The UFC returns to Anaheim this Saturday (July 29) with the card of the year, if not the decade. This card is everything UFC 200 should have been and then some. It has three title fights, the conclusion to the biggest grudge since Tito and Chuck, and is literally stacked with violent goodness.
Matt White will be guiding us through the main card, focusing here on the title fights, and will, as usual, be offering his thoughts on the action and letting you know where he’d invest his money.
As always, 5Dimes will be providing the odds.
Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino vs. Tonya Evinger
Cyborg has had a rough road since signing for the UFC. Forced to fight at a catchweight because there was no 145lb division, she competed in exhibition fights, even cutting to 140lbs, and was nearly broken on more than one occasion.
When the UFC created the 145lb belt, she was a shoo-in for a title shot. Alas, an issue with USADA saw that honour go to Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm. GDR won the fight but refused to face Cyborg, resulting in the belt being vacated and Cyborg being booked for a fight against Megan Anderson. Anderson then pulled out due to unknown reasons and was replaced by Tonya Evinger.
For a long time it appeared as if Tonya Evinger would never get the call to step up to the UFC. But the reigning Invicta bantamweight champion vacated her belt to face Cyborg when the promotional champion at featherweight, Megan Anderson, was forced to withdraw.
While Evinger is officially unbeaten in her last eleven bouts (I say ‘officially’ because she successfully appealed a loss to Yana Kunitskaya), she has losses on her record to current UFC fighters Sara McMann and Alexis Davis (twice). Even with her experience this feels like a squash for Cyborg. She is priced out of a bet on the Outright and Inside the Distance markets, so I can only really recommend her to win by TKO/KO as this carries an 88% success rate for her. If Evinger were to pull off the victory it would be a bigger surprise than Holm beating Ronda Rousey.
Recommendation: Cyborg by TKO/KO – 2 units at –395 (1/4) @ 5Dimes
Tyron Woodley v Demian Maia
When Tyron Woodley came to the UFC from Strikeforce he arrived with little fanfare or expectation. It wasn’t until he finished Josh Koscheck in the first round that many fans started to take notice of him. When he beat Carlos Condit he started to call out everyone in the division and made himself available to fight whoever, wherever, whenever.
Woodley took some negative press when he opted to sit on the sidelines for nearly 18 months and claim his title shot when a planned bout with Johny Hendricks was pulled at the last minute (because Hendricks was hospitalized). Although he is now the reigning champion, Woodley still has a lot to prove after two lacklustre performances against Stephen Thompson.
Demian Maia has been such a revelation at 170lbs that, when he reflects on his career, he will regret ever starting out at 185lbs. While he did work his way to a title shot in that division, it was one of the most forgettable main events in history, and the thought of it may have lingered long in the minds of the matchmakers when planning this event.
Maia at 170 has won seven in a row, including wins over Neil Magny and Gunnar Nelson, with some of the highest level Brazilian jiu-jitsu ever been seen in the Octagon. What he has achieved at 39 years of age is remarkable, more so because it seems he has done it without ever really throwing a punch in anger.
Many see this as a tough fight to call, but I don’t. Maia is otherworldly when dictating the takedowns and controlling his opponent, but against top-drawer wrestlers he has come undone. If Woodley can instigate the takedown and put Maia on the bottom, this ends very quickly for the champion. If, however, Maia can get anywhere near the back of Woodley, this will be his one chance to end his career holding the belt.
As Woodley has never tapped in his career, I don’t see that happening. Instead, I think Woodley wins this comfortably inside the distance as an ageing Maia tires out.
Recommendation: Tyron Woodley wins Inside the Distance – 2 units at +124 (4/5) @ 5Dimes
Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones
Daniel Cormier has been forced to defend his title reign against constant criticism and claims he is no more than a paper champ; a placeholder until the rightful owner returns to take back his belt. An Olympian, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion, as well as the UFC 205lb champion, Cormier is nevertheless always reminded of the one loss in his career, to Jon Jones, as he gets his opportunity for revenge.
Since taking the belt, DC has beaten Anthony Johnson, twice, narrowly held on to his belt with a split-decision win over Alex Gustafsson, and also beat Anderson Silva in a veritable exhibition match at UFC 200. It is a belt that has been defended three times in the two years he has held it. At UFC 200 he lost the chance to face his nemesis when Jones tested positive and it has haunted him ever since.
Jon Jones is the biggest enigma in all of MMA. His talent is as unquestionable as his ability but he remains possessed by enough demons to occupy all seven levels of hell. He has dominated every one his opponents and has never really coming close to losing. His greatest opponent is himself. Whether it be DUI, hit and run, cocaine metabolites or suspect ‘sex pills’, these four opponents have done more to damage the legacy of Jon Jones than 1000 defeats ever could.
Jones has been on the shelf now for 15 months, having been benched for 15 months prior to that, and history dictates that inactivity is the biggest opponent a fighter can face. The game moves on, the sport evolves and Jones must prove he has been able to evolve with it, despite not being able to test himself in the ring.
No matter how this fight ends, I think it would be good for the sport to see both fighters squash the animosity in public. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be friends, but this beef doesn’t need to become more any more distasteful. Personally, I think Jones wins, takes the title and then moves up to heavyweight for bigger challenges. DC, win or lose, probably retires back to the commentary booth.
Recommendation: Jon Jones – 2 units at –255 (2/5) @ 5Dimes