
The first and only flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson gets to etch his name amongst the all-time greats with a victory over Ray Borg. Johnson will by vying to break Anderson Silva’s record for consecutive title defences, a mark that will surely last for many years to come. The key to Johnson’s sustained dominance has been his perfectly well rounded game. At 5’3 he is one of the shortest fighters to ever compete in the UFC, but he has blinding speed, ridiculous defensive striking, strong wrestling and an incredibly active ground game. The majority of his victories have come by decision or submission, but he beat his two strongest competitors, Olympic Gold medallist Henry Cejudo and team alpha standout Joseph Benavidez by first round KO. At this point Johnson has cleaned out the entire division multiple times over; but his opponent in his fight represents the new breed of flyweight fighters.
Ray Borg isn’t the big name that Johnson may have hoped for in his record breaking fight, but he is certainly game. Following a disappointing loss to Justin Scroggins, Borg moved to New Mexico to train at the famed Jackon-Wink academy and has since bounced back with two strong wins. Most notably his striking looks improved under the tutelage Brandon Gibson. He has begun incorporating deft movement and feints, but still looks stiff at times and is nowhere near the level of Johnson on the feet. Borg’s bread and butter is his grappling. He is an athletic wrestler with excellent timing on his takedowns. He is a control heavy grappler who is particularly adept at getting back mount. He has shown great cardio and has never been finished. The step up in competition for Borg is going to astronomical; the biggest wins in his career to date are against bona-fide flyweight journeymen; Gene Herrera and Jussier Formiga.
Prediction: This is rare for an MMA; but I see almost no path to victory for Ray Borg in this fight. He is completely outclassed in every aspect and is up against a guy who doesn’t have ‘off’ nights. I really don’t foresee him being able to take Johnson down and he simply doesn’t have the variety of attack and defence to win rounds on the feet. His best moments will be in the scrambles, but I’d be shocked if he could force a tap. So how will Johnson get it done? His usual MO is; wear opponents down early and force a late stoppage. However Borg is young, tough and has good cardio so I think he will take Johnson all 5 rounds. Demetrious Johnson by 50-45 decision.
Brazilian batamnweight champion Amanda Nunes will look to defend her title for the second time in an intriguing rematch against former Muay Thai champion Valentina Shevchenko. Nunes won the title with a brutal of beatdown of Miesha Tate at UFC 200 and backed it up with an equally brutal first round KO of Ronda Rousey in her first title defence. All but one of her UFC victories have come by first round finish, with the sole decision against Shevchenko in their first meeting. Nunes is a ferocious striker and is by far and away the hardest hitter in the division. Her technique also continues to evolve with every outing. She has tight footwork, a strong jab and hard straight punches. She also has a good kicking array if of her opponents choose not to engage. On the ground she is a BJJ black belt and owns a submission win over Olympic silver medal wrestler Sara McMann. However the caveat with Nunes is cardio. She slows down in every single one of her fights and despite constant reassurances that she is improving her gas tank, stamina issues continue to plaque her.
Valentina Shevchenko is a well-rounded and technically excellent MMA striker. She holds black belts in Judo and Taekwondo and has nearly 60 professional kickboxing and Muay thai fights to her name. She is a patient counter striker who fights exclusively from the outside, where she easily out struck former boxing and UFC world champion Holly Holm over 5 rounds. She doesn’t have an overly varied arsenal, but throws a limited number of strikes extremely effectively. She is a strong defensive wrestler and uses the clinch to get takedowns of her own. Her clinch game will be key to negating Nunes swarming style.
Prediction: Nunes won a clear decision in their first fight; 2 rounds to 1. However the prevailing narrative from that fight was how badly Nunes slowed down in the third round. She easily won the first two rounds, but had nothing left in the third and was very nearly finished. Both fighters have improved since then, but I still feel Nunes has a pretty significant striking edge, particularly in the early stages. I foresee this fight going one of two ways; either Nunes gets the earlier finish or Shevchenko’s defence allows her to avoid the early storm and take over late and win the last 3 rounds. I side with the latter. Valentina Shevchenko by 48-47 decision.
Before the two straps go on the line, Australia’s own Tyson Pedro will look to keep his undefeated record intact and make it three straight UFC victories. The Sydney native has a special penchant for violence and all six of his MMA victories have come by 1st round stoppage. His striking is sloppy but effective, but strangely for an Australia fighter, he does his best work on the mat. He is an explosive athlete with a strong blast double, which he camouflages well. On the ground he has heavy top control and aggressively chases submissions and ground and pound. There are question marks over his chin as he has been wobbled numerous times in the past, but he seems to have an excellent ability to fight through adversity. We have also never seen him outside the first round, so cardio will be something to watch if this fight drags on.
Swedish fire hydrant Ilir Latifi has now racked up eight UFC appearances after making his debut on 4 days’ notice to save a card in his homeland. Latifi is a prototypical gate keeper; he beats lower tier competition but falls short when making the step up and therefore will be an excellent yardstick for Pedro’s standing in the division. Like Pedro, Latifi likes to end fights quickly and violently with only one of his UFC wins relying on the judges’ scorecards. He did break into the UFC’s top ten with 3 nice wins, but that came to a screeching halt when he was brutally KOed by a Ryan Bader knee in his last outing. Latifi is the shortest fighter in the division, which makes him a very difficult opponent to take down. He has strong offensive wrestling and good control. He is used to fighting at significant reach disadvantages, but is good at getting on the inside and has tremendous power.
Prediction: This should be an all action affair between two fighters who love finishing opponents. On the feet, Pedro will need to work behind a jab and keep Latifi at distance to negate the power. But I think the wrestling is where this fight will be decided as both fighters rely on having top position to be effective. Interestingly all Pedro’s submissions have come by some form of neck choke and Latifi’s short stocky build has left him with virtually no neck, so making him tap will prove problematic. Latifi is no easy out and Pedro will have to improve on his previous UFC outings, but if he wants to be a player at the pointy end of the division, these are the calibre of opponents he has to beat and I believe he has the ability to do it. Tyson Pedro by 2nd TKO.
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