As 2016 draws towards a close, the UFC pulls out the greatest card in the history of MMA for its opening foray into New York City, USA. After 20 long years, the sport is legalized in the Empire state and the biggest promotion in MMA is making a true spectacle.
This card has virtually remained intact, a massive achievement given the injury curse that ran through the sport earlier in the year. It’s a triple-header, it will be the biggest PPV of all time in MMA and there are just too many high spots to talk about. I’ve picked the top fights on the card and given you my thoughts. 5DimesLines has given the odds, its time!
Gastelum v Cerrone
Kelvin Gastelum is a spoiling type of fighter. Firstly he spoiled the finale of TUF 17 when he ground out the heavy favorite Uriah Hall to win the grand prize. Since then he has cobbled together a record of 6-2, including a win over the former champion at 170lbs, Johny Hendricks. Losses to the current champion, Tyron Woodley, and the most improved UFC fighter of the last 18 months, Neil Magny are his only black marks of a fledging career.
Donald Cerrone is a fighter’s fighter and a man’s man. His motto is any time, any place, anyone at any weight. He fights around five times a year, when he can, and is active at 155 and 170lb. Since his failed title shot against RDA he has pulled together three consecutive wins at 170lb, all by stoppage. This man is a beast and potentially the best fighter to never win a world title. He is one of the biggest fan favorites fighting today and a hall of fame shoo-in.
Gastelum has struggled to put together consecutive wins now for over two years and he struggles against improving fighters. That is certainly the category to put Cerrone in as he just gets better and better. 170lb seems like a natural fit for ‘Cowboy’, yet it’s a limit that Gastelum occasionally struggles to reach. I’ll never bet against Cowboy and I don’t intend to start here.
Recommendation: Donald Cerrone – 2 units at -155 (4/6) @ 5Dimes
Weidman v Romero
Chris Weidman finally steps back into the Octagon, nearly a year after having his title ripped away by Luke Rockhold at UFC 194. It was the first defeat of the New Yorker’s career and it came at the worst possible time. He managed to win the opening round but a random wheel kick cost him his balance, his position and his title. Originally scheduled to rematch at UFC 199 he was sidelined by injury and Michael Bisping took full advantage. Now Weidman is just one of a chasing pack that includes Jacare and Yoel Romero.
Romero is another coming back from a lay-off, but unlike Weidman, his was due to a contaminated supplement that saw him fall foul of USADA, taking a six-month ban as punishment. But for that violation it would have been him facing Rockhold at UFC 199 and the world would look a very different place right now. As it stands, this ridiculously chiseled, 39-year-old, freak of nature is back in the chasing pack and jockeying for a chance to face the Brit in 2017.
Given the elite level of wrestling possessed by both combatants, it’s likely that the majority of this fight is spent on the mat. Should that turn out to be correct then the BJJ of Weidman could be the swinger. However, Romero is a former Olympic wrestler and has demonstrated time and time again that, barring ‘Mighty Mouse’, he is the best wrestler in the UFC. I’ll be taking this fight going the distance as it’s too close to call and I think that their skills will nullify each other.
Recommendation: Fight Goes the Distance – 2 units at +100 (1/1) @ 5Dimes
Jedrzejczyk v Kowalkiewicz
Joanna Jedrzejczyk puts her unbeaten record, and title on the line in the first of three consecutive title fights. In just 12 professional fights, she has won a world title and defeated a veritable who’s who of female fighters from 135lbs to 115lbs. Her striking is her main weapon and she deploys it to devastating effect time and time again, with an efficiency level of a machine. She has struggled just once, in the first match against Claudia Gadelha. While many believe she lost, she corrected that last time out with a dominant performance.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz is another Polish import from the UFC who managed to secure her own title shot with an underdog win over Rose Namajunas at UFC 201. In a fight that was clearly intended for Krakow, Poland in early 2017, this Polish civil war was hurriedly added to UFC 205 when it looked like the card had stagnated with no title shot on the line and the lack of a recognizable headliner. Kowalkiewicz lost an amateur bout to Joanna back in 2012 so will have revenge on her mind.
As with all clashes of this magnitude, someone’s ‘0’ has got to go. Joanna is so far ahead of the curve that I’m siding with the champion and taking the small chance that the fight ends early #AndStill.
Recommendation: Jedrzejczyk Wins Inside the Distance – 2 units at +218 (11/5) @ 5Dimes
Woodley v Thompson
It took just over three years for Tyron Woodley to transition from Strikeforce prospect to UFC welterweight champion. Despite dropping two fights in those three years he elevated himself to a title shot with wins over Carlos Condit, Dong Hyun Kim and, most tellingly, a canceled match against Johny Hendricks. It was the canceled match that put Woodley front and center as the cancellation was effectively treated as a win to put himself in front of Robbie Lawler. When that title shot came he did what no fighter has done sine 2009 – he finished him in the first round. The performance of a lifetime secured that first professional belt, simultaneously putting a huge target on his back.
Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson has been on an equally impressive run over the last few years. A single reverse to Matt Brown, at a time when Brown was on his own tear, remains the only low point of his career. Seven wins in a row put him in for a title shot, culminating in an impressive win over Hendricks and outpointing Rory MacDonald. Thompson has been able to deploy his karate skills in a manner not seen in the UFC since the heyday of Lyoto Machida. Many have been wrong about Thompson, myself included, and he is now one fight away from immortality.
Although Thompson is on a tear it is outrageous that Woodley, as champion, is such a heavy underdog. He may lose, I won’t rule that out but I am not taking a challenger at odds on, so will be putting a few shekels down on Woodley to retain #AndStill.
Recommendation: Tyron Woodley – 2 units at +170 (17/10) @ 5Dimes
Alvarez v McGregor:
When the self-proclaimed ‘Underground King’ Eddie Alvarez upset the apple cart by finishing Rafael dos Anjos in the opening round he sent shockwaves through the 155lb division. In picking up the belt he became the first man to hold a Bellator belt and then move on to UFC gold. In short, it legitimized him as a fighter. Alvarez is a pressure fighter and has cardio for days, although he doesn’t always use it as effectively as he could.
With the brief flirtation with Nate Diaz now put to one side, temporarily at least, Conor McGregor can focus on his original intention for 2016; to become the first man to hold the title at two separate weights. This is nothing new for the Irishman as he achieved the same feat in Cage Warriors, although it must be said that he never defended either belt. When Conor rolls into town business picks up and in a big way. Just through his persona, he is on course to yet again smash PPV records, and this is before his big announcement post fight.
I’ve tried to play this fight out in my head and I see a number of ways it finishes. Conor in the first, Alvarez in the 3rd, 4th or 5th, a split decision, the list goes on. This is the year of the challenger though, and a host of them have achieved the business inside the opening round. Conor is the challenger (although far from being the underdog) so I’ll be having a throwaway unit on him doing the business in the first. If it’s good enough for Bisping, Nunes, Alvarez and Woodley then it’s good enough for Conor #AndNew.
Recommendation: McGregor in Round One – 1 unit at +250 (5/2) @ 5Dimes