-210 #1 Miesha Tate (18-6) vs. +150 #8 Raquel Pennington (8-6)
Miesha Tate: It was a short eight months ago that Miesha Tate choked Holly Holm unconscious in the fifth round of their title fight to become the third Women’s bantamweight champion in UFC history. However her reign would be short lived, her first defense against #4 contender Amanda Nunes at UFC 200 was a night she would like to forget. Nunes fought a perfect fight, she stuffed Tate’s early takedown attempts, overwhelmed her on the feet, and choked her out on the mat.
Miesha now begins the campaign to recapture that belt that had eluded her for so long and even though she is the number one contender the road back to the top may be longer than many anticipate. Waiting in the wings are new contenders Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena, with the latter of the two threatening to leave the promotion if she does not receive a title shot. Tate may be forced to prove her worthiness against the bottom half of the top 10, because the top 5 do not want to risk their spot in line for the belt.
Raquel Pennington: After a unremarkable 1-2 start to her UFC career TUF:18 semi-finalist Raquel “Rocky” Pennington has rallied back winning her last three and securing a place in the bantamweight top 10. Her most recent victory was a dominant decision over Elizabeth Phillips a training partner of the #5 ranked fighter Julianna Pena.
Since her time on the show Pennington has evolved tremendously as a fighter and her recent wins over top contenders like Bethe Correia and Jessica Andrade have earned her this enormous opportunity, which if she can pull off will immediately place her right in the mix at the top of the extremely cluttered women’s bantamweight division.
The Fight: This will be a battle of TUF coach vs. student with the battle for the top of the division on the line. It will be a huge step up in competition for Pennington, one I do not think she is prepared for yet. Pennington had troubles with the wrestling of Ashlee Evans-Smith and Tate is like a Evans-Smith 4.0 as a fighter. Tate will strike long enough to set up her takedowns and dominate through out. Tate Unanimous Decision
-180 #2 Chris Weidman (13-1) vs. #4 +155 Yoel Romero (11-1)
Chris Weidman: Former middleweight champion Chris Weidman will make his long awaited return to action this Saturday, competing for the first time since he lost his belt to Luke Rockhold in December of 2015. Weidman’s long lay off was due in part to a cervical disc herniation which he had surgically repaired and also a partly to a lengthy contract dispute that former UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta stepped in and helped settle despite selling the company weeks before.
Weidman was a key player in legalizing the sport of mma in New York and he will get to reap the rewards of his efforts, becoming one of the first few UFC fighters to compete in the Empire State. The long time Serra/Longo fighter has been assured a title fight against current champ Michael Bisping awaits if he can get the job done against Romero.
Yoel Romero: Cuban Olympic silver medalist wrestler Yoel Romero won a very controversial split decision over Jacare Souza in his last octagon performance. Following the fight Romero tested positive for a banned substance in a out of competition test administrated by USADA. Romero faced a potential two year ban, but had his sentence commuted to six months when it was revealed he had ingested a tainted supplement.
Romero is 7-0 since joining the UFC five years ago and would almost certainly have had a shot at the middleweight title by now if not for the positive banned substance results. Even if he is successful in this bout, a title fight may not be in the near future for the “Soldier of God”. Current champion Michael Bisping expressed reluctance to fight Romero due to the lingering effects of the growth hormone inhibitors that he was taking.
The Fight: The takedown will not be there for either of these two in the early going. Romero strikes in flurries, loading up and exploding with hay makers. Weidman’s striking approach is more technical and measured. Weidman will be able to avoid or absorb Romero’s heavy blows early and pepper him with shots of his own throughout the first two rounds. In the third the tak down will be there for Weidman, who will get the gassed Romero to the mat and get the stoppage with ground and pound. Weidman TKO 3rd
-410 C Joanna Jedrzejczyk (12-0) vs. +340 #2 Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-0)
Strawweight Title Fight (115)
Joanna Jedrzejczyk: Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is coming off of a emphatic unanimous decision victory over opposing TUF 23 coach Claudia Gadelha. The defense was Joanna’s third, the only active champion with more defenses is Demetrious Johnson with eight. The win was also the second time she defeated Gadelha, closing out their heated rivalry for the time being.
At only 29 Joanna has hit her stride as a professional fighter, her cardio and striking are world class. In her two title fights that went the distance she improved as the rounds went on and was more active in the fifth round than the first. A win here would solidify Joanna Champion as one of the best female fighters of all time.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz: Polish muay thai practitioner Karolina Kowalkiewicz has earned her shot at her the Strawweight title by compiling a 3-0 record in the UFC, with her most recent victory being a hard fought split decision over Rose Namajunas. Kowalkiewicz employed an attack of heavy knees to the body and elbows in the clinch to outpoint the young upstart Namajunas.
Kowalkiewicz has only been a professional fighter for four years, but in those four years she has won the KSW flyweight title and defeated some of the sports premier fighters to prove she is worthy of this championship test. If She can win the belt her marketability as a champion would be immense due to her combination of class, beauty and first rate violence.
The Fight: This monumental all-Pole title fight will be one for the ages, these women are very similar in their overall fighting styles, but each excel in particular areas. Joanna throws picture perfect combos and has outstanding takedown defense. Kowalkiewicez is a grittier in-close fighter who likes to work the body and will be the stronger of the two. They both get better as their fights progress, which should be interesting in the championship rounds. I’m going with the upset, Kowalkiewicz will be too strong and have the advantage when it hits the ground. As long as she can keep up with Joanna in the later rounds she will relocate the belt a few cities over. Kowalkiewicz Unanimous Decision
+165 Tyron Woodley (16-3) vs. -190 Stephen Thompson (13-1)
Welterweight Title Fight (170)
Tyron Woodley: “The Chosen One” Tyron Woodley fulfilled his potential at UFC 201. Woodley claimed his spot among the division’s greats with one thunderous right hand that turned out the lights on Robbie Lawler and ushered in a new chapter in welterweight history. Everyone including Woodley himself knew that he had the abilities to become a champ, but many had become skeptical that he would ever be able to put it all together. Now he will embark down a path to become the greatest of all time, a path littered with naysayers and critics waiting to be silenced.
Woodley was briefly linked to mega fights with Georges St.Pierre and Nick Diaz, but ultimately signed this fight which is most likely the hardest of the three and certainly the most relevant, even if it might not have the money making possibilities. Woodley has brought in many of the Karate world’s top athletes and Sage Northcutt to train for this extremely unique opponent. If Woodley can get by “Wonderboy”an intriguing fight with BJJ all time great Demian Maia will be waiting in the wings.
Stephen Thompson: The aptly named “Wonderboy” Stephen Thompson has kiaied and crane kicked his way through the welterweight division since his debut in 2012. 8-1 overall in the UFC, Thompson earned this fight by defeating Rory MacDonald (who holds a victory over Woodley) in a lackluster five round affair.
This fight almost never materialized for Thompson, prior to the Woodley vs. Lawler title fight, Thompson stated he thought Lawler would win and would rather compete with Lawler rather than Woodly. After the fight Woodley vehemently took umbrage with Thompson’s remarks and told Thompson he should take the fight with Lawler that he asked for. However cooler heads prevailed and we were granted this fantastic fight.
The Fight: Thompson is as elusive as they come in the sport and he strikes with pinpoint accuracy, but he matches up horribly with Woodley. Thompson fights with his hands at his waste and darts in and out while landing blows. This strategy was successful against a guy like Hendricks because he lacks the speed to counter. Woodley will be patient and not over-commit early forcing Thompson to bolt in where he will meet a Woodley right hook. Woodley Knockout 1st
+120 C Eddie Alvarez (28-4) vs. -140 C Conor McGregor (20-3)
Lightweight Title Fight (155)
Eddie Alvarez: The “Underground King” Eddie Alvarez has collected promotional belts like no other fighter before him. In his 13 year career he has won titles in Reality Fighting Championships, Bodog Fights, DREAM, Bellator and now he is the UFC lightweight champion. Alvarez captured the UFC strap in his last bout when he knocked out Rafael Dos Anjos in the first round of their July fight.
Prior to the RDA knockout Alvarez was by no means dominant in his first three UFC bouts, he lost his first bout to Cowboy Cerrone and narrowly won his next two fights against Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis eking out split decisions in both fights. Alvarez is the next lucky winner of the Conor McGregor lottery and not only will it pay out handsomely, it’s also his first opportunity to defend his newly acquired lightweight belt.
Conor McGregor: The Muhammad Ali of mma, Conor McGregor avenged his first UFC defeat by outpointing Nate Diaz in a five round battle at UFC 202. “The Notorious” McGregor won the featherweight title almost a year ago and has shown zero interest in defending the 145 belt anytime soon.
Aiming to be the first man to hold belts in two separate weight classes at the same time, McGregor is looking to make history with every passing fight. Many believed he should have a mandatory title defense of his featherweight belt before seeking out other division’s titles, but in the new UFC Conor gets want Conor wants. I would typically try to forecast what a fighters next move will be, but in McGegor’s case there is no telling what he will do next, I wouldn’t be surprised if his next fight is against Cain Velasquez.
The Fight: Eddie is going to want to make this one ugly, Conor does not posses the power to finish Alvarez and as the fight goes to the championship rounds Alvarez’s wrestling and cardio will push him over the edge and keep the belt around his waist. Alvarez Unanimous Decision